Gay men have been considered accessories by straight women since long before Freddie Mercury and Princess Diana partied together. But it’s straight men that are an underutilized resource to gay men. No, this isn’t a story of some stereotypical gay Sandy singing “Hopelessly Devoted” to straight Danny like every piece of queer representation in ‘90s teen soaps seemed to portray.
The straight male best friend makes for a pretty convenient dynamic. The sexual tension is never an issue unless you make it one. And there’s not such a sense of competition to which most gay male friendships seem to succumb. With the right straight guy, it can be a very welcome and useful distraction from the oft-exhausting gay scenes.
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The summer after college graduation, I found myself back home in Mississippi for an extended period. Among the few new friends I made was Cole, a boy next door type who was straight but far evolved from the ignorant homophobia for which most know Mississippi. I could discuss the same graphic gay details with him as I could with my gay friends without the slightest discomfort on his end.
One evening, we found ourselves at a local speakeasy (if you can call a bar that has an entire wall of windows a speakeasy). A few drinks in, I found myself in a dreaded moment that every gay man fears. Two particularly toxic exes of mine walked in, apparently on a date, and sat at the opposite end of the bar.
I instinctively grabbed Cole’s hand, explaining the awkward situation. Not only was he comfortable with it, but he totally got into character, showing public affection like he’d been on Grindr for years and desperately needed human contact. He even kissed me on the cheek as we paid the check.
That’s when I discovered the joys of a decoy boyfriend. He’s perfect for those awkward run-ins with people whom you’d wish to avoid judgment and awkward conversation. And since he doesn’t hang with many gay guys, they won’t know that he’s a decoy, let alone straight.
It’s not such a bad deal for the straight guy either. Who makes a better wingman than a gay guy, or any queer person for that matter?
Straight women have been frequenting gay bars for decades out of sheer exhaustion from being hit on by the typical cavemen they usually encounter. Who better to vouch for a guy’s sensitivity or wokeness than his gay best friend? And having a gay man randomly compliment your top is much less aggressive than having a straight man randomly compliment your breasts, making icebreakers much more natural and friendly.
But with this dynamic comes some responsibility on behalf of the gay friend.
Desi was another straight guy who I became particularly close to, given that his gay dad was a family friend. He was a Blink-182 enthusiast with a rough exterior and a protective vibe for his friends. After I came out, we began hanging out regularly, and if it’s not too cheesy to say, he became the brother I never had (although I do have an actual brother, and he's not that bad).
What might have surprised those who didn’t know him is that he was truly a hopeless romantic. I say that in the sense of hopeless romantics that ‘80s movies tried to make endearing, although young women of today might find intimidating. But it was 2009 and we were teenagers.
When he fell for a girl, he fell hard. The summer after high school, we must have spent every day driving to this coffee stand in the middle of a strip mall parking lot because he was into the girl who worked there. I was his wingman and often his moral support – although I can’t complain since he did the same for me when I was crushing on the guy who worked at Buckle.
But for him, it was all about strategy, deciding the right way to make his move – whereas I was more like a puppy, aimlessly hoping to be adored. One day, as we drove to the window of the coffee stand, he finally worked up the nerve to ask her out.
“Yea, I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” she responded in a casual, yet slightly annoyed way, as one might if she’s frequently asked out at her place of employment.
As we drove away, there was an awkward tension almost as thick as the southern humidity. Rejection hurts and few are so fragile as a teen boy scorned. But it was his response, reeking of a Trump-era misogynistic philosophy, that truly shocked me.
“She must have been a lesbian,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was joking because it seemed like one of those hetero-brained statements that also should have died out with those '90s teen soaps. He wasn’t joking.
It was the first time I truly felt comfortable dismantling someone’s internalized misogyny and homophobia. Having grown up in a southern conservative household, I always felt outnumbered, if not intimidated. But this was an important opportunity to stand my ground.
Although the straight best friend is an underutilized resource, it comes with a certain responsibility. We can’t let them slide when they make ignorant statements that exude the kind of cis straight white male privilege that drives the likes of Brock Turner and other ignored stains on society. And while we can be great wingmen, it’s ultimately our responsibility to put a mirror up to our loved ones and their deep-rooted entitlement.