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Why Is Sexual Orientation Private?
It's no secret to anyone that I'm heterosexual. Or that Nicole Kidman, Lindsay Lohan and Barbara Bush are. Why should it be a secret that somebody's gay?

I think it's because too many people secretly believe it's wrong or shameful to be gay (naturally, because it was stamped into their brains by religion and a culture that's way too tied to it).

As I've mentioned before, I don't care who you're having sex with; I just hope you're having sex, and enjoying the fuck out of yourself. (Yes, yes, this assumes you're both consenting, and one of you isn't 12.) I saw this link on Romenesko this morning, to an Eric Hegedus column on SFGate about outing celebs:

Five years ago, in New York magazine, writer Maer Roshan opined about the concept of "outing" and the closet that has at various times shielded the personal lives of celebrities such as Rosie O'Donnell, Nathan Lane, Ellen DeGeneres and countless others.

He wrote: "Journalists play along in the sincere belief that they are protecting gay people, but in doing so they serve the interests of a few individuals at the expense of the larger community. By dancing around the sexuality of gay public figures, they reduce them to oddly neutered figures."

Unfortunately, this still holds true. A professional sin of omission -- the failure to get all the facts by shying away from asking a newsmaker his or her sexual orientation -- still clouds the media's actions. And in the case of Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir, the problem becomes far more glaring. Stereotype-drenched speculation, gossip and wink-wink hearsay have taken the place of a sound journalistic practice: Asking the pertinent question. In this case, that question is: "Are you gay?"

In perusing news coverage of Weir's fall from competitive grace in the Olympic Games, I felt inundated by an excess of terminology and conjecture that only served to skate around the proverbial pink elephant in the middle of the ice rink.

Via news organizations from the New York Times to the San Jose Mercury News, from ESPN.com to the Washington Post, the public was treated to terminology that included, but was certainly not limited to: Flamboyant. Flashy. Whispers. Extravagant. Eccentric. Theatrical. Tinkerbelle. Chihuahuas. Boa. Masculinity. Effeminate. Flaming. Princessy. Female sport. Girly men. Oddballs. Revelation. Coy. Disclosures. Distraction. Tension. Embarrassing. Uncomfortable. Squirming. Fishnets. Prissy. Lifestyle. Gay style.

It's a lot of flash and stereotypes without substance, all in lieu of posing that obvious question to Weir: "Are you gay?"

I want Isaac Mizrahi on the case here: "Out with it, out with it! We all know you're a fag!"

Sure, there's bigotry associated with one's sexual orientation, but it's helped along by people being secretive about their own sexuality (their choice, of course) and others who pretend not to know. Blacks and other various "people of color" don't have the luxury of hiding their skin color, and increasingly, according to stats I've seen, younger generations are becoming more and more color-blind. Well, not color-blind, exactly, but color-I-don't-give-a-shit, which is, of course, how it should be.

Posted by aalkon at February 27, 2006 10:53 AM

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Comments

> I don't care who you're
> having sex with

Cool! Privacy. Dignity. OPTIONS. America at its finest.

But then:

> I want Isaac Mizrahi on
> the case here: "Out with it,
> out with it!

We care enough to intrude or we don't. I say nay.

Posted by: Crid at February 27, 2006 11:16 AM

I meant that Isaac thing in the sense that it should be no big deal.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 27, 2006 11:52 AM

Right, but what about that part of you (and me) that wants to ask and gossip? This is not meant to be accusatory: Most of my TV work deals with this kind of chatter. IJS, "the personal is political" doesn't mean you get to know anything you want about soemone because there may be political implications.

(Bill Clinton would agree with that last part.)

Posted by: Crid at February 27, 2006 12:52 PM

I think it shouldn't be asked because it's private, and it's nobody's fucking business. To me, in the same realm as asking someone if they shave their pubic hair. Your reaction, if I asked you that, would probably be "I don't see how that could possibly be any of your business."

