This is the moment my parents dressed me up as a footballer and turned me gay.
February 22, 2011 7:59 PM   Subscribe

Are we born gay? And if we were, how would we know it? Sociologist Lisa Wade asks the question in response to the blog Born This Way, a collection of images of LGBT adults as children. Perusing the photographs tells an interesting story: being gay — that is, being sexually or romantically attracted to members of the same sex — is conflated with being gender non-conformist — adopting the mannerisms and interests of the other sex. (Previously)
posted by threeturtles (87 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
The comments on the article are also worth reading, for once.
posted by threeturtles at 8:02 PM on February 22, 2011


Hrm. I read the FPP and was filled with GRAR, and then clicked the link and had my GRAR diluted quite a bit... But then I read the comments, and had this odd ebb and flow of GRAR....

There's a lot I could say about this whole thing, but I think I'll simply answer the title of the post. "Are we born gay? And if we were, how would we know it?"

Well, how do you know you were born straight?

I'm not asking this of any individual...
posted by hippybear at 8:12 PM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think it is so much about gender non-conformance.

This is self-reporting in the Born This Way site. So people find images of their childhood that speak to their understanding of themselves. Much of that is gender non-conforming. But much of it is not.

This is of course all tied up in the hypermasculine and hyperfemininity that is part of current gay culture.

It speaks to the narrative nature of selfhood, and to the limited menu of templates for that narrative. Maybe that's the point.
posted by yesster at 8:13 PM on February 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


I've always been mildly peeved that the gay community has encouraged, and even supported this debate.

Frankly, it's meaningless, and rather insulting that the origins of homosexuality should have any bearing at all on whether or not it is a "moral" behavior that is to be accepted in society. Are the homophobes really going to retreat if we find conclusive evidence for a gay gene?

Gay people exist in what appears to be a fairly constant proportion, and whether that's due to nature or nurture is pretty damned irrelevant, especially given the evidence that it's not something that can be changed, reversed, or "cured" without inflicting extreme mental and physical harm on a person. It's also pretty damned difficult to objectively make the argument that we're harmful to society.
posted by schmod at 8:23 PM on February 22, 2011 [41 favorites]


The truth is no one knows the truth about how sexual preference is formed. There are some interesting correlations, and plenty of speculation, but that's about.
posted by shivohum at 8:23 PM on February 22, 2011


it
posted by shivohum at 8:23 PM on February 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


Metafilter: I read the comments, and had this odd ebb and flow of GRAR
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:30 PM on February 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


I've always been mildly peeved that the gay community has encouraged, and even supported this debate.

Frankly, it's meaningless, and rather insulting that the origins of homosexuality should have any bearing at all on whether or not it is a "moral" behavior that is to be accepted in society. Are the homophobes really going to retreat if we find conclusive evidence for a gay gene?


Actually, I think the gay community's exploration of this question comes from decades of Freudian-ish theory that somehow one's sexual orientation is caused by having the same-sex parent being too distant and the opposite sex parent being too protective and nurturing.

It was put forward for so long as somehow representative of being a sickness or a malformed psyche that the reaction of those of us who actually are homosexual was to push back HARD against that idea. The euphemism "inversion" is a pretty strong negative word which was attached to homosexuality for a long time, and I think we still find ourselves fighting against the concept of homosexuality = sickness, even though that idea dropped out of the official diagnostic lexicon a long time ago.

Remember, the evidence that it cannot be cured or changed is something which really has only arisen in the past 20 years or so, and there are still a LOT of people within the dominant cultural framework who regard it as something which IS sick, to be avoided, and is somehow contagious if one comes in contact with it.

Trying to prove that homosexuality is natural may be pointless as far as the overall cultural morality of the situation is concerned, but until it is recognized as natural and not as some form of perversion of the natural order, the topic of whether it's inborn or not is going to continue to be discussed.
posted by hippybear at 8:31 PM on February 22, 2011 [18 favorites]


My Janet Jackson posters, karaoke machine, and Madonna tapes were my prized possessions growing up. I was never ashamed for liking these things that other boys weren't playing with. To me, these things were perfectly normal.

That's just one of the stories in the blog. Fascinating stuff, but as for developing any broadbrush theories out of it ..... who knows? I never played with dolls or had any fondness for girls' clothes or longed to apply my mother's lipstick when I was a boy, yet when I was developing a consciousness of what being gay meant, those narratives -- such as the narrative in Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story and so many other gay novels like it from that period -- had an influence on what I thought growing up gay should have felt like (because I should have wanted to walk around in heels and croon Judy Garland songs to myself in the mirror while twirling my hair in my fingers), and because it didn't feel that way to me, I felt in some ways doubly alienated. So, yeah, I hung around with neighborhood boys -- we all sat with GI Joes in the dirt behind the house and pretended to march and watched kung fu movies along with the telenovelas and did elaborate war games and made up imaginary armies and turned the geography of my block into the map of a world at imaginary war with other adjacent blocks. I was sneered at by my father for being too much of a mama's boy, too much of an effete reader of books, too unphysical, and I was unphysical -- I was a weakling, I was a playground outcast, I was an asthmatic. But I wasn't someone who identified with the opposite gender -- except insofar as I related to girls and their higher intellects and what I perceived as their being in tune with their emotions than the boys.

So does that mean I was askew of the appropriate mapping for what it means to be gay? Or does it just mean that everone's story is different and it ultimately doesn't matter all that much how we become gay, except in an autobiographical sense?
posted by blucevalo at 8:37 PM on February 22, 2011 [16 favorites]


and because it didn't feel that way to me

Huh. Interesting. I didn't hitch a lot of my own personal quirks on being gay at all, I pegged my non-conformity from being a bookish weirdo with a weirdo mom and we were always That Family so it was fine, I could go an study biology while wearing ascots cause no one ever gave me shit for how I was or what I liked.

It's an Anecdote I know, but I can say pretty clearly that I A) didn't (and don't) conflate gender non-conformity with gayness (the most "femme" guy I know is a theater actor and notorious womanizer) and B) I was the kid who liked swimming and archery and hiking AND building models of things and being way to into 70s glam rock and video games.: what's the gender binary of that, exactly?
posted by The Whelk at 8:45 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some of it could have been the internet, actually. I got regular access around age 12, and if I wanted to read a whole bunch of gay stuff, I could, and know that croon Judy Garland songs to myself in the mirror while twirling my hair in my fingers was just one story - there was tons of stuff out there, and all text so no one ever blinked, I was reading!, so I got away with learning. I figured I was a weirdo but it had nothing to do with who I wanted to fuck. If childhood intereste and actions equaled sexual preference in adults I could walk into any gay bar and start a conversation on AI theory, rare birth defects, crossbow manufacturing, or little-heard British Invasion albums.


pretty much the only way I can tell if you're gay and you're under 34 is by asking you "Who killed Yvette?" and even that has a margin of error
posted by The Whelk at 8:51 PM on February 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


We often fail to acknowledge the middle ground between being a certain way since birth and choosing something of a completely free will in the same way one might choose a sandwich. I suspect (though I don't know, obviously), that sexual orientation is among those things we discover about ourselves long after our involuntary experiences have subconsciously shaped our identities, in much the same way I think religion works, for example.

Doesn't take one iota out of the pro-rights camp: people should have the right to feel comfortable in their own skin. Full stop.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:53 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect (though I don't know, obviously), that sexual orientation is among those things we discover about ourselves long after our involuntary experiences have subconsciously shaped our identities

I certainly know plenty of men who have come out as gay in their late 30s and early 40s, long after they were shaped by the culture to marry and have children.

If anything speaks loudly to the idea that there's more going on with sexual orientation than we realize, I think it's these men. Why tear apart your life and the lives of your loved ones in the name of being true to your inner nature if you could possibly avoid it? It certainly doesn't speak truth to the idea that it's a choice that you someday wake up and decide on.

There's just too long a legacy of unhappiness while attempting to assimilate on behalf of homosexual men and women for it to be something one chooses.
posted by hippybear at 8:58 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh wait, ha, yeah I remember having a big confrontation in the mirror as a teen (cause movies said that's what you do) and having this very brief, intense conversation with myself where I was telling myself "No no no You're not gay. You're just very horny. And besides you're not very sexual in the-"
"Oh shut up, contradictory logic. You're gay. "
"No I'm not."
"Say it out loud."
I did.
"Is this a big deal? This feels like a big deal."

