Why do Straight People Pretend to Be Gay?

First of all…. WHOAHHHH GUYS!! I AM LEGAL NOW!!! I JUST WANT TO YELL THIS AT EVERYONE I SEE!  I AM SO HAPPY AAAAAAAAHHHH RAINBOWS POURING OUT OF MY EYES LIKE TEARS.
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Anyway.

Now, I don’t mean straight men and women are committing to a daily lived performance of “being gay” in the way that I survived my own closet for countless years (and sometimes re-enter in certain professional and public contexts). I’ve never met a real-life “Lisa” (of the L Word) and anytime a man has told me he’s “actually a lesbian” I know he’s not confessing that he’s trans and he’s definitely being annoying.

Instead, I see straight men and women momentarily pretending to be gay, often on Facebook. Sometimes it’s a one-time comment in the context of an argument or a joke, other times it’s as elaborate as a fake relationship, maintained for several days or even months. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of responses by my straight “allies” to the Supreme Court marriage equality decision that are more or less, “Now I need to find someone to get gay married!!”

Photo courtesy of Katie Seibert

Photo courtesy of Katie Seibert

I didn’t know right away how I felt about this, but I knew something was wrong. First of all, these folks are making the distinction by calling it “gay marriage” so I’m not sure they’re imagining something significantly different than just “marriage” — maybe something with extra rainbows — but that much is immediately off-putting. So is the idea that “gay marriage” is something you just off-and do on a whim and not a right that was hard won after years of violence and oppression.

My friends and loved ones who attended SF Pride this year are reporting the sense that there were a lot more straight people in attendance than years prior. An article about this is unsettling in its flippant headline, When, Exactly, Did Pride Become A Party For Straight Teens?, despite touching on the recent and possibly related violence. That’s right, shots were fired at SF Pride.

So, I find myself wondering with increasing urgency why exactly do straight people pretend to be gay and how exactly should I respond to that?

With no initial judgement either way, I present the cases I most often see:

  1. Because women are objectified as sexual objects, lesbians are seen as less threatening and often sexually desirable to straight men. Some straight women borrow this objectification and perpetuate fake encounters or even entire relationships in order to enjoy the attention and to feel desirable. Because they are straight, however, they maintain control over this interaction, unlike me — I can’t choose to retreat from this objectification and it permeates my life.
  2. Some straight women may or may not do the above while also perpetuating a loving “advanced” friendship, calling a woman “wifey,” and elevating a particular best friend. These women may also or merely be enjoying the intimate and affectionate closeness possible between two women that is less possible between men due to male homophobia, without trying to overtly attract men. They may be filling a void due to inability to find the relationship with a man they desire, or they may actually be avoiding relationships with men by appearing “taken.” It can be a placeholder or a replacement for romantic relationships. Facebook posts might avoid any sexual implications, but there is certainly enough PDA in the form of “loving” wall messages to suggest there are external social motivations.
  3. Straight men and straight women will momentarily pretend to be gay in the context of a joke. If it’s supposed to be funny because it’s so improbable, I’m not amused. If it’s supposed to be funny because two people of the same gender have an uncommonly close friendship and love each other a lot, I might think it’s cute, or I might think it’s shitty for people to think it’s not normal to love your friends. Daniel Tosh is funny because he might actually be gay or bi, but he’s toying with the fact that it is not actually any of our business and we may never know.
  4. Straight men and straight women will momentarily pretend to be gay in the context of an argument. If my dad was dealing with a bigot he might feel like pretending to be gay to personalize the argument and hope to make the bigot feel like an asshole. He feels an enormous amount of pride for me as a human being, but he also enjoys laughing in the face of people who think their “ideological” arguments are so important but can’t do more than sputter when it comes to actually applying these arguments to me, a real (and adorable) person. Straight men and straight women leverage their relative safety in order to “borrow” a gay perspective in arguments and force their opponents to recognize their targets as people.
  5. Straight celebrities will pretend to be gay for notoriety and attention (Tosh not excluded). Writers will pretend their characters are gay for the same reason. It’s called queerbaiting and we hate to love it and love to hate it. Seriously though, Hollywood, can you just put homoerotic tension in everything (or how about just homoerotic)?

…You might have picked up my preference for the even numbers in this list.

I can’t say definitively that it’s never appropriate to “pretend” to be gay. Sometimes it even seems to help push along the conversation. I only caution my friends who are used to making the “I need to get gay married” joke (and any similar faux-homage, or should I say homoge?) to reconsider making it in the upcoming months. There is already a dangerous and hateful backlash to the Supreme Court decision and it will probably continue to worsen. It is hurtful for anyone not affected to make light of something that is so serious for the people who are affected. Even if we don’t want to get married, there is something legitimizing about knowing we are recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States. Most of the time, I feel ready to dare anyone to defy me because I can tell them love has won.

But sometimes I feel less safe in my “acceptance,” because I see so-called-allies using this acceptance to entitle themselves. I see a guy at Brass Rail last night videotaping a female go-go dancer on his phone, and returning to videotape her even after another patron told him to stop, and resisting my efforts to also make him stop. Someone I care about sees a straight guy actually fucking ask where he could “see some boobies” at her pride parade in SF last weekend. I see straight men lurking at gay clubs for the straight women who have always tried to find a safe place to party (and have been welcome for years), straight men waiting for the end of the night when women are drunk and tired and trying to get home. I see people who earlier this month insisted calling Caitlyn Jenner “Bruce” now “celebrating” this “LGBT” victory. And then I have to see straight people on Facebook with a rainbow filter say they’re going to get “gay married.”

Forgive me if I don’t think that’s hilarious.

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2 thoughts on “Why do Straight People Pretend to Be Gay?

  1. I also prefer the even numbers on the list. That being said Im okay with all the things on the list for 1 reason: it gives LGBT conversations more airtime. At this stage in the game I think lack of acceptance to still mostly do to discomfort from lack of exposure.

    The societal conversation about LGBT people is moving in the right direction so Im not worried about the message being 100% morally/ethically/factually/intersectionally correct. As long as the conversation is okay (basically anything besides LGBT being predators like Anita Bryant tried to say) I think it should be encouraged.

    Perfecting the dialog can come in a decade or two when LGBT people are entrenched in main stream culture

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