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On The "Man Date"

I was talking about Jenny 8. Lee's "Man Date" article yesterday with some friends and the woman in the group had a basically similar reaction to Eszter Hargittai's:

If there wasn’t such a negative stigma attached to being gay for so many, would men really have to be so paranoid about catching up with a male friend? It seems like such an unfortunate waste of energy to tiptoe around these situations. Of course, I understand why I can’t simply say “So what if someone thinks you’re gay even if you are not?” given that it may have implications depending on the circumstances. But that is what’s so unfortunate.
On the one hand, that's obviously right. On the other hand, I think that reaction misses something. Last Sunday afternoon I had coffee outside with a (male) friend in the Dupont Circle area and I suppose the odds that a casual passer-by would think we were gay was pretty high, given the totality of the situation. But before that, I was just sitting outside alone in the Dupont area drinking coffee and reading a book, a situation which, likewise, could have easily led someone to think I was gay. But the former situation was weird in a way the latter one wasn't. And though if you vary the location in which these events took place, that would vary the odds someone might think I was gay, it wouldn't have varied the weirdness factor along either dimension. Which is to say that I don't, in fact, worry if people think I'm gay. There's no stigma against being gay in the circles I travel in, and since I grew up in something of a "gay" neighborhood I've never had a lot of psychological investment in the presumption of heterosexuality.

The "man date," in other words, has an awkwardness of its own which is independent of any particular homophobic worries. It would be wrong, I think, to say that it's totally independent of such worries, but I don't think it's right to say that it's a manifestation of them, either. Rather, it's something that's taken on a life of its own. Society's homophobic legacy coded certain one-on-one male interactions as abnormal, and even in circles where the homophobia as such has faded away those interactions still feel weird simply because they're unusual. To take a somewhat extreme example, if I saw a man walking down the street wearing a dress, I wouldn't think, "a fag! how awful! the moral fabric of society is collapsing!" Nevertheless, I would think, "that's weird." Because, of course, it would be weird for a man to walk around the DC business district wearing a dress. It's unusual. It's unusual because of sexuality and gender norms, but observing that the behavior is weird doesn't require one to subscribe to the norms in any particular way.

April 12, 2005 | Permalink


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As Dr. Phil says: "You wouldn't worry so much what people think of you if you realized how seldom they do."

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Apr 12, 2005 1:07:42 PM

I think you need to explain a little better what was so odd about the former situation. Were you skipping together and holding hands?

fwiw, males from India display affection for one another in ways that Americans might find odd, at least from my conversations with fellow employees.

Posted by: theCoach | Apr 12, 2005 1:12:54 PM

I think NTTAWWT must be getting worse instead of better. You can't see a friend of yours in public without feeling so much anxiety that you write a blog about it?

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Apr 12, 2005 1:18:01 PM

In my experience, the awkwardness of a man-date isn't so much about what other people think as what sort of feelings and interactions are associated with the activity. So I would feel weird, for instance, cooking a special meal at home for a male friend, or going couples dancing, or going to a romantic restaurant, not because other peoplee would think we're gay, but because the situation creates a sort of romantic/sensual intimacy that I'm not used to sharing with men. Having a drink at a bar, going to a museum, going on a walk, etc. doesn't bother me at all, even if people are likely to assume we're gay.

Maybe it's easier for me because I look like one of the straight guys on queer eye.

Posted by: AF | Apr 12, 2005 1:20:02 PM

This man-date thing is incredibly fabricated. People hang out with friends of the same sex platonically all of the time, going to movies, dinner, sporting events, museums, etc. It's one of the most basic forms of social interaction with long historical and probably psychological roots. It's acceptability is also ingrained in popular cutlure--think sidekick, buddy, etc. There are many types of relationships that are not romantic on any level.

Posted by: catfish | Apr 12, 2005 1:26:44 PM

Are there "positive" stigmas?

I think the problem with the phrase "man date" is that it is intended to invoke those implications most men find offensive.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Apr 12, 2005 1:29:30 PM

In some ways, the situation is somewhat the opposite of what Eszter is saying. The more ‘out’ and prominent gays are in society, the more straight males have to become concerned with the possibility that they might be mistaken as gay. The chances that people will think you’re gay if you’re with another man are much greater in Dupont Circle than in say, Bethesda. I’d venture to guess that man-date anxiety is a much bigger deal in Manhattan than say, Oklahoma, even though males in Manhattan are on average much less homophobic.