"It is a big- You know what? No. No it's not. It's the 90s and we can be whatever we want to be. And right now, I want to go back and read about the 13th century."
"Oh okay then, shouldn't we ...wail or"
"No! I have things to do! "
"Okay."
"Don;t forget we've going to Princeton to hear the head of SETI talk."
"Oh awesome"

and that was the entire length of my own internal sexuality struggle.
posted by The Whelk at 9:00 PM on February 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


and that was the entire length of my own internal sexuality struggle.

Well, you're a fortunate one, then.

I know a lot of men (admittedly a lot older than you and raised outside of "liberal urban coastal enclaves") who have had a much harder struggle with the issue.
posted by hippybear at 9:02 PM on February 22, 2011


Oh no doubt, and I'm sure I'm in the minority, just pointing out it contradicts the FPPs thesis on how I should have acted.
posted by The Whelk at 9:07 PM on February 22, 2011


The response to the original post by the site Born This Way's creator rightfully pointed out that the site's message isn't that sissy/tomboy = gay, but to celebrate that this is who we are and this is us as children.

Personally, I have a family photo of me at the age of about 11, my hands cusped under my chin, legs crossed and a big grin on my face. I remember thinking it was the cutest thing I could do, and I still can't figure out that my mom didn't know I was gay.
posted by catwash at 9:38 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This article has provoked some good discussion, and good food for thought. My take-home:

The origin of sexual preference is shrouded in mystery. Evidence indicates that it's not actually a matter of preference (e.g. a choice).

But this is all ultimately irrelevant to the question of civil rights. Everybody deserves em, regardless of sexual preference and gender performance.
posted by flotson at 9:45 PM on February 22, 2011


hmm, the only notable picture of me as a kid is me wearing my underwear on my head, a cape, and pretending I was a super hero. I think all this proves is that I've always been weird.
posted by selenized at 9:49 PM on February 22, 2011


The kicker kid picture of me, I'm 9, wielding a spear made of drinking straws and plastic clothespins, and appear to be hellbent on murdering something just out of the frame.

My grandmother is sitting in the chair above me, one hand on the side of my face, smiling woodenly directly into the lens like "...holy fuck, what sin did I commit in what life to end up with two butch granddaughters."

Pretty much says it all.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:00 PM on February 22, 2011


In contrast to this assertion, however, excellent research has shown that there is no trans-cultural, trans-historical gay identity and interpretations of same-sex sexual behavior vary wildly

This is so true. As far as I can remember, I was really attracted to girls. I remember falling in love when I was 7 with no less intensity than I felt as a teenager or adult.

Then I started feeling the same way about boys. I had sex with boys before I did with girls, and went back and forth way into adulthood, when I identified mostly as straight.

Before highschool the idea never crossed my mind that I had to identify as anything except as myself. But in high-school there was a strong peer pressure to be gay or straight, and act accordingly. We had endless discussions about what made one straight or gay or just horny.

I went with straight, as I was with a girfliend at the time, and we were taught bisexuality is a myth.

To answer the question of how would I know if I am gay (or straight): with a little help from my friends.
posted by Dr. Curare at 10:09 PM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


You know, on the one hand, the author is right about some things--that many queer folks, certainly myself as well as most of my friends, take a certain comfort and joy in finding gender non-conforming moments in our younger years. The author similarly mentions, albeit briefly, that most people can find such moments in our childhoods, as gender performance is learned over time. These are good things.

Moreover, I've always had troubles with the "born this way" idea, simply because it denies any element of agency in self-idendification, and to me sometimes implies that no one would want to be queer.

What I can't stand is the ridiculous gender panic lying right below the surface of this article. Yes, our current understanding of the interplay of gender and sexuality indeed is, as the author notes, specific to our historical context (although her claim that any link between the two is a "specifically American" idea is laughable). This understanding is based in the modern/victorian conceptions of gender and sexuality, the latter being a concept which only comes into existence in the mid-19th century. I could go into lengths about the ways in which this is complicated by earlier history forming some links, but I wont here.

But these are the tools we have to work with. This is our understanding of gender, and of sexuality, and they are deeply linked, because our definition of gender roles involves heterosexual attraction. And so, most of us come to embrace our variance from these roles as a big part of our own narratives and identities. And why shouldn't we? Gender roles are oppressive, rigid and will never fully accommodate us (even if they could, why is that worth fighting for?). Embracing our non-conformity is an important part of creating our own culture, connecting between queer men, queer women, and trans folk, and generally forming an affirming, healthy identity. But the author of this piece seems to find this idea terrifying. The concept that a blog highlighting childhood gender non-conformity would be "...doing everyone a disservice by perpetuating the stereotype of sissy gay men and butchy lesbians..." hinges on a belief that being sissy or butch is a bad thing. The author seems to wish that we didn't think of ourselves as so faggy/dykey, and by extension, didn't act so faggy/dykey. To which my response is, take it to the Log Cabin, leave me and my sissy, butch, and whatever else friends the fuck alone if we decide to identify with that.
posted by Subcommandante Cheese at 10:15 PM on February 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


the two sentence version of my screed above: The problem is, the author seems to want to shout, "but gay men aren't that sissy, and lesbians aren't that butch," instead of, "there's nothing wrong with being sissy, and there's nothing wrong about being butch." And I'm like, "fuck off."
posted by Subcommandante Cheese at 10:24 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


As is far too frequent with these kinds of things, the article doesn't discuss transgender people. (While, I might note, the FPP makes it sound like it does.) Trans issues are addressed a little in the comments, but not much. Discussing gender performance without talking about trans issues is kind of baffling.

Still, I agree with her core point: arguing that it's not a choice doesn't really deflate the 'phobes. They will find reasons to hate us, regardless of why we are who we are; and arguing that it's not our "fault" still implies that there is a fault. I'd prefer an argument that starts with asserting our morality (same as anyone else, no better or worse), and that being GLBT isn't wrong.
posted by jiawen at 10:27 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Born gay or gay by choice, I don't think it really matters from a human-rights perspective. In fact, I think that using the argument "We're born gay so you should not treat us differently" conflates homosexuality with disability, which it is not.
posted by cman at 10:35 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I definitely hope being gay isn't genetic. If it is, we're just one century of fascist dictatorship away from having it bred out.

And yeah, "we were born this way" sounds like an excuse. I don't see why anyone would want to be seen as making excuses for their sexual orientation.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:38 PM on February 22, 2011


The analysis and the blogger's rebuttal is just another example of scientific/critical thinking versus intuitive/emotional thinking, specifically, neither author being able to fully comprehend the other.
posted by polymodus at 11:09 PM on February 22, 2011


I posted this because I think it makes for a good discussion, FYI, not from any particular stance. I think it's worth discussing both sexuality and gender without a strict narrative frame. Too often we use stereotypes because they are easy and we're lazy in our thinking or our communication.

Personally I tend to feel that sexual preference is often fluid, or at least more changeable than the Biological Argument would have it. For myself, I've been straight and straight but sleeping with girls, and bi, and bi but not sleeping with girls, and straight again. And one of my very close friends recently left her husband of 8 years to become a lesbian, and I've watched her on that painful journey.

And unlike hippybear above, I can't say that people who leave their established partners for someone of the opposite sex is "proof" that sexuality isn't a choice. Certainly it's not a choice like a hairstyle. But I think it's something that genuinely shifts over time for some people. I can't count the number of bisexual friends I've had that have suddenly announced they are now only interested in one gender, only to change their minds in a few months or years.

My personal theory is that there are about equal numbers of 100% homosexual people as there are 100% hetero people (i.e. maybe 20-30%?) and the rest of us fall somewhere in between.

Anyway, that rambling may have been completely off-topic, but its 1 AM. I do wish the article had taken to time to discuss trans folk as they are rather conspicuous by their absence from the discussion. Although there were some lovely stories from trans folk on the Born This Way site.

