Fruit flies. Fag hags. Besties. Call them what you will, straight women bonding with gay men is nothing new. What’s new is a study that suggests mating competition is behind the phenomenon.
A doctoral student at the University of Texas at Arlington says that too few straight guys in U.S. colleges and universities make female students compete to land one. It’s stressful, and gay guys become the perfect outlet for male companionship. Not to mention a break from catfights, according to gay psychology student Eric Russell, who conducted the study.
“The fact that women perceive there to be more competition for mating partners makes them more likely to befriend a gay man,” Russell said. “With higher competition, our study found, women perceive other women as more catty with each other, and they know gay men aren't going to undermine them when it comes to finding a partner on their own.”
Before taking a stick and poking at the obvious holes in Russell’s theory, we understand the urge to put science behind a well-documented Will & Grace, Rachel & Kurt phenomenon, as well as the desire to justify graduate school loans. So let’s hear him out.
Over two years, Russell and his colleagues conducted four trials gauging the level of trust that 200 straight female students had in hypothetical people. He calls it “Why (and When) Straight Women Trust Gay Men: Ulterior Mating Motives and Female Competition.”
In the first, more than 200 straight women in a university class were shown simulated Facebook profiles of a straight woman, a straight man and a gay man, then were asked how much they would trust each person based on the images they saw.
In the next, straight women were asked to imagine themselves in scenarios where three people—the same fictional three in the first study—were offering dating advice, and to assess whether the person was being sincere.
In the third trial, straight women were shown one of two simulated news articles—either one about heightened mating competition for males, or one irrelevant article. Women who read about heightened competition subsequently reported a higher level of trust in gay men than those who didn't.
The fourth trial showed that when straight women perceived higher mating competition, they were more open to friendships with gay men.
What about the majority of straight women and gay men in friendships who aren’t in college and don’t face skewed gender ratios? What about the bonded pairs who both get plenty of male sexual attention? What about straight men and lesbians?
Russell says that some questions merit further study. Maybe he can include an apparent aversion to straight women in gay bars, how rude ones ruin it for everybody, why otherwise reasonable women cop an attitude, and a seeming obsession with gay sex.
With further study of a broader scope and other demographics, some of the theories may still apply, says the gay researcher, who tells the Houston Chronicle that, for him, it’s personal.
“I'd always notice that I form close friendships with straight females, and they form close friendships with me pretty easily,” he said. “I wanted to explore that aspect of my psyche.”