In honor of Friendship Month at DORÉ we wanted to explore friendships in the Queer Community, with their specific cadence, nuances and struggles. Here, James Francis Kelley opens up to us about the complexities he’s found navigating those friendships…
“Once you have a community of like-minded people around you, and the opportunity to explore commonalities with others, you’re in a better position to understand how you’re really different – to recognize your specific desires, attributes, tastes, etc. rather than being different just because you’re gay.” Michael Diaz-Griffith, 33.
I didn’t grow up around boys like me. I liked boys, and most of the boys of Westwood liked girls. I did regional theatre, where I met a few guys with similar hormones, but we never clicked. It would bum me out so much. I just wanted to feel like I wasn’t alone. I only had Will & Grace as my gay point of reference at the time. I hoped that I would meet a Will for my Jack. In college I got into Absolutely Fabulous, and realized that what I really wanted was an Eddy to my Pats. And then, I met Manhattan.
The city helped me realize that there are millions of guys like me out here. Not gay men, obviously, but gay men who didn’t have gay friends growing up. Those gay men who are a little raw because they never felt normal as a kid, and there are a lot of us. Adriano Batista, Editor-In-Chief of Fucking Young!, is one of those stars who grew up shining solo. “Coming from a small town in the middle of Portugal, it was hard for me to have lots of gay friends while growing up,” he says. “The only one I met while being a teenager turned out to be one of my best friends, and it’s obvious why. He was basically the only one that really knew me or understood me.” That reasoning is easy to follow. I think we’re all just looking for a few someones who understand us.
Why are so many gay men and women are drawn to places like New York? Why do so many of us fall into creative lines of work? For me, living in New York and working in fashion brought normalcy to my existence like so many others. “I like other gay men, I guess, because we like a lot of the same things, and work in aligned fields,” says Michael Diaz-Griffith. The former Alabaman has been living and creating in New York for almost a decade. Metropolises turned outcasts into “It” crowds. Creative fields valued gay opinions long before “the gay vote” existed. To this day, when gay people are cast out of their families, these environments turn into their homes. There, they meet their new families.
“Queer culture recognizes celebrating the ‘chosen’ family over the one you were born with,” says Diaz-Griffith, who touts an assemblage of fantastic and curious gay friends. I agree. Shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” invite us into the world of drag families. And “Tales of The City” shows us the chosen family in full force. But while true for some, it is equally untrue for others.
If gay culture had a sign, she’d be a Gemini. Mr. Batista explains, “There is always going to be a special link, an intuition, an empathy between gay people.” But, another reality totally exists. As Kevni Woodside, 26, says, “We are a minority who loves to attack our own people.” Both sides of this rainbow coin are born from the same insecurity. I think that we want to be loved and supported, as we were not in our youth. But, that lack of young friends left most adult gays without gay friends in our formative years, This includes all 10 of the people that I spoke with for this piece. Gay people don’t automatically know how to read each other. That’s not how gaydar works. Who is on our team? Who is competition? I had one friend that I believed was both. It’s confusing! “[Gay men] have had to live our lives with our guards up the whole time, so it’s only natural that the behavior leaks out into our social lives,” says Woodside. The gay community is a big knot of feelings that, as individuals, we have to pull apart while we figure out ourselves in the process. The past has led to some pretty abrasive interpersonal dynamics amongst gay men and women. Still, those dynamics don’t include one of the most difficult parts of friendships amongst gay men and gay women, navigating the waters of being just friends.
“I’m a sucker for the fantasy,” says Gordon Gerbert, 27. “[That] falling in love with your best friend and becoming lifelong partners sort of thing.” I agree with Gordon, who is a totally platonic friend of mine that I am very happy to have. But, once feels – aka feelings of like or love – weasel their way into a relationship, I’m completely lost. They often pop up very unannounced, too. When looking for a friend, I’m looking for someone who shares my interests in music, leisure, food, etc., has similar aspirations, and wants the best for me so I can give my best to them. When I’m looking for a partner, I want the exact same thing, plus an attractive face on a person who finds my face attractive too. Generally, when I’m meeting someone who’s gay, we begin by tiptoeing around a question. Will we want each other? When I meet other single gay men, forming something platonic is not always on our minds. Mostly, the men that I meet are not looking for friends right off the bat. And, that’s not only me. “Ask any gay friends who met after college/outside their job how they met,” says Woodside. “I’d be willing to bet it was after a hookup.” I think we’re all looking for a partner to grow old with… but what if that’s not the right approach? What if we should be looking for a group of likeminded folk who love and support us to spend our lives with instead?
“I feel it is time to rewrite gay friendships, romances, and life [stories] in general to abandon old stereotypes,” says Marco Cattoretti, Vice President of Sales at Naeem Khan and openly gay man for over twenty years. “Sexual attraction and friendship can’t mix in my book,” he says. As someone who doesn’t make a habit of turning friends into bedfellows, Cattoretti has lived an incredibly successful and happy life. He’s right. Friendships between gay men are just as important as lovers/spouses, if not more. Many of us grew up feeling so abnormal, and friends normalize us. They let us know it’s okay to feel one way, say another, and think a third. Those gay friends who understand us should be cherished, hugged, and never taken for granted because they aren’t someone we end up sleeping with. I feel like a lot of big pictures look like two people in front of a house with a few kids in the yard. In reality, the big picture looks like a community holding hands, hugging, and lifting each other up. Gay friendships are weird, extraordinary, complicated, and ever evolving. Find your pal and hug them. Find another, and hug them too. Help your inner gay 12-year-old feel normal now, so gay 12-year-olds of the future will never know otherwise.