Dec 22, 2012

On Being a Gay Statistician

I just read this great article on Huffpost by Guy Branum, and it resonated strongly with my own feelings on this subject. You should definitely read the whole thing, but here is a bit of it:

I had no clue Silver was gay. He's got a nice, interchangeably Jewish name, which, in the context of politics and journalism, just seemed normal. Therefore, I assumed he was "normal" for that job in most other ways: mid-50s, white, heterosexual.

But he's not. He's 34 and gay, which is awesome. The "Out 100" has, for most of its history, been dominated by performers (most of whom came out well into their careers) and activists working to promote gay rights -- professional gays or folks in gay professons. So now, at long last, we have a dude who's doing something unrelated to homosexuality who killed it this year. Good for us, no?

Well, no, actually. "To my friends, I'm kind of sexually gay but ethnically straight," Silver says in the Out feature. He is also said to consider "gay conformity as perfidious as straight conformity."


So why the refusal by many, gay and straight, to define gay men and women as a culture or subculture?

When I was 17, like a good, politically minded Jewish boy, I read Benjamin Netanyahu's book A Place Among the Nations. In it he explained that the Palestinians were not a people, just Jordanian tenant farmers with no distinct culture. I believed him. Then, a few years later, I was reading an article from Germany in the 19th century that explained that Yiddish wasn't a real language, just corrupted German, a jargon. I started to realize that denying the existence of a culture is a really great way of denying the needs of that culture. Yiddish isn't the language of a people, just bad German. Palestinians aren't a distinct culture, just some people who should move out of Israel. Gay bars and Grindr aren't the cultural tools of a people, just trashy behavior.

Keeping gays from identifying as a group is a great way of keeping us from supporting each other and our rights. But even the people who would deny our rights still acknowledge that we have shared culture. Any schoolyard bully or gender policing frat boy knows what a fag is. We have litanies of stereotypes for "fags" and "dykes," and they're just all kinda bad. So we want to define homosexuality as an act, define a culture associated with homosexuality, but insist upon the right of people committing homosexual acts to distance themselves from that culture.

The article may use Nate Silver as an example, but it addresses a much broader problem. I have encountered this many times. The assumption that "gay" is an identification and not identity, that it is a culture you could opt out of, instead of a minority you belong to. It is very clear to me that we are the most self-harming group of people in the history of mankind, because it is possible for us to "pass", to hide who we are, and we do it constantly because we are taught from birth that "gay" = "less than straight". The result? Teen suicides, identity issues going well into adulthood, and a slow progress of gay rights due to the fact that a good two thirds of our community are either in the closet, or ashamed of it and distancing themselves from it.

It has been our greatest weakness that we are able to escape who we are as a group. Black people can't pass, and neither can women or Hispanics. They are who they are, and because they can't be in a closet, they have had to face it, deal with it and grow strong in the process. Yet so many gays still treat homosexuality as something to be ashamed of and hide, try to escape any labeling if they can, and will be the first to denounce gay culture, as if it is a fixed thing that - once branded with it - changes everything about you. When the truth is we ARE gay culture. What we do is gay culture because we are gay. And if we want to not be defined by being gay, we should teach the world - and apparently ourselves - that gay can be anything we decide it to be.

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