Too Gay to Function (as anything more than an accessory in a Netflix Show)
Imagine I could give you the perfect male best friend:
- They always want to hang out;
- They’re super attractive;
- They give great fashion advice and;
- They’d never hit on you.
They talk sex 24/7 and drink mojitos like water! And it seems evveerrryone has ‘one’; the ~quirky~ and ~unique~ and ~craaazzyyy~ gay best friend (well at least as we are led to believe by Netflix)! He’s the shiny toy on everyones shopping list.
The elusive yet ubiquitous character role of the perfect and sassy “Gay Best Friend” has seen the ‘minority’ group of gays represented in a specific category over many years. Through quintessential and ‘groundbreaking’ characters like Will and Jack from Will & Grace to Damian from Mean Girls, onto more present roles like Titus Andromedon from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Lucas in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before; a foundation for the textbook traits ‘most desired’ in gay characters is cemented.
Image: Iconic Movie/TV Gay Best Friends Over Time
At first glance the rising popularity of the GBF (Gay Best Friend) suggests the queer community is finally getting their shot – sort of like transitioning from being a supporting actor in the local Church play to leading an artsy QPAC one-off. However, after many years of the same stereotypical role (appearing in any show released past 2017 and you’ll now catch me rolling my eyes at the lack of diversity) the trend does grow tired; instead demoting the minority group back from lead actor to the sound-check guy at the community centre’s annual Christmas play.
This populous and effeminate gay sidekick is an enduring iteration of the ‘Sissy’, an archetype defined by Vito Russo in his seminal book, The Celluloid Closet, as a comic relief character whose purpose is to “make everyone feel more manly or womanly by occupying the space in between.”
Through this warped lens, extraverted gay characters exisiting in the fictional ecosystem of today become nothing more than an accessory to their straight protagonist – and their lives are never explored nearly as much. Even poor Will from Will & Grace gets less on-screen time than Grace, and his name literally holds an equal 50% shareholder stake in the title for gods sake!
‘But Will and Grace is old-school we’ve come so far,’ I hear you say?! Well, nay, because after many years the tradition persists.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is currently being applauded for reframing the quintessential rom-com from a more diverse perspective and centering the kinds of Asian-American characters who are rarely presented as romantic leads in studio pictures. And it deservedly had millenials in a craze – I mean, it’s 2018, we love this progressive sh#@!
But unfortunately, I do ask you to hold your horses (did I just age 80 years by using that saying?); because just like its predecessors, the film falls into the classic rom-com trap of the underwritten gay best friend.
When we first meet Lucas for instance, we meet him as a potential suitor to vouch for Lara Jean’s heart after being a recipient of one of her love letters – a major opportunity for a leading role as we see in the success of all the other ‘recipients’. But no, just as quickly as our hopes were growing, they are CRUSHED. This expectation is so swiftly subverted when he comes out as gay that he pretty much ghosts our screens for the remainder of the film (And I get enough of that from other men in my personal life)… Or at least that seems the case until the fateful ski trip where Lucas reappears; but simply to dispense romantic advice to Lara Jean at a sheet mask slumber party.
Image: The Love Letter Recipients from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lucas highlighted because you’ve probably already forgotten which one he is!
At no point do we ever actually see Lara Jean initiate an actual friendship with Lucas, but due to the assumption that our brains have been conditioned by decades of media to make, we know that when a gay man is introduced in this kind of story, it is just to respond to the emotional or sartorial needs of the straight protagonist
And heaven forbid we see where the GBF lives, or how they live outside of shopping or gossiping with the female protagonist. Blasphemy!
This outdated attitude surrounding the GBF promotes inconsistent traits amidst the people actually living within the queer community.
Most recently, my friend who identifies as bi-sexual, confided in me. “I ended up just leaving the party because two girls were fighting over who got to take me to the bathroom with them for a ‘gossip sesh’…. I didn’t even need to pee, and I’d actually had plans to crack onto one of them – but the second girls find out I’m somewhat interested in men – I’m pigeon-holed,” he explained. When I put forth this issue to other gay male friends they all expressed similar thoughts, explaining that if they had a dollar for every time a girl assumed they wanted to join them on a shopping spree (because ALL gays love fashion, duh!!) – they’d probably be able to buy out the whole bloody Westfield centre.
The worst bit about this, is that it’s a representation of homosexuality on straight people’s terms. To this end, it further encourages heteronormativity by firmly creating an ‘us’ and ‘them’ ideology. So in the instance someone requests someone to be their ‘gay sidekick’ it should be seen as complimentary — or even a kind of acceptance — rather than ignorant or insensitive.
This perception, while common, lacks an accurate reflection to how gay people truly live their lives, and thus, its continued promotion in film and TV dehumanises the community altogether.
Thus the question demands to be answered; Where does this attraction come from? WHY are we so obsessed with the possibility of a gay man and straight woman being best friends?
I had to investigate *cue the mysterious and over dramatized A Current Affair style violin music*.
Jane Ward, Associate Professor in Sexuality and Gender Studies at University of California, states that these scenarios on our screens usually follow, “a conventionally attractive woman” who is drawn to a gay man because straight men just seem to be inexplicably failing her (or maybe it’s because you’re just a bit of a bitch Karen, ever think about that?).
There’s also a strong argument that supports this concept introduced by Dr Ward, claiming that evolutionary psychology strengthens relationships between straight women and gay men in the real world, because gay men don’t mate with women or compete with them. Thus, they’re more trustworthy, and a friendship is more easily formed.
A 2013 paper even concluded that gay men valued mating-relevant advice from a straight woman to be more trustworthy than similar advice from straight or gay men.
This all comes at an especially relevant time considering that same-sex marriage has been legalised in Australia (finally, may I just add). SO, if the LGBTI community has never been more out and proud than as of right now, wouldn’t you think it’s time TV and cinema caught up?
I will say that there are some saving graces out there (although a minority though at present day). Shows like Sense8, Please Like Me, Everything Sucks and Orange is the New Black should really be commended for their queer representation.
Image: Orange Is The New Black cast photo (a cast consisting of a diverse mix of sexual identities, which do not conform to the stereotypical view)
Please Like Me, for instance, featured a GAY MAN as the LEAD CHARACTER. And I cried, laughed and smiled in every episode. The show effortlessly showcased a gay man’s mundane life without neglecting the nuances of his queerness.
These are the types of shows that our queer community deserve! Representation is incredibly important because it tells people they are normal and helps legitimise their experiences in decision-making processes.
It’s time gay characters become more than accessories.
They’re more than the ‘GBF’ they’re the best friend who is:
- Himself & unashamed;
- Hilarious & caring;
- Feels validated and listened to;
(Or in stark contrast, he could just be a bit of a dick head). The point is it doesn’t matter.
The character and their traits need to be innately their own – being gay is just another fact to their story.