Attn. Straight Women: Gay men are not your accessories

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.

Join the Conversation

  • Mishi

    Why can’t people just have best friends who happen to be gay (or black or a woman or a man or a chimpanzee)? I can joke with one of my best friend’s who’s gay that he’s my gay boyfriend but honestly we bond over a thousand different things and for every time he’s there for me to tell me I’m beautiful I’m there for him to tell him he’s beautiful (and that he should take the word schedule out of the e-mail to the boy he likes, it’s too business like). It’s friendship between people, they aren’t accessories. Putting the emphasis on their sexuality is just another way of objectifying people.
    That being said, I’d rather gay people be in the media than be ignored. (I’d also like someone to point out that bisexuals exist, but that’s a horse of a different color)

  • common_reaction

    I will usually be the first one to jump on here and start defending Sex and the City, being a huge fan, but I have to admit, you got me here, Ann.
    In fact, one of my biggest problems with the movie especially, but also the show, was it’s very limited and stereotypical portrayals of it’s gay, bi and (one) lesbian character.
    However, as you pointed out, it’s not just happening in Sex and the City. Further, it’s not just in the sitcom/movie world. I also consider myself a big fan of Kathy Griffin, but sort of cringe when she says things like how she’ll have a “good gay” pick out something red and fabulous for her to wear.
    Maybe it’s my “humourless feminist” side coming out, but for a show as progressive as Sex and the City and a comedianne as gay-friendly as Kathy Griffin, I can’t help but wonder where these disconnects are happening between stereotypes and reality.

  • alixana

    I have several gay family members who I’m close to, and I’ve gotten comments from friends, “I wish *I* had a fabulous gay X.” Didn’t really ‘click’ why I felt that was so odd and uncomfortable until now. I mean, my uncle is not my “fabulous gay uncle,” he’s my uncle and one of my best friends. And the “fabulous” part signifies which part of him is being valued by the people who express these sentiments.
    I think you’re right about Will and Grace – the show was just as much about Will as it was about Grace, and their friendship was very well-rounded and based on much, much more than their sexual identities. Heck, Will wasn’t even as much the stereotypical gay guy as Jack was – Jack and Karen’s friendship was more Carrie/Stanford than Will and Grace were.

  • Flowers

    I don’t like blaming the women in these situations. After all, there is a power dynamic between women and straight men that puts women in a vulnerable position. Any woman who has gone out to a bar with a straight male friend only to have him start trying to kiss you a few drinks in knows how having a straight male friend is never without a power dynamic. However, the fear of unwanted sexual advances disappears when a woman befriends a gay man. The vulnerability associated with being around straight men (especially after drinking) is gone. The lack of sexual tension is a great feeling. Having a gay friend is not like having shoes as much as it is having a friend of the opposite gender without being on the losing side of a power structure.
    I think it’s great to point out that gay males are often portrayed in the media as accessories, but I don’t think it’s right to target straight women as the only people who have created this problem. It’s all part of a much larger system of oppression.

  • alixana

    I think there is a difference between having gay friends and valuing that you can go out with them without them trying to kiss you after 3 beers, and seeking out gay men to be friends with because of it. The latter is using them as tools to achieve your comfort. The OP specifically talks about this man being targeted by straight women despite them having nothing in common, which is a huge red flag. Friends, by the very definition, have something in common, some basic foundation that you build your friendship on.
    I think it’s a cop-out to not claim some responsibility for straight women here – even though we exist in an oppressive system, we do have a responsibility to be conscious of our actions and not to step on anybody else in response to it.

  • rustyspoons

    Yeah, I’ve commented on this kind of thing before. And notice how the “gay boyfriend” never seems to have any relationships or emotional life of his own, he’s just there to help out the straight protagonists?
    On “fag hags”–I see a difference between a straight person who happens to have gay friends and a bona fide “fag hag”. I knew one and she had a tendency to fetishize and objectify the gay lifestyle–or at least, the gay scene where all the boys were young, glam and pretty. Lesbians and average looking gay dudes need not apply. Or even exist. I really don’t see this kind of attitude in a straight person as being ultimately helpful at all.

  • Hypatia

    This reminds me of this satire:
    I’ve also noticed that such “friend accesories” are not exclusive to white female-gay male relationships; it happens with other minority groups too. (i.e. Meet Raj, my Indian friend).

  • SarahMC

    Also, stop saying “my gays.”

