Chris is Cia’s straight man, but she’s not a comic, and there’s no easy way to describe their relationship.
Editor’s Note: A while back, my friend Tammy Palazzo published an article about the phenomenon of the GBF (gay best friend)—a gay man who plays a special, non-sexual, boyfriend/husband-like role in a straight woman’s life. Today, another friend, Cia McAlarney, writes about the flip side—a straight man who plays this special role in the life of a gay woman.
There is no reason Chris and I should be friends.
We are opposites in every possible way.
Chris is male, conservative, Republican, a former Teamster, a fire fighter who might have been a soldier, and of all things a Jets fan. Outgoing and friendly, he likes nothing better than telling stories with his friends and socializing in groups.
I, on the other hand, am female, progressive, Democrat, a part-time academic and writer, and a hard line Red Sox and Patriots fan. I’m the one who sits at the edge of a party, watching it all and going home early (though Chris notes with ironic delight that while shy in person, I am not embarrassed to make personal disclosures in writing.)
What unites us? A single point of connection.
We both like women—Chris dates them (he was married until recently) and I am married to one.
Relationships, as Facebook tells us, are complicated, whether based on romance or not. And non-romantic friendships between men and women may be the most complicated of all. In my experience, many gay people find that the most complicated relationships are those for which our culture doesn’t have a name. Like many gay women, I’ve struggled for years with what to call my love interests: roommate, significant other, significant emotional affiliate, partner, life partner, or the most loaded of all, wife. Labeling friendships that manage to transcend gender as well as orientation is even harder. When a straight woman befriends a gay man, she might be called any number of things, my favorite of which is “fruit fly” and my least favorite, “fag hag.” The most common tag is GBF. But there is no standard equivalent for lesbians and straight men, no GGF, though I know Chris and I are not alone in this interesting dynamic.
As I said, there is no reason Chris and I should be friends. So what is the glue that keeps us together?
Besides both liking women, Chris and I do share other values that enable us to transcend our differences. For my part I know the good I see in him, his deep connection to his children and family, his independence and sound judgment, his good humor and open-hearted acceptance of difference. He is a practical, engineering kind of guy, one who approaches obstacles with an optimistic attitude that they can be overcome. Most days, no matter how bad, find him whistling while he walks.
There are also many things we can do together that I can’t or won’t do with my women friends. We’ve gone camping, deep sea fishing, taken a class in gourmet butchering, and another in knot tying (with actual rope). We have stayed overnight on two different battleships with our sons, taught our sons to change a tire (me), roasted a pig in his backyard (Chris), and shopped for sewing machines. (Despite what you might think, he was the expert.) We rarely discuss politics and instead tease each other about our sports teams and compare parenting notes. Chris is a terrific single parent, and a father’s perspective for a gay mother of boys is often appreciated.
We’re also fortunate that, unlike many friends, we like and respect each other’s partners. He tells me my wife, whom he calls “the Brain,” is smarter than I am, and I joke that his girlfriend is way too good for him.
But none of that fully answers why we retain our deeply intimate connection, despite the firehouse ribbing and the quizzical looks we receive from my women friends. So I asked Chris what he thought. His answer was so simple it blew me away. “It all comes down to being comfortable with who you are,” he said, “to acceptance and not having to wonder about offending you.”
“I’ve tried very hard to offend you,” I joked.
“There’s nothing you can say to me my ex-wife hasn’t said already,” he retorted. Then he called me early in the morning with a follow up. “I’ve been thinking,” he said, “and I know the answer. I really like the way you take personal responsibility for things in your life. You don’t look to anyone else to solve your problems for you. You look for a way to solve them yourself. We may have different outlooks but we get along because we accept each other and both deal with our own stuff.”
With or without a name for it, perhaps that is the key to successful, lasting friendships of this type: the willing and complete acceptance of difference. That and the freedom from sexual tension we enjoy—no expectations, no explanations, no recriminations. We can be open with each other, because we don’t need to watch what we say. Chris is who he is and, as Popeye would say, I yam what I yam.