Gay Millennials, Part 2: I’m Not Your GBF!

By Matt Cohen, MTV Insights



Having grown up in a culture with greater gay visibility and acceptance than ever before, Gay Millennials are quickly speeding past “Coming Out” and moving on to tackle the unique challenges that arise in a “post-out” culture.  Chief among these new challenges is the struggle to avoid being tokenized as the Gay Best Friend, or “GBF.”

We’ve heard a lot about GBFs over the past several years, with high school and college-age girls telling us about their beloved gay besties, often beginning stories with phrases like “So my Gay Best Friend and I were at brunch…” 

For many girls, having a GBF is a major status symbol.  A Teen Vogue article from July 2010 went so far as to place GBFs in the same list as other “must-have” fashion items of the season, alongside a “Proenza Schouler tie-dyed top” and “neon-bright chunky bracelets.”

In speaking with Gay Millennials, we rarely hear them refer to themselves as GBFs.  However, Gay Millennials do say that they often feel pressure to embody the role of GBF for their female friends.  Domenic, 19, tells us “When I came out in high school, all the girls wanted to go shopping with me and for me to do their hair and make-up. At first, I played along because that’s what I thought gay men did.”

Recognizing that others expect them to fulfill this role, some Gay Millennials have fun with their newfound GBF status and work it to their advantage.  Tom, a 23-year-old waiter, revealed to us that he would often play up his “gay-ness” for certain female customers, adopting the role of temporary GBF in order to earn higher tips.

However, being confined to the role of GBF does have its downsides.  As Matt, 23, explains “It often feels like people want me to ‘perform’ for them because I am supposed to be the ‘fun gay friend.’ And that makes it hard for me to be taken seriously.”

A new film which premiered last month at the Tribeca Film Festival — appropriately titled “G.B.F.” — explores the mixed emotions many young Gay Millennials feel upon discovering that while their friends openly embrace the fact that they are gay, these friends also expect them to play Will to their Grace (or Jack to their Karen.)

“You don’t even sound like the ones on Bravo.”  Above: the trailer for “G.B.F.” a new teen comedy that explores the phenomenon of the Gay Best Friend.

“G.B.F.”  follows Tanner, a quiet high school student who is out-ed as the result of a “gay witch-hunt” led by the president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance who is desperate to have her own GBF.  Once the secret is out, Tanner skyrockets to popularity as the three queen bees of the school adopt him into their clique and attempt to reshape Tanner into their ideal Bravo-inspired sidekick.  With a tongue-in-cheek script, ”G.B.F.” shows what happens when people cross the fine line from supporting and advocating for their gay friends to objectifying and tokenizing them. 

Towards the end of the film, Tanner is crowned prom king, and in his acceptance speech to his classmates, he explains that he doesn’t want to be anyone’s GBF; he just wants to be appreciated for who he is.  Ultimately, this is the message we hear from Gay Millennials over and over. 

This aversion to being forced into the role of GBF is reflective of a much broader Millennial attitude that challenges the idea of being defined by a monolithic identity.  For a generation that defies all-encompassing labels and refuses to check a single box for anything — be it their musical taste, ethnicity, religion, politics, or their career — being known only as “gay” or someone’s “GBF” feels much too limiting.  Though Gay Millennials may initially fall into the role of GBF because it provides them with a prescribed template for “how to be gay”, they ultimately opt for forging their own path in defining their new identity.

As Kevin, 23, explains, “When you’re first coming out, you wanna be the Gay Best Friend.  But once you’re happy with yourself, you can be whoever you want.”


This is the second in a series of posts on Gay Millennials, in which we’ll share our findings on the unique characteristics and experiences of this generation’s gay youth.

Safe Sex 2.0?

By Matt Cohen, MTV Insights


In true Millennial fashion, the students behind the recently-launched “NYU Hook Ups” Facebook page are taking an organized and responsible approach to…well, anonymous sex.  Tackling their new venture with the same dedication and efficiency they’d normally reserve for an extracurricular activity, these students are helping classmates hook up faster and smarter.

Why waste time scanning through hundreds of OKCupid profiles when you can post anonymously on NYU Hook Ups and wait for the “Likes” from potential hook up buddies to roll in?

