Matt is worried that acknowledgement of same-sex attraction will warp intense same-sex friendships, even in a world where homosexuality isn’t stigmatized. He’s probably right that it will change guy-guy dynamics, so I’d like to talk a bit about why men have been able to isolate themselves from this danger in the past.
The idea of always being scrutinized and objectified whenever one goes out in public is upsetting. Having no place where you can feel protected from sexual propositions (some of them aggressive or frightening) is scary and oppressive. I’m not using any kind of subjunctive here, because women already live in the world Matt fears men will be thrust into.
The fear that any casual conversation could turn into an awkward at best, dangerous at worst, sexually charged confrontation was at the heart of the elevatorgate brouhaha last year. (Quick refresher, after giving a talk about the need for guys at atheism/skeptics conferences to not aggressively hit on women, SkepChick blogger Rebecca Watson was then aggressively hit on by a guy from the conference while alone in an elevator late at night. Some people in the atheist blogosphere went after her for having the temerity to expect people to honor her request to be treated non-sexually).
I think this kind of fear is much less a threat to established, close friendships than it is a speedbump for the development of friendships in the first place. The fact that men and women do form close, platonic friendships now should allay fears that this will be impossible if men are subject to male gaze.
Guys have privilege in our culture (oh, look, it’s the refresher essay on what I mean by privilege), so they’ve been mostly exempted from this kind of discomfort. Because it is expected that women are not sexually aggressive and the on-average strength differentials between men and women, a guy usually doesn’t feel physically threatened by a woman who invades his personal space, gets between him and a door, or just won’t go away when asked.
I’d like for everyone to be freer from this kind of fear, so I don’t celebrate the idea that men may have part of their life suck a little more. But I do see any shift of this kind as a kind of opportunity. Unwanted sexual attention isn’t a new problem, it’s just a new problem for most guys. So what openness about homosexuality has really done is rip away the decent draperies that kept people from dealing with this when it was a women’s issue. I’d rather we take threats against women and their relationships seriously, but I’ll settle for a renewed focus on this problem now that we’re all in this together.
So now it’s time to take that apprehension and channel it into doing more to build up norms that protect everyone from people who, through ignorance or malevolence, use their sexuality as a weapon. I’ll go into more details about how to compensate for sexual tension in the last part of my rebuttal to Matt.