My wife teaches Sociology, and today I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel discussion about gender, sexual orientation, and race. The students were asked to submit questions for us to answer – all the questions you wanted to know the answers to, but were afraid to ask.
And we didn’t even get to a third of them.
Nearly all the questions are below – a few I omitted simply because I don’t have anything to say to them. For example, I can’t describe what it feels like to come out of the closet, and don’t know of anything particularly relevant to add. The questions are in italics, my answers in regular type. In some places I do link to other texts or videos – which are kind of important to the point I’m making. 🙂
I do not pretend to be an expert, nor are my answers definitive. I am probably wrong at least once in here. But I hope that maybe they can start a dialogue – either here, or in my wife’s class, or in your own home. Please feel free to send me any more questions, or if you have a different answer (especially when I’m talking about groups I’m not a part of), leave a comment.
Why do people think that if you do certain things that aren’t normal you have to or must be gay?
In general, I think this has a lot to do with stereotyped gender norms. The street preacher I spoke to today, for example, thought that long hair on a man meant that you were gay – which would surprise the heck out of my wife.
What does it mean if you see a dude with all girls all the time?
They have a lot of girls who are friends. Personally, I tend to have an easier time making friends with women than men.
Can you know if someone likes you or not like you because of your race or ethnicity?
What does bisexuality mean and why do some people label themselves as that?
Bisexuality means having romantic or sexual relationships with both men and women. People label themselves that way because, well, that’s what they do.
What makes a person come out of the closet?
Individual reasons vary… but commonly it’s out of a desire to be true to themselves. Turn that question around, and it might be understandable. Imagine you’re in a relationship you don’t want to be in – whether with someone of the same or different gender. How hard would it be to stay in that relationship?
Why do gay men talk with lisps?
Not all do. It’s a stereotype, and one that’s been largely internalized by gay men. One of my gay friends in college (the first time) had a deeper voice than mine, and was much more butch. You would have never guessed he was gay unless he told you. Or you saw him kissing another guy.
Do all women in American society really think body hair on men is unattractive?
Nope. Our media is currently holding up what my wife calls “nakey-little-boy chests” as attractive. That both leads to the impression that all women think that way – and also helps forms perceptions of attractiveness.
Why do white students neglect the fact that even though they have struggles, they are still more privileged than minority students because of their race?
It’s easy to do. White privilege is largely unrecognized by our society. Unpacking the knapsack of white privilege is a really eye-opening exercise for many white people. It’s so hard – and counter to what we’ve learned all our lives – that it’s often easier to ignore it than acknowledge it. You can also check out this essay that does the same thing for straight privelege.
There is a ghetto-thug mentality today that is present in many cultures, but is identified with black culture. How does this mentality help or hurt black culture? Is this seen as a positive or negative thing?
Speaking as an outsider, I think it’s often a negative thing. I do recognize that gangs often provide a sense of belonging and support that may otherwise be absent from some people’s lives… but the violence is so detrimental that I think it outweighs the positive.
Do gay people feel like they’re going to heaven?
The gay Christians I know believe so. In general, there’s lots of parts of the Bible that people choose how to interpret or decide how much importance to give.
Why do black women have so many children by different men?
Part of this image goes to the stereotype of Black people as being hypersexualized. Black women were seen as always being sexually accessible and Black men as being insatiable. The essay The Mind That Burns in Each Body talks about that a lot.
Really, though, the answer to that is: “It’s complicated.” Blacks and Hispanics in the US have more children born out of wedlock. But many several countries – Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark for examples – have a higher percentage of children born out of wedlock, but very small Black populations. So it can’t be race – it’s other factors in our societies.
How did you go about “coming out of the closet,” and how did you know you were ready to do so? Did you get treated differently afterwards?
This is a link to Robert relating how he came out as a transsexual to his parents. (Since I’m not gay, I can only relate other people’s stories.)
Why is that black males prefer white women?
I don’t know that the stereotype is true. My nephew’s father is Black, but I don’t know that my sister’s whiteness had anything to do with her relationship with his father. At the same time, I’m sure you can find Black men who think that having a white girlfriend/wife/whatever is some kind of status symbol – but if that was a predominant factor, you would expect to have the same mythology about Black women wanting white men… and that’s not part of our mythology.
What motivates you to like the same sex, being that you would feel different being gay?
