The Evolution Of The “Gay Best Friend,” From Harmful Trope To TV Gold
Being the GBF isn’t such a bad thing anymore.
You’ve seen them gossiping about guys, going shopping, and gassing up their gal pals. They’re the Gay Best Friends, and they don’t really exist. They live only in dated TV shows, where they pop in and out of existence depending on when their besties need them.
For so long, gay men existed in television only as a hanger-on, a wisecracking accessory to a female lead. But as times have changed, so has the Gay Best Friend trope. In recent years, the Gay Best Friend has evolved from his problematic past and now exists in the form of full, nuanced characters.
The Gay Best Friend has had a tricky history. Initially, the trope was viewed as a positive representation, since proudly out LGBTQ+ characters were so rare in the shows and films of the ’80s and ’90s. But as more of these supportive best friend characters appeared on the screen, the harmful aspect of the trope showed itself. These characters were not viewed as real people but as silly pets to amuse their female friends, with no interior lives of their own. From George in My Best Friend’s Wedding to Damian in Mean Girls, these may have been beloved roles for audiences, but they also contributed to a dehumanizing outlook on how gay men should exist. As several personal essays and thinkpieces have pointed out, these giddy lackeys only served to further “other” the queer community, rather than give LGBTQ+ people any real representation.
That’s changed in modern television, though. Now, the Gay Best Friend isn’t a sexless sidekick but a main character of his own. These TV besties illustrate how the trope was turned on its head over the years.
Rickie Vasquez, My So-Called Life (1994-1995)
Rickie Vasquez threw the first brick at the Gay Best Friend trope. For one of the first times ever, a network show featured a gay male lead who did technically fill the best friend role to his two female friends but also had a complex personal life of his own. Yes, Rickie was a sounding board for Angela’s and Rayanne’s boy problems, but he also had crushes of his own and a depressing home life that added so much more depth to his character.
Jack McFarland, Will & Grace (1998-2006)
Shortly after My So-Called Life ended, in 1996, another seminal character within the Gay Best Friend trope stormed TV screens. What made Jack special was his unapologetic fabulosity. Unlike the many tortured gay TV characters before him, Jack never felt the need to tone down his expressive reactions or dramatic outbursts. Plus, he actually got to date and have relationship problems of his own, not just sit on the sidelines and advise his friends Will and Grace on their issues.
Stanford Blatch, Sex and the City (1998-2004)
Unfortunately, Stanford was a bit of a step backward after the progress Rickie and Jack had made in busting the Gay Best Friend trope. Carrie’s gossip-loving bestie only existed when she summoned him to go on shopping trips or dish out relationship advice over cocktails. The movies eventually did give him a husband — Charlotte’s personal GBF Anthony — but it wasn’t enough to sever the designer leash Carrie had on him.
Marc St. James, Ugly Betty (2006-2010)
Another lackey to a powerful fashionista, Marc had a lot more delicious material to work with than Stanford did by aligning himself with the aggressively cruel magazine editor Wilhelmina. As the GBF to the show’s antagonist, Marc got to upend a bit of the trope by tearing down the main girlie rather than constantly supporting her, but he still mainly existed as Wilhelmina’s puppet for the whole series.
Max Blum, Happy Endings (2011-2013)
It felt like Happy Endings created Max for the sole purpose of subverting the Gay Best Friend trope. He’s uninterested in fashion, has absolutely no good relationship advice for his bestie Penny, and has tons of messy dates of his own. Max marked a moment in TV history where the Gay Best Friend trope had become a well-known trend and was finally being knowingly taken to task.
Elijah Krantz, Girls (2012-2017)
Girls ushered in an evolved form of the Gay Best Friend with Elijah, Hannah’s fun-loving confidant who wasn’t afraid to call her out when necessary. At first, it seemed like Elijah was just going to be another funny sidekick with no life outside of Hannah’s, but that quickly changed. As Girls got messier, Elijah got his own spotlight, and most importantly of all, he refused to blindly support Hannah all of the (many) times she was in the wrong. He was a GBF with a backbone — nobody’s accessory.
Titus Andromedon, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015-2019)
Titus isn’t Kimmy’s Gay Best Friend; she’s his Straight Best Friend. At least, that’s how the self-involved aspiring actor would spin it. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was a triumph in highlighting just how far LGBTQ+ representation has come in TV. Though his name isn’t in the title, Titus is just as central to the comedy series as Kimmy, with his own independent zany misadventures and rollercoaster of a love life. No longer does the GBF live in his bestie’s shadow because Titus would never give up his spotlight.
Joel, Somebody Somewhere (2022-Present)
Somebody Somewhere as a whole feels like a warm, meaningful embrace of all the wronged Gay Best Friends over the years. Sam’s newfound queer family quickly becomes just as important as her real family once she moves back home, and a lot more uplifting, too. Especially Joel, the sweet soul who refuses to let Sam dim her light. Yes, he’s always there to support Sam when she needs it, but it’s a genuine friendship that goes both ways, with Joel as an equal partner. He’s not just a Gay Best Friend; he’s a real best friend.
Quentin, The White Lotus (2022)
Leave it to The White Lotus to pull off the biggest twist of the Gay Best Friend trope. Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya is the quintessential GBF collector, so it wasn’t a shock when she gravitated toward a group of fun-loving gay men to fawn over her while feeling down in Italy. But these were no Gay Best Friends; they were Gay Worst Enemies. After being trapped on a boat with her would-be assassins, Tanya came to the realization that would finally put the last stake in the GBF coffin: “These gays are trying to murder me!” That’s right, Tanya — they’re done being your best friend.