It’s only cute when I do it

Lord knows I’m not much of a “sports person” (which I assume is the technical term), but I do live in New Orleans, and I read a story today that got under my skin.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was asked about the ramifications of openly gay players in the NFL.  His response:

“I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted. I don’t want people to just naturally assume, oh, we’re all homophobic. That’s really not the case. Imagine if he’s the guy next to me, and you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?”


This guy.


Now, to be fair, Mr. Vilma is certainly not the first or last person to make a comment like this.  His opinion is indicative of larger societal attitudes about both homosexuality and sexual assault.

But first, I’d like to address the buck-passing to which we’ve become so accustomed in his first sentence.  “I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted. ”  The implication here is that the acceptance of an openly gay player is completely out of his hands.  If Mr. Vilma is, himself, not a homophobe, he could do as a few other NFL players have done encourage his teammates in the process of accepting a gay player.  But this kind of “I have a black friend so I’m not racist” bullshit is at this point a well-worn strategy.  It allows him (and others) to couch his own clear homophobia in a statement about the team as a whole.  This is especially obvious because in the next sentence he goes out of his way to challenge the idea that football players are homophobic.

And he’s right.  Football players are not inherently homophobic.  Kris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo have both come out as strong allies for LGBTQ rights, allegedly costing Kluwe his job.  They are not homophobic, at least not more than anyone else raised in our society.  But Mr. Vilma, you sir, are homophobic.  And do you know how I can tell?  Because you think we’re all rapists.  And do you know how else I can tell?  Your preconceived notions of what “a gay” looks like are so narrow and stereotyped that it’s apparently never occurred to you that you have almost certainly already shared a locker room with gay men.

Mr. Vilma is not alone in his gay = sexual predator “thinking.”  The culture has done such an excellent job of painting non-heterosexual people as hypersexual, predators, and even pedophiles that it is hardly surprising that he’s apparently bought into this line of thinking.  This is hardly a new discussion, and I have to believe that somewhere, in his heart of hearts, he’s knows this isn’t true.  I think quotes like:

“Imagine if he’s the guy next to me, and you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?”

have less to do with being scared of a gay guy looking at him funny and more to do with this amazing cartoon from Slate that went viral this morning:

homophobia cartoon

The article that accompanies this cartoon (click the cartoon to read it) asks “Does homophobia come from sexism?”  The answer, in my opinion, is a resounding “yes!”  You see, straight men are the only people are allowed to be upset about being objectified.  The very thought that there might be some secret gay in the locker room threatens the relationships that keep men hegemonically in control.

This is not to trivialize sexual assault.  Mr. Vilma is doing a bang-up job of that himself.  Sexual assault is a serious and systemic issue and the very idea that Mr. Vilma is even tacitly equating it to someone “happening” to look at him in the locker room exhibits a level of privilege that is unavailable to anybody who isn’t a straight a man.

How are you supposed to respond, Mr. Vilma?  If someone, anyone, gay or straight, is looking at you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you should ask them to stop.  If they do not, and they are your coworker, you should speak to your boss and get the situation resolved.  This a fairly straight-forward process.  But I’d bet money that isn’t going to happen.

First, because if you’ve made it to the locker room of the New Orleans Saints, my bet is that it’s probably not the first locker room you’ve ever seen.

But secondly, because most gay men aren’t sexual predators.  To be clear, most straight men are also not sexual predators.  But what Mr. Vilma is taking for granted is that any gay man who has made it to the New Orleans Saints locker room has also spent his entire life studiously NOT looking at the bodies of the other players.  Not because he can’t control himself, and not because he even necessarily finds any of the players attractive.  But because we still live in a society where if anybody were to perceive that player looking in a sexual manner at another player, his career and his life might actually be at risk.

But none of this is actually your discomfort with someone looking at you.  It’s about your discomfort with gay people.  If the very thought of someone accidentally looking at you naked makes you question how you should react, I would suggest you find a career that doesn’t involve quite so much group nudity or invest now a quality pair of jorts.  Here I’m thinking…virtually every job except professional athlete.

And if the possible objectification of bodies is so morally repugnant to you, I assume you’ll also soon be speaking out against this:

NFL: JAN 16 NFC Divisional Playoff - Cardinals at Saints

But the bottom line is, we all know you’re not really worried about being oggled in the locker room.  That is the sort of thing homophobes say when they need to justify their prejudice.  What you’re worried about is surrendering your power and your privilege to someone who you’ve deemed “less than.”  But you don’t have to worry.  Comments like yours create such a climate of homophobia and fear that you’ll continue to keep thousands of young men, like I once was, out of sports to begin with.  And those who do make it to the Saints locker room will be too scared to look at you, whether they want to or not.

