The Science Behind Why So Many Women Want to Befriend Gay Men

For years, friendships between straight women and gay men have been a subject of pop culture fascination. Books, television shows and feature length films have all highlighted this unique relationship, noted for its closeness and depth.

But with society’s attitudes toward gays and lesbians changing, it’s become all the more important to build a holistic understanding of the relationships between gay and straight people.

As a researcher in social psychology, I’ve often wondered: why do straight female-gay male relationships work so well? Why are straight women so drawn to having gay men as friends? And when do these relationships typically form?

During the course of my research, I’ve discovered that the most interesting, compelling – and, arguably, most theoretically coherent – explanation is through the lens of evolution.

Specifically, I believe evolutionary psychology and human mating can help explain why relationships between straight women and gay men tend to flourish.

A safe bet

At first glance, this explanation may seem quite counterintuitive. (After all, straight women and gay men don’t mate with one another.)

However, this is precisely the reasoning behind my approach. Because gay men don’t mate with women – or compete with them for mates – women feel a certain level of comfort with gay men, and the process of forming a close friendship can occur relatively quickly. With heterosexual men (who, by definition, are sexually attracted to women), the process is longer – and potentially more fraught – because men may be grappling with their own sexual impulses.

In other words, because gay men are attracted to their own gender, they’re a “safe bet” for women – at least, from a sociobiological standpoint.

About three years ago, I initially tested this theory in a series of experiments that have served as the foundation of my research programon gay-straight relationships.

In these experiments, straight female participants were shown fictitious Facebook profiles depicting either a straight woman, straight man or gay man. The female participants were then asked how likely they would be to trust the individual’s dating advice.

I also recruited gay male participants, and had them complete the same task (with the gay men viewing Facebook profiles depicting a straight female, gay male or lesbian female).

The experiments, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, demonstrated that straight women and gay men perceived one another to be trustworthy sources of relationship and dating advice. In other words, when it came to dating-related matters, there was an almost instantaneous level of implicit trust.

Still, more needed to be done to support the hypothesis.

Cracking the why and when

Recently, my colleagues and I at the University of Texas at Arlington developed a series of four related studies.

We titled the four studies “Why (and When) Straight Women Trust Gay Men: Ulterior Mating Motives and Female Competition,” with the hope of better establishing why straight women trust gay men and when straight women would be most likely to seek out gay men for friendship and guidance.

For the first study, I wanted to replicate the finding that women trust gay men more than straight men or straight women. This time, however, I wanted to see if women would only trust gay men’s dating-related advice as opposed to other types of advice.

It turns out straight women only trusted a gay man’s advice about a potential boyfriend more than the same advice from, say, a straight man or another straight woman. In other words, it’s not like straight women totally trusted gay men on all matters. It really only had to do with one thing: dating and relationships.

To further examine why this might be the case, we had women imagine receiving information from either a straight woman, straight man, or a gay man about their physical appearance and the dateability of potential boyfriends. We then asked the women how sincere they felt the responses were.

As expected, the female subjects seemed to perceive the judgments coming from the gay man to be more sincere because they knew that he wouldn’t have any ulterior motives – whether that meant wooing the subject (which they might suspect of straight men) or competing for the same romantic partner (straight women).

For the final two studies, we wanted to figure out when women were most likely to befriend and place their trust in gay men. We predicted that this would most often occur in highly competitive dating environments, where a trustworthy source like a gay friend would be valued by women jockeying with one another for a boyfriend.

image-20160203-5853-1d3e7q8

To test this, we created a fake news article that detailed extremely skewed sex ratios, indicating that women in college were competing over a very small pool of men. We had women read this news article and then indicate how much they would trust a straight woman or a gay man in various dating-related scenarios.

When women read the news article about the increased competition, their trust in gay men was amplified. Not only were women more apt to trust gay men under this condition, but we also found that they became more willing to make gay male friends.

Beyond dating advice

The downside is that if a straight woman values her gay male friends only for dating advice, the relationship could become quite superficial (see Chris Riotta’s essay “I’m Gay, Not Your Accessory”).

However, the strong trust that women initially form with gay men can serve as a primer; eventually, this trust could extend to other areas, with the friendship blossoming over time.

Other findings – combined with our own – show that there seems to be an extremely strong psychological underpinning for why women are so drawn to gay men.

For instance, a recent study in the Journal of Business and Psychology revealed that straight women tend to hire gay men over other heterosexual individuals because they perceive gay men to be more competent and warmer. Furthermore, marketing researchers have suggested that straight women prefer to work with gay male sales associates over others in consumer retail settings.

