The “Gay Best Friend” Trope

“I hope he’s gay. And cute. I’ve always wanted a gay best friend.”

I was at work last night when one of my slightly younger colleagues said that, upon hearing that we were hiring a new, 14-year-old boy to work with us. Even though she was serious, I tried to play it off with a laugh, hoping she would somehow backtrack and say she was joking or that of course his sexual orientation was none of her business and who he’s into shouldn’t make a difference. And so I, an openly (to some degree) queer girl with glitter on my face and a girlfriend waiting outside, replied with:

“But you’ve got me.”

“You know what I mean. It’s not the same.”

I was still thinking about that short exchange an hour later, and it was only until I really dissected why my friend could possibly want “a gay best friend” and how that can be seen as a reflection of some of the stuff we read, as well as what we see on TV. And it was then that I realised how problematic and hurtful that really is. But here’s why I, personally, felt offended by her remarks.

It made me feel like my identity was invalid.

For years before I considered I could be anything other than straight, I’ve always made the people around me aware of the damaging nature of them presuming I’d be dating or marrying anyone other than a cisgender male. Things like “Do you have a boyfriend?” and “I can’t wait until the day you get married to a handsome young man” were commonly said to me, to which I’d reply something like, “Or a girlfriend?” or “Or a woman”. Even though my family is somewhat religious and isn’t fully accepting of LGBTQIA+ people and marriage between anyone that isn’t cisgender male and female, I’ve always made it clear that their assuming that I was heterosexual was offensive and shameful.

A few years ago, I decided that I didn’t want to be forced into a box and have a label stuck on me by society. I wanted to be free to love whoever I fell in love with and not feel as though I would be outcast by those around me or questioned for who I was dating. For a while, I rejected the idea of putting a label on myself, but that made it hard for people, my friends especially, to understand me. I thought that maybe if I weren’t going to wear a label for myself, I would do it for the people around me so that they would be able to get a better idea of who I really was. So then I started identifying as pansexual.

pansexual

panˈsɛksjʊəl,-ʃʊəl/

adjective

adjective: pansexual; adjective: pan-sexual

1 . not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.

I thought that declaring I was pansexual to the people around me would help them in understanding that I didn’t want to be confined to a box or make me feel as though I could only like particular groups of gender-identifying or cisgender people. But whether the people around me were just ignorant and chose not to acknowledge what being pansexual meant or whether they were just too lazy to learn, I quickly realised that the people I told this to didn’t know what “pansexual” meant. So I let that label slip away from me.

Up until a year ago, I didn’t really talk about my identity in the LGBTQIA+ community and I questioned whether I was even a legitimate part of it at all. I was tired of telling the people around me to not say, “Do you have your eyes on any cute guys?” and instead say, “Do you have your eyes on any cute people?”. It was exhausting trying to reiterate to my friends and family that I didn’t want to be confined by their heteronormative ideas — that being heterosexual was a human’s “default setting”. I figured that while I wasn’t dating anyone, it didn’t really matter how people saw me.

But then I started developing feelings for my friend, who happened to be a girl. Feelings which were reiterated. I’d only ever dated a guy before forming feelings for her — a guy which I’d dated for a year, making it difficult for people to see me as anything other than straight during that time just because I was in a “heterosexual relationship” — and while I wasn’t waging internal battles with myself in regards to my confusion about my sexual orientation, I feared what I would tell the people around me. Would they think I’m gay now? Would the religious part of my family ostracise me?

It was when I started officially dating this girl, the same girl I’m dating at the moment, and have been for the past five months, that I began telling the people around me that I’m bisexual. They’d say to me, “So are you gay?” or “But you had a boyfriend before”, to which I’d reply with my new-found label. Side note: I still haven’t told my family that I have a girlfriend because I’m legitimately scared that they won’t ever talk to me again and would throw me onto the streets, but that’s a story for another time. I decided to say that I’m bisexual mainly because it’s a label that most people understand. In a family like mine, and other conservative or religious families, the only people in the LGBTQIA+ community they seem to recognise are those that are lesbian, gay or bisexual. I can’t even begin to say how furious it makes me that they see anyone who identifies differently as invisible, but that’s just how they are. I’m trying to make them understand, I truly am.

