Do Women Treat Their “Gay Friend” Like an Accessory?

Discussing films like The Green Mile or The Matrix, director Spike Lee (The 25th Hour, Do the Right Thing) argued that a troubling trope was emerging in American cinema. Lee argued that African-American actors were too often portrayed as “Super-Duper Magical Negroes” who existed only to serve the white, male protagonist. It’s hard to argue with Lee’s assessment, particularly with The Green Mile in which the gentle giant figure of Michael Clarke Duncan magically cures Tom Hanks’s bladder infection, but can’t save himself from the electric chair.

The admittedly less extreme version for female protagonists is the “Gay Best Friend” — the sassy, encouraging and ever-gleeful companion every girl dreams of: they can talk about boys and clothes without any of the jealousy or competition that might come from a female friend.

The problem with the “gay friend” trope is that, like the Magical Negro, there’s a point at which the character becomes more of a cartoon than a real person. The “gay friend” rarely seems to have any concerns of his own: he’s a shoppin’, show tune singin’ ball of sunshine/crying shoulder. Sure, every now and then they’ll throw in a sad storyline where some jock …

… calls him the “F” word, but a spa day can cure those blues right up!

After all, shouldn’t Gay Friend be more worried about who’s going to ask you to Prom than whether or not he’ll be able to go at all? Is Gay Friend concerned about whether he’ll ever be able to come out to his parents, or if the government will allow him to marry, visit his significant other in the hospital or serve in  the military? Of course not! He just wants to go for mani-pedis and talk about Lady Gaga!

The series of hilarious internet shorts called — what else? — “Sassy Gay Friend” encapsulate nearly all of the stereotypical benefits of having a helpful homo in your life. They’re great (particularly the Hamlet one), but it seems too many girls are taking these portrayals as fact rather than farce.

While bromances may still be under suspicion, Teen Vogue discusses the way in which “The Gay Friend” has become the hot accessory for young girls and women within the past couple of years, particularly in lieu of shows like Sex and the City (Carrie/Stanford), Glee (Mercedes/Kurt) or Gossip Girl (Jenny/Eric). Sure, women and gay men are often seen as natural friends, and it’s tempting to view this trend as a sign that homosexuality is becoming more accepted by society.

But the bottom line is that no one should be treated like an accessory. Yeah, I have “gay friends,” but it’s not as though I picked one out at the store so that he could really jazz up the interior of my pink Jeep or the living room in my plastic Dream House. We talk more about Mikhail Bakhtin than Marc Jacobs. The idea that girls are somehow recruiting gay men to be their friends because Kurt on Glee is just so gosh-darned huggable is really rather ridiculous — even disgusting.

But what do you think? Is this a sign that homosexuality is becoming more and more acceptable — both in the media and in society, or are “the gays” becoming an appalling accessory for fashionable girls and women?

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19 thoughts on “Do Women Treat Their “Gay Friend” Like an Accessory?

  1. It’s something I came across recently. I have a best friend who is gay, but I never really view him as my “gay best friend” in that way. In fact, he came out after I knew him for a year or two, and so I guess it registers differently – I saw him as a guy friend as opposed to a gay friend to start with, and it’s carried on that way. We go for coffee, watch films, and play music. As I do with any friend, be they gay, straight, male or female.
    I have actually had some girls ask me what it is like to have a gay best friend, and I’ve sometimes felt offended on his behalf. It’s not intentionally malicious, but I find it strange to segregate friends by anything other than how well you get along with them.
    But I do get them impression that lots of girls my age (give or take) do think of the gay best friend as some kind of lifestyle accessory. It’s mostly among the girls who aren’t very close with anyone who is gay and their own age. They have the idea that all gay guys are the stereotype of fashion-conscious, constantly cheerful and totally sanitised ideals. It’s a step forwards as far as acceptance goes but a step backwards in equality, as the “gay best friend” doesn’t seem to be considered a whole person.

  2. That’s a funny question. In my early 20′s almost all of my friends were gay men, and I always got the impression I was *their* accessory…

  3. My best friend in college was gay,he taught me to always try to match your belt with your shoes. He also always had the best pot,and let me use his sports car. I’m going to call him.

