Here’s a piece I did for The Prospect sharing my experience coming out as bisexual six years ago:
One such study, released in 2005, came out a few months before I did. The New York Times headline blared, “Gay, Straight, or Lying?” I hadn’t told the person who showed me the article—or anyone else, for that matter—that I was wrestling with my own sexuality. I had promised myself that I would use my last year of college to figure out what my deal was. Seeing that article reinforced a fear that, however dishonest it may have been to portray myself as a gay-friendly straight guy, there was nothing I could say about my identity that would be both honest and perceived as such.
The piece discusses how suspicion of bisexuality is hurting the LGBT community. Check it out.
Monday Daniel Denvir wrote an excellent takedown of the journalists attacking Jose Antonio Vargas for the crime of Reporting While Undocumented. Vargas came out as an undocumented American in a New York Times piece last week. What I find most striking about the attacks on Vargas is the tension they reveal on the boundaries of perceived American normalcy.
Take this Romenesko piece published last week: “Vargas wrote at least 4 stories about immigration for San Francisco Chronicle, not 1.” The alleged offense is that Vargas continued writing about immigration and undocumented immigrants after, according to his editor, he had said he would stop to avoid a conflict of interest. Romenesko is run by the Poynter Institute, which exists “to ensure that our communities have access to excellent journalism—the kind of journalism that enables us to participate fully and effectively in our democracy.” Rather than counting how many times an undocumented immigrant wrote about other undocumented immigrants, it would be more interesting to see them explain what problem – if any – they think readers should have with it.
Alyssa’s post this week on Game of Thrones inspired me to dredge up a 2005 post I wrote on differences between the approaches liberals and conservatives bring to media criticism:
Is the problem what kind of behaviors and images are shown on TV, or what kind of ideology is advanced there? Do we care what the media exposes or what it endorses?
My original post is here. This led Alek to post a thoughtful response in the comments here. I don’t think Alek and I are too far apart on this.
I also want “a simple policy of letting media creators both expose and endorse whatever they want.” I don’t believe in obscenity laws (or the overturned ban on depicting animal cruelty, or libel laws for that matter). That’s why I started the post staking out my disagreement with Rick Santorum’s view that “if it’s legal, it must be right…it must be moral” (and thus if it isn’t moral, it shouldn’t be legal). But we should still talk about the stuff they’re creating, right?
That last post draw a bunch of comments, mostly thanks to Michael J.W. Stickings’ link from Crooks and Liars (thanks!). A few favorites:
Alek Felstiner posted on Facebook:
This is why Tim Bayliss was such an uncomfortable character for everyone else on Homicide. I think, related to your point about lesbianism not being “sex,” there’s a sense in which male homosexuality is contaminant (except perhaps, notably, in prison, where the concept of masculinity is by necessity revised, and that revision recognized and tolerated on the outside), whereas female homosexuality is tangential and easily disregarded – if not encouraged and fantasized-over.
I make that point because most narratives, especially on TV, are about redemption. Ending up in a heteronormative relationship is a satisfactory conclusion for a mainstream American audience, but it only really works if it’s a woman (who finally finds the right man). A bisexual man eventually finding the right woman doesn’t offer the same narrative closure, because he’s already been “contaminated.
My friend Alyssa Rosenberg has teamed up with Lux Alptraum to start a new site, Pop Culture Pen Pals, and they’ve kicked it off with a great exchange on the impoverished portrayals (or lack thereof) of bisexual or sexually fluid characters on TV. As Alyssa writes:
As long as studios are anxiously divining what audiences want, and audiences don’t know what they want from queer characters, no one’s going to pay attention to what realistic, deeply sketched queer characters themselves might actually want.
It’s a thought-provoking – and agitating – discussion, and I agree with most of what they each have to say. One dimension I’d be interested to hear them take on is gender. TV characters that aren’t exclusively hetero or homosexual are few and far between – but the ones that we do see tend to be women rather than men. In GLAAD’s survey of LGBT characters on Network TV, the LGBT male characters were all homosexual (14 to 0); the LGBT female characters were mostly bisexual (7 to 2). The number’s were more balanced on cable, but the pattern was the same.
Why is this? There are a lot of potential explanations. The (overlapping) ones I’m drawn to are all downers.
The past week’s Slate Culturefest podcast had an interesting discussion of what Ricky Martin coming out suggests about progress in gay male celebrities’ ability to come out of the closet (what it’s like for women is of course an equally complex topic), but I think it’s too too sanguine about how far we’ve come. I’m glad that at the end of his career, Ricky Martin finally feels free to share who he is, but as they discuss, he’s made a point of evading it with reporters in the past (to the point of talking to reporters about ex-girlfriends) in a way that makes it hard to read the timing as coincidental – unfortunately I think it says more about the maturation of his career than the maturation of our culture.
It’s great to see Neil Patrick Harris’ success, and like Martin’s choice to come out it’s a sign of progress, but it’s also bounded progress – there’s a big difference between an openly gay guy playing a hetero-lothario stereotype in a TV sitcom and a gay guy playing a hetero romantic lead.
And the culturefesters got the chronology wrong on T.R. Knight – he didn’t come out until after his co-worker called him a “faggot.” Speaking of which, in googling to confirm that I found Knight’s quote about it:
I’ve never been called that to my face. So I think when that happened, something shifted, and it became bigger than myself…I could’ve just let it slide and not said anything, but it became important. It became important to make the statement.
It may be Knight really came out because he thought the story would get out anyway, but his quote rings more true to me than the things people are expected to say to the effect that it’s no big deal and the issue just never came up before – which as the culturefesters note, tends to have a real ring of protesting too much. I suspect the motivation for celebrities to stick with these “oh by the way” coming-out statements is some combination of not wanting to say you were concealing anything before and not wanting to suggest your hetero colleagues (or fans for that matter) are complicit in creating a homophobic environment that makes people worry how coming out would affect your career.
“Honorable” Mention: Dove: Men + Care – This one got edged (barely) out of the misogyny top 5 because instead of going full-on essentialist it acknowledges that guys suffer from being socialized not to show the “sensitive side.” But you’ve still got the man saving the family from a bad tire while his ungrateful wife waits in the car – and the general “Life is harder cause you’re a man, but you triumph cause you’re a man” shtick.
#5: Dockers: Men Without Pants – What’s become of our society? If the men don’t “wear the pants” are we doomed to wander the fields forever? Have the trappings of modern civilization collapsed because of insufficiently dominant men, or have they just been abandoned?
#4: Mars’ Snickers: You’re Not You When You’re Hungry – Hunger makes young men play sports like old women. Get it?
#3: Bridgestone: Your Tires or Your Life – This time the wife gets thrown out of the car as bad-guy-bait so our protagonist can save his tires. “Man’s best friend” etc.
#2: FloTV: Injury Report – Like the pantless guys in the field, without the subtlety. A man who fails to boss his woman around enough might as well be wounded, or a woman (same thing?). Like the Moynihan Report, just less racist and more homophobic.
#1: Chrysler: Dodge Charger – The most interesting thing about this one is the way, like the Fight Club guy, it grafts a free spirit anti-corporate message onto a macho anti-woman one. Your wife is another boss, women crush men’s spirits etc. And don’t you want your wife to be civil to your mother?