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Gay Men And Straight Men: A Complicated Love Story

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Behind every great gay man, there’s a real desire to have an awesome straight dude (and I don’t mean sexually). For many gay men, having a close straight male friend is akin to capturing the holy grail. It’s something that is fetishized and yearned for on both sides. In the past, I’ve sought out the company of straight men because, in a way, I feel like it validated my masculinity. It made me feel more versatile, like I could pass for “straight” and inhabit a heterosexual world more seamlessly than my other “gayer” friends. I’m not proud of this logic. On the contrary, I think it’s totally screwed up and an obvious indicator of self-loathing. Why does it give me so much pride when I gain the approval from heterosexual males? Am I that eager to not be perceived or defined as gay? I think it’s just another example of gay men’s aversion to be labeled as “femme.” If you go on any gay male dating/sex site, you’ll see a large percentage of men who are looking for “straight acting guys only.” They identify themselves as jock types and make a point to say they’re not into “femmes.” In the gay world, “femmes” have the least amount of power whereas so-called masculine men possess the most. So if you’re the kind of guy who’s never going to be described as “jockish” and you want to feel accepted, being friends with straight guys can often feel like the next best thing.

This obsession with masculinity and, by extension, straight culture, definitely bleeds into the straight guy/gay guy dynamic. Throughout my life, I’ve been friends with straight dudes who have treated me like a novelty. It’s clear that I’m there to be the gay friend who makes them feel better about themselves for being so open-minded. “See? I hang out with gay dudes because I think they’re cool. I’m very progressive!” Oftentimes, in the friendship, I’ve felt the need to wear my sexuality on my t-shirt, inserting gay jokes whenever possible or testing the comfortability level by being a little bit raunchy. I’ve hated myself for it and I’ve hated them! But it wasn’t entirely their fault, no one was really the bad guy here, because I was using them too. By letting me get close to them, they were making me feel cool and butch, like I was more than my sexuality, like I was one of The Cool Gay Guys.

And, of course, there’s this issue of straight men thinking every gay guy wants to sleep with them, which can make the friendship feel… difficult, like there’s always an undertone of desire on my end, even if that is most definitely not the case. As a reaction to this fear, straight guys will often feel the need to assert their heterosexuality whenever possible. They’ll be like, “Yes, tell me about this boy you have a crush on. I don’t care! But also: NO HOMO.” You’re always put into your gay place. You can have the friendship but never forget that you’re different.

As it happens, I’m in the Hamptons this week with two straight guys, which by my estimate, is the longest time I’ve spent away from any girls or gays. I have to say it feels nice. Not because they’re straight and I feel as if I’m “one of the boys” but because the straight boys I’m with are good people and the foundation of our friendship is not predicated upon the fact that I like boys and they like girls. We have nothing to gain from each other other than human connection. Sometimes I have to catch myself whenever I’m feeling the need to unnecessarily bring attention to my homosexuality because that’s not what this is about. This is about people enjoying people, sexuality not always included. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten older and no longer seek out friendships to fulfill a quota or for validation and that’s true. I have grown out of that. Besides the two straight guys I’m currently with, I don’t really have hetero male friends these days and that’s okay. That doesn’t make me have less value somehow. That doesn’t make me feel like an undesirable freak. It’s just the way it works out.

Of course, you can’t ignore sexuality. It informs my identity and the straight guys I call my friends. Our differences are important and they play a role in shaping the unique dynamic we have, but it’s not everything. I don’t have to act any way other than who I am and vice versa.

