Straight women and gay men share something in common—both are interested in other men. This commonality may draw straight women and gay men together, but other factors also influence these relationships.
Women appear to trust the opinions of gay men relatively more, trust sales associates more when they are gay men, and in fact, women who have gay male friends are more likely to have higher levels of self-esteem about their bodies. This isn’t merely a Western “Queer Eye for the Straight Gal” phenomenon either. In China, many women now seek out relationships with gay men, confidantes whom they call “gaymi.”
When straight women have friendships with other straight women, they may feel in competition with each other over men, or even fear potential mate-poaching by their friend. When straight women have friendships with straight men, there’s the potential for romantic feelings to develop, or for there to be a misperception of the potential for sexual attraction.
I suspect it’s because most straight, cis men don’t want to be friends with a woman they have no chance of having sex with or don’t find attractive.—Liz Lapointe
These competition issues appear to influence how much trust women feel for their friends. In a study examining other cultures, such as Samoa and Istmo Zapotec, researcher Scott Semenya previously found that women compete with fa’afafine and muxes (two forms of the third gender, where individuals assigned male at the birth dress as females and seek male sex partners) for male mates. In these cultures, straight women’s trust in gay males was affected by the degree to which the females may have to compete with them for other men.
However, in the United States, there is a less cultural acceptance of both male bisexuality, and of straight men having sex with gay men. (That's not to say it doesn’t happen! It does, but there’s less overt social acceptance.) So, it makes sense that straight women would trust gay men more, in general, compared to other women. New research by Scott Semenya and Paul Vasey, from the University of Lethbridge, helps to unpack the complex dynamics which impact this phenomenon.
The researchers used a few sophisticated research strategies to assess how intrasexual competition can affect women’s feelings of trust for gay men. In a two-part study, Semenya and Vasey accessed a large pool of 1,847 female participants, with different sample sizes from this larger pool across different parts of their study. In the first experiment, the researchers asked the participants to consider the following scenario:
“Imagine that you have recently been invited to a party by your friend. It is the night of the party and your friend becomes ill. However, they suggest you attend the party with one of their neighbors, a [gay man] OR [heterosexual woman] who is 25 years of age and single. You do not know this person, but you decide to go to the party with them anyway.”
Then, the participants were asked to rate several questions about the trustworthiness of the neighbor, by asking things such as “You and your acquaintance see a good-looking man. You want to talk to him but need to go to the bathroom. How likely is it that your acquaintance will go and flirt with this man when you are in the bathroom?” Some of the participants were “primed” by first reading an article about how heterosexual men are increasingly likely to be willing to engage in same-sex sexual explorations (to create a feeling of potential competition with gay men). However, in this first experiment, the researchers found no significant effects, and that women didn’t appear to trust gay men more or less than other women, despite potential competition or not.
However, things got very interesting in the second part of this study. There, researchers looked specifically at women who were currently in a heterosexual romantic relationship. The women were asked to consider the following scenario: “Imagine that you and your boyfriend/husband have recently been invited to a party. It is the night of the party and you become ill. However, a [heterosexual woman] OR [gay man] who is your neighbor offers to go to the party with your boyfriend/husband. This person is 25 years of age and single. Your boyfriend/husband decides to go to the party with your neighbor, while you stay homesick.”
Again, the researchers used a priming strategy and an article describing men who’d left their wives to be with other men, to evaluate whether seeing gay men as a potential competitive threat, influenced the degree of trust the women felt for gay men.
In this second experiment, the researchers found significant results, in that partnered women were far more likely to trust a gay man with their male partner than to trust another woman, even after the priming variable tried to compel the women to see gay men as a potential mating threat.
Personally, I do wonder how much potential displacement might be happening here. Are the women really that distrusting of other women and highly trusting of gay men, or is some of this effect driven by potential mistrust of their husbands, displaced onto those other women? It would be fascinating in future research to inquire of these women their level of trust for their partners, and any possible history of infidelity, and identify if these experiences influence their reported mistrust of other women and heightened trust of gay men.
Partnered women in Western societies are typically taught that they must guard their male partners from other women, who may attempt to poach or steal them. Even when they are encouraged to view the possibility of gay men as a potential threat to their relationship, straight, partnered, Western women just don’t seem to regard them as a real threat and trust gay men much more than other straight women.
Cover photo by Pixabay