Since before I can remember, I’ve hated hearing someone say the word, ‘gay.’ I came out when I was 18-years-old. And to this day, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. After I came out, I faced bullying, rejection, and depression. But, with the lows came the highs - one of which was when I finally became, the holy grail, ‘gay best friend’.
Despite the gay best friend (GBF) often being thought of as ‘the hottest accessory’, it was, and still is, a label that weighs heavily on my mind. According to the movies, I should have loved my unpaid position as the straight girl’s best friend/agony aunt. Always listening to her boy problems and being her comedy side queen should have been an honour. But in reality, I realised it wasn’t a fun title at all.
Having dabbled with the thought of being straight and denying who I was for far too long, I stopped pretending that my best friend was a potential love interest (thank you Alex) and told my family just before I left sixth form.
Although it felt like I'd just climbed a mountain, that was only the beginning. My straight girl friends were supportive, and excited to suddenly have a GBF. To them, I could be that trusty friend to go bra shopping with, who'd talk about men with them into the early hours, all while braiding their hair. I'd be the one guy who wouldn't get an erection in their presence, knew what top they should wear with ‘that’ skirt and have the right words for when they were sad.
And at first, that was fine with me. Those friends brought me back to life after hiding for so long. I finally felt needed and, for the first time in my life, like I fitted in. They didn’t judge me or make me feel bad. We’d laugh at my stupid jokes and it felt good to have real friends to text and hang out with.
But the negatives that came with the GBF label gradually started to creep in.
The GBF label
To the world, I was just one of ‘the girls.’ But in my heart, that didn't feel right. It felt cruel. According to the Urban Dictionary, "The gay best friend is the best friend of any hot girl you know, and the key to getting with that girl. Behind every hot Girl is a GBF."
And ‘behind’ them is exactly where I stood. Forever the odd one out.
I lost count of the times I was the only boy shopping with a group of girls. The only lad at the girl’s sleepover, where a father made me feel bad for being the only boy there. An adult man who towered over me, pulled me to one side, and said it wasn't right for a boy to be friends with a group of girls. "You should be out playing football," he said. Unaware of his homophobia, I assumed he was right... that there was something wrong with me.
I remember once being the GBF on a cinema trip, where all of the girls had a guy and I had popcorn. No amount of jokes they cracked could hide that as the awkward single gay boy, that I wasn't like them at all. A plus no one.
I got used to being the only boy in a crowded room, feeling ignored and fighting tears. Because the reality of being the GBF was an uncomfortable and lonely existence. As much as I adored my friends, I knew they'd never truly understand how I felt. They weren’t ever cruel, and even when they introduced me to someone new as their GBF, I knew they didn't mean to make me feel bad. But that didn’t matter, because every time they did, my stomach flipped. I worried that person had heard the word gay and now that's all they saw me as. And as someone who struggled with being gay for so long, having it constantly highlighted was hard. All I craved was to be 'normal' and to fit in. But all I did was stand out.
A role that was meant to make me feel accepted and loved gradually turned out to be a pretty hard gig.
Still, I plastered on a smile and channelled the happy-go-lucky GBFs I'd seen on the screen. But re-watching the romantic comedies I'd loved when I was younger, I noticed the GBF was always a side-line character, wing man or supporting role. Damien from Mean Girls, George from My Best Friend’s Wedding or Brandon from Easy A, all fulfilled their role as the comedy GBF perfectly.
It's a role that on the surface works for the happy ending of a rom com, revolving around one character. But because we rarely heard a back story for those unsung heroes, we never got to find out who they really were. Their lives and struggles weren't important enough. Like me, they stood behind the straight girl.
"The gay one"
As I got older and made friends with more LGBTQ+ people, I realised that there was more to life than being labelled. You see, when you are with a group of LGBTQ+ people, you are never branded the ‘gay one.’ But with straight people, you are always the ‘gay one.’ And this is where the problem lies. Because the concept of the GBF implies - and constantly reminds you - that while they are normal, you are not. You are the other.
“Often, this popular stereotype can actually be extremely damaging and hurtful to the person involved. They are expected to fulfil a very specific role in their (usually) female friend’s life that effectively reduces them to a series of pastiches and does not reveal the full complexity of their personality," says Dr. Becky Spellman, a psychologist and clinical director of Private Therapy Clinic.
“Perhaps especially when they are young, and still coming to terms with who they are, some gay men may feel that pigeon-holing themselves into the stereotypes is an acceptable price for friendship.” And that's exactly how I felt.
Sure, society's lack of acceptance, poor representation in movies and harsh bullies played their part in my desire to hide my gayness and be perceived as normal. But looking back, I realise I was guilty of putting immense pressure on myself, too. I was scared that my voice was 'too gay' so I never spoke loudly - or spoke up. I let myself play that role and leaned into the stereotype in a world that only accepted gayness if it was at the service of a straight girl.
While that was over 10 years ago now, it seems many people still use the term to describe their ‘different’ friend. A person who just happens to be gay. And, in an age where we’re more aware of our language and harmful tropes, it doesn’t sit well with me that it’s still used so widely. We’ve finally waved goodbye to spinster, and f*g, so why is GBF still a thing? Is it finally time to do away with it for good?
I know most people use it endearingly and without thinking. I know they’re not being intentionally malicious or meaning to offend. But it is, ultimately, a constant reminder that gay people are ‘different'.
Personally, I don’t care as much now and it doesn't bother me because I finally can accept who I am and wear the label with pride. But for the teenage boys, who like me, alone at school, are hearing it every day, I worry. I fear for the looks they receive as they're introduced, and my heart breaks for the nervous smile they wear as the label weighs heavy on them. I fear for their mental health and sense of self.
So if you have a GBF, remember he is far more than the gay friend ‘behind’ you. And he just might need reminding of that occasionally.
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