Gentlemen, the bromance has landed. No longer just a thing for nerdy hipster boys, this week’s arrival of the Paul Rudd comedy I Love You, Man, proves guy-on-guy loving is having a genuine cultural moment. In the film, Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a friendless (at least when it comes to dudes) guy whose fiancee sends him on a quest to find some straight buds he can hang with. He gets some help from his gay brother (SNL‘s Andy Samberg), who’s an expert on straight men, as they’re the only kind of dudes he’s into.
But is bromance the exclusive domain of straight guys? Is it the fin-de-siecle response to a culture that’s become obsessed with breaking things down into “gay” (musical theater, Oprah, microplanes) and “straight” (football, tank tops, BBQ). Is the bromance the heterosexual version of a “safe space,” where straight dudes can show affection for each other without it leading to french kissing and couples massage?
I sure hope not. You see, some of my best friends are straight.
Before I begin, a word of explanation. In a second I’m going to say some really nice things about my straight friends, some of it at the expense of some of the gays I know. You’re going to accuse me of being some sort of self-hating homosexual with internalized homophobia, yadda, yadda, yadda. I won’t stop you if that’s your thing, but, just for a moment, consider the life of your editor: For the last three years or so, I’ve been gay for pay. I make my living thinking about gay topics, talking to gay people about gay things. Now, I’m not complaining – I could be writing about plumbing fixtures after all – but at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is go to to a gay bar.
Which is one reason why I tend to have a lot of straight male friends. But if I’m honest, I always have had straight buds and a lot of my gay friends have mostly straight friends as well. This seems only natural; after all, there are a lot more straight dudes out there than there are gay guys. But here’s the dirty secret I don’t tell anyone: Given a choice between hanging out with a gay guy or a straight one, I’d pick the straight one any day.
Take, for example, my roommate, known to RuPaul’s Drag Race recappers as “Straight Roommate.” He’s the third roommate I’ve had at the place I live and the only one I’ve been able to get along with. My previous roommates – both great guys, to be sure – still suffered from what I call “Real World” syndrome. It’s a thing that seems to uniquely affect gay men and straight women and mainly consists of trying to call “house meetings” and using the phrase “We need to talk.” And that’s only when they’re being direct—usually it’s just passive aggression. Straight Roommate, on the other hand, says things like “Dude, what the fuck is with the dishes in the sink?” which is the sort of direct communication someone who spends most of their day on the Internet needs.
In a lot of ways, we come from different worlds: He watches Fox News, Fraiser and Will & Grace; I watch Big Love and Top Chef. We get into long arguments about the veracity of evolution and whether affirmative action is reverse discrimination, but I love my Straight Roommate far more than I ever cared for the gay roomies that preceded him, even though, on the surface, we had more in common.
Strangely, when my gay friends chat about our straight friends, the conversation usually comes around to how, well, gay they are. My friend Vin is part of a monthly dinner club with three straight guys. Last week, he was surprised by an email he got from the three of them talking about how important next month’s event would be, “because it’s our one-year anniversary.” Pull up the Tivo at my house and there’s Singin’ in the Rain, All About Eve and Showboat on permanent save, but they belong to Straight Roommate, not me. Hell, he even commented when I started recording HBO specials about Nevada brothels. Hey! It’s interesting!
Which brings up another strange wrinkle in the gay-on-straight bromance. Everyone always assumes the straight guy must be secretly gay. It’s endlessly annoying and I’ve found myself defending my straight friends’ heterosexuality too often—and usually the person I’m making the defense to is gay. This seems like a sort of perverse reverse homophobia, as if no straight man would ever just want to hang out with a gay guy because he enjoys hanging out with them.
Ironically, the straight guys always seem to delight at the questioning. I worked with a straight guy at a gay magazine once (see, your alarm bells are ringing already!) and we became fast friends, playing Time Bandits at a nearby video arcade during lunch breaks. Soon, we were checking out taco carts after work and listening to Coast to Coast with Art Bell while driving around L.A. at night, talking about our lives.
I recently asked him if it was weird at all to spend so much time with a gay guy. After shrugging off the question, he told me that part of the appeal was that he could talk about more serious personal issues than he could with a straight friend.
For me, that’s part of the appeal of the straight-on-gay friendship. Instead of having any desire to sleep with my straight pals, I enjoy the absence of sexual tension than comes with most gay male friendships. It’s refreshing and fun to hang out with someone without the question of “Is this leading to sex?” hanging over my head. The reality is, despite being Mr. Gay Internet, I’m really nervous around gay guys I’m attracted to. I allow myself to get caught up in the “Does he like me? Is he interested? I wonder what our wedding will look like” inner monologue that lead to a lot of awkward mumbling and silences. With my straight pals, there’s none of that—except when there is.
Twice, I’ve had straight friends turn out to be, well, questioning. A friend in college decided that he was deeply and passionately in love with me after hanging out for a few months and told me: "When I look into your eyes, I feel like I could fall forever", which is one of the nicest, if cheesiest, things anyone has ever said to me. I was about to transfer to a new school and I knew that the fact that I’d be gone soon made me an easy laboratory for experimentation. We hooked up and then I moved. For years, I would get IMs from him, sometimes accusing me of seducing him, sometimes telling me he still felt something for me. About two years ago, he IM’d me to tell me he was getting married.
The great thing about the idea of “bromance” is that it accurately reflects the shifting sands of sexuality under the American male’s feet. Sexuality is a lot more fluid than it was a generation ago and it’s no longer taboo for guys to experiment with what turns them on. At the same time, I think it’s ridiculously hard for men of any sexuality to maintain friendships. Women may have assigned gender roles, but at least they’re smart enough to talk about and question them. Guys, on the other hand, are still tragically aping the macho attitudes of their grandfathers.
How is it possible we live in a society where the idea that a gay man and a straight man could be close friends is somehow radical? If anything, male sexuality has become more conservative in the last 40 years and only recently has the sphere of “maleness” expanded beyond a narrow macho ideal. It’s great that guys are able to have bromances, but how sad it is that it it’s so novel a phenomena that Hollywood can sell it as a high-concept comedy. Then again, that Paul Rudd fellow just keeps getting hotter by the day, right?