Some of “NYU Hook Ups” safety and efficiency features include:

  • a 2-step verification process to confirm that hook-up seekers are actual NYU students (No need to open yourself up to Craigslist randos  when you can stay within the safety of your college bubble)
  • a commitment to keeping post-ers “100% anonymous” and to “hook[ing] you up in less than 24 hours” (Sure beats Match.com’s six-month guarantee)
  • an advisory urging users to “be careful” and “always make sure to use condoms” (Thank you free NYC condoms!)

As Millennials take unexpectedly responsible approaches towards other “taboo” or “rebellious” behaviors – whether it’s serving as the sober “babysitter” for a friend who is planning to get wasted or using home testing kits to make sure their molly is free of “harmful substances” – this generation is truly redefining what it means to have “good clean fun.”

UPDATE: NYU Hook Ups announced yesterday that they will be transitioning over to a full site with a more sophisticated interface.  Could we be witnessing the birth of a new start-up?


MTV’s New Series “Underemployed” Explores What Happens When Generation #Win Meets Economy #Fail

Matt Cohen,  MTV Insights

Millennials are a hyper-charged generation that has been primed for success and raised to believe they can conquer the world with their special talents.  Growing up, they were coached and encouraged by “peer-rents” and teachers to take the right classes, participate in the right extracurriculars, and do the right internships – all with the promise that if they were responsible and worked hard, they would be rewarded with a fulfilling job and a happy life.

However, post financial crisis, this typically optimistic and high-powered generation has crashed head-on into a very rude awakening — an economy where opportunities are limited and where they have to compete against equally supercharged and overqualified peers.  And for the ones who are fortunate enough to land a job, many are discovering that workplaces aren’t as receptive and nurturing as the schools and homes they left behind.

Time and again, we hear from Millennials that they feel duped – that the rules of the game changed while they weren’t looking.  Matt, 23, from Nashville tells us “It’s like you have to start fresh these days – the system is different. We started college, the economy tanked. We grew up with the idea: high school, college, get job, get married. I see guys with masters degrees working at sporting good stores.”

It’s not surprising then that nearly 7 in 10 Millennials in the workforce feel “underemployed,” meaning they aren’t in a job that truly leverages their capabilities.  An equal number (72%) say they’re afraid of not living up to their potential.

However, despite this rude awakening brought on by the economic crash, Millennials maintain their characteristic optimism in the face of adversity.  Millennials still believe that their dream job is out there - 6 in 10 Millennials say “I believe there is such a thing as a perfect job for me.”  But they might just have to work a bit harder to find it – or create it themselves, with 6 in 10 agreeing “if I can’t find a job I like, I will try and figure out a way to create my own job.” In MTV’s recent “Generation Innovation” study, we met with Millennial creators, entrepreneurs and makers all across the country who are forging their own paths in this economy, starting anything from food trucks to bike sharing services to party planning apps.   And their optimism shone through with their spirited motto “fail faster” – 1 in 2 Millennials (56%) agree their generation embraces failure as an essential part of success.   If it doesn’t work, pick up the pieces and start again.

In a way, graduating into a bad economy has been rather liberating for Millennials.  As a result of the crash, Millennials have realized that there are more important things than making money.  Rather than chasing the biggest paycheck, this generation is looking for fulfillment in their work as we recently discovered in MTV’s “No Collar Workers” study. http://bit.ly/AaWs6W

It’s this spirit of Millennial resilience that has inspired MTV’s newest series “Underemployed”.  “Underemployed” follows a group of friends who dream of “complete world domination” as they navigate a post-college world that is very different from the one they had imagined.  The show picks up one year after the group has graduated from college.  None of the characters are living the life they planned, but that doesn’t mean they are giving up.  As Sofia (played by Michelle Ang) explains in the first episode, “You grow up wanting a certain kind of life – a dream of a life.  But by the time you get there, that life is gone.  You have to make your own life, and you have to make it your way.”

With “Underemployed”, MTV pays tribute to a generation that continues to persevere — and will undoubtedly succeed in changing the working world for the better.  “Underemployed” premieres Tuesday October 16, 2012 at 10pm on MTV.