Same thing that would motivate you to like anyone. As far as social stigmas go, imagine that you like someone who is culturally unlike you. For example, if you fell for a prostitute, a snooty blue-blooded scion of a wealthy family, someone of a different race, or different religion. We make movies (romantic movies, no less) about those kinds of things celebrating the power of love to overcome those obstacles. Why don’t we do the same with homosexuals?
Why is racism (blacks racist towards whites) never talked about or even considered? Because I feel as if this campus is slightly biased towards whites.
Blacks (and other minorities) can be prejudiced towards other races. What distinguishes racism is the structural and societal dominance that whites have.
The campus comment seems to refer to the tendency to have Black associations, Black history month, and the like. Take all of the organizations, events, and such that are NOT specifically designated. The default in our society – the “norm” – is for them to be focused on whites. Maybe someday we can have a balance where specific designations aren’t needed, but we aren’t there yet.
Do black people feel the need to live up to their stereotypes?
Do African Americans hold a grudge from what whites have done to them over the years?
I can’t answer either of these – but I can point out that they also are heavy on the large group designations. Substitute “whites” for the first question, and you’ll probably see what I mean.
How did you realize that you may be gay or lesbian? Have you ever tried the opposite sex? Do you feel that you were born like that or that it was a choice?
I’d like to comment here that changes in whom you’re attracted to are not the same thing as a choice. My preferences in women – both appearance and temperment – have changed throughout my life, but I never consciously made a choice there.
Why do people who find themselves attracted to the same gender as themselves sometimes make their appearance resemble the opposite gender? (For example: Lesbians who wear their hair really short and wear baggy guy clothes.)
Because we strongly associate gendered behaviors – like clothing – to sexual orientation.
Do you think it is still fair for minorities to receive scholarships just for being a minority, while dominant cultures have to work hard to achieve high enough grades to even be considered for one?
I’m applying for a scholarship for veterans and descendants of Hungarians. There was one I recieved for being a non-traditional (older) college student. There’s lots of scholarships (often bequested by a specific individual) that have very diverse requirements.
Or in other words – I don’t think that it’s as big of a problem as suggested.
Do you think that homosexual African Americans are looked at differently by society than white homosexuals?
Yes. There’s an intersection between race and sexuality there that makes things MUCH more difficult for Blacks who do not fit the heterosexual norm.
How does it feel to know that in the inside you know you are a male/female but your body is different on the outside?
Explain your thoughts on the gender conflicts of the mind. In your mind you know what gender you are, but you were born in the opposite body.
I linked to part of it earlier (and will again) – but do yourself a favor and watch Southern Comfort. It’s 90 minutes well spent.
When you are at the YMCA, is that equal to a straight guy being at a strip club?
Being homosexual doesn’t imply that they find everyone of the opposite gender attractive. I’m straight – but there are lots of women I don’t find attractive, and would never want to be in a locker room with them.
Why do some black people feel the need to be loud and sound uneducated?
Why do some white people feel the need to be quiet, reserved, and emotionless?
Do you use the word nigger, and are you offended by someone else using that word? White people?
I do not use that word.
As an African American, do you believe that the lighter your skin tone the better off you are in today’s society?
Speaking as a white person, I think that’s still pretty true – though not always. One of my classmates in the Army told us that he got flak from everyone. When growing up he wasn’t Black enough, nor white enough. So it’s a mixed bag.
As a woman in today’s society, do you feel as if you are treated differently in the work place compared to men? Do you feel the respect factor is close to equal?
My supervisor had a complaint dismissed with the statement “Oh, you’re just on the rag, aren’t you?” It didn’t raise any eyebrows in that meeting. I think that answers your question.
I am asking this question to the gays/lesbians. How do you feel about the Bible? Being told that you could be “going to hell” for being gay/lesbian? How does this make you feel about religion and God when people get angry at you for making the sexual choices you have made?
I don’t think we can talk about “choices” in this context (refer to the above). I can only imagine that it’s hurtful, though. The street preachers out on campus today really turned a lot of people against Christianity by preaching hellfire and brimstone instead of love and kindness.
To the transgendered person: Do you have feelings for both genders?
Transgender does not have anything to do with sexual orientation. One can be a gay transperson or straight transperson – but the orientation is in respect to the target gender. That is, if someone is transitioning from female to male and likes women, then they’re straight.
Are black men really that much bigger than white men?
This is – I presume – in respect to penis size. A few points:
- This goes back to the hypersexualized stereotype of Blacks in American culture.
- There’s no scientific evidence that this is the case.
- Flaccid size has no relationship to erect size.
- There is a proportional correlation to overall body size, foot size, and erect size.
