Jul 02, 2009 7:12 PM GMT
By Douglas Quenqua, The New York Times, June 26 2009
WELCOME to the flip side of homophobia.
“I’m flattered, and I think it’s hilarious,” Kris Allen told People.com recently, responding to the news that his former roommate and runner-up on “American Idol,” Adam Lambert, had a crush on him.
Mr. Lambert, who favors black eyeliner and leather pants, had told Rolling Stone that Mr. Allen, an aw-shucks Christian from Arkansas, was “the one guy that I found attractive in the whole group on the show — nice, nonchalant, pretty and totally my type — except that he has a wife.”
This all went down in the same interview in which Mr. Lambert finally confirmed the long-simmering rumor that, yep, he’s gay.
Mr. Allen’s cool, self-assured response to being the object of his gay roommate’s affection doesn’t exactly qualify him as a civil rights hero, not at a time when straight men march against Proposition 8 in California and the most anticipated gay-themed film of the year, “Brüno,” is coming from a straight (if highly waxed) comedian.
But do give him credit for overcoming one of the most common deal-killers in friendships between straight and gay men: the awkward crush.
The kinship between gay men and straight women is familiar to the point of cliché (see: “Sex and the City,” “Will and Grace,” Kathy Griffin’s audience, etc.), but friendships between gay and straight men have barely registered on the pop culture radar, perhaps because they resist easy classification. For every sweeping statement one can make about such friendships, there is a real-life counter example to undermine the stereotypes. And as with all friendships, no two are exactly alike.
But as America’s openly gay minority becomes more visibly interwoven into society — a 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 4 out of 10 respondents had a close friend or family member who was a gay man or a lesbian — the straight world becomes more aware of the gay world. Although male friends of opposite orientations can face formidable obstacles — sexuality, language, peer pressure, inequality — there seems to be more mutual appreciation and common ground.
“The younger generation understands the spectrum and fluidity of sexuality much more than generations of the past,” said Tom Bourdon, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center at Tufts University. “Most liberal-minded straight guys today could say they have gay friends, and people wouldn’t bat an eye.”
Pop culture has also been picking up on this, serving up gay characters who have broken out of old stereotypes. In “I Love You, Man,” Andy Samberg plays a fist-bumping sports nut who is gay but makes the straight man, Paul Rudd, look prissy. On “The Sarah Silverman Program,” the gay couple acts so pathologically straight that they express their feelings with lines like, “I’m totally gay for you, dude,” between bong hits.
Still, as Billy Crystal remarked in “When Harry Met Sally,” it’s difficult for men and women to be friends because “the sex part always gets in the way.” The same can be true between gay and straight men — only it gets way more complicated.
Jason Mills, a gay screenwriter in New York, wrote a short film called “Curious Thing” about the time he lost a straight friend after things briefly turned sexual. “Where it can get confusing for a straight man and a gay man is when they connect on every other level, and then the gay man starts to question, ‘Well if there was just that one other thing, this could be perfect,’ ” Mr. Mills said. (Complicating matters a bit, Mr. Mills’s films are directed by his straight friend and business partner, Alain Hain, who must frequently combat the assumption that the movies are about him and Mr. Mills.)
Adam Carter, 34, a straight fund-raiser from Chicago who frequently travels overseas, recalled losing a friend in Brazil after rejecting his advances.
“We were driving to a party and he put his hand on my thigh,” Mr. Carter said. “I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I just told him it wasn’t my thing. But things were never the same.”
He added: “Now I look back on all the things we did together and wonder, was it all just to get me in the sack? Now I know what girls feel like.”
The notion that gay men can’t or don’t refrain from hitting on straight friends is, to many, the biggest stereotype of all. It’s simply not true, say most of the men in gay-straight friendships interviewed for this article.