The Harmful Gay Best Friend Trope and Why It Is Wrong
The gay best friend is usually portrayed as a gay male who fits into every single stereotype, used to help the protagonist’s progress and development as well as sometimes add some unnecessary comic relief. The gay best friend has been made as a token for the protagonist, in most cases a white woman, to achieve and even collect, making him a one-dimensional character with no real purpose other than being a supporting character. This has been done by the media to give us an awful excuse of representation and create a false narrative of what we represent and how others should see us. From extremely flamboyant, to an expert giving advice, to a fashion aficionado to hypersexual tendencies, these characters should no longer be acceptable nor seen as a way to represent the community.
Token gay friend
A personality, a creation made to be accepted by straight people, dehumanizing their entire being just to aim the protagonist towards their goals. Being nothing else than a helper, the gay best friend has been used as a way by society to integrate gay people and force them into a norm about how we should act, how we should fit in in a way that accommodates straight people.
Not having an ark for the longest of times truly has affected us and the community in a way that we often take the little representation that we have been given and make them our own, further feeding the stereotype and initiating once more the harmful cycle.
As for my own experience, the first time I ever saw an openly gay character was in Mean Girls (2004) where the only gay character is given a few lines and his main goal in the movie is to add some comic relief and offer his support to the protagonist rather than have a real story or background. As iconic as Mean Girls was, it set the tone for upcoming films and the portrayal of the gay friend, a side character whose worth was only emphasized whilst helping the female protagonist achieve something.
A creation from the original Sissy character, which was created as a filler between the male and female character, a cutting yet funny character who made the male protagonist feel much more masculine by comparison. Though, from this initial take of a queer character in media, there has been a slight development that I believe portrays some truth to our story. How the pair of gay best friend and straight female best friend seem to have specs of reality. The comfort around one another, the shameless ways of expressing themselves whilst having boy talk, seeking each other’s aid to lift the other up and help them. A strong bond which has been tainted by the need of media to dehumanize homosexuality and rather than its own person, has been shown as an accessory, a piece of luxury to show off status and even how open-minded the person is.
From fashion emergencies to absolute 360’s when it comes to the protagonist’s entire personality. The gay best friend is used as leverage to add hidden misogyny into the narrative. Using this side piece to help the female protagonist get the guy, be more appealing to the male gaze, seductive, interesting, less herself and more like the girl everyone desires, the perfect man’s woman.
And even I have been a victim of this behavior seeing as how people on screen are extremely happy with this change, only to be met with the reality of the person not wanting to change but rather be accepted for who they are. We’ve been conditioned that these things are alright and needed to fit in, but why should we fit in? To get the guy?
An example that always comes to mind when I think of the fashion emergency montage is Anne Hathaway’s change in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) where her image is changed for the solemn purpose of fitting in her workplace but as the story progressed, she finds herself comfortable in these attires and the extra steps that dressing up takes and never really stops thinking about her goal which doesn’t lay within the industry that she’s currently at but rather aware that her current job is a step towards her dream job.
Change shouldn’t be forced upon someone to get rid of their present self, create a new persona, but rather it should be implemented with what already is there, a way to grow mentally and find out what the person really wants out of the situation.
There are much better examples of gay characters who have been given support roles, even background characters, the depth that is so needed nowadays. And as many of us have experienced growing up, we find ourselves trapped in a heterosexual environment and so are these characters. It’s is rare occasion that we find a straight character within the queer environment as there usually are found one or two queer characters in the narrative, surrounded by heterosexual implied characters.
When I think of a good portrayal of a best friend who also happens to be queer is Kaitlyn Dever’s character in Booksmart (2019), she could be seen as the definition of gay panic, a character we can relate to and its not used as a way to make the story funnier or aim other characters to help achieve their goals. This role was made in such a good relatable way and an accurate representation of what being queer is during your late teens.
Another example would be Cameron Monaghan’s character un Shameless US which has his own story within the series and shows a more crude and real side to the queer community whilst maintaining a somewhat comedy theme. He suffers a mental illness, a victim of an abusive relationship as well as substance abuse, a well-rounded character with many flaws that make him human because, in the end, that’s what we really are. Not an accessory, not a token to be obtained and that’s how the media should portray us. It’s Time to Do Away With the Gay Best Friend Stereotype.