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Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys: True Tales of Love, Lust, and Friendship between Straight Women and Gay Men [1 August, 2007]

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Edited by Melissa de la Cruz and Tom Dolby; Dutton, 320 Pages, 2007

Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys: True Tales of Love, Lust, and Friendship between Straight Women and Gay Men is an anthology of personal accounts about the relationships between gay men and straight women, often known as “fag hags.”  With a foreword by Armistead Maupin, the book includes pieces by celebrities like Simon Doonan, Michael Musto and Gigi Grazer, and celebrity and fashion journalists like Karen Robinovitz.  These seem to be the marquee names meant to attract attention to a collection that claims to explore the complexities of such relationships, but theirs are among the most facile and superficial essays and repeat the worst stereotypes about gay men.  Robinovitz writes perkily about how tremendously useful her gay best friends are to her: Such fashion sense!  Such a divine ability to accessorize!  But she seems barely able to distinguish between the men, and airily lumps them together as “my gays,” much as the Queen might refer to her ever-present brood of Corgis as “my dogs.”

The best pieces are by writers who fearlessly explore the messy contradictions and complexities that their relationships have spawned, in more ways than one.  Philip Himberg writes about having sex with his former high school girlfriend in order to have a child; living with his daughter apart from the mother; and the close relationships between the three of them.  K.M. Soehnlein writes about a sudden twist in a relationship with a female friend: “One of us leaned in for a kiss, and who knows why, but ten years into the friendship, we decided to keep going, like lovers would.”  The friendship continues and Soehnlein is no less gay for the experience.

For the most part, Girls Who Like Boys eschews such complexity and rehashes the worst stereotypes about fags and their hags, pretending that all such relationships are pure bonds of friendship.  It’s disingenuous to ignore the systems of economic and social privilege that tie gay men and straight women together in a world that still cherishes heterosexual (or even metrosexual) masculinity and consistently reminds women to be more feminine.  Is it an accident that straight women with power and access should attract gay men who are excluded from it for not being men enough, even in supposedly gay environs like the fashion industry?  Is it any surprise that some gay men play up the stereotype to the hilt, decorating, finger-snapping, screaming “fabulous” at every turn and bolstering the confidence of straight women and tutoring them in how to be femme?  How often do we see straight women forming lasting bonds with lesbians—or gay men—who don’t look and act like they belong on the set of The L Word?

In this complex and politically-correct dance, straight women play the gatekeepers to class privilege and ensure that their social orders, hierarchies and heteronormativity are maintained.  In an essay that’s at least honestly named “Super Couple,” Sarah Kate Levy rejoices in the fact that she has entered a privileged married life and now double-dates with her two gay friends: “We talked about real estate, work, traveling.”  Mike Albo, in perhaps the only essay (“That Unsettling Feeling”) that even remotely considers the economics behind such relationships, writes wryly about the fact that his life clearly doesn’t match what appears so often now in the House and Garden section of The New York Times where gay men and their partners can be seen lounging casually outside their carefully renovated second homes; Albo considers adding a caption to one such photo: “Tim and Jorge converted the old slave quarters into a ceramics studio.”

Simon Doonan bemoans the end of the fag hag, claiming that she mostly disappeared from the scene in the late 70s.  But the truth may be otherwise, given that larger numbers of wealthy gay men can now have the same kind of privilege—and ability to keep others out—as their straight counterparts, and no longer need women with power to usher them in.  The “fag” today seems an anachronism, a leftover from an era when non-heterosexual men either hid their sexuality or flaunted it in a drama of survival.  It’s not the fag hag who’s dead—it’s the fag.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 1 August, 2007

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