As I explore various friend circles and niches, I have come to realize that some experiences keep recurring.
I was recently running a couple of errands downtown and made a quick trip to a department store. Smelling through a few colognes, a noticed a woman looking at me with absolute concentration. It almost felt like she was studying me as though I were one of the on-sale coats she was sifting through.
Eventually she gained the courage to come up to me and tell me that I had a nice sense of style.
I was initially flattered. It had been a long day, and I hardly ever take the kindness of strangers for granted. We eventually began to engage in small chat and got formally acquainted. Through the comfort of our brief conversation, it was clear to her that I was gay. The direction of our discussion abruptly changed.
"You seem like a very fabulous guy," she said. "I could use a gay friend, one to go shopping with and hit the streets like Carrie Bradshaw."
And in my head I thought, Oh, no, not again.
This was not the first time I'd been accosted by a straight woman wanting me to be her shopping pal, nor was it the first time I'd been told how oh-so-fabulous I, as a gay man, would make a straight woman's life. From some television show, movie, or magazine they have gotten the impression that I was brought into this world to cater to their needs, as if I didn't have any of my own.
So I began to watch many of these reality shows and romantic comedies with a sharp eye and got immediately enraged.
Is this what they really think?
Being fetishized as an emasculated assistant to empower a woman's diva alter ego suddenly offended me. And even though I am fully aware that many of these mainstream depictions are fictional, my own life seemed to model such a disgusting reality.
Growing up, I always assumed that if straight people were not talking negatively about me, then they were not harmful. I had taken to the kindness of many straight women because I felt a strong sense of acceptance and support. But as I've entered adulthood, I have begun to look back and recognize that some of these relationships were formed under shallow circumstances.
In high school, there were many girls who wanted me around to go shopping with them and hear all the problems they had with their boyfriends. For some reason or another, I did this because I felt the urge to be accepted and conform to what I then considered a sense of normality.
Eventually, I began to realize that while I was the only guy in these girl circles and they felt comfortable around me because I was gay, they never asked about my own life experiences.
College would change this, to some degree, as I began to speak more openly and engage more with the female friend circles I would encounter. At this point it was no secret that, as young adults, all of us were having our own private sensual experiences, and such water-cooler chats could not be dictated by just the straight women in my clique.
However, when it came time for me to share my personal experiences, it became a short monologue delivered to blank stares. I was heard, but what I shared was not devoured. No one wanted to hear the juicy details or get the inside scoop. No one had any advice for me, and it was back to them. I began to realize that in many of these girl groups, in their minds I was expected to be there to council and aid them, not the other way around.
Today, I am grateful for the tight friend circle that I have been fortunate to develop. It is a more balanced, accepting, and diverse group of minds and perspectives. We all have something to offer to each other, and we all have things to learn from each other. I feel that I am in a safe space where I can fully be myself and express all aspects of myself without just being submissive to those who claim to accept me.
I say all of this to challenge many straight women who currently have a gay male friend whom they claim to admire and adore. Do you actually see him as a friend, or do you see him as a stylist, personal assistant, counselor, life coach or provider of some other free service you stereotype him as being suited to? It is one thing to have a friend who can serve various mutually beneficial roles in your life, but it's another to reduce him to just a service alone.
If you have not been made aware already, gay men are not accessories put on this Earth to fill the void that comes from your difficulty achieving healthy platonic relationships with straight men. And no, I'm not talking about all women, but it's important that these issues be discussed, because situations like this come up regularly for me.
On a larger scale, the problem speaks to the patriarchy that plagues our society. Society has created this culture where initial friendship between members of the opposite sex is expected to eventually lead to sex, and that is tragic. To add insult to injury, media and pop culture have presented a poor response to counter this ill by making gay men seem like the only men with whom straight women can have healthy, platonic relationships.
Patriarchy sucks, but this current objectification only further reinforces the gender divide that our society faces on a daily basis. It's finally time for all of us to reevaluate how we address gender and sexuality clashes within our own circles.
It's not enough anymore jut to talk about acceptance and inclusion without discussing the motives behind it.
It's no longer acceptable, as a gay man, to just be seen in your friend group. You have to actually matter in it.