If you have consumed any amount of pop culture directed at straight women over the past decade, you know of the “gay boyfriend” phenomenon: the superfabulous, showtunes and shopping-loving queer friend who shows up whenever a female lead character needs entertainment, romantic advice, or a plus-one.
Think Stanford in Sex and the City. The eavesdropping assistant in Obsessed. The gaggle of gays who advise Drew Barrymore in He’s Just Not That Into You. I could go on and on… Much like the black best friend, the gay boyfriend is the perfect match for a neurotic and insecure (but still skinny, white, beautiful) leading lady because he is depicted as sexually nonthreatening and non-spotlight-hogging. I think Sady summed it up well:
Sadly, not everybody can be a White Heterosexual. However, if you are not, I have good news: you, lucky person, get to aid the White Heterosexuals in their quest for love! Gay folks and/or people of color make fabulous accessories to the single White Heterosexual girl’s lifestyle.
Which brings us to Thomas Rogers, who describes his plight in Salon today: He’s a gay man who has repeatedly been targeted by straight women looking for a gay boyfriend, despite the fact that he has little in common with these women:
As I moved away from home, to bigger and bigger cities, I discovered that there were lots of scruffy and poorly dressed drone-rock-loving gay men in the world — especially of my age group — who had nothing in common with the Sanfords and Wills I’d seen on TV. Just because I was into dudes didn’t mean I had to suddenly love dance music or fine furnishings. And yet, despite my continued shortcomings as a stereotypical gay man, I remained a strangely alluring target for a large number of straight women.
Rogers grants that self-identified “fag hags” were once extremely important: “I’m here, I’m with that queer, get used to it.” (He doesn’t make this distinction, but in many parts of the country where gay rights are less entrenched, I think this can still hold true.) And he largely credits Will and Grace with mainstreaming the phenomenon. Granted, I have not seen too many episodes of the show, but to me it’s very different than the Carrie/Stanford example. Will and Grace’s friendship always seemed like a two-way street. After all, the show isn’t called Grace, and Will is much more than a background character who pops up for comic relief. Rogers continues,
It was no coincidence that the first wave of gay male TV characters shared most of their screen time with straight women — it made us palatable to mainstream America. “It was celebrating the feminine side of gay men, not about going into the bar scene,” says Pimlott. “It disarmed their potential threat.” And this, in turn, made us into every straight girl’s best friend. “It made it seem like every straight girl should have these accessories: Manohlo Blahnik shoes, and a fag.”
It’s true that while declaring oneself a “fag hag” was once a subversive act, the mainstream cultural interpretation of the friendship between straight women and gay men has taken a really unfortunate turn. (As a straight woman with many gay male friends, it gives me pause. Have I internalized any of this bullshit?) Perhaps the more subversive act today is to decline to preface the term “friend” with a description of that person’s sexuality.