  • allieb87

    It’s pretty obviously misguided to pick your friends based on their sexuality. It goes hand in hand with the stereotypes about gay men in the beauty/design industries. There are plenty of straight women out there who have virtually no exposure to actual gay culture but find the innocuous sassy gay hairdresser appealing.
    I honestly don’t think this has THAT much to do with sitcoms though. Since when do sitcoms portray ANY group accurately anyhow? Last time I checked all the straight women were neurotic nags obsessed with marriage and all the straight men were fat, lazy husbands. No one looks good on the small screen. At least Will & Grace had the benefit of being occasionally funny and subversive. I’m all for more a more positive portrayal of gay men and women in media but I honestly feel that the straight husband is the least flattering sitcom stereotype out there.

  • mikeymikemike

    Women also use the gay male friend for a pass on homophobia. How many women seek out a lesbian friend?

  • Kurumi & Cheese

    I had a friend who wanted to know why it was that women liked having gay male friends. I thought it was odd that I actually had to explain this to him, but whatever: Gay men are not sexually threatening, and while I was always crossing my fingers that this particular friend would not do anything inappropriate when we were hanging out, I wouldn’t have those concerns if he was gay (I used to feel that way about married guys too until a married friend tried to have an affair with me).
    I’ve always had a lot more in common with men than women and gotten along better with men, but I find that friendships with men are just so damn HARD because as much as I try to maintain a platonic relationship, it almost always veers to a point where they start kissing on me.
    I don’t want gay friends to say, “Lookit me I’m so hip I have gay friends,” but I would love it if I could have a friend or two who I had a lot in common with, who were awesome, and who wouldn’t get drunk and feel me up. That would be swell. Somehow my lesbian friends manage to never put moves on me, but every time (EVERY TIME, it’s fucking RIDICULOUS) I have a guy friend, he has to try to take things “to another level.” I quite like the level it’s at, thanks. (And then of course that means I rejected him and we can never be friends again.)

  • aj

    Very interesting perspective on the fag hag phenomenon. Something i’ve noticed through my own life experience, as a gay man, is that many strait women who cling on to friendships with gay men are often times incredibly homophobic. They fall prey to making the typical jokes about anal sex which completely degrades any person that engages in that particular sexual activity.
    It seems like if you take a little bit of capitalism, throw it in with a little bit of gay, you get a strait women’s gay best friend. Shopping addict, gossip junky, superficial materialist, and all the other myriad of bad stereotypes that we fall prey to.
    On the flip side, it’s difficult for me. I absolutely love women. I have built some of the most intimate and liberating relationships of my life with female companions, and I would like to think that as much as we should refrain from lumping together gay men into a stereotype — we should do the same for the ‘fag hags.’ Not all of them are out to utilize us as trendy handbags, although that is certainly what the media likes to portray.

  • Jen Carl

    While I do think that gay men (and women) need more positive and leading rolls in media, and not just the comedic relief, (much the way african americans were/largely still are in film & TV.) I would have to say that there is another side to this coin. Gay men: WOMEN are not your accessories.
    One of my closest friends happens to be gay, he, our mutual best friend and I have been friends since high school and I knew him before he came out. When he finally did we would go with him to the only gay club in Richmond where HE was the center of attention, the main character if you will, not us. We were there, as he himself said, to be his entourage, his handbags, his accessories. He was joking at the time, but there was a definite truth in it. We were like HIS non threatening girl friends, who he wouldn’t have to compete with for ANY guy. It was our job to come with him, encourage him, and then leave once he’d found a partner. I love him to death and going to gay clubs is pretty fun for me too, we were the gossiping flunkies.
    I also had a friend of mine, who I had also known in high school before he was out, come see me in NYC (after he was out.) But if we weren’t at a GAY bar or club he would be just in the absolute worst mood. Even though I had brought him there to meet my friends and just to hang out, he would just sit in the corner and sulk. I love this guy, but I seriously felt like he expected me to be his madame and bring him to places where he could get laid (even though he was not yet 21, and so he couldn’t get into most of those places, not to mention that we were both staying with my mom so neither of us would have been able to get any in the first place.) He was also very (clinically) depressed, and I know that his actions represent that of someone with that condition (and someone selfish), NOT gay people, but he seemed to have some kind of idea of who I should be as his straight girlfriend. It was very weird for me, having been such close friends all through high school, for him to be suddenly expecting different things of our friendship. To me, it didn’t matter, gay or not, he was my same Brandon; it was he who suddenly changed his friendship with me after he came out.
    Anyway, my point in all of this is that until queer gay men and women are treated as equals by society, there is going to be mistreatment and misunderstanding on both sides – even in the most accepting, legitimately based friendships. While the media may represent and reinforce one negative point of view, that does exist, real life is much more ambiguous.
    While I know that as a straight woman I am accepted more by our culture for my orientation, gay men are still MEN, which is still the dominating sex in our society. Having been raised as such, they can have every bit a sense of entitlement or negative ideas about women as a straight man – sometimes even worse than as they have no interest in women sexually and therefore no need to be seen positively by them. I don’t want anyone to take what I’m saying the wrong way, I’m in NO WAY trying to say that one has it better off than the other. I’m just trying to say that we have enough problems without the media creating this sort of wedge between two groups of people who should be helping and supporting each others cause, not going at each other’s throats.

