By John Paul Jones
Call me a hopeless romantic, but I am a fan of the bromance. Shakespeare’s Veronese Valentine and Proteus, in their loving pursuits of Silvia and Julia, are one of my favorite examples of a bromance. They’re both heterosexual. They’re both deeply in love—not with each other—and they pass countless hours talking about their beloveds and making life plans. But they’re really just friends, so what’s the big deal?
This kind of close, nonsexual friendship between two men has existed, I’m sure, throughout human history. Only recently, however, has it been christened with a hint of homoeroticism. The obvious combination of “brother” and “romance” sometimes provokes a quick denial of homosexuality: “Yeah, we’re bros—no homo.” It’s fine for bros to be really close (or even to have pet names), but don’t expect them to hang out with self-proclaimed “Gay Pimp” Jonny McGovern.
In a broader context, the bromance also elicits more than $100 million worldwide at the theater. The stoner flick Pineapple Express, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play Mary Jane’s bromancing lovers, is one of the recent signs that bromances have become acceptable in mainstream media—and therefore, in the youth culture that both creates and emulates those media.
Depicting the bromance is a rather daring move, especially given the homophobic attitudes that pervade much of our culture. It’s even more daring to live it. Forget actors whose allegedly gay orientations constantly serve as gossip rag fodder: millions of college-age men are involved in bromances. At Harvard, the phenomenon is similar. One pair might play hockey together; maybe another met in Justice section. Regardless of how they came together, they’re close friends, they’re emotionally supportive—or sometimes needy—and they’re not planning to break up anytime soon.
Perhaps what keeps these pairs together is a long, twisted precedent of defined male sexuality. Especially in American society, many men strive to live up to gender roles, no matter how contrived they are—a phenomenon paralleled in fiction. In Hollywood, male leads almost invariably play heterosexual characters with clearly defined sexual values. James Bond, for example, the classic embodiment of masculinity, never fails to save the world and land the prettiest woman around; Superman, a more demure character, poetically and silently falls in love with Lois Lane. So far, no bros on the side.
Enter Brokeback Mountain, a tale of two closeted lovers who both embrace gender norms out of necessity and violate them out of love. The blockbuster success of this film helped bring homosexual relationships into public attention, and the film certainly did not follow the precedent set by queer cinema. Brokeback Mountain earned a mainstream audience—not a uniformly queer one.
What does that have to do with the bromance? In our society, the idea of two men being close enough friends to seem like lovers is, well, a bit progressive. Our hockey players and Justice enrollees are not looking to be identified as gay; frankly, most probably aren’t gay. Nor are Dale Denton (Rogen) and Saul Silver (Franco). By carrying on their bromance, however, real bromancers open themselves up to the possibility that outsiders will misunderstand their relationship. Implicit in the modern bromance, then, is an acknowledgment of homosexuality. This acknowledgement is the reason for phrases like “no homo.”
Maybe I’m giving undue credit, but I see a certain value in this acknowledgement of homosexuality. At its core, the bromance has some homoerotic elements. Does this combination of acknowledgement and homoeroticism constitute acceptance? No, but especially for people who strive to be politically correct, it is socially expedient to show tolerance of queer orientations.
Translation: “We’re not gay, but we’re not going to change our behavior for fear of being called gay.”
I’m not saying that Dale Denton and Saul Silver are on the front lines of queer rights activism. (On the other hand, out and proud actor Neil Patrick Harris is notorious for his bromancing characters.) But this cute cultural phenomenon that validates sincere affection between two men is one example of how queerness is starting to gain visibility. Two unrelated men can now publicly express affection, and plenty of people won’t think twice about it. This tendency toward acceptance of male-male affection is a sign that, to some extent, gay relationships are becoming normalized. Of course, that says little for America’s often stagnant disregard for transgender rights, same-sex adoption, and a host of other queer rights issues. It also doesn’t remedy the fact that the queer “community” still fights a troubling misconception that its members are all rich, white, gay men. Still, the definition of an abnormal relationship might be narrowing just a little bit thanks to the bromance.
So thank you, bromancers, for your pseudo-homosexual expressions. I’d love to see you more actively involved in advocacy for queer rights, but I realize that it can be difficult for an accidental pioneer.
In any case, I love you, men—no homo.