As for my childhood exploits, I was a tomboy who would only wear pretty dresses. I climbed trees and scrambled over roofs in pink frilly things. Actually, that's still a pretty good description of me.
posted by threeturtles at 11:14 PM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is a bit of a different issue than the "gender roles need not be a predictor of sexuality" theme that the FPP goes into, (and I think that if we were to introduce trans issues into this discussion, then that would be REALLY interesting...many people are comfortable with saying that gender *roles* are a cultural construct...but they aren't AS comfortable with saying that gender *itself* is a cultural construct) but I think that another issue is that

"born this way" (say, "biological") or "choose this way"

is a false dichotomy.

Was I born liking broccoli or did I choose to like broccoli? These options should seem obviously incomplete here, but for some reason, not a lot of people question the missing options elsewhere. So, we get things like:

And unlike hippybear above, I can't say that people who leave their established partners for someone of the opposite sex is "proof" that sexuality isn't a choice. Certainly it's not a choice like a hairstyle. But I think it's something that genuinely shifts over time for some people. I can't count the number of bisexual friends I've had that have suddenly announced they are now only interested in one gender, only to change their minds in a few months or years.

well, "genuinely shifting over time" doesn't say anything about CHOICE. So, sexual fluidity (which threeturtles raises and which I think there is some neat research into) MAY shift things away from the idea that sexuality is a genetic or biological timebomb that explodes at age = (insert age here), BUT it also doesn't really point to choice. I can sometimes acquire a taste for broccoli (or lose a taste), but it's not something I consciously decide to do, but neither is it something biologically fixed to happen at some age.

Many people have already mentioned this, but I think the current discourse that gay rights activists (among others) are taking is leading everyone to a dead end. Saying, "We should have rights because we can't help who we love" leads to weird counterarguments (e.g., "OK, OK, so you can't help who you love. BUT you can choose not to act on your attractions!") and it fails to capture the true point: it doesn't matter how one gets to the point where s/he is attracted to the same sex...the point is that this should be celebrated.

The argument, in summary, shouldn't be, "Recognize me and my relationships because I can't help whom I love," (oh woe is me...pity me..) but "Recognize me and my relationships because I love whom I love." (celebrate me, this is real and positive!)
posted by subversiveasset at 11:50 PM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's a passage in Quentin Crisp's The Naked Civil Servant where says (as I recall, long time since I read it) that in England in the 1930s there were people who knew they were gay, but they didn't know what being gay meant. So they adopted overtly feminine mannerisms characteristic of the upper class. And since that time, this has become the recognised way of "acting gay" - mannered walk, the throaty, high-pitched voice, the stylised gestures and so forth. I have no idea whether this is actually correct, but it's an interesting idea.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:55 PM on February 22, 2011


Frost: Hey, I sure wouldn't mind getting some more of that Arcturian poontang! Remember that time?

Spunkmeyer: Yeah, Frost, but the one that you had was a male!

Frost: It doesn't matter when it's Arcturian, baby!
posted by bwg at 11:58 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the meantime, they’ re doing everyone a disservice by perpetuating the stereotype of sissy gay men and butchy lesbians.

For a sociologist she has spectacularly missed the point. Born This Way is a celebration of traits that many gay children were bullied for and taught to associate with shame. And if I want to perpetuate a stereotype, I will. Otherwise, you're telling me I need to act straighter to be accepted. Fuck you.
posted by londonmark at 12:01 AM on February 23, 2011


Even more previously.
posted by klangklangston at 12:48 AM on February 23, 2011


Man I should really submit a picture of my and my My Little Ponies.
I loved those ponies.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 1:34 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


*me and my.

posted by special agent conrad uno at 1:35 AM on February 23, 2011


I suppose the article has generated an interesting debate, but the article bugs me for wrapping up a very knee jerky response in quasi-intellectual language. This is a consistent tendency of the Sociological Images blog, and one big reason why I don't frequent it anymore. They come up with an interesting link or two from time to time, but for social scientists, they see things in remarkably stark black-and-white ways that distort what is actually going on and just reinforce tired and old arguments.
posted by mariokrat at 2:10 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


never been a big fan of holding onto the argument over genetics as some kind of justification for sexuality, though i realize it should be studied and argued. i have a right to define myself, and the reasons for it are nobody else's business, and i wish the broader argument were more along that line. (also, i've never liked criticism and speculation by gay people of those who self-identify as straight or bisexual, no matter how much gay sex they have had. i never thought of george michael as gay until he told us as much. one doesn't default to gay with having a gay experience, any more than sleeping with women made me straight. and frankly, we'd get more action from straight dudes if we stopped trying to reclassify them.)

but i think wade is mistaken that born this way is some kind of biological argument; it's more a fond look back at things we can laugh at now and enjoy in part because many of us are grateful we've gotten to a personal place where we can laugh at them.

i had a few of the stereotypically gay characteristics as a kid, but i (eventually) figured it was just that on some level i identified with girls because i wanted what they had easier access to. but that's what kids do in ways not related to sexuality--subconsciously take on the characteristics of those they admire or identify with. looking back, it felt intuitive. in seventh grade i was criticized for holding my books like a girl, against my chest, and i had no realization of that until it was pointed out to me.

but then also i was wearing out barbra streisand albums long before i knew that a gay culture existed, and i'm fascinated by that kind of commonality of experience amongst many gay people that feels coincidental. i vaguely recall a documentary a few years back that pointed out certain movies and tv shows that weren't directly related to sexuality but which gay people as kids were drawn to. it seemed many had themes of secret identity or secret powers--the bionic woman & six million dollar man, wonder woman, bewitched, i dream of jeannie. not that those who turned out straight didn't relate to and enjoy that stuff as well, but looking back i can see why it resonated with me. one of my favorite singers, john grant, has a song (sigourney weaver) that references the alien movies in terms of how he viewed his sexuality growing up. fun, though, were revenge fantasies like carrie and the fury. and when i discovered, at 13, looking for mr goodbar, that was like my own personal 'it gets better' message from the universe--ignoring the part, of course, in which diane keaton gets brutally murdered at the end.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 3:00 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I did some research in college that ended up showing that people that identified as gay were also more likely to have participated in other-gender identified sports. Not that anyone is surprised by that, the thing that was the most interesting to me was that even though gay people were more likely to engage in these sports, their perception of these sports as being 'a boys sport' or 'a girls sport' (or neutral) were spot on with their hetero bretheren.

The gender appropriateness had been well taught - they just tended not to give a fuck and did what they wanted.
posted by jopreacher at 3:09 AM on February 23, 2011


Gender performance/trans perspective/etc comment: Okay, so picture 1988, a little boy wearing his older sister's frilly dress for his birthday party. My Little Pony stuff everywhere. Bedroom full of unicorns. Box of Legos and GI Joes under the bed, little boy's bike in the front yard, dirty sneakers in the mudroom, everything's boyish as all get-out, but it's his birthday and dangit today he is going to be pretty.

Now picture that same childhood with the same accessories only it's a little girl. Doesn't really have the same visual impact, does it?

I usually don't bring my identification up because I sort of feel like I don't count*, 'cause I mean, look at that. A biologically female child who likes girly things. They already have a word for that and they call it a girl.

And this is why I've not submitted anything to that website.
posted by titus n. owl at 3:32 AM on February 23, 2011


I as a straight person chock full of heterosexual privilege have a problem with this site because I was a tomboy and I'm still a little butcher than my grandma would like, but I'm straight. There are way more pictures of me playing guys sports, digging in the dirt, etc, than in frilly dresses. I caught all kinds of hell for playing the tuba in jr high, for not "doing" my hair properly, for wearing clothes that are comfortable, and for not having boys "like" me (obviously my fault). I have no doubt at all that kids who already identified as gay or would soon had it worse, but it also sucks to have been the butch (or femme) kid who was not actually gay.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:38 AM on February 23, 2011


I as a straight person chock full of heterosexual privilege have a problem with this site because I was a tomboy . . . but it also sucks to have been the butch (or femme) kid who was not actually gay.

well, it's not as if this spirit of joyful self-acceptance was gifted upon the gay community; we gradually and painstakingly claimed it for ourselves. tomboys can do this, too; but it sounds like the 'problem with this site' is that it features people who can look back and laugh at something that was likely awkward and painful to live through, and maybe you can't do that yet.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 4:14 AM on February 23, 2011


I think you should submit it titus n. owl - I could submit a hundred pictures of me as a child dressed as me, all skinned knees, baseballs caps and BB-gun carrying tree-climbing terror. GI-Joe in my back pocket, bike-racing straight into the lake, and when mom came home, my hair neatly combed, my legs crossed like a nice girl, and the pretty dresses she liked on me. I could clean up nice. I'm straighter than an arrow but was tomboy as much as I could be a girly-girl. Which is OK and "normal", as so many women have been tomboys it's standard by now. I'm not butch like hydropsyche , though I did spend an entire summer under a boys name to be able to play with the boys in the village, and my mother still complains that I don't act "like a lady" instead I act a lot like my dad. All through jr high everyone gossiped that I was a lesbian. As I got older, I knew I wasn't, but did wonder if I should be since well, everyone said I was. Words can really mess up kids heads, and I feel for everyone who had to endure slurs be they gay or straight.

