Some things are clichés for a reason: because they happen all the damn time. Plus-size women having gay best friends is one of these things. It happens all over the place, but when I started poking around online, looking for the topic, I didn't find a lot. Most things I read were written by thin women with a definite "oh, those poor things" attitude toward their larger sisters. It was assumed that the reason that plus-size women are often BFFs with gay men is that they can't get affection from other men, or even get dates, and that gay men pity them and are using them, giving nothing back. Well, I am one of these women, and those assumptions just don't fit.
Ever since high school, my clothes have been in double digits, and as an adult I've always worn a size 16 to 20. That's a weird thing to say, not because I am ashamed of my body or am one of those women who are constantly on the diet train but because a lot of our society looks down on plus-size women. People make all kinds of assumption about me based on my size, but I don't see my relationships with gay men in that light at all. After all, I have been happily married for almost 15 years. I've also given birth to three children, so it follows that I've had a successful and affection-filled sex life.
Now, with younger people -- kids in middle and high school -- I have seen the kind of relationships other people talk about. A plus-size girl has low self-esteem and finds the gay boy at school, who also has low self-esteem. They feed off each other and tell one another that they are perfect and wonderful just the way they are, no matter what the other immature teens who surround them might be saying. Everyone loves attention, and they give that to one another. But even this relationship is symbiotic. They both find a home and comfort with one another.
But what about adult women, women who know who they are and what they want, women who have successful careers and romantic relationships? Why are they still so connected to their gay friends to the point that it could become a cliché? I had my own experience to draw from, and I talked to several of my gay friends about their relationships with plus-size women, past and present, but I still wanted something more, so I contacted Ashley Fink, an outspoken supporter of equality, a self-proclaimed "fruit fly" (which happened to be her Halloween costume this year) and a star of Glee along with her best friend, Chris Colfer. (Maybe you've heard of him. He plays Kurt, the most prominent gay character on the show.) To my shock and delight, she was more than willing to chat with me all about being a "fruit fly," a "fairy princess" or, to go old-school, a "fag hag."
Before I start I should note that "fag hag" is a term that comes with all kinds of baggage. Some women wear it with honor, while other shy away. In fact, it's a term that Fink has a problem with. She prefers "arm candy." I think that one is my new favorite.
Fink and I kicked off our conversation by talking about sexuality. We noted that people often see plus-size women as asexual and their relationships with gay men as an extension of that. Ashley gave a hearty, boisterous laugh. "Half the conversations I have with my gay friends are about hot boys," she said. So much for that assumption. "Large women and gay men are so misconstrued and see society in a skewed way. To me it's about being strong enough to be who you are and put up with the consequences of who you are." I couldn't agree more. Being part of "not normal" and often maligned groups can give us an instant bond. When we stop trying to be part of the "average," that's when we find our strength and our voice.
Fink's relationships with gay men started early. "I had gay nannies," she told me. Growing up, her family lived next door to a gay couple who frequently babysat for her. She had gay friends throughout high school, and even more when she relocated to California to pursue an acting career.
I asked her if she sought out friendships with gay men. That was another "no." Being loud, brassy women (another thing we have in common), we find that these friendships just happen. We are naturally drawn to gay men. "I also wear a lot of shiny things; it tends to attract them," she added, tongue firmly in cheek. Fink described meeting her best friend as a shared experience of being "pulled toward one another."
Both of us have always had great friendships with men, gay and straight. "Gay men are not women," Fink scoffed, "even when I call them 'gurl.'" We agreed that as we've grown older, we've found that our friendships with straight men have grown complicated, not because of us but because of their wives or girlfriends. "They've not understood how their boyfriend can be totally in love with me as a friend," Fink told me. "They act like I'm competition." But with gay men, that's never an issue. "There is something about being 100-percent yourself without the worry of the sexual attraction," she said.
And that brings up the question of intimacy. Do plus-size women have relationships with gay men to avoid intimacy, as is often assumed? This question brought another laugh from Fink. Her friendships with gay men are real friendships. "I've completely laid myself bare for another human," she said. "That's the opposite of an intimacy issue."
Question after question, her answers echoed my own thoughts. Now, I know this isn't a scientific study. We are just two gals who had way too much fun chatting on a bright Sunday afternoon. But it goes to show that the assumption isn't always the truth. And isn't that always the case? People are people, all different and unique, and so are our relationships with each other. Do plus-size women and gay men get along like peas and carrots? The answer many times is "yes," and that relationship is unique in itself. It's not a relationship that's necessarily replacing something else or overcompensating for something that's lacking. It just is. As Fink has said many times, we are all looking for people who are "our kind of crazy." And we are both lucky, because we have some awesome friendships with gay men who fit that bill perfectly.