November 30, 2010

Q&A with the Chronicler of Homophobia's Disappearance

Eric Anderson is a running-coach-turned-sociologist at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom who LiveScience
recently announced some head-turning news: Homophobia in high schools and universities in the U.K. has dropped so low that young straight men are completely comfortable with kissing one another. That includes what Anderson dubs "sustained" kissing, or what a layperson might call "making out."
According to Anderson, the findings reveal a generation gap between adults who grew up in homophobic culture and youth who find it incredible that homosexuality was ever stigmatized, much less illegal. LiveScience caught up with Anderson by phone in San Diego, where he was attending a conference, to talk gender, sexuality and sports.
Q: You started your career as a running coach. How did you become a sociologist?
In 1993, I came out of the closet as an openly gay high school coach. After two years of escalating symbolic violence, one of my athletes was brutally beaten by a homophobic football player. That event made the national media, which thrust me into the spotlight, and I found myself being utilized by the press. My relationship to the press grew from one solely based on sport to one in which gay issues took center stage. I realized if I'm going to represent the gay community, and if I'm going to fully understand what's going on here, I need to do my Ph.D. in sociology studying sport,masculinities and sexualities.
Q: There is a stereotype that sports can be homophobic and violent. What have you found in your research?
Here's the thing, when I first started researching gay male athletes in 1998, I expected their stories to be as horrific as the one I had from 1993 to 1995. But things had changed. Athletes were coming out of the closet, and they were having successful experiences on their teams without violence. In fact, I've been studying gay male athletes in both the U.S. and the U.K. for 12 years now, and there's not been a single case of violence that I'm aware of.
I have some new research coming out quite soon that shows quite the opposite, that when an athlete comes out of the closet, it bonds his team closer together. Self-disclosure brings about self-disclosure, and that makes people feel closer to each other. 
Q: Does your research have implications for "don't ask, don't tell" [the American military policy that allows gay members to serve only if they keep their sexuality secret]?
Absolutely. "Don't ask, don’t tell" is a dinosaur. To assume that all military men are homophobic is a gross stereotype. It's a completely unfair stereotype to think that they're not professional enough to work with gay people, that they don't have gay family and friends, that they didn't grow up in high schools with gay mates and gay teammates. The reproduction of "don't ask, don't tell" is an old gray-hair-driven phenomenon.
Q: You moved to the U.K. six years ago. How are the U.S. and the U.K. different in terms of homophobia?
Well, on quantitative studies, the United Kingdom comes out about 20 to 25 percentage points better on the same questions about homophobia in comparison to the U.S. And this is a trend that has basically stayed the same for 25 years now.
Whatever is going on in the United Kingdom, you can expect to see it go on a few years later in the United States. Metrosexuality, certainly a phenomenon that Americans are now familiar with, it didn't start in Manhattan. It started in Europe, and it started in England, in terms of English-speaking countries. And then it migrated over to the U.S. a few years later.
The research that I do in the United Kingdom, I also conduct in the United States, and I find that there's a little bit of a lag, but the United States is making incredibly rapid progress, particularly amongst their youth, on issues of sex and gender.
Q: What does a decrease in homophobia mean for how society views masculinity and femininity?
In the 1980s, homophobia was so extreme that heterosexual men were at a loss to prove that they weren't gay. One cannot prove a negative, and so heterosexual men have had to prove and reprove and reprove their heterosexuality. They would do this through multiple mechanisms, but one of the mechanisms was to police their gendered behaviors, police the way they moved their bodies, police how emotional they were with other men, and police how tactile they were with other men.
When you live in a culture that is very aware that homosexuality exists — all Western cultures today — and is very homophobic — this is America, 1988 — you can expect men to have a very narrow range of gendered behaviors. However, if you live in a culture that's incredibly homophobic, like almost all Islamic countries today, but they don't actually think that their friends or their family could be gay, well, then, their gendered behaviors aren't so policed.
So there was a particular time period, and I call it a period of high homo-hysteria, in the United States in the 1980s, in which for the first time everybody became aware that homosexuality existed en masse. And we couldn't deny this, because normal American men were dying in normal American families of AIDS. It opened up the door to the realization that anybody could be gay. That sent men into a tizzy trying to show that they weren't one of the anybodies that could be gay.
And then, after 1993, homophobia starts to dissipate at a very rapid rate, and now, today's youth, they don't care so much. And that's given them a whole new terrain of behaviors to express.
Q: We touched on some surprising findings of your work on athletes and homosexuality, but what other important behaviors have you found?
Well, the findings are only surprising to those who are 25 or 30 years of age and older. They're not really surprising to 17-year-olds. That's not to say that this new attitude exists in all demographics in all spaces in all places. But it is to say that it's a growing emergence and [homophobia] is particularly unacceptable in white, urban middle-class youth.
So some of the other interesting findings are, we've got openly gay athletes playing on teams and being successful. We've got straight men bonding more, being emotionally intimate with each other, developing bro-mances. We've got straight men cuddling, holding each other, spooning, in England. Some of that is occurring in the United States, though not as often.
Q: Given the current awareness of anti-gay bullying among high school kids in the United States, it may be a surprise to hear that homophobia is decreasing. Are these incidents remnants of homophobia or is something else going on?
Bullying is not on the rise. The media's willingness to call the kids who committed suicide gay is.
Homophobia is on the decline, but it's not gone. Kids will always kill themselves, including gay kids (as sad as that is), and when it's a gay kid, we will look for bullying as a cause. The encouraging aspect here is that the media is now reporting these, and there is an overwhelming and positive response.
Q: My last question is a simple one: What do you do when you're not doing sociology?
I don't think that there's ever a time I'm not doing sociology. I can't shut my brain off. Even when I'm on a holiday or just socializing, I'm constantly monitoring what's going on and discussing it in my head about what the hell I see going on.
But other than that, I'm a runner. My partner and I like to travel quite a bit. We like to lie on the couch and watch TV and I don't know, go clubbing? We're gay boys, we like to go clubbing.
By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer

