In June 2021, model and actor Michelle Morrone – most known as the protagonist of the infamous movie 365 Days, posted a picture on Instagram that garnered the internet’s attention and sent straight women into a tailspin. The image in question: A selfie of Morrone and his co-star Simone Susinna doing something that most of us have done in our lives and seem to enjoy immensely: hugging.
But the image might as well have been a homoerotic art piece considering the provocative reactions it elicited from straight women who somehow seemed hurt, disgusted, and betrayed by the sight of two men hugging. As seen with all online discussions surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community, the vitriolic homophobic comments rolled in, with people using their different ways to display their blatant homophobia. “Michelle Morrone is too hot to be gay.” said one Twitter user, while others used emojis and homophobic slurs. As disheartening as it was to see such homophobic remarks, it was the lesser aggressive comments like “All the good men are either taken or gay” that made me cognizant of an equally pressing issue: cishet women’s micro-aggressive homophobia.
Generally, cishet women are considered to be great allies to the LGBTQIA+ community. Until a renowned male figure comes out from the closet or displays slight characteristics of a stereotypical gay person. In this particular instance, straight women seemed completely baffled by the concept of a masculine-presenting man such as Morrone to be so openly affectionate with someone of the same sex while still being heterosexual. Therefore, not only were they grossly speculating about his sexuality based on what they viewed to be an extremely gay gesture (again, they were just hugging) but were also displaying their frustrations through passive-aggressive homophobic comments like “all the good ones are always gay aren’t they?”. While on the surface similar phrases like “He was too good to be straight” and “I need a gay best friend” may not seem explicitly homophobic as they are encased within what seems like a pro-LGBTQIA+ sentiment, they still perpetuate heteronormativity and the micro-aggressive ways in which queer people continue to experience discrimination.
There are many problematic layers to these expressions and tropes that are the anthesis of what heterosexual people think are positive and affirming. That still revolves the narrative around their own straight identity. These passive-aggressive statements may not resemble the usual aggressive-aggressive ways of homophobia but still represent straight women’s internalized toxic masculinity that expects a singular expression of queerness. Effeminate and androgynous men fit the mold while men with masculine gender expression simply do not. “More often than not, the homophobia I witness online is from cishet women – not even men.” says 23-year-old Indian poet and activist Aditya Tiwari, who adds that these phrases create a “false notion of what queerness can and cannot be – boxing them into one category.”
25-year-old Chad Teixeira from London too feels exhausted from hearing these microaggressions. “I understand their stance on using these phrases as an easy way to “relate” to the LGBTQIA+ community but not all of us enjoy it. The phrase “all the good men are either taken or gay” is so exhausted and what does it even mean? There [are] more people [who identify] as straight in the world than there are gay. These forms of indirect micro-homophobia are so overused, and it’s really draining!” While questioning someone’s sexuality through the restrictive boundaries of gender expression attaches negative connotations to all sexual identities, these phrases also contribute to the erasure of bisexual and pansexual individuals who are constantly fighting for their visibility in a world that already views sexuality in a binary of straight vs. gay.
Straight allyship – when done right, is important in the fight against the discrimination faced by the LGBTQIA+ community. And this is precisely why cishet women must unlearn and move past such micro-aggressive phrases. “I have lots of straight female friends and most gay men do! I think straight women definitely play a vital role in the allyship between communities, but they can definitely be more aware of how some of their comments can make us feel,” says Chad – and I couldn’t agree more. Someone being gay does not mean fewer men for straight women. Not all gay people are ‘good’ by virtue of our sexualities and even with the best of intentions, saying that you “need a gay best friend” still fetishizes our sexuality for your benefit and reduces our entire existence to our queerness. Admittedly, trying to understand the experiences of a marginalized group that one is not a part of takes a lot of effort. But your educational curve to unlearn these internalized forms of toxic masculinity and homophobia must not come at the expense of the LGBTQIA+ community.