So that’s where my identity comes into this whole scenario about the wanting of a “gay best friend”, and the idea that it has to be a male best friend who identifies as gay. Even though I didn’t just want to be somebody’s sidekick or somebody’s best friend, which I’ll get to in a moment, her comments still made me feel as though I was less worthy of being someone’s best friend because I don’t identify as gay, or lesbian, and I’m not a cisgender gay boy. While there are some days that I feel like bisexual isn’t a label I’m completely happy with, it’s something that will work for now, or at least until I figure out who I am. That day might never come and I might never have a solid idea of my sexual orientation or it might fluctuate, but that’s okay too. I’m comfortable with who I am, and putting a label on myself for the sake of other people won’t change that.

It made me feel as though people who identify as gay can never be the heroes.

Maybe it’s the way gay characters have been portrayed in a lot of novels or in TV shows and movies, but I can’t even begin to explain how offensive and hurtful it is to believe that these gay or LGBTQIA+ characters can’t be the heroes. Thankfully, I’ve read a lot of YA novels that are written about LGBTQIA+ characters where they are the main characters, a lot of which are #ownvoices, but hearing my friend say that she wanted a “gay best friend” made me think that maybe this trope is more ingrained in our society and our media than I wanted to admit.

Just thinking about this now, I remember when one of my best friends, who happens to be a heterosexual, cisgender guy, told me that if there were a book written about him, I’d be the quirky character with a spinoff series. At the time, I thought that was a compliment. I loved the spinoff series of some of the books I’ve read, and I like to believe I’m an interesting person… but not just because of my sexual orientation.

So that got me thinking, are characters only classified as interesting or noteworthy because of their sexual orientation if they’re LGBTQIA+ people? If that was the case, I had absolutely no interest in being anyone’s best friend. I didn’t want to be a best friend or a sidekick simply because I’m not a heterosexual, cisgender woman. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are all heroes. We are our own people, and we don’t need heteronormative, ignorant people telling us otherwise. We are worthy of being main characters. No, not just worthy. We are main characters. We are our own people, free of being defined by those around us and unconfined in society’s expectations of who we are and what we are capable of. We’re not just here to be your best friend.

And finally, it made me take a look at our media and the literature we’re consuming.

I’m so sick and tired of all the shows and movies I’ve been watching recently, or that are just typically on TV, being free of any LGBTQIA+ characters. Or when they have a LGBTQIA+ character, the heterosexual, cisgender creators are either applauded for their inclusion of diversity or give these characters tragic storylines or heartbreaking endings. And it’s rare that LGBTQIA+ characters get to be the protagonists in most movies and TV shows, and even a lot of books, and that disgusts me.

So if you’re looking for some YA recommendations where the LGBTQIA+ character is the protagonist, below are some of my favourites. And if you’re a writer, please don’t make us just your sidekicks or your best friends — we deserve more than that. We are heroes too.

  • The Flywheel
  • Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
  • History Is All You Left Me
  • Everything Leads To You
  • Far From You
  • You Know Me Well
  • Not Your Sidekick
  • The Art of Being Normal
  • If I Was Your Girl
  • Carry On
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  • I’ll Give You The Sun

Check out Gay YA for more recommendations and discussion posts on similar topics!

Let's Talk

What do you think about the “gay best friend” trope? Has anyone ever said something similar to you? What are some of your favourite YA novels where the LGBTQIA+ character is the protagonist? I’d love to get some more recommendations to add to my TBR!

The adorable Malec image used in my header was sourced from Tumblr and all praise should go to the rightful owner.