  • Abby B.

    One of my good friends was at work one day and all her co-workers were talking about how they wanted a gay best friend. When Katie mentioned that her best friend was gay, they were all very surprised. (I guess they didn’t think she was fashionable enough?) That is, until she said her best friend was a woman, and they told her it “didn’t count”. Ugh.
    This is something I struggle with a bunch, because, for some weird reason or combination of reasons, most of my good friends are gay men. Of course, this doesn’t mean I don’t have straight male friends, or that I like all gay men (Heaven forbid!), and I’m kind of baffled by the dress-me-up thing, because most of my male friends aren’t actually fashion designers and are completely clueless when it comes to women’s clothing. (Exactly as I am with men’s clothing.)
    Strangely enough, I’ve heard from my best friend that one of the very many reasons he likes having lesbian friends like me is that we tend not to hit on him. Not saying this is the norm by any means, but it’s not uncommon that, just like some men think a lesbian hasn’t met the right guy, a woman mistakes a close friendship with a gay man for something of a more sexual nature.

  • Kim C.

    Or, for that matter, how many men seek out a lesbian friend with the purpose of being a sexless-opposite-sex friend as the gay man is to the straight woman?

  • Hypatia

    Isn’t that besides the point? People should not be “seeking out” friends based on their sexuality.

  • Abby B.

    Okay, having read the article now, it is clearly no longer a mystery: “[Classic fag hags] drifted toward gay culture because they perceived themselves as outsiders, and bonded with gay men over shared feelings of social rejection, and love of camp, and appreciation of John Waters movies.” Yes, this.
    (Irrelevant much? Yes I am.)

  • LN80

    I had to read that sentence a couple times because it is so outside of my experience as a lesbian that I couldn’t wrap my mind around the logic. I’ve never had a straight man try to befriend me for that purpose. My experience has been that straight men mostly just ignore me or don’t think I’m *really* a lesbian.
    I think some commentators here are raising a really good questions about the whiffs of homophobia in straight women seeking out and maintaining friendships with gay men because they are “non-threatening.” WTF. Lesbians are *not* the gay equivalent of “threatening” straight men.

  • DeafBrownTrash

    Thanks for writing this.
    It’s not any different from an ignorant white woman proclaiming she wants a little cute black friend.

  • norbizness

    What about Grady, Fred Sanford’s elderly gay friend in Sanford and Son? Great googly-moogly!

  • B. Atoureta

    My only gay friend is female. But seriously, yeah, they’re not purses.
    PS – I despise Sex and the City. Blekh.

  • laura

    I think the unpleasant accessorizing phenomenon (actually, both of them) also has to do with the way women’s own culture is sometimes seen as insignificant. Flashy, fabulous gay male culture (or rather, the media version of it) is painted as something much, much better than what mere straight women could ever accomplish on their own.
    “You have to have your token male, girls. If he’s gay, all the better, but you can’t ever just be on your own. You’re just so boring.”

  • sk1

    it saddens me that you (and others) have had that type of experience. i’ve had a number of straight male friends that have never tried to make an inappropriate move on me, and a few that have that took a negative response from me in stride. hopefully more straight males can learn to be as cool as the guys i’ve been lucky enough to befriend!

  • Stephanie89

    I think I’ll leave this one to Bryan Safi:

  • Brian

    Probably very, very few. Gender roles being what they are, men aren’t at very much risk of being hit on by their female friends.
    For what it’s worth, I have noticed that when male friends have come out to me as gay, they’ve (often, anyhow) gone way above and beyond the call of duty to impress upon me that I’m in no danger of being hit upon by them. Which is probably a close parallel.

