I’d like to write a bit today about a very, very serious topic. It is one that I’ve been contemplating for a very long time. It is a topic that keeps popping up around the internet. I was going to save it for a different project, but I keep seeing it pop up all over the place, and I need to say my bit about it. I’m going to apologize in advance if my words offend you. It is never my intention to offend anyone when I’m writing, but there are times when it seems inevitable. Consider it a lack of talent, wit, and creativity on my part. I just simply do not think I can write about this without stepping on someone’s toes. It just hits way too close to home for me.
I reiterate: I am not trying to offend anyone. These are the opinions of a single, straight man, and as such come with the slant and perspective. It is a limited viewpoint. I don’t claim to speak with the wisdom of all knowledge.
Let’s Talk About “Bromance”
One of my favorite movies is I Love You, Man, a comedy about the close, heart-wrenching love between two heterosexual men. It is the story of a guy with no friends, Peter (Played by almost universally underrated Paul Rudd), who finds himself desperately in search of male companionship. He has a fully stable romantic relationship with his fiancé Zooey (Rashida Jones), and seems to get along well with her friends. He isn’t concerned with his lack of guy friends until he realizes that everyone else thinks he’s a freak. This sets him on a group of whacky adventures until him meets the Manic Pixie Dream
Girl Dude in the form of Sydney Fife (the Brilliantly Talented Jason Segel). Sydney breaks Peter out of his shell of well-meaning but boring Realtor and boyfriend and helps him discover his own passions again. They hang out doing stupid guy stuff like screaming at strangers and listening to a ridiculous amount of Rush. Eventually, because this movie does follow the traditional Rom-Com Formula, they have a misunderstanding that separates them, finally culminating in their reunion and declarations of love for one another.
Analytically, the movie is pretty funny, Paul Rudd and Jason Segel are great in their roles. Rashida Jones does an amazing job of playing the supporting part that would normally be the slacker best friend in a more traditional Rom-Com. It does a lovely job of turning the ideas of romance on their side, switching out some of the more traditional roles to fit a clever and ironic view of human relationships.
I’m not saying that this movie is an Oscar winner, but it should have been. I Love You, Man did something that I have never seen in any other film.
It told the story of the exceptional closeness that two men can feel without trying to imply that there was anything inherently effeminate or homoerotic in the subtext. It let two men love each other without feeling the need to make an excuse.
Many of you know that I have a best friend. He is a giant prick most of the time, but I put up with him because I love him. It is a completely plutonic love. If I were gay, I’d like to think I’d have better taste than to date him, and I’m pretty sure I’m way too fat and hairy to ever be in his sex radar. None of that means that I wouldn’t take a bullet for him, or for that mater, stab someone with a #2 lead pencil for him. I have no hesitation when telling him my darkest secrets, and I only judge him the littlest bit when he tells me his. The fact that he might be moving away soon is actually terrifying to me. Losing him would feel very similar to when my wife left me years ago. A part of me would die. As I write this, I realize that I’ve been avoiding hanging out with him because I’m unwilling to admit that he’s leaving…
I love my friend. He is a part of who I am, and I like to think that I am at least a passing voice inside his head at times. Our relationship is very complicated.
That’s why it bothers me when close male relationships are portrayed as jokes in movies and television. That’s why I am bothered by slash fic and rants about “queer baiting.” I’m not going to say that there aren’t shows out there that are purposefully using innuendo of homosexual relationships to draw in a broader audience, I’m not naïve. I’m not saying that there aren’t shows out there that the writers strongly imply a gay relationship but don’t have the balls, or the network permission to just come out and say it. I’m not saying it is wrong for fandom to fantasize about homosexual relationships between characters, or at least not any worse than it is for fandom to fantasize about heterosexual relationships between characters. I have to admit, I get a little nervous around any zealous One-True-Pairing shippers. As I try to become a writer, I get timid about the idea that one day the story will be bigger than what I control. I guess I’m okay with that in general. It implies that I think I’m capable of writing something that might one day be worthy of fandom.