- When researchers asked prostitutes (figuring they wouldn’t have any emotional connotations to performance), they hated customers with large members. They rated average sized as the best. (5-6.5 inches long erect, 3-4.5 inches in circumference).
- Girth matters more than length.
- Too long HURTS.
Why can some people say things and others can’t? Like why can black people say nigger but if a white person does, it is offensive? It is offensive, but why do black people say it to each other now?
The short answer: I can say “Hey, jerkwad, what’s up!” to a good friend – but not to a stranger.
The longer answer: Would things be different when your boss says them? Whites are the dominant culture, and there’s a power differential there whether we like it or not.
To the transgendered person: What is sex like after sex change surgery?
Skip to about 5’30” in this clip from Southern Comfort.
Why do you choose to be gay then try so hard to have children?
See the note above about choice. And I think the reasons people want children are pretty much the same regardless of sexual orientation.
Do you think that affirmative action has “dumbed” the black population? They have to score less on a placement test than a white person to get a job. Jobs are not given to the most qualified people – but filled by whatever color is needed.
Affirmative action is the last place we should look. Before even addressing that question, we need to ensure that our school systems are actually equally funded and staffed from preschool on. There’s huge disparities in educational opportunities. Consider the difference in school systems between Dayton (with its large Black population) to Beavercreek or Centerville (with their very white populations). My kids have been in school systems all around this area – and the differences in buildings and supplies alone have been startling.
Why do people have a problem with other people who have darker skin?
Dunno. Answer that, and you might change the world.
Why do Indians wear the jewel in the middle of their head?
It’s a Hindu religious symbol called a bindi. Both religious men and many women wear one. There is a lot of symbolism behind the different shapes and colors.
Do you think affirmative action is still needed today or has it become a form of reverse racism?
Reverse racism can only happen when white privilege doesn’t exist. I don’t think I’ll get to live to see that day, but I hope we get there. And yeah, we still need it – see the above about school systems.
To an African American: What is the source or inspiration for the names of many African Americans–because the names are so unique?
They’re largely derived from Africa in some way. There’s actually a similar trend with obviously Hebrew names for some Jewish populations in American right now.
To the transgendered person: How do you know that you are a transgender, and not a homosexual or a lesbian?
Gender identity is something distinct from sexual orientation – you can be a very masculine gay man, for example. In some ways, transpeople are even more invested in gender norms than everyone else – they just identify with one different than the one they were born with.
Why do homosexuals feel they have a right to marriage? To me, from a religious viewpoint, they do not. Would they, as a whole (if they can answer for the entire group) be content with a civil union, basically for tax and health care reasons?
Civil unions aren’t the same thing as a civil marriage. The latter has a LOT of special privileges in our society that civil unions don’t.
I don’t think religions should be forced to recognize a gay marriage, by the way. My church did not recognize my first marriage because it was performed by a Justice of the Peace. But religion is something very, very different than religion, and both are stronger when they stay that way.
Why is it that people will frequently watch “girl on girl” or gay porn all of the time, but when they see two gay women or men in public, they think it is disgusting or inappropriate? Why is it different? Is it a fantasy issue?
In short – yes. Most porn is marketed for straight males, and the fantasy is that the two women will turn and pleasure any man that walks in.
Why do white people think they are more superior or smarter than black people?
This is a bit overgeneralizing – just like the “why do Black people” questions. Still, it’s a racist society, and it’s hard for us to break out of it.
Why can’t we all just be “Americans”? Why do we have to be African-Americans and all these other groups?
We are all Americans. That’s part of why the “-Americans” construction was made, to try to reinforce that we’re all part of the same group, even though we’re distinct as well.
We cannot afford to forget that our society is predominantly white, though. Nearly everything is constructed around the “mainstream” white Christian male viewpoint; until that changes, we have to explicitly remember
Why do white people like to take risks and do crazy thrill seeking events like Jackass?
I don’t think most white people do. Media does a good job of taking unusual people and showing them to us ALL THE TIME, so we end up mistaking what we see on TV as being the norm.
Why are white people afraid to walk up to a group of black people by themselves?
Dunno. I don’t like walking up to any random group of people.
Do you believe that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle or one predetermined by biology? OF you believe it is a chosen lifestyle, why did you choose a lifestyle that is constantly discriminated against and sometimes looked down upon?
And I think this question points out exactly why I don’t think (aside from the evidence) that homosexuality is a choice. Why WOULD you choose that kind of discrimination? The only answer I can think of is that they’re being true to themselves.