Gays in the mist: why your “gaydar” is problematic


Today, over drinks, I was talking with a friend about online dating.  I’m personally partial to online dating for two reasons. 1) Talking to strangers is hard and 2) it takes a lot of the guesswork out the equation for queer people.

As we have discussed here briefly before, public space is heterosexual by default.  We need look no further for evidence of this than rainbow flags and “safe space” stickers on queer (or queer friendly) businesses.  While these spaces are crucial for many queer people, their very existence serves to reinforce the unspoken heterosexuality of the un-marked spaces around them.

In the course of the conversation, my friend asked if I could “tell” when someone in a room was gay.  The short answer is, to some extent, I think that I can.  The idea of “gaydar” is pretty well entrenched in both gay culture and the mainstream at this point.  Regardless, I don’t think it’s so cut-and-dried.  I don’t think I can tell who every gay guy in the room is.  My response was something like “I think I can sometimes tell, but there are probably gay guys here that I wouldn’t guess were gay.”  Fortuitously, when I got home, I saw this video:


Click to watch the full video

I really recommend you watch the whole thing.  I’ll wait.

So, that happened.  I honestly don’t even know where to start with this video.  First and foremost, I guess what bothers me about the whole “gaydar” debate is that I’m not really sure why it’s important to anyone who isn’t gay.  Unfortunately, we live in a world where hitting on the wrong person can get you killed, and I so don’t blame my queer family for wanting a leg up on the situation.  Why anybody who identifies as straight would want or need to know if stranger is gay, however, is beyond me.  It occurs to me that this is either:

a) an extension of our recent cultural obsession with the lives of total strangers
b) a way to reinforce one’s own hegemonic masculinity in comparison to a stranger
c) a justification for micro and macro aggressions against queer people or
d) all of the above

Nonetheless, it would appear that it is, for whatever, important to this blogger, Mark Miller, and his “professional straight man” guest to figure out exactly how and why he does, or does not, have gaydar.

We open on a charming on a charming rendition of “What, what, in the butt,” because nothing says “I’m still one of the guys” like satirizing a stigmatized sex act in which you most likely participate.

I think what most bothers me about this video is that it’s one more way in which my sexual identity gets to be all about straight white men.  Nothing’s ever about straight white men, so I’m glad they’re finally getting their day in the sun.  From the very beginning, it’s clear that Miller is either still really uncomfortable with his own identity (which is totally valid, and everybody gets to make that trip in their own time) or is specifically pandering to his straight best friend.  Instead of saying, “A year ago, I come out to my roommate about identifying as gay,” he says

“A year ago, he found out that I don’t like chicks”

Let’s just parse this out.  First, he “found out”?  Was there some sort of investigation?  Secondly, there are plenty of ways to express your gay identity that don’t involve the overt misogyny of referring to women as “chicks.”  Finally, “not liking chicks” doesn’t make you gay.  You also have to “like dudes.”

But don’t worry, the straight white man-splaining is just getting warmed up.  We’re then treated to Miller’s guest’s opinion that, until you’re close to a gay person

“…it’s like, it doesn’t really exist.  Like it exists but like, you don’t really notice it.”

You heard it here first, gays.  Until this one straight guy discovered a covert gay living in his very house, homosexuality itself did not exist.

That’s maybe not what irks me the most about this quote though.  Yes, it is ridiculous that this guy thinks because he’s not conscious of a group of people, they don’t exist.  What bothers me most is that, as any swishy former theater kid can tell you, straight identified men often have the best. gaydar. ever.  Nobody is better at picking up on non-hegemonic masculinity than a person whose entire identity as a “straight dude” depends on the existence of an other.  Straight masculinity as we know it today is entirely contingent on the existence and identification of men who do not conform to the ideal.

“DJ Donny D,” apparently not content with just ripping off hip-hop culture, then goes on to tell us the four characteristics that trigger his gaydar which, remember, 30 seconds ago Miller established that straight guys don’t have.  For those who didn’t make it through the whole video, allow me to enlighten you.  You too may spot a gay in your very midst.

1. Really clean-cut hair
2. Really in shape
3. Too small clothes (gripping of the arms)

and apparently the biggest giveaway

4. How they talk

It’s hard to know where to start here, because there’s just so much to say.  I just got my hair cut on Friday, and it didn’t even occur to me to assume that every. single. person. at the salon was gay.  How silly of me!

For those who watched the video, you’ll remember that the comment about being “really in shape” was made at the gym.  Apparently straight men are supposed to go to the gym but just be really bad it?

