|Posted on December 14, 2013 at 2:40 AM|
By Dennis Stone
OK, I overstated that headline to get your attention. But it is true that I have found myself feeling increasingly alienated from the larger “gay community” as I have read more websites and more comment sections. As a part of the process of writing for the “New Millennial Gay Experience” I have been trying to more comprehensively keep up with the gay world around me, and I have done extensive research for many of my articles.
Reading comment sections has been a part of that, and the experience has left me wondering about my fellow gays. I find myself thinking: who ARE these people? I don’t recognize them from my personal experience, but they seem to be dominating the online discussion. And in the modern world, if you dominate the online discussion you dominate the discussion.
For example, the instant, almost hysterical judgment about Stephen Jimenez’ book, “The Book Of Matt,” is one of the more recent examples. I was raised to have an open mind, to examine evidence and to think about things before coming to a conclusion. The overwhelming majority of commenters about the book felt no need to be bothered with old-fashioned concepts like those. They didn’t want the book to be true, and therefore it automatically wasn’t. Not only that, but anyone who expressed a contrary opinion was attacked. (You can see my previous articles about the subject here and here.) In the end, entrenched beliefs and agendas overruled open minds.
Robbie Williams: You're being our friend wrong, so we hate you.
More recently there was the case of British singer Robbie Williams, who said the following in an interview: "I love musical theatre and a lot of the other things that are often associated with gays. I am 49% homosexual and sometimes as far as 50%. However, that would imply that I enjoy having a particular sort of fun, which I don't." Robbie is obviously engaging in stereotypes, and I chuckled and rolled my eyes a bit at his rather ham-handed attempt to be gay friendly. But he WAS trying to be gay friendly, and I certainly wasn’t offended or bothered.
But wow, much of the rest of the gay internet WAS offended. Patrick Strudwick in the “Guardian” devoted an entire article to that innocent comment, and in his eyes it was anything but innocent. “Oh, Robbie. You are not 49% homosexual; you are 100% idiot,” he says in his self-described “venomous” rant. He then feels the need to go into a lengthy spiel about how lots of gay guys don’t like musical theater, or are messy, or are bad dancers. Jeez, I’m glad he pointed that out because in 2013 no one realizes that. But Strudwick feels compelled to make the connection between expressing those lighthearted stereotypes and holding other stereotypes: “That we are incapable of raising children? That we are attracted to children?” He says that Williams’ comment “reduces and dehumanizes us all.”
As I write this the article has generated 1005 comments. This is what the gay community finds important enough to generate that level of debate? This is so heinous and dehumanizing, to use Strudwick’s word, that we have to rise up, grab a rock and rush to the barricades to defend our honor?
The bottom line is that Robbie Williams was trying to express a level of solidarity with gay people. BUT HE DIDN’T DO IT RIGHT. And so we must hate and denigrate him. Sigh….
A couple of the comments deserve special mention. One commenter dared say about Strudwick’s article, “the word ‘rant’ springs to mind,” which generated an immediate attack: “The word 'doctrinaire apologist for Romanist homophobia' springs to mind.” And then there is my favorite. A commenter pointed out that the article was a bit excessive for what was “someone not trying to offend anyone,” which generated this priceless rejoinder: “You wouldn't by any chance be a white middle class middle aged heterosexual man, would you?” Yup, if you’re a gay person there’s only one way you can think about this.
But wait, it gets better. Someone pointed out that the rejoinder was itself a stereotype, just like what Robbie Williams had said was a stereotype. Pretty obvious, actually. But no, said another commenter, it wasn’t stereotyping, it was “labeling.” You can’t make it up.
Tom Daley’s announcement of being in a relationship with a man generated a raft of stories and comments that leave me shaking my head. An extraordinary number of media sites announced that Tom had come out as gay. And commenters reacted the same way, many having “known it all along,” and some chastising Tom for not having the guts to come out all the way. And, of course, since they always knew Tom was gay, and he’s now confirmed it, that means that all of the other guys they’ve always known are gay – from any or all of One Direction to Jake Gyllenhaal to Taylor Lautner to Joseph Gordon-Levitt – really are, and it’s just a matter of time until they come out as well.
What first got me thinking about writing this piece was an innocuous article on the Huffington Post about Matthew Morrison and his response to the gay rumors about him (and referencing a previous interview). Here is the pertinent section: "I know my own truth, I'm a very happy heterosexual man. But like I said in that quote, I have a lot of gay friends and I'm a big supporter of gay rights and gay marriage. This is America, this is the land of freedom and opportunity and I think it's kind of crazy that a loving or committed gay or lesbian couple can't marry just because they're different."
Move along, nothing to see here, right? Morrison is straight but very gay friendly, as we’ve known for some time. It’s nice to hear another expression of support for our equality, but that’s nothing new with Morrison. However, the article generated 277 comments. It’s time once again for readers to parse and nitpick, and then let us all know where Morrison went wrong.
“He lost me at ‘just because they’re different,” said one commenter, echoed by another. Of course, the whole reason why we don’t have marriage equality is because we ARE indeed different in the context of marriage. (And different in several other ways, according to many gays, especially the more militant ones.)