To me that's the point here - everyone is an individual be they gay or straight, and we were all cute as buttons when we were kids. Post your picture, your childhood counts too.
posted by dabitch at 4:21 AM on February 23, 2011


I have no doubt at all that kids who already identified as gay or would soon had it worse, but it also sucks to have been the butch (or femme) kid who was not actually gay.

Yikes, you're supposed to be more sympathetic, not less, because you went through all of the bullying without the paralysing fear of trying to deal with a fucked up sexuality at the same time. Do you really mean to begrudge this bunch of gay folk their little corner of the interweb because, what, straight people get bullied to?
posted by londonmark at 5:04 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Doesn't take one iota out of the pro-rights camp: people should have the right to feel comfortable in their own skin. Full stop.

Considering what it takes to make some people comfortable in their own skin, I really don't agree. More broadly, isn't it enough that people have the right do to things, without insisting that they have the right to feel comfortable doing it? The latter seems to imply some pretty serious restrictions on the rights of others. I support the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to have their absurd anti-gay rallies, but I don't think they have any right that prevents me from trying to make them feel uncomfortable about it.
posted by layceepee at 5:49 AM on February 23, 2011


but i think wade is mistaken that born this way is some kind of biological argument; it's more a fond look back at things we can laugh at now and enjoy in part because many of us are grateful we've gotten to a personal place where we can laugh at them.

This.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:49 AM on February 23, 2011


I recommend watching the 2008 BBC documentary 'The Making of Me'. In it John Barrowman "sets out to unearth what the latest scientific research can tell him about the origins of his homosexuality."

YouTube - 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 .
posted by ericb at 5:54 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


layceepee: "I support the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to have their absurd anti-gay rallies, but I don't think they have any right that prevents me from trying to make them feel uncomfortable about it."

I was being a little bit shorthanded there. This is definitely one of those "right to swing my fist extends as far as your nose" situations, with the additional qualification that both gender performance and sexual identity are major parts of the person adults feel they are. The reason WBC doesn't fly past the "leave them alone" general guidance is they do public things in a public place in order to make other people feel uncomfortable about expressing themselves in ways that are either private or essentially innocuous. In other words, WBC is breaking the rule, not you.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 5:57 AM on February 23, 2011


Also -- two related AskMe threads:
Biological evidence for homosexuality?

Research supporting that homosexuals are born homosexuals.
Both are chock full of interesting info and links.
posted by ericb at 5:58 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whether something feels like a choice to us and whether it actually is a choice is a complicated psychological and epistemological issue.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:04 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reason WBC doesn't fly past the "leave them alone" general guidance is they do public things in a public place in order to make other people feel uncomfortable about expressing themselves in ways that are either private or essentially innocuous. In other words, WBC is breaking the rule, not you.

I guess we differ because I think people do have the right to do public things in a public place in order to make other people feel uncomfortable about expressing themselves in ways that (either objectively or subjectively) are either private or essentially innocuous. WBC may be breaking rules of decorum or decency or etiquette, but I think they are very much within their rights.

The substance of our disagreement is that you apparently think people have a right to be protected from the free expression of others if it makes them feel uncomfortable. I can remember when this same argument was used to silence speech by gays and lesbians.

Finally, my understanding of the expression "Full stop," suggests that what preceded it is not shorthand for a more nuanced argument, but a claim that nothing more needs to be said.
posted by layceepee at 6:09 AM on February 23, 2011


Yikes, you're supposed to be more sympathetic, not less, because you went through all of the bullying without the paralysing fear of trying to deal with a fucked up sexuality at the same time. Do you really mean to begrudge this bunch of gay folk their little corner of the interweb because, what, straight people get bullied to?

No, not at all. That's why I emphasized repeatedly that I recognize I'm speaking from a place of privilege and that I know it sucked way worse for people who are gay or lesbian. I don't begrudge them their site at all, I'm not advocating for it to be taken down, I'm glad they can reclaim their bad experiences, etc. If I begrudged them I would be over at their site making a big fuss. Instead I'm discussing it at a different site and stating why it makes me a little uncomfortable.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:40 AM on February 23, 2011


The article's problem is that it approaches the website and the "born this way" framing device from the angle of "What will anti-gay people think of it?" or "What's most effective against anti-gay people?"

a) Is this a good way to view the website? Or can it just be a more light-hearted way for people to submit pictures that say something about themselves and their lives? Does everything gay people do have to be about winning political/cultural battles for the group or category in which they belong?

b) If we really want to critique the ways we talk about gay people and what it means to be gay from the perspective of "What will be most effective against the arguments of anti-gay people?" then I agree that "I was born this way" is a weak argument. But why stop there? Queer theory and rhetoric are even more problematic, under this lens, since queer theorists and anti-gay religious folks agree on the terms of the debate: "Gays will undermine marriage and the family and the traditions of millenia!" / "We want to smash the homophobic patriarchal institutions and bourgeois tools of oppression in favor of a new future!" / "See - I told you so!"
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 6:49 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh. Interesting. I didn't hitch a lot of my own personal quirks on being gay at all, I pegged my non-conformity from being a bookish weirdo with a weirdo mom and we were always That Family so it was fine, I could go an study biology while wearing ascots cause no one ever gave me shit for how I was or what I liked.

Part of it may be a generational thing. I didn't associate my personal quirks with being gay either, I just knew that I was different and painfully so and that it had real-life consequences for me. Why I was different didn't matter so much to me, because I knew the kids on the playground and in the cafeteria would shun me whether I was gay, bisexual, trans, or straight.

But there was a Certain Time in US culture when certain ways of being different in mainstream culture had to mean you were gay, so maybe that pointed me to clues that I really was gay more quickly than it would have if I'd been okay/normal. ("Normal" meaning conforming to the predominant coolness factors of the era, which in my era mostly meant anything on MTV.) I mean, you had Jodie Dallas on "Soap," you had Tony Randall playing Sidney Shorr on NBC and then the network banning any mention of his gayness, you had one gay character who was written out of "Fame" almost immediately, and you had Bronson Pinchot (who always seemed gay with every character he played even when nominally hetero), and that was really about it for TV depictions of "this is gay" other than TV movies of the week about men dying of AIDS.

So if the only depictions you see on TV (and in movies) are few and far between, and the only depictions you see reflected in fiction are those of the Edmund White A Boy's Own Story secretly-dying-to-be-an-opera-star/Andrew Holleran Dancer from the Dance 1970s Fire Island sort, you begin to wonder (or I did, anyhow) why, if you're gay, you aren't even good or clever enough to know how to adhere to the stereotype. That would be celebrated as a vive la différence! type of thing now (à la "Glee"), I know, and thank God for that, but back then? Not so much.
posted by blucevalo at 7:08 AM on February 23, 2011


Actually, I think the gay community's exploration of this question comes from decades of Freudian-ish theory that somehow one's sexual orientation is caused by having the same-sex parent being too distant and the opposite sex parent being too protective and nurturing.

I think it has less to do with this and more to do with the predominant Christian moral ethic that lingers in our national subconsciousness. This is the opposite site of the same ethos that fosters Capitalism.

According to this line of thinking: being gay is something you SHOULD control provided you CAN control it.

If you can demonstrate that you CANNOT control it--not for lack of willpower, but rather because of preternatural disposition--then you there is no moral imperative that you SHOULD control it.

