Ladies, your gay best friend is not a collectible

by Beacon Staff • September 16, 2009

GIRL TWO: "Every girl should have a gay best friend."

That was late last week on Boylston Street. Okay, they may have a point. Something about stripping away the cloudiness of a hetero-on-hetero relationship can be liberating.,GIRL ONE: "Yeah, he's so gay and fabulous! I love it."

GIRL TWO: "Every girl should have a gay best friend."

That was late last week on Boylston Street. Okay, they may have a point. Something about stripping away the cloudiness of a hetero-on-hetero relationship can be liberating. But at the beginning of the semester-when relationships are being made and remade; when we're wondering why we ever made certain ones in the first place-I wonder whether relationships like these are always the healthiest of friendships.

Think of our cultural reference point for the Fabulous Gay Man. It was arguably born right here. "Will and Grace," America's first primetime exposure to gay characters, was co-created and executive produced by Emerson alumnus Max Mutchnick. The show made having a gay best friend seem like a blast. That kooky Jack! Those pleated khakis! His Cher impression gets me every time.

Spinoffs followed. Carrie on "Sex and the City" had Sanford. Women fell in love with their gay best friend on "Dawson's Creek," and in the movie "Clueless." The gay best friend was always ready to pipe in with an "Oh, honey," or a "You're wearing that?" But over time he became a clicheacute;-never a prominent, multidimensional character. He was B-plot material.

It's a cultural model that is seriously outmoded. "Will and Grace" emerged at a time when the snarky sidekick was about as much gay as primetime TV could handle. It's safe to admit now that not all gay men are born with an innate sense of fashion and a love for painting toenails with their single-and-loving-it BFF-any more than all straight men are born with a knack for baseball statistics and a love of power tools. (Another popular yet gender-narrow show of the late-90s "Will and Grace" era? "Home Improvement.")

It's shallow and socially lazy to hunger for a friendship with anyone based on sexual orientation. That's why we laugh at Stephen Colbert's character on "The Colbert Report," languishing over his "cool black friend." It's funny to pretend as if a friendship could be so valued based on a trait of birth.

When Colbert wraps a lily-white arm around his black cohort, grins ear to ear and flashes a thumbs-up, the exercise ceases to be about the other guy in the picture. It's about you, and the act of your bearing witness. He's a fisherman with his catch. Girls who hunt for a GBF often do Colbert one better-they post their trophy shots on Facebook.

In this sense, women who view their gay friends as trophies might as well have a pen pal. They fall in love not with the recipient of their attention, but with the version of themselves they create in the process.

All this is not to suggest there's something inherently shallow about a relationship between a straight woman and a gay man. The problem lies with a niche group of women who refuse to grow up and out of old cultural expectations and the gay men who enable them.

Don't take it from a straight guy. Writer Thomas Rogers wrote as much for "Salon" earlier this summer in an article titled, "Ladies, I'm Not Your Gay Boyfriend."

"I would mention my boyfriend to a girl in my biology lab, and she would inexplicably plop down next to me in class for the rest of the semester."

Rogers also wrote about an experience when a female friend tried to set him up with one of her other gay friends. "'I thought my two...[gay best friends] should meet-maybe you can date?'" An uncomfortable silence ensued.

Who wouldn't be uncomfortable?

We must remember there is nothing benign or casual about that kind of behavior.

Emersonians still have time to build better attitudes about the way straight women and gay men sometimes relate to one another. After you come down from that September high, remember to pick your friends based on criteria that matter-not whether they'd make a good Will to your Grace.

We can at least be thankful these aren't college girls Rogers is writing about. They're professional adults-maybe irrevocably set in their own stupidity.

Our generation, on the other hand, still has time to build better attitudes about the way straight women and gay men relate to one another. After you come down from that September high, remember to pick your friends based on criteria that matter-not whether they'd make a good Will to your Grace.