Signature

81 thoughts on “The “Gay Best Friend” Trope

  1. Wow. This post is SO important! I’m bisexual, but I’m actually thinking about pansexuality because like you, I do not want to put myself into a box yet. I really love the list of books you added at the end of this post, because they are all amazingly diverse books that deal well with sexuality and orientation! ❤

    • Thank you so much for reading my post! 💕 I completely relate to not wanting to feel confined by a label, but I also think it’s important to remember that identifying one way doesn’t mean you can’t identify another way later on. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable and allows you to express yourself! And I’m so pleased you love my list of books! Have you read all of them? Which ones are your favourites? 💜

      • Actually, this list of books holds some of my absolute MOST FAVORITE books of all time like I’ll Give You The Sun and Ari & Dante! I found Simon Vs. an absolutely adorable book that depicts Simon’s sexuality very well; You Know Me Well was amazing as well!! San Francisco and art museums ahhh ❤

  2. Such a great topic to talk about and something that definitely needs to be recognised more often! I’ve never thought much about the “gay best friend” trope in books, but now that you mention it, I can think of so many books with this trope!

    • I completely agree! Thank you so much for reading my post. And yes, even writing this allowed me to realise the true extent to which this trope was ingrained in the types of books I was reading, and I hope my post allows others to acknowledge this too. What are some of the books you had in mind that contain this trope? When do you think having LGBTQIA+ side characters is acceptable, and when do you think it becomes problematic? 💕

  3. Wow, this was a fantastically written post. I think you’re brilliant for taking the time to think out such an important post. It’s definitely give me something to think about.

  4. Thank you so so so much for your post ❤ ❤ ❤ For a while now I've been Q (as in questioning) and as you say, it makes it very difficult to explain it to friends. So for now I've stuck to saying I'm straight because I don't want to deal with it (lol), but even so my friends are always wondering if I'm with a boy "or a girl?" Which is good of them :') I'm so lucky to have many amazing queer friends, and yet there's always going to be heteronormativity that colours things. So I think you're right, I think everyone deserves to be a hero. No more sidekicks! And great recommendations too 🙂

    • Thank YOU for taking the time to read it! It’s saddening and often very frustrating to feel as though being “heterosexual” is easier to deal with, rather than having to explain to those who might not be as understanding or open. For me, even the process of “coming out” is something I disagree with to some extent simply because I hate the idea that being anything other than heterosexual is considered “different” because of the heteronormativity that is so ingrained in our society. But I’m pleased to hear that you have great queer friends, because having that support system is vital in both figuring out who you are and how you want to identify, as well as having loving people around you to understand and respect your decision. And it’s completely okay to be questioning too! Finding a label that feels right to you can take time, and if you ever need to talk, I’m here. And yes – we’re heroes, and nothing will ever change that ❤️

  5. This is a much needed post. I’m from India and i can say that things are so BAD here. Our law still sees homosexuality as a crime. The younger generation wants the court to remove the section 377 (that particular law) and we keep having hearings and stuff but we’re FAAAAR from getting it removed. The majority of the politicians actually feel threatened by them and I can’t even begin to fathom why. Everytime this issue comes up in the media there is a huge uproar where a majority of our so called “leaders” say absolute bullshit like “this isn’t normal”. All of this angers me so much. Everyone has the right to love. How can we still have a law prohibiting anyone to do that?

    • That’s so terrible to hear, lovely. I’m so sorry. I can’t believe that so many countries still see being anything other than heterosexual and cisgender a crime, and I can’t even begin to understand how horrible it must be to feel invalid. I’m lucky enough to live in Australia where while we still haven’t legalised marriage between two people that aren’t cisgender male and female, we are acknowledged in society. We still have a long way to go, but we’ll get there in the end. I’m sure India will too. We’re in this fight together and we won’t rest until everyone has the right to love who they love without the fear of being persecuted or ostracised for that. My heart goes out to you, and everyone else in countries that see homosexuality as a crime. If you ever need to talk, I’m here 💜

      • There will be a day when it won’t be the scene anymore. The Supreme Court has at least recognised that the law is wrong. It is the legislators who make the issue go haywire. I know of so many people who can’t be who they are because of 377 and it is all just so fundamentally wrong. But at least the younger generation recognises the futility so yeah.. our country will get to it someday. Transgenders do get official recognition now (the law changed around 2 years back) so yeah.. our society is working towards it. There’s hope. 🙂
        Thank you. ❤

  6. THIS IS SO BEAUTIFUL SARAH! And while I’ve only read a few of the books you’ve recommended, I look forward to reading the rest of them after hearing you vouch for them!