Blogs like this are sweet and gentle and shouldn't be judged harshly. Nevertheless, they do participate in perpetuating a hegemonic conversation: you only have to say "I was born this way" if you accept that there is a prior framework you are responsible for appeasing.
posted by jefficator at 7:43 AM on February 23, 2011


If I begrudged them I would be over at their site making a big fuss. Instead I'm discussing it at a different site and stating why it makes me a little uncomfortable.

You've said you "have a problem with this site" and it makes you "a little unconforable" but you haven't explained why over the fact that you're straight and they're not. Seems a little grudgy to me, whether you're there or here.
posted by londonmark at 7:56 AM on February 23, 2011


Instead I'm discussing it at a different site and stating why it makes me a little uncomfortable.

well, except that you didn't say why it makes you uncomfortable outside the fact that this site that lightheartedly depicts an experience common to many thousands of people doesn't happen to address your particular brand of tortured upbringing.

Nevertheless, they do participate in perpetuating a hegemonic conversation: you only have to say "I was born this way" if you accept that there is a prior framework you are responsible for appeasing.

were it merely this, the tone of the posts would not be so proud and celebratory.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 7:57 AM on February 23, 2011


I think homophobia is, at bottom, anxiety about gender performance. It's impossible to disentangle them. Embracing a socially disapproved gender performance can therefore feel like embracing homosexuality, and acceptance of alternative gender performance can definitely signal (and lead to) comfort with homosexual practice. Discussing all of it gets complicated because you keep accidentally leaving out one of these groups: 1) people who conform to societal rules about gender performance and are heterosexual; 2) people who conform to societal rules about gender performance and are homosexual; 3) people who violate societal rules about gender performance and are heterosexual; 4) people who violate societal rules about gender performance and are homosexual.

The idea that there is a biological component to gender performance is really interesting because gender performance is so socially constructed. If we believe it's completely socially constructed, then what is the preference that non-conforming kids are expressing?
posted by prefpara at 8:17 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


You've said you "have a problem with this site" and it makes you "a little unconforable" but you haven't explained why over the fact that you're straight and they're not. Seems a little grudgy to me, whether you're there or here.

She explained that it makes her uncomfortable because (it sounds like) the overtone is that if you're a tomboy you're gay/queer. I don't necessarily agree with that idea, because I don't think that's what the blog is doing. But I'm a little uncomfortable myself, as I expressed above, with the notion that if you grow up gay you kinda maybe sorta must have shared the experience of (for instance) wanting to wear nail polish or be the Mom when you played house or dreaming of being Snow Freaking White, none of which remotely fit my own experience. I realize that this blog is just a bunch of people posting childhood photos and reminiscing. But, at the same time, there's something deeper going on here, and I don't necessarily identify with some of the stories although I also very much feel that somehow, on some level, I should. I appreciate the stories intellectually, but I never rehearsed Michael Jackson routines or had a secret crush on Speed Racer or wore a "Charlie's Angels" T-shirt to bed. So, on some level ..... yes, for me, the reading is a little uncomfortable, not because I begrudge them their childhoods or their reminiscences or their empowerment, but because I wonder why my childhood had to have been so much weirder than theirs that I had none of those experiences and still turned out 100% bona fide queer.

Is that wrong? Should I feel more in tune and "Yay, you go, gay kids!" with the blog just because I'm a gay man?
posted by blucevalo at 8:18 AM on February 23, 2011


Is that wrong? Should I feel more in tune and "Yay, you go, gay kids!" with the blog just because I'm a gay man?

It's sad for you that you can't. These people aren't saying all butch girls/effeminate boys turn out gay, they're not even saying that all gays start out like that. They're just sharing personal stories, whether it's for catharsis or celebration. There are many things in this world that I can't identify with, but people finding comfort and peace with themselves through a blog of like-minded folk shouldn't make anyone uncomfortable. Unless on a fundamental level you don't like what they are.
posted by londonmark at 8:27 AM on February 23, 2011


well, "genuinely shifting over time" doesn't say anything about CHOICE.

For the record, that was the point I'm trying to make. The two options aren't "We are born Gay or Straight" or "We choose to be gay or straight." There are other factors that may be at work.

And, in regards to the Born This Way blog, I think most of the problems people (and especially the FPP article) has with it come from the blog title and not the content. The stories are full of nuance about gender and sexuality, and are really great to read. But using "Born This Way" as the title (even though the blog owner admits it was partly because of the Lady Gaga song) seems to present a biological argument. I think the owners original title of "Gay Back In the Day" is cuter, although it still begs the question of how you can tell from a photo if someone is gay.
posted by threeturtles at 8:28 AM on February 23, 2011


If people can choose, then they can choose the sexuality option that I approve of. If people are Born That Way, then my religion's deity looks like a jerk for making people That Way, then telling them not to be That Way.
posted by theora55 at 8:35 AM on February 23, 2011


I've linked to it here before, but anyone interested in the intersection between homosexuality and gender performance, and homophobia and sexism, should read Suzanne Pharr's Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, which is available as a free download. Some of it will probably seem kind of dated, but much of it will (I hope) ring true.

I've been the way I am for as long as I can remember. My sexuality is probably the least fluid among the people I've known, and based on my experience, I'm pretty sure that I'm an outlier. But if you looked at pictures of me as a kid, you wouldn't necessarily be able to tell that I was going to grow up to be a dyke. There are pictures of me in dresses, and pictures of me dressed as a cowboy or an Indian. And that one picture of me that totally would have won a Cute Baby contest my parents entered me in except there was a can of beer in the background.
posted by rtha at 8:38 AM on February 23, 2011


Should I feel more in tune and "Yay, you go, gay kids!" with the blog just because I'm a gay man?

actually, i'm less drawn to do so because i'm gay and more because i think it's a nice change from having sites post pics of other people to make fun of, to having people post their own pics and have a sense of humor about themselves, particularly around a topic that for many is so sensitive.

there are a lot of aspects of gay experience that are not shared by all gay people. some people have a fairly easy coming-out process. some could be openly gay and not be bullied by other kids. i don't see anything about this site that disparages or negates anyone else's experiences. one could argue that they exclude those of us who don't have photographic evidence of our childhood gay cuteness, but i don't like it less because there wasn't a camera capturing me wearing bobby pins to school to keep hair out of my face, or the skirt i sewed for my teddy bear, or me studying lipsticks and perfumes at 10 because i dreamt of replacing the avon lady who was moving away. and there's nothing saying these things couldn't be the qualities of a guy who turned out straight.

but it should say something that this kind of experience is at least common enough that a lot of gay people can relate to it. a lot of my gay friends can relate to it, and the common refrain is how did i/everyone NOT know i was gay? it's not some grand statement on gender and genetics, and i think it's a stretch to try to characterize that kind of funny and even healthy retrospection as exclusionary.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 8:51 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel similarly to schmod. It may be partly because I'm a bisexual woman and, at least at this point in time, bisexuality is more common in women than in men, but I've never felt that there would be a "gay gene" or that it should matter if there is.

To put it bluntly, while I certainly understand extreme preferences one way or the other, and certainly that there would be some people who are entirely turned off by the thought of having same sex relations or opposite sex relations, I just don't see any reason to think it's usually a 100% binary thing. Historically it hasn't been; a lot of people who had gay sex had straight sex too, and there were people who were "mostly straight" that still had a gay relationship or two during their lives. And that just seems... unremarkable, or intuitive to me.

Today, though, sexual preference is such a personal identifier -- perhaps understandably, since it's become a political battle -- that people are seen as hypocrites or liars or attention whores if they say they're gay and then ever have straight sex again. Women risk getting accused of just trying to be shocking if they say they're attracted to women and then have sex with men, and bisexual men -- who, it honestly seems to me, have it worse than bisexual women in this regard -- get told they're just not gay enough, of they're too cowardly to be 100% gay, or they're fooling themselves.

But it seems to me more the opposite, that by framing it as an ingrained genetic thing, that a lot of people end up suppressing their lesser preferences altogether to better fit a binary label -- and it doesn't feel like a big deal since they are lesser preferences; if you REALLY like guys and almost never like girls, you haven't lost much -- and it's mostly people whose preferences are closer to 50-50 that go ahead and call themselves bisexual because it's not as easy to suppress the other set of preferences.