By Matt Cohen, MTV Insights

For previous gay generations, “Coming Out” was one of the most significant things you would do in your life as a gay person.  For Gay Millennials, “Coming Out” is increasingly “no big deal” – to use the words of one Millennial we interviewed.  In honor of National Coming Out Day, today we’re taking a look at how this generation of gay youth is redefining this rite of passage…

When we began studying Gay Millennials earlier this year, we started by asking ourselves what the major challenges and tension points are for this particular subgroup of Millennials.  “Coming Out” seemed like a natural place to begin our discussion.  After all, rites of passage on the road to adulthood are often tough, and “Coming Out” has long been treated as one of the scariest and most risky acts of self-definition.  For previous generations – where gay men and women often didn’t come out until their 20s, 30s, or later (if it at all) for fear of rejection or persecution – simply revealing one’s sexual identity was, perhaps, the ultimate challenge for a gay person.  However, that seems to be changing. 

For Gay Millennials, who have grown up in a culture with high gay visibility, “Coming Out”, seems to be increasingly less of a tension point for many gay youth today.  When we talked to Gay Millennials over the course of our research, many of them shared “Coming Out” stories that were surprisingly positive, drama-free, and — in some ways — a bit anti-climactic. 

With more supportive friends and schools than ever before, for many, “Coming Out” as a teenager is no longer the dreaded nightmare it once was.  Domenic, 19, explains “When I came out in high school when I was 14, it was no big deal. I was the only gay kid in my high school, and my high school was really liberal, so within a week I was like a celebrity.”

Tom, 23, expresses a similar sentiment: “When I was a freshman in high school, I told my best friend and she decided to tell the entire school. Technically, I was outed. At that point, I was accused of being gay for so long that finally when I came out, everyone was just like ‘OK.’ High school was super, super easy for me.”

We also heard stories that suggest “Coming Out” at home is becoming increasingly easier as well, with many parents taking the news surprisingly well.  Jennifer, 23, was surprised by how enthusiastically her parents responded: “The weekend after my girlfriend and I put a title on our relationship, I told my parents at dinner. They were so supportive that they called the rest of my family and had me tell them that night. It was funny and tiring, but I guess all my hard work is over!”

Other parents offered reactions that were more muted but equally supportive.  Allie, 23, recalls “One day my mom asked me why my friends had boyfriends and I didn’t. “Do you even like boys?” she asked. I said “no,” and then she told me that I can get diseases too.  Ha! Ever since then she’s been completely supportive of me.”

With Gay Millennials coming out so early in life (the average “Coming Out” age is now 16), often prompting reactions from friends and family that range from gushingly supportive to benignly blasé, the process is becoming less scary.  Furthermore, young people are coming out in record numbers.  A New York Times article from last week ( http://nyti.ms/QZJNWv )cites a recent study on LGBT teens by the Human Rights Campaign in which 64% of high school students and 54% of middle school students report that they are out at school.  While there are, of course, still many areas and communities in the U.S. where “Coming Out” is extremely difficult, stories like the ones mentioned above are increasingly common. 

We’re starting to see this new reality reflected on TV as well.  Whereas TV shows in the ‘90s introduced gay characters and storylines via tearful and dramatic “Coming Out” scenes (see Jack McPhee’s emotional reveal to his father in the second season of Dawson’s Creek or Buffy’s metaphorical “Coming Out” as the slayer to her mother in the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), today’s young gay characters are more often embraced than rejected by their on-screen friends and family.  On the first season of Glee, car mechanic Burt Hummel offered a warm and heartfelt reaction to his son Kurt’s unsurprising admission that he is gay. Similarly, on the first season of Pretty Little Liars, Aria, Hannah, and Spencer unflinchingly welcomed their friend Emily’s admission that she was in love with their former best friend, Alison.  Even more recently, some shows are forgoing “Coming Out” storylines altogether by introducing viewers to characters who are openly gay right from the start (see Glee, Happy Endings, Smash, and The New Normal to name a few) – reflecting the rising Millennial notion that being gay shouldn’t be a source of conflict.

As “Coming Out” becomes less of a tension point for this generation, new tension points are emerging center stage for Gay Millennials. The conversation around gay youth is now shifting from “Coming Out” to what comes after: navigating the complex world of Millennial relationships and sex, forging unique paths while planning for somewhat conventional futures, forming gay identities that are not exclusively gay – to name a few.

