A gay best friend should not be your idea of a cute new accessory. Graphic by Haley Morkert.
AIDAN GREGG | OPINION CO-EDITOR| firstname.lastname@example.org
They’re sassy, loud, mildly annoying, constantly horny, aggressively twinkish and stone-cold gay; your GBF is here to slay.
As an individual often surrounded by a horde of my female friends and plagued by gay voice and gay walk, I’m frequently clocked as queer by anyone who has engaged with any form of media depicting gay people in the last one hundred years. Unfortunately for me, my effort to live authentically has at times led to a designation as a “gay best friend” — or GBF, a gay man who’s tokenized for and reduced to his sexuality.
Jonathan Shinn, a sophomore music education and vocal performance double major, identifies as gay and experienced this phenomenon transitioning from high school to Butler. Shinn was surprised by the way he was treated here.
“Coming to Butler, especially freshman year, it was kind of a shock to me how people would come up and just scream my name,” Shinn said. “Then, after a while, I started to realize who was really being my friend and who was just maybe kind of doing the GBF thing, but it was hard to tell at first.”
For many gay people, it can be a bit of a culture shock to come to college and have cisgender heterosexual people celebrate you for something that you’ve been degraded for through most of your life. It feels good to be validated in this way at first, but as time goes on, you begin to realize more and more that to the people that see you as their GBF, you’re not much more than a handbag.
Of course, it’s great that we’re at a point culturally where gay people are not universally shunned and we can comfortably engage with cisgender, heterosexual people. However, the treatment of someone as a GBF can feel dehumanizing.
Shinn pointed out what aspects of the GBF phenomenon make him uncomfortable.
“[GBF] kind of has a connotation that you’re friends with a gay person simply because they’re gay,” Shinn said. “It’s not really positive because you’re defining our friendship based on my sexuality when that’s not the defining factor of our friendship [and our friendship] should not be based upon that.”
When someone calls you a “GBF,” it’s typically not because you’re their bestie who happens to be gay. These people have crafted a narrative in which you are the fruity gayboy tethered to their side for all eternity — or at least, for as long as you’re still entertaining to them.
Via Sarjent, a sophomore music industry studies and classics double major, credits much of the GBF stereotype to white male-focused representations of queer people in media.
“[Cishet people] see these shows with these characters that are there as just a tool for the main [character’s] success,” Sarjent said. “Usually those characters have behaviors of being sassy, they’re very into makeup … straight cis people, who have never interacted with [gay people] in their life, this is what they think that’s going to be.”
The GBF’s purpose is essentially to throw out the occasional one-liner, go shopping and give boy advice.
Because our society has created one specific idea of what a gay person is — a sassy, white twink — people desiring a GBF force gay men into that box. Anyone that exists outside of that twink stereotype of a skinny, young, gay man is anathema to what they see as a “normal” queer person.
I’m more than just gay; I’m also a chronically bitter student journalist dedicated to dunking on frat boys. Yet, for some reason, I have repeatedly been introduced as the “gay best friend” to those who do not know me. Anyone with any marginalized identity will tell you that it doesn’t feel good to be collected like a stone in someone’s minority Infinity Gauntlet.
Shinn emphasized the role that these cultural factors play in the development of the GBF stereotype.
“I don’t think it’s just an individual’s fault,” Shinn said. “It’s also … our influences from pop culture and the media and just the general turning of sentiments towards queer people as a whole [that has caused the GBF phenomenon]. Because [growing acceptance of queer people] is obviously such an amazing thing, but there’s a point where it’s not being an ally; it’s almost a tokenization or even to the point of fetishizing.”
When I came to Butler, the thought that I would end up as someone’s accessory had not crossed my mind. I did not come out of the closet until after high school, so I had not had the “privilege” of being someone’s GBF. However, upon arriving at Butler, one of the first connections I made was with someone who would later pride herself on being “inclusive” because she had a gay best friend.
Matt Goldbach is a senior P2 pharmacy major who transferred to Butler from Purdue University. Goldbach came out as gay in high school and feels that his treatment in high school and at Purdue differs significantly from his treatment at Butler.
“I was one of three [gay] guys in my high school, but I never was treated like a GBF there,” Goldbach said. “Then when I came to college at Purdue [I experienced being deemed a GBF] not as much as I do [at Butler]. Here especially, I’m experiencing it a lot.”
The Butler community is notorious for its performative allyship as it relates to queer people and for being a festering cesspool of white neoliberalism. It shouldn’t be surprising that tokenization in individual relationships is commonplace specifically at a university that sees marginalized people as a diversity Boy Scout badge.
The only people who benefit from GBFs are the only people that shouldn’t: cisgender, straight and annoying. It’s time for cishet people to engage with the media they consume critically and understand that gay men are not accessories for them, and queer people as a whole are not monolithic.
This experience is not common to all queer identities, however. Sarjent said that their experience as a queer lesbian is widely different from that of a typical GBF. After they came out, Sarjent said that they stopped being invited to hang out with girls, which they credit to predatory stereotypes toward lesbians.
“I was starting to get excluded from those spaces because [I came out],” Sarjent said. “So, I never really had the like, ‘Oh, you’re my gay best friend now. Like, let’s go do this. Let’s go do this’ … It was more of a, ‘Okay, you’re gay. I’m not associating with you anymore.’”
Sarjent also pointed out that while gay men are subject to tokenization, lesbians and queer women are shunned by cishet women, and, even worse, fetishized by cishet men. As frustrating and dehumanizing as it is to be a GBF, we need to acknowledge the different forms of oppression our community faces. At the end of the day, none of us will be free from oppression until all of us are.
Shinn feels that the tokenization gay men experience differs from how other members of the LGBTQ community are treated because gay men are the easiest for cisgender heterosexual people to relate to.
“The most surface[-level], easiest person to [tokenize] would be a gay man because they’re the least marginalized,” Shinn said. “We are the least marginalized part of that group if that makes sense. We’re still men. I mean, I’m still white.”
The stark difference between the treatment of white gay men and other queer people, especially queer people of color, is largely a symptom of patriarchy. Despite how much heteronormative culture deems gay men as “one of the girls,” we still benefit from male privilege as any cis men. Women-loving-women subvert traditional gender roles because they reject the idea that a woman must be defined by their relationship with a man. As such, queer people that are not white, gay and male have a distance from cisheteronormativity that makes them a less desirable target to become a GBF.
Although we experience marginalization differently, and to different degrees, any form of it reinforces patriarchal ideologies that are harmful to everyone. In addition to tokenizing gay men, the GBF stereotype excludes non-men and non-cis queer people from society’s conception of queerness.
Sarjent offered some clarification, for people who may not know whether they are engaging with harmful queer stereotypes.
“There’s a very big difference between your ‘GBF’ — your gay best friends — and then a best friend who is gay,” Sarjent said. “You just need to make sure that you don’t make them a token. That’s the big thing: they aren’t a tool, they aren’t an accessory for you to have. We’re people.”