Anthony Martinez just wanted a prom date. Gay, out, and a junior in high school, he announced on Twitter that he needed someone to bring to the dance. Those of us who graduated high school 15+ years ago may expect to hear he pretended to be straight and went with a girl, stringing her along with false hope. If you graduated 10+ years ago you might assume that a straight girl went with him as a friend, knowing he was gay. And those just 5+ years out of high school might hope to hear Anthony went to prom with his boyfriend, like Michael Martin and Logan Westrope did this year in Virginia. But to his surprise, Anthony’s best friend Jacob Lescenski orchestrated an elaborate scene and asked to be Anthony’s date. The proposition went viral because Jacob, a nice kid who supports his gay bestie, is straight.
(Meanwhile, I’m like, “Ellen Degeneres gave these kids $10,000 each for going to prom?” Jesus. My friends and I thought we were cool when we wore ruffle-tuxes and vintage dresses and drove to senior prom in a short-bus because limousines were too mainstream.)
Straight men in America are conditioned to distance themselves from gay guys. They are often raised believing if they befriend us, they admit homosexuality themselves, inviting the same scorn and discrimination queers face every day. The straight fear: what if he hits on me? What if I end up gay? I can imagine this must feel particularly jarring to a straight adolescent boy who is still discovering his identity and otherwise enjoys the privilege of not being bullied for his sexuality.
Perhaps not surprisingly, gay men learn early on that straight men are potentially dangerous. When gay teens are bullied, assaulted, and ostracized, the most violent attacks come from self-proclaimed heterosexual boys who feel they must prove their heterosexuality through abuse and brutality. Friendships may be possible, but the underlying fight-or-flight survival mechanism is often difficult for minorities to switch off. The gay fear: what if I develop feelings for him? What if he hurts me?
And of course, there’s The Big One: “what if we become friends, but then fall in love with each other?” Unlikely, but it has happened, as proven by self-identified straight Mike Iamele and his gay friend who went from BFFs to BFs—a fantastic but confusing experience for them both.
One might think these fears would dissipate between straight and gay men as we age and become more confident with our identities, but that’s often not the case. It’s easier for our social circles to remain segregated, especially in urban areas like Seattle where there are more LGBT-affirming businesses and neighborhoods (compared to rural areas where all businesses and neighborhoods are usually heterocentric). Gay men continue to circulate among lesbians and straight women for the sake of acceptance, the joy of their company, and the value they recognize in us. And of course we circulate among other gay men for the same reasons plus The D. While there may be well-meaning hetero men who’d welcome a close friendship with a ‘mo, us gay guys may carry that adolescent fear of straight men well into adulthood, aborting these potential friendships before they even start. Similarly, straight men generally don’t need gay men in their social circles to achieve their life goals, so the seemingly high-stakes task of befriending a gay man becomes an unnecessary discomfort. We live without each other, every so often exchanging pleasantries when we’re coworkers, in-laws, or when straight guys date our female friends.
When you add the deep-rooted fears that gay men will rape you or straight men will kill you, these segregated social circles can quickly resort to avoidance and distrust. Soon we’re acting like rival Houses in Game of Thrones.
Growing up in Oregon, I was friends with a good amount of straight boys when I assumed I was straight myself. Without realizing it, I distanced myself from my best buddies as a child based on my intuition that I was different, fearing they would reject and torment me for being a nelly. When I came out in middle school to my friend Tyler—we shared candy everyday on the school bus and joked about what we believed sex was—he replied with a typical teen boy “Gross!” While he may have been uncomfortable with me being gay, he never let that affect our friendship, which carried on even through high school.
But my mind was blown in 2003 when (straight) Steven Hill of the Real World: Las Vegas mentioned on-camera that his best friend was a gay man. I didn’t believe any straight male peer could ever be that accepting of a queer like me, let alone see so much value in a gay man that they would become besties-with-testes. It gave me hope that things could be different as the world and I both grew older. 12 years later, I have fostered wonderful friendships with straight men, and I’m better off for it.
The case for “bromance” between gay men and our straight counterparts is this: fear is the only thing getting in the way, and it’s outdated. Friendships are beautiful when humans share values and challenge each other in healthy ways. You like the same video games? You share political stances? You appreciate each other’s sense of humor? Awesome. Doesn’t mean you have to marry/fuck/kill each other. If a guy develops unreciprocated feelings for his buddy, he can simply let them pass, or they can discuss it as a normal occurrence that will not result in a romantic or sexual relationship, and remain friends. (Gay guys and straight girls have navigated that minefield for years and we recover just fine.) If a guy gets shit from his other friends because they assume he’s gay like his buddy, he can tell his homophobic homies he has nothing to prove, so fuck the fuck off.
Feeling comfortable and valued in these friendships, especially with guys of a different sexuality than yours, can be an uplifting and healing experience.
Do you have a gay/straight bestie success story? Tell us! Write a comment, post on social media, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.