Donny, as I assume (but to be fair, do not know) his mother actually named him, uses his own “straight” clothes to talk about the tell-tale “gripping of the arms” that makes a T-shirt gay (unless it’s on Donny, I guess?)

Nonetheless, and according to Donny we’re all in agreement on this, we’re told that gays just talk gay.  In the outtakes, Miller gives the example of saying “That’s so Gucci.”  Uh-huh.

This video makes a few things abundantly clear.  A certain segment of gay culture, the kind of “hot gays” you see on TV with their six-packs, and brand-name clothes, fits perfectly within the consumerism of which our culture has become so enamored.  We see this at the very end of the video when DJ Jazzy Jeff tells us that

“I’m what they call metro, where you dress like you’re gay but you’re not gay.  You love women but you like to look good.”

No, Donny.  You don’t look “good” –by your own definition, you look “gay.”  You’d set off your own gaydar.  You’re just able to disguise your co-opting of “everything but the hard parts” of being gay as consumerism, a value held extremely dear by our culture.

Beyond this, though, the video drives home another, bigger point.  Gaydar is not actually about knowing who’s gay and who isn’t, as if we ever truly could.  Maybe for queer people, this is part of the idea.  But straight people, especially straight men, have no reason to know or care who’s gay.  They are, and we all are, policing masculinity.  Donny can’t know somebody is gay any more than I can.  What he can know is how much that person deviates from his own ideas of acceptable masculinity.  And as a straight guy, not only can he know, he must know.  Especially in an age where the performative lines between gay and straight are increasingly blurring, his very identity as a “straight dude” depends on his ability to point out the other.

Thank God his roommate gave him the chance.

B. Scott, B. yourself!

In the past few days, the drama surrounding B. Scott‘s correspondent duties for the 2013 BET awards has reignited with the leak of a series of internal BET e-mails.


In a nutshell (although I suggest you check out the links above) B. Scott is trans* person who first became famous on the Internet and than transitioned into the mainstream.  He uses masculine pronouns while dressing in a “feminine” manner.  BET asked him to be a “Style Stage Correspondent” for the 2013 BET awards.  The day of the awards show, BET demanded that he change from his previously approved wardrobe into more “masculine” clothing and, even after he complied, drastically reduced his role in the show and time on camera (it should be noted that BET had worked with B. Scott on two previous occasions without questioning his wardrobe).  They, at the time, claimed that it was because he arrived late to the event.

before after b scott

Before and After at the 2013 BET Awards

The recently leaked e-mails not only prove that allegations of lateness were false, but that BET planned to discriminate against B. Scott well before the event actually took place.

“I don’t want ‘looking like a woman’ B. Scott,” BET music programming president Stephen Hill allegedly wrote before the June 30 awards show, according to emails obtained by TMZ. “I want tempered B. Scott.”

The network’s vice president, Rhonda Cohen, reportedly replied, “I can speak to him about being less ‘womanly.'”

After Scott made public his allegations of discrimination, BET’s vice president of digital marketing, Monique Ware, evidently advised her colleagues on how to “spin” the controversy, according to another email reviewed by TMZ. 

“The spin should be he was late for a live show and subsequently replaced and it would have been awkward in a live show to have the person assuming his role removed and him inserted,” Ware reportedly wrote.

But then the email suggests that such a “spin” might not be the whole truth: “Unless we can make public the reason we didn’t want him dressed the way he normally does, I would stay away from suits, suit selections, etc.” (from The Advocate.)

Let’s unpack this, because there’s a lot going on here.  Historically, both trans* people and people of color have been pushed to the margins of the LGBTQ community, and we can’t have this conversation without acknowledging that uncomfortable truth.  Today’s LGBTQ movement, at least in this country, is largely the domain of white, gender-conforming gay men.  This has created an (erroneous) idea that there is no overlap between the Black and LGBTQ communities, completely negating the realities of countless queer people of color.

First, let me make it clear that I am neither trans* nor Black.  This entry does not claim to speak for members of these communities but rather to look at this incident as evidence of larger societal issues.  I look forward to feedback from people who know more than I do about the daily lives of trans* people of color in the comments section.

A person like B. Scott causes so much scandal because he refuses to fit anywhere.  His gender identity does not conform to the binary, as evidenced by his choice to use masculine pronouns.  He refuses to be “all the way” male or “all the way” female.  While this sort of queering of gender is subversive in any almost any US context, it is perhaps exceptionally so at the BET awards.  Much of modern hip-hop culture is bound up in ideas of hyper-masculinity, performed through styles of dress, styles of speech, and a discourse of hyper-sexuality directed at women.  Hip-hop masculinity (as well as masculinity in general) has a lot invested in the idea of the gender binary and heteronormativity.

