Monday, July 18, 2011

Bill Patrick - I love you, man! (Thoughts on the restricted nature of straight men’s friendships)

This was posted at the XY blog the other day - Bill Patrick looks at the ways in which men - straight men mostly - are restricted from showing any real affection or love for their closest friends out of fear of being thought feminine or, gasp!, gay.

We rob ourselves of emotional freedom by buying into these restrictive beliefs, and it's sad. When I see my gay friends, we have no problem hugging hello and/or goodbye. As it should be.

I love you, man! (Thoughts on the restricted nature of straight men’s friendships.)

Mon, 18 Jul 2011
By Bill Patrick

The other day as I picked up my daughter from daycare I heard a young boy (who was probably around four years old) calling out to another young boy across the parking lot.


The other boy stopped dead in his tracks, turned around, and loudly called back:


I found their exchange utterly charming.

But at the same time it got me to thinking: just how long will it be before these two young boys reach a point where it is no longer socially acceptable for them to loudly profess their love for one another? By early adolescence most guys stop expressing deep affection for each other. Most straight male teenagers don’t want to be thought of as gay, and most gay teens know it is often not safe to be so overt about their affections.

Loving another man somehow makes you gay? Not long ago I heard a radio interview with a sociology professor who was researching male-male friendships. When he told the research participants that he wanted to talk with them about their same-sex friendships, the young hetero guys overwhelmingly felt the need to immediately inform him: “I’m not gay.” The professor remarked about how surprising this pattern of behavior was, and about how absurd it was. Ask a straight guy about his male friends, and he will likely feel obliged to automatically exert his hetero-ness. He feels an urgent need to enforce the boundaries of heterosexual masculinity.

Ask a straight woman about her close female friendships, and it is highly unlikely that she is going bother wasting any breath asserting that she is not a lesbian.

So just how do we hetero guys “connect”? Many women connect very deeply with other women. But how do we straight guys do it? Here is a little secret about men that I would like to share: playing basketball is not a form of intimacy. Going fishing is not a form of intimacy. Watching the game on television is not a form of intimacy. Many of these activities in which men engage with their friends are great fun, but they do not require (and sometimes even discourage) emotional connection.

Take fishing, for instance. You can’t talk because it might scare the fish. What a great way to spend time together and yet not risk intimacy!

Sometimes the activities slow, the fish stop biting, the game ends, and intimacy begins to emerge even so. But we ever-resourceful straight guys have come up with ways to manage our emotional connections while ensuring that the relationship remains sufficiently hetero. We just add the obligatory word man to the end of any verbal expression of affection. So “I love you” becomes “I love you, man. This little tag-on word serves the same function as the tap-tap-tap on the back that we straight men so often give each other when we hug. Saying “I love you, man” and tapping your buddy on the back convey fondness – but not too much fondness. The affection is kept superficial. The physicality remains tightly controlled.

O.K., so we straight guys can be kind of uptight about this whole “I’m not gay” thing. Is that really a problem?

Yes. It is a problem.

First and foremost, the strong homophobia of so many straight men leads us to treat gay men and boys very badly. The most horrible examples of this are hate crimes and the murder of young gay men like Matthew Shepard. And then there are the tragic suicides of gay youth, the result of the totally unnecessary suffering that so many young gay men experience at the hands of bullies. And even those young gay men who are not driven to suicide still often experiencing terrible bullying at the hands of their straight male peers.

Read the whole post.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Sage said...

Hmmm. Interesting article. As you know Bill, I am a man who identifies as same gender loving/two spirited. I haven't been feeling the word "gay" as a self descriptor for some time now. Although I do occasionally refer to myself as such because the word is so understood and utilitarian.

I have to respectfully disagree with the author here on his belief that fishing, watching football games and such together are not expressionss of intimacy between men. Intimacy does not by default require talking which is kinda sorta what he ends up implying although I think he really knows better than that. He still however needed to drag out that (IMHO) tired idea that things that heterosexually identified men traditionally do together are devoid of intimacy.

I would say approx. 70% of my closest friends are men who identify as heterosexual. All these friendships enjoy deep levels of intimacy. There are several whom whenever we greet one another we do it by lightly kissing each other on the lips--when their wives are present or not. My closest friend in California is a straight man. We used to go to movies together all the time. Now granted, this was in San Francisco. Still, we often heard whispers around us such as, "I wonder which ones the top and which ones' the bottom?" We were often dressed in motorcycle leathers as we were both bikers. After the first few times of this Steve would turn around and with all seriousness and state, "I'm the bottom." He always had the biggest grin on his face when he would do that. He didn't give it another thought. He loved saying that. I've often wondered if straight dudes in The Bay Area of Cali are just more evolved than straight dudes in the rest of the country. I don't know.

And there's more. Many of my straight male friends are openly curious about my relationship with my partner John and ask very frank and sincere questions about the relationship--questions that indicate they truly are interested. This is one of the reasons I'm moving back to the Bay Area. I have the same type of straight male friends here. The difference is that the community around us is not as chill with how affectionate and intimate we are with each other in public, here in Tucson. And Tucson is one of the more progressive areas in the state. I can't imagine how constricted my life would be if I lived in Phoenix.

I'm also the mentor to two young heterosexual men. One is 24.The other is 25. One is black. One is white. One is in the armed forces. The other is an aspiring rap artist. Both tell me all the time they love me and never, ever add the "man" to the end of the sentence. They both instituted this practice on their own with no encouragement from me. It seems I am truly, truly blessed when it comes to the incredible straight men I have in my life...

Wolf Pascoe said...

Restriction of expression in friendship is not a problem of heterosexual men, it's a problem of men. It's important to remember that gay men, as well as straight, are often afraid of other men, and have difficulties with emotional intimacy. Gayness does not offer a free pass in this regard. To think otherwise is a disservice to gay men, and glosses over our complexity.

Sage said...

Wolf, true words indeed. I have written about this often. I touched on this very issue in a post on male grief on my own blog about a year ago. Here is a link to that post should you desire to read it: