GLSEN, 2004

How to Fall in Love With Your Straight Best Friend
(If You Really Must)

Ten rules for navigatingand survivinggay adolescent hell.

By Steve Kluger


    Anybody who's ever wondered just how
    long gay kids have been falling for
    straight kids need only take a closer
    squint at Mercutio, who somehow
    managed to glide through all fifteen
    years of his life without ever ungluing
    himself from Romeo's side. Furthermore,
    he had impeccable taste in clothes, a
    dancer's body, and a passion for Queen
    Mab—who, to this day, bears a
    suspicious resemblance to Bette Midler.  
    It's not like you needed a road map to
    figure out what was going on.

    Mercutio, of course, wound up on the
    wrong end of a rapier before he had a
    chance to pitch the advantages of same-
    sex domestic partner benefits to
    Romeo—and the rest of us have been
    striking out just as prosaically ever
    since.  So how come we still insist on
    romancing our straight best friends at
    least once between Winnie the Pooh
    and college?  Because we thrive on
irony?  (Yes.)  Because it's good practice for the real deal?  (Yes.)  Because a
broken heart is so irresistibly theatrical?  (Absolutely. "Oh, my man, I love him so.
He'll never know....")

Falling in love with Philip was definitely not on my agenda in October of my senior
year.  He was a 17-year-old godling from France who'd become the envy of the
entire senior class, and I was a 17-year-old dork from Maryland who'd become the
poster boy for Queer Bashing 101.  (I'm still not sure how they figured out I was gay
before I knew it myself, though I suspect the Ethel Merman thing may have had
something to do with it.)  Neither one of us  remembers how we met; one minute he
was asking me if he could borrow a dollar, and an instant later we were Phil-and-
Steve (I always gave him top billing because he was way too cute not to have it).  
This unexpected development threw the bashers for a loop—in order to score points
with Philip, they suddenly had to go through me first. Which meant acquiring a hasty
tolerance for
Gypsy, Mame and Funny Girl.  Revenge is always sweet, but it takes a
gay kid to make it musical.

I had no idea that Cupid had just shot me in the ass until Friday evening, November
14.  I was in the midst of plowing through a novel I'd recently discovered (
Valley of
the Dolls
, in case it matters) when I realized I'd read the same paragraph nine times
without registering a word—because all that kept spinning through my head were
images of Philip's twinkly eyes whenever he'd glance at me across a classroom, and
the thermonuclear one-dimple grin that could melt plutonium.

Welcome to Gay Adolescent Hell.

RULES AND REGULATIONS:
(Note: since this is autobiographical, it's about boys. But the formulas work the same
way for girls
all you have to do is switch the pronouns and add Lesbian hair.)

1. Practice typing his name in 46 different fonts (including Japanese).
We didn't have iPads yet, so we did the best we could with ballpoint pens and
notebook paper. I was more prolific than most:  Every one of my essays was
originally titled "Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip
Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip Philip."

2. If you run into each other in the gym, avoid the showers as though they
were radioactive. You really don't need a pulmonary embolism at 17.
As soon as I found out that Philip was a swimmer who wore Speedos, I chose track—
which was as geographically far from the pool as I could get.  On one occasion I ran
a ninety-minute mile in the pouring rain just to make absolutely certain he'd already
left the locker room.

3. Don't help him audition for a part in the school play, because you're only
going to wind up being cast with him.
This is especially painful when the play in question is A Midsummer Night's Dream
and the two of you have to spend six weeks together in tights. "Lysander, yield thy
crazed title to my certain right," snarled Philip, poking me with a foil. "If thou say so,
withdraw and prove it too," I glowered back, poking him in return.  One such
rehearsal resulted in an impromptu tickling match—which I needed like a hole in
the head.

4. Don't waste your time searching for tiny clues that he's really gay. He isn't.
Just because he's heard of Barbra Streisand doesn't mean he secretly
wants to kiss you. Fidel Castro's heard of her too.
When we listened to The Grateful Dead and discovered "Uncle John's Band"
together, it became "our song." Swiss Miss and chocolate chip cookies in the snow
comprised "our menu," and after stumbling across 'ubiquitous' on the senior English
vocabulary list, we adopted it on the spot as "our word."  Philip didn't seem to
understand that these little landmarks meant he was supposed to ask me to
marry him.

5. When he meets a girl he really likes, don't say stinky things about her to
change his mind—he'll only get suspicious. Instead, help him plan his
romance step-by-step, and when he wins her over (they always do), make
yourself absolutely indispensable to her.
Nancy knew inside of nineteen seconds that I was in love with her boyfriend—but
since I played my cards right, she kept my secret.  This sort of unexpected bonding
was nothing new; straight women and gay men have been confiding in each other
ever since Guenevere (Julie Andrews in the musical) and Lancelot (Robert Goulet)
figured out that they both had the same kind of long-range plans for Richard Burton.

6. Be careful when you buy him birthday presents—you don't want to tip your
hand.
The label-maker he's coveted, the new copy of Abbey Road, and the dozen boxes of
chocolate chip cookies (half of which he's going to share with you anyway) are
relatively benign; the slim volume of poems entitled
You're My Friend So I Brought
You This Book
isn't.  Can you spell "dead giveaway"?

7. When the nearby girls’ school asks for boy volunteers to help build the
sets for a production of
Brigadoon, stick cotton in your ears during
rehearsals.
Brigadoon was written five years before you were born. Which means that the song
“Almost Like Being in Love” was
not inspired by you and Philip.  Do the math, dude.

8. If you're wondering whether being in love with your best friend means
you've finally come out to yourself, the answer is yes.
I had two choices: I could either pretend I was straight and forget about Philip, or
keep Philip and admit the obvious.  Talk about a no-brainer.

9. When you tell him the truth, don't be pissed off if he guesses it first.
Philip confessed that he'd begun to get the hint about an hour and a half after we'd
met—but it didn't make any difference because nobody had ever loved him so
unconditionally before. "And I love you too," he said. "It's just in a different category."
Somehow I felt cheated out of my big scene.

10. Don't be surprised if you remain best friends for the rest of your lives.
Philip is married, has two kids, and lives in Philadelphia.  We still listen to "Uncle
John's Band" and we still say 'ubiquitous' to each other.  As a matter of fact, I e-
mailed him the first draft of this column and received the following reply:  "Lose the
Ethel Merman bit.  You're dating yourself.  And by the way—that was half a lifetime
ago.  Get a grip already.  Love, Phil."

Sure, it was hell—but the memories have always been worth it.  And eventually we all
outgrow the need to fall in love with our straight friends.  Most of the time. I mean,
sort of.  Well, okay, there was this one occasion when my new dentist turned out to
be a relentlessly breathtaking and irredeemably heterosexual Japanese American
who left me no choice but to fake a pain in an upper left molar just so I could stare up
into those big brown eyes during the four visits it took him to complete the root canal I
didn't need.

But that's another story.