Straight women and gay men friends: A qualitative study

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Sexuality, Community, Friendship, Homosexuality, Boundaries, Straight women

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Gender and Sexuality | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology


Through the prism of friendships between gay men and straight women, this study addresses issues of boundary control and maintenance, identity and community, and social change. Friendships between straight women and gay men have become a common feature on television shows and movies. However, popular representations often re-circulate stereotypes about these friendships and their motives. In this dissertation, I adopt a grounded theory approach to find out how gay men and straight women in these friendships feel, think about, and make meaning of these relations. The main research areas include: (1) a sociolinguistic analysis of the historical and current use of the expression "fag hag" and its meanings, including a discussion of the historical social condemnation of this relationship and the recent re-appropriation of the term. (2) An investigation of the dynamics that exist when men and women relate non-sexually and the impact of sexual tension on interpersonal relations. (3)A discussion of practice and its effect on structure, by considering these friendships as an instance of social change as it occurs at a minute level in society, and as it may compound to have significant effects at societal level in diminishing homophobia. (4) An analysis of straight women's presence in gay spaces and its consequences, with a discussion of people's multiple affiliations and the shifting nature of communities. (5) An investigation of the rigidity and fluidity of sexuality, in particular of sexual identity categories and their boundaries, through the case study of people whose behavior is not congruent with their sexual identification. In the Conclusion I provide a theoretical discussion of boundary control and maintenance as it relates to friendships between straight women and gay men, and argue that while these border figures have been in turn reviled and hailed for blurring categories of sexual orientation and affiliation, in the majority of my informants' narratives these friendships in fact reify and essentialize the boundary separating gay and straight identities and gay and straight communities.


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