I have a gay best friend.
Apparently, it has become something of a chic accessory to have one. Teen Vogue called GBF’s the hottest fashion accessory of 2010. GBFs are listed in the Urban Dictionary as every guy’s gateway to getting a hot girl. However, for me, not being all that trendy and definitely too old to be “of the moment”, my GBF is by no means an accessory. Instead, he is a blessing for which I am very grateful.
Truth be told, I might consider myself something of a magnet for gay men. I never gave it much thought until recently because it all seemed pretty normal to me. I have always been surrounded by a fair number of gay men – I grew up and have lived most of my life in the vicinity of New York City and I have worked in creative industries. I was a theater geek in high school and college and, as a result of growing up in a complicated, dysfunctional and broken family, I was always searching for acceptance in many of the same ways that my gay male friends were as they were embarking on their journey of sexual identity.
Over the past year, my own attraction to gay men and their innate attraction to me, has become abundantly obvious to not only me but also those around me. I have sort of developed a rep for being the chick with all the gay friends. I kind of love that because I adore and cherish my guys. But, being me, it is simply not in my nature to accept things without first understanding the underlying meaning and, therefore, have spent some time inquiring about this phenomenon. I’ve asked a number of my gay friends, particularly my gay bestie, to explain what the attraction is and I’ve gotten quite a few interesting responses that intrigue me.
Aside from being snarky and bitchy, which stereotypically makes for a great gal pal for any gay man, I seem to have a “quality” that draws these guys to me. I have fancied myself a fag hag but, after considerable research and much discussion, I have learned that this is not at all a positive label and does not fit the bill for me. As a married woman with a family, I immediately fall out of the category as I am not likely to fall in love or desire any of my gay friends. The appeal and the dynamic is completely different for me. While I love that my guys all have pretty great fashion sense and typically enjoy going shopping with me, the depth of the relationships are what makes them meaningful to me. And, especially with my GBF, I feel like I can wear my worts and be accepted in a non-judgmental, non-competitive way. And, I suspect, the appeal for them is similar. There is no drama and we all simply go with the flow.
This all makes perfect sense understanding where I come from. The female dynamic in my family was very triangulated with my mother and sister constantly competing with me and my mother pitting us against each other. My early experiences with women were complicated and challenging and it resulted in my tendencies to gravitate towards the boys because they were easy. I was also bullied severely as a young girl. I was frequently taunted by other children because I was chubby, insecure, wore glasses and didn’t know how to fit in. I was an easy target for the kids because I was painfully shy and overtly sad and, with everything going on in my home, I didn’t have the skills or confidence to stand up for myself. The bullying was shameful and I hid it until I was beaten badly by another girl in 4th grade. Suddenly we were in the principal’s office with my mother and hers and everyone knew what I had endured. My mother’s own shame over being so disconnected from what was happening to her child rendered her incapable of doing much but feeling guilty. Back in the 70s, they didn’t have resources for kids who were bullied so I continued to tolerate the abuse until I got older, developed a bit more confidence and, thankfully, by high school I was able to tap into my natural ability to build rapport with others and finally found a safe space for myself. Not surprisingly, I also found myself surrounded by a bunch of guys who were painfully confused by their sexuality. They knew then, as they know now that I am someone who implicitly understands their experience and offers complete acceptance. I suspect it is a part of the fabric of our beings, part of the signals that we give off, that we find instant connection. As my GBF will tell you, Like likes Like. We get each other.
Looking back at the various gay men that have played a central part of my life, one interesting trend has emerged. In my younger years, most of the gay men with whom I was close were deeply in the closet. They all came out to me many years into our relationship and typically after the intensity had faded a bit. I’ve wondered why they were not able to share their truth with me and realized that it was primarily because they were struggling to be honest with themselves. What I offered them was the space to be whomever they needed to be without labeling them or challenging them. As a teen and young adult, the dynamics sometimes got confusing to me because I never truly understood the unspoken boundaries of our relationships. Not having the sophistication that I have as an adult, I did not understand that these men were, in fact, bonding with me like a port in a storm. I was a safe haven because I never put any pressure on them to see me as a romantic partner because I, myself, was struggling with my own self-worth and did have any romantic expectations. Our parallel struggles made us extraordinary emotional counterparts. However, I would be lying if I did not admit that, sometimes, I wondered what was wrong with me that the relationships never evolved into more. And, relying upon my strong self-deprecating capabilities, I always assumed that it must have been me. I never even considered the alternative.
For sure, these relationships worked for me because of my need for emotional intimacy – something that was so lacking in my life growing up and was being more than satisfied with these men. I felt loved and nurtured. Unconsciously I was seeking unconditional love and it was coming at me in abundance. As I got older and my need to combine emotional intimacy with physical intimacy increased, it became more challenging for me. Because of my relationships with my gay friends, I was often emotionally unavailable to men that I dated. No one I dated understood or connected with me in the way my gay friends did and, frankly, I was not even open to letting them try. What I didn’t know then but later learned is that my situation was not as unique as I believed it to be. This dynamic existed in many gay men/straight women relationships with each filling very unique and powerful needs in the other.
Everything changed when I met my husband. He was the first man that I had met who was able to provide me with a complete and fulfilling relationship. I found myself, for the first time, being able to connect together a powerful emotional intimacy with strong physical intimacy and so began my 20-year love affair. The relationship with my husband and the arrival of my children quickly changed the dynamics in my life and, for years I did not have any close relationships with gay men – most likely because I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to devote to them. Nonetheless, my innate attraction to gay men and theirs to me continued and, living in a community with a large gay population, they continued to flock to me and I slowly grew my herd.
I recently read a great article about the power of relationships between gay men and straight women. The article quotes John R. Ballew, a professional counselor from Atlanta who suggests that “from the perspective of gay men, women offer intimate friendship that is generally free from the complications of sexual interest. For straight women, gay men offer male friendship that’s free from game playing. Women can relax and be themselves with gay men in a way that’s usually not possible with hetero men.” There is a real phenomenon between some gay men and some straight women that is unlike any other relationship. It allows for a level of emotional intimacy that often gets marred in a physical relationship. For me, there are many unique aspects that I think lends to the strength of these bonds I have, particularly with my GBF.
My GBF appeared in my life several years ago when I started a new job. We met at a work function and had, what I believed was, an immediate chemistry. Of course, knowing my GBF as I do now, he was playing me a bit and I fell for it. He’ll tell you that he didn’t feel the same powerful connection right away but was intrigued enough and motivated enough to get to know me better – but that is the hallmark of our relationship. I’m impulsive and he’s strategic. We are ying and yang.
When I met my GBF, I was at a crossroads in my life. I was changing careers, my kids were a little older and my marriage was well into its second decade. Unlike when I was younger, I was not necessarily seeking out a deep emotional connection. I just needed allies on my journey and, for whatever reason, I knew, instinctively, that he would be an important player. Plus, he made me laugh. I had no intention of becoming close friends with him, never expected that our relationship would stretch much beyond work pals and certainly never expected that he would essentially become part of my family. Given my history, it was rare that I would let anyone get that close to me. And, since he lived 1000 miles away and only came to NYC once every few months at best, it would have been difficult to bridge that gap over random cocktails or dinners after client meetings. Yet, we did.
Whatever the reasons, whatever the connections, what I know is this: To quote my friend Tom Fiffer, who wrote in his blog this week “Blessings come in the form of people.” I have been blessed with many spectacular people – men and women – and my life is better because of those I share it with. And no matter how rough the road is, some people, particularly my GBF, make it extraordinary.