    Fighting The "Gay Agenda," Not So Much Of A Political Winner Anymore

    Pew has a new poll out today showing that the nation has shifted on Don't Ask Don't Tell, since the 1990s. Only 27 percent of Americans oppose gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, down from 45 percent in 1994. Fifty-eight percent of Americans support ending DADT. Even among Republicans, there is a narrow split: 44 percent oppose gays serving, while 40 percent favor. One in three white evangelicals support allowing gays to serve, and among those who attend religious services weekly, the divide is 40/40. In short, opposing the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell is not a political winner for most politicians.
    Support for same sex marriage has also been rising rapidly, from 27 percent in 1996 to 42 percent in 2010. On this question, independents are closer to Democrats than Republicans in viewing same sex marriage as not a big deal.
    Similar trends can be found when it comes to gays and lesbians raising children. A minority of Americans in 2010 (43 percent) think it is bad for society to have more gay couples raising children, while a majority think it is either a good thing (12 percent) or it makes no difference (41 percent) to have gay couples in parenting roles. In 2007, according to Pew, 50 percent of Americans said it was bad for society to have gay couples raising children, which means three years have yielded a seven point swing, which is sure to continue, since younger Americans tend to be more accepting of homosexuality than older Americans.


    The end of gay men being camp

    Effeminate gay men are an increasingly rare sight now the 'straight-acting' are in the ascendency
    The man standing just along the bar is getting a lot of attention, and he's only been in here a couple of minutes. His appearance may be something to do with it; the hair colour and the skin colour, for that matter, make quite a statement. But he's not the only one in here with bleached hair or a tan that owes little to natural sunlight.
    It's not just the look. He's also very camp. Very camp indeed. Indulge your most extreme stereotype of the effeminate gay man, and you won't be far off.
    It occurs to me, suddenly, that there seem to be fewer of these very feminine types around these days. Most of the gay men I know or see around me aren't camp at all: you wouldn't pick them out as gay at work, in the supermarket, or even at the hairdressers. A small city like mine, where the gay scene amounts to one bar and a men-only ballroom dancing class, is perhaps not the place for flamboyancy to flourish. But this is fairly typical middle England, the sort of place where millions live, and it has become pretty much a camp-free zone.
    I wonder about the man at the bar, with his loud shirt and louder personality. Has he developed this persona in response to what he sees as the expectations of the gay scene, or is it genetically predetermined, as inevitable as his eye colour or whether he'll lose his hair?
    Not surprisingly there's no consensus on the issue, although research has been carried out and books written. Strangely, some of the most thorough research was conducted by speech therapists – a lisp being one of the classic camp traits. The majority view seems to be that environment trumps genes here: just as environmental factors such as diet cause obesity but some people are genetically predisposed to gain weight more easily, so men learn to be camp but it comes more naturally to some than to others.
    I'm interested in the reactions I'm seeing to the man at the bar. He isn't going down well. The men in the bar exchange disparaging looks, raised eyebrows, whispered comments. If it was a straight pub I would have expected this, but this is a gay bar, and virtually all the men in here are gay.
    Many gay men find "camp" entertaining, funny – attractive, even, as a personality trait in their friends and acquaintances. But very few find it sexually attractive. That limp-wristed, bitchy queen might be hilarious, but you wouldn't want him as a boyfriend, or even as a one-night stand.
    "Masculine" gay men are in the ascendency; the dating websites are full of them, and the "straight-acting" tag is there in the first sentence of the profile, even before GSOH. Research has shown that 20 times more gay men who visit dating sites want a "masculine" or "straight-acting" partner than a "femme". Even the vast majority of gay men who identify as effeminate prefer masculine men as sexual partners, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. By now we should be feeling a little sorry for the man at the bar.
    But what a strange term "straight-acting" is. Hardly empowering, at first sight. It appears to mean "copying the way straight men behave"; it implies faking. Why should gay men choose a phrase like that to describe themselves?
    I think the choice of the word lies more in the psyche of sexual attraction. For many gay men "straight-acting" is highly attractive, but "straight" is even more so. So if you're looking for a description of yourself that will have the maximum appeal on your dating profile and can't use "straight", for obvious reasons, maybe "straight-acting" isn't so bad. It's clear and descriptive, and it's fit for purpose, providing that you can overlook the implication that "-acting" means you're just putting it on.
    And what of this masculine gay man? He isn't new, of course, he's always been there, especially in the leather subculture, but now he's mainstream, confident and critical of the short-comings of the camp-it-up gay scene. A friend of mine summed up the new attitude in a couple of sentences. He had been to Birmingham Pride to work on the stall of a gay outdoor pursuits group. I asked him how it had gone. "Oh, it was all right because I was busy, but it's a bit gay for me." A few years ago he might have hesitated before making a comment like that, but not now.
    And what if the pressure to be "straight-acting" gradually squeezes out camp behaviour? Will we have lost something important? Perhaps we should be pleased to see it go, an unnecessary relic of a time when gay men risked prosecution and when a lisp and a limp wrist were a relatively safe way of communicating your sexuality to other men. Or maybe it would be a sell-out, allowing ourselves to be railroaded into behaving like straight men – and, what is more, the kind of straight men who are most likely to give us homophobic abuse or a beating.
    Perhaps gay men should view "camp" in the same way as we view a minority language or regional accent, something to nurture and encourage, even if we don't speak that way ourselves.