I've heard straight guys express, with utmost sincerity, that they'd actually be willing to have sex with this or that guy -- the David Bowie comments on MeFi delight me -- and I've heard all of my gay guy friends express the same thing about the odd woman here and there, too. I've heard a LOT of straight guys admit they "don't think it's even all that gay" if they were to get a blowjob or a handjob from a guy, but they never will because, well, then they'd be labeled Gay and they're far more attracted to women to want to box themselves in like that. And these aren't just closeted gay guys, seriously, they're genuinely just more straight than gay. Plenty of gay guys have even had sex with women before coming out, some of whom didn't require much mental gymnastics (i.e. imagining guys during it) to get off on it. My (female) friend told me that one of her "extremely gay" friends, well after coming out, ended up having sex with one woman because he was just really attracted to her. He almost never felt that way, he told her, but he did just then, and his other gay friends understood what he was talking about. And of course there are the rather heartbreaking stories of mostly gay guys who feel their attraction is a sin and force themselves into straight marriages and have children.

I dunno, it just seems weird to me to say some boners count and others don't, or the equivalent for women. I completely accept that a person would feel, well, sure they had sex with women in the past but they didn't like it nearly as much as they do with men. But plenty of those people liked it alright, for plenty of those people it's not like there was no attraction. When a straight person has pretty mediocre straight sex, or they experience all sex as mediocre unless they incorporate certain things, we don't start saying they're not straight. We just think, well, there were enough components present to get them aroused, but not enough to make it awesome. That's kind of commonplace, on some spectrum, whenever people have sex. We don't question a baseline level of arousal -- except apparently when it involves people straying from their usual, or stronger, sexual preference. That seems irrational to me.

So it bothers me, just a bit, the idea that there shouldn't be any flexibility or whims involved, that it would be wrong somehow if there was, because I don't see that there's really any good reason for people to feel they have to lose out on those things. If a gay guy wants to have sex with a couple women over the course of his life, and he doesn't only because he's Gay, well, that's the loss of a couple good times for no real reason. Similarly, it just seems like a waste for a straight guy to lose out on some consensual fun with another guy just because he's Straight. (I know some gay people have had bad experiences where they want a real relationship and the "straight" person just wants sex, but that's something that has to be worked out in any relationship so it seems aside the point.) A woman shouldn't miss out on something enjoyable because she's "not a lesbian" so she can't have sex with another woman when she really wants to. In a lot of cases this isn't a huge loss, but it's needless none the less.

I get why the argument has turned the way it has, because there's this idea that if it's a sin and you can act differently, then you don't have any excuse. I just hate that we still engage with the idea that it's a sin at all, because it gives that argument a false legitimacy; instead of countering with and encouraging rational thinking, we're trying to say "you can keep your irrational mindset and still be okay with gay sex." It may have served its purpose at one point, but it doesn't seem to get much traction anymore; it's ultimately the irrational mindset that's the problem, and if you give people a pass to think they can discriminate against other people just because someone or something says they should, without actually thinking it through, then they're going to use that pass -- if not on this one issue, then something else later. There are some people you can't win over, and there's a point where you lose more than you gain by trying. I think we're there, now. Yes, it's frustrating, but those people will get old and die eventually, and there will be fewer people to carry on their torch if society doesn't mewl and grovel and send the message that it's important to indulge that mindlessness, that it matters somehow, that it's a legitimate way to think.

Not to mention that something doesn't have to be genetic to be something you can't/shouldn't change or control. It's a fucking stupid argument and I feel like we're at the point where we ought to just start ignoring it, because the kind of people who still feel that way aren't the kind of people who are going to care much for scientific arguments. All it does now it needlessly box people in and encourage another kind of irrationality.

We shouldn't care if a guy was 100% straight until he turned 50 and then has sex with a guy. It wouldn't make it any more or less permissible if he liked to put on his mom's high heels as a kid. The act itself, if it's consensual, shouldn't require a greater context. It doesn't. I like the "Born this Way" stories because it's heartening to see people be themselves, and to hear how they expressed themselves when things were against them and they didn't have much power. I love to see people free and happy. But I don't take them as an argument for anything. They shouldn't have to be an argument, and I hope we stop using them as an argument soon.
posted by Nattie at 8:54 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was asexual as a kid. I can't imagine what it would mean to say I was born straight or born gay. I don't recall any sexual feelings at all, until shortly before puberty.

Since I don't remember early infancy, I guess it's possible I was a sexual baby who then became an asexual kid and then regained his sexuality as a pre-teen, but that sort of spits int he face of Occam's Razor.

As a sexual being, I fuck up all the metrics. I am 100% straight. I am so straight that I literally can't imagine what it would feel like to be attracted to another man. To me, that's as odd as being attracted to a llama. (I mean no offense by that. I'm just explaining how alien it feels to me.) I've never had even a fleeting fantasy involving another man. (The older I get, the more I regret this. It seems sort of like growing up without learning how to enjoy music or cake.)

But most of my close male friends have been gay, and I generally feel more comfortable (more at home) around gay men than straight men. I hate sports. I love Broadway musicals and Judy Garland. Etc.

When I was in college, my roommate was gay. This was back when being gay was a bigger taboo than it is now. Rumor got out that one of us was gay, and everyone assumed it was me. My roommate looked a lot more manly than me and he used to loan out his power tools. I didn't even want those tools in the same room as me, as I was scared I'd hurt myself on them.

My wife thought I was gay when she first met me.

I have come to accept that I AM gay -- except for that "being attracted to other men" part, which surely is the least important part, anyway. Right?
posted by grumblebee at 10:04 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


We've come a fair way in 20 years. Back when I was in high school, this was a BIG deal, i.e. civil-rights legislation might be dependent on proving that homosexuality was determined and not chosen. (I never got a sufficient answer to, "What if traditional US minorities had *chosen* their race at age 5. Would it be legal to treat 'white' and 'black' people differently?")

Compare that to the testimony in the Vaughn Walker hearings. Really wonderful to see, as is that Born This Way blog--I think any visual site will skew towards traditional sexual subversion, i.e. girls dressing like boys, but it does a good job of compiling individual stories.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:36 AM on February 23, 2011


londonmark: It's sad for you that you can't.

It's sad for you that you feel the need to condescend. I think that I expressed what I was feeling about the blog in a sincere way that didn't devalue it. On the other hand, you chose to snipe at me in the most patronizing way possible and to imply that I somehow "don't like" who these people are or what they represent, which is absurd to the point of risibility.

fallacy of the beard: it's not some grand statement on gender and genetics, and i think it's a stretch to try to characterize that kind of funny and even healthy retrospection as exclusionary.

I was not trying to paint the blog as exclusionary -- I was trying to say that it was not necessarily all that relatable to me, period. If I failed to convey that (even though I thought I did a pretty good job of it), so be it.
posted by blucevalo at 11:12 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I definitely hope being gay isn't genetic. If it is, we're just one century of fascist dictatorship away from having it bred out.

If it just "bred out" I'd think it would probably be rarer than it is if it existed at all, given that it's already a major reproductive disadvantage. There may be a genetic component but my guess is that the whole story isn't in your DNA.

Not that it's impossible the issue won't come up in some form or another. Maybe someone will find a way to really actually do the gay-to-straight thing. Maybe it'll be reversible and even easy—and then it will be a choice, maybe people will even do for fun or out of curiousity. How would we handle that?

Hopefully, we'll learn just not to treat people like shit over what they choose or believe, but I'm not always confident.
posted by namespan at 11:13 AM on February 23, 2011


My personal theory is that there are about equal numbers of 100% homosexual people as there are 100% hetero people (i.e. maybe 20-30%?) and the rest of us fall somewhere in between.

Kinsey got there before you.
posted by binturong at 11:20 AM on February 23, 2011


I always felt a little at odds with the more common coming out stories of my generation and the preceding generations because there was always a thread of being soft or feminine or otherwise inclined more towards girl-things than boy-things that just wasn't me.

I was always the last kid picked for the team, to the point where my gym teachers would offer a set of bonus points to the team that reluctantly picked me, but put me in a tree and I'd be at the top in five seconds. I hated sports not because I was girlish or delicate, but because doing what everyone else is doing is fucking boring. I'd ride my bike for hours on end, build stuff in the woods, swim in the creek, and otherwise be physically active, but having to learn a bunch of rules and then stand around a field while idiots play their little games just seemed like the biggest waste of time imaginable.

