Deconstructing The Gay Best Friend

Philip Ellis

Freelance writer, ineligible bachelor and shameless flirt. Loves: books, booze and boys (in that order). No, I don’t intend to grow up any time soon, and yes, that song is about me.

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He’s sassy. He’s sophisticated. He’s sexually unthreatening. And most importantly, he doesn’t exist. I’m talking, of course, about that most peculiar of 21st Century urban myths: the gay best friend.

As people in their twenties are wont to do, I spend a lot of my time socialising. One of the perks to socialising, as you may have noticed, is that you get to meet lots of new people. On the occasions where the conversation comes to my personal life, I find myself hearing, with alarming frequency, that delighted female voice which exclaims “You’re gay?”. This is usually followed by something along the lines of “Gays love me”, or “Do you want to go shopping?”. If the person I’m speaking to is spectacularly lacking in social awareness, she might even ask “Will you be my gay best friend?”.

(If you’ve never had this particular experience, then check out this video entitled Shit Girls Say To Gay Guys)

Now, I am not for one moment saying that these women are bad people. What they are, though, is fucking idiots. Ignorant, misguided idiots. It absolutely baffles me as to what kind of self-respecting, fully grown modern woman would want to refer to herself using such an unattractive term as “fag hag”. But it’s not their fault; pop culture has conditioned them to believe that I and all other homosexual men between 18 and 40 live to provide fashion advice and affirmation (preferably delivered with a hair flick or finger snap).

But seriously, when did the gay best friend become a thing?

While flawed and riddled with clichés, Will & Grace was revolutionary for its time, if only for placing a gay character centre stage in a mainstream sitcom. However, it could only do so by focusing on Will’s co-dependent friendship with Grace. Storylines involving his love life often felt glossed over, even in later seasons when he was settling down with Vince.

What I took away from this was that it’s perfectly okay to show gay men on TV, but only a safe, sexless version. There’s a reason the camp, promiscuous Jack was a secondary character; he and adorable alcoholic Karen, while arguably more entertaining than Will and Grace themselves, were never meant to be taken seriously. Viewers were never invited to become invested in Jack’s sex life; it was played largely for cheap laughs.

Similarly, Sex And The City went out of its way to show us the sweaty, uncomfortable truth about sex and relationships (albeit against a backdrop of sheer lifestyle porn), but only when it came to its leading ladies. Tertiary gay characters Stanford and Anthony barely function as anything other than impeccably dressed sounding boards.

The message? The pursuit of gay love might be pure and noble, but the pursuit of gay sex is tacky and gross. By pigeon-holing gay men as fabulous, fashion forward sidekicks in metropolitan, female-centric fairy tales, nobody has to think about that unpleasant business of what gay sex actually entails.

That’s unlikely to alter any time soon. The main offenders (chick lit and romcoms) are unlikely to change their M.O., and TV shows that portray gay relationships with any degree of grit or realism are only likely to be watched by gay viewers.

Mind you, I’m not entirely opposed to a little sassy repartee now and then. Which is why I’m saving up my finger snaps and four letter words for the next time some unsuspecting ingénue asks me to go shopping with her.

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