Busting the Man Crush

4.10.2008

By Josh Kilmer-Purcell

I do not have a crush on Liza Minnelli. Nor Cher, Tyra, Madonna, Amy Winehouse, Martha Stewart, or America Ferrera. I am a gay man. And as such, while I may adore some of these women -- I may even say I love some of them -- I'm not going to profess any sort of romantic attraction to them.

And yet, increasingly, I hear heterosexual men proclaiming crushes for their own kind -- self-professed "man crushes." Oftentimes the objects of these straight men's affections seem to be sports figures like, um, well...sports figures. During this year's Super Bowl, I witnessed what I thought was the coming-out of one of my local news anchormen. As a prank, the station's sportscaster mocked up a Sports Illustrated cover of the anchorman and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with hearts swirling around their heads. The anchorman apparently had gushed about Brady so often that it had become a running joke. This is the kind of joke that would have gotten me beat up six ways to Sunday in junior high. Guys did not have crushes on other guys -- not if they wanted to survive through the next round of dodge ball.

This trend is not limited to athletes. George Clooney jokes about his attraction to Brad Pitt. Rich Lowry of the National Review wrote that erstwhile presidential candidate Mike Huckabee hearts John McCain. In turn, Mary Matalin claimed that Lowry himself had a man crush on McCain. Apparently in the Republican Party it's like sixth grade all over again. If this game of conservative all-male Spin the Bottle keeps up, there will be no reason for Ann Coulter to continue to exist. (Are you there, God? It's me, Josh...)

There's even, of course, a website devoted to this phenomenon: ManCrush.com. And while Jesus Christ and Ben Franklin inexplicably fall into the top 10 man crushes, so does the undeniably handsome Barack Obama. On the site Johnny Depp is ranked as the number 1 most "talked about" man crush. Picturing legions of heterosexual men giggling over their keyboards about the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie stretches just about any definition of "straight acting" beyond its limits.

It would be too easy to sit back and praise how wonderful it is that American straight men finally feel comfortable enough in their own emotional skin to admit that they have attractions for other men -- sexual or otherwise. It's kind of cute. Until you stop to think that the only way straight American males can verbalize a possible sexual attraction to another man is to infantilize it. I don't know about you, but I haven't had a "crush" on anyone since I clandestinely taped a St. Elmo's Fire'-era photo of Rob Lowe to the inside flap of my Trapper Keeper.

Gay men seem to have learned that any affection we feel for members of the opposite sex is not in fact sexual. It's simply affection. Through years of awkward prom fumblings and phony girlfriends, we've figured out the difference between genuine like and genuine like-to-get-in-your-pants. As a consequence I don't feel the need to make a joke about the fact that I really really like Tyra, Martha, or Cher; I don't feel the need to mislabel them as "woman crushes."

Which raises the question: What do these straight men-crushers expect from their relationship with their crushees? Is there really a latent sexual desire behind their gushing? Women, for the most part, aren't afraid of expressing their sexual curiosity in small, intimate groups. Take a straight woman aside and ask her if she'd like to roll around with Charlize Theron, and she'd have no problem telling you "You betcha" or "No thanks, I'm more of an Uma Thurman gal."

But I doubt that there are many straight guys sitting around playing poker debating which male celebrity they'd like to poke. If they admit to man crushes at all, it counterintuitively seems to require the largest public audience possible (preferably an announcement in the mainstream media). Because maybe that way the audience will be reassured that they're just kidding. Because homosexuality is a joke, right?

OK. Sure. We'll play along with your crushes, you "manly men." Because at one time or another, enough of us have wound up in bed with our close straight friends to know that you're not always kidding. But we'll keep our mouths shut until you've grown-up enough to admit that the male-on-male attraction you trivialize with cute phrases sometimes leaves you powerless. Hell, even my fifth-grade teacher knew that you only tease the ones you love.

Give into your man crush at JoshKilmer-Purcell.com.

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