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BRO is the app linking straight men with other straight men

It might seem ludicrous but the development of such an app raises positive discussion points about sexual identity

It’s been a strange week for gay men, the poor souls. Wednesday saw the Mother of Parliaments debating the future of poppers. Tory MP Crispin Blunt, who once voted against the equal age of consent and adoption by gay couples, kicked things off in rip-roaring style with his declaration  “I use poppers, I out myself as a popper user”. It was ironic that the debate was about banning psychoactive substances, as witnessing this spectacle made me unsure if I was inadvertently tripping balls on one myself. Gays across the country were tense – they’ll need to get used to the feeling as, ultimately, poppers were banned.

What was surreal, hilarious and thrilling about the debate for any of us who are queer was that, while we’ve reached unprecedented levels of political visibility, much of our sex lives remain in the shadows, rarely discussed by our straight overlords who seemed bemused and embarrassed when forced to discuss it in the chamber. But, as Blunt’s anti-gay voting record combined with his passionate defence of Amyl Nitrate shows – all is rarely as it seems. People are more surprising and complex than we give them credit for.

Cue then the next revelation – the launch of BRO: an app for identified straight men to meet up for…whatever. The app’s developers say “BRO goes beyond using labels, and is for men that are interested in meeting other men… It’s as simple as that. Just sign up, and start looking for new bros!” Marketing itself on the ambiguity in male bonding highlighted last year by academic Jane Ward in her book, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, it’s clear this is intended to capitalise simultaneously on homoerotic desire and discomfort with “gay” as an identity.

Straight men have largely been unable to do anything that isn’t totally embarrassing since the Norman Conquest and it appears BRO is no improvement in that respect. Expanding upon the already risible portmanteau ‘bromance’, Ward’s book gave rise to the discussion of “bro-jobs”. It takes some real cognitive gymnastics to be more comfortable with a vague hint of fraternal incest than  simply saying you’d like to give another male human a blozzer but who am I to judge? (I mean, I do judge it.) To the queer eye there is infinite amusement in the app’s design: straight guys can ‘fist-bump’ each other as a mark of approval. Gay men fist bump each other too – but that’s a little less casual. Especially without poppers.

“While women’s sexual fluidity is more accepted, male sexuality of all forms remains more fixed and tied to categories that are actually less than one hundred years old”

It’d be easy to just laugh, though, or even get angry at the idea of the heteroflexible straight man who wants all the pleasure of man-on-man sex but none of the pitfalls of a publicly gay, or bisexual, identity. It’s also easy to simply say “well, they’re not straight”. To my mind, neither of these are a satisfactory response. As ever with sex, nothing is ever new: it’s all reinvention of the same old stuff. Identified straight men have always engaged in sexual contact with each other. The cottaging and cruising scenes have always been full of men who had public lives with women but sought out sex with men. Grindr is littered with profiles of straight or bi men (a gay friend who prefers hooking up with straight men than gay men tells me – the sex is materially different). As a teenager at an all boys’ private school, the same boys who would call me a “faggot” would get their dicks out on the rugby bus and masturbate in concert in dormitories on school trips. No wonder I’m transgender – men of all sexual persuasions are thoroughly confusing. 

What all of this exposes is that ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ aren’t really much to do with sex; they’re political categories and conceptual ones too. In recent years “gay man” has become a consumer bracket – one that comes with all sorts of lifestyle assumptions as well as political boundaries around race, class and gender presentation. In the 1970s “gay” had a much broader, questioning meaning than it does now – if I were in the 70s I’d probably be “gay” but, in 2016, what it has come to mean is now very restrictive.

I’m about as far removed as the downlow (a longstanding African-American term to describe identified straight men who like gay sex – see, this isn’t new!) BRO user as you can get but I have some sympathy with them. Read as an effeminate gay boy throughout my teens, when I dated or expressed interest in girls I was interrogated, mocked and usually not believed – even after a two year relationship. While women’s sexual fluidity is more accepted (I know women who are openly bisexual and women who refuse all labels) male sexuality of all forms remains more fixed and tied to categories that are actually less than one hundred years old. Many gay men’s refusal to really ‘believe’ in men’s pansexuality or to view it as a threat to a monolithic gay identity actually upholds this as much as straight men’s terror at being considered gay. How boring.

Sure, straight men collecting blowjobs while retaining all of the benefits that straightness gets you in society is galling. But gay men aren’t above this kind of power play either – as the dating bios specifying “no blacks” or “no femmes” indicate. Gay and straight are clearly a continuum, not a binary and I would argue that contradictions, ambiguity and hierarchies are more to do with men as a gender than sexual identities. Yes, BRO is a ludicrous app that responds to the state of play we have created socially in our upholding of masculinity but I think some of the realities its existence highlights raise positive discussion points. Poppers jokes aside, I think that society and sexuality improves across the board whenever men decide to loosen up. In the meantime, I’m off for a glass of Brosé.