Nowadays, it's worse. All those kids who were picked for the team watch the rich white men's chattel playing games on TV, and buy the t-shirts because they still crave that sense of belonging. I'm still on my bike, swimming in the creek, and climbing trees, and I'm still completely confused by the need people have to lock themselves into one group or another.

My feelings were all dialed up to eleven, too, and it was easy as hell to provoke me to rage, or to tears, or to open-mouthed awe. That's still true. My parents were heroes in that regard, and my mother worked to build our outbuildings and slaughtered chickens and my father would cry when he listened to the Lt. Kije Suite and would dance to Frankie Goes To Hollywood (to my teenaged horror). It was always natural to me that you cry when you need to cry and you get down to work when you need to work.

I was a precocious queer, sexually hyperactive at an age where you're not supposed to be interested in such things, and a pornographic svengali to so many of my classmates that my high school reunion left me with a nice little smirk as former playmates introduced their wives. I was there first, Mrs. X.

I identified intensely with Pippi Longstocking and was oddly attracted to Geraldine, and had my world view changed irrevocably in 1978, when a bearded nun on roller skates crashed into me on a San Francisco sidewalk and a man dressed as a giant cookie helped me up. Gender always just felt like a plaything, I think, but my Ma dressed me, so I walked around looking like a very dirty skinny kid in hand-me-downs and homemade moccasins. I don't know how much you can tell about me from my childhood photos, other than the fact that I didn't like baths and that I managed to break my toys on Christmas morning, so there's pictures of me crying and holding broken toys from about 1971-1982. If I subscribed to the gender stereotypes, I probably would have combed my hair, but that wasn't really my thing.

My dad found it amusing that I was drawn to Shirley Maclaine's character in Sweet Charity and that I didn't understand that Flip Wilson and Geraldine were the same person, but on the whole, he was as caught off guard by my school calling to out me as everyone else I knew. I just didn't show up on people's gaydar in my youth, even to gay classmates and relatives, but my queerness goes right back to my earliest memories.

What gets me in the article is the claim that the supposed majority's statement that "it’s obvious I was gay because I broke rules of masculinity/femininity" means anything more than that gay people are acculturated to repeat the same dumb bullshit they hear stupid people say in the million years of compressed "common sense" that drowns us all like a sea of imitation maple syrup.

It was obvious to me that I was who and what I am the first time I discovered I had a dick, and even better, that half of my friends had them, too. It was obvious to me when I realized that the way my best friend's brow jutted over his nose made me feel funny inside, or when I'd look at the older neighbor kids in their cutoff jeans and half-shirts and my eyes would helplessly trace the line of that sweet treasure trail of downy fur from their navel to its secret, hidden endpoint. It was obvious to me the first time I felt a strong hand on the back of my neck, or when the guy who used to fix our Volvo picked me up and slung me up on his broad shoulders in those filthy blue coveralls.

I was queer long before I felt like experimenting with gender norms beyond the basic variants I'd explored throughout my youth, and I'm queer now, even when I'm in a sort of straight-curious phase in which I keep thinking I'd love to fool around with women to see how that variety of sexual energy works. Life's a toybox in that regard, but I am who I am, and have been so as long as I've been a being.

What's funny, though, is how off-putting it is to potential mates to mention that I wouldn't be against a little XX/XY play, because that marks me as a traitor or a self-hater. There's nothing funnier than seeing a big brutal musclebear turn up his dainty nose over the prospect of such things, almost as if you'd just said, "hey, for dinner, let's peel a rotting possum off the street and eat it!" It's mind-boggling, but we're a society that can't really abide grey areas.

Maybe I'm biased, but grey areas are my favorite.
posted by sonascope at 11:53 AM on February 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


My problem with the "Born This Way" website is that it reinforces ridiculous gender stereotypes. It seems to claim that, whether you're a guy or a girl, there is some inherent connection between lusting after dudes and wanting to wear pink frilly dresses. Or that there's some biological connection between liking to play with guns and cars and wanting to sleep with women.

Really? That's the wonderful new enlightened world gay people and their allies are helping us build?

To me, it just seems sad that someone would look back at pictures of himself as a child and say, "Ah ha! No wonder! The reason I enjoyed playing with baby dolls as a kid is because I'm attracted to dudes instead of girls!"
posted by straight at 11:59 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nattie: It's funny, the thing about bisexuality in women vs. in men. I honestly think that that's the product of gay socialization and the predominant gay paradigm of either/or ascendancy piled on top of thirty years of clumsy identity politics. In my wayward early teen years, I found bisexuality to be pretty much ubiquitous among my classmates and friends, in terms of actual experimentation and play, until they started to settle into their immutable, impermeable identity states. For all the taboos there were in the past, I think people didn't have so much of a fear of crossing those boundaries behind closed doors, because their selves weren't so encapsulated and inviolable.

It's ironic, but I think the lockstep politics of groups like the HRC and GLAAD and their more hamfisted ilk really squelched natural human sexual orientation as a broad spectrum even more than the old, ugly status quo did.

I think, though, that this is starting to change again, and not a moment too soon.
posted by sonascope at 12:03 PM on February 23, 2011


sonascope: Yeah, I've kinda wondered the same thing; it seems likely to me that people could have more fluid sexual preferences and then actually have them stamped out, not just fooling themselves or something but for real, as they hear it repeated more and more that they have to pick one or the other. I have a couple of gay friends I knew before they came out, who had some genuine attraction to women, and then the story for both went the same: they started hanging out in gay circles, saw how self-professed bisexual people were treated and gossiped about, were told they say they're bisexual but they'll change their minds... and then a couple years later they really don't feel much of any sexual attraction for women. I sometimes wonder if I would be more toward the lesbian spectrum if I had mostly hung out with lesbians, but I only knew bisexual women, gay guys, and straight people, so I never felt any real pressure to pick.

It seems to me that if one has some sexual outlet that does it well enough for them or better -- like the same sex -- and other sexual outlets aren't as compelling, then he might quit entertaining the possibility of the other outlets and they might genuinely lose their appeal after years of being out of mind, especially if one attaches negative associations to it that make it seem less worth it, e.g. losing their official Gay or Straight card, dealing with other people's reactions, etc. Why go through the trouble for something that's not a huge deal, right? Especially for someone has felt the opposite -- a really strong preference for the same sex they can't just ignore -- it wouldn't feel like a pressing, tragic thing. If it does feel like a pressing, tragic thing they deal with the baggage of labeling themselves bisexual... but just from what I've seen, a lot more people, gay or straight, do or did at one point fit that label than actually adopt it. I've also noticed that guys (and girls, to some extent) are more willing to call themselves bisexual if they don't hang out in specifically gay circles, but just rather liberal circles. I've actually never known a self-proclaimed bisexual guy that hangs out with gay guys, which seems odd just now. This is all anecdotal, of course, but it's interesting to me.

I'm heartened, too, that things seem to be headed in the right direction, though. I think partly, as homosexuality becomes more accepted, there's less of an instinct to think of others as traitors to the cause if they engage in straight sex or identify as bisexual; it's natural to feel jilted by specific people when you feel you don't have any allies, and it's natural to care less when you feel you have more allies. Then when having homosexual sex isn't anything remarkable, there'll be no real reason to suspect that bisexual people are cowardly or lying to themselves or trying to be edgy, because no one will really care.
posted by Nattie at 12:36 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


My problem with the "Born This Way" website is that it reinforces ridiculous gender stereotypes. It seems to claim that, whether you're a guy or a girl, there is some inherent connection between lusting after dudes and wanting to wear pink frilly dresses. Or that there's some biological connection between liking to play with guns and cars and wanting to sleep with women.

My problem with your problem is that (to me) the site doesn't appear to reinforce ridiculous gender stereotypes. From the first 20 entries: Michael, Guy, Matt, Dennis, Mike, Michael, Kyle, Reese, Michael, Andrew ...

These people's stories are their stories. Unless you think they are lying or the site is purposely rejecting stories that don't involve gender switching, I don't really see the problem you describe.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:38 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that I expressed what I was feeling about the blog in a sincere way that didn't devalue it.