These two findings alone could have many positive implications for gay men in the workplace. Because many women seem to value input and contributions of gay men in these settings, it’s likely that we’ll see a more inclusive workplace environment for gay men.

Although much of this research focuses on why women are drawn to friendships with gay men, another obvious avenue of exploration is whether or not gay men are similarly keen to form friendships with straight women.

Unfortunately, there’s been very little research on this. However, it’s possible that gay men connect with straight women for some of the same reasons. For example, in a study I conducted in 2013, I found that gay men also look to women for trustworthy dating advice or tips for finding a prospective boyfriend. Other researchers have suggested that gay men value the positive attitudes towards homosexuality that women tend to have (relative to straight men).

In this case, the implicit trust seems to be a two-way street.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Female Bosses Are More Likely to Hire Gay Applicants

During the past few decades, gay men and lesbian women have been fighting to secure equal rights and opportunities for themselves and their families. Although the recent court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage was a monumental step towards ultimately reaching this goal, there still remains much inequality in the workplace for gay men and lesbian women. Many LGBT individuals in the U.S. still refrain from disclosing or discussing their sexual orientation to their employers for fear of job discrimination. However, a recent study in the Journal of Business and Psychology suggests the opposite may occur: gay men and lesbian women are more likely to be hired by a company if the boss of that company is female1!

o-MAN-WOMAN-BUSINESS-facebook

In this study, psychologists recruited male and female subjects to evaluate various job applicants for a vacant “Office Manager” position. The subjects were shown a resume that either belonged to a (1) straight female, (2) straight male, (3) gay male, or (4) lesbian female. The psychologists cleverly manipulated the sexual orientation of the applicants by adding that the gay male and lesbian female job candidates were part of LGBT business organizations in the local area. What did they find? The results revealed that straight women thought the gay male and lesbian female job applicants were more hirable overall!

In their second study, the psychologists wanted to explain “why” gay men and lesbian women were more hirable to straight women. The psychologists conducted a study similar to their first, but this time they asked participants how “competent” and “warm” that they thought each applicant was. The findings revealed that women wanted to hire a gay man and lesbian woman because they perceived them to be more competent. However, the gay male applicant was perceived to be more “warm” than the straight female, straight male, or even the lesbian female job applicants.

Taken together, this research implies that women’s warm and trusting perceptions of gay individuals may translate to increased job opportunities for gay men and lesbian women in the workplace.

References:

1 Everly, B. A., Unzueta, M. M., & Shih, M. J. (2015). Can being gay provide a boost in the hiring process? Maybe if the boss is female. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30, 1-14.

 

A Version of “Fag Hag” in the Philippines?

There have been a number of stereotypes in modern media and popular culture that characterize women who associate regularly with gay men. Although past literature has suggested that women who hang out with gay men are perceived as unattractive and craving male attention, many other media sources depict these women as being gregarious, attractive, and liberal-minded. While women who frequently associate with gay men are often seen in American culture, similar groups of women are being noticed in the Philippines. In America, people term these women as “fag hags” and “fruit flies”, however in the Philippines, these women are referred to as “Babaeng Bakla”.

filipino_pic

A recent study conducted in the Philippines explored the unique traits that set apart “Babaeng Bakla” women from other Filipino women1. Psychologists in the Philippines recruited thirty-nine self-identified “babaeng bakla” straight women and had them answer a number of personality measures. The results revealed that “babaeng bakla” women scored differently on these measures compared to other Filipino women: “Babaeng bakla” women scored higher on personality traits related to “Openness” and facets related to “Extraversion”. Specifically, “babaeng bakla” women had higher scores on measures of (1) assertiveness and (2) excitement-seeking. The authors of the study suggest that women who associate with gay men in the Philippines may be more likely to be open to diverse ideas, seek out stimulating situations, and be more socially dominant (i.e., enjoy leadership roles).

In the second part of their study, the psychologists recruited 35 more “babaeng bakla” women and 57 non-“babaeng bakla” women, and these two groups of women were compared based on indigenous traits relevant to Filipino culture. Again, “babaeng bakla” women exhibited different personality traits compared to non-“babaeng bakla” women. Particularly, women who were considered “babaeng bakla” tended to be more outgoing, gregarious, cheerful and humor-oriented, and vocal and talkative.

Together, this research suggests that women who associate with gay men in Filipino culture (i.e., Babaeng Bakla, or the Filipino version of a “fruit fly”) share a particular set of personality traits that set them apart from non-“babaeng bakla” women. Moreover, this study provides evidence that the unique bond that straight women share with gay men exists across cultures.

