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.

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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!

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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”.

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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.

 

She’s no Competition… and He isn’t either!

Straight women share a great friendship with gay men because they do not have to worry about unwanted sexual interest or overtures that regularly impede their relationships with straight men. However, do straight women have to worry about gay men competing with them for other men? One might think so. Because gay men and straight women are both attracted to the same gender (i.e., men), both of them must be in competition for male partners, right?

Not quite!

Although gay men and straight women are mutually attracted to men, this does not mean they are in direct competition with one another for dating partners.

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Consider the following scenario: A gay man could find a straight man very attractive, but there is a 0% chance that the straight man would select a gay man over another straight woman to be his date. Because gay men have a 0% chance anyway, this eliminates any potential for competitiveness because the straight woman will always be selected over a gay man. However, this would be different if both competitors (e.g., straight female vs. straight female) were desired by the straight man. In this case, there would be competition because both female competitors have an above 0% chance of attracting the straight man. The reverse is also true: straight women can’t compete with gay men for other gay men because the potential gay male suitor will always select the gay man to be his mate over the woman.

Depending on the sexual orientation of the male in question, gay men and straight women either have an all or nothing shot in pursuing their dating opportunity. Thus, gay men and straight woman will always stay in their own dating lane, and neither party really has to worry about tension arising from competitive motives. This eliminates any potential competitiveness that we usually see between two women or even two gay men, but it may also contribute to the heightened trust that straight women and gay men share with one another1.

However, just because gay men and straight women do not compete for dating partners, their respective genders and sexual orientations do not preclude them from competing with one another in situations unrelated to dating. For example, gay men and straight women can easily compete with one another for the same jobs (think Project Runway!).

References:

1. Russell, E. M., DelPriore, D. J., Butterfield, M. E., & Hill, S. E. (2013). Friends with benefits, but without the sex: Straight women and gay men exchange trustworthy mating advice. Evolutionary Psychology, 11, 132-147.

New Look, New Perspective

Gay-Straight Relationships has been LIVE for almost a year, and the blog has come a long way. With over 800 Facebook fans and many loyal readers, Gay-Straight Relationships has gotten off to a very powerful start. In celebration of this milestone, it is our pleasure to introduce the “new look” to our site where we will continue to provide a fresh, “new perspective” regarding the relationships between gay and straight.

As we continue to expand and grow, we hope that you will be able to share our perspectives your close friends and utilize our information to foster acceptance and growth within your relationships. We want to thank you for your support and interest in Gay-Straight Relationships.

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Documentary: “What the Gays Gave Me”

This semester at the University of San Francisco, my film professor asked me to make a documentary about something I am passionate about; turns out I am passionate about gay men.
‘What the Gays Gave Me’ is a short documentary exploring the dynamic friendship between gay men and straight women. Upon moving to San Francisco for university in 2011, I soon realized I get along with gay men better than any other gender or sexuality, and started to wonder why that was. As my friendships grew and evolved into the wonderfully strong bonds they are today, my gay friends and I began to analyze just why we thought this type of friendship works so well.
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I finally got the chance to put our wine-inspired theories to the test with this documentary. We have all seen this type of relationship portrayed in the media in shows such as ‘Will and Grace’, and even the new movie ‘G.B.F’. The friendships are often times very stereotypical, where the gay man is portrayed as a fashion guru helping his ‘fag hag’ pick out the perfect outfit for her upcoming date. As a self-proclaimed ‘fag hag’, I wanted to show the world, well at least my little USF community, that there is so much more to this companionship.
Luckily my research brought me to Eric, who has been an incredible help to making this documentary into something more than a tale of two best friends. With his innovative quantitative research, and vast knowledge of this subject, I was able to gather enough evidence to show the relationship between gay men and straight women may just be one of the purest forms of friendship out there – due to the ability to build a solid foundation of trust based on the unbiased nature of the friendship itself.
With a big thanks to my amazing friends Taylor, Mark, Margret, and of course, Eric, I was able to complete a project that I am very proud of, and it represents a very large part of my life. Enjoy!
P.S. – I want to give a shout out to my amazing friend Luke Adkins, who was in New Zealand for the filming of the project and was unfortunately not able to make it in the documentary. I love you so very much!

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Brittney Montag is a media student at the University of San Francisco. 

Straight Women Always Loved By Gay Men: Mom!

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

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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.

Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man

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Recent research conducted by my colleagues and I have demonstrated that women receive good mating (sex) advice from gay men. However, I had no idea that I would see this phenomenon be performed LIVE! That’s right – a new off-Broadway comedy in New York City has their audience raving for more as a gay man provides straight women with smart SEX TIPS in order to score a sexy guy.

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This production is given “TWO WET THUMBS UP” by Out.com, and is also based on the best-selling book of the same title, Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man. In the play, a straight woman (Robyn) attempts to moderate a discussion of the book, but the gay man (Dan – author of the book) aims to entertain those in attendance with a fun, sex-tip seminar. Not only do the actors interact with one another, but audience members are also selected to participate on stage! Additionally, the hunky stage assistant, Stefan, is one piece of eye candy that neither straight women nor gay men would want to miss. According to the Sex Tips play, Stefan might be used for more than just moving heavy scenery as the actors dive into the interactive sex-tip seminar!

