It's time to reconsider what we mean by friends with benefits. Hours after getting married, Evan Seplow, a 29-year-old mortgage broker from Long Island, hit a strip club with a close buddy. Seplow paid for several drinks and lap dances, and then the two retreated to the VIP room so his friend could get a private dance that was, Seplow says, "the whole nine." The next day, when Seplow told his new bride about his escapades, she wasn't angry or jealous, merely bemused. Seplow's friend was Jen (not her real name), a woman who dates women—a fact that made all the difference to Seplow's wife, as well as to Seplow. "That was pretty crazy—it might not be for the average person," he says. "Then again, not many average guys have lesbian friends anyway."
Skin shows aside, Seplow has loads of fun with Jen and they have a lot in common—because of, not despite, her sexuality. Men like Seplow are lesbros—pronounced and sometimes spelled LEZ-bros—straight guys who like, but don't like like, lesbians. And while he may seem similar on paper to the much-maligned "fag hag," the lesbro is a real bro: a guy whose other interests are likely to include beer, partying, football, and breasts.
For a lesbro, the company of Sapphic sisters offers something he just can't find in his straight friends of either gender. Sometimes it's testosterone-free talk; other times, an insightful appreciation of the fairer sex; still others, a get-out-of-jail-free card. When Eli Kulp, a married 31-year-old chef in New York City, goes out with a thirtysomething lesbian couple he knows, they usually wind up at a dive bar, drinking and shooting the shit until well past midnight. Kulp tells his wife where he's going and who he's going with, and because of his companions' orientation, she has "no issue" with his choice of company.
For some lesbros, the foundation of a platonic friendship is the shared sexual attraction. "When you hang out with a lesbian, you have this thing in common: women," says Matt Gross, a travel writer who counts numerous gay women among his close friends. "I have a harder time discussing relationships with straight guys. You want to seem tougher, more manly. With lesbians you have the ear of a woman who understands exactly what you're talking about." As with all bro-banter, it's not exclusively G-rated. "You can say, 'She's clearly a hottie. How do I talk to her?' and a lesbian will get it," says Dan Levitan, a 26-year-old publicist from Brooklyn.
The unfiltered sharing often flows in both directions. "I can talk to a straight guy about sex in a way I can't with lesbians," says Dina, a lesbian who often hangs out with lesbro pals at New York City bars like Cubby Hole. "If I say, 'That girl's got great tits!' They'll say, 'Yeah, she does!' but lots of lesbians have hang-ups, and get mad at me for objectifying women."
The term lesbro was coined by Honey Harris, a DJ for Santa Fe's KBAC, to characterize women like Dina ("I used it to describe lesbians like myself who like to hang out with guys but sleep with women," Harris says), but these days, as men are heading to formerly lesbian-only establishments in places like Park Slope, in Brooklyn, and the Castro, the emphasis is on the bro, not the lez. Of course, there have always been lesbros (the literary-minded might trace this trend back to Ernest Hemingway, who would bro down with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in 1920s Paris). But it's hardly coincidental that the archetype has emerged from the shadows during a period when lesbianism has an unprecedented hold on pop culture—think of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, The L Word and Vicky Cristina Barcelona; think of the cool lesbian icons, like Rachel Maddow, who don't sensationalize their sexuality at all. When the romance between Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson hit tabloids in 2008, the men of America passed through supermarket express lanes thinking "Fuck, I wish my friends partied as hard as these lesbians." And while attraction may lurk beneath the surface of some men's gay-friendly attitudes, for the lesbro, getting off—at least with his lesbian pals—isn't the point. "I love hanging out with my lesbian friends and taking in their beauty, knowing that there is nothing sexual at stake," says Abe Schoener, a California winemaker. But, he adds, it's not another boys' night out: "Hanging out with my lesbian friends is nothing like hanging out with straight guy friends." As Brynn Gelbard, a San Francisco lesbian filmmaker and producer of the movie Lezbro: Don't Cha Know, puts it, "There is just this really amazing bond between men and lesbians. That absence of sexual tension allows you to talk openly."
Increasingly, the average guy seems to grasp that lesbianism means more than just Andrea Dworkin on one extreme and hotlesbiansexxx.com on the other. One small step for gay women, one giant leap for mankind.
But progress has its pitfalls, and there can be cause for resentment: Are the lesbians genuine friends or just the latest accessory? "Everyone wants to be a rebel. When you walk down the street with someone who's obviously gay, that becomes a badge that says you're accepting," Gelbard says. And among true lesbros lurk "turners"—guys who are endlessly Chasing Amy, convinced that a lesbian is gay because she hasn't met the right man. "For a straight guy, there's probably some disavowed sexual excitement," says Leigh Claire La Berge, an assistant professor of gender studies at the University of Chicago. "He knows perfectly well sex would never happen, but still . . . "
On closer inspection, most lesbros might simply be early adopters, forward thinkers whose search for friendship—hell, fraternity—transcends differences in orientation and gender. "I do have a lot of lesbian friends," Levitan says, "but maybe this is how everybody would behave in some sort of post-gay Utopia."
Perhaps. But for now, whether because of genuine enlightenment or merely enlightened self-interest, the lesbro will be throwing a few back with his buds at a lesbian bar near you. Maybe you should join him.