  7. I’ve also found that the way my male queer peers (lol) are treated is a bit different to the way I’m treated. It seems I’m more likely to have upsetting things said to my face whereas most of the horrible things my classmates had to say about our other two queer classmates (both dudes) tended to be said behind their backs and often in my presence. Like, they were more than happy to invalidate my sexuality in front of me but waited until my pansexual male classmate wasn’t around to do the same to him. Part of this probably comes from the fact I was the one out queer girl in a class that was mainly populated with straight girls, who I find tend be more likely to proliferate the “gay best friend” thing. I guess I was more of a threat to them because they thought I was gonna hit on them or something…

    Anyway, don’t mind me throwing bitterness into your comments haha

    • That’s so terrible to hear, gorgeous. I’m so sorry that’s happened to you. You deserve to feel valid and supported by those around you, and it makes me incredibly mad to hear that your classmates don’t make you feel that way. I can definitely see the different ways queer boys and queer girls are treated, and that makes me so frustrated. It’s the stereotypes that have been portrayed through the movies, shows and even books that are consumed by the general public and created by homophobic, ignorant people that perpetrate these backwards beliefs and prompt harmful consequences. Removing these hurtful, over-simplified portrayals of those in the LGBTQIA+ community is something that we all have to fight for, replacing them with realistic, genuine stories from #ownvoices creators to allow others who don’t identify in that way to empathise with these people and change their close-minded ways. And I’m always here if you want to talk 💕

      • Thank you, lovely. It didn’t happen often, fortunately, and I don’t have to see those people on a regular basis anymore.

        The difference between queer boys and girls I feel like stems from straight people feeling threatened by queer people of their own gender and how men and women deal with the threat. Hence why queer men are often outright demonised and queer women often erased. Men often control popular real-life media opinions and have been socialised to be more aggressive when threatened, while women tend to read more fiction and are more likely to quietly ostracise people.

        Or something like that.

      • That’s good to hear at least. I’d hate for you to still be in that toxic environment. And that definitely makes sense – I like how you explained that. I can really see that in our society, and that devastates me. I can only hope that people like you and I, and every other vocal, active member of the LGBTQIA+ community that strives to get our voices heard in the largely heteronormative society we live in, will be able to make a change. We will not be erased. We are heroes ❤️

  8. This was fantastically written and so heartfelt and I’m so, so glad I didn’t miss it! Coming from a VERY conservative culture and family, I’ve also heard all those heteronormative questions/comments before. When I was younger I never really questioned it because it was just “the way things are”, but then I started reading books and talking to people online and my worldview just totally changed.

    Two of my closest friends happen to be queer as well and while I obviously don’t know the full extent of what they go through, I’ve heard enough from them to know that some days are really, really hard for them, especially when they’re back in our home country (Indonesia). I definitely agree that sexuality is fluid and I wish more people would be able to understand that.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Sarah. I’m very glad to hear that you’re comfortable with who you are, and I hope you continue to be so for the rest of your life, because who you are is totally and absolutely awesome. ❤

    • Thank you so much for reading my post! You’re too sweet. And I completely relate to what you went through growing up. Identifying as anything other than heterosexual was laughed at in my neighbourhood and something that people were shunned for. It wasn’t really until Year 10 that things began to change – whether that was because of the people I decided to hang out with alternated, or maybe it was my worldview broadening with the copious amounts of YA literature I was consuming and the people I was watching on YouTube discuss their sexuality unashamedly and proudly.

      That’s horrible to hear, and I really feel for them. I can’t imagine what it would be like in Indonesia, but I sincerely hope they have loving, supportive people around them that allows them to feel validated and listened to. But because you’re their friend, I know they have at least one gorgeous person to support them and stand by them with any difficulties they might face.

