The intimacy of my relationships with certain straight men has included years of sharing a bed with my childhood best friend, my married co-worker and I referring to each other as “boo,” and my college roommate semi-proposing to me a few months after I came out to him.

We were several bowls into one of the hilarious stoner evenings that made our friendship classic when my roommate―whose entire schtick was being a ball-scratching, dip-spitting jackass―kind of offered to spend eternity with me.

“Dude, I would be cool with this lasting forever,” he said reflectively. “Like, if I could spend every day with you, and we were how we always are, I would be cool with that.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” I said. “I sometimes wish I could marry you as my best friend―contract, vows and all.”

We had coexisted for two years; the second, by request. We cheered for each other, comforted one another and finished the other’s jokes. Despite our frequently opposing worldviews, I don’t recall us ever arguing – although both our zen and my memory can be attributed to marijuana.

Academic suspension and the normal course of young adulthood proved stronger than me and my roommate’s sentiment, but the vulnerability he showed me that night and many others will cuddle my heart till death do I part.

It’s not easy for a straight man to love another man. It is even harder to communicate said love without feeling judged, misunderstood or exploited. Poor heterosexual men. I know that sounds mocking, but the pity is sincere.

Sure, the world is structured for their benefit and enjoyment, but the same thing that grants their privilege―masculinity―stunts their authenticity.

They are prohibited from feeling certain emotions, unable to admit basic realities such as the irrefutable attractiveness of another man. In some parts of America they cannot smile too much without their manhood becoming suspect, and in all parts of America it would be odd for them to articulate the affection they have for some of the men in their lives.

A friend recently told me about his discomfort with the bromance that he has developed with a straight male co-worker, and his fear that their bond could be jeopardized by my friend confirming the office rumors that he is gay.

“It sounds like he knows you’re gay and is trying to show you that it doesn’t matter,” I said.

“But if I say that I’m gay, then everybody is going to think that he’s gay, and that’s probably going to cause him to act different toward me,” my friend said.

“It could,” I replied, “but it sounds like you’re more worried about what other people think of him than he is.

“Maybe he wants you to be gay. Maybe he’s waiting for you to give him the chance to prove that he’s not one of these Duck Dynasty bigots, or some meathead who just doesn’t get it. It’s time we let people be who they are, one way or the other, and I think either way we’ll be thankful for the results.”

My optimism about his co-worker―and the larger hope that an era of straight men are eager to assert  a new tolerance (even tenderness) for gay people before the door of history hits them on the ass―is tempered by how masculinity remains almighty among gay men. While there seems to be a emerging flexibility in how heterosexual men can express their masculinity―in their relationships with other men, in their attire a la Omar Epps―gender expectations among gay are as rigid as ever.

Whether in our online profiles or in our respectability politics, we glorify a force that has been used to oppress us as much as religion or politics. We reinforce hierarchies of manhood based on our sexual positions or the pitch of our voice, and the less aligned we―and our partners―are with traditional manliness, the more we subtract from our worth.

I have little hope that this pattern will reverse itself, as we pine for an institution that reinforces dominant-submissive dynamics in relationships, without much collective contemplation of whether such an arrangement expands or confines our authentic expression.

As we continue to conquer the forces of homophobia, may we resist the temptation to seize the weapons that were used against us and turn them against our gay brothers.

3 Responses

  1. Cliff Bostock

    Great column, Ryan. Something I’d like to add: This overvaluation of masculine stereotypes also means a lot of overt prejudice by the “straight-acting” against other gay men. In my practice, I’ve seen many young gay men who, instead of finding refuge and welcome from other gay men, meet hostility. It’s mind-blowing that their coming out process really does often get more support from their parents and heterosexual men.

    Of course, the standard excuse for the prejudice, particularly within a sexual or dating context, is that “it’s just a preference.” While sex is not “politically correct,” to say the least, it is ridiculous to claim that these “preferences” don’t have their root in cultural bias. Black men encounter the same “preference” with many white men. But could anything be more obvious than the reiteration of racism — yes, often unconscious — in that context.

    Long ago, during my internship in my PhD program, I conducted a group with white and black men. I heard the same acculturated prejudice over and over. Finally, I asked the white guys just to imagine — to just pretend — that what they were hearing from the black guys was true. There was, to say the least, a sudden shift in their understanding.

    Gay men could use the same model — imagining what it would be like to be rejected for being “less masculine.” And, no, it’s not adequate to say that some of their best friends are effeminate. That is Identical to the cliche of the desegregation era: “Some of my best friends are black.”

    Finally, it’s important to state how delusional the self-characterization as “masc” often is. We all know that someone who makes a big deal about that online often turns out to be everything he reviles.

    There are many “types” of gender expression. The feminist movement was particularly keen in recognizing this long ago. It is too bad gay men continue to create this new closet — one in which they hope to disappear from recognition in the larger culture.

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  2. Cynthia

    A lot of the men I know are more at ease with accepting written as equals than they have been with accepting gay men as an ‘concept’. But they are fine with the gays they know personally. It’s similar to racists who say awful things about minorities as a group, but make exceptions for individuals they know. Ie., Mexicans are lazy but not my friend Jose; he’s a good old boy. I know some acquaintances (I won’t say friends) who swear they don’t know any gay people. But I always say, you don’t know any.people who will tell You that they are gay, but you do know someone who is gay and you just don’t know for sure. I say all this as a straight, Southern Black female, who has a lesbian daughter. So don’t flame me – just my POV.

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