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“You Can Tell Just by Looking” And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People By Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, Michael Amico

November 21, 2015

YCTJBLI understand that minority groups use myths to boost self-esteem and argue with detractors and I don’t mind those myths being busted in the cause of truth but I don’t think this book succeeds in its aim.

It doesn’t back up its claims with much evidence. Whilst the authors don’t want readers top get bogged down with footnotes, they simply cannot get away with exposing simplistic statements by assertions and simplistic counter statements.

The book is also parochially American. Things are very different I other pars of the Western world and we are fighting different battles, albeit some echoing American views.

“You Can Tell Just by Looking”. The authors admit that this might have been true in the past when gays dressed in certain ways or adopted certain mannerisms but some tests have shown that straight people have as much ‘gaydar’ as any other people.

“About 10 Percent of People Are Gay or Lesbian.” Figures are unreliable because of self-selecting. The sort of people who reported top Kinsey were more likely to be sexually adventurous than the average population. Surveys with a low percentage tend to be conducted face to face where some people are more reluctant to tell the truth to a stranger.

“All Transgender People Have Sex-Reassignment Surgery.” This surprised me but then again I know little about this sublect.

“Sexual Abuse Causes Homosexuality.” This is a handy weapon for those who want to pathologise LGBTs. However, the assertions by the author which question the notion of children being ‘innocent’ are redolent of statements by the Paedophile Information Exchange of the 1970s.

“Most homophobes are repressed homosexuals.” I thought this was based on sound psychological research about projection. There are also plenty of anecdotal cases where hate preachers are caught in gay bars or with rent boys. The authors simply say that the myth is absurd without really saying why.

“Transgender People Are Mentally Ill.” Well, maybe society’s prejudice makes some so. He authors suggest that if society was more tolerant, there would be no need to have the operation but I once thought that and have been forced to rethink.

“Homosexuals Are Born That Way.” The nature/nurture debate will rumble on for a long time but it is more complicated. If being gay is ‘a lifestyle choice’ it isn’t a once and for all decision but the result of thousands of decisions over many years.

“LGBT Parents Are Bad for Children.” There have been plenty of surveys that show this to be false. The authors could have quoted more from them.

“Same-Sex Marriage Harms Traditional Marriage.” There is plenty of research going on that disproves this but the authors rely on assertion again.

“All religions condemn homosexuality.” It isn’t enough to quote a few liberals. In this Anglican diocese there are only three gay-friendly churches listed compared with hundreds of others not so listed.

“Gay Rights Infringe on Religious Liberty.” Thus some Christians rant without being aware that a secular constitution like America’s allows religious liberty among all the various other conflicting liberties. Since it is different in the UK, different arguments would need to be marshalled.

“People of colour are more homophobic that white people.” Only last week I read a detailed survey that compared attitudes in black-led churches with those of others to things like gay marriage. Black Christians in the UK were much more likely to be anti-gay, to say nothing of Ugandans and Nigerians.

“Lesbians Do Not Have Real Sex.” Echoes the obsession with penetrative sex as being the only sort.

“All bisexual men are actually gay. All bisexual women are actually straight.” Bis are the least understood but if sexuality is fluid then everyone is (potentially) bi.

” Transgender People Are Gay.” – apparently they aren’t but need the support of gay people in fighting for a society that embraces differences.

“There’s No Such Thing as a Gay or Trans Child.” Now that trans people are more visible, more children are likely to identify with them. Before, they would have been seen as ‘not normal’ but would not have had the vocabulary to understand it… It isn’t causal.

“Positive Visibility in the Media Increases Tolerance and Acceptance of LGBT People.”” In the 197os, when many cities were hosting their first gay pride parades, there was considerable opposition expressed by many members of the gay and lesbian community to the presence of drag queens in their flamboyant outfits because they gave a “bad image” of the community Similar opposition was leveled against women and men in the leather community…. the truth is not about positive images. Positive images often actually conspire with mainstream culture’s desire not to change. They are a false measure of social progress. It eventually became evident that the strength of lesbian and gay pride marches came from celebrating the incredible diversity of the entire community—and worrying less about presenting a positive image of which some mythical lesbian and gay “we” could all be proud. True equality val­ues difference; it should not demand sameness.”

” Coming Out Today Is Easier Than Ever Before.” “Or a young gay man may be more out at school than at home, fearing that his parents might kick him out. These aren’t idle fears. About 4o percent of homeless youths in the United States are LGBT.”

“Anti-discrimination laws in the United States protect LGBT people.” Not really because most states don’t have them.

“Hate crime laws prevent violence against lgbt people.” They get the Matthew Sheppard story right – that it wasn’t a simple hate crime but was more to do with poverty and drugs. 

“Getting tested on a regular basis helps prevent the spread of HIV.” No, it lulls people into a false sense of security and they take a risk bare-backing.