      And thank you again – you actually made me tear up with that last part. You’ve got a heart of gold and the world would be a darker place without you in it. Thank you 💕

  9. Great post. Have you read A Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet? It’s a sci-fi book, the main character is, well, not straight 🙂 it’s also very naturally presented. It’s one of the most diverse books I’ve ever read in both terms of sexuality and race, and basically everything. All presented in such a natural, warm manner as well. Truly recommended.

    • Thank you so much! And yes, I’ve definitely heard of it – it’s actually sitting in my online cart at the moment! I can’t wait to read it, and after your recommendation, I’m even more eager to get my hands on a copy. Thanks for letting me know! 💖

      • Oh, you’ll love it so much, I’m sure 🙂 I wrote a review post about this book, if you want to see my opinion, but I fear I didn’t do it justice 🙂 very curious about what you’ll think about it.

      • After hearing that you loved it, I’m actually reading it at the moment! I bought it yesterday and was super eager to get into it. I’m only 60 pages in, but I’ve already cried at the beauty of the writing 🙈 I’ll make sure I check out your review! 💖

  10. I am so glad I followed you, because I adore this post. Sometimes I feel like YA writers especially will include a gay best friend for the sake of diversity. That is so annoying to me. As a bisexual woman, I also feel like there is pretty much NO bisexual representation in TV or literature, which is infuriating for me. Bisexual women are just girls who want attention and bisexual men are just “gay” and lying to themselves. It drives me crazy! Major respect to you for writing this post. I’m about to share it on Facebook 🙂 Can’t wait to read more from you.

    • Aww, thank you so much for finding my blog! I completely agree, and those tropes are extremely hurtful and damaging for the people, like myself, who identify that way – or in any way that differs from the heteronormativity of our often closed-minded society. Thanks for sharing my post – it means the world to me 💕

  11. Hi 🙂 I’m new here but I just wanted to say that your post is truly amazing!
    I’m still not sure about my own sexuality -but I’m actually OK with that. I mean, I have all the time in the world to find out. The problem is that it often feels like society ist pressuring you to put a label on yourself and to please be heterosexual. For example, I love my family and friends. But. Everyone is like “Have you met some nice guy?” Or: “Oh you just wait. Some day you will meet “den Richtigen” (This is a bit tricky to translate -it means “the right one” but as in “the right man”. Not the right person.) and your whole life will change.” First of all, please don’t make it sound like meeting some nice guy and settling down is the most important event in my whole life. And why does heterosexuality often still have to be the norm?

    I admit I didn’ t even really notice the gay best friend trope. But now that I think about it it’s in quite a lot of books. And yes, mostly it’s the variation “female main character’s gay and male best friend”.

    On a positive note: I feel like there are more and more books with LGBTQIA+ main characters and I love this development. 🙂

    • First of all, welcome to my blog! And aww, thank you so much. That means the world to me.

      I completely relate to the way society seems to be pressuring us to identify a particular way, and can even place labels on us before we truly know who we are. All I can say is to take your time, and you’ll eventually figure it out. It might take a while and you might never truly feel as though you know how you identify, or your sexual orientation might change, but that’s completely okay. As long as you feel comfortable in yourself and are happy with how you choose to identify to the people around you, there’s all the time in the world to figure it out.

      And I definitely know where you’re coming to in reference to the things your friends and family say to you. The heteronormativity that is so ingrained in our society is often hurtful and harmful, as well as extremely limiting and damaging. I hope that changes one day soon.

      Yes, while this trope is still very prevalent, it’s fantastic to see more YA novels with LGBTQIA+ main characters. I can’t wait to read more of them this year!

      All the best xx

  12. Firstly, if you ever get kicked out because of who you are I have a spare room. Serious offer. I could also use a baby sitter 😉

    Often in pop culture, gay males are reduced to an accessory, like a handbag or a puppy, for the straight girl. There are reasons why this happens. For adolescent girls starting to explore the world of boys, a gay male friend is safe, unthreatening. This doesn’t make it in any way right, but it’s the psychological explanation behind the trope and could offer an explanation for why it’s so common. As for non-straight women, they have long been invisible. Legend has it that there were no laws against sexual relations between women because Queen Victoria didn’t actually believe it existed.

