The gay male/straight female friendship dynamic is a trope as old as time itself (or at least, as old as Will & Grace). But while Gay Best Friends like Stanford on Sex and the City and Elijah on Girls have been criticized for perpetuating reductive and offensive stereotypes about gay men, science has confirmed that the GBF phenomenon is totally real — and it's here to stay.
A recent study in PLoS One on close friendships explored the role gender plays in our personal lives. The results of the study, which polled more than 25,000 people, likely won't surprise anyone who's ever seen When Harry Met Sally: Both men and women tend to form the closest platonic relationships with people of their own sex, in large part thanks to the sexual tension that arises from male/female friendships.
The only exception to this rule?
Gay dudes and their female besties.
BFF benefits: Though many of us might find the term "GBF" offensive, that doesn't diminish the value and power of the unique relationships between gay men and straight women.
Brian Gillespie, a Sonoma State University professor and the senior author behind the new study, thinks there's one major reason why these friendships are so prevalent in our culture.
"For the most part, women are still more accepting than men of homosexuality and gay culture," he told Mic. He has a point: While LGBT acceptance is on the rise on a global scale, the study also determined that straight male/gay male friendships are much less common than straight female/gay male relationships, indicating there's still a lingering stigma associated with friendships between gay and straight men.
Gillespie added that both straight women and gay men are members of historically marginalized communities, which might contribute to the unique bond between the two. Another explanation, favored by evolutionary psychologists: gay men and straight women ostensibly have no sexual interest in each other, which makes for more honest, straightforward relationships.
Why the GBF is not OK: While the study argues that gay male/straight female friendships are emotionally rewarding to both parties involved, it's worth noting that our society has a problematic tendency to tokenize and dehumanize gay men when they label them as GBFs. Back in 2010, for instance, Teen Vogue caught flak for referring to the GBF as a must-have "accessory," as if it was describing shoes or a purse.
On the opposite side of the coin, the women in these relationships are also frequently portrayed as one-dimensional caricatures. Many TV viewers felt this way about Doris, the lone female character on HBO's Looking, who was often described as a mere "fag hag" throughout much of the series' first season.
Of course, it goes without saying that relying on narrow stereotypes to define gay men and straight women is a lazy and harmful practice. And perpetuating offensive cliches about the friendships between gay men and straight women isn't much better.
But the connection between these two groups, the recent study shows, is rooted in real-life experiences. Regardless of sexual orientation, there's no one explanation for why gay men and straight women form such powerful relationships. At the end of the day, we're all just connecting with the people who "get us" the most.