Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

Why Straight Women Are Attracted to Gay Men

Straight women get from gay men what they don't get from straight men.

In many ways, gay men and straight women are a perfect pairing. For the most part, relationships between gay men and straight women are healthy and positive, with one exception I'll get to later. In the vast majority of cases, relationships between gay men and straight women are platonic. Sure, an occasional teenage girl falls for a boy who's gay, but it doesn't take most girls very long to figure out that, in this case, where there's smoke, there's most definitely not fire. In general, the attraction women feel for gay men tends to be emotional in nature, clearing the way for a highly satisfying relationship that outlasts most other relationships gay men and straight women have. To begin, I'll address how and why straight women are emotionally attracted to gay men - an attraction, by the way, that is returned by gay men in spades.

First, because most straight women don’t feel sexual toward gay men, the relationship doesn’t carry the threat of sexual tension. The relationship allows for a safe space in which both parties can let their guards down, be themselves, and share their feelings openly.

Second, straight women love gay men because closeness with gay men provides a window into how the minds of men work, something that women want to know as they navigate dating waters with their straight male peers. Though there are, of course, differences between straight and gay men, gay men are nevertheless men who share many of the same characteristics and motivations with straight men. When it comes to the sexuality of young straight and gay men - meaning, how frequently they think about sex, want it, or feel impatient to get to the actual sex part - there are undoubtedly similarities. When a straight woman hangs out with a gay man, she begins to put the puzzle together that men, in general, treat sex differently than women do.

Finally, straight women love gay men because they are emotionally attracted to the fearlessness and lack of self-consciousness in gay men. In general, gay men – and gay women, too – tend to be more fearless than their straight counterparts – particularly straight men – because they’ve usually experienced bullying and prejudice because of their sexual orientation, and these experiences fortify gay men with thicker skin. As out adults, gay men usually learn to accept themselves and stop trying so hard to win the approval and acceptance of others.

Similarly, the friendship of gay men offers something different than the companionship of straight men. Even when you remove the sexual element between a straight woman and straight man, the straight man is far more confined to embody a role as the strong, not overly emotional man. Meanwhile, gay men have the social license to be as outrageous or emotional as they want to be because gay men don't have to fit into such a tightly prescribed role.

As I mentioned at the beginning, not all relationships between straight women and gay men are healthy. While not the majority, some straight women love gay men for different reasons. The group of women I’m referring to are often called ‘fag hags,’ a term that manages to be derogatory toward two groups: women and gay men.

The term 'fag hag' refers to a woman, usually in her 20s or 30s, who loves hitting the gay bars with her gay male friends on a Saturday night on the town. Often, the women who get labeled as ‘fag hags’ are overweight, insecure, or uncomfortable with the idea of frequenting straight bars where they could potentially meet men who are interested in them. Instead, they feel more comfortable removing the sexual factor that exists at straight bars and prefer the harmlessness that comes with socializing with gay men in gay surroundings.

This type of relationship is often unhealthy, with women choosing gay men as friends for superficial reasons: because they're more fun and love to shop. Similarly, their gay male friends often treat their female friends as social accessories until the men find a guy to hook up with up later in the night. In such contrived and caricature-based relationships, the relationships often have a surface quality where real emotional sharing and trust don’t take place.

Overall, the relationships between straight women and gay men are special, with the occasional negative exceptions. If straight women and gay men focus on finding friendships where there's true emotional compatibility and respect, they can develop one of the most rewarding relationships a person could have.

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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