    • Aww, haha thank you so much! I do really like kids 😉💕

      I can definitely see that now – thanks for sharing that. It’s so disappointing that this is still occurring in pop culture, and I can only hope the people who produce these shows can start to realise how damaging and offensive this is to those in the LGBTQIA+ community.

      💜

  13. I’m pan too 🙌🏻

    This is such a brilliant and important post, Sarah. LGBTQIA+ people are more than just an accessory to a straight person. They deserve so much more respect than that. It’s like how some people fetishise same sex relationships. So not here for that.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and writing this post ♥

  14. This is a great post, you touched on some really amazing points!!

    I think you’re totally right about labels being an issue. I’m not heterosexual but even still I always feel like I’m learning new terms for people within the LGBTQIA+ community, and whilst I’m always happy to learn new things, I can appreciate why it can be difficult for others to be accepting if they can’t understand the label. Maybe everyone will get there one day, we can hope anyway.

    🙂

    • Aww, thanks so much! And I completely agree. Labels are great for people being able to identify with another group of people that share something in common with them and it enables them to feel a little less alone in their sometimes difficult experiences and journey of self-discovery, but when labels become restrictive and hurtful, something needs to change. I’m sure we’ll get there in the end. It might take a while, but we’ll get there 💕

  15. Thank you for explaining pansexuality. I have been trying to learn about it but couldn’t find info. It even autocorrects when I try to type it.
    I hope you can eventually tell your parents. I know that’s got to be hard: I had a boyfriend who came out to me…I refused to believe it for a long time bc I still loved him and we had been together for two years, but then a lot of stuff made sense (like his lack of desire in intimacy). He killed himself in 2006 and I miss him every day. I dropped him off at home and then he was gone. At least he left me a note. And drugs were involved so his mind wasn’t very clear. But his family was very accepting and he still had trouble with the “label.”
    Thank you for sharing. I never realized pretty much everything you discussed here!

    • That’s so frustrating! I’ve seen quite a few good posts and blogs dedicated to it, so there should be some info somewhere (if it doesn’t always autocorrect!). Oh lovely, I’m so sorry to hear that. It’s so hurtful that society is so heteronormative and it pushes people to that point because some people aren’t accepted for who they are and who they love. I hope you’re okay 💕

  16. This is the first post of yours that I have read, and I have to say I thought it was very insightful and well-written! As a bi-sexual person myself, I know only too well the frustrations of people constantly asking what your sexuality really is. I’ve been wanting to write my own post about how the LGBT+ community is treated, and I think you have inspired me to go write it right now.
    Liked and followed 🙂

  17. You are definitely right! I’m not super open about my LGBT+ status (Abro/Pansexual, Transgender) and I’m not stereotypical so probably no one would notice I’m LGBT+ unless they actually asked so luckily I’ve never had someone say something like this to me but it really is horrible the way the media portrays LGBT+ people. This post has pushed me to check out more of your blog!

  18. Bravo! Now if only there were a few billion people who shared your views the world would be a much less stressful place. I just started transitioning from female to male a few months ago and it has been an interesting ride with all the assumptions, questions and comments. I wish more people were as chill as you are.

  19. To me, as a gay guy, her initial remark is just as hurtful as to you. Let’s put aside that this boy’s sexuality is none of her business, still it shows a casual fetishism of gay men. She may be expecting a fancy gay boy to chit-chatter with, not acknowledging that gay men are actually very diverse and that sexuality has nothing to do with the personality of a person :/

  20. Thanks for writing this. I am also bi and it bothers me that people assume I’m straight. I don’t like labeling myself but it’s at the point where I wear a bracelet w/ the bi flag and the word ‘pride’. I hope all goes well w/ your family and that they are able to accept your sexual orientation!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s