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Fast friends and queer couples: Relationships between gay men and straight women in North American popular culture, 1959–2000

James L Allan, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The idea that gay men and straight women have much in common has a long cultural history, as seen in the work of sexologists, feminists, sociologists and cultural historians from the late 19th onward. Stories of relationships between gay men and straight women have been a significant, recurring phenomenon in American popular culture throughout much of the twentieth century, and the period from the late-1950s onward marks a time when such relationships became increasingly prevalent. With the weakening of Hollywood's self-censoring Hays Code and the maturing of television as a mass-market medium, the late-1950s/early-1960s saw the development of openly gay male characters who frequently shared friendships with straight women. Films and television shows featuring this dynamic grew more numerous and circulated more widely as time passed, but these developments progressed differently and at different rates for film and television. This study investigates the development, circulation and reception of representations of the gay-man/straight-woman duo as a cultural figure in North American film and television during the latter half of the twentieth century. As a set of texts in which sex and gender mediate each other in powerful ways, these gay-man/straight-woman stories produce rich analytic possibilities. Drawing on textual analysis, socio-historical context, and audience research, the project outlines the major relationship dynamics found in these gay-man/straight-woman texts (mother-and-son; perfect-couples; gals-and-pals), the historical shifts in their production and popularity, and the implications they hold for the ways our culture imagines relationships between men and women. Despite their gay cachet, the majority of these texts re-circulate normative clichés about gay male and straight female subjectivities and relationships, patterns that reproduce conventional, conservative thinking about who holds and deserves power and respect in our culture. Yet a few of these texts also provide alternative models for relationships between men and women, gay and straight, that contribute to more expansive possibilities for all: a culture of queer variations and relations. These examples affirm the emotional, social and affective value of relationships that cannot be neatly categorized into familial or romantic models, and argue for the importance of friendship as a form of social practice.

Subject Area

Mass media|Motion Pictures|American studies|Canadian studies

Recommended Citation

Allan, James L, "Fast friends and queer couples: Relationships between gay men and straight women in North American popular culture, 1959–2000" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3110464.