I’m a straight woman with a lot of gay male friends — pretty much the norm for West Hollywood, I think. The gay men I know seem to enjoy the company of straight women. But they don’t seem to have lesbian friends. Why is that? Do gay men like straight women better than lesbians? Gay men would seem to have more in common with lesbians.
I have to give it to those great folks who have put together coalitions to fight for LGBT civil rights. It can’t have been easy. When you get right down to it, L’s and G’s have the same things in common as Mexican immigrants do with Chinese immigrants — legal and political problems. When it comes to culture, they’re as different as folks from Oaxaca are from those from Shanghai. (The T’s, whose gender choice may make them straight or gay, and the B’s, who can camp out on either side of the gay/straight divide, are another story deserving of their own columns).
To understand the relationship between gay men and lesbians, let’s take a second to indulge in some stereotypes. “Stereotype” is a term rightly disparaged when it means rigidly assigning the same characteristics to everyone in a particular group. At the same time, stereotypes also reflect a certain reality that’s useful for understanding a group so long as one also understands that not everyone in the group fits the stereotype.
With that apology-in-advance, let’s look at how the gays and the lesbians differ in four areas and what that suggests about their relationships with one another.
CARS. If you see someone in West Hollywood with short hair and a flannel shirt driving a Ford Ranger or a Subaru Forester (Martina Navratilova is their spokesperson), it’s most likely a lesbian. If it’s someone in a tight tank top with a faux hawk in a BMW 3 Series or a VW Jetta, it’s almost certainly a gay guy. Don’t take my word for it. Take a look at Car Talk’s survey of the ultimate gay and lesbian cars of all time. Who can argue with Click and Clack?
PETS. Here the stereotype is that gay guys like dogs and lesbians like cats. I beg to differ (a bit). My lesbian friends are all dog-crazy. They differ from my gay buddies in that the dogs they own and love are big — German shepherds, Doberman retrievers, even a pit bull. My gay male friends go for the small dogs (I have a dachshund), with schnauzers, Pomeranians, and pugs dominating. (Thankfully, for those of us who try to promote a masculine notion of homosexuality, poodles and shih tzus seem to be fading in popularity).
BODY IMAGE. The gym — the gay man’s country club — is every bit as important to his appearance as the salon where he gets his back waxed, his brows plucked and his fingernails and toenails trimmed. At 24 Hour Fitness on Santa Monica Boulevard (my gym) guys are constantly lifting their shirts to check their abs in the mirror, counting to make sure all of the six-pack is still there. While there are some women who work out there, the gal pumping iron next to you there and at most gyms is most likely heterosexual.
The stereotype is that lesbians are not into fitness, and indeed often are overweight. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health five years ago found that lesbians were twice as likely to be overweight as were heterosexual women. The reason? The study cited other research that posited that lesbians feel more comfortable about the way they look than do straight women, and thus don’t focus so much on weight. “Lesbians’ exercise behavior is not motivated by aesthetic reasons,” the study says.
LANGUAGE. This is an odd one. But there have been studies showing a correlation between gay men and heterosexual women in measures of verbal fluency. A study published in 2003 in the journal “Neuropsychology” found that gay men and heterosexual women “jointly outperformed” lesbians and heterosexual men in a test whose participants have to say as many words as possible from a certain category (fruit, colors, cars, etc.) in a given time. The study also found that gay men outperformed everyone when it came to naming synonyms for words, while lesbians and heterosexual men performed similarly. Go figure!
So what do I take from all of this? When it comes to how we present ourselves and live our lives, gays are more about form and lesbians are more about function. Gay men and straight women focus on style and beauty because that’s what attracts men. So perhaps it’s natural that those two groups would more easily bond.
But what women themselves look for in a partner isn’t so much beauty (and here I’ll indulge in another stereotype) but dependability, understanding and support. We gay guys all say we want and need that, but we toss that aside in a second for a cleft chin, well-defined abs and a face without a wrinkle. Among my lesbian friends, dependability, understanding and support rank high in what they look for in a partner.
None of this argues that gay men and lesbians can’t be close. In my life in West Hollywood I’ve met a couple of gorgeous and wonderful lesbians who I sometimes regret are batting for the other team. And, while there is some rarely discussed animosity between gay men and lesbians of a certain age, younger gay men and lesbians seem much more accepting of one another.
Questions you can’t bring yourself to ask your gay friends and neighbors? Send them to Henry@WEHOville.com.