It's not a "Bromance," bro if it causes harm.
What is it about masculinity, gay men and monikers like 'hey bro’? Do they hide deep insecurities about fitting into heteronormative boxes- and promote violence, fear, and division instead of cultivating community? Or is it just a word?
This past weekend I posted a meme about being called "bro." Some people thought the meme was spot on and got it, others were offended, and some still thought I was pedantic. I created the meme because I saw this quote on a gay dating app... "I'm just a guy sitting across from another guy asking him 'is that your beer, bro?!'" What does that even mean, "bro?" besides a really bad Notting Hill pun. He was not Julia Roberts.
I understand that bro means brother, but etymology aside, nomenclature demonstrate that the word as cultural expectation has many facets. I am sure that for some gay men, "bro" is the organic extension of their experience, and words like 'bubba' are the cultural currency that they grew up. I didn't grow up with 'bubba' in fact "bubba' has a negative connotation in my admittedly elitist New England upbringing.
That said, I have never been, in my entire life, a 'bro,' and quite frankly I don't want to be. I am always perplexed when I hear gay men say, bro. Maybe I lived in a vacuum, but when I hear "bros," my mind goes automatically to the bros of the bros before hoes fame. Those same assholes who beat the shit out of me and called me a faggot when I was five, twelve, fifteen, and seventeen years old. They are the same bros who use their pack mentality to spit on gay men, scream faggot out the window, rape women, empower a rape culture.
Bro culture is synonymous with power over models of patriarchy. In the 2011 documentary, "The BroCode: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men”, documentarian, Thomas Keith, says "I grew up in bro culture. Sports and music; both having one thing in common…treating a woman like sexual objects. When I was young, I never thought about it as being anything other than normal."
Power over models are part of rape culture. It's the world we live in and experience. Rape culture isn't isolated to the heterosexual community but is part of our queer spaces. Woman-hating/femme shaming behavior experienced in the queer male community is experienced every day, as seen in the "Masc4Masc" culture of the gay community.
So why do gay men say "bro"? Because it' s the new code for "straight acting."
Jeremy Alexander said in his HuffPost piece on the glorification of toxic masculinity, "These men want to overcompensate for their queerness, because on some level, they see their queerness as negative and that their sexual orientation makes them a "sissy" by default. So they fight this, they embrace "bro" culture, work out, avoid smiling in photos, talk in a deeper voice octave and avoid talking with their hands or watching Ru Paul's Drag Race -- anything they can do to feel they have "reclaimed" this lost masculinity through their sexuality."
I am not sure why this is. But a 2009 study, Reported Effects of Masculine Ideals on Gay Men, indicates "Many gay men are hypervigilant about every gesture, movement, or sound that comes out of their mouths, for fear of somehow falling below the ‘ideal’ that has been set by this culture.”
And I partly understand this. I know that I am seen as masculine presenting - e.g. not 'femme' by the large majority and that as a gay man there is a security afforded, and a certain privilege. I also know that my exterior presentation is a direct result from years of abuse, fear, rejection. For years I struggled with accepting ‘bro” and “bubba” or “woof” and “grr” but that language is not acceptable to me. It’s also terribly unfair for the person who meets me. I don’t fit the bro code, despite what I look like.
For every moment we find gender liberation and freedom, we see more and more gay men who want to emulate a version of perceived 'idealized masculinize normalcy’- they abuse their bodies with steroids and silicone, and emulate the actions of perpetrators of violence and hate. Fetishize pain as manliness. I suppose that this perception of normalization (e.g., bro-culture) is a search for acceptance.
I do know that the real person who suffers in this bro dynamic isn't the heterosexual male, and it isn't the masc4masc gay male who is emulating their idols. It's our queer community who doesn't fit into that 'bro' box. Sure many choose not to, but many are seeking inclusivity. That is that person who suffers. They are harmed in this scenario when our own kind reinforces toxic messages about masculinity that based on shame, hate, prejudices and power over models.
We have a choice. We can be an inclusive community or one the self-segregates ourself into boxes. The outside world already wants to eradicate so much of our rights and self-determination. Queer erasure is real. We have our own dynamic story with it’s own baggage. This is part of it, surely, but masculinized rape culture binary doesn’t have to be part of our legacy. In fact, they are our perpetrators.
What might it look like to lean into actions and language that empowers togetherness and recognizes the incredible diversity that is our beloved community. Reclaimed our manliness and our queerness? And dropped the “Bro.”
Final thoughts: I know many feel attacked for the way they express sexual attraction, especially if it is challenged. I am not attacking men for being interested in being with a specific type a person. Human sexuality is nuanced and complex- and for anyone who says "I don't have a type" - they are lying, we all have preferences and attractions. What I am empowering in this article is that we are inclusive and socially responsible in how we engage and interact with others. That particular language might have roots more profound than we realize, and that the language can feel disempowering. That we don't just put our ego in the forefront of conversations, even if we are looking to get laid. On the other side of an app, or a screen is a person who is worthy of dignity.