You said you don't like the blog cos it doesn't match your experience. What's not to like? Everything has to be like you to make you comfortable? Wave and move on.
posted by londonmark at 12:49 PM on February 23, 2011


I didn't say I didn't like it. I said it made me uncomfortable. There's a difference. You should stop putting words in my mouth.
posted by blucevalo at 1:19 PM on February 23, 2011


My problem with the "Born This Way" website is that it reinforces ridiculous gender stereotypes.

why deny those roles and stereotypes exist? what's wrong with acknowledging that there is a connection between a guy wanting to wear frilly pink dresses as a kid and then liking other dudes as an adult? nobody here seems to be saying it's a foolproof predictor, but it's the kind of thing I hear from nearly all my gay friends, and which i very much relate to. gender stereotypes exist, and kids use them to express themselves. i would think the real problem is the existence of such stereotypes in a context in which one gender is considered inherently inferior to the other; that is not what is happening here.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 1:30 PM on February 23, 2011


In case you missed this comment, it's fucking awesome:

jb: "But why can't a man just be fabulous without anyone thinking that this is automatically designates what gender he sleeps with? Men should feel free to be as fabulous as they want to be -- to have shiny things, and bright colours, and overly done makeup if they want it.

Fabulosity should be allowed for everyone.
"

Anyway...

For me, it was definitely a journey to become bisexual. At first, I had elaborate rules like "Sex with men only if there's a woman involved and even then, no oral" or "It's only allowed if there are two women because that cancels out the gayness or something." But one by one, all those qualifiers dropped. Makes me laugh just thinking about it.
posted by grammar corrections at 1:33 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think there's a bit of unconscious confirmation bias built into the Born This Way blog, in that it's aimed at a gay audience, by which I mean an audience that is comfortable with the dominant interpretation of what "gay culture" represents. It'll likely be linked off of other gay-oriented blogs, or through friends on facebook, etcetera, so it's bound to represent a particular social construct and attract submission from within that construct. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and there are some great stories (and great photos) to be found there. It's just not broad enough to be a global representation, and I don't think it really pretends to be that. There's a bit of a subtle guideline in the header graphic, which contains five images, of which four are presumably examples of gender variation, but this sort of thing is rarely produced with enough time, money, or sociological rigor to be a proper scientific sampling.

The problem with the analysis by Wade, though, is a lot like the problem of social representation of jewish people, or black people, or muslim or christian people—who has a right to speak for us? Who should represent us? If people are against us, should we oppose those among our group who don't send the right message? Thorny questions, all of 'em, and probably just something that goes with the territory. One day, we'll be an evolved, enlightened species. For now, we have to fight it out and do the best we can.

Now I want to submit for that blog. I wonder if there's a limit on your word count.
posted by sonascope at 1:38 PM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Crap, the limit is 350 words, and me with all these tangential anecdotes. Dammit.
posted by sonascope at 1:40 PM on February 23, 2011


Anecdata: I was a very gay child, the pictures bear it out, stereotypes be damned. And I knew as early as 8 years old or so. I'm happy with that.
posted by Lleyam at 2:45 PM on February 23, 2011


I don't really see why the whole "born gay" thing is supposed to be an argument that will convince Christians that homosexual acts are part of God's plan. Christians also think God wants people to refrain from sex outside of marriage--have you ever heard of anyone ... ANYONE ... who argued that they were born with no desire to have sex outside of marriage, but lots of desire for sex in marriage?

The whole conversation is framed in completely the wrong way.
posted by brenton at 2:57 PM on February 23, 2011


brenton: I don't really see why the whole "born gay" thing is supposed to be an argument that will convince Christians that homosexual acts are part of God's plan.

The pendulum arguably has swung back and forth on this in the 20th century. The last round of "born this way" came in response to arguments that homosexuality was a behavioral problem caused by feminism and the sexual revolution. Especially in the 80s with the HIV epidemic, homosexuality was equated with drug abuse as a hedonistic and amoral lifestyle choice. The homosexual could, possibly with the help of psychological therapy, choose to be straight.

Of course the first half of the 20th century was loaded with attempts to treat homosexuality as a medical problem via surgery, electroshock, hormonal treatments, and, ultimately, prison, sterilization, and mass murder.

So yeah, I'm in full agreement that "born gay" isn't a panacea for anti-gay bigotry.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:06 PM on February 23, 2011


what's wrong with acknowledging that there is a connection between a guy wanting to wear frilly pink dresses as a kid and then liking other dudes as an adult? ... i would think the real problem is the existence of such stereotypes in a context in which one gender is considered inherently inferior to the other

No, it's not just about one gender (or gender role) being inferior. It's about how stereotypes become prescriptive. I should be free to wear a pink dress without people making assumptions about my sexuality.
posted by straight at 1:18 AM on February 24, 2011


what's wrong with acknowledging that there is a connection between a guy wanting to wear frilly pink dresses as a kid and then liking other dudes as an adult?

But is there a connection, really?

I'm gay, I didn't dress up in girls clothes. This blog doesn't present my experience.

There's nothing wrong with acting sissy, and nothing wrong with being gay. But this blog seems to say acting sissy "proves" you were always gay.

To me, acting sissy and being gay are two completely separate things. The same guy might do both, but one doesn't imply the other.
posted by dave99 at 3:29 AM on February 24, 2011


But why can't a man just be fabulous without anyone thinking that this is automatically designates what gender he sleeps with?

Exactly. Certainly my husband has had periods of dressing in feminine or drag-esque ways, wearing fingernail polish, etc, but I've seen people be really surprised that he is straight and yet embraces gender non-conformity. Similarly they boggle at his best friend who appears and acts "straight" or "masculine" but then mentions he was married to a man for seven years.

The two things don't necessarily have anything to do with each other and a lot of the correlation between homosexuality and gender nonconformity is either confirmation bias or the result of societal expectation.

That doesn't negate the validity of people's individual anecdotal experiences, or make them any less funny or touching. It just means that it is a bad idea to take anecdotal evidence as "proof" of anything. And correlation is not causation.

Hi, my name is threeturtles and I'm a social scientist.
posted by threeturtles at 9:37 AM on February 24, 2011


Sorry about how disorganized this is, but here are some of my thoughts about why gender performance is so bound up with sexual orientation in addition to what I said earlier:

- Openly engaging in homosexual preferences violates gender performance rules
- Violating gender performance rules is a useful way to signal sexual preference
- Gender performance rules restrict everyone in uncomfortable ways, so once you're already violating them, perhaps you feel that "in for a penny, in for a pound" feeling and reject other oppressive gender performance rules. In other words, if you're a man and you violate the "don't get fucked in the ass" rule, that's such a big deal that you might as well throw in some other bullshit like "real men don't cry" or "real men don't care about fashion" because if society is going to hate and oppress you either way, you might as well shrug off this useless burden
- As specific gender performances become associated with homosexuality, they acquire gatekeeping functions. The gay community, like all communities, tests its members for authentic belongingness, and sometimes this "are you gay enough" can take the form of "do you violate enough rules about your gender performance"
- Sexual orientation is increasingly defined as an "identity" so there's pressure to flesh out that identity and cloak it in unrelated behavioral markers

So if you have a homosexual orientation, violating gender performance rules is very attractive. Some of them don't make sense for you anyway, and the violation enables you to signal your orientation to others in your community and gain acceptance/acknowledgment of your orientation. This blog is essentially for making the statement, "I am really really gay! I am an authentic member of the gay community! My orientation is real!"

The backlash is about the negative aspects of binding up sexual orientation with gender performance.
- it marginalizes people whose sexual orientation is not accompanied by the most common gender performance, as well as bisexual people etc.
- it creates new restrictive rules about gender performance, so just when you think you've cast that shit off (if i'm fucking my girlfriend with a strap on, i might as well ignore the rule that says girls can't be construction workers too) you have these new rules that are also annoying (i have to cut my hair short???)
- it conflates sexual orientation and gender performance, which are different things, and that makes it hard for us to have this conversation
- it reinforces the creation of sexual orientation as an identity. Once you're gay, in our (US) culture that defines everything about you, which can be damaging (presumably, you have other aspects to your identity than whom you like to bang like a bass drum). You're not married, you're gay married. You're not a baker, you're a gay baker. You don't play in a band, you play in a gay band. Your novel is a gay novel. Your bar is a gay bar. Your disease is a gay disease. Etc.

I'm going to keep thinking about this.
posted by prefpara at 9:48 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


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