A few months ago I invited several of my friends to a party. They were from different circles but I picked them because I thought they would get along, and they did. Some of them really did. They are now dating. This is great! I love my friends and I want nothing more than for them to be happy. My girl friends are caring, nurturing, beautiful inside and out, and my guy friends are strong, hardworking, and ambitious. It was no surprise that some of them would be attracted to one another. Everyone wins, right? Well, it’s complicated.
As a gay man I’m used to being the confidante to many of my girl friends. They talk to me about loneliness, crushes, dates, and sex. And I’m used to being the charming sidekick to many of my straight guy friends. They talk to me about work, women, dates, and sometimes sex, but mostly insight into the female psyche. (I’m supposed to know that stuff, right?) This method has worked fairly well in the past: I get great friends I enjoy, and they get a great friend they enjoy who also offers insight into heterosexual dating (listen to all those queer theorists grumbling and sighing right now. Don’t worry, I’ll get to you in a bit.)
In the past, when a girl friend would come to me for advice she could easily go back to her boyfriend and say she got some advice from her friend Zach, a gay guy who has her best interest at heart. None of those other guys ever knew me personally so when they’d meet me, they’d regard me with suspicion, caution, and maybe even reverence at the intimacy I shared with their girlfriends. They’d never ask me about the advice I was giving because they must have seen it as off limits or as a necessity for the balance of their straight relationships. This has changed.
Now if one of my girl friends comes to me for advice I might actually know the guy she’s talking about. I might be good friends with him, might have hung out with him, might have seen him with other girls (this mention I know might create quite a stir with the unnamed parties). Do I keep quiet and refrain from offering advice? Or do I continue to be the friend I have always been to her: the confidante who has her best interest at heart? I have learned the hard way, and my conclusion is to say nothing. The gay voice is silenced. Why? Unlike before when the guys didn’t know me and could look at me silently with some curiosity, this time some of them do know me and can ask me why I broke “guy code.”
As a gay man who has studied some queer theory, I am all too aware of the role straight society gives gays. We are the supporters, the advisers, and the affirmers to heterosexual relationships. We offer sex tips, clothing suggestions, and insight into male and female desire. Think “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” a show that marketed these stereotypical gay qualities into a few seasons of television intrigue. In such situations, the gay guy has a prominent role, yes, but it is all for one purpose: the promise of heterosexual coupling. In some ways I suppose I tried to subvert and resist my role as the gay friend who is relevant and has a voice only when the straights are in need or in distress — girls call on me when they break up with guys but I often don’t see them much when they’re enjoying the fullness of dating life — by continuing to be the friend I have always been, the adviser, the counselor, the secret keeper.
Now, though, as my straight friends are beginning to date one another I am learning something new: my imposed limitations and forced silence. These limitations are revealed when the homosexual somehow impedes heterosexual productivity. By this I mean, if they can’t get it on because of something I said, I am no longer useful to them. The gay friend is no longer adviser but meddler. If a gay man challenges straight sexual relations, the easy answer is to strike him from the equation (hence the lack of girls seeking advice during the good times in dating).
I love my friends. I could not have survived in Washington, D.C. without them. I want them to be happy in love, but I also want us to be happy in friendship. The best way to do this is to create a new identity not as the gay best friend who offers advice or insight, but as just a friend who can step away from dating issues that should be worked out between the couple. By doing so, I am choosing to be a friend who happens to be gay not a gay friend. Yes, this silences the gay voice in some ways, and can be a problematic solution, but it helps our friendships survive, if in temporarily fragmented ways. Feminist theorist and lesbian poet Audre Lorde wrote, “I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self. But this is a destructive and fragmenting way to live.” In order for me not to succumb to fragmented relationships with my straight friends, it would be useful during my momentary silence to re-evaluate the foundation of those friendships to find if and where the gay voice ever had a place.
Before I close, I must make it clear that I do not think gays are in anyway destructive to straight relationships. But I am suggesting that a heteronormative culture that already regards homosexuals as deviant feigns acceptance of homosexuals with some trepidation and limitations. I wish this wasn’t the case, even among my dearest friends, but as the story repeats itself, I am forced to accept otherwise.