My whole life, I have related better to women than men. In my formative years, I sought girls out as friends and allies. I was never interested in sports and minimally athletic, so I always felt estranged from other boys, whose world seemed foreign and impenetrable to me.
With age, this schism widened, becoming a nearly insurmountable crater. I’d have one gay male friend here or there, but ultimately my world was made up exclusively of women.
The women I have befriended at various times in my life have, each in their own way, greatly impacted and contributed to my development as a person. These were intense friendships, like whirlwind romances that brought me to new places, opened my mind to new ways of thinking, and gave me comfort in times of loneliness.
At this present time, all but one or two of my close friends are women. Without them, I would be a terminal hermit.
However, I regret not having more male friends, whether they be of the gay or straight variety. I feel that the overwhelming company of women has made me effeminate. I know how women think, but I don’t know how fellow men think. This is a problem when dating men, who still, for the most part, think like men.
In trying to come to terms with my own concept of masculinity in a homosexual context, I have so few frames of reference for understanding how I am supposed to be. My life has been so enveloped in a harem of women that I barely know how to make conversation with another man.
Until recently, this didn’t trouble me as I enjoyed feminine banter and my interests were almost exclusively feminine. But something has shifted and exercise fads, fashion shows, and the latest offerings from MAC Cosmetics no longer amuse me.
I was at a photo shoot last week and inevitably, as it always does, the conversation among the women turned to dieting and beauty — which specific ingredients they were avoiding that week, what holistic remedies they were rubbing on their faces. I abstained from conversation in favor of solitude.
The things women discuss amongst themselves are inane. The things men discuss together are usually equally so, but at least there is less conversing in general.
My relationships with women are based on shared interests and aesthetic values. I am attracted to beautiful women who incarnate glamour and style. I am fascinated by them, enthralled by their presence. As I am guilty of putting them on a pedestal, they are equally guilty of putting me in a Louis Vuitton pet carrier.
I had an intimately close friend with whom I used to spend every weekend. We were like an old married couple, we did everything together but have sex: happy hour dinners, baking and laundry on Sunday mornings, sunset walks on Zuma Beach, working out. Then there was an imperceptible line crossed; in the intensity and regularity of our relationship, she mistook me for her childhood Chatty Cathy doll. In retrospect, it seemed to happen all of a sudden, but it must have been gradual. She began calling me every day, sometimes several times a day to report the most mundane details of her life and dating minutiae.
At first I was sympathetic. I listened for hours on the phone about this guy she had just had dinner with, that guy that said hello to her on the way to the bathroom. Then it became overwhelming. I was dealing with my own depression issues at the time, and felt the double burden of carrying someone else’s while listening to her.
I began to withdraw, taking her calls less frequently. Sometimes I would not call back for a couple days, especially if it was during the week and I was trying to focus on work. She retaliated by ending our friendship abruptly and completely.
“Will & Grace”-style co-dependent friendships may be fetishized as something adorable and even desirable among a certain subset of forever-single women, but these overly-close gay male/straight woman relationships are ultimately harmful where and when the man is reduced a Polly Pocket.
For women, having a gay male friend is a sort of status symbol novelty, a stamp that she is fabulous enough to warrant the attention of a snappy-dressing, witty sidekick that appreciates her for who she really is (how she chooses to see herself). Women like that gay men are non-threatening, neither wanting to sleep with them nor competing for the same men (usually).
Women rely on their gay friends to advise them on fashion and men, and add color to every situation. We’re supposed to be a rainbow geyser of pithy commentary and witty one-liners, equal parts court jester and therapist, always there to boost self-esteem, telling them how fabulous they are and admitting how terrible men are when they get hurt, forgetting that we, ourselves, are men.
This is a classic sycophant/enabler relationship. Predicated on a superficial basis, the bond holding them together is like cheap, store-brand glue that evaporates over time.
I no longer have the energy or enthusiasm to pretend to care about your new blowout, handbag or diaphragm. If something is truly remarkable, I will remark. But I cannot stage a one-man gay minstrel show for the sake of your gratification every time you get your extensions replaced.
When this happens, women can easily find a new gay man quick to praise their Loehmann’s-bought Prada wedges. These shallow rent-a-friends, denizens of hair salons the world over, who just LOVE! your eye shadow/nail polish/ring/necklace/boob job/[insert any superficial item here] are so desperate to please they spew mountains of compliments, cheap champagne in verbal form — bubbly, saccharine and headache-inducing.
Some women are so starved and susceptible to this abject flattery, they immediately make plans to have lunch that week with their new Gay Best Friend. For the GBF, this means the chance to be part of a glamorous woman’s entourage. She might pick up the tab for lunches or a spa date, reinforcing her alpha-status in the friendship. Make no mistake, this woman believes she has bought your friendship and you are her gay.
My friend resented that I had other women friends. Even though she was allowed to have a fully three-dimensional social life, I was not supposed to exist outside the realms of our friendship. Once we went to a movie screening and she brought along a male model that she didn’t realize was gay as her date and I brought along another girl friend. She barely said hello to my friend, as if her attendance was an affront to her.
Nowhere is the straight girl / gay man dynamic more manifestly unequal than in dating. Whereas I could pick out a man for every one of my girl friends with an assuredly high rate of success, no straight girl friend has ever paid enough attention to know my type. In fact, straight women tend to be so generally clueless about their gay friends they believe setting them up with the only other gay she knows — because, OMG they are both just so fabulous, it will be a match made in heaven! The fact that the only thing they have in common is an appreciation of the same genitalia is lost on her.
But that is even if she goes out of her way to do something for her gay friend, because really it’s all about her and the gay friend is just the supporting cast in the running dramatic saga of her life. The gay man is the one she totes out when she doesn’t have a date on a Friday night, the one she wants to hang out with when she’s on her period and no one else will tolerate her, the one she calls when she has a dinner party to attend and doesn’t want to show up alone.
It subjugates the gay male into a cymbal-banging monkey toy, jumping, flipping, and chattering away for the delight of its female “friend.” I was all too happy to clang and dance for many women in my life, but that is over.
I don’t want to be a woman’s “gay husband,” as in the sexless substitute until you find the real thing. I do not accept the responsibility or the role of being an unpaid therapist, listening and sympathizing for hours on end about your problems when I have my own to deal with. I also reject being your free on-call stylist, because that is my job and I don’t want to talk about fashion all the time.
Any friendship must be established on equal ground, a mutual respect rooted in real attributes, and not a shared affinity for spa pedicures. My meaningful relationships with women friends have far transcended the monkey charade. I see them as mentors, confidantes, co-conspirators.
Women as friends bring an integral sensitivity and softness to life, but men need other men. Gay men are well-served by seeking out other gay men to befriend, both as a means of support and community building. We should foster relationships that bolster our sense of self as a full-fledged person and not accept the status of a ridiculous pantomime.
We are not women, and we don’t advance ourselves by acting like them. Instead of being gossiping queens, we’d be better off adopting traditionally masculine traits such as stoicism, quiet contemplation, and responsibility. Knowing how to change a tire wouldn’t be bad, either.