When I first came out of the closet, I slept with all of the “straight” friends I had, so my perception of what it meant to have a genuine straight male friend was skewed. “YOU MEAN YOU DON’T WANT TO SLEEP WITH ME?” Since then, I’ve dealt with a lot of ambivalence regarding my own sexuality. I run the gamut from “I’M HERE, I’M QUEER, YAY!” to thinking things like, “Ugh, I’m only attracted to straight-acting guys. This dude is too queeny.” To be honest, I think it’s always going to be complicated for me but at least it’s nice to see the progress I’ve made with straight guys. I’ve gone from sleeping with them to acting as their gay puppet to simply valuing their friendship. It’s hard to say whether or not I will ever have that awesome straight dude standing behind me but at this point, I don’t care. I just want to be friends with people who make sense. TC Mark

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    • http://twitter.com/tr_sk_ys tres keys (@tr_sk_ys)

      *wear my sexuality* Where do you get these brilliant metaphors? Write poetry already!!! Also: this is like a direct portrait of my Senior year in high school

    • Peter

      I think you make a lot of assumptions about straight males and why they are friends with gay males…while what you say is probably true for many, I would certainly not say so for all straight males.

      • Ryan O'Connell

        Oh no, I didn’t mean to speak for all straight men. This is just my experience.

    • nightshaye

      It’s a relief to finally get to the point where you want to hang with someone simply because you like the person. I’m a straight female but have had the same thought.
      Likewise, I recognized in your statements other similar things. This would be whether I want to over-identify with them and try to echo their style (and just look like a mini-me), or go overboard to contrast it (wherein I became a caricature of myself which annoyed everyone, including me). Both responses had to do with some kind of validation.
      After recognizing this dynamic, I’d sometimes still find that I want to hang with a certain “type” of person, only to start some kind of self-reproach for thinking I need them to validate me.
      Then I realized no, now it’s different. I just like their style! And leave it at that.

    • Craigory

      In response to Peter, I think that Ryan might have just not addressed the evolution that straight dudes have towards gay dudes too….maybe they sleep with us (not my experience), we’re a novelty, and then eventually they are just dudes who spend a week in the Hamptons (no homo).

      My straight friends ask about the dudes I’m into and know my type, and vice versa.

      Straight dudes can be awesome or homophobic, smart or idiotic…just like gay dudes!

      Thanks Ryan- good article.

    • Chirelle

      I really appreciate your post. I can see how this is similar racial identity and the need to fit in to white culture. And way to go for being so honest!

    • http://scrawleddownpaperedges.blogspot.co.uk/ Henry

      It’s nice to hear someone admitting this. I used to think I was being a complete dick trying to, well, act like I was totally in with the dick crowd. But it just turned into a bit of a cock fight (of egos …. I can’t stop making penis analogies …). Insecurity makes you do weird things that later seem to be the irrational actions of someone else. It’s good you’ve managed to move past it and be happier in your skin. It’s complex being gay. Shit, it’s complex being anything!
      Thanks, I really appreciated this.

    • G

      Ah, I’m gay and seem to have the opposite problem. The only males I have close friendships with are straight, even though I go to a school where a large majority of the students are gay. I’ve never really had any close gay friends or even a boyfriend. It’s honestly so frustrating to me that I feel like I can’t really connect with any other gay guys even though I’m young and happy and I feel like that’s what should be happening. Whhhhhyyyyyyyyyy?!

    • Claire

      What you’ve written here is an interesting piece that raises a lot of issues beyond what I am guessing your intended scope was. As a straight woman reading this, what struck me was the fact that you avoided really grappling with WHY traditional masculine traits might be viewed as desirable for many gay men. You wrote about power, saying that more traditionally masculine men have more power than “femmes.” Here is where I think you glossed over some complex gendersex issues. For there to be people wih power there necessarily have to be people with out it. In the case you mentioned this group would be gay men who are most like women. THIS is where you missed something important. The dynamic you identify between different “types” of gay

