Broverload – where have all the men gone?

The older a gay I become, the fewer straight men I tend to hang around with. It’s not a conscious uncoupling from my boob-loving brothers, but most of the ones I knew have either moved away, or got married, or had children or all three. We keep in touch, of course, but with a few exceptions, it’s mainly through their wives.

As for making friends with new straight men, other than online through Twitter, that too has challenges. I write for a gay magazine, so not too many heteros hanging around there, and most of the other work I do is in an industry that’s teeming with gays or amazing women. The straight men I do encounter are very nice, but keep a professional distance. Even those my age or older have got their very specific issues to deal with: children, mortgages, their other straight male pals. And as for the younger ones, they’ve got their own cliques and befriending an older homo whose cultural references need a serious software update probably isn’t high on their agenda.

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But of the straight men I do still know, not one of them would want to be considered a “bro”. What is a bro anyway? When did we start talking to and about straight men like this? When did we treat every straight man who’s never bought a pocket square like a dumb teenager?

I assume it’s down to the unstoppable force of masculinity, which, funnily enough, is causing quite the schism in the gay world, as Team #masc4masc battles to defend itself from an onslaught of limp-wristed critics. So now the gays have bought share options in masculinity, what next for the straights? 

The fear of queer is so strong from our straight friends, it seems, that we have to reassure them, at every turn, that they’re the manliest of men and, no, we’re not going to bum you. So what do we do to reinforce this? We take them back to a time that was less threatening – to boyhood or adolescence – and we stop calling them men, because we want to fuck men, so we reduce them to bros or dudes or mates, anything sexless  we can lay our hands on.

When did straight men become so afraid to be men? How did we get here? Is it years spent sitting in front of PlayStations patting their food babies, created by novelty, man-sized junk food, while their girlfriend pours herself a bowl of Special K while wearing one of their oversized work shirts and laughs at all his shit jokes? Where did bro-dom and its army of fist-bumping man-babies even come from? Is it a reaction to sexuality and gender being more fluid than ever?

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A few years ago, an app launched to hook up straight guys with other straight guys, just to hang out, shoot some hoops, watch the game, maybe go for a couple of beers – pretty much anything the sexless dodos in Friends used to do for entertainment. It was called Bromance – the then-buzzword for male friendship that tried to make sense of men becoming close but not fucking.

Thing is, though, you invent an app for local straight men to meet up and the gays are going to be on that like a hen night on tequila. Newspapers reported hysterically how all these supposed heteros weren’t in fact meeting up to talk tackling and penalties, but were instead barely pausing for breath between lattes before sucking each other off. The reality was in all likelihood that, as with “straight Grindr” app Blendr, it had been infiltrated by gay men sick of the same old timewasters and headless torsos on their current hookup app.

Bromance gave launching in the UK a go, but Grindr’s stranglehold on dick-hunting, and fragile masculinity’s suspicion of any man actually wanting to be friends, soon stopped it in its tracks.

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But now it’s back, kind of. And even though its unrelated successor, BRO, has admitted its users may end up switching beers for bareback, it still uses the infantile lingo of the no-homo brigade to pacify anyone who thinks hugging your dad means you’re gay.

BRO says it’s not concerned with labels – it’s not about being straight or gay, it’s about bringing men together whatever the reason. And while that’s an admirable dismissal of the pigeonholes we’re all determined to slot everyone into, it’s a shame it’s chosen the sterile, non-threatening ‘bro’ to entice and categorise its users – I was rather hoping bro-dom would gasp its last in my lifetime.

The app asks you to choose which type of ‘bro’ you are, from variants such as “brogrammer” or “fabulous bro”. Essentially they are gay tribes like muscle Mary or twink or geek, but given a quick spray of Lynx and shown a vintage copy of Nuts to make sure they’re not too homo.

As Dazed says in this excellent piece (which I only saw after I wrote the first draft of whatever this is you’re reading), the app isn’t unwelcome. If straight guys want to meet up and bang then good for them and perhaps it’s time we shrugged off those boring old confines of sexual labels anyway  – it’s not for us to dictate to strangers what their sexuality is or means. But the cynical attempt to appeal to men who identify as straight (or gay men who identify as masculine) by shoving ‘bro’ in front of everything makes me gag. It feels like an insult to their – our – intelligence. Has masculinity become so cheapened by the homosexuals and metrosexuals that it has to be redefined to appeal to men who don’t wear moisturiser?

Bromances, broga, brosé, manbags, man-flu, manties. We have to stop telling straight men – hell, any man – they can only be this marketing-focused version of masculinity. The bro who likes only blue, except for red racing cars and lingerie on lovelies, of course. The dude who only buys shower gel called Titanium or Crushed Windpipe or Afghanistan Mortar Attack, 57 Dead. Just like the pinkification of products to appeal to women is harmful, this bro-heavy bullshit is trying to tell us how to be men, making us focus on one very small aspect of what it is to be a man.

Not only is it confusing for these poor straight men, who try to process what it means to be a man by heading straight to the gym and turning themselves into a tattooed wardrobe, but it also puts me in a difficult position. I’m gay. Masc-ish but still love a bop to a Kylie remix and scream at a good GIF. What does bro-dom mean to me? Do I fit in? Which shower gel am I supposed to buy?

I’m not anti-masculinity, I don’t want to criticise anyone for being who they want to be, but I suspect the ‘bro’, despite it being shoved down our throats and painted as the male ideal, straight and gay, doesn’t actually exist. It’s an idea we’re sold, but something we can never achieve. The bro is the magnolia woodchip wall of the masculine world and, frankly, we deserve better.

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It could be that I’m blind to the bro’s good qualities – maybe he’s one step away from ‘man’ because he’s a bit more open-minded and, shall we say, curious? It’s quite the quandary and I don’t think any of us will ever know for sure.

Luckily, the universe has an escape route for us both – he spends a fortune on getting his hair done, is sharply dressed BUT loves craft ale and sport. He’s the Chap, and he’s as close to a bro as I’m likely going to get. But more on him another time.

But, guys, don’t let this plastic, product-focused kind of bloke be you. Be a man about it. Come on, hug it out. Just keep your hands where I can see them, bro. No homo. Not for you, anyway.

More like this:
About a boy, and a doll
My gay voice
If you say “man up”, I hope you catch manflu
Manspreading: Why we do it and why we need to stop

Main image: Flickr

Screenshots of Bro app, courtesy of my main bro Josh (@J_Manasa)
Thanks also to @baradar85 for reminding me of the ‘curious’ side to bro-dom

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