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  • Writer's pictureDavid Beers

What about the Gay Best Friend Trope?

What about the Gay Best Friend?

I have been working on a Certificate of Sexuality and Religion at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. In one of my classes, Rhetorical Use of Texts, with Dr. Sharon Jacob, our last class was about the trope in literature and especially in media (movies and television) of the “Magical Negro.” The point being how this trope is used to promote white supremacy and continue racist paradigms less overtly. This point is the idea of the black person being used to "saving" or "protecting" white power, privilege, and supremacy. The sacrifice of persons of color is not for their benefit but primarily for the white people around them who do not consider this savior a part of their community. There are many ways to take this. This topic is insightful and challenges how media portrays persons of color.

In our discussion, I mentioned the idea of the "Gay Best Friend" trope. Before I start, there are many articles and books on this topic. While I have not read any, I acknowledge the scholarship and work already done on this topic. I base these thoughts on my reflection about this. I speak out of the context of being a Queer Person, who primarily identifies as gay, but on the spectrum between the two poles of Straight or Gay. My own firsthand experiences and relationships play into my interpretation of the presentation of Gay Men in the context of relating to Straight Women in contemporary culture.

In contemporary media presentations of Gay Men, the friend or best friend of a female character is usually one of the main characters. As these stories play out, this Gay Best Friend (GBF) role is to be a confidant, ally, and non-sexual companion to this woman. Without stating it explicitly, in any heterosexual setting, this GBF becomes de-manned, denying his masculinity and diminishing his manhood. These GBFs function in the same way as did the castrated male guards. Those who protected male sovereigns' wives and concubines. Especially in the white heterosexual patriarchy, they protect the white female and help her maintain her purity. While at the same time protecting the woman with a male person who is sexually non-competitive with the straight male, expecting her to maintain sexual fidelity and physical purity.

Therefore, the GBF is not considered a "real man" in the eyes of the heteronormative society and therefore allowed proximity to and emotional intimacy with the female character. Thus occupied, the heterosexual male characters are free to behave to demonstrate their alpha male dominance over both the GBF and the woman. At the point where the straight man decides he wants the woman, he will swoop in like a "white knight." The woman, naturally, will drop the GBF and attach to her hero with little thought on the effect for her friend. Even if the GBF can maintain a friendship, it is often much more emotionally distant and only with the woman's dominant straight male partner's permission.

I looked at three different scenarios that have the model of the GBF. The first is the asexual GBF. He is the man who brings color and style into the woman's life. He is the one who hears all the secrets and stories about the heterosexual dating life of the woman, and she expects him to understand men from a "feminine" perspective. Often, there is a strong emotional bond between the two that the female character takes for granted but is vital to the GBF. In the movie "My Best Friend's Wedding,” Juliene (Julia Roberts) has a GBF, George (Rupert Everett), and a straight boyfriend, Michael (Dermot Mulroney). During her up and down relationship with Michael, Julienne turns to George for emotional support and comfort. He becomes an emotional surrogate for her, provided a masculine presence in a non-sexual form. Of course, George has feelings for Julienne, so that when she tells him that she is going to marry Michael, he experiences heartbreak. Julienne initially cannot understand why George reacts this way. Finally, George accepts his role in Julienne's as subordinate to Michael in her life and blesses her "real" relationship with Michael.

This asexual GBF is often seen and used to provide "diversity" to appeal to the G\LGBTQIA+ community. The passive, asexual male is not a threat to the dominant heterosexual patriarchy and therefore is allowed a place in modern cinema and television. Gay men are safe surrogates for male presence because they are no threat to the heterosexual male's sexual dominance. This trope can be seen as sexually submissive to the heterosexual male as much as the female is. Once again, it is as if the maleness of the GBF is non-existent. It also assumes that if a man is gay that he has no emotional or sexual attraction to women. This idea places an image in a culture that thinks there are only binary sexual and emotional attraction choices.

Most Gay/Bisexual men know that there is no diminishment of maleness in any relationship with men or women. All sexuality and emotional attraction are on a spectrum, and therefore the idea there is no sexual energy between gay men and women is far from true. If that were so, it would be impossible for gay and bisexual men to remain closeted and be in heterosexual relationships and father children with their wives and partners. The significant difference between men who acknowledge their sexual attraction to other men and the heterosexual men who have sex with men on the "down-low" is the mere fact of being honest with oneself. The power of the heteronormative patriarchy is such that if one can pass as a dominant alpha heterosexual male, partner with a woman, and produce children, then basically, he is free to have whatever sexual partners he chooses.

Along the same line in the asexual GBF is the gay man, usually a young adult who discovers or comes to grips with his same-sex attraction. The relationship is much like the previous example in the forming of a close emotional bond. The difference is that the female character has "fallen in love" with her GBF. The GBF struggles with wanting to conform to the heteronormative expectations of the culture and religious traditions. Attempts physical intimacy, but nothing usually happens. These times cause much frustration and anger from the female and embarrassment and shame in the GBF. The female character will push the GBF to take the relationship to the next level, which he cannot bring himself to do.

