This season on Girls, HBO’s controversy-courting millennial dramedy, the relationship between Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Elijah (Andrew Rannells) moved front and centre in the show. Girls has now completed its final (excellent) season, and so Dunham and co.’s decision to focus more on protagonist Hannah’s relationship with her gay housemate and BFF, Elijah, made this bond more significant, giving the pair room to blossom beyond a mere stereotype.
I am primed to notice these kinds of relationships; not just because the straight female/gay male kinship is now a familiar trope on TV, but also because I am one half of a nearly decade-long straight female/gay male bond that has recently passed a significant milestone. My best friend, Will, who has lived with me for several years, has just moved into his own apartment in Brunswick. I am back in North Melbourne, in a different apartment with a different housemate for the first time in eight years.
Now, instead of the multiple hours we spent together daily, we see each other once a week, when we watch RuPaul’s Drag Race at my place. It’s an odd time for us and, as I’ve observed this change in our relationship, I have noticed, too, that the kinship between Hannah and Elijah on Girls has slowly become central on a show that previously prioritised the relationship between four female friends.
This kinship, the most common moniker of which is probably the “Gay BFF”, is by no means new to TV. The most famous TV Gay BFF is perhaps Will from Will & Grace – a show named for the gay male/straight female kinship at its centre. Will & Grace is a series that my Will and I watch together with an almost religious observance, inherent ironies and all. I can recall one stinking 45-degree day when we dragged our couch into the kitchen (the only room in the house with air con) and watched several hours of Will & Grace together in a comforting trance.
Other famous Gay BFF kinships include Stanford and Carrie on Sex And The City, Jack and Jen on Dawson’s Creek, Max and Penny on Happy Endings, Titus and Kimmy on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Billy and Julie on Difficult People, the poignant Josh and Claire on Please Like Me . . . the list goes on. A significant recent Gay BFF kinship was on HBO’s High Maintenance, where best friends Max and Lainey self-destructed, then rebuilt their bond, over the course of the episode “Meth(od)”, in a biting deconstruction of the trope.
As one half of a real-life version of this kinship, I find the trope alternately comforting and mildly offensive. Will, too, views the trope as a “mixed bag”, though a mostly positive one. It can be demoralising to the straight women, or “f-g hags”—the unfuckable women who seek the attention of gay men because they cannot be romantically rejected; and to the gay men, who are presented as insecure and neutered, performing a sassy side-kick “gayness” to obtain validation from the straight women in their lives.
On the other hand, in a world where heteronormativity rules, and men and women are conditioned (regardless of their own sexuality and preferences) to seek sexual validation from each other, it is a comforting - perhaps even radical - act for gay men and straight women to bond together in defiance of this bogus sexual imperative. I know that queer theory generally posits that these kinships are a mimesis of heterosexual relationships, but I see it as a more complex rejection of my role in the heteronormative edifice.
Will and I do love each other in ways I see reflected – sometimes painfully – by the Gay BFFs on television. It always hits me hard when I watch Grace and Will decide they must live apart because they are holding each other back from individual success, as it does in Girls, when Elijah tells Hannah in a recent episode, “I’m going to tell you this because I know nobody else will”. This kind of honesty is what Will and I aim to provide each other – honesty that no one else has the guts to impart to you. Here Girls is interrogating the very trope into which Elijah and Hannah’s friendship would be categorised.
I do think that honesty is maybe unique to us, and to other gay male/straight female kinships, because we’re not bound by any other regulations – the white lies that female friends so often tell each other to avoid painful moments, for example. In many ways I see our bond as unvarnished, because it (and the trope of the Gay BFF) reflects some natural comforts we have discovered together, a homosocial bond that makes room for intimacy and an appreciation of one another without the added need for sexual validation.
Girls isn’t perfect in this regard, but shows like it, High Maintenance and Please Like Me are attempting to subvert the derided elements of this Gay BFF trope to access a deeper truth about the bond between gay men and straight women. And that’s something Will and I both appreciate.