I was thinking today about the straight men in my life. Some of my very best friends from high school, college, and grad school have been straight men. One of the challenges of coming out and being out as a gay man is recognizing how other men react to that. I have been quite fortunate to connect with some awesome people who have never flinched because of my sexuality, and I really think those men deserve some real credit for that.
Because of the patriarchal culture of our society, men have an advantage when it comes to sexual relations. The dominance men exert over society leads many women to be objectified and devalued. Because of this imbalance, many men go through life never experiencing what that objectification feels like.
Introduce a gay man into the social situation and life gets more interesting. In fact, I think a lot of homophobia and stereotypes come out of the fear and confusion of men not sure how to respond to the mere possibility they might be perceived as sexual objects by other men (who they might still perceive as having sexual dominance). Obviously, gay men are not constantly trying to rape straight men they find attractive, but many straight men might perceive even the most innocent flirtation as a threat. Thus, for no fault of their own, straight men might be challenged by the friendship of a very open and out gay friend.
I think that’s why the men that I have found to be some of my best friends in my life are men who have an incredible amount of confidence and comfort with their own identities. These are men who do not let their sense of obligation to that mythical quality known as “masculinity” regulate how they interact with others. They are secure in their identities and, in my opinion, show an incredible capacity for compassion and sensitivity that is far more admirable than any proud display of masculinity I can imagine.
But these men are often exceptions to the rule. I think violent homophobia persists because so many men cling to masculinity and have absolutely no context for what it might feel like to potentially be objectified the way that women continue to be throughout society. We hear “gay panic” defenses all the time, but what is this panic? Does it reflect the extremity of the sexual advances (or perceived sexual advances)? Or does it more accurately portray the insecurity of the man trying to use it as a defense? Every aggressor who gets a reduced sentence because of a “gay panic” defense represents our society rewarding men for their own insecurity and lack of control.
I think more straight men need gay men in their lives. It’s not that they should be made to feel sexually uncomfortable, but they need the opportunity to reconcile their sense of masculinity by having male friends that do not necessarily appreciate it. I’ve had some amazing friends (some of whose pictures pepper this post) that have done (or have not had to do) just that.
While it has long been said that people better appreciate LGBT issues when they know someone who is gay, I’d offer that straight men might treat women better if they know someone who is gay.