Finally, when the GBF finally accepts who he is where the plot turns. Either he tells his female friend, and she is angry and feels betrayed. Or he begins to form a relationship with another male character, and she is angry, jealous, and feels betrayed. There are angry words, accusations of deception, and invalidation of friendship. Usually, this happens with the GBF, and the female character has been friends since childhood, and emotional crushes have developed. Often there is no explicit statement of love or fidelity. However, the heteronormative patriarchy demands the GBF be punished and denied any female friendship that wanted him as a sexual partner. Publicly announcing this betrayal to the whole straight community, and the GBF must endure humiliation and ostracization from the mainstream heteronormative culture.

In the Netflix series "Love Simon," Simon, a gay young male, and Leah have been lifelong friends. They spend most of their time together. While the friendship is important to Simon, he is too busy wrestling with his sexual identity to notice that Leah has developed real feelings for him beyond friendship. When another student discovers Simon's secret, the other student uses the threat of exposure to extort Simon to fix him with another female friend; when this falls through, the other student "outs" Simon. Leah experiences anger and personal humiliation from being "in love" with someone who is gay. The community rejects Simon for not revealing his identity and hurting his friends. Rather than blaming the straight student that used Simon as the source of the problem, everyone blames Simon for lying. He becomes the villain for not conforming to heteronormative expectations and not behaving in a way that would indicate to everyone that he is not straight.

These two versions of the asexual GBF cause placement of all responsibility on the gay man in any relationship with a female. Since in the heteronormative patriarchy, all females are weak and the property of straight men, gay men, must be made realize their subordinate role and not even to express any genuine interest in females. Simply not having a sexual attraction to women is not enough. The gay /bisexual man must identify himself as such. Even if there is physical attraction, the protection of the female role in heteronormative society demands that sexual fluidity not be publicly acknowledged. To do so is to question the binary of sexual orientation and confuse both men and women about their roles in any sexual relationship. Suppose there is acceptance of the idea that men can be attracted to and attract both men and women. In that case, the heteronormative patriarchal ideal of the sexual dominance of straight alpha men over women and gay men comes into question. There is a clouding of the whole idea of who is straight and who is gay.

The third GBF trope I am looking at is the promiscuous GBF. This GBF is the gay man that will have sex with any man. He is always talking about having sex with men and planning to have sex with men. He is also flamboyantly gay. He may be masculine or feminine acting, but his sexuality is on display for all to see. He is not passive or submissive, but he still plays the same role. He is less sexually threatening to straight males because everyone is sure that he will never have sex with a woman. In this trope is an underlying sense of misogyny that is another stereotype of gay culture. This GBF, in some ways, is more "female" than the asexual GBF. Together they share their male conquests, compare body features and types of men to which they are attracted. The emotional connection between this GBF and his female friend is on a much more superficial level. The friendship never presents any barrier or conflict to the female's desire for a relationship with a "real man." Often, this GBF will act as a matchmaker and help find his friend a male partner.

The dynamic with the female's straight male partner is quite different. While sensing that there is no sexual competition for the female, the straight man assumes that the GBF must desire him. The heteronormative patriarchy sets up a paradigm that pretends that the female is the conquest and prize in a heterosexual partnership. It is still all about the male. The dominance of the straight alpha male must be absolute. Since the GBF has no sexual interest in the female and is openly and actively have sex with other men. the straight male's dominance must always assert itself. The assumption the GBF is attracted to men, and the boyfriend thinks of himself as the center of attention. The straight boyfriend is more threatened by this GBF because it questions his sexual attraction and fluidity. The GBF must express no sexual desire for the straight boyfriend with threats of violence and expulsion from the friendship with the female.

The example of the promiscuous GBF that comes to mind is from the series "Sex in the City" The main character, Carrie Bradshaw's GBF, Stanford Blatch, is this type of GBF. He is effeminately gay, dresses in stereotypical gay fashion, and is not attractive in the heterosexual handsome straight man paradigm. He actively has sexual relationships with men and is not as central to the female character's life. But he offers stereotypical gay advice on relationships with men, fashion, and culture because he is sensitive and artistic. These words are, of course, code for gay. In this relationship, the female can pursue heterosexual relationships without any seeming concerns for the feelings of her GBF. Thus, preserving the heterosexual patriarchy, and the female is kept safe for her real romance with a straight male.

In conclusion, we can see that the trope of the GBF is another way of perpetuating stereotypical and homophobic views of the white heteronormative patriarchy. The patriarchy allows gay and bisexual men to be submissive to the straight male population at the margins. They can be in an emotional relationship with women but realize it is only in an avowedly platonic way. There will be punishment for any emotional or physical connection of the GBF with a female. The patriarchy must continually remind both men and women of their places in the scheme of things. In all these tropes, the GBF becomes a mascot with which the woman to play. He is not a real person and is not allowed to get in the way of any straight alpha male's desire for any woman. The threat is physical and sexual domination and public humiliation and ostracization from the straight world. Similarly, as the "Magical Negro" trope reinforces white supremacy, the "Gay Best Friend" trope is used to strengthen the heteronormative patriarchy.

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