Photo credit: Stylist.co.uk
In my baby stud days, one of my favorite shows to watch was The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It took one episode to get hooked; the music, 90s fashion, punchy humor, and Will Smith’s cool demeanor made me a groupie fast. Though these things made the show fun, it’s the relationships Will formed that brought depth. While his connections with Uncle Phil, Ashley, and Carlton were central to the plot, Will’s friendship with Jazz was the true port in the storm. Think about it: people in the Bel-Air community threw shade the second Will got there, dubbing him uncivilized because he walked, talked, dressed, and acted differently. Jazz, however, understood Will from the start; coming from similar backgrounds, they bonded over music, sneakers, women, and following their own rules. From there, a chaotic, hilarious bromance was cemented (via an iconic handshake) that allowed both characters to unapologetically be themselves.
After rewatching as an adult, that belonging Will felt with Jazz really hit home as a stud. If we’re being real, our chosen families are some of the best parts of the black queer journey. In a world of pushback and alienation over who we love and how we present, our friends swoop in like Captain Save-A-Queer—cape-less heroes that shower us with love, acceptance, and normalcy when we need it most. Us studs need that kind of friendship; womanhood is complicated enough, but adding complexity by opting out of traditional femininity to own our masculinity is an especially unique (and sometimes challenging) experience that only other studs can truly understand. Having Jazz’s around to link for haircuts, exercise, shopping for size thirty-four jeans, or any kind of studly fellowship is not only fun, but empowering, healing, and affirming for our spirits.
Unfortunately, life often gets in the way of fully bro-ing out. We school or work harder than a single mom of three, relocate like traveling salesmen and lose connections, get caught up in our relationships and turn into mist, or simply grow out of old ties. Many adults are also settled in their friend groups and not always receptive to new people. Additionally, finding the Jazz to our Will is complicated by—no surprise—toxic masculinity! Like the cishet male population, there are certain things caveman code says you just can’t do with MOCs. Going up to other studs trying to start a friendly conversation is often seen as "sus", studs are conditioned to view each other as competition instead of potential friends, and vulnerability around other masculine queers reads as weak. So, instead of skipping down the street in platonic bliss as the wind blows through our locs, Wills 'round the world is stifled by these limitations and missing out on the stud brotherhood they might really need.
So how do we fix it? How do we break these cycles and uncomplicate forming healthy friendships with other studs?
Squash the myth that studs being friendly to you is FLIRTING. This is a presumptuous, trash myth created by cishet men to justify problematic behavior towards cis women and gay men, and shouldn't be internalized. If a stud comes up to and compliments your shoes, says your locs are dope, or makes a joke, BE PLEASANT BACK! No bad can come from it, and you might gain the bro you're looking for out of the exchange.
See other studs as potential bros, not competition. Masculinity isn't a contest, and your first inclination when meeting another stud shouldn't be to compare and contrast circa eighth-grade English essays. As cliché as it sounds, it really is what's on the inside that counts, and that stud you misjudge might be the bro you could have a great friendship with if you turn your masc-o-meter off.
The innanets are your friend: If the club or lounge thing isn't your vibe, use Meetup.com, Facebook groups, and apps like BumbleBFF that are built for finding community. There, you’ll find events to attend and groups to join, and it's a great cheat code to avoid interactions in which intentions aren't clear.
Open Up! Healthy friendships require vulnerability. People can't get to know you if you don't share who you are with them. Don't let the masculinity police make you believe that stud friendship are emotionally cold and superficial. They can be rich and emotionally fulfilling if you choose to opt-in. The great thing is if you take that step, it'll encourage your prospective stud friend to do the same, creating a healthy, accepting space for all.
Make time: Yes, you're busier than Keke Palmer working her twenty-seven jobs, but friends don't make themselves. If you're serious about growing your social circle, be intentional and carve out time for it. How are people going to get to know you if you're never available to link? It doesn't have to be your first priority, but it can't be your last.
So, take Bel-Air by storm with your bros by your side! You deserve those favorite cousin vibes with fellow studs that get the process. Dating, styling, working and growing while masculine can be a lot sometimes, and there’s nothing better than having folks in your circle that can relate to it. When in doubt, be like Will—fresh, fly, embrace the new, and appreciate the folks that get the core of you.
Written By: Eden Carswell (@locs_on_the_rocks, IG)