“Ok,” you say, “But that’s hardly news.”  You’re right.  Normative masculinity is always threatened by non-normative gender and sexual identities regardless of racial context.  Nonetheless, one of the things that is especially distressing about this particular case is precisely the racial context in which it plays out.  As mentioned above, people of color are often made to feel unwelcome in the “mainstream” (read: rich and white) LGBTQ community.  And, it would appear that B. Scott and people like him are equally unwelcome at the BET awards.  While we should certainly not take the BET Awards as the definitive measure of “acceptable behavior” in Black culture, such a highly publicized incident at such a highly publicized event will, inevitably, send a message to the people watching that broadcast.

I can’t help but wonder where the future B. Scotts, clandestinely watching the BET Awards in their mothers’ high heels, are going to feel that they belong.  The onus is on ALL of us to make those little queer kids feel welcomed, loved, and supported.  This effort has to come just as much from white LGBTQ culture as it has to come from BET.  It’s up to white LGBTQ people to work to create spaces in which racial diversity is not only accepted by sought after.  This does not mean inviting people into white spaces.  It means completely rethinking queer spaces and working together with people of color to build them from the ground up.

And it’s also up to BET to work to show its audience a world in which a person like B. Scott is not only accepted by embraced as a whole person, not in spite of his differences but because of them.  A media platform like BET has the potential to show millions of people that Black and queer are not mutually exclusive.

But this problem is bigger than BET, and the racial divisions in the LGBTQ community, it’s bigger than hip-hop masculinity.  What I find most distressing about all of this is that, while it’s clear that BET behaved atrociously, and most likely conspired to both humiliate and discriminate against B. Scott, it’s not actually clear that they did anything illegal.  As federal non-discrimination legislation currently stands, we are offered NO protection from employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexuality.  ENDA has only finally come to a vote in Congress after being introduced virtually every year since 1994.  I don’t claim to know the legalities of B. Scott’s particular case, but if he is capable of making a successful employment discrimination claim, he is one of the lucky ones.

We live in a country where it is, federally, entirely legal to look someone in the face and fire them for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans*.  Beyond what tacit and overt messages of discrimination may be sent by BET, or the white-dominated LGBTQ movement, or by anybody else, our own government is overtly putting its stamp of approval on anti-LGBTQ violence.  And make no mistake, folks.  Work-place discrimination is violence.  Being rendered unemployable on the basis of your very being is violence.  Being denied the possibility of gainful employment and then being villanized for using public assistance is violence.

So, while I think BET deserves to pay through the nose for their discrimination, that won’t be enough.  Even if this one event is the flashpoint for a whole new era of LGBTQ inclusive BET programing, and even if the insular white-dominated LGBTQ community miraculously opens itself up to welcome and validate the lived experiences of all our of brothers and sisters, it will not be enough.

That little boy in his mother’s heels will need a lot of things.  He’ll need support, love, and acceptance.  He’ll need to grow up knowing that he’s special, not strange.  But even if he has all of that, and I hope that he does, he’s going to need one more thing: a job.

Look who’s paying for dinner

There's a lot goin' on here

There’s a lot goin’ on here…

I have a complicated relationship with OkCupid.  Unfortunately, I also have a complicated relationship with being able to speak to strangers that I would possibly like to sleep with.  You see the tension.  My general pattern with online dating, since I first started in college, is to go on 3-5 dates in a month, occasionally landing some sort of short-term boyfriend equivalent, get frustrated, and ignore it for 6 months.  True to form, this is exactly what I’ve been doing, and the 6 months are up.  So, I’m delving once more into the world of online dating.  Everything looks its typical rosy at the moment, and I am by no means nervous about the process anymore, except for one small paralyzing question.


Who. Pays?


I know, I know, we’re not supposed to think about these things anymore.  It’s the ’90s or something.  But this a question that straight people ask me all. the. time.  So, why don’t I know the answer?

Bear in mind that gay kids don’t grow up getting a lot of practice on the dating scene.  A recently out gay guy may have the body, credit card, and access to alcohol of an adult, but the dating experience of a 7th grader.  This is not helped by the fact that we grow up with the same gender expectations as the rest of you.  There is no script for a date between two men or two women, or at least not one that permeates culture in the way the straight script does.  And as much today’s ladies and gents may rail against these same gender-based expectations, the fact remains that they exist which, while still problematic, serves as a paradoxically reassuring parachute in the event that social anxiety gets the best of you.

