Human beings strive for relationship and companionship. It is in our nature. Most people tend to bond with others based on the premise of similarity. This is not always the case however. In her work Odd Couples: Friendships at the Intersection of Gender and Sexual Orientation Anna Muraco takes a look at specific types of relationships: those crossing gender and sexual orientation boundaries. “Odd Couples examines intersectional friendships between gay men and straight women and between lesbian men and straight men to show how these friendships serves as a barometer for shifting social norms, particularly with respect to gender and sexual orientation”.
Muraco examines the relationships between opposite-sex, opposite-orientation adults through various interviews with 26 friendships dyads and triads in the San Francisco Bay Area. More specifically, she, “relied on the participants’ self-identification of being in a close intersectional friendship as sufficient to include them during the study.” From there, she asked participants to explain what they believe it means to be a close friend. Muraco has a multitude of reasons for desiring to study the friendships between opposite-sex, opposite-orientation individuals. For one, she believes that previous studies about the same topic do not examine these relationships thoroughly or not in the same way that she desires to; that “A gap exists in social science research […]”. This gap is due to the fact that friendships are more often studied in youth and young adults rather than adults. Another reason for Muraco’s desire to examine friendship groups was the desire to understand whether or not sexual orientation mitigated inequality between men and women. There has been prior research on this question, however, as Muraco points out, the prior research has not answered the question as to whether or not the absence of sexual tension and romance allows for more egalitarian relationships. Neither has it answered whether or not gender norms will still apply in these relationships. Not only does this research by Muraco answer these questions, but it also challenges the concept of compulsory heterosexuality introduced by Adrienne Rich.
Although lack of previous research motivated Muraco to write Odd Couples, she began to examine intersectional relationships by looking at her own relationship and the relationships of those around her. Her best friend of over twenty years identifies as gay, while Muraco herself is straight. As time went on and pop culture changed, Muraco began to notice the similarities between her own relationship with Mike and other relationships that they were exposed to. One example of a pop culture item to which Muraco and Mike related was the 90s sitcom Will and Grace, which detailed the lives of a gay man and a straight woman who were best friends. After noting the similarities between herself and “Grace” and Mike and “Will”, Muraco began to find other friendships similar to her own in films like My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Next Best Thing, and The Object of My Desire. However, while Muraco knew of relationships between lesbian women and straight men, their portrayal was lacking in comparison to that of gay men and straight women. Muraco’s curiosity about why there was less of a portrayal of friendships between lesbian women and straight men spawned her examination of intersectional friendships and eventually led to Odd Couples.
In the area of organization of her argument, Muraco uses each of her chapters to examine a different aspect of intersectional friendships. In her introduction, Muraco provides background into her study; how she came upon the topic and how it was conducted. From there Muraco sets up further background of her own study by examining friendships as a whole and friendships that cross differences. In the second chapter of Odd Couples Muraco introduces the reader to three of the friendship dyads she encountered, Vanessa and Bruce, Emily and Patrick, and Scott and Ruth. These relationships are focused on because they highlight some of the common themes featured in the other dyads and triads presented as the book progresses. One of the benefits of an intersectional friendship is featured in the relationship between Emily (a lesbian woman) and Patrick (a straight man); Patrick reveals that the fact that Emily is a woman allows him to be vulnerable with her than he would with other males, defying gender norms. Ruth and Scott’s relationship shows the common themes that while intersectional friends may care deeply for one another, they do have their struggles. The relationship between Bruce and Vanessa shows another theme common in the other intersectional friendships; the fact that they often form out of common interests and bonds. Muraco challenges the notion that blood is thicker than water in the third chapter, which focuses on how friendships can serve as a secondary family. For example, one of the friendships Muraco looks at is between Brenda and Dan, who met while they were in college. Brenda, a butch lesbian, lives with Dan and his wife Rosie and their children. They all pitched in to buy a home together. This strengthens the notion that “intersectional friends were better or truer forms of family than their families of origin […]”. As the chapter continues, Muraco also discusses child rearing in intersectional friendships and marriage. Gender norms and identities are discussed in the fourth chapter of the book. In the relationship between Mark and Christina, it is clear that Mark, a gay male, lives vicariously through Christina, by commenting on her appearance and with the advice that he gives her. In this way, Muraco believes that gay men have a tendency to reinforce the beauty norms that straight women face. Christina suggests that perhaps gay men have the desire to be women.  Other women in this chapter refers to themselves as gay men living in the bodies of straight women, this is to say that they identify with the culture their friends are involved in, recognize similarities in marginalized positions, or they feel more masculine than their female counterparts. The lack of sexual tension between intersectional dyads also allows for more openness between the friends. In the fifth chapeter, Muraco talks about how sexuality and sexual orientation factor into intersectional friendships. One example of this is how intersectional friendships can tend to begin to resemble heterosexual, romantic partnerships. This was the case between two friends, Jill and Paul. Also to be noted in this chapter was that in relationships across sexuality and gender were said to have less sexual tension than, say a friendship between two gay males. Muraco examines the politics of intersectional friendships in the sixth chapter. She looks at the way these relations tackle compulsory heterosexuality, and how gay men and lesbians expand their horizons by interacting with straight men and women and how the opposite is true. It also leads to more comfort in general when it comes to being with those of a differing sexual orientation. In her conclusion relates her study to what is next for intersectional friendships as the climate towards gay and lesbian individuals changes. Muraco specifically states, “In this final section, I address how we can look to intersectional friendships as a model for postmodern relationships and political alliance and discuss the shifting social contexts to influence the future of intersectional friendships”.
One area of strength in this work is that Anna Muraco well situates herself well within the other research completed on similar topics. She thoroughly explains where other studies are lacking, and where her study fills the gaps. However, one weakness in her argument and the way that her study is formatted is that she seems to try to overuse some studies; they crowd the point that she is trying to make.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Anna Muraco’s Odd Couples: Friendships at the Intersection of Gender and Sexual Orientation. I thought that her observation about the lack of representation of lesbian/straight male relationships was astute as well. I would recommend this book to those who are in an intersectional relationship like some of the ones described or to people who are not and desire to learn more about intersectional relationships.
Muraco, Anna. Odd Couples: Friendships at the Intersection of Gender and Sexual Orientation. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012.
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*The reasoning behind the use of location number rather than page number is due to the fact that this work was viewed on a Kindle.