In this series of posts on Gay Millennials, we’ll share some of our findings on these new challenges for this generation of gay youth…

#MillennialsAtTheMovies: How Social Media Has Transformed This Generation’s Relationship with Movies

- Matt Cohen, MTV Insights

In preparation for the 2012 MTV Movie Awards, we at MTV Insights have been conducting research to understand this generation’s unique relationship with movies — what movies mean to Millennials, what draws Millennials to the theater, and what constitutes the “magic of movies” for this generation.  In a previous post, we discussed the renewed significance of movie-going as an expression of Millennials’ craving for real-life communal experiences.  In this post, we share another key insight …

The massive rise of social media has shifted the “half-life” of the movie-going experience — stretching-out horizontally and deepening vertically the experience before, during and after the movie itself — and transformed the material of movies into the stuff of social currency.

Before a highly-anticipated movie comes out – and sometimes, even before a movie goes into production – Millennials throw themselves into research-mode.  “We try to know as much as we can before we go in,” says Scott, 20. 

Whether they are posting trailers on Facebook, scrounging on the internet for behind-the-scenes photos, or debating studios’ casting choices, Millennials maintain a sustained level of excitement for upcoming movies by consuming and sharing any info they can get their hands on – even if it means ruining certain surprises.  “You pretty much can’t avoid spoilers anymore,” says Javier, 24.

With so much amplified build-up, Millennials treat the release of a highly-anticipated film as a major cultural happening.  Between the themed costumes, homemade signs, and screaming crowds, opening weekend today often looks more like a rock concert than a movie screening (see our previous post “Is the midnight screening the new rock concert?” http://ow.ly/b7Uk9 ).

Coming off the emotional high of a highly-anticipated movie, Millennials maintain their momentum by extending their involvement with the movie well beyond the couple of hours they spend in the theater.  One of our interviewees confessed to us that as soon as he leaves a theater, he often posts a quote from the movie on Facebook in the hopes that someone will “Like” it and/or comment on it, providing him an opportunity to continue discussing the movie.  Even long after seeing a movie, the ability to whip out an apropos movie reference – in-person or online — is a strong form of social currency.

Millennials’ prolonged involvement with their favorite movies – from the pre-premiere build-up to the elaborate screenings to the post-movie discussion — is deeper than it may appear at first.  For a generation that defines themselves by the content they consume, “Like”, or share, movies offer Millennials a common language through which they express their own experiences.

Whether it’s posting a quote from The Notebook on Facebook as a coded signal to their friends that they’re having relationship problems (as one of our respondents admitted to doing) or sharing movie-inspired GIFs from the blog #whatshouldwecallme (or one of its many imitators) to express how they feel about an everyday situation, Millennials are drawing upon a vast pool of movie knowledge to better articulate their own experiences.   As Jacqui, 24, explains “For our generation, the culture of movies goes beyond the screen. It becomes a part of your life and a way you identify yourself.”

Is the midnight screening the new rock concert?

- Matt Cohen, MTV Insights

In preparation for the 2012 MTV Movie Awards, we at MTV Insights have been conducting research to understand this generation’s unique relationship with movies — what movies mean to Millennials, what draws Millennials to the theater, and what constitutes the “magic of movies” for this generation. In this first in a series of posts on our findings, we share a key insight about the theater experience.

Having grown up in a world where so much of their social interaction is filtered through digital technology, Millennials are exhibiting an intensified craving for communal experiences that take place in the real world. From Coachella to Occupy Wall Street, we see Millennials seeking to reconnect with each other around real-life “watering holes.” This desire for real-world togetherness also seems to be part of a larger “early-onset nostalgia” among Millennials for a golden earlier time in their “youth” when their experience of the world was more physical, tangible, and less reliant on technology.

On the one hand, it’s about what you can’t do in a movie theater (no laptops, cell phones, tablets, etc).  It’s one of the few instances in Millennials’ constantly connected lives in which they are truly able to shut out the outside world and be fully present. “To me, the magic of movies begins by being able to have those couple of hours to tune out all the commotion,” says Christina, 19.

More importantly, however, movie theaters offer a renewed sense of togetherness. Because Millennials have grown accustomed to so many solitary viewing experiences (thanks to an ever-growing number of personal viewing devices), the experience of watching a movie in a crowded theater has an exciting “communal happening” aspect. Case in point: the increasing popularity of midnight screenings.  Formerly a niche ritual reserved for enthusiasts of cult classics like Rocky Horror, midnight screenings are now a mainstream Millennial phenomenon. High school and college students across the country gather to watch premieres of highly-anticipated movies at midnight “rituals,” turning a mere movie-outing into a full-on event, which requires hardcore prep work. Those Harry Potter costumes and Team Jacob/Team Edward t-shirts don’t make themselves!

