Real-life ‘Partners’: How do straight-man and not-so-straight-man friendships work?

Partners, starring David Krumholtz (left) and Michael Urie (right)

Partners, starring David Krumholtz (left) and Michael Urie (right)

Just last year the American television station CBS aired the comedy show Partners, created by Max Mutchnick and David Kohan of Will & Grace fame. Starring David Krumholtz and Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie, it portrays the friendship between two guys who decide to leave their 9 to 5 corporate life to go DIY with their careers and launch their own architecture firm. The twist? The lifelong duo comprises a straight man (Krumholtz) and an extremely out gay man (Urie). If that sounds unlikely, it might surprise you that this kind of friendship is more common than you think.

Although Partners only managed to last 13 episodes before it got cancelled, pop culture had actually already given us some awesome straight-man and not-so-straight man friendships on-screen. There’s Patrick and Charlie from the book-turned-movie Perks of Being a Wallflower,  Max and Dave from the sit-com Happy Endings, and Maxxie and Anwar from the British teen drama Skins, among many others.

Social psychologists have attempted to study this phenomenon under the theory “Inclusive Masculinity.” Long story short, it just means that there are different kinds or definitions of masculinity that have been accepted by individuals and societies. It claims to “promote equality and tolerance,” a “form of hegemony,” and the “coexistence of multiple, non-hierarchically defined masculinities.” This has allowed for non-stereotypical male behaviour to not be stigmatized by people who know better than to be a homophobic jerk.

In his paper “Friendships Between Men Across Sexual Orientation,” Australian social scientist Timothy Barrett gives his own take via a phenomenological interview of six pairs of friends. He attributes some traits of straight-and-gay friendships to the difference between attitudes of middle class and working class individuals, stating that people with higher educational and career aspirations (i.e. those in the middle class according to his research participants) are usually perceived to be more tolerant. Whether or not that’s true is up to debate.

His straight participants also share that being friends with gays has allowed them to be freer in terms of expressing themselves emotionally (which they often find hard to do with their straight peers) and to explore behaviors or interests that may be considered non-stereotypically male or even labelled “feminine” by others. So one could say that a straight man might find being friends with a gay man as a way to explore his own identity by exploring things that his straight friends might consider too ‘girly’ or ‘gay’ for comfort.

The gay participants, on the other hand, felt a good sense of acceptance from their straight friends, especially when they would share stories about their romantic partners and see that their straight friends were willing to listen. One participant even had his friend’s shoulder to cry on when his life partner passed away.

However, Inclusive Masculinity Theory is not without its critics. Barrett, for one, points out that Inclusive Masculinity is still a prescribed masculinity that only happens to be more inclusive and tolerant. The fact that it still uses the labels “masculine” and “feminine” means that there is still a divide between behaviors that   people think men and women should do. Why not just do away with the labels altogether so people aren’t pigeonholed to act in a cliché masculine or feminine way? But that is a discussion that can be tackled in another entry.

Some real-life takes

I have a confession: I actually don’t have a single straight guy friend. And by “friend” I don’t mean guys you hang out with strictly when other people are there, guys you have dinner with once a year when your former org-mates have a reunion, guys you sometimes meet to discuss writing techniques or play sports with, or whatever. By “friend” I mean someone who has a clear idea of your history, whom you meet with regularly, and whom you can easily open up to in an emotional way. I personally find that friendships with girls and fellow “non-straights” (for those who abhor labels) tend to happen more naturally for me.

And so I’ve compiled anecdotes from some non-straights who have first-hand experience with this kind of thing. And I really love their answers.

Don Jaucian: "I usually have straight guy friends because of common interests."

Don Jaucian: “I usually have straight guy friends because of common interests.”

Don Jaucian, writer and creator of the film review site Pelikula Tumblr

What usually prompted the friendships you have/ had with straight guys? Are you still friends with him/them now? If not, what do you think happened?

I usually have straight guy friends because of common interests. I bonded over my straight best friend when I was in college because we both liked the same films and TV shows. We’re still friends now, we send each other messages from time to time, maybe meet when I go home back to my home town (I think the last time we saw a movie was the second G.I. Joe film this year). I still have straight guy friends here, still because of common interests.

How easy is it to get along with and to get close to them in general? Do they know that you’re not-so-straight?

Well, I guess if you establish a good rapport early, it will be easy to be close to them. I’m pretty upfront about my sexuality, maybe say I’d like the film better if there was more male nudity in it (laughs). I guess I make them feel comfortable. Some straight guys have that ‘threatening feeling’ whenever they’re around gay guys and I tend to sense that pretty much. I guess I’m lucky that my straight guy friends have been very warm and loving. They can be gay too if they want since they have man crushes but yeah they’re a hundred percent straight. I can tell.

Any hurdles you can think of for that kind of friendship?

I guess when the gay guy falls for the straight guy? (laughs) I almost fell in love with my best friend back in college but I was smart enough to stop myself.

Do you sometimes feel that you have to edit yourself when interacting with him/them?

Not with my close straight guy friends. I can be pretty detailed when I talk about gay stuff, if you know what I mean, and they’d be like “eugghhh!” But they’re okay with it. Well, they have to edit themselves too when they talk to me. No pussy talk, please.

Share an interesting memory you have with your straight friend.

I have some pretty clingy straight guy friends who’d demand to see me because they miss me. At one point, since I got tired hanging out with my gay friends, I actually spent 600 bucks on a cab fare just to hang out with my friend in Alabang. Sometimes it’s pretty cool when you hang out with straight guys.

And hey, I share an apartment with a straight guy! For about two years now. But then again he likes One Direction and Logan Lerman. So…

Arian Rabino: "There are instances when I control or inhibit my quirky side to not appear flamboyant to them."

