Bad Bromance

27 February 2013

I often see queerness in strange places—or more precisely, straight places. Call it misreading, call it wishful thinking, or maybe just call it social change. What’s the deal with bromance?

I’m sure many of you have encountered this clunky phrase of brotherly romance. It’s often used when films like The Hangover or I Love You Man are brought up. But its irritation never seems to fade. Figuring as an ironic and cutesy pun, it seems to me just another signifier of straight male privilege—one that’s slipping more and more into everyday life.

On the train recently, I saw two One Direction-esque boys sitting side by side. Where boys commonly sit across from one another—legs spread, backs slouched—these boys were close. And between the boys’ shoulder-leaning intimacy sat a phone blasting Sia’s wailing anthem ‘She Wolf’. Their relationship was much more lover than bro.

Then one boy began grooming his hair in the reflective window, complaining to the other.

“My hair fucking sucks. I don’t know what to do with it.” He desperately tried curling his quiff upwards but without much success.

His crony then told him to turn around, and sternly said, “Stop fucking touching it. I’ll fix it.” The moment was achingly bittersweet. These two heterosexual adolescents displayed signs of queerness that I myself would be fearful of revealing. With some spit in his hand, the boy slowly groomed his friend’s hair as the other bowed patiently into his sternum awaiting the cosmetic transformation.

When the quick slick was complete, he turned to his reflection in the train window then gave the other a smirk and said “Thanks bro. We make a mad pair. Bec’s gonna lose it when she sees me.” Some fraternal elbowing ensued and they returned to their pensive stares as Sia’s ballad continued to blare.

I still wonder how these straight boys unconsciously acted on behaviour some could consider homoerotic. Their obliviousness to what had just taken place made the moment all the more painful for me, as I considered how the straight bromance—with its apparent signs of queerness—is now negotiated in our culture.

I couldn’t help but feel bitterly envious. Should I ever display similar behaviour with a lover or queer brother, instinct tells me that I would not have the safety that this straight privilege brought them.

Some writers argue that men who strongly identify with traditional notions of masculinity struggle to interact with other men. Others say that in the wake of more queer visibility, many heterosexual men do not feel threatened with the idea that their fraternal bonds could be considered gay. What’s more, many straight men in the post-yuppie era are putting off marriage and building close emotional bonds with other men. Our culture is one of self-interest—fitness, lifestyle and consumerism. We are all exploring our own identities.

However, this moment of accepted bromance makes me wonder about its implications. Does it suggest a growing acceptance of male intimacy as a whole? Or is it a backlash? As gay men gain more social acceptance and visibility, does the bromance hint at the notion that only masculine straight intimacy is publically acceptable?

For me, I know the answer. By instinct, my grooming of a gay friend’s hair, let alone a boyfriend’s, feels like a precarious moment of queerness my train carriage would not be especially kind to. Although with all this talk of it, I am tempted to try.

But as for my bromantic companions, I wish them well in their negotiation of queer straightness. Just next time choose a song the entire carriage can enjoy—Shakira’s ‘She Wolf’ anyone?

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