For The Love Of God, Please Stop Saying “Bromance”

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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.

Screen-Shot-2012-10-26-at-11.04.37-AM2“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?”

NO

NO

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.

The only bromance I'LL ever need.

The only bromance I’LL ever need.

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.”

Originally appeared at xoJane 

More from our partners at xoJane.com:

My Boyfriend’s Last Girlfriend Was a Call Girl

Dont Gender Me, Bro: Writing Under a Gender-Neutral Byline 

I Got a Face Tattoo

Lead Image Credit: leyink/Flickr 

About Kate Conway

xokatbioKate Conway is the Queer Studies Editor at xoJane. She is currently in training to be San Francisco’s slowest, saddest half-marathoner (her words), and she also bottle-feed baby woodland creatures while they’re still bald and horrifying, take improv classes, write erotic poetry about stone fruit and eat more burritos than most people (also her words). Follow her on twitter here.

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Comments

  1. David May says:

    Oh, really, this is just silly. Or was theat your intent?

    I’m middle-aged gay and I think it’s cute that these younger men have rediscovered the Romantic Friendship (as it used to be called). Bromance or Boy Crush, it’s sweet. Recently at a restaurant here in Seattle, I saw two straight couples meet for dinner. One man extended his hand to the other; the second man gave his friends hand a gentle slap before they embraced — and not the triangular straight boy embrace accomapnied by pats on the back. i was touched.

    Male friendships involve a courtship beforet leads to the intimacy, so the terms are not unsuitable for the emotional rollercoaster that is Love in any of its myriad forms. I think the homophobia of post WW2 America repressed the Romantic Friendship in our culture, and I also suspct that, in our more permissive era, straight men learned from gay men that physically affectionate, emotionally intimate friendships are not unmanly. For many men (gay and straight) this new acceptanceof the Romantic Frienship probably came as a revelation and relief.

    So leave it alone, I say. Let the boys and/or call it what they will — but let’s support it.

    • Well said David.

    • “So leave it alone, I say. Let the boys and/or call it what they will — but let’s support it.”

      Yes!!

      • I love how we need to “rethink masculinity” and work away from rigid gender roles or concepts of gender which create “toxic masculinity”.

        Or, at least, until men begin to feel free enough to rethink ideas of platonic love and find larger support for being able to be more open and engaged with friendship and emotional depth. Then it’s just another, oppressive piece of Patriarchy which needs to be dismantled.

        It really begins to look like the only acceptable way to do this sort of Social Justice is if you set it up so you always lose. You’re only good for SJ if you suffer as a minority. As soon as something positive hits the larger culture, it’s de facto bad because it’s a part of the larger culture. Everyone loses and no one wins. All for a little more kindle on that glorious SJ fire.

  2. If the only problem is a name then I say let it be.

    And besides other than in movies and pop culture who really uses this term? Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard anyone actually use the term. In fact I’ve seen more articles and posts arguing against the use of the word than I’ve seen/heard people actually using it.

  3. Of course it’s a little amusing. One of my closest friends and I are famously bromantic. All the women (mom, sister, wife, girlfriend, etc) in our lives chuckle at it. Not in a mocking way, but because they find it endearing to see (in the words of one) “two people who are so easy and comfortable with each other.” They find it sweet, and fondly tease us about our bromance. It’s not mockery, any more than when his wife refers to me as one of the family she is mocking familial relationships or implying that only brothers should love each other this much.

    I’m with David: this is a positive thing. It’s recovering the idea of allowing men to have emotionally close relationships outside of football teams and the military. I’ve never heard anyone use the term bromance to refer to two male friends in an unkind way. Hell, I’ve even heard a gay friend of mine refer to his friendship with a straight friend as a bromance. If anything, this is an acceptance of male-male romantic relationships, recognizing that two men who are very close might very well be more than friends.

  4. ThePaleKing71 says:

    I have heard “bromance” uttered in daily conversation, and it has always been used as a pejorative to denigrate close male relationships. Look at how the term gained traction in popular culture: as a definition of J.D. and Turk’s relationship in scrubs or Barney and Ted’s relationship in How I met Your Mother, or in any male protagonists’ relationship with any male character in Apatow film. Basically, “bromance” is shorthand for infantilized male characters who only become “real men” after they’ve recognized the “superiority” of a heteronormative, cisgendered, long-term romantic relationship. As a straight man, I find that little insidious piece of portmanteau very restrictive and downright offensive.

  5. Not sure if serious or trolling…?

    You raise some good points Kate about a lack of acceptance in the mass media of non-heteronormative relationships, but you don’t do your argument any favours by attacking the bromance.

    I have a wide range of good relationships with people of both genders, including a few cherished bromances.

    We even go on regular ‘man-dates’!

    For us it’s about celebrating our close, emotionally open, non-sexual friendship, not diminishing the bonds others share.

    Don’t tell me I can’t share a relationship with another person but not call it what we want to!

  6. weavermount says:

    The author confuses media representation with what actual people are doing how they are using the term. Of course corporate media is saturated in homophobia, crappy gener politics, queer-erasure etc etc etc. And sure let’s critique the shit out the media construct “Bromance”. But let’s not invalidate real peoples real relationships though, alright? Where does a queer person get off invalidating anyone labels, or forgetting that media portrayals aren’t lived practice?

    Kate, are there any bromances in your social scene? Have you talked to anyone labeling as in a bromance?

  7. Ryan_1980 says:

    Brilliant article. Well said. I get enormously bored and angry when two men who care about each other are automatically, childishly, referred to as having some sort of sexual ”bromance”. In my experiences it is usually women who use this term more than men too. It is pathetic and creepy. So just stop it. Thank you.

  8. A term created to spice up tabloids and on doofy reality shows when two males are really close. The term is demeaning and devalues friendship between two men. Why is there no word for two female friends combining a word for female and romance? Because it’s suppose to be normal for two women to be really close but for men it’s a “bromance”? It’s a stupid word created by daft people and the people who use it are no better. And as Ryan_1980 says it’s mostly women who use it in a teasing manner which can make a guy feel awkward for showing affection or kindness towards their close friend. I had a co-worker do this when me and my friend were planning of having lunch. “Aww you guys having a wunch date.” I didn’t find it amusing and told her such. Women like her get a kick out of this “bromance” because it’s ammo. It’s not cute nor humorous that me and my friend wanted to plan a lunch with each other.
    So it’s not just the media it’s society taking this thing and making it a joke when ever referenced and the numbskulls who think it’s A Ok. To you it’s okay to be mocked with a silly term for doing something natural, having a very close comradery, you’re probably one of the people who eat that reality show/tabloid garbage up. For me it’s disrespectful that men get an exclusive label to make them feel silly for being close to another man.

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