No one wants to be the supporting character, but for the gay best friend, it’s all they’ve ever known. Secondary to the ‘main character energy’ most of us are endlessly striving for, relegated to the bleachers, or out of focus in the back of the shot is where the gay best friend can often be found. It is fair to say that while the gay best friend is alive and well (some of them anyway—more on that, soon), their portrayal has been bolstered with a newfound self-awareness of late. But the stereotype remains a paltry offering of queer representation that is complicated and often contradictory, begging the ultimate question: is it time to shelve the trope of the gay best friend, or can the GBF be successfully reimagined?
Just as June is the month in which LGBTQ+ folks are briefly given main character status—including by brands who insist on waving the rainbow flag—the gay best friend on film exists in a similar context: brief flashes of celebration in an ocean of straight-dominant cinematic narratives. Traditionally, the quintessential gay best friend is an accessory—think well-groomed handbag pooch—to the straight white woman. The character will give an arm and a leg to aid the aspirations of said protagonist, providing them with expert advice on any and every subject.
The GBF, after all, is an extension of the rom-com’s best, most underserved character of all: the long-suffering Best Friend, a pivotal genre sidekick who can be funnier but not better-looking that the lead; sassy but not scene-stealing; lucky in love but not too lucky; and they most definitely must have a different hair color (or no hair at all, if you’re Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada). The gay bestie’s advantage over their straight counterpart is that they are, presumably, absolutely no competition in the love stakes.
Like any other rom-com best friend, what little we learn about the gay best friend is usually in direct relation to the central character to whom they are in service. Not deemed valuable enough to take the reins of the story, yet important enough to be by the lead’s side—how much of an investment in the gay experience do portrayals of the gay best friend really demonstrate?