To me, this production looks like one of the most hilarious and entertaining plays I have come across, so I recommend seeing it LIVE while you still can! To all living in New York City or going to New York, I would get your tickets ASAP! Consider taking that special someone or your best friend. There is no possible way your night will be a bore. Visit their website at sextipsplay.com, and don’t forget to LIKE them on Facebook!

Click here for a special offer so you can receive up to $18.00 off your ticket! And keep an eye Gay-Straight Relationships’ Facebook (LIKE US if you haven’t yet!) as I will be giving away FREE tickets to the show – stay tuned!

 

 

Do women have better gaydar when ovulating?

Gaydar is an important skill that many gay men possess to determine whether the men they wish to ask out are, in fact, gay. Because gay men have greater sensitivity to specific social behaviors and mannerisms of other homosexual individuals1, it isn’t surprising that some gay men claim their gaydar is always spot on. However, straight women’s gaydar may be just as good if not better than gay men’s gaydar when they are at peak ovulation.

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A team of researchers investigated whether women are better at sniffing out a man’s sexual orientation when they were ovulating2. The researchers presented women with faces of self-identified straight men and gay men, and the women were asked whether the man that they viewed was gay or straight. Based on the results, women were better able to distinguish between gay male faces and straight male faces around peak ovulation. However, women were not able to identify lesbian female faces from straight female faces as well.

In the second part of their study, women were either asked to imagine themselves in a romantic encounter or they were asked to think about something else entirely (control condition). After the women were randomly assigned to these two conditions, they were presented faces of homosexual and heterosexual individuals and asked to indicate whether they were gay or straight. Women who were asked to think about a romantic encounter were significantly more likely to distinguish between gay male faces and straight male faces. Again however, the women were not able to clearly identify lesbian female faces.

Although women are not very good at figuring out other women’s sexual orientation, women appear to be very good at determining whether a man is gay or straight depending on their ovulatory cycle and mating interest. These findings suggest that a woman’s gaydar may function to help her determine whether a potential partner is straight when the probability of a relationship or conception is high.

References:

1. Rule, N. O., Ambady, N., Adams, R. B., & Macrae, C. N. (2007). Us and them: Memory advantages in perceptually ambiguous groups. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 687-692.

2. Rule, N. O., Rosen, K. S., Slepian, M. L., & Ambady, N. (2011). Mating interest improves women’s accuracy in judging male sexual orientation. Psychological Science, 22, 881-886.

Romantic Bad Luck

An open and uncomfortable secret for some gays and lesbians is that they sometimes develop crushes or fall in love with straight men and women. A simplistic answer is that there are more straights than gays and by a sad numbers game, this sort of thing just happens. Because these unrequited feelings are just romantic bad luck, the crush itself isn’t really a problem that needs to be addressed. The problem is solved by declaring it “not a problem.” This explanation, while well intended, ignores larger concerns and actually can make gays and lesbians worse off.

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Another explanation for what is going on is due to psychological factors in how people think about an ideal romance. We learn what a successful romance is by looking at romantic paradigm cases like Romeo and Juliet, Disney princesses, or even sitcoms like Friends or Sex and the City. Psychological studies show that people tend to misremember their own romantic experiences as versions of these paradigm cases1. For example, if a couple’s family does not like the significant other’s in-laws, the couple tends to exaggerate the fighting and may even imagine plots to break up the couple a la Romeo and Juliet. A couple that constantly breaks up and gets back together due to major differences like marriage, children, where to live, etc., may remember their experiences through a lens of Ross and Rachel rather than as they actually were.

Cheshire Calhoun, a philosopher who focuses on gay and lesbian identity, points out that the paradigm cases almost exclusively cast heterosexuals. Gays and lesbians, like anyone else, look to these models for guidance about what a genuine or authentic romance should be like but have psychological dissonance because the cast of characters they see, one man one woman, is different than the cast of characters they want, two men or two women. Homosexuals aren’t massively mistaken here, but rather are trying to build a romantic model with the best materials they have available, which just so happen to be heterosexual examples. I think when gays and lesbians do fall in love with straight counterparts, it is because they are trying to live out the romantic models they have grown up with as best they can.

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One way to help address this dissonance is to provide gays and lesbians with romantic models featuring gays and lesbians. Movies and TV shows are now making gay and lesbian relationships more common, and this is a good start, but none of these models have the kind of currency that the above romantic models have. In short, the more models that show functional gay and lesbian romances, the more likely the romantic substitution will get smaller.

References:

1. Averill, James R. and Boothroyd, Phyllis, “On Falling in Love in Conformance with the Romantic Ideal,” Motivation and Emotion, 1 (1977): 235-47. De Sousa, Ronald. The Rationality of Emotion. (Cambridge: MIT University Press, 1987), 181-184.

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We thank Kurt Blankschaen for contributing this post. Kurt is currently pursuing his PhD in philosophy at The University of Kansas.