  • Claudia

    But is it better for minority individuals to be shown in the media if they’re wildly stereotyped and exploited?
    I prize quality over quantity: fewer representations of [insert group of people here] that depict them as INDIVIDUALS WHO HAPPEN TO BE [group] than as the most discriminatory, stereotypical version of [group] there is.
    Representation is simply damaging if its MIS-representation.

  • Claudia

    Sorry for double-commenting! I thought of something else…
    I’m all for ALL queers being represented, so why stop at bisexual? There’s a whole spectrum of sexual identity out there. Why assume everyone’s stationed at the poles with an extra spot in the middle, or a triangle?
    I personally like Kate Bornstein’s food pyramid concept of assessing both the range of variation and privelege accompanying it, for any issue discussed, be it sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, class status, etc…

  • mikeymikemike

    I should have written my comment better. I did not mean to say that actively search out gay men out of a crowd. Men, unfortunately, too often exclude gay men and lesbians from friendships. I was commenting on that it is unusual to read articles, or hear women discussing friendships with lesbians.

  • Comrade Kevin

    Anything the mass media or the private sector can make into a commodity and niche market, they will. While having a gay male friend (or any LGBT friend, for that matter) was once a subversive act, now it’s downright trendy, and I don’t know how you can stop it. Aside from short-circuiting the entire capitalist system, we’re pretty much stuck with this phenomenon. And anything that gets turned into a commodity is painted with the broad brush of stereotype when pointing out individual identity would be a tactic much better served.
    You can cling to a view as expressed above as a purist and indeed I hold the same one, but do know that some will call you an elitist for holding fast to it, too. And do understand that we as human beings can perceive of complex matters like this in the abstract with much effort, but our brains seem to be designed around a model of two sided polarity: black or white, liberal or conservative, threat or not a threat, male or female, gay or straight. Those of us who are thinking people realize that such things are almost never that simplistic, but one has to admit how easy it is to lapse into that sort of thinking despite ourselves. Advertisers play into this manner of thinking when they reduce people down to gross oversimplifications. I’d love to hear someone with a solution for this problem, because I don’t have one myself.

  • SarahMC

    I don’t think most straight men have a use for women who aren’t going to fuck them (or clean up their messes).

  • MountainPika

    I have several friends, who happen to be gay, I never considered myself a “fag hag” and I actually find the word offensive to women – particularly the “hag” part. I am surprised that other people haven’t found this term offensive.
    Of course, I find it equally problematic that some women supposedly are chasing gay men just so they can have the supposed “gay best friend.”

  • kataphatic

    While I completely agree that this phenomenon is extremely problematic and needs to be addressed, I want to echo other commenters here in saying I’m really uncomfortable with this being directed at women as if they are “the privileged” here and the gay men are “the oppressed.” The reality is this is an incredibly complex situation (especially if there are class, race, ability, body size, or other factors at play) and to put all the blame for this problem on the women is very problematic. FWIW, I think the post itself was very thoughtful and nuanced, but the title just really grated on me the wrong way.
    Attention everyone: human person are not objects.

  • Mishi

    You’re absolutely right. I was speaking from the perspective of a bisexual (cis)woman who’s sick of any woman that likes women immediately being written off as a lesbian and any lesbian as a woman who just hasn’t met a dick she likes yet. So many people stick to the sexuality binary that I’ve forgotten to include the entire movement from my own, limited, perspective. There needs to be a better representation of LGBT(QQI) in general in the media.
    As for your first comment, I think as a whole gay men have made amazing strides towards being “accepted” into the media. I’m struggling not to say something about the particular stereotype (effeminite capitalist) being “that” harmful because how would I know? I’m not a member of that group and I can’t speak for the group in general. Suffice it to say that better representation and more equal representation is a definite goal, but the other members of the LGBTQQI suffer far worse fates at the moment.
    Which isn’t to take the emphasis off of all that gay men have done to put themselves into the media in general. But in a post-bravo! world, post queer eye, post will and grace, post project runway, gay men are much better represented and much LESS stereotyped than, say, lesbians who are depicted as either “hot” so they can be objectified or “butch” so they can be mocked and ignored.

  • JetGirl70

    Thank you! That drives me nuts.

