My oldest friend is a straight man. We met when I was 11, and our friendship was cemented through a love of musical theatre. Yes, there are indeed some heterosexual men who love musical theatre! I was the Christine Daaé to David’s Phantom as we tortured our mothers with endless performances of The Phantom of the Opera every school holiday.
Given that I jumped into David’s sister’s bridesmaid dress (my Christine costume) with wild abandon throughout my teens, it came as little surprise to David that I was a card-carrying homosexual. But I was terrified of coming out to him. I feared I’d lose a friendship that meant so much to me – it still does. I need not have worried: he accepted me unconditionally.
But here lies what I think is at the root of the challenges of gay men and straight male friends. On some level, gay men can never let go of those coming out anxieties. They fear that the majority of straight men will reject them. In my case, I find it difficult not to think back to the vicious, endless bullying I endured at school. But we need to remind ourselves that not everyone is like that.
Many gay men have preconceptions about how straight men behave. These are fuelled, in part, by the media. We think of excessive machismo, of cacophonous football chants singling out ‘the poof’ player. These stereotypes die hard – but they are just that: stereotypes.
Straight men are as varied and fascinating as gay men. Just as not every gay man loves twerking to Beyoncé (thank god) or owns a hostess trolley, not every heterosexual male is a football lout who defecates in the urinals after consuming too much beer while watching a game of footie down the local pub. The challenge, then, for gay men and straight male friends is to question our core beliefs about one another.
Stereotypes die hard – but they are just that: stereotypes.
The key to any relationship of substance is to discover where your mutual interests lie. Not all of your interests need be the same, but friendship is built on the things that you share. This applies just as much to gay men and straight male friends as to anyone else.
When seeking out new friends, don’t dismiss a person because of what they like to place where in the privacy of their boudoir. Focus on the non-carnal extra-curricular activities they love to delve into.
But more importantly than the things you like doing together, your values and general outlook on life should be broadly similar. Ultimately, the way you behave towards yourself and to other people is what keeps you together through the good as well as tough times.
A real friendship weathers differences – even the big differences of politics and religion. Do you really want to surround yourself with someone who agrees with everything you say? Not unless you’re Donald Trump.
The same goes for gay men and straight male friends. Embrace the gulfs, debate them, learn from this and then laugh about it. But above all, don’t be fearful of your differences and don’t dismiss someone just because it looks like their lifestyle is a world away from yours.
Take the time and effort required to fully know someone, and you may be surprised. Of course, one must draw the line somewhere: a framed picture of Margaret Thatcher on the kitchen wall can only signal one thing…
Us gay men can be a stubborn bunch. We tend to stick to our own tribe, fearful of breaking out into the world and forging new friendships outside of our comfort zones. But given the often-terrifying legacy of having grown up in a seemingly harsh heterosexual world, this is perhaps not surprising.
But there comes a time when we must let go of the past – at least if we are to grow as people. We as gay men rightly object when people judge us on our sexual preference, yet frequently many of us seem to do the same to straight men.
Long-lasting friendships can spring from the most unexpected people and circumstances. When I need to remind myself of that, I dig out the old picture of me in that bridesmaid dress next to David. It’s a miracle he didn’t run a mile!
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