On a recent episode of Man Up, a gay man, Sam, wants to make more straight male friends. Aymann Ismail tries to find out what’s behind that mindset with the help of Alex De Luca, founder of Gaybros, a subreddit for gay men. This transcript of their conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Aymann Ismail: What is it exactly that you expect to get out of a straight male friendship that you wouldn’t otherwise get from someone else, like maybe a gay friend?
Sam: I think we find ourselves more comfortable with people who are similar to us, so having a friendship with a gay man, I am going to automatically have conversations that are different than a friendship with a straight man. In friendships with gay men, oftentimes our conversations veer to the experience of a gay man. And if you only ever talk about this one small portion of who you are, that’s incredibly boring, right? You’re eventually going to run out of content. You’re eventually going to not want to be that person, but also you’re only ever presenting this small portion of yourself.
I mean, I’m not a straight man, so I don’t get the experience of being a straight man, for better or worse, but I think being able to have strong and impactful relationships with straight men allows me to ask those questions, allows me to process my own masculinity in a frame that I wouldn’t otherwise have.
Aymann: Yeah. I get that. But I want to just gently push back here. I’m wondering, because you’re a gay man who likes talking about all different kinds of stuff, don’t you think that there’s other gay men out there like you that you can maybe have these more intimate conversations with?
Sam: Absolutely. I think oftentimes when I first meet another gay man, we fall into that stereotypical conversation where it’s like, OK, this is the thing we have in common, and that’s the thread we have to pull. So I think you’re right. A lot of gay men, if not all gay men, are searching for deeper conversations. And I think part of it is creating the space to not immediately default to that stereotypical conversation, but start asking questions or having conversations about things that are just exciting to you in general.
Aymann: This is just something that I’m curious about: Is any part of your desire to feel closer to your straight friends coming from wanting to be validated by them in the majority space?
Sam: Yeah. I haven’t thought about it that way, but I think that’s definitely fair. I’m from Maine. We don’t have a whole lot of LGBTQ persons, and so I think there’s this feeling of being an outsider that’s followed me throughout my path.
Aymann: Alex, what do you think might be at play specifically in Sam’s desire for straight friends?
Alex De Luca: You know, it could be a few things. I’ll say from my personal experience, my desire for straight friends when I was younger was me trying to get rid of a fear I had that I was in some way rejected by the group in power, the majority, because I felt very confidently that I had value and that I had a lot to contribute to the world.
Aymann: Sam was saying that he felt like the reason he wants to reach out past his circle of gay friends is that he felt like his sexuality was only part of him. So I wonder if you ever felt that way too, when you were a kid.
Alex: Absolutely. As early as when I started Gaybros, I was saying that quite a bit. I felt that my sexuality was just a small part of who I was, and I had all these other characteristics that were equally valid and completely unrelated. And it took some conversations, quite a few conversations, with people who disagree with me, and listening to what they had to say, and stepping back and trying to reexamine who I was and why I was that way, and I began to realize that a lot of who I was was a result of experiences that I had because, specifically, I was gay. And I came to realize that having that experience, and having my personality shaped by something that I wanted only to be a part of who I was, is not something that’s exclusive to gay men. I’ve had conversations with straight men who have felt defined by something that they didn’t choose, something that they were born into, and I realized that it can actually be, when you step back and sort of look at it from a higher level, a common experience, even if that characteristic that you’re defined by might differ from person to person.
Aymann: So I want to come back to Sam’s mission for a second. He expressed interest specifically in making friends with straight men because he wanted his friendships to be more complicated than just a repeated conversation about sexuality.
Alex: Absolutely. I 100 percent identify with that. There seems to be this stereotype that being gay and among a group of friends can almost feel performative, where there are certain phrases to say and there are certain topics to hit, and you have to make sure you hit all the topics and you say all the phrases, and you talk about the certain shows and the certain musicians, and then you drink a lot of vodka sodas and go home.
But I think a part of this is because so many people find each other online … and particularly a lot of gay men find a majority of their friends online, because apps and any sort of online resources are really the only easy way to figure out who is gay and who isn’t unless you have the world’s best gaydar.
What I realized was, when you step out of the apps and the gay bars, there’s actually a huge amount of gay men out there who are interested in other things, who have interests and friend groups as diverse as straight men. There’s gay gamers who are really into video games and board games. There’s people who are really into hiking and the outdoors, and they’ve created little nooks and crannies for themselves online, or perhaps they’ve just found each other through local clubs, but they represent a much more diverse and complete representation of the gay community, once you start to dig and find them. The problem is they’re usually not in the easiest places to find gay people. It took me a while to realize that.