Pride Month 2020: Gay girl-straight guy friendship in 'The Half of It', 'Stranger Things' is truly wonderful
Gay men find a support network among straight women. Their interactions are stress-free platonic spaces of togetherness and gay women need that too from the straight men in their lives
What is pure friendship, really? It is when two people want to be around each other for the simple fact that they enjoy each other's company and nothing more. There are simply no other motivations - monetary, sexual or influence to be gained from being friends. And in the world we live in today, that is a rare thing of beauty. When Netflix first showed Steve Carrington (Joe Keery) and Robin's (Maya Hawke) chemistry as friends, we thought we knew where this would be headed.
It had the hallmarks of the typical snark-to-love love chemistry that eventually ends with stirring music in the background, the long-awaited kiss that fans cheer on and then everyone goes home happy. But instead, we got the now-famous "Bathroom scene". After escaping Russian agents, high on drugs, and stumbling into separate bathroom stalls to recover, both of them open up to each other in a way they haven't before. Robin had earlier told Steve about being jealous when she would see girls line up for his perfect hair, his smile, and easy charm, all the while knowing she was invisible. Steve assumes she had a crush on him.
He has already spent hours with her, stuck in the ice cream shop, trading barbs. He has also tanked with pretty much every girl that summer. But her friendship with her also makes him forget about Nancy Wheeler and he tells her that though he *was* in love with Nancy, he is now in love with her. Robin's face twists into an agonizing grimace and then she tells him the truth. She was jealous because Tammy Thompson only had eyes for him and never her. Steve for a moment is perplexed, saying "but Tammy is a girl", until the penny drops. It is his response that seals the scene. "But she is a total dud," he exclaims after a few seconds of silence, before launching into an impression of poor Tammy singing in her off-tone voice. They both collapse laughing as Robin agrees that his impression of her is spot on. At the end, their friendship is still intact and their 'chemistry' is even better, stripped of the sexual anxiety and tension. They can now just be two people who enjoy each other's company.
In 'The Half if It', the scenario plays out similarly. Straight-A student Ellie (Leah Lewis) is hired by the sweet but inarticulate jock Paul (Daniel Diemer) to woo his crush, Aster (Alexxis Lemire). Little does he know that Ellie is in love with her too. As they collaborate to woo her, Paul spends more time with Ellie's dad and Ellie, forming a bond over and beyond his campaign to win Aster's heart. Ellie too, shown to be a brilliant but isolated child, who has been forced to grow up too quickly, finds the sort of easy camaraderie with Paul that she has never experienced before in the small town where her race makes her the object of bullying. When Paul stands up for her, she is overwhelmed. Similarly, when Paul realizes that Ellie has been writing to food critics about his taco sausage, he feels his affections shifting from Aster to Ellie.
But when he realizes that Ellie is gay, he is a lot less cool than Steve was with Robin. He tells her it is "a sin" and bolts. But soon after, he realizes that romantic aspirations aside, what he has with Ellie is special and worth treasuring. She is important as just a friend and that it doesn't matter that she will never be with him romantically.
The trope of the gay man and straight girl being besties has been around for such a long time that women who 'collect' gay men as friends are now referred to by the derogatory tag, "fag hags". But we have never really looked into the possibilities of gay women becoming friends with straight men on screen before. It could be because that kind of friendship in real life is not as culturally or socially prominent. Definitely, not as much as "fag hags".
The thinking behind this is that as soon as the possibility of sexual conquest is off the table, men don't want a "woman bestie". This could lend credence to the notion that men only wanted to befriend a woman when they wanted to sleep with her and such a notion is kind of insulting to men. It reduces them to purely sexual beings rather than fully-formed human beings with thoughts other than who they going to nail next. It is also weird that screenwriters have till now failed to see what straight men and a gay woman have in common - the pursuit of women. Furthermore, gay men find a support network among straight women. Their interactions are stress-free platonic spaces of togetherness and gay women need that too from the straight men in their lives.
In a more gender-equal world, where truly platonic friendships between men and women are not the unicorns they once were, it is time to revisit the trope that men and women can't be "just friends". In fact, as Steve and Robin and Ellie and Paul prove that when they are, it is a truly wonderful thing.
Both 'Stranger Things' and 'The Half of it' are currently streaming on Netflix.