The death of gaydar? Not so fast, Mary

In a rather angry piece over at Salon, Daniel D’Addario savages Dan Savage and me, among others, for our “quasi-outing” of anti-gay GOP Congressman Aaron Schock.

D’Addario claims he doesn’t necessarily oppose outing.  Rather, he opposes any attempt to deduce one’s sexual orientation short of catching them in the sack in flagrante delicto.

gayness-seen-from-spaceD’Addario, whether he directly admits it or not, has a problem with the notion of “gaydar” – the ability to discern some else’s sexual orientation by small signals not always obvious to the common man.  And D’Addaorio isn’t alone.  Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed was quoted this morning making a similar claim about how wrong it was to attempt to deduce if Cong. Schock was gay based on his pants, or the way he speaks, or whether he’s bff on Twitter with a gay “personal trainer” who pines to do a gay porn film and then summarily deletes his account when the connection to Schock goes public.

Not gay, say D’Addaorio and Geidner.  Not very “heterosexual anti-gay Republican congressman” either, say I.

But it’s not just them.  There’s been a slowly-growing trend for a while now, often by younger gays, but not always, to suggest that gaydar not only does not exist, but that the very notion of it is offensive and constitutes “bullying.”


First Geidner, then D’Addario.  Here’s Geidner:

[A] group of several gay journalists and activists on Twitter — including Dan SavageMichelangelo SignorileJohn Aravosis and Josh Barro — have decided that mocking Schock for exhibiting stereotypically gay attributes, like caring about his clothes and body, or following Daley on Instagram is the way of dealing with him. This is the same sort of behavior that the same people have said is harmful when it happens to closeted LGBT kids in schools. And, when I look at this happening publicly, I know that those closeted kids could be seeing it too. If it’s harmful for those kids to see athletes say anti-LGBT things, how isn’t it harmful for them to see prominent out people teasing Schock for his pants?

I dealt with the ridiculous suggestion, that mocking a congressman’s clothing is akin to punching a teenage lesbian in the face, here. And will deal in a moment with Geidner’s suggestion that you can never draw any inference about someone’s sexual orientation by the way they dress.

Here’s D’Addario:

This is nothing new; Dan Savage, three months before starting the It Gets Better project, called Schock’s clothing “flaming.”

Schock’s clothing is flaming.

aaron-schock-white-house-clothes aaron-schock-plaid-pants-smalker

And Dan and I and others don’t find Schock’s absurdly-gay clothing funny because gay stuff is funny.  We were mocking how terrible Schock’s taste in clothing is – I mean seriously, that belt and those tight pants – and, more importantly, we were mocking the irony of a 100% anti-gay congressman dressing like a 100% (albeit smalltown) gay.

D’Addario continues:

Outing is important — still. In the case of politicians, it can expose hypocrisy like that of Schock’s consistent votes against gay marriage equality… were Schock gay. But a different sort of hypocrisy has been exposed by tittering gay journalists, a group of people who took a break from describing just how awful bullying is to mock perceived effeminacy and vanity.

aaron-schock-men's-healthNo one mocked anyone’s effeminacy.  Noting effeminacy as one component of a larger picture that informs one’s gaydar is not “mockery.”  It’s a simple fact that often, but not always, paints a portion of the larger picture.  As for vanity, hell yeah we mocked Aaron’s Schock’s vanity.  What sane member of Congress poses for muscle magazines, and seems to have an endless supply of glamour shots to post on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and beyond? And last time I checked, vanity was not a virtue.

Is being gay just about sex?

D’Addario continues:

The liberal AMERICAblog ran a list of Schock’s “gayest” Instagram photos (none of which depict him having homosexual sex, the thing that makes a person gay).

Woah, just a second there, Mary.  The only way to figure out if someone is gay is by finding a picture of them having “homosexual sex”?  (Not to mention, “homosexual sex” – what is this, the 1950s?)  You mean if, hypothetically speaking, Aaron Schock’s only Facebook friends were 1,000 gay male hustlers, that wouldn’t raise a few homosexual eyebrows?  And, short of seeing a photo of Aaron Schock doing the nasty, no one could ever discern if he were gay or straight?

So what Geidner and D’Addario are saying is that no one can hazard a guess as to whether this guy was gay:

Or this guy:

Or this guy:

And if you do hazard a guess, you’re an anti-gay bigot.  Or sexist.  Or something.

D’Addario then throws a few barbs at Josh Barro:

Business Insider’s Josh Barro probed Schock’s Instagram follow list, and raised an eyebrow at the fact Schock follows Tom Daley, an openly bisexual Olympic athlete.

But the willingness to fixate on how “gay-acting” someone is means nothing other than that the writer has a prurient sort of bloodlust.

