Kate Conway explains how the “bromance” label implies that the deepest emotional connection a straight guy can form with someone else is to date them.
>OK, universe, you’re on notice. From now on, you can’t use the term “bromance” about two people unless they are actually bros in a romance. Those are the new rules. I am enforcing them with an iron fist, and not in a sexy way.
“But Kate!” you might be thinking. “You love intense, codependent relationships, particularly between young people who face harrowing trials in space or English high school classrooms and emerge even closer than before! What gives?”
You are, of course, correct. There is little I adore more than media centered around people with powerful emotional bonds with each other. Plots that hinge on characters’ bone-deep loyalty for one another just give me the meltdowns, regardless of whatever sexual or romantic trappings they’re encased in.
More often than not, though, when those breathless, touching relationships are between dudes, they’re distilled and marketed as “bromances” to a mainstream audience. And that’s where I’ve started to draw the line.
As far as I can tell, the word “bromance” seems to be used mainly to denote “a relationship wherein two straight dudes frequently demonstrate their affection for each other, but do not wish to stick their dicks in or around each other’s orifices.” Or, in blunter terms, “Dudes that are so close they might as well be fucking! They’re not, though, because LOL gay people, right?”
I mean, again, I dig the concept. People showing their potential to love other people with whom they have forged a strong bond? Perfect.
However, since “bromances” are rarely treated with the same emotional depth as heterosexual romances, any sort of male-male affection is automatically set up to be a punch line, and that I can’t stand.
My personal recent tipping point was this Australian news article, which implied that two politicians must be involved in a “bromance” because of their close personal relationship. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t remember the last time anyone referred to a “bromance” in a way that didn’t seem to also imply that the whole situation was inherently at least a little amusing, sometimes to a downright farcical degree.
For one thing, the “bromance” label completely discounts the possibility that dudes are capable of forming serious platonic relationships with each other or with anyone else. I think that, for once, girls are lucky in this respect: We’re capable of demonstrating affection for our female friends without having to explain to everyone around us that no, not all hand-holding has to be code for “I want to stick my tongue in your mouth.”
Guys aren’t left any nuance or room for caring about people in ways that don’t involve sticking their dicks somewhere. The “bromance” label implies that the deepest emotional connection a straight guy can form with someone else is to date them. If that someone else is a woman, it’s called a romantic relationship; if it’s another guy, it’s called a “bromance.” The value of nonsexualized, nonromantic friendship is completely erased from public view, and that’s both unrealistic and just plain lazy writing.
There’s also the fact that calling it a “bromance” as opposed to “regular-type friendship” is just another way of giving straight dudes a special snowflake pat on the back for something the rest of us do every day without fanfare. No, there’s no apparent equivalent of “bromance” for female friendships. Plus, you also don’t get endless listicles of “The 10 Best Lady Friendships for Ladies on Television, Ladies!”
This is partially because there aren’t that many lady characters in television (sigh), but also because the concept of dudes forming close relationships with other dudes in TV and film is so noteworthy that it apparently deserves all the attention.
Frankly, the whole concept smacks of homophobia: the literal fear of being mistaken for gay is so strong that straight-dude media has manufactured an entire heterosexual safety net to prevent any such assumptions. It’s like that fucking awful phrase “No homo.” By hiding behind “bromance,” as a straight guy, you can demonstrate as much real affection for your friends as you want, so long as everyone knows that you have no real desire to touch their dicks. Because God forbid someone think that for even a second.
Take the whole media junket around the new “Star Trek” movie, for example. The relationship between Kirk and Spock has been famously romanticized by fans; it inspired some of the first “slash” fan fiction, back in the days when people published zines full of it to send to fellow nerds around the country.
So the fact that people think of Kirk and Spock as being pretty fucking queer is no secret. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a single reporter asking the actors or directors involved about the possibility of actual queerness appearing in the films.
Instead, there’s pages upon pages of commentary on Kirk and Spock’s “bromance.” Even Zoe Saldana, whom I love deeply, gets in on it: “They have a bromance, and [Spock and Uhura] have a romance. Isn’t that funny?” Yes. Hilaaaar.
Maybe I’m being oversensitive. Just once, though, I want some entertainment reporter to ask Chris Pine, “So, lots of people seem to think your characters are incredibly fucking gay for each other. Like, boyfriends. Space husbands. Wormhole comet nebula starship blow jobs. Thoughts on that, broseph?” The idea is never even entertained — as if the very notion of a character in a mainstream film franchise identifying as queer is so absurd that it doesn’t even merit a passing mention.
It all results in what I like to call the “safe gay” effect, in which media give the illusion of being LGBT-tolerant without actually including any LGBT characters. By entertaining the concept of “bromance,” network execs or whoever else seem to be winking at the concept of two dudes boning without ever taking the risk of developing those storylines.
They get to have the best of both worlds: progressive fan bases appreciate the fact that actors, writers, and directors seem to be “in” on the joke that two of their characters could, in a certain rainbow stage light, seem like they’re sucking each other’s cocks just out of frame. Meanwhile, conservative America can shield their tender eyes from any hint of Big Scary Homos. After a while, it just gets kind of soul-deadening.
The only possible positive I could think of with the whole “bromance” label would be if it set up a potential avenue for real-life maybe-queer dudes to explore their sexuality in a way that was nonthreatening, non-binding, and eventually led to comfortable self-actualization (and maybe boning). But I think for that to be a viable possibility, “bromances” on TV or in film would have to end in actual fucking once in a while. As far as I can tell, that’s not happening anytime soon.
In my fever dreams, these “bromances” would be just as worthy of a “will-they-or-won’t-they”-style relationship arc as heterosexual romances; instead, they’re always used as the hilarious punch line, and I am left sticking my hands down my pants and (let’s be real) writing fan fiction.
So please, y’all. Stop using “bromance” to mean “close relationship between two dudes.” If we’re stuck on the portmanteau and want to redefine it as a non-gendered “that strange place between friends-with-benefits and dating,” that’s fine with me.
If we just want to mean “a platonic relationship that entails physical and emotional affection,” though, let’s just cut the crap and say “friendship.”
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