[Epistemic status: amateur sociology engaged in because it’s a fun intellectual game. If I find one of you fuckers acting like this is established fact, I’m going to glare at you.]
So I’ve recently read this article from a Christian magazine mourning how acceptance of homosexuality has lead to a demise of deep male friendship, because men are too afraid of being gay to have intimate relationships with each other.
I have not personally noticed this as a problem. I can think off the top of my head of half a dozen passionate friendships which have enriched my life tremendously, and while people I know may have trouble finding friends for the ordinary reasons that people do, I have not noticed men restraining themselves from emotional intimacy with other men. I don’t doubt that this is a problem– most notably, I observed it quite a lot in high school– but it is not a problem among people I know. Perhaps I can identify what we’re doing right.
My social circles since high school have been queer: that is, more than half the people I interacted with at any given time were LGBTA. However, there are straight, cisgender people– even straight, cisgender men!– in my community. As far as I can tell, there is little difference between the straight, cisgender man and the trans lesbian in how likely they are to form friendships.
James Baldwin wrote of whiteness as a choice: whiteness, he argues, is the decision to identify oneself with white people as a group (as opposed to with Norwegians or Poles– or, indeed, with birdwatchers or model-train collectors), which white people are perfectly capable of not doing if they so choose. In a similar sense, I think, most of those men might be heterosexual, but they’re not straight. They don’t identify with straight people as a group.
How does this manifest itself? Well, quite often they idly wish to be bisexual (more people to date!) or asexual (more free time!). They may initiate casual physical contact with other men, such as hugs or cuddling, if they’re typically a huggy or cuddly person. The difference is perhaps most sharply shown about their attitudes towards dating trans people. If they are attracted to a trans man, they’re like “oh, cool! guess I like some men.” The ones who like women with penises occasionally date them without angsting about what it means; the ones who don’t don’t freak out when they see a trans girl and happen to think she’s cute, because it’s not a big deal to be attracted to someone with genitals you don’t like. And if they did happen to get a crush on a cis man, one imagines that they would shrug and roll with it.
In this environment, men are capable of becoming friends with other men, because who cares if you’re gay? If they are not invested in continuing to be heterosexual, then “people might think you’re gay” is not a threat. So? You can correct them, and if they aren’t corrected you can roll your eyes, and either way it’s no big deal.
It is important, I think, to distinguish this from being secure in one’s heterosexuality, a conflation that is often made. Being secure in your heterosexuality is thinking “I am so certain of my heterosexual identity, which I want to keep maintaining, that I can do some things people think of as being gay.” This is saying “I really don’t give a fuck if I’m straight or not; if I am, cool, and if I’m not, also cool.”
Obviously, this attitude requires community support to maintain. If everyone else cares whether you’re gay– and they’re going to harass you if they think you are– it takes a remarkably thick-skinned individual to maintain their lack of fucks given. And I think a lot of it is people absorbing the values of their own community: if everyone you’re around thinks that gayness is just as good as straightness (and bisexuality is maybe a little better), then it’s easier for you to believe that too.
The author of A Requiem for Friendship discusses solely male friendship, and seems to be vaguely under the impression that women are not capable of true philia and, perhaps relatedly, that men are not capable of true parental love. If true, this speaks to a sad reduction of human capacities by the community of the author, and perhaps he should address why the past community he wishes to return to took away from women the capacity for philia and men the capacity for parental love. For this reason, I think, he does not seem to be aware that women and men are capable of having philia for each other.
Some have argued that you can’t have true friendship if it’s possible to have romantic love for the person– the romantic love will continually get in the way. I don’t think this is an unreasonable critique: true friendship is the recognition of one soul in another soul, and that tends to lead to romantic love quite a lot. I think having bisexuals in a community improves this situation: after all, bisexuals are capable of having romantic love for everyone. By extension, one must conclude that either bisexuals are incapable of philia or that you can, in fact, have romantic love and philia at the same time.
Why would we assume any love is necessarily pure? It is perfectly possible for a parent to feel both the warm, protective love of parent to child, and the deep friendship of recognizing a person fundamentally similar to you. It is perfectly possible for a couple to feel both the companionable, affectionate familiarity of people who have spent a long time in each other’s company, and the passionate erotic love we call ‘romance’. Surely, then, it is possible to both feel erotic love and friendship for the same person at the same time.
One innovation, particularly in polyamorous communities, is the melding of friendship and sexual/romantic love. I know many people who date their friends, many people who are in love with their friends (either for a short period of time at the beginning of the relationship, or continually), many people who have sex with their friends regularly or as a one-off thing. In my opinion, the careful use of romance has great potential to strengthen and deepen a friendship, and I feel quite sad that the author of this article does not seem to be familiar with it.