The way in which Millennials describe the rowdy energy and experience of these midnight screenings is perhaps reminiscent of how Gen X’ers would have described a rock concert, with stories of the crying, screaming, cheering masses, decked out in full fan gear. “It’s the type of fandom that really brings people together,” says Lindsay, 21.

Interestingly, having instant-access to so much content on so many platforms and devices has actually made the theater experience even more sacred for Millennials. As Katherine, 21, puts it, “Watching movies in a theater binds us all together, even if only for 90 minutes.”

“Call Me Maybe”, Justin Bieber, and the Increasingly Intimate Relationship between Fans and Artists

- Matt Cohen, MTV Insights

Having grown up using the same digital tools to interact with both friends and celebrities, Millennials have come to desire radically intimate relationships with their favorite stars.  As a result, celebs are revealing more authentic versions of themselves online and treating their “fans” more as “friends”…

While traveling in Canada recently, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez serendipitously discovered “Call Me Maybe” – the uber-catchy single by Canadian artist Carly Rae Jepsen.  After recommending “Call Me Maybe” to their millions of Twitter followers (which promptly led to an explosion of the song’s popularity), Justin and Selena decided to supercharge their endorsement by creating a YouTube video which would give the song an extra social-media boost.  The video features Justin, Selena, and a few of their celebrity friends (including Ashley Tisdale of “High School Musical”-fame and the guys of Nickelodeon boy-band Big Time Rush) goofily dancing and lip-syncing to the single while decked out in sweats and sunglasses.

On the surface, the video looks like the byproduct of a few bored college students and a few too many shots of vodka.  It looks like it cost absolutely nothing to produce and required nothing more than a friend with a MacBook.  Yet, this video has nearly twice as many views as Jepsen’s professionally-produced official music video for the single. 

That’s because the appeal of Justin and Selena’s video lies in its accessible, human quality.  The fact that this video looks like something you would make while hanging out with your friends actually increases its appeal because it offers fans just the kind of authentic and intimate insider-access that Millennials crave. 

With this video Justin, Selena, and co. are showing us that they are just as goofy with their friends as we are.  It’s the digital equivalent of Us Weekly’s “Stars – They’re Just Like Us!” feature.  The key difference, however, is that in this case, the insider glimpse is provided not by the paparazzi but by the celebrities themselves. 

By sharing a private moment among friends, Justin and Selena are inviting us into their world — making us feel like we are another member of the party. (No doubt Justin and Selena are aware of the major points they earn with fans by sharing this type of intentionally-unpolished content.)  In doing so, these young artists are forging a more intimate relationship with their audience by blurring the boundaries between “fan” and “friend”.

Retro-Pricing: Luring Millennials with Great Deals and a Touch of Nostalgia

- Matthew Cohen, MTV Insights

Being children of a sub-prime crisis + Groupon, Millennials may develop a lifelong penchant for frugality with a twist…

A few weeks ago, I headed over to Big Nick’s – an old burger joint on New York’s Upper West Side – only to discover young people lined up around the block.  The draw?  In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Big Nick’s had restored its menu with original 1962 prices for just one day.  Nothing on the menu cost more than 75 cents.  After a mere hour in line, my friend and I enjoyed 2 burgers, 2 grilled cheeses, 2 sides of fries, 2 sides of cole slaw, a slice of pizza and 2 cokes – all for a grand total of $5.  On either side of our table, fellow twenty-somethings enjoyed similar meal-deals, as we all gushed about the experience.  A couple tables over, two girls started making a wish-list of other businesses they’d like to see offer retro-pricing – Ralph Lauren (founded 1967), Coach (founded 1941), Abercrombie (founded 1892)…The hipster next to us said he’d like to launch a “retro Groupon” start-up, featuring deals with historic pricing for historic brands.

In response to the challenges presented by today’s economy, many young people are looking backwards and longing for simpler times…a “faux-stalgia” for a time they never actually experienced, as we have dubbed it at MTV. By adding a retro-pricing component, Nick’s transformed a simple deal into a rich experience, tapping into a deep well of latent generational emotion.