    WikiLeaks latest... the Pope may be Catholic

    Last updated at 8:55 AM on 30th November 2010
    While other media outlets have focused on the geopolitical fall-out from the 250,000 leaked documents, this column prefers to trade in tittle-tattle. 
    WikiLeaks cartoon
    Here are a handful of ‘Top Secret Not for Foreign Eyes’ (NOFORN) U.S. government communiques that have landed on my desk. 
    You can judge their accuracy for yourselves:

    Read more:

    Lady Gaga Puts Senators On Notice Over DADT Repeal

    Singer Lady Gaga has put Senators on notice over repeal of “Don't Ask,
     Don't Tell,” the 1993 law that bans gay and bisexual troops from 
    serving openly.
    Seated on an overstuffed sofa and wearing giant sunglasses, the pop 
    singer puts senators on notice.
    “Senators you have been put on notice by me and by the people of 
    this country,” Lady Gaga says in the 2-minute, black-and-white clip.
     “You said you would debate and address this law when the Pentagon
     returned with a strategy and tomorrow morning you will have it.
     Will you keep your word?”
    The Alejandro singer adds that the law “reinforces discrimination,”
     which is partially responsible for an alarming gay teen suicide rate.
    “Kids are being led to believe that it's OK to hate and condemn based
     on our differences. And this recent horrific news of gay suicides is
     really proof of our social repression and ultimately government 
    repression that is killing our youth.” (The video is embedded in the
     right panel of this page.)
    Lady Gaga led a one-celebrity campaign against the policy in the fall
     when the Senate first attempted to repeal the ban. She walked the 

    In 'It Gets Better' Video, MSNBC's Thomas Roberts Says He Attempted Suicide

    In an It Gets Better video, Thomas Roberts, the openly gay anchor on
     MSNBC, says he attempted suicide at age 15.
    The It Gets Better Project encourages troubled gay teens to hang in
     there and not cave in to bullies, because life gets better.
    “At 15 I unsuccessfully attempted suicide,” the handsome 38-year-
    old Roberts says. “Luckily, my sister found me and saved my life. 
    My family, they rallied around me, but I couldn't tell them what had
     brought me to that point. But I saw first-hand the pain in their eyes
     and I realized that suicide wasn't the answer.”
    Roberts, who previously acknowledged that he was a victim of sexual 
    abuse, tells gay teens that “You're here for a purpose.”
    “You've got to know and believe that you are here for a purpose, 
    I promise that you are – just the way you are,” he says. (The video is 
    embedded in the right panel of this page.)
    Other celebrities who have added their voices to the collection
     include singer Adam LambertMax Adler, who plays a bully on Glee