    • I freaking love Sassy Gay Friend! Even though it does heavily stereotype gay friends. It’s all in jest so I can adore it without feeling guilty.

  4. “My black friend,” “my male friend,” “my gay friend,” “my ugly friend,” “my [anything] friend” is likely to be an accessory when [anything] modifies the person more than the type of friend they are to you (counter-example: “best friend”).

    When the modifier relies on stereotypes, it means even if they’re your friend, you’re probably not really their friend. “My gay friend decorated my living room.” Decorating the living room has nothing to do with gay-ness except by stereotype. Unless you’re discussing the stereotype (in this case, presenting evidence in favor of it), use a different modifier. “My stylish friend decorated my living room.” More realistic: “My friend, Jim, decorated my living room. I’ve always liked his style.” (As opposed to “My friend, Jim, decorated my living room. I assumed it would work out well because he is gay.”)

    There are, of course, times when it is appropriate to specify a characteristic of a friend. For example, to show how the friend relates to the conversation. “What do you think about combovers? My balding friend, Bill, hates them.” “My Native American friend, Jill, calls a lot of her relatives ‘Indians.’ Now I’m not sure what term to use around her.”

    It can get tricky to use stereotype-loaded words in any context. That doesn’t mean they should be avoided when relavent. “My retarded friend got a job through a special program.” You’ll encounter some knee-jerk reactions no matter what you do. The main thing is to think of people individually rather than as representative of a stereotype.

  5. I saw a girl with her gay (they both referred to him as her gay so I’m going off their language) at a restaurant yesterday and it was crazy funny how much he undermined her confidence at every turn. When she ordered a burger, he reminded her of all the drinking the night before and how she didn’t need the calories. Then he ordered a salad. When she ordered a soda, he ordered only water and reminded her that she needed to hydrate so that he skin didn’t look so ashy. She was wearing her pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, he was dressed immaculate and was chiding her for looking like she’d given up. It was funny and sad at the same time.

  6. I don’t think it is really a problem, it is young women. Selfishness, pettyness and using people is pretty much par for the course. They will ether grow out of it or not. If they don’t it is really the fault of the “gay friend” for hanging out with them. There are tons of people who use others as accessories, always have been. It is the responsibility of the person in question to choose their friends wisely and form healthy relationships.

  7. My “gay friend” has been my best friend since I was 5 years old…. after 16 years of him, I can guarantee he means a lot more to me than just someone to go shopping with (he doesn’t like shopping that much anyways). Or I can always just say I got myself a gay best friend before it was cool?

  8. It’s also a matter of role models. If gay youth only have two dimensional stereotypes presented in entertainment it will influence their development in the same way that most kids growing up are at least a little bit (often a lot, especially when tv is the babysitter) affected by the characters in their favorite movies and tv shows.

    • But isn’t that like saying that someone with red hair needs good red-headed role models to know their place in society? Sexuality shouldn’t entirely define someone, in the same way that something as natural as hair color shouldn’t necessarily define them.

      I don’t think it’s a matter of homosexual men or women needing to have proper role models — I think that the prancing Jack McFarlands of the world are an attempt to sanitize the “gays” to straight people.

      Gay people are gay — they don’t necessarily need a rubric to teach them how to be who they are.

      I think the real danger of these stereotypes is how they influence straight people’s perception of homosexuality — not homosexuals’ opinions of themselves.

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  11. I know lots of girls do whine they wish they had a gay friend- but I think that vanishes as soon as you acquire one! “I wish I had a gay friend..” is something you might say because watching tv, gay men are represented as being these amazing friends to girls in need. However, so are straight women. It’s just that most girls already have a straight female friend- they just want the other kind of good friend too! Most young women have experiences the failed friendship with a straight guy- you want to be friends, it starts out fun and there’s a bit of tension there- eventually something happens and either you or he realise you or he want more than friendship. Then it gets awkward. I think the reason girls want gay friends is less to do with the stereotypes on tv and more to do with the fact that a gay man is the best kind of friend you can have with the opposite sex. Even if you aren’t watching sex and the city together with a tub of ice cream or whatever, you still get something special from a gay man as a friend- you get an insider’s perspective on men, from a man who has no secret agenda with you and that you can feel safe with. And isn’t that what all straight women want? To get an idea of how men think? I think so anyway.

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