We’ve all read about how in Linocln’s time it was common for men to sleep in the same bed together, before the modern conception of homosexuality had evolved. And what theCoach says about India is true. Young males commonly walk arm in arm, or holding hands, and nobody thinks they’re gay. But that seems to be mainly because there’s very little open sexuality among the people in day to day public life. This has the paradoxical effect of making displays of non-sexual affection more acceptable.

Posted by: RC | Apr 12, 2005 1:31:59 PM

What on earth are you talking about? Two male friends catching up over dinner, unusual? Since when? People are weird.

Posted by: Martin | Apr 12, 2005 1:34:58 PM

The following is a reenactment of a scene preformed hundreds of times a day among heterosexual men in Detroit and enviorans.

Man 1: I'm hungrey. Want to go to Buddy's (a Detroit pizzaria) and have a pizza?

Man 2: Do they serve beer?

Should anybody involved in such a scene feel the least bit gay I suggest they might try to get in touch with their inner persons. Please don't burden me with those feelings unless I've had at least six beers at which point just about anybody looks good and after all, lips are lips.

Posted by: LowLife | Apr 12, 2005 1:35:40 PM

I do not know DC well. Is Dupont Circle --> DC as The Castro --> SF?

Posted by: theCoach | Apr 12, 2005 1:37:57 PM

To take a somewhat extreme example, if I saw a man walking down the street wearing a dress, I wouldn't think, "a fag! how awful! the moral fabric of society is collapsing!" Nevertheless, I would think, "that's weird."

You know, when I -- Christian heterosexual male not raised in a "gay" neighborhood that I am -- say a man in a long olive skirt with cargo pockets, made with what looked to be good heavy material -- my thought was not "a fag!" or "that's weird!" but "man, that's pretty sharp; I wouldn't mind having one of those".

Of course, it was the Haight, but even so, its the only person I've ever seen with a skirt like that, so if by "weird" one means "unusual" I suppose it would be "weird"...

Posted by: cmdicely | Apr 12, 2005 1:41:18 PM

For a clue as to who the article is aimed at and what it's about one must notice it is in the fashion section of the NYT, a part of the paper rarely if ever read by straight men, who would never call 'getting a beer' a 'man-date'. It looks like a 'if you're a gay man how do you hang around with your (platonic) straight man friends from your job without putting him off' piece.

Posted by: j mct | Apr 12, 2005 1:41:21 PM

1. I removed the word "negative" from in front of stigma a few seconds after I posted the entry, because I realized it didn't make sense.

2. Those of you suggesting a pizza with beer as a common male-male interaction didn't read the article. The author specifically mentions certain types of outings as very common and acceptable for male-male social situations.

3. The mere fact that such a situation would be construed as "weird" (whether gay per se or not) is interesting in and of itself.

4. I understand that many men won't be able to relate to what was discussed in the article. But are you also saying that you think it's ludicrous to suggest _any_ man may feel this way about certain types of social interactions with other guys?

Posted by: eszter | Apr 12, 2005 1:46:34 PM

Dupont Circle isn’t nearly as gay as the Castro or Christopher St. in NYC, and has over the last few years seen an influx of straights, (mostly hipsters, yuppies, and yuppies-in-waiting). But it’s roughly analagous…

Posted by: RC | Apr 12, 2005 1:52:28 PM

Geez, I did this sort of thing with male friends all the time when I was single and living in Seattle and Washington DC. Heck, I even lived in Dupont Circle. Never once occured to me or any of my friends that we were on a "man-date" or might be mistaken for gay.

Of course 95% of the conversation was about women. Women we knew, women we worked with, women in the immediate vicinity, women we were dating, women we were looking for....

And of course 95% of the reason I ever went to a gallery walk or museum exhibit, or concert with another guy was to meet women.

Now that I'm married with two kids I rarely even have time to go on a date with my wife. But that's another story.

Posted by: Kent | Apr 12, 2005 1:55:58 PM

Not so long ago I had to wake up really early but I have a bad habit of turning off the alarm and going back to sleep, so I asked a good friend of mine who is straight and whom I know wakes up at 4:30AM to give me a call. He did but I went back to sleep anyway. Cut to a couple of days later when I'm with him at a coffee shop. I was chatting up the cashier-a cute girl my friend liked-and I don't remember what prompted this remark but he chimed in with; "Yeah? I seem to remember you turning over and going back to sleep when I tried to get you out of bed the other day." Now I'm gay so that didn't bother me, in fact I thought it was hilarious that he seemed oblivious to how gay that sounded, like he was in bed with me and nudged me to get up. When I explained it to him later at the table, he was mortified, and had to make an excuse to go back to the coffee girl and affirm his heterosesuality.