References:

1. Torre, B. A., & Manalastas, E. J. (2013). Babaeng bakla: Friendships between women and gay men in Philippines. Philippine Journal of Psychology, 46(2), 149-163.

 

Straight Women Always Loved By Gay Men: Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day, Gay-Straight Relationships fans!

mom and son

Many gay men have great female friends, but the female that has been with them since the very beginning has been their mother. While being careful of the stereotype that gay men and their mothers always have a bubbly relationship, gay men tend to have very close relationships with their mothers. This may because mothers are generally more accepting of their son’s sexuality. This may in turn create a sense of heightened closeness between gay men and their mothers over time.

Michael LaSala, a psychologist at Rutgers University and author of the book, “Coming Out, Coming Home: Helping Families Adjust to a Gay or Lesbian Child,” discusses the closeness between mothers and their gay sons in his review on Psychology Today. One of the things he suggests is that gay men are closer to their mothers because gay men have many shared interests with their mothers, and gay men are more sensitive to their mother’s feelings. Do you agree?

Check out his blog post here.

Lesbians and Straight Men: Common or Uncommon?

There has been much talk in the media about the close friendship between straight women and gay men, but what about the friendship between straight men and lesbian women? Are friendships between straight men and lesbian women common?

Based upon the literature, there is extremely little work documenting a close relationship shared by straight men and lesbian women. Most of the research up until this point has examined the closeness of gay men and straight women. In fact, research has found that there tends to be less support in friendships between lesbian women and straight men compared to gay male-straight female friendships1.

There may be a few reasons why this pair isn’t as close-knit compared to straight female-gay male friends, but I will describe two:

lesbian and straight man

1) A Sex Difference

Unlike straight women who are usually comforted by the lack of sexual tension in their relationships with gay men, straight men really do not benefit in this way with lesbian women. Because straight men are typically the sexual pursuers in romantic relationships, men usually do not have to worry about straight women taking advantage of them, nor do they typically have to worry about women pushing for more than just a platonic relationship. Thus, a primary benefit that women reap in their friendships with gay men is absent in the friendships between straight men and lesbian women.

2) Women’s Sexual Fluidity

While men often identify as either straight or gay, women are less black and white when it comes to their sexuality. It has been demonstrated that relative to men, women are more likely to report bisexual attractions than exclusive same-sex attractions2,3. Because women (especially women who are attracted to the same-sex) tend to be more fluid in regards to their sexuality, men may also perceive these women to be fluid. Men may therefore assume that a potential mating opportunity exists in their friendship even if these women only only prefer other women as partners. Due to men’s higher sexual drive and their desire for more sexual partners on average4, their relationship with lesbian women may become convoluted due to men’s heightened sexual desire.

Even though friendships between straight men and lesbian women may not be as common as gay male-straight female friendships, it should not be assumed that these friendships do not exist. In fact, there may be a good handful of friendships between straight men and lesbian women that share a very close relationship.

References:

  1. Muraco, A. (2006). Intentional families: Fictive kin ties between cross-gender, different sexual orientation friends. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 1313-1325.
  2. Diamond, L. M. (2006). The evolution of plasticity in female-female desire. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 16, 245-274.
  3. Peplau, L. A. (2001). Rethinking women’s sexual orientation: An interdisciplinary, relationship-focused approach. Personal Relationships, 8, 1-9.
  4. Schmitt, D. P., Shackelford, T. K. & Buss, D. M. (2001). Are men really more ‘oriented’ toward short-term mating than women? A critical review of theory and research. Psychology, Evolution & Gender, 3, 211-239.

Shattering the “Gay Friend” Glass

wine-glass-shatter-shot-explode

Recently I found myself out to lunch with a good reporter friend of mine when the Gay Friend glass shattered. We were talking about a good (and gay) writer friend of mine. My reporter friend asked, “Is he the one you met on set last summer?” The answer was no, he was referring to another good (and gay) model friend of mine. “Is he the one you went to high school with?” Wrong again. “Is he the one you took to Bass Hall a couple of months ago?” Nope, though a good guess, since the friend in question has accompanied me to Bass Hall before. The reporter looked at me for a moment and said, “Huh. You really have a lot of gay friends, don’t you?”

Well, my word. It’s not like I turn down friends because I’ve met my gay quota.

