Fag hags and fairy queens

Jesse Bering’s brilliant Scientific American column ‘Bering in Mind’ has a fantastic discussion of the cultural concept of the ‘fag hag’ – a woman who supposedly hangs around with gay men due to her own inadequacies.

I always assumed that ‘fag hag’ was nothing more than a particularly snide homophobic insult from the English language but it turns out that the general concept exists across the world – from Mexico to Japan.

Bering covers a recent research study that set out to investigate the concept and test whether women who do have lots of gay friends have poor self-esteem, worse body image or less satisfactory relationships.

This turns out not to be the case, and, in fact, the more gay male friends that a woman had, the more sexually attractive she felt, although conversely, longer friendships with the closest gay friend predicted lower self-perceived attractiveness.

Bering does a fantastic job of picking apart possible explanations and caveats from what, after all, is a correlational study, but he also notes a fascinating observation at the end:

It occurred to me while writing this article that the social category of straight men that like to socialize with lesbians is astonishingly vacant in our society. Sure, you may hear about some random “dyke tyke” or “lesbro” (two terms that, unlike fag hag, are hardly part of the popular slang vocabulary and actually required me to do some intensive Googling), but their existence is clearly minimal. Do you have any good guesses on why there’s such a discrepancy in frequency between the two cases?

I wonder whether the disparity between the marking of ‘fag hags’ and the lack of similar names for men who hang out with lesbians at least partly reflects the fact that gay men have traditionally been more stigmatised than gay women, and hence there is a greater drive to stigmatise those who socialise with them.

I also wonder the situation is simply less common although I can’t find any research that has actually looked at the issue.

Link to ‘Studying the elusive fag hag.’

6 thoughts on “Fag hags and fairy queens”

  1. In a previous job, I was employed at a very gay friendly company. Many of the friends I made there were gay men and lesbian women. In my (anecdotal admittedly) experience, many of the ‘Fag Hags’ associated with the gay men enjoyed having a male perspective and male friends who never pressured them sexually. Conversely, many of the lesbians I interacted with indicated they had few male friends because even their obvious lack of interest did not stem the unwanted advances from most men. While anecdote is not data, I suspect there is some truth in this (at least in US culture(s)).

  2. I think there’s a negative stereotype about women who hang around with gay men because a lot of straight men don’t like it. In my experience, straight guys who are insecure or unable to communicate effectively with the women to whom they’re attracted seem to be very antagonistic to anyone of either gender being close friends with a gay guy. I may be a little hyper-sensitive to noticing this, since I find emotional security to really enhance a man’s attractiveness. A straight man willing to learn to knit could almost make me swoon!

  3. I’m familiar with the process of neuroplasticity, and I’ve also had a keen interest in psychoneuroimmunology.

    These two terms seem to have a great deal in common, but I’ve found no literature which connects the two.

    I’d appreciate any references,


  4. In the high school levels at very least, I am noticing a large increase in “dyke mikes”, myself included, apparently. I am hoping that this is showing elsewhere throughout the country, and not just happening in very “liberal” cities such as here in Eugene, OR.

  5. I was discussing this with some lesbian friends a few months back and I thought I was being particularly clever by coming up with “Dutch boy.” Sadly, some googling determined that others had come up with that long before, but at least I feel like I hit a good vein with that one.

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