Then there were those offended that he said “I have a lot of gay friends,” comparing the comment to the classic statement by people perceived to have said something racist that “I have black friends so I can’t be a racist.” One suggested what he should have said instead: “Simply state ‘in my circle of friends,’ or ‘my gay friends.’” That was not a joke or meant ironically. Gay people have become WAY too sensitive about the “I have gay friends” line, especially when it’s not being used to defend against homophobic comments. All it means is that the person has a rationale for being able to understand something about the gay experience, and that they legitimately feel some solidarity. I want everyone to say “I have a lot of gay friends.” The world would be a much better place.
Several commenters stated it as a simple fact that Morrison is indeed gay. Beyond wishful thinking, what is the rationale? Only one commenter provided one, but wow, is it persuasive. Morrison had said, "I’m a very happy heterosexual man,” leading to this gem from the commenter: "I’ve never heard a heterosexual man use ‘heterosexual’ instead of ‘straight.’” Well, I’m convinced. Morrison is indeed gay!
The most frequent comment related to what people thought Morrison SHOULD have said in answer to the gay rumors. Overwhelmingly, the opinion was that he – and anyone else asked about their orientation – should say some variation of “it’s none of your business.” There are two problems with this contention, however. First, if someone we strongly suspect is gay – as had been true of Anderson Cooper, Jim Parsons, etc. – says that when asked, we accuse him of being a coward. Second, if someone DOES answer that way we consider that a tacit admission of being gay. I’ve seen that many times before. “I noticed he didn’t deny it,” the commenters will say, using that as proof.
So we want straight people to say “it’s none of your business,” and we want gay people to say “I’m gay.” And if either DOES say “it’s none of your business,” we take that as an “admission” that they really are gay. The answer is obvious to me. Celebrities, both straight and gay, should say whatever makes them comfortable. And we, the readers and viewers, should quit giving a fuck whether a celebrity is gay. Stop the embarrassing endless speculation that only screams “insecurity” to me.
Gay people on comment boards seem pretty good at double standards, and there was a classic one in the comments after this article. “When I see a man and woman kiss in public it makes me want to hurl,” stated an enlightened soul. Of course, if any straight person expresses even the slightest unease or discomfort about two guys kissing it’s the sign of a virulent homophobe.
Then there are the off-the-wall observations that leave my mouth agape. I have three favorites from the Morrison discussion:
1. “I wish people would acknowledge what the important issue is here. It’s Matthew Morrison’s income.” Yup, let’s turn a discussion about gay rumors into a discussion about income inequality and the privilege of rich people.
2. HuffPost had called Morrison’s answer to the rumors “awesome.” Which led to one commenter saying this: “So being a decent human being is ‘awesome’. White guys really do get praised for doing the bare minimum, don't they?” Of course, I hadn’t realized this, but the whole thing is really a racial issue! Why didn’t I see that myself?
3. One commenter chastised Morrison for using the phrase “gay marriage.” She was upset because as a bisexual woman it wouldn’t be gay marriage, it would be “same-sex marriage.” And we wonder why straight people so often consider us to be over-sensitive.
So that’s the state of intelligent discussion among gay people on respectable mainstream gay sites today. (To be fair, some of the goofy comments on the Morrison story did get pushback from other readers.) For another example close to home for many of our readers, compare the discourse on “The Backlot” today to the discussions we used to have when it was called “AfterElton.”
Here’s the $64,000 question: are commenters on gay sites – even mainstream ones like “HuffPost” or the “Advocate” – representative of today’s gay community? I think it’s very possible that they are not, and that the gay community, taken as a whole, is much more intelligent, much more level-headed, than what we would think by reading the comment sections.
I would say there are basically three types of people who post comments on the internet with any sort of frequency. First, there are the passionately committed partisans. Unfortunately, such people often take good impulses to extremes, they are not open to considering the alternate points of view that would keep them from, well, being goofy, and they interpret (and misinterpret) reality through the distorted lens of their partisanship. Second, there are the troubled and the angry and the frustrated, the type who live in their parents’ basements or have little success in life. They can be strong and powerful on the internet, where no one can see them through their anonymity. They carry resentments, fears and anger, but generally don’t have much real thought behind their comments. Third, there are the genuinely thoughtful and/or intelligent commenters who are engaged by a topic, and want to throw their thoughts into the big global conversation.
It’s my opinion that the internet has come to be dominated more and more by those first two groups. There are vast numbers of gay people who are just living their lives, working at their jobs and maintaining relationships. They just don’t have the time or the inclination to get involved in posting comments. That has always been the case.
I hate to borrow a phrase from Richard Nixon, but there really is a sort of “silent majority” of gay people - grounded, thoughtful, fair, level-headed – that we see very little of on the internet. I think there may well be a growing second group of people who would like to contribute to the conversation, and who probably have in the past, but who have become disenchanted by the shallowness and the meanness and the futility of internet discussion.
And so on the one hand I’m discouraged and frustrated by what I read on the internet, but on the other hand I don’t think that represents the reality of our community. My great fear is that it will be PERCEIVED – even by what I’m calling the “silent majority” itself – as representative. I’ve picked up a strong and growing sentiment among straight people that we gays as a group are a bunch of “oversensitive whiners,” to use a phrase I recently read, or self-pitying “victims,” which I’ve also been reading. If I only went by what I read online, I’d have to agree to some degree with that sentiment. The internet does reflect exactly that with much more frequency than I’d like to see.
I don’t have any answers to this problem. Many will say I’m overreacting, and there really isn’t a problem at all. Unfortunately, that just makes a solution harder to find.