The simplemindedness of this myth is self-evident. To the very complicated question “What causes homosexuality?” it poses a sin­gle, reductive answer: sexual abuse. A young girl who is sexually abused by a man becomes a lesbian because she has turned against men. A young boy who is abused by a man becomes homosexual because the abuse has programmed him to do so. This topsy-turvy logic aside, which predicts radically different results from an act of abuse—heterosexual abuse turns young females against men and into lesbians; homosexual abuse turns young males toward other men and makes them gay—what is unmistakably true is that sexual abuse is largely perpetrated by heterosexual men, although there is a small percentage done by women…. This is a vague but expansive argument that rests on our culture’s misguided insistence that children are ‘innocenct.’ To many adults, the belief in children’s innocence means above all that children (perhaps especially their own) are devoid of all sexual feelings or interests.

The new diagnosis of gender dysphoria thus represents a pragmatic and destigmatizing compromise. In an ideal world, the multitude of genders would be recognized and legitimated equal social benefits, including access to comprehensive physical and mental health care. At the same time, the distress caused by difficulty or unwillingness to uphold gender norms can be real, serious, for any individual, not just transpeople.

The example of Massachusetts—the first state to legalize same-sex marriage—is telling. Data show that in the years since same-sex couples could legally marry in Massachusetts, starting in 2004, the state’s marriage rate has remained stable, and its divorce rate has actually gone down.

What do advocates of “traditional marriage” mean when they refer to the timeless values of man/woman marriage? Is it the tra­ditional principle of couverture, which we find in English common law (the backbone of colonial and contemporary American law), in which a man and woman became one legal person upon marriage? In practice, this legal and social unity of the couple meant that the woman ceased to exist as a legal identity with her own rights. A hus­band could sell his wife’s property without her consent, and had the legal ability—even duty—to make all decisions for them both. The tradition of couverture existed well into the nineteenth century in the United States.

Do advocates of “traditional marriage” want to defend the version of marriage in which a man could legally rape his wife?

Do all LGBT people think same-sex marriage is a positive, progressive move into the future? Probably all of them agree that, if civil marriage is available to heterosexuals, it should be avail­able to same-sex couples on equal terms. However, some feminist and LGBT critics of same-sex marriage argue that the way certain public benefits are built into civil marriage impedes making social changes that could benefit everybody. Why, they ask, should access to health care be connected to marital status at all? They worry that the same-sex-marriage movement is settling for too little. It will do nothing for those many people—LGBT and straight—who do not want to marry but who do need health insurance or equal access to citizenship. Nor does civil marriage for same-sex couples reflect the diverse and imaginative ways LGBT people make kinship ties.

why do people , in these majority groups feel oppressed? If you belong to a group that has traditionally enjoyed unquestioned social dominance, any expansion of fairness for other groups—such as people of color, LGBT people and non-Christians—might feel like a loss when your -for-granted social privileges and legal position are suddenly challenged. Recall Meese’s complaint: “As a white male I have no is whatsoever, other than what is shared with everyone else.” What t he had was the privilege not to have to fight for the rights “ev­eryone else” was already supposed to be sharing.

Coming out did not use to be such a private, almost family af­fair. The phrase “to come out” was first used among gay men in the 192ps, with the implicit and sometimes explicitly stated promise that you were coming out “into the life”: the gay life. Coming out re­ferred to a young gay man’s formal presentation at a gay urban drag ball, a parody of a society girl “coming out” at a debutante ball. In the following decades, coming out could also mean your first ho­mosexual experience or participation in a community of same-sex­attracted people, people like you. Coming out was a movement into a new social space, created and inhabited by many other gay people.’

Gay liberationists of the late 196os and early 197os did not downplay their sexual “rebelliousness” as 195os gay activists did. They saw coming out as a way to change the world rather than ad­just to it. In a famous 197o manifesto, “Gay Is Good,” lesbian activ­ist Martha Shelley wrote, “The function of a homosexual is to make you [heterosexuals] uneasy.”‘ This was the beginning of coming-out guides published by both mainstream and independent gay and les­bian presses. These early books celebrated sex and sexual cultures, such as gay male bathhouses, butch/femme roles for lesbians, and gay bars. They promoted the understanding of coming out as pub­licly claiming a homosexual identity.

This history is important because it helps us see that the ques­tion of whether you come out is really the question of what kind of gay person you want to be. The desire to change the world and the willingness to make heterosexuals uncomfortable are very far from what it means to come out today.

Many same-sex-attracted teenagers have dropped using la­bels such as gay and lesbian in order to define themselves against the haunting stereotypes of the militant, in-your-face liberation­ist gay.’ These teenagers are not disavowing their attractions but distancing themselves from labels with a stigmatized history for purposes of social acceptance by their straight peers. The Advocate explored this trend in two uncritical articles: “Same-sex but Not `Gay'” (2005) and “Is Gay Over?” (2006). These stories help prop up the myth that coming out is easier today than ever before.

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