Gay men, straight women: enduring bonds

Editor’s Note: Patrick L. Riley is a New York-based independent writer who last contributed to CNN.com’s Martin Luther King Jr. Monument coverage in October.

Story highlights

Patrick L. Riley is a gay man who shares special bonds with straight women

Riley finds that in TV depictions of gay-straight friendships, gay males are often stereotyped

He says these relationships are like any friendship or bond: complicated and necessary

CNN  — 

I’ve known my BFF Natalie Palmer since ninth grade.

She’s still my best friend 21 years later. We’ve shared some defining moments: her wedding and the birth of her two children; my coming out of the closet as a gay man; losing my mother at 23 years old; our 20-year college reunion. I couldn’t imagine making it through any of these milestones without her by my side.

Though I have one loving sister, I easily consider Natalie a sister from another mother. More important, she set the standard for an ilk of relationship that I have grown to treasure and celebrate: the bond between gay men and their straight girlfriends.

Judging by popular depictions, a straight woman’s connection with a gay man offers only the shallow benefit of an enthusiastic shopping buddy or a sassy hairstylist. But through the lens of reality and closer inspection, these relationships run deeper and wider. And there seems to be a growing acceptance of the unique duo.

In 1998, America warmed to a fictional version of this unique pairing when NBC introduced “Will & Grace,” the first prime-time television series to star openly homosexual lead characters.

“I think ‘Will & Grace’ probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a May “Meet the Press” interview. “People fear that which is different. Now, they’re beginning to understand.”

“From the perspective of gay men, women offer intimate friendship that is generally free from the complications of sexual interest,” licensed professional counselor John R. Ballew of Atlanta wrote on his website. “For straight women, gay men offer male friendship that’s free from game playing. Women can relax and be themselves with gay men in a way that’s usually not possible with hetero men.”

But that doesn’t mean our relationships are all about shoes and eyeshadow. “Will & Grace” underscored the dynamics and complexities that exist inside this unique bond, from the difficulty the gay man has coming out (even to his best girlfriend) to deciding to have a child together when neither friend’s knight in shining armor has shown up. The levity in the sitcom made it easier for many viewers – and me – to swallow.

In the past 14 years, the presence of gay characters on the airwaves has exploded, from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” to the Sundance Channel’s “Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys” and now “Glee” and the forthcoming NB