Mano a Mano

Photo: Zohar Lazar

While everyone is familiar with the “fag hag” archetype (a woman who enjoys the company of gay men), more and more straight men these days are choosing gay men as companions and friends. With Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on TV a dozen times a week and homophobia on the decline, straight-gay friendships between men are becoming less and less taboo—for both sides. And as for the style question, in some cases it’s the straight eye for the queer guy. “A friend of mine was getting ready for a date,” says John, 39, a copywriter, “and he was worried his place looked too faggy. I took some dirty laundry from a hamper and threw it over his bed, messed up the sheets a little bit, and scuffed his shoe. He said the date was really good. He’s been doing it ever since.”

What makes these friendships work, say the men I spoke with, is a combination of sameness and difference. “Straight guys are pretty basic and pretty simple,” says Tim, 25, a gay artist with many straight friends. “They’re kind of like dogs. They tend to be straightforward, whereas gay guys can be kind of needy and dramatic. I can be comfortable with both. It just depends on what I’m in the mood for.”

“Gay men and straight men have a lot more in common than gay women and straight women,” says Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York, who calls straight men who hang out with gay men “fag stags.” “They both want to make money, to work, and they’re here to satisfy their libidos. Gay men are particularly drawn to masculine straight men because they find them very entertaining and exotic. Guys who are too woo-woo—their herbal-tea collection is a bit too large and they do a lot of yoga—aren’t so interesting.”

Within these nontraditional pairings, there is plenty of opportunity to be un-p.c., to mock and stereotype each other, which can be liberating for both sides. “The gay-straight divide is a source of constant amusement,” says John, who is close friends with Mayer, a gay editor, 36. “If I see somebody that looks ridiculously gay and stupid,” says John, “I’ll say, ‘One demerit for your team.’ And he’ll tell me about some literary party and say, ‘I’m sure the straight smart set will be coming out in droves.’ ”

“It’s a relief for big poofs like me to have straight-guy friends.”

John first started hanging out with gay guys fifteen years ago when he moved to New York and met RuPaul through a mutual friend. “I didn’t want to be friends with white middle-class kids, so when I met this tall black transvestite, I thought he was cool as hell. I would hang out in his trannie house watching Valley of the Dolls with these guys, and I was just as much of a curiosity to them as they were to me.”

Today he has so many gay friends that his straight friends tease him about it. He likes hanging out with gay men because he finds them more entertaining than straight guys, especially since he’s not interested in sports. “In a gay crowd, you’re supposed to be witty if you want to be a winner, whereas straight guys can get away with not being that funny. With gay men, the art of being social is held more dear.”

Mayer, for his part, says he likes calling upon John when he needs de-gaying. When he was preparing for a date with a cop, John helped him replace his book of Cecil Beaton photographs and Liberace at Home with Portrait of America. Unfortunately, says Mayer, “in the end it didn’t really matter, because the guy opened his mouth and a purse fell out. He looked like Tarzan and talked like Jane.”

He likes spending time with John, he says, because it’s such a shift from his regular circle. “It’s a relief for big poofs like me to have straight-guy friends because there isn’t a sense that you’re after the same thing, and our time together lets me take a break from poofery.”

There are some potential pitfalls in gay-straight friendships—girls, for instance. Girlfriends can get jealous, even suspicious, of a boyfriend who spends a lot of time with his gay-male friends. Gay men can be just as judgmental: “I have a friend who’s very effeminate but straight,” says Tim. “My friends say to me, ‘Oh, of course he’s gay; he just hasn’t come out yet,’ because of the way he crosses his legs. I’ll make fun of them for being so quick to judge.”

But shouldn’t they wonder? Isn’t there a chance that a straight man who likes gay men is just a gay man waiting to come out? “The straight guy needs to be very macho and confident,” says Doonan. “Otherwise, there’s the possibility that he’s someone who doesn’t know if he’s Arthur or Martha. He ain’t a fag stag—he’s just a fag.”

Gay men say that even if they find their straight buddies attractive, they’d never come on to them; the purpose of the friendship is the friendship. “The straight guys that you’re actually attracted to,” Mayer explains, “are not necessarily the ones you would go out and have a beer with. The straight guys you’re attracted to are reserved for masturbatory fantasy only. I think John’s a hot guy, but I’ve never been attracted to him because he’s my homie.”

So what do straight guys and gay guys talk about when they get together? As with all friendships, there’s sexual regaling and love confiding—the straight men give tips on how to meet guys who aren’t so nelly, the gay guys get the straight guys to raise their personality standards. “I once dated a woman who was really cute but didn’t have an outgoing personality,” John recalls. “Straight guys really loved her because they could be flirtatious and domineering, whereas gay men would say to me, ‘If you put something out there, you should get something back.’ They weren’t immediately seduced by her attractiveness.”

As much as the differences can be enlightening, even edifying, there are times when a guy can feel like a fish out of water. “I was with a group of friends at a party,” John recalls. “They got stoned and the conversation moved from the subject of Palm Springs to musical theater. They were talking about all this musical-theater stuff. I said, ‘This has gotten way too faggy for me,’ and I just got up and left.”

Mano a Mano