Posted by: pablo | Apr 12, 2005 1:57:47 PM

I am reminded of one of my favorite stories about Iggy Pop. He gets arrested, I think in LA, while in some outrageous getup. He's in jail. His friends come to bail him out. They're waiting for him. He stumbles out. They're horrified when they see him.
"Iggy! You're wearing a woman's dress!"
Iggy draws himself up to his height and schools them.
"I think not. This is a man's dress."

Posted by: Saheli | Apr 12, 2005 1:59:03 PM

But are you also saying that you think it's ludicrous to suggest _any_ man may feel this way about certain types of social interactions with other guys?

Yes. Or, at least, I wouldn't put up with that crap from any of my male friends. If I want to go to a nice place for dinner, or take a walk along the bay, or prepare a meal that doesn't include a pound of meat per person, I don't want to listen to "but what if people think we're gay?" or "isn't that kind of weird? we're both guys."

I'm a single, straight, Christian guy from the deep South. If I can share a bottle of wine with another guy at a nice restaurant, anyone can.

Posted by: josh | Apr 12, 2005 2:04:32 PM

I used to live in the West Village. One day, while walking with my (male) roommate along Bank St. and suffering a bit of very low-level anxiety about appearing like a gay couple (we were going to brunch, too!), a guy who must have been 6'5" passed us on roller skates wearing a short tank top and pink vinyl hot pants and with a very large boa constrictor draped over his shoulders.

I've never again worried about man dates. New York is a great town.

Posted by: Charlie | Apr 12, 2005 2:06:04 PM

Eszter - its true that I didn't read the article and therefor might have missed the set up. If I am being wined and dined by another man I would wonder if I was in the middle of a situation that was bound to end awkwardly. Why would one man romance another unless he wanted romance. Unwelcome advances by anybody, regardless of sex, can make one feel out of sorts.

Pablo - funny story.

Posted by: LowLife | Apr 12, 2005 2:06:22 PM

I think metafilter had more than enough to say about this. I'd like to see the Times do a better job of distinguishing between commonplace things about which there's still something interesting to be said, and commonplace things (like dinner with a friend) where the Times feels the need to find the last urban straight men in America insecure about it, and give it a dumb name. The article's history was pretty shoddily put together as well. I'm not impressed.

Posted by: not impressed | Apr 12, 2005 2:09:56 PM

I think that Kent brings up what was, to my mind, a major flaw in the article. Jenny 8 completely ignores what is, in my experience, the MOST COMMON form of male bonding, namely the activity loosely termed "going out to meet chicks".

Jenny 8 states that a Man Date is "two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman". But two men can do almost anything if the pretext for the outing is to meet chicks. You want to go to MoMA with a male friend? No problem: "dude, there's gonna be LOTS of hot chicks there!" If your primary purpose is to use MoMA as a pick-up joint, you are not on a Man Date (since you would not "reasonably arrange with a woman" to go out for the purpose of meeting other women). Even if you happen to see some art.

Now, I don't think that Jenny 8 can be too much at fault. I don't think that many women understand the time and effort many single guys put into meeting new women to have sex with. Or the fact that many male-male relationships are primarily based on going out and meeting women.

Posted by: Al | Apr 12, 2005 2:11:21 PM

Reading the NYT story after Matt's blog, I'm even more confused. Going to the museum, to the cinema, sharing a bottle of wine with your buddy is gay? Not in germany, but maybe the US is really reaching a new height of homophobia. But I think it's a very local problem, existing mostly in the heads of people that are so uneasy about it that they have to put it to paper. Personally, I refuse to let such stupid thoughts have any impact on my behavior.

Posted by: Gray | Apr 12, 2005 2:11:59 PM

I'll also second Charlie. I live in Chelsea, NYC - perhaps the gayest neighborhood west of SF. I assume that whenever I do ANYTHING with another male here, people assume I'm gay. Hell, everyone else on 8th Avenue is. Kind of liberates you from the problem Jenny 8 is talking about. She must be writing about some UES phenomenon.

Posted by: Al | Apr 12, 2005 2:15:42 PM

Here in Manhattan, I've never heard of a "Man Date". Not surprising since it was coined for the article.

I've often visited museums, bars, movie theatres, and parks with other men. With women. In groups. By myself. Other men and I talk about art, music, politics, books. We make jokes, talk about weighty things. Anxieties, regrets, ambitions. These people helped me through my divorce, generally one at a time. I usually refer to such people as "friends" (not a new coinage).

This has always seemed so normal to me that I'd assumed the folks in Oklahoma did very much the same.

Posted by: sleepy | Apr 12, 2005 2:16:03 PM

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