Arian Rabino: “There are instances when I control or inhibit my quirky side to not appear flamboyant to them.”

Arian Rabino, MA in Educational Research (Newcastle University)

What usually prompted the friendships you have/ had with straight guys? Are you still friends with him/them now? If not, what do you think happened?

I’ve had very few straight guy friends. I’d say three were prompted by genuine connection. We “clicked” because of same interests, proximity and affinity while we were growing up. Another two only became my friends because they were boyfriends of my girl pals. And then the last three happened because I was romantically interested in them. I initiated the friendship to get closer to them, but eventually became really good friends with them. No, I no longer have feelings for them. I am very happy with my current two-year relationship.

Unfortunately, I’ve lost contact with most of them. Life took us to different paths and we no longer share the same interests like we did before.

How easy is it to get along with and to get close to them in general? Do they know that you’re not-so-straight?

I get along with them pretty well. They respect me and I respect them; they don’t see me as the predatory-type of gay guy, so they know that I’m not out to get them. Although, I gotta admit that there are instances when I control or inhibit my quirky side to not appear flamboyant to them. I also avoid making remarks about how good-looking some random guys I see so as not to make them uncomfortable. I am still myself, but not entirely myself when I am with them. It’s cool, though. Yes, they know that I am gay, but I don’t brandish that fact to them. I keep it real while I make sure that I do not offend their sensibilities.

Any hurdles you can think of for that kind of friendship?

Sometimes it is difficult to gauge how much they (straight guys) tolerate or accept my homosexuality. I know that they know that I am gay. However, there is always that delicate line of balance which I always keep in mind and tell myself that details are no longer necessary. There are things far beyond their grasp of reality, still largely unknown to them, that make them uncomfortable.

Intimacy is also an issue. I try not to come off as too clingy or needy as a friend, because they might think that I am acting like an expectant girlfriend. Physical contacts are restrained to not make them feel taken advantage of; I avoid basically anything that will make them doubt my intentions with them. And it’s tough because there are also instances when I question my feelings for them. Am I doing friendly things out of plain friendship or out of a deep-seated attraction? Whenever I reach that point, I step back and remind myself that I am only friends with them.

Reniel Tiu: “I made them watch gay porn!”

Reniel Tiu, HR practitioner and MA IO Psych major (Ateneo De Manila)

What usually prompted the friendships you have/ had with straight guys? Are you still friends with him/them now? If not, what do you think happened?

I’ll be talking about one for this question. We’re classmates in college. We just sort of glued together: we share the same circle of friends, have more or less the same interests, have similar passion on studying. We’re very good friends up to this day.

How easy is it to get along with and to get close to them in general? Do they know that you’re not-so-straight?

It wasn’t easy at first. It felt I had to always put a wall between me and them. Looking back, this may have strongly influenced my decision to come out. But after the “big” coming out event during one lunch time, things were generally smooth-sailing.

Any hurdles you can think of for that kind of friendship?

Sounds cliche, but you just have to be patient when they’re talking about basketball and girls, or when you are in an out-of-town trip and all of their stuff are all over the place. It’s the same level of understanding and acceptance they give whenever I talk about boys, or when they see me putting the entire room in order.

Do you sometimes feel that you have to edit yourself when interacting with him/them?

Fortunately, I don’t. With them, I can talk freely.

Share an interesting memory you have with your straight friend.

Back in college, sex was the hot topic. We were always open about our sex lives, but of course, they couldn’t imagine how one guy can do it with another. The solution was simple: I made them watch gay porn!

John Cordon, journalist and Environmental Journalism graduate (Silliman University)

What usually prompted the friendships you have/ had with straight guys? Are you still friends with him/them now? If not, what do you think happened?

I come from an all-boys school so having male friends comes along the way. Yes, I’m still friends with them, but really they’re just a little over than acquaintances but not truly “friends” as we know about it. I don’t confide with them nor treat them as we would a “kabarkada.”

How easy is it to get along with and to get close to them in general? Do they know that you’re not-so-straight?

It was a handful. Talk about hormones back in highschool. Part of growing up–on their side–was having to deal with homosexuals. Part of growing up–on our side–was having to deal with how rough they are.

I am more actually close with women. I do not discount those men who are okay if they know one of their friends are gay but my experiences (both in highschool and college) tell me that women are more understanding. Maybe because women know that gays aren’t physically attracted to them and with men they could be rather self-conscious that their gay friend may like them.

Any hurdles you can think of for that kind of friendship?

Some of them easily think that we like them when we interact with them. They often think that we are interacting with them because we like them or we’re attracted to them. And they would also try to restrain themselves when they deal with us.

Share an interesting memory you have with your straight friend.

There was this one guy whom I considered a great friend. He would confide to me about his girlfriend and ask what I think about his situation. But a fight broke between the two of us and he nearly [punched] me at the face after class. In college, he contacted me and asked for my help to edit their thesis and along the way, he just opened up the topic and sort of reminisced. He said sorry for what happened between the two of us, and yeah, we just laughed about it.

Some references you might find useful:

Anderson, E., & McCormack, M. (2010). “It’s just not acceptable anymore”: The erosion of homophobia and the softening of masculinity at an English sixth form. Sociology, 44(5), 843- 859.

Anderson, E., & McGuire, R. (2010). Inclusive masculinity theory and the gendered politics of men’s rugby. Journal of Gender Studies, 19(3), 249-261.

Anderson, E., Adams, A., & Rivers, I. (2012). “I kiss them because I love them”: The emergence of heterosexual men kissing in British institutes of education. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(2), 421-430.

Photos of Partners via shawconnect; Profile photos care of Don Jaucian, Arian Rabino, and Reniel Tiu.

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