Unfortunately, my personal perception is that many same-sex dates fall back on the straight script, even though it is arguably inapplicable.  Lacking the gendered bodies on which to reproduce the script, we’re left with nothing but the power dynamics of gender and dating laid bare.

There is a clear dominance implied in paying for any date, especially a first date, straight or otherwise.  This is perhaps even more problematic on a same-sex date, because it can feel more like a fight for dominance than a genuine gesture.  This is because on a straight date, this power struggle can be masked as “chivalry,” even viewed as correct by many women who would not accept such blatant male domination in any other arena of their lives.

But the problem is also about financial dominance.  The power inherent in money goes beyond who controls how many mozzarella sticks you buy (only acceptable answer, all of them.)  Our notions of dating are so inherently bound up in money that no matter which financial path we take, we cannot avoid sending a message.  The way I see it, there are three options.

1. I pay – If I pay, a couple of messages are sent.  First, I’m in control of the date.  This, as discussed above, is perhaps even weirder in the gay community where, like it or not, there is often a competition to see who can be the more “masculine” gay.  Without the guise of chivalry, the power dynamic is all that remains.  In the same way that a straight guy may feel “emasculated” by his female date picking up the check, the gay guy who doesn’t pay may feel similarly like he has lost the phallic sword-fight.  Our notions of masculinity are, it would seem, bound up in capitalism.

The second message I send when I pay is that I’m in control of what happens after the date.  It seems to me that, especially for non-straight male actors, allowing the other person to pay is a tacit acknowledgement that sex, or some form of intimacy, is on the table.  This is perhaps indicative of the male privilege of assuming sex is always on the table until taken off, prevalent among both straight and non-straight men.

2. You pay– Conversely, if I let you pay, you might think the same things of me.  It feels to me like if I let you pay, I’m telling you that I’m willing to go home with you.  As already stated, I’m not only ceding power to you, I may be ceding my masculinity to you which, unfortunately, may have very real ramifications for how you treat me in the future.  This is further complicated by the fact that I am a grad student and not above a free meal.

3. We split the check– In an ideal world, this probably the best option, right?  Unfortunately, insisting on splitting the check would seem to send the message that intimacy is off the table, and there might not be a second date.  This is especially unfortunate in situations in which one would both like to split the check and continue the evening.  Splitting the check says, to me, this date is probably over.

As much as I hope these dynamics make us uncomfortable, I don’t think my personal perceptions of this situation are far off the mark, and we are all guilty of producing and reproducing them.  What does it mean to live in a society in which monetary transactions can serve as a stand-in for sexual consent?  (NOTE: This is not to imply that money IS consent.  Rape culture is real, and nothing is consent but consent.  I only mean to imply that, due to the existence of rape culture, financial acquiescence may be interpreted as sexual acquiescence.)

So, you ask…who pays?  I don’t know.  But the way I see it, we’ve got two options, and they’re not just for the gays.

1. Straights can continue to allow money to communicate their sexual desires for them, and the rest of us can emulate them as best we can.  We can continue to increase the already increeeedible awkwardness of first dates by refusing to talk ground rules.


2. We (the everybody kind of “we”) can start to work toward a society in which we can actually talk about these things on (or before) the date.  What would a world look like in which I could let you pay and not make out with you?

OR pay for you, out of a genuine instinct to be nice, and not spend the rest of the evening looking for clues that we’re going to have to sex?

OR, conversely, what would it look like to split the check like two job-having adults and then go home and make out like two unemployed teenagers?

OR, what if before we even met we could say “Hey, I always split the check on first dates, but don’t take that as a sign that I don’t like you.”?

I don’t know about you, but option 2 sounds a lot better to me.  Unfortunately, it implies not only learning to talk about money, but learning to talk about sex and intimacy.  Our culture essentializes sex so much that a sexual “rejection” can only be viewed as a rejection of that entire person.  Paradoxically, it’s also so puritanical that too overt an interest in sex, even on a date, can be viewed as a sign of “sluttiness” or “looseness,” which might mean you’re “not relationship material.”  Why can’t we just say, and mean it, “You’re great, but I don’t want to have sex with you?” or “Hey, that was a really fun date, do you want to have some sex?”

I know, I know.  It’s hard.  It’s awkward.  But is it any more awkward than the continual guessing game that is a first date?  Just so we’re clear, I don’t claim to be there yet myself, either.  I will undoubtedly continue to sweat profusely when the waiter asks if we’d like the check.  But until we start having these conversations in a frank and non-earth-shattering manner, we’ll all have to keep wondering who pays.