I deeply value my female friendships. Endlessly. I wouldn’t survive without them. Not only are many of my female friends Queer, and not only do plenty of them not identify as “female” (myself often included), but so many of my closest friendships with men are Queer, that I honestly did not realize the cultural barriers to forming friendships with straight men.
I just feministly and Queerly assumed — and have repeatedly made an ass out of myself over it — that straight men have been culturally empowered to be capable of the same types of warm, supportive, intuitive, sensitive, thoughtful, close, emotional friendships that I have with my female and/or Queer besties. This is a ridiculous assumption for me to have made, for so many reasons: I spend lots of time trying to recognize the specificity of the cultures in which I participate, I’ve spent a lot of time in manly workshops, bars, and warehouses, AND I myself know what it is like to make elbow-elbow-wink-wink eye contact with a fellow butch, boi, or other dudely Queer while the femmes in our lives demonstrate levels of very high stereotypical female affection that even we have considered, “Wow, that’s … A LOT.”
I should have known better. I have repeatedly discussed with my close natal family members that there are cultural tidbits in which we are not all fluent, due to how intensively we were included in the kitchen/garden/nursery/etc. versus garage/hunting cabin/hard physical labor/etc.. So, so, sooooo many times my mom/dad/other natal besties have discussed how I had to fight to be included in my actual interests, instead of just being planted with the women (whose company and culture I also adore and speak somewhat more fluently).
My mom and I have together gaped at how the close men in our households repeatedly do not know how to socially appropriately extend invitations, accept invitations, give thanks, and/or plan for emotionally charged gatherings that are warm, caregiving situations. I have asked my dad to include me in a mostly many antique steam engine event at a neighbors’ farm, quizzed him about whether or not it was a potluck, accepted his apparent knowledge that we did not need to bring a lunch contribution, only to show up and immediately understand that he was wrong, had no idea that he was wrong, and that he couldn’t feel the immense social faux pas that was now on me as the supposed female of the party to have obviously not prepared and presented food as a token of companionship. So, I really should have known better than to engage with my straight, male besties assuming that they possessed or wanted the communications to be as warm, affectionate, and sensitive as even the dude-liest of my female and Queer besties.
I remain shocked, slightly wounded, baffled, and delighted by these new dynamics. All of those adjectives so intensely that I have been saving some of my friendship texts so that I can both mull them over myself for educational purposes, to try and speak openly about the cultural differences that exist, and to try to illustrate to my straight, male besties what it is I am looking for. They’re not getting it.
I started by trying to post this comic, about how we females and Queers relate to each other:
Of course, not all female friendships operate this way, but it is an important benefit of being originally pigeon-holed as female and learning these skills or going through the rocky process of coming out into a culture that embraces sweet emotions more than some others. To take the panic out of the straight male response to my overt, copious affection, I also tried using some YouTube videos that could help point out that there are some common culture tropes of friendship that we can recognize through comedy and satire.
It didn’t work. My straight male besties did not immediately begin learning, understanding, accepting, and sending more emojis, phrases of overt support and kindeness, extra details about their inner emotional life, or the actual, literal word “love.”
I could feel the lack of it, despite my real, articulated coaching:
“We say ‘love.’”
“We are affectionate.”
“We are warm.”
“We snuggle. Openly.”
“I want more warmth from you.”
“I am sad and frustrated.”
“I am experiencing the cultural affection divide again.”
“We talk about how we dreamed, slept, and are physically feeling or wearing.”
“All. The. Time.”
“When you don’t engage in these ways, I feel unloved, hurt, and neglected.”
“Look what my other friendships look like.”
We wake up sending buckets of emojis, reply with more sleepy affectionate emojis, as we also did to say goodnight. Not every night and morning, but a lot, especially when we sense the other guy needs it.
“How did you sleep?”
“What are you making for breakfast?”
“What should I wear to work today?”
“Go get’m, tiger!”
“Here, also, is some info about your nerdy interests!”
I have, for PTSD and complete lack of interest reasons, never made out with either of the above besties, and yet we send kisses and hugs and snuggles on top of shared, nerdy interests. It doesn’t freak us out. We expect it.
It might freak out some Queers and females who are less Queer, but not most who are close besties. It doesn’t even freak out the besties with whom I HAVE made out or knocked boots. Sure, there’s a period of re-adjustment to The Friend Zone with no dating or further sex, or at least not current sex, or maybe just super casual sex, where-in we are super sensitive to how the other is feeling and projecting, but we still send smoochies and openly, articulately talk about what’s happening. And it’s likely that we’ve thoughtfully, mostly respecting boundaries, discussed the same complex, personal issues with other besties, with lots of details and subtle feelings. Within requested confidentiality, we talk about almost everything, gently guiding and holding each other. Even from a distance. Even once we’re extremely busy parents.
Endless affection and gratitude in the midst of our grossest, hardest, most overwhelmed times. Not every day, but when called upon.
So, after demonstrating how friendship *can* look, discussing cultural differences, and articulating what we’re looking for, how do we proceed across the gulf to best-level friendship with straight men? I do not want the answer to be that we do not include them in our top tiers of friendship. Similarly, I do not want to have to accept a friendship wherein I expend far more warmth and caring than I am receiving. I don’t wanna give up on a buddy. I don’t want to feel sad about how a buddy communicates with me.
Do we just try to roll with what we thought was just a stereotype of “Duuuuuude!,” “Brrrooooo!!!” etc.??? I’ve already made missteps there, during an actual role-playing board game with polygonal dice: put a dude buddy too far in The Wedgie Zone; had to apologize without ever getting a full disclosure of the feelings I could sense. Had to sit still with undiscussed feelings and topics. More than once. In order to keep straight dudes as close friends instead of removing them from my top tier of people whom I deeply love.
Are there existing Power Point tutorials for this negotiation???
I think we should talk about it some more, over some herbal tea and Indigo Girls or Beyonce, while we snuggle on the couch by the fireplace, braiding each other’s hair.