The Empty Seat: Being An Ally Means Ditching The Gay Panic “Buffer Zone”

This article was originally published on Mandatory.com.

The “buffer seat.” We’ve all seen it. You’re sitting in a theater waiting for the promos to start when a couple of guys walk in. One sits down and the other leaves a space between him and his friend, creating an empty seat so it looks like Casper is hanging out with these straight bros. Some say that the buffer seat is for comfort, more room for manspreading and armrests. I once witnessed this being done with three guys, a seat between each of them and thought to myself whether any of them felt awkward about the forced distance.

These “no homo” behaviors don’t actually stem from a desire to feel comfortable. Buffer seats, buffer urinals, buffer walking spaces — in the end, it all comes down to not wanting to be thought of as gay, as well as the “discomfort with platonic male-male intimacy.” Besides the overarching problem of homophobia, there are two important issues that need to be addressed: Men who are socially conditioned to reject intimate relationships with their friends, aka, toxic masculinity, and straight allies who advocate for the LGBTQ community but still exhibit “no homo” behaviors.

The “buffer seat.” We’ve all seen it. You’re sitting in a theater waiting for the promos to start when a couple of guys walk in. One sits down and the other leaves a space between him and his friend, creating an empty seat so it looks like Casper is hanging out with these straight bros. Some say that the buffer seat is for comfort, more room for manspreading and armrests. I once witnessed this being done with three guys, a seat between each of them and thought to myself whether any of them felt awkward about the forced distance.

These “no homo” behaviors don’t actually stem from a desire to feel comfortable. Buffer seats, buffer urinals, buffer walking spaces — in the end, it all comes down to not wanting to be thought of as gay, as well as the “discomfort with platonic male-male intimacy.” Besides the overarching problem of homophobia, there are two important issues that need to be addressed: Men who are socially conditioned to reject intimate relationships with their friends, aka, toxic masculinity, and straight allies who advocate for the LGBTQ community but still exhibit “no homo” behaviors.

A study by Psychology Professor Niobe Way found 14-year-old boys speak lovingly about their guy friends, but when they graduate, they have been socially conditioned “how to perform masculinity” in a way that “involves not needing intimacy.”

“So what you’re seeing with the buffer seat is this interesting contradiction — men want intimacy and closeness, so they’re going to the movie together, but the movie itself is a buffer against intimacy. It’s something they can do together without having to interact; without having each other as the object of each other’s attention… [The buffer seat] says, ‘Yes, we’re together. But not like that.’ It’s about homophobia, but it’s not just about homophobia. It’s about this rule that men don’t need or want to be close to other people.”

Heteronormativity not only perpetuates homophobia but it also creates a barrier for men from necessary platonic connections because of the way they were socialized to accept toxic masculinity.

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