  • Poetry

    That’s exactly what creeps me out most about the “fag hag” phenomenon. There’s this objectification of gay men by straight women sometimes, as if they’re real life yaoi boys or fanfiction fantasy come to life. I’m not saying that all straight female/gay male friendships are like that, but I’ve seen it happen. It ends up making the guy feel really uncomfortable.

  • Toni

    Good thing I checked before posting. I was going to post that link.

  • Zailyn

    I’m all for ALL queers being represented, so why stop at bisexual?
    Thank you! Personally (admitting distinct bias because it’s my own sexuality), what I really want to see is more asexual characters on TV.
    I know of only two, you see. One is from a New Zealand soap opera, and the other is Spongebob Squarepants.

  • AtrociousR

    Because lashing out at an entire enormous and varied group of people is entirely justified when a select few of that group have personally done something bad to you.

  • anteup

    (I’m not saying this in a “oh look at me and how DESIRABLE I am” sort of way)
    I’ve had a few friendships that ended with him trying to take things to ~another level~. Mostly I have to deal with guys getting goofy little oh-so-obvious crushes on me… That makes things HELLA awkward.
    I notice that a lot of guys tend to assume you want their nuts if you so much as talk to them too.

  • Flowers

    Well put! Exactly what I was trying to get at…

  • Flowers

    Well put! Exactly what I was trying to get at…
    (After I logged in, I forgot to comment as a reply.)

  • Suzann

    Once – and not all that long ago – knowing a accomodating female friend (I refuse to accept the disgusting term ‘fag hag’) was indeed a matter of survival for many gay men.
    I ‘dated’ many of my friends because ( and here I ‘date’ myself) if they didn’t show up to the company event with high-end female arm-candy *this time* they might not have a job in the morning. If someone of the suitable ( read media-standard -opposite) gender didn’t show up with the bail money – they were staying in overnight. (Usually on trumped up BS ‘public disturbance’ charges.
    As much the same was true for me in reverse?
    If the connection has fallen out of fashion?
    Well, you know what they say about friends in need.

  • bifemmefatale

    Hate to tell you, but if you’re straight, you ARE privileged in relation to gay people. Welcome to intersectionality, where most of us are privileged along some axes and and oppressed on others. And in the post above, it *is* the privileged people who are the problem.

  • bifemmefatale

    Won’t someone think about the menz?

  • Zailyn

    Yeah, this.
    I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss what people have been saying about women not experiencing the same level of sexual threat and harassment from gay men as from straight men, which will often mean that a woman will have an easier time forming and keeping a friendship with a gay man than with a straight man – which is why I can’t really agree with saying that straight women seeking out gay men to befriend must definitely be due to homophobia. On the other hand, it certainly can be – the problem the post talks about exists and is a clear case of homophobia that needs to be addressed. I’ve known a girl who would keep talking about her “bisexual friend”, always in those words, always with some discussion about his boyfriend and omg did I mention he’s bi? It was seriously uncomfortable to listen to because I simply didn’t get the impression she was thinking of him as an actual person beyond his sexuality. Instead, he was her Token Queer Friend. Ugh. (Should add that I’ve seen the Token Friend thing happen with more than sexuality – one of my most uncomfortable memories is listening to a good friend of mine talk about her “friend with Asperger” in very tokenising language – but it seems as if this is especially a problem with gay/bi people due to media portrayals and other such stereotypes.) No one can tell me that the privilege in that particular scenario wasn’t on her side of the fence.
    So, yeah, this is complicated.

  • aislingeach

    I dunno. I’ve always had really good friendships with male-identified and masculine-spectrum people, many of whom are cis, straight men. I won’t deny that, with some of them, I have had to have the “put on your big boy panties and deal with the fact that not all women are sexually available to you, and that I am one of those who are not” talk, but there are many of them for whom it just doesn’t seem to be an issue. YMMV.

  • Newbomb Turk

    It also reminds me of this spoof of straight women using gay men as accessories:

  • Kathleen6674

    I think her point was that SarahMC used the word ‘most’ – ‘many’ probably would have been better here.

  • aislingeach

    And I should add that I’ve never had a dudely buddy make the kind of moves that I’m seeing described downthread. The talks I mentioned are always in response to some kind of mournful, drunken comment, no stronger than, for example, “You are the best girl! I wish there was, like, a straight version of you.”

  • Newbomb Turk

    I have. We had the same taste in girls, so we would check them out together. It was like having an extra pair of eyes! Until she moved away, we were buddies.