By Cosimo Pori
What is a bro and how does it relate to my queerness?
How do I even begin to comprehend the bro culture?
It started out with language. A few years back, I found myself in the throes of the popularization of the phrase “no homo.” Straight men would use this tagline following anything from compliments to opinions to jokes. Most vividly, I remember overhearing someone at a concert telling his friends: “We should go in deeper [to the crowd]…no homo!” By gendering and sexualizing an act so innocuous, the context obviously became extremely sexual and tawdry. Basically, it went from “no homo” to “very homo.” The phenomenon of straight men gendering and sexualizing everything while simultaneously acknowledging their own potential queerness was unwelcome to my closeted self.
Once I arrived at college, the linguistic became more physical. I was swallowed into the abyssal and perplexing sea of bro culture and politics. The close friendships I established with men were often referred to as adorable “bromances.” This exposure to bro culture and bromances opened me up to concept of the homosocial desire.
Literary theorist Eve Sedgwick, who coined the term homosociality in her 1985 study Between Men, describes this phenomenon as “a kind of an oxymoron.” Sedgwick explains that homosocial desire shares a close bond with other forms of connection including mentorship, friendship, and even rivalry. Homosociality, on its own, implies neither heterosexuality nor homosexuality.
I began to wonder what bromances and homosocial desire meant in relation to queer and gay identities. For a while, I had admired men who acknowledged their “queer tendencies,” as it were. I even felt grateful that there was a form of queer representation in straight society and media. I believed that the widespread use of the term “bromance” was a boon to the queer community, because it acted as another sign of acceptance from our straight allies.
But then I started thinking more deeply: how does this usage reflect on my relationships and connections to other people? Is the idea that my male friendships contain at least a hint of romance detrimental to my identity as a queer person? Since the coining of the term “bromance,” how far has the queer community really come? Through asking these questions, I started to realize that homosocial desire and the idea of the bromance are actually unique forms of oppression.
A bromance, in essence, is an appropriation of a gay relationship. Straight men with any form of friendly connection have the ability to take on a semi-romantic mantle without any of the discrimination and stigma queer couples often face. By appropriating a gay or queer relationship in literature, media, and film, the bromance entails several equally intriguing and toxic viewpoints about queer identity. The bromance is also a two-way street, as a strange type of institution that acknowledges a person’s queer potential or suppressed sexuality even as it implies that there is absolutely no way they could be anything other than straight.
The bromance’s acceptance into mainstream culture has come with its evolution into a form of sick joke or punchline on the queer community. The long existence of the “buddy film” shows that this joke has been in the media for a long while, though in the last decade it has become more toxic. The bromance’s depiction in film has become accessorized and branded as comedic, because obviously there is no way in hell that a man could ever have deep feelings towards another man. This punchline isolates the queer community while basically saying that the entire existence of queer romance is laughable, foreign, and unacceptable in straight society.
The expression of homosocial desire ties in with the ability to shrug on and shrug off a queer identity. Herein lies the systematic oppression of queer people, because for most straight people, the very idea of acting homosocially is so unlikely that it is laughable.
This ridiculous trend of appropriating queerness has spread to all realms of contemporary American life. Celebrities have begun to make wildly ridiculous claims about identifying as “queer,” while being hailed as “friggen cool” at the same time. For instance, Oscar winner Jared Leto claims that some of his “straight friends have begun to define themselves as queer without it being a sexual term, but a cultural one,” and saying he identifies with “people who are different.”
So what does all of this mean for the queer community?
In essence, this phenomenon showcases the beginning of a loss of queer identity. Rather than being forced to assimilate, cisgendered heterosexual people have begun to identify as “culturally queer” without any of the real burden that comes with being queer. At the same time, queer folks still face constant discrimination for being too much of their own sexuality (too femme, too butch, and so on).
Because of the apparent innocence of bromance relationships and the structure of homosocial desire, appropriation is seen as commonplace and innocuous when in actuality it is a greater hindrance than people are realizing.
In conclusion, straight people: there is absolutely nothing wrong or abnormal about your relationships with cis-het people of the same gender. It’s all right for you to have close ties with people of your own gender, but don’t call it a “bromance” and don’t rob the queer community of its validity because you’re insecure about your own emotions.