UTA grad student leading the way in gay-straight research

Posted on 25 Oct 2013 at 10:50am

Eric Russell began studying the relationships between gay men, straight women for his senior thesis  and is the first to research the topic

Eric.Russell

WILL & GRACE | Recent TCU grad Eric Russell published his research on the close-knit relationships between gay men and straight women before he started a Ph.D program at UTA this fall, but his professors expect him to continue to study the topic and others in the future. (Doug Magditch/Dallas Voice)

Doug Magditch  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

ARLINGTON — This fall, Eric Russell started his Ph.D. program at the University of Texas at Arlington, but before even stepping foot on campus, he could tout himself as a published researcher.

As an undergrad at Texas Christian University, he was the lead author of “Friends with benefits, but without sex: Straight women and gay men exchange trustworthy mating advice.” It was his senior thesis, and Russell broke new ground with his study analyzing why gay men and straight women make such good friends.

“I do have straight, female friends that are very close to me, and we share a relationship that’s like none other,” said Russell, who is openly gay.

“So it does stem from personal experience, and, not only that, but I do have other friends that have this kind of relationship as well.”

Russell’s study received national media attention, from outlets including NBC News and New York Daily News. To the regular gay guy, it might not sound surprising that gay men and straight women share a close relationship. However, there’s not much psychological research on the topic.

That could be partially why Will & Grace seemed so revolutionary to the general public when it premiered in 1998.

“The relationships between gay men and straight women have been around a lot longer than just Will & Grace,” he said. “It’s been documented all the way back to the 1950s, or, even, sometimes before. I would say the media has definitely honed in on this unique type of dynamic.”

Sarah Hill, an associate professor in TCU’s psychology department, was Russell’s faculty adviser for his thesis. She said he was the first person to start researching the close bonding relationships between gay men and straight women.

“I thought it was a really interesting idea, and I thought it was something that needed to be explored further,” Hill said. “It’s something nobody had looked at in the literature, as far as we can tell. Nobody’s come out of the woodwork to say, ‘We did this first.’ So, I think he’s the first person to crack this nut open, so to speak.”

Russell’s research stemmed from both personal and academic interest. Still, he discovered some things he didn’t expect. For instance, you might think gay men and lesbian women share similarly close relationships, too. Certainly, some people do, but they aren’t nearly as common as the gay male-straight female archetype has become.

“That’s something I was surprised at seeing, but it makes sense if you step back and think about it a little bit,” Russell said.

Gays and lesbians share the same kind of social inequality issues, but not the same attractions. What gay guy wants to talk about ladies when he’s out at a bar?

Now, Russell is furthering his research by looking into gay-straight relationships that are less archetypal. With his new blog, GayStraight.com, Russell is expanding his scope. In other words, he’s looking into gay male-straight male relationships, lesbian female-straight male relationships.

“The main point of the blog, though, is not only does it expand on that research I conducted, but it also will create new avenues and new ideas to explore this relationship, but possibly relationships between other types of gay and straight individuals, such as straight men and gay men or lesbian women and straight women,” Russell said.

Expect a lot more from Russell. He plans to be at UTA for the next five years while working toward his Ph.D. That’s not to mention that this is a topic in which he’s both personally and professionally invested.

And Hill expects him to continue to take his research far and beyond what he and others have accomplished.

“He has a knack for research. He designed the experiment himself and created the materials himself,” she said. “There are just some people in the world who have an intuitive grasp of what it takes to do good research, and he’s one of those people.”

To read Russell’s study on relationships between gay men and straight women, visit TinyURL.com/GayStraightStudy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 25, 2013.

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