Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Who's Gay, Who's Not, and Who Cares?


Imagine this; a fairly common situation. You're sitting around with some friends, maybe all gay, maybe mixed gay and straight, and somebody wonders -- in a perfectly nice way -- if somebody you all know might possibly be gay. Mind you, this is not a straight bigot nastily suggesting that someone is a "fag," but a gay or gay-friendly person wondering if someone they know might be gay.

Now imagine -- and this happens far too often for my comfort -- that somebody in this group, especially a gay person, objects and says in a sharp tongue. "So and so is not gay!" They are very vehement about it, even outright angry. It's as if by suggesting that, or wondering if, the person in question might be gay you're slandering them, saying something absolutely terrible about them, and this other person is distressed if not outraged by such a thought.

The thing is -- if you really think it's okay to be gay, then what the hell is so awful about suggesting that, or wondering if, somebody might be gay? Okay, maybe you're wrong. Big deal. You're not printing it in the paper or shouting from the rooftops. I'ts a private conversation with people merely expressing opinions. People will think what they think whether you put it in words or not anyway.

I expect to get homophobic attitudes from bigoted straights and self-hating closet cases like Larry Craig but I'm always a bit amazed -- if never surprised, sadly -- when I get them from straight people who are supposed to be gay-friendly, and especially from people who are themselves gay. Sometimes these people will claim that it's not that you're suggesting this person might be gay, but that you're somehow "slandering" them as a closet queen. Why do I never quite buy this? Because it always comes off that the "slander" has to do with suggesting that someone is homosexual, not that they may be in the closet. Besides, while it's not great to be closeted or repressed, it doesn't make someone a terrible person anymore than being gay does. There's always the chance that the closeted individual will come out and live a perfectly happy gay life. So what's the big deal?

Let me make it clear. I don't think one should outright lie about anyone, say someone is absolutely gay when you aren't at all sure about it, (but there's no reason why you can't have an educated opinion). A person who is genuinely straight shouldn't have to deal with the assorted issues that we gays have to deal with, although it certainly might increase his or her understanding of those issues. I don't believe in "outing" someone (unless they're homophobic hypocrites) even if they're gay if I know they're just not ready to take that all-important step on their own; it's an important rite of passage for a gay person.

Some people say somebody is gay to make them more interesting or news-worthy when it really hasn't been proven that they are. [Still, it's not as if you're saying something really terrible about them. Unless deep down you think it really is terrible to be gay.] Then we have people, including gays, who protest vigorously when some biographer says that a favorite actor was gay, even if the information is substantiated by the person's long-time companion and other impregnable sources.

But that isn't what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about simply wondering if or thinking that someone is gay and sharing this with gay friends or acquaintances -- hell, sometimes you wonder if someone is gay because you're attracted to them, so what? -- one or more of whom may act as if you're saying the worst possible thing you can say about anyone. There are, sadly, still some gay people who are not happy and who foolishly blame their orientation for their unhappiness. When you say someone is gay they really do think you're saying something terrible about them. Some of them will even think less of a person they formerly thought of as straight once they find out he or she is gay. Yes, this is that old internalized homophobia rearing its ugly head, and while I think and hope that it affects fewer and fewer people each decade, I know it hasn't been completely eliminated and may never be.

Perhaps it is this -- or just simply naivete -- that leads some gay people to automatically think someone is straight just because that's how they identify or because they're married with children. I recall a ridiculous conversation I had in a bar a few years ago. Someone asked me if I thought a certain individual was gay. Before I could answer, a man I didn't know said "he's straight; I've met his girlfriend." This was right after the Jim McGreevey scandal hit the headlines, and I wondered how any gay man could be so stupid as to assume a man with a girlfriend absolutely, positively must be totally straight when the papers and TV were full of a story about a married man with children who had just come out as a gay man. I mean, so this guy we were talking about supposedly had a girlfriend. So did lots of gay guys in their youth, just as many homosexual men have wives and children well into middle age. It's laughable.

[I think some gay people lead very sheltered lives. They really haven't been around too much. Or else they're just kind of dumb. The young ones at least have the excuse of relatively little experience, but the ones who are middle-aged or older?]

But I got the feeling with this strange man in the bar that he didn't like the notion that this man we were wondering about might be gay, that he would think less of him if he were. Hence he was definitely straight -- the girlfriend "proved" that.

Then there are those, gay and straight,who say with a certain air of self-righteousness: "Oh I don't care who's gay or who isn't. That's so unimportant" -- pretending that they're just so liberal and above it all but what they're really saying as far as I'm concerned is "it's vulgar to wonder if someone is gay or not because I don't think it's really so great to be gay."

And isn't that just pathetic?

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