GBF: How Different Forms of Homosexuality Function in the Modern Patriarchy

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One popular trend that originated in the 90’s is the concept of a Gay Best Friend. A Gay Best Friend, or GBF, defined in today’s context, is a male-born homosexual that now expresses feminine qualities. These feminine qualities may often be exaggerated. A Gay Best Friend implies an extravagant, theatrical, and stylish individual. Because of these characteristics, Gay Best Friends are desired for their utility. They serve the purpose of providing friendship for feminine women over common ground such as shopping, style and gossip. This highly coveted relationship seems identical to a female homosocial relationship, but it is structurally very different in that the GBF is accessorized rather than appreciated.

The idea of a Gay Best Friend arises from women’s desire for a mock homosocial relationship. Since they typically express femininity, there is much common ground shared between the female and the Gay Best Friend. The most distinct quality of a Gay Best Friend is the manner in which they behave. A Gay Best Friend provides a woman with a secure, platonic relationship with a masculine figure, without the social pressure for a romantic or sexual relationship. Also, the Gay Best Friend usually expressed exaggerated versions of their perception of femininity. Women often covet these hyper feminizations because they often express dominating features, which are typically coveted by a woman who is disheartened by the oppressive forces of the patriarchy.

All self-identified homosexual people are subjected to the patriarchal-based homophobia that exists in modern society. In the case of homosexual men especially, the line between homosexuality and homosociality is very distinct, and this can be explained by the necessity of homophobia set by the patriarchal mechanism of heterosexual relationships (Sedgwick 698). Homosexual males threaten the foundation of this structure and because of this, the social presence of homosexuality has become taboo. This inspires a lack of confidence and fosters embarrassment of their sexual orientation. The Gay Best Friend differs in that they hold confidence in their sexuality. Some people may distastefully label them “flamboyant”, but, to some this may just translate so confidence. This differentiates them from other homosexual individuals, because their considerably “disagreeable” lifestyles should cause them to oppress their sexual tendencies, but instead they choose to take pride in both their sexual and gender identities. This is what differentiates a stereotypical Gay Best Friend from other homosexual males.

So, you would think that they would closely identify with females through their gender expression, and sexual preferences right? Actually, the answer is no. Although they express feminine qualities, Gay Best Friends structurally serve a different purpose than females in society. Homosexual individuals lie as outcasts in the patriarchal model whereas females serve the purpose of being the submissive companion for masculine men. A GBFs attempt to express their perception of feminine characteristics often tend to be a dominating form of the already existing social-norms expected of women. For instance, the “edgy” or ”sassy” presumption associated with Gay Best Friends is actually more masculinized in contrast to the expected “docile” and “submissive” nature of females. This quality is the basis of a structural difference that exists between the female and the Gay Best Friend. So, even though women and GBFs share similar mentalities, the ideologies forced upon them cause them to be structurally different individuals that serve different functions in society.

So, taking into account all of the different functions each gender and sex serve, there is not a comfortable place in the patriarchy for the Gay Best Friend. They are forced into a limited and foreign category, one that consequentially caricaturizes their assumed qualities and accessorizes the essence of their being. This result is a trendy, superficial desire for individuals who express these qualities while overlooking the patriarchal oppressive forces that are exerted upon them.

Janet Mock, as seen through Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Judith Butler’s careful consideration of trans individuals in relation to her theory of gender as an “act” brings me to the case of Janet Mock, a prominent trans woman who has garnered renown for her revealing, enlightening autobiography Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More (though I must add that she is acclaimed for being a distinguished journalist in her own right, before her autobiography was released). In considering Mock, we must consider Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s views on “male homosocial desire”, which she says is “the radically disrupted continuum in our society between sexual and nonsexual male bonds” (709). The radical disruption that Sedgwick speaks of is caused by homophobia, as individuals engage in it to disrupt male bonds and maintain a patriarchy governed by heterosexual men. We must also consider Judith Butler’s main argument, the crux of which is this: “Gender reality is performative which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed” (907). Gender is, according to Butler, an “act” (908). One is not merely a man or a woman but acts as either role to define their own gender. Mock’s experience as a trans woman reinforces Butler’s theory of gender through performance and appearance, and counters Sedgwick’s beliefs concerning the use of homophobia against strictly “male homosocial behavior”, as she finds her own ways to act as a woman and must fight against homophobia in her efforts to engage in female homosocial behavior.

Butler’s theory brings forward interesting intricacies concerning trans individuals, and she recognizes this: “Indeed, the transvestite’s gender is as fully real as anyone whose performance complies with social expectations” (907). Mock, for a long period of time, struggled to fully express her trans identity and find the best, most complete way to “act” her gender. This is best exemplified by her initial forays into the dating world, when she was dealing with the fine line concerning her appearance and the truth that she was attempting to conceal. In her autobiography, Mock details her first date with Adrian, a man whose “lustful gaze… further validated my womanhood” (158).  The date was a nervous affair for Mock, at least initially: “But as dinner progressed, my nerves subsided, and I fell into the groove of a girl on a date with a guy” (158). Therefore, we can see that “acting” a gender has much to do with environment and company. The quality of these conditions determine how the individual can best express their gender. This is reinforced by the fact that Mock’s definition of womanhood is derived from “watching the women in Dad’s life cook and cackle in the kitchen” (65).

As Mock’s life goes on, she embraces more apparent ways of expressing her movement across genders, as she starts a hormone treatment and begins dressing in a more feminine manner. She practically outright supports Butler’s theory concerning the importance of “acting” a gender, especially through her appearance: “I clutched tightly to my green Keroppi folders and my size-too-small jeans and my arched brows, and when I could grow my hair long enough, my side part. These elements, though small and insignificant to passersby, made up my girlhood, and I fought hard to ensure that they were seen” (124).

Mock’s emergence and eventual coming to comfort and normality as a woman was undermined by homophobia. Sedgwick argues that homophobia is used to balance and combat the “male homosocial desire”. In Mock’s case, however, she encounters homophobia in her efforts to engage with the “female homosocial desire”, as she wants to be a woman among women (709). This struggle is compounded by Mock’s father’s initial reaction to her exploring her gender identity, as he abandons his daughter and dismisses her life journey, saying that he would not support it. (He eventually comes around to reaffirm his unconditional love for Mock). Mock’s experience with her father speaks volumes of Sedgwick’s belief that “patriarchies structurally include homophobia”, if we are considering her father as a one-man patriarchy (698). How do you think Mock herself would interpret Sedgwick’s key theory concerning homophobia’s role against homosocial desire? She would obviously read Sedgwick’s work with great intrigue, to say the least.

Mock would read Butler’s work with intrigue, too. “My point is simply that one way in which this system of compulsory heterosexuality is reproduced and concealed is through the cultivation of bodies into discrete sexes with ‘natural’ appearances and ‘natural’ heterosexual dispositions,” Butler writes (905). Mock agrees with Butler’s statement here, as she has felt automatically maligned by greater society for changing her bodies from its “natural” appearances to fulfill her non-heterosexual (and therefore non-“natural”) sexual desires. “It was a balancing act to express my femininity in a world that is hostile toward it and frames femininity as artifice and fake, in opposition to masculinity, which often represents ‘realness,’” Mock writes (124). What it would take for trans individuals to have their bodies and sexualities be defined as ‘natural’? Will it take a formal deconstruction of the word ‘natural’, or what it means?