The reporter went on to explain that most women have one Gay Friend, or perhaps a Gay Friend that’s been upgraded to a Gay Husband. That’s when the glass shattered for me. He was absolutely right. Women tend to have one Gay Friend, a fact I had previously never questioned. He asked how many Gay Friends I have and I had to stop and think. It’s not like I’ve ever counted. Why should I have?

katierose

This discussion at lunch was especially interesting to me since the reporter friend himself is also a “Gay Friend” of mine, not that I ever think of any of my friends with this title. Sadly, many women do. Why? For some, it is more of a status symbol than a friendship. These women feel trendy if they have a Gay Friend. In fact, I’ve known several women who actively seek the friendship of gay men simply for the sake of having a Gay Friend, the kind of social accessory that puts women in the Women Who Lunch category. One particular woman I know tried desperately to get her very own Gay Friend, but firmly (and publicly) sided with Chick-fil-A during the scandal last fall, thus severing ties with the Gay Friend she fought for so valiantly. When you see a friend as an accessory to your societal outfit, what happens when the seasons change and that style is no longer en vogue?

 

Readers of GayStraight.com, I ask you this: just how progressive are women who have one token Gay Friend? When we have friends for the love of their friendship – no matter if they’re straight or gay, male or female – then we’ll really be getting somewhere.

Katie-Rose Watson is a publicist in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and creator of The Rose Table.

Already Out? Thank Your Straight Friends

“I’ve been out for years, so how am I supposed to participate in National Coming Out Day?” asked one of my gay friends. My reply: “Thank your straight friends.”

No, really. Thank your straight friends.

One of the great things about National Coming Out Day is that it sets aside a day for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender to publicly affirm their sexuality. It’s a day of celebration and cathartic release for these individuals. However, the individuals who celebrate are mostly LGBT individuals who have recently come out or who are in the process of coming out. Other LGBT individuals may feel differently about this holiday. In my experience, I have encountered lesbian women and gay men who brush this holiday off because 1) they are already out, and 2) they don’t feel the need to reaffirm their sexuality. Although there is really no changing how gay man and women feel about issue, National Coming Out Day should be more than just affirming your sexual identity. Specifically, Coming Out Day should also be a day where we show our sincerest gratitude and appreciation for those who supported us and accepted us from the very beginning: our straight friends.

coming out

Taking a step back from my usual blog posts, I want to emphasize the important role that gay-supportive men and women (a.k.a. allies) have played in helping young gay men and lesbian women make their transition. Without the unconditional, loving support from our straight friends, there would probably not be a National Coming Out Day. At least in my personal experience, my straight friends were my foundation when I was coming out. I hardly knew any gay people at the time, so I had to rely solely on the support of my straight friends. Reflecting back 5 years ago (seems like only yesterday), not only did my straight friends accept me for who I was, they also provided me with a sense of belonging. That is, even though I thought the words, “I am gay”, automatically isolated me and made me different, they reassured me that nothing had changed. I was still their friend, and I was still Eric. These simple actions taken by my straight friends made all the difference, and their support has ultimately shaped who I have become today.  To me, that is definitely worth celebrating.

Therefore, in honor of today, I say will say this: Celebrate your sexual identity, but also celebrate the straight friends that have supported you.

The “Forbidden Fruit” Phenomenon

It is obvious that gay men do not have a sexual attraction to women. This absence of attraction ultimately eliminates women’s need to self-protect against awkward love games or unwanted sexual advances. Women have an appreciation for their gay male friends because they are able to provide a platonic friendship without the sexual overture. But are there times when a straight woman may wonder or hope that her gay friend is romantically interested?

forbidden fruit

For the most part, women desire men who will care for them, empathize with them, and listen to their concerns. Because gay men have such an instinctive ability to easily provide these things to their female friends, is it possible that these actions may arouse the desire for her gay friend to be a romantic partner? By providing a loving and nurturing relationship to his female friend, a gay male may become romantically or even sexually desired.  I call this the “Forbidden Fruit” phenomenon. It should be kept in mind that even though gay men are not attracted to women, women still have the potential to be attracted to gay men, as their heterosexuality does not discriminate between gay or straight men. Although the last thing that a gay man wants to do is sleep with his female friend, gay men may play along with his female friend in a way that teases her curiosity without ultimately doing anything sexual1. For example, gay men are not afraid to get crazy with their female friends on the dance floor.

“Maybe there won’t be marriage. Maybe there won’t be sex. But by God, there’ll be dancing!” – George, in the film: My Best Friend’s Wedding

Although exchanging loving words (e.g., “I love you”) and romantic-like gestures may become awkward in most opposite-sex friendships, a gay man may appreciate his female friend’s admiration, and this admiration may be beneficial to his overall self-esteem.