And that's the same way I feel about sexual orientation whether you're gay, straight, bi,poly, or polka-dotted. Unless you're either a good friend of mine or we're in a situation where you would expect that sort of question to come up (and an interview ain't it, IMO) I just don't think it's appropriate.

Personally, I wish people would get the hell over this idea that they need to know personal details about people's lives. You don't need to know, and it definitely isn't your *right* to know. I feel like telling people to mind their own business ;-)

Rant over...

Posted by: Anne at February 27, 2006 1:41 PM

For me, it's really not a suggestion (even though I made it above, really out of frustration) that people should go around broadcasting whether they're gay or straight; ie, Waiter: "Need salt, sir?" Patron: "I'm gay!"...but really that people be able to be as casual about their significant whatevers whether they're gay or straight. That a gay movie star wouldn't have to be in the closet, but could say, "My boyfriend and I had the funniest thing happen to us this weekend..." as casually as straight people do. And why can't gay guys play straight parts still, even after they're "out"? Rock Hudson did it for years.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 27, 2006 2:30 PM

"I LOVE MY GAY SON!!!"

Posted by: Mama-Lena at February 27, 2006 3:05 PM

Okay, seriously.

I'm a gay man, and I hate coming out to people because it's as smelly as a Catholic confessional booth. ("You'd better sit down, kids. There's something I need to tell you about myself" -- ugh!) But here's a quick little story of how sexual orientation can pop up in ordinary conversation in a matter-of-fact way: A girl at school noticed a photograph of my niece and me and asked, "Oh, is that your girlfriend?" To which I responded "No. Actually, I'm gay." I know that the gay part was extra information, but it really seemed relevant to the conversation. I wasn't offended or anything that she assumed I was straight. But since she revealed an obvious misunderstanding of who I am, I thought I might as well quickly clear things up for her. No biggie.

Posted by: Lena at February 27, 2006 4:35 PM

That's the kind of thing I mean - when sexual orientation comes up in ordinary conversation, or as (what should be) an ordinary mention in day-to-day life. I certainly wouldn't go around announcing that I have a boyfriend to people without there be some reason for mentioning it. TMI. "Overshare" -- a word I love coined by the NYTimes' Bob Morris.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 27, 2006 4:48 PM

Almost any time I find myself thinking that someone is "down low" or "closeted" (ie, "pathological"), I try to remember to kick myself in the proud gay ass. There are lots of ways of being in the world. Circumspection can be cool. Shame is okay, too.

Posted by: Lena at February 27, 2006 5:17 PM

But are we only outing those we don't really like? I haven't seen Lily Tomlin asked any direct questions, lately.

Posted by: KateCoe at February 27, 2006 5:31 PM

The idea of Lily Tomlin having sex with anyone -- man OR woman -- is more than my stomach can bear. Please, tell me she's celibate!

Posted by: Lena at February 27, 2006 5:49 PM

> I wish people would get
> the hell over this idea
> that they need to know
> personal details...

Anne's covering the other side of my argument. There's a kind of pre-adolescent and trans-sexual gossip that everyone experiences in sixth grade or so, when we think think all the mysteries of the human heart can be solved like math equations. Soon enough we're terribly disappointed to learn that it's not true. But one corner of our soul will always live in that summer between sixth and seventh grade, when happiness belonged to the savvy. It's this realm that's ruled by the E! Entertainment Television sales department. What, you wanna put your car commerical in the first position of the second break of the Amy Alkon True Hollywood Story? Well, fella, who doesn't? Bring your checkbook and get in line...

It's not just a "sin of omission" that prevents poeple from asking strangers about their preference. It's a silly part of us that imagines that these matters belong on a driver's license like height and weight, as if meaningful insights could be derived.

Posted by: Crid at February 27, 2006 6:29 PM

Lena writes:

The idea of Lily Tomlin having sex with anyone -- man OR woman -- is more than my stomach can bear. Please, tell me she's celibate!

So, those who are unpalatable to you should be celibate? Lena, I hope that's a joke, because if it isn't, I'd be very disappointed in you. I hope Lily Tomlin is having wonderful sex. But I don't need to visualize it if I hear that she is. Go, Lily!

