Lee Suckling discusses the positive impact of our culture's changing masculinity.
It's no secret that masculinity is changing. Since the dawn of the #MeToo era, men have been forced to take a long, hard look in the mirror and think about why they behave the way they do.
Slowly but surely, this has a positive effect on women. You're probably surprised to hear that it has been constructive for gay men like me, too.
Close gay-straight friendships between men never used to be very common. Our fathers never seemed to have them. Mine certainly disappeared when I came out in my late teens. I think I sensed a perceived difference in masculinity (a hangover from being told that gay isn't manly all your life) so I found myself drawn towards people "more like me," i.e. other gay men and straight women.
From my straight mates' points of view, some of them probably worried about the optics of our relationships back then as well. I don't think any of them were concerned I would hit on them, but rather, I felt they feared being called gay and harassed by their other straight mates for maintaining a close friendship with me.
The result, therefore, was natural drifting on both sides.
This has changed now that straight men aren't really afraid of being called gay. It's not okay to use it as a pejorative anymore. Nor is it assumed that a straight guy and a gay guy can't have a genuine platonic friendship, probably because our conversations around sex and sexuality in general are so much more open than they used to be.
Likewise, that perceived difference between heterosexual men and gay guys like me has dissipated. Behaviour-wise, straight and gay men are largely the same: it's harder to tell us apart from our grooming habits and physical appearance; we're all struggling with what app-based dating has done to relationships; and whether it's The Avengers or RuPaul, we can have the same conversations about popular culture thanks to the proliferation of geekdom in modern life.
The podcast A Gay and A NonGay highlights the diversity in perspectives and is a good example of how gay-straight mens' friendships are mutually beneficial. The hosts – a pair of mates – discuss everything from gay sex kinks to the modern pressures of heterosexual marriage; with both men able to be open-minded and learn without judgement.
This dynamic is similar to the few close friendships I have with straight guys. My boys and I adore each other: we have opportunities to help each other with work stuff, relationships, mental health, the gym... we're all dealing with the same things on the daily. In leaving behind the rigidity of old-school masculinity and sexuality, we find it easy to meet on common ground about almost everything.
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I help them understand the challenges of being LGBT+, and equally I get to understand that being a straight guy in 2019 isn't a walk in the park, either. We consciously include each other more in conversations about the world today – rather than play to culture war narratives of excluding heterosexual white men. By mixing we subconsciously break down perceptions and biases.
Oh, and they have no problem asking me if their butt looks good in their new jeans. In kind,
I get access to their tools and handyman advice. It's win-win all around as traditional barriers that once distanced us break down.
I should note that while all of my gay-straight friendships have evolved naturally, there is more encumbrance on the straight guy in order to befriend the gay one. There's still something in the back of our minds that worries, "will he think I want to have sex with him?", so we rely on the straight guy suggesting hangouts at their comfort level – at least in the beginning. A straight dude asking another man over for a drink is more likely showing off his craft beer selection; gay guys asking someone over for the same worry it sounds like a booty call. All anxieties are allayed if the non-gay guy forges the friendship first (e.g. based on mutual interests) so the gay guy feels comfortable reciprocating.
You're probably wondering what eventual outcome of these kinds of friendships is in the long-term. For the straight guys, I've seen noticeable reductions in their own toxic masculinity and the harm the pressure of "man up" culture does. I just asked one of my mates what he gets out of being friends with me, and he actually said, "I don't have to pretend around you". I don't know if I've ever received a higher compliment.
For us gay men, there's a palpable healing sensation in a close friendship with a heterosexual man. A lot of that rejection we suffered when we were younger disappears. The insecurities about ourselves and our own masculinity die down. It's unlikely there's a gay guy out there that hasn't felt rejected by "normal" male society at some point. This feeling of acceptance, I believe, is a brilliantly curative tincture for old wounds.