I remember it as if it were yesterday. I sat down at a pale blue cafeteria table to eat lunch with the same girl friends with whom I always ate (notice the space between girl and friend). One of my closest friends at the time turned to me and asked, “Why do you always hang out with girls?” My face immediately burned with the stares of the rest of the girls at the table. All eyes were on me.
I was speechless. Nobody had ever asked me this directly before, though it was a topic about which many had often wondered and speculated – this was fourth grade after all. So why did I always hang out with girls? The truth is that this was a question I often asked myself. I had no idea why all my friends were girls. I had had male friends earlier on in elementary school but I never seemed to click with them the same way I did with the females in my class. Being with girls felt more natural, like I could be myself. It wasn’t until high school that I realized the reason that girls and I understood each other so well: I was gay.
[pullquote_right]“I must admit that Will & Grace is arguably one of the most accurate representations of this relationship in the media.”[/pullquote_right]
As it turned out, I was not the first gay male in history to find companionship in the opposite sex. In fact, the legend of the “Fag Hag” is a ubiquitous aspect of gay culture. In movies, TV shows and other media, portrayal of the relationship between females and gay males is satiated with stereotypical notions of how the two behave and interact. However, contrary to many of these portrayals, women and gay men actually have friendships based on more than just dancing and shopping. Beneath these stereotypes is a complex and unique relationship that even I, at times, do not fully understand. So what is it exactly that draws gay males and females together?
Of course, this would not be an article on the relationship between gay men and women if I did not mention the Holy Grail Will & Grace. The popular NBC sitcom ran for eight seasons in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, illuminating the friendship of Will, a 30-something gay male, and Grace, his “Fag Hag” best friend. While this show appeals to gay men, women and others alike with undeniable comedic talent, I have to wonder what its implications are as far as gay male-female relationships. I must admit that Will & Grace is arguably one of the most accurate representations of this relationship in the media. Spanning eight years and focusing primarily on Will and Grace’s relationship, the sitcom was able to show many different aspects of their relationship without constraining it to misinformed stereotypes. Therefore, while Will and Grace go shopping together, they also have a friendship that is based on much more. Over their eight years together, we saw Will and Grace help each other through family ordeals, job crises, relationship troubles and even issues of sexuality. Near the end of their run, Will and Grace discussed having a baby together, illuminating an issue in the gay community that is rarely unearthed by the media. What Will & Grace teaches us is that the relationship between a gay male and a female is dynamic and complex and that there is true camaraderie at the base of these friendships.
While Will & Grace has done so much to dispel many of the stereotypes surrounding the gay male-female relationship, the show has, in a way, become the new stereotype. Whenever I am hanging out with a girl friend and we do something funny, someone inevitably makes a comment about how we’re “just like Will and Grace.” While this person never means to be offensive (they often think that this comment shows that they’re “in” with gay culture), it does make me wonder whether Will & Grace is the definition of gay male-female relationships for many.
However, Will & Grace is not the only TV show to shed light on this complex relationship; in the Hot in Cleveland episode, “Dancing Queens,” the women discuss the disadvantages of no longer having GBFF’s, which they explain is “Gay Best Friends Forever.” They explain, “In LA, every woman has one – to go shopping with and dancing with, watch the Oscars pre-show with.” Clearly, this explanation is full of stereotypical views of gay men and their relationship with women. I am a gay man and I don’t really like to shop, nor would I ever watch the Oscars pre-show. Where are the gay men who hate shopping and dancing and why are they always left out? Apparently, they do not exist in pop culture. These stereotypes mask the true nature of the relationship between a woman and a gay man and make others believe they understand how and why such friendships form – because of shopping and dancing, obviously.
Even on the silver screen, the gay male-female relationship can often be seen, portrayed in a stereotypically comic manner. In the 2004 comedy, Mean Girls, Damien is a gay high school student who spends nearly all his time (in the movie, anyway) with his “Fag Hag,” Janis Ian. In fact, in the film, Damien is never seen without Janis and nearly all of his dialogue are merely lines of comic relief, filled with gay stereotypes. For example, when Lindsay Lohan’s character is in need of a pink shirt, Damien excitedly shouts that he has one and is actually the only person who does own one; his room is also shown covered in posters of female stars, such as Mariah Carey. Overall, Mean Girls works to highlight the stereotype of gay men as extremely effeminate. This stereotype contributes to society’s misunderstanding of the gay male-female relationship. Gay men do not simply flock to women because they are feminine; many gay men are not extremely feminine and still have girl friends. So why do gay men form friendship with women?
When I asked why students felt gay men and women often find friendship in one another, many stated that it might have to do with the fact that both groups are discriminated against in our culture and are therefore more open and accepting of others’ differences. I find this to be true, personally. In our culture, there is still the sense of the straight white male at the top and everyone else beneath him. I have often found that straight men are difficult to get to know because they are often uncomfortable around gay men, as homophobia is still prevalent among straight men in particular. However, one of my friends noted that she has seen a rise in the number of friendships between gay and straight men recently and said that she felt “gayness” was becoming more acceptable and less of a threat to straight men’s masculinity. Hopefully over time, gender and sexual orientation biases will become less prevalent and allow more interaction between different genders and sexual orientations.
What else did students have to say about the relationship between females and gay males? One female student stated that it is nice to have a gay friend because she likes having a male perspective in her life and that gay men tend to have more common interests with her than straight men. I still have to wonder why gay men tend to have more common interests with women. This can perhaps be explained by a study conducted by the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The results of this study showed that homosexuals’ brain behavior had many similarities to that of the opposite sex. It’s possible that part of the reason why women and gay men find commonality is physiological. A full article on the study’s findings can be read at Science Daily.
To this day, I have many more female friends than male ones. I doubt whether I (or anyone else for that matter) will ever fully understand the complex nature of the relationship between women and gay men. What are your thoughts? Do you have a “GBFF” (Gay Best Friend Forever) or a “Fag Hag”? What do you think about the relationship between women and gay men and the way it is portrayed in the media?
[quote]Media Meltdown is a weekly column that deciphers the stereotypes and restrictions of pop culture. Shane is currently in his third year at Wheaton College, majoring in Creative Writing & Literature and French Studies. [/quote]