Let's Get "Bromantic"? How "Straight Acting" Is Killing Gay Romance

The other day an acquaintance's random comment about masturbation led to a revelation of the week.

Him: "There's something unbelievably hot about watching another dude jerk off to climax."

Me: "I agree. It's one of my favorite parts of sex."

Him: "I like the idea of a bro wank. Two dudes jerking off together. Not talking. Just trying to get off."

Me: "’Bro wank’? Haha. I think it's better when there's intimacy involved."

Yup, he lost me at "bro wank," but unintentionally, he also summed up what, for many, is the current status quo of gay romance – or rather, non-romance – in four short sentences. It begins and ends with two “dudes” acting like “bros.”

How "straight" can you get - and that's precisely the intention. If you've been on a gay dating/hook-up app, you've likely encountered a large number of men who define themselves as "straight acting" and demand it in everyone they pursue or who pursues them. No fems. No queens. No camp. No girly.

Centuries of rejection by heterosexuals has led to rejection within. If you can’t beat them, be them. We celebrate gay pride, yet so many of us aspire to being able to pass for straight, the way some desperate and beaten-down blacks used to try to pass for white.

It's changed the way we communicate (or not) with each other – in and out of bed. If so many modern gay men weren't so obsessed with being "straight-acting," "bro wank" would probably never enter a conversation between two guys sizing each other up as hook-up material.

I shouldn't have been surprised. The guy I was talking to is in a relationship with someone he's never actually mentioned during any of our interactions. If they don't have sex in silence, it's probably because they don't have sex at all.

But the "bro wank" is such a huge red flag, illuminating a behavioral trend that has come to define an expanding segment of the gay population. We've gone from wanting "straight acting" to compulsively trying to be “straight acting,” right down to the way we jerk off.

It's in every "Hey man...mate...buddy...bro" on Grindr. Once you have the muscles and the tattoos (both former emblems of masculinity that have become practically de rigueur among gay men), it's time to walk the walk and talk the talk.

I'm not sure if gay men trying to morph into straight men is a form of self-loathing, the natural next evolutionary step in the rejection of "camp"/"queeny" gay, or just us trying to be more like the type of guys we'd rather screw.

It's as if we're so afraid of being mistaken for a human being with feelings (how feminine) that we're embracing a cliched version of masculinity, one that’s all bro stoicism and repression. It's gotten to the point where my straight male friends often treat me with more tenderness than guys who actually want to sleep with me.

A-list bromance: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in <em>Good Will Hunting</em>
A-list bromance: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting

This gay “bromance” thing can’t possibly be good for gay romance.

I recently met a guy in Newcastle who sent me so many “bro” signals that we both ended up walking out on each other during our second date.

We’d slept together at the end of the first one, so I couldn’t understand why he’d asked me out again when he so clearly wanted me in the “bro” zone.

He kept going out of his way to avoid having a moment with me on date number two, whether it was to buy a drink for a guy and the girlfriend he’d just proposed to on the karaoke stage, or to excuse himself to go outside and have a smoke every time I looked at him a little too long.

When a group of people engaged me in conversation during one of his absences, I lost him for good. I looked everywhere for him, and when I couldn’t find him, I gave up and returned to my hotel.”

Hours later, while I was in bed about to drift off into a dream I hoped would be sweeter than my romantic reality, a text arrived from him.

“Yeah man I left didn’t want to crowd your thing hope you had fun,” he wrote.

He kept repeating the “crowding me” excuse, dropped the phrase “holiday fun,” and then shocked me by insisting on seeing me again. I started to wonder if we’d been on the same date. Was this even the same guy?

He did see me again when he came to Syndey the next weekend, and he was as charming and sexy as he’d been on our first date. But the next few times we spoke, he reverted to the “bro” ways of our date number two.

Our final text conversation started innocently enough.

Me: “Hey there. How have you been?”

Him: “Hey man good - been over in Perth working - you good?

Forced breeziness. Non sentences. Not good signs. But I took the plunge anyway.

Me: “When are you heading back to Newcastle? I’m thinking about another road trip:)”

Him: “Monday man”

That was it. “Monday man.” Those were the last words either of us ever spoke to each other.

In his defense, he’d told me on our third date that he didn’t see himself ever having another relationship. Was he stating a fact of his life or throwing me a hint? He certainly wasn’t going to let language get in the way of that certain-to-be self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m not sure if all those other “bro”-obsessed gays are so steadfastly anti-relationship. Presumably some of them do want to fall in love and have the white picket fence life that can come with it. But it’s hard to connect when your body language and your spoken language are working so hard to casually communicate indifference.

My girlfriends used to tell me that I’m lucky to be gay because, unlike many straight men, gay men are so in touch with their feelings. They very well might be, but some of us are so busy trying to act ”straight” that our feelings have become irrelevant.

Ashamed as I am to admit it, I can sometimes fall into the “bro” thing, though I would never actually use the word “bro.” At the very least, I’ve learned how to drop a well-placed “man” into everyday conversation.

I may even sometimes prefer silence to chatter during sex. But the day I can’t stare into a guy’s eyes and look at him like I’m melting is the day I give up men for good.