Straight women and gay men: a love story
At first glance, “Why do straight women and gay men make such great friends?" seems exactly the sort of question that you don’t want to try and answer. Partly because you suspect it has no answer, and partly because you are afraid that your attempt at an answer will be little more than a string of clichés.
Yet here I am, wondering aloud. My first thought is of an early memory. I was in class V when I made my first male friend. He studied in the all-boys’ school that my all-girls’ school shared a yard with. Jay and I took the same bus back home from school. It wasn’t common to move out of your circle and befriend a boy (I am not sure why), so I wonder how we got close. One year after, he was thrown out of school abruptly. We were told he had scribbled something obscene in the toilet but rumour had it there was more to the incident—he was “abnormal". That was the first time I felt a persistent sense of loss. I never saw Jay again but, in 2002, found out that he was now a designer in New York, a gay man who likes to cross-dress.
The only family friend I felt an affinity towards while growing up recently came out, at the age of 48, after his father’s death and told us he has been living with a man for over a decade in Switzerland.
My first crush was George Michael, before I knew what gay meant, and my closest friend today is a man who at 16 thought he was in love with me, only to realize, thankfully quickly enough, that he was actually not. He is gay.
But do these facts add up to anything larger? I have plenty of close friends who are straight men, straight women, and some who are gay women, so I would be loath to make a generalization to the effect that gay men and straight women get along particularly well. Such a generalization discounts the countless other factors—of temperament, sensibility, social and cultural backgrounds that contribute to friendships. But having said that, there is no denying that there is a special quality to my friendships with gay men. The sort of thing that distinguishes the magic hours from the rest of sunlight ever so slightly. I therefore strongly recommend that you turn that pejorative phrase fag-hag around and wear it as a badge of honour. Because friendships with gay men make up a place that cannot be filled with anything else in a woman’s life. Perhaps that has something to do with the absence of sexuality between them. Potential sexuality between straight men and women, no matter how latent, can bring about discomfort. Particularly because it is largely inseparable from insecurities about the other sex, jealousy and ego. So to be able to enjoy the company of men without the risks of ill-timed, unrecognized or unrequited sexual attraction is a privilege. The possibility of sex, or the questions over why you’re not having it, take up so much mind space that it is refreshing to be able to get to know a man outside of that looming shadow (that you are talking to a man who gets what it is like to suffer men in relationships could be an added incentive). And, unlike with girlfriends, while you and your gay male friend might occasionally find yourself attracted to the same men, there is little fear of you locking horns over their affections given that there are only so many openly bisexual men.
It is entirely possible that there is something deeper at play here—something that cannot be explained easily by neatly logical arguments. Something about the right measure of distance between two people—not too close, nor too far apart, such that they might truly be able to see each other and understand each other; allow themselves to acknowledge their vulnerabilities. Or it may even be something to do with sharing a space where rigid constructs of gender roles fall away and both people’s masculine and feminine sides are allowed to come out of straitjackets and let themselves be. Or, perhaps, I was right all along, and there is no real answer, or even a real question, here. But I chose to consider it anyway because Socrates warned against the unexamined life, not an unexplained one.
Originally published in Live Mint.