References:

  1. Hopcke, R. H. & Rafaty, L. (1999). Straight women, gay men: Absolutely fabulous friendships. Berkeley, California: Wildcat Canyon Press.

3 Ways Women Help Gays Come Out

For most gay men, coming out is one of the most important and pivotal events in their young lives. Even though this event can be particularly stressful and challenging, gay men may look to women in particular to assist them through this process. Here’s how women can help:

1. Keeping a secret. Even before a gay man comes to terms with his sexual orientation, a female friend is usually the first person to “know”.  Similar to a mother in this respect, women are pretty good at noticing certain patterns in a man that do not line up with the stereotypical straight male. Because female friends have this hunch early on, they might be more mindful of the topics that they discuss with their closeted gay friend. Rarely are female friends motivated to “out” their gay friend without their friend’s consent. Genuine female friends allow gay men the time and the space that they need in order to make their cathartic transition.

“Matt probably is gay, but he hadn’t told me. That’s the hard thing: there’s a difference between knowing and ready to embrace it. That’s why I think ‘outing’ is a terrible thing. I don’t think it’s constructive, and it could damage the relationship. I mean if you’re in private and the question comes up you can ask, but I never felt the need to.” (Cathie in Straight Women, Gay Men: Absolutely Fabulous Friendships)1

closet

2. Creating a safe space. When young gay men discover that they like boys, their gut instinct is usually to tell their female friends before anybody else. Gay men know and are somewhat confident that their female friends will be the ones to accept them for who they are regardless of their sexual preference. Also, if gay men notice that their female friends are non-judgmental, accepting, and supportive towards other gay men who are “out,” they may be more willing to come out themselves.

3. Being proponents. On average, women’s attitudes towards gay men are much more positive than straight men’s attitudes2. Not only that, but straight women seem to prioritize helping their gay friends through the coming out process.  Some women may be passive, sympathetic observers for their gay friends, but others may actively support their gay friends through their transition. However, this is not to say that women “force” their gay friends out of the closet; rather, many women encourage their gay friends to be who they are. If gay men know they have a supportive friend and ally through their transition, they may be more willing to come to terms with their sexuality and make friends with other LGBT individuals.

References:

1. Hopcke, R. H. & Rafaty, L. (1999). Straight women, gay men: Absolutely fabulous friendships. Berkeley, California: Wildcat Canyon Press.

2. Herek, G. M. (1988). Heterosexuals’ attitudes towards lesbians and gay men: Correlates and gender differences. Journal of Sex Research, 25, 451-477.

Do Gay Men Make Women Feel Thinner?

A prevalent stereotype that exists in literature and popular culture is that women who associate with gay men are self-conscious, and accordingly, these women cannot attract the attention of straight men (i.e., usually termed as “fag hags”). Ironically enough however, many of these women who spend time with gay men report having positive feelings towards their bodies.

Beautiful woman measuring her waist - high key shot in studio

For the most part, straight women view gay men as accepting, comforting, and trustworthy friends. Women are able to be themselves around these men without having to worry about the rejection or sexual tension that characterizes their relationships with straight men. Gay men are perceived by women to appreciate a woman’s inner beauty, rather than concentrating solely on her physical attributes1,2. Because gay men are not sexually attracted to women, they may be able to initially see women for who they are inside and out.

If women are able to receive positive validation from their gay male friends, this may effect how they internally view themselves. Indeed, research has demonstrated that women who have a lot of gay male friends have higher body self-esteem and higher feelings of sexual attractiveness3. It is a possibility that women who have many gay male friends are able to receive positive validation a lot more frequently than women who do not have any gay male friends.

Even though this research is very insightful, there could be an alternative explanation. Because this study was correlational, it is hard to say that friendships with gay men actually cause women to feel better about their bodies3. It could be that women who already feel good about their bodies (i.e., women who are very attractive) make many gay male friends. This could be a highly plausible explanation because many attractive women make friends with gay men to avoid the sexual overture that is experienced in their friendships with straight men. Regardless, women seem to readily make friends with many gay men due to the non-judgmental nature of their relationship.

References:

  1. Cho, M. (2001). I’m the one that I want. New York: Ballantine Books.
  2. Hopcke, R. H. & Rafaty, L. (1999). Straight women, gay men: Absolutely fabulous friendships. Berkeley, California: Wildcat Canyon Press.
  3. Bartlett, N. H., Patterson, H. M., VanderLann, D. P., & Vasey, P. L. (2009). The relation between women’s body esteem and friendships with gay men. Body Image, 6, 235-241.