Rush Limbaugh on the other hand...

Seriously, why is the sexual orientation of any celebrity, gay or straight, an issue? If Stephen King is interviewed, shouldn't the pertinent questions be about his next project? If he were asked, "So, do you and the wife actually get it on, or are you a fruit loop and she's just a front?" I'd throw the magazine out. I'd rather hear about his next book or movie, myself. It might be interesting if he shared about his creative process.

I couldn't tell you a thing about Jack Nicholson's love life. And I don't want to know. But I find his approach to acting fascinating. Bizarre and certainly not the way I approach my roles, but interesting. And that's something I could tell you about.

Tom Cruise feels the need to share his love life with the world. Like I asked or cared to know. Come to think of it, I couldn't care less what Tom Cruise does about anything.

Posted by: Patrick at February 27, 2006 6:37 PM

Personally, I think Tom Cruise doth protest too much, and I wish he'd just STFU. About everything.

Posted by: deja pseu at February 27, 2006 7:58 PM

didn't tom cruise sue the pants off a penniless porn star for spreading rumours of a gay tryst? or am i thinking of travolta? i get my scientologists confused.

Posted by: kittie at February 28, 2006 6:12 AM

"it's okay to be straight, just don't flaunt it"
-anonymous lesbian

Posted by: kittie at February 28, 2006 6:19 AM

Patrick -- The subtext of my comment was "Lily Tomlin is butt ugly." Can't a girl get a little catty anymore? As for her sex life, I hope she's getting everything she wants: Lots of musty rugs to munch.

Posted by: Lena at February 28, 2006 6:31 AM

"I couldn't tell you a thing about Jack Nicholson's love life"

Where in the f*cK have you been? I can tell you tons and I'm a below-average consumer of pop culture.

Okay--Angelica ditched him because she didn't want to have threesomes, so he met the actress/waitress Rebecca Whatever, with whom he has kids (also had a son with Susan Anspach, and then they had an ugly lawsuit). Then Lara Flynn Boyle, who while very , very skinny, is reputed to be a total freak in the sack. What else do you want to know?

Posted by: KateCoe at February 28, 2006 2:05 PM

"Then Lara Flynn Boyle [...] is reputed to be a total freak in the sack."

Thanks to her Irish Catholic upbringing, no doubt.

Posted by: Lena at February 28, 2006 3:02 PM

KateCoe writes:

What else do you want to know?

That's the point. I didn't even want to know what you shared. What on earth is that information to me? I couldn't even tell you much about what you told me. It just when in one ear and out the other. The only thing I remember is something about some skinny chick who's a total freak in bed. Who cares?

Posted by: Patrick at February 28, 2006 4:52 PM

I know what you mean, Patrick. Who has time for celebrity gossip? I'm usually way too busy slogging through "Remembrance of Things Past" for the 5th or 6th time.

Posted by: Lena Cuisina at February 28, 2006 5:55 PM

I didn't even want to know what you shared.

I did! Here's to smart girls who know when to be superficial!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2006 9:08 PM

What is the total freakery?

Posted by: Crid at March 1, 2006 3:16 AM

Actually, Jack's relationships with women, including his mother/sister/grandmother (if you have to ask, you won't understand), have a great deal to do with his art.
Him and Marcel. No artist exists in a vacuum--their health, wealth and sexual selves all play a part in their works. So, sexual orientation is relevant, but I'm not one to ask.

Posted by: KateCoe at March 1, 2006 8:03 AM

"Him and Marcel."

Jack Nicholson and Marcel Duchamp? I've never seen a sentence containing those 2 names. It's rather surreal (or Dadaist), isn't it?

I agree with you, KateCoe, that "sexual orientation is relevant," along with race, SES, national origin, education, etc. But we get into trouble when we think that any one of those variables alone can reveal the entire truth about a person.

Posted by: Lena at March 1, 2006 8:33 AM

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