    • Claire

      What you’ve written here is an interesting piece that raises a lot of issues beyond what I am guessing your intended scope was. As a straight woman reading this, what struck me was the fact that you avoided really grappling with WHY traditional masculine traits might be viewed as desirable for many gay men. You wrote about power, saying that more traditionally masculine men have more power than “femmes.” Here is where I think you glossed over some complex gendersex issues. For there to be people wih power there necessarily have to be people with out it. In the case you mentioned this group would be gay men who are most like women. THIS is where you missed something important. The dynamic you identify between different “types” of gay men is very much connected to the power dynamic between men and women. It is not a coincidence that more feminine gay men tend to have less power. In some ways this is the case because the female GENDER is still comes second to the masculine GENDER in many social arenas. I really like the conclusion that you arrive at by the end of your piece but I think it fails to make clear distinctions between biological sex, gender and sexuality. As a result you’ve confused the various prejudices attached to them in Western society and neglected to examine the relationships between them. There is a lot of ambiguity in the piece and when you’re talking about gender etc that is to be expected but I think that a more comprehensive, less “blinker-ed” approach might at least result in fewer assumptions.

      • Js12

        We get it, you’ve read Judith Butler, good for you.

      • ABA

        I understand your point Clare. I think some of what you wrote, as far as how gender and power dynamic works in the heterosexual world, parallels the gay world, aka fundamental misogyny. Yet, and this is from my experience as a gay man and that alone, I believe another aspect of this dynamic comes from the fact that most gay men are sexually attracted to the masculine; physically, mentally and spiritually. Therefore, “femme” guys seem less attractive (to me.) I also have a theory some gay men grow up indoctrinated into the gender structure and from an early age, like everyone else in our culture, see that: masculine is attracted to feminine, so, then some gay men make a false connection in their logic and as a result, subconsciously act more feminine in order to obtain the masculine.

    • Gregor

      I love how this is so relevant to gay guys more than they think it does. It’s almost an unspoken desire for gay guys to have straight male friends just for the sake of their platonic company. Unfortunately, I run into having too many straight male friends and having next to none gay male friends. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a correlation between having straight friends to not having gay friends and vice versa. But what I do know is that it’s always refreshing to have straight male friends who you almost have no need to impress- no overwhelming feeling that you’re too fat, that you’re more unkempt than your usual self, or that you have to be extravagant 24/7. It’s nice to feel that they take you for who you are. Although, in all that is good, it’s a fucking pain in the ass to develop sexual interest to straight friend.

    • http://gravatar.com/anarchyinwa Will

      Spot on Ryan. Have been through exactly the same friendship trends. I made a 17min film about the striaght-acting thing, called ‘Disarm’ that won the Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival in 2010. The theme is a bit of an epidemic in gay male society. https://vimeo.com/28135263

    • http://haminkehast2.blogspot.com hamid

      I am gay and I live in Iran, you have no idea how difficult it is to live here as gay. Believe me, I never liked the company of straight guys as you do. Maybe that’s a question as to why you love to be admired by them but do not generalize it to all gay men please.

    • http://intheforgotten.wordpress.com kaitovillar

      Reblogged this on In the forgotten..

    • Andi

      My history with straight men is totally different from yours and not complicated at all. As long as I can remember, my best guy friends have always been straight, not by choice but because it’s honestly less stressful than always being around gay guys. I know how that sounds, but straight guys just aren’t as judgemental and bitchy as gays can often be (especially in New York, where I’m from). Mind you I’m a skinny, deep v-neck and tight pants wearing kinda guy with bleached hair, and not a jock in any way, shape or form. I’ve had more gay guys judge me based on the way that I act or look than I have straight guys, who in my opinion are way more lax about that kind of stuff. It’s funny, but the times I’ve had someone tell me that I was “sooo gay” (whatever that means) have been when I was around gays and lesbians, never straight men. I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t have any gay friends, because I do, but I don’t think it’s fair to assume that all gay men who prefer to hang out with straight men are doing so to come off as more masculine.

    • Ace

      I will say that the notion that “masculine” gays are the ones with all the power is kinda moot! Tell that to Elton John or RuPaul.

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    • Panic Motion

      Thank you for writing this. It always makes more sense when someone else says it. I hope to be at your level of friendship with straight guys some day because it’s just torture right now.

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