Shawn Maxam consults his phone to count all his female friends.
Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. —Unknown
About once every few months I like to engage in a bit of technological spring cleaning. This includes clearing out my inbox, deleting files from my laptop’s hardrive and even consolidating the contacts in my cell phone. Seeing as I was married just six weeks ago it seemed apropos to engage in a little digital purging. I decide to start with my phone, during which I come across the names of several friends who happen to be women. I begin to ask myself whether I should retain the numbers and emails of these ladies who range from a cordial colleague to an absolute BFF. Is it okay for a recently married man like me to have any female friends?
The biggest misconception about the genders is that men and women can’t be friends. If we only define each other by our perceived gender and other heteronormative guidelines then I guess logic assumes all men and women must sexually objectify each other. I have female colleagues who are in their sixties. And while I don’t consider myself so universally attractive that all women want me, I can only assume that our every interaction is filled with raw subconscious sexual tension.
Since I started therapy nearly five years ago, many of my therapists have been women. I developed deep, meaningful connections with several of them. I looked at them as mentors, older sisters, and aunts. Truthfully I was too depressed to even imagine having a romantic relationship with any of these lovely people.
I think the core rationale for why we believe in our own inability to have meaningful non-romantic relationships between the genders would rest on one huge “perceived” roadblock. We assume that men and women can’t express vulnerability with one another. Beside our mothers and wives/girlfriends, we generalize this notion of men living with impenetrable walls. If men cannot connect superficially through sports or other traditional notions of masculinity than it is assumed that we can’t connect at all. The very existence of the Good Men Project proves this false. Men can discuss their emotions, sexuality and fears along with other sensitive issues if we have the spaces to do so.
As heterosexuality is no longer assumed, what assumptions about platonic male/female relationships have gone out the window with them? We seem to believe men and women can’t be friends because of some innate sexual attraction between us. But that only makes sense within the heteronormative framework.
I have close friendships with lesbian women who are presumably not prone to finding me sexually attractive. Without that tension on their ends of our friendships, are these still platonic? I am also friends with transgender people. If a woman has a male history, is it okay for me to have a platonic friendship with her? We seem to accept that straight women can be friends with gay men. What about gay men being friends with gay women? Are we only comfortable with friendships crossing gender lines when our romantic boundaries remain unthreatened? It seems as if this is the case in many instances.
I would rather have friendships with people not genders, races, religions or professions. Definitions are murky, messy and grey just like real life. I have meaningful relationships with women but I don’t want to limit my interactions to just them or men. I am pushing forward toward wherever the future leads me. So excuse me while I go call my wife’s best friend aka my new best friend-in-law, who happens to be a lesbian woman.
—Photo Stuart Frisby/Flickr