It’s not bloodlust, but it is damn queer that a Baptist Republican member of Congress with a 100% anti-gay voting record follows only 72 people on Instagram, and only one Olympic athlete, and the athlete he happens to follow is newly-out 19 year old Olympic diver Tom Daley, whose hotter than hell and the current subject of lust of a few hundred million gay men worldwide.  And what’s even queerer, is that after we’d reported this first on AMERICAblog, Schock locked up his Instagram account so that only followers could see it, and then Schock quietly un-“followed” Daley.

Is gaydar the gay appendix?

AMERICAblog reader Strepsi made an interesting observation in an earlier post about why it might be that younger gays in particular are so offended by, and don’t believe in, the concept of gaydar. Strepsi was responding to my comment about how younger gays don’t believe that you can tell if someone is gay simply by seeing them, talking to them, etc.

Here’s my speculation about why the younger writers might not be able to tell [if someone is gay]: they’ve never experienced the closet. It is from the closet that we gay people became expert observers of gender performance and human performance, because we were forced to do it, often in fear of our lives. So we can tell when someone is hiding something, when the look lingers too long, when the eyes give someone away. Maybe people who never have to live in the closet have lost that level of very close, coded observation.

Fascinating observation.  Another reader, Keirmeister, noted that when it meant the difference between getting a date and a fist in the face, you got pretty adept at reading the tea leaves as to whether the hot guy in the bar next to you was gay or straight:

Heck, outside of some gay-friendly establishments, a well-tuned gaydar can be the difference between having your advances met with a “no thank you” or getting beaten up.

Is it possible that, with gay rights advancing on every front, evolution has done away with gaydar in the younger generation, relegating it to unnecessary-vestigial-organ status, like the appendix?

Whither queer culture?

Fabian Igiraneza, a student at the University of Cape Town, included me in an email chain about the Salon story, and noted the following (reprinted with permission) about D’Addario’s notion of there-is-no-gay-without-gay-sex:

If you’re celibate (by choice or not) or in a sexless relationship — are you no longer gay? Does queer culture have no value in and of itself? Is it only about the sexual act?

And there’s the rub.  This isn’t about bullying.  It’s about a certain segment of the gay community that no longer believes in queer culture at all.  And perhaps it is a sign of the times.  When I came of (gay) age in the 1990s, gaydar wasn’t just fun, it was a necessity.  And a lot of us got awfully good at reading the tea leaves.  (Though, honestly, it’s not terribly difficult with some people, as evidenced by the videos above.)

Gay culture exists.  And that culture includes verbal expressions, taste in music and clothing, and more.  Are we to believe that gay men don’t pick up culture ticks from each other in the way they dress, and talk, and act?  And that therefore, a third party couldn’t identity those cultural ticks from the outside?

Puhleez, gurl.

Whither the gay gene

It’s also ironic that, in an age where more and more scientific evidence points to the existence of a gay gene, that an increasing number of gay people do not believe in the phenotypic expression of that gene.  It’s somehow an insult, to some, to suggest that maybe the gay gene expresses itself in some, but not all, in ways that go beyond who they gravitate to in love and sex.

I remember when my mother visited me in Washington, DC for the first time after I’d come out to her.  We ran into a number of my male friends on the street, many gay, but not all.  And mom immediately asked me, after each encounter, if the person in question was gay.  After a while, she guessed all by herself that one friend was gay.  I asked her how, and she said: “There’s just something softer in their features.”

Genes for gender express themselves in ways that go far beyond the sex organs.  So why is it so hard to believe that genes for sexual orientation do the same?  Again, not in all cases, but in many.

I’m not afraid of effeminacy or flamboyance – are you?

I grew up in a gay generation when you weren’t afraid of being effeminate or flamboyant.  And neither you were afraid of calling out the queen next door for being the same.  There’s almost a form of internalized homophobia in some of the expressions of horror we’re hearing about the notion that gay culture, and gay genes, dare not express themselves in any way, shape or form that “acts gay.”

Perhaps it’s a bit of backlash from high school bullying.  Those of us who couldn’t hide, and even those of us who could, were made fun of for alleged gay mannerisms. And maybe it’s hard for some gays to understand that not everyone who notes the gay way you talk, or the gay way you dress, is necessarily saying it’s a bad thing.  They’re simply observing an objective fact.

Which takes us back to Aaron Schock.  Not that with a 100% anti-gay voting record he’s earned the right to be defended here, because he hasn’t.  If folks want to talk about bullying, we don’t have to go any farther than the legislative bullying that Schock and his ilk perpetrate on gay and trans Americans every day in the halls of Congress.  I think the man has earned a little mockery, and then some.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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