What bothers me is when devotion to a friend is used as justification for a relationship that doesn’t make any sense. I see it a lot in the geek community, and I normally keep quiet about it because one of the wonderful things about fandom is the fact that it is simultaneously a shared community experience and at the same time very personal. Who am I to tell you how to enjoy your personal fantasies and fandoms?
I’m not making a plea for you to stop enjoying things the way you wan to enjoy them. I’m asking you to understand why I am offended by your outrage.
Imagine this Scenario:
You have a pair of monster hunting adventurers. They are desperately devoted to one another, but always in a plutonic way. They occasionally have a romantic interlude on the side, but if ever forced to chose between their lover and their partner, they travel on together to the next monster to slay. They share everything with each other. They have an emotional bond that couldn’t be broken by a million screaming wyverns. They trust each so completely that they instinctively know when the other is only pretending to betray them, no matter how much evidence to the contrary. The devotion they have is so complete that one of them can be brought back from demon reaches of hell by the sheer love of the other.
Fan fiction writers are going to ship them. It’s inevitable. Fans want them to develop a romantic connection and break all the sexual tension!
This is where it becomes offensive to me.
More often than not, fandom creates the sexual tension with their own desires. They read into the characters what they want to read into them. I’m guilty, too. If this couple was played by Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day, I’d probably be like, “They should bang!” If those characters were played by Channing Tatum and Lou Ferrigno, a differently inclined geek would probably be like, “They should bang!”
If their characters have no reason to be sexually attracted to each other, isn’t it offensive to imply otherwise? For example, wouldn’t it bother you if it was a man and a woman, and one of them was gay. If you put them together as a pairing, you’d be saying that it isn’t okay for the one to be gay. That would be offensive to the gay community, wouldn’t it?
We need, as a society, to accept that sexuality is not a inherently an ingredient in love. We need to realize that love is love.
When I see people getting upset because two straight male characters are emotionally close to each other, it is almost always referred to as queer baiting. To me, this is offensive. It seems like something that should be offensive to all of us. It implies that there is something inherently homosexual about emotional connections. It implies that you can’t have emotions and be straight. By contrast it says that being emotionally distant is inherently straight. Worse, even, is that I almost exclusively see it applied to two men, never two women. This to me screams that our society judges emotional connection as inherently feminine.
Am I wrong to be upset by this?
Am I wrong to be bothered by the idea that we’ve taken something and judged it to only be appropriate behavior for one set of people?
That’s what offends me.
I’m going to apologize again if I offended anyone. These words are just my mind trying to understand my own confusion and frustration about an issue that seems complicated. I feel like it is inherently wrong for society to tie personality to sexuality, just as I dislike when society ties character to gender. I feel like we spend too much time judging each other. In this situation, I think the obvious solution is to have more and better written characters of a wider and more diverse sexuality spectrum. I want there to be more art and fiction exploring all of the angles. I want there to be a wider view on society and culture.
I, personally, do not feel comfortable writing from the perspective of a gay character. I am simply ill equipped to deal with the realities of gay life. I don’t avoid having gay characters in my writing. I draw characters from the people around me and I have too many interesting friends that happen to be gay for them not to show up in my work on occasion. I have a similar fear about writing from the perspective of a woman. I’m always afraid that someone will chastise me for writing her as too masculine. I know I shouldn’t worry about that, who cares if a woman is masculine or a man is feminine. It shouldn’t be an issue. I just don’t have the experiences or tools to understand that perspective well, and I worry about it.
I do, however, have experience with a devoted bromance. That is a subject I can help readers explore when I write, just as gay authors can help me explore life as a homosexual.
I hope that one day, our media is full of these stories. Stories that bring understanding, not confusion.
In the end, I have to say, put I Love You, Man, in your instant que. It’s a funny movie that explores a truly important topic.
It is okay to have plutonic love.
Regardless of the genders involved.
PS: If you’d like to read a better written article on the subject of male affection in western culture, I’d suggest this piece by Clementine Ford.