    Johnny Depp Tells 'Vanity Fair' That All His Characters Are Gay

    Academy Award-nominated actor Johnny Depp says all his characters 
    are gay in a new interview with Vanity Fair.
    In the cover story for the January edition of the celebrated glossy, Depp
     talks to rocker Patti Smith, and reveals that his flamboyant portrayal 
    of Captain Jack Sparrow in the blockbuster movie franchise the 
    Pirates of the Caribbean made Disney executives nervous.
    The studio “couldn't stand” his interpretation of the pirate and
     one executive boldly asked if the character was gay.
    “All my characters are gay,” the 47-year-old Depp replied. 
    He said
     his response “really made her nervous.”
    While many of Depp's characters are theatrical – some would say over
    -the-top – the actor has yet to take on a gay role. In The Libertine
    Depp played an English bisexual poet.
    Depp won the Screen Actors Guild's Best Actor award for playing
     Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of
     the Black Pearl.
    Depp first gained fame as a teen idol on the Fox crime drama series
     21 Jump Street. He appears next opposite Angelina Jolie in The Tourist
    which opens nationwide on December 10.

    The Catholic Grandmother With a Powerful Message for Her Church on Gay Rights

    You've got to love the people in the pews of the Catholic Church, who aren't letting institutionalized homophobia within the ranks of U.S. bishops stand unchallenged. We've seen artists in Minnesota take their Church to task for spending scads of money trying to take away rights for gays and lesbians, rather than feed the hungry or house the homeless. We've seen nuns in Illinois strike back against the institutional Church's lobbying against civil unions legislation.
    And now we've got a Tennessee Catholic mother and grandmother, taking the Church to task for denying supporters of gay rights Communion. And it's some heartfelt testimony from a woman who sees the anti-gay work of her Church leaders to be nothing short of blasphemous.
    "I'm a Catholic mom and a grandmother, and I wear a rainbow pin every day. I wear it to remind folks to stop the rhetoric that causes gay bullying. I wear it so that I can remind folks to treat our children with dignity," says Deb Word in the video. "I don't think being a gay activist is a bad thing."
    Word created a postcard that she mailed to every Catholic bishop in the United States, urging them to stop denying gay people Communion, stop fighting efforts to pass marriage equality, stop encouraging communities to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and to open their hearts and minds and build a truly inclusive church.
    Funny how people in the pews like Word are living out the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, while the hierarchy within the Church tries to shuck their obligations to build a society rooted in dignity. If only we could flip the switch and let the parishioners guide the Church for a change.
    Word's postcard that she mailed contained a very simple, yet powerful message for Catholic leaders.
    "The postcard reads, 'Dear bishop: I house discarded LGBT youth -- eight so far this year. I have bandaged a child who has been beaten. I've prayed over the near lifeless body of a child who attempted suicide. I house, feed, counsel and love these children ... and I remind our clergy not to tell these children they are hellbound because of their orientation," Word says, "Bishop, you might call me a gay activist, and I am. And I would ask you to join me. Do you have in your diocese a homeless shelter that reaches out to LGBT youth? Do you have non-discrimination clauses in your hiring and in your schools?"
    Because if these bishops were truly practicing the breadth and depth of Catholicism, they would, because nothing is more important in the faith than loving everyone -- even those who might be your enemies -- beyond all measure.
    by: Michael Jones who is a Editor. He has worked in the field of human rights communications for a decade, most recently for Harvard Law School.

    Something we knew: Openly Gay Troops Won't Harm the Military-Pentagon

    The Pentagon has released the results of their mammoth survey on how to implement a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," with senior Pentagon leaders speaking at a press briefing this afternoon. The gist of their report?
    That openly gay troops won't harm the military at all, and that the vast majority of servicemebers -- a staggering 70 percent -- have no problem serving alongside gay or lesbian colleagues.
    That figure is likely to play a prominent role in testimony before the U.S. Senate this week, as the debate on repeal legislation moves forward. And it's an important figure to repeat over and over again, especially considering that politicians like Sen. John McCain, Sen. Lindsay Graham, and even Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, wax on about how homosexuality is intrinsically evil and that the military might go through a colossal freak out if it has to accept openly gay or lesbian troops.
    These Senators are just dreadfully wrong. And they're about to be schooled by senior military leaders who say that the Defense Department is strong enough to implement a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and current U.S. servicemembers are honorable enough to work alongside colleagues regardless of their sexual orientation.
    Other statistics from the Pentagon's study echo that the time is right for a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Nearly 70 percent of troops said that they had served alongside someone who they believe was gay or lesbian, and of those, a whopping 92 percent thought that unit cohesion was either fantastic, pretty fantastic, or that it made no difference at all whether someone was gay or lesbian.
    More to the point, 89 percent of Army combat units and 84 percent of Marine combat units said that they had positive experiences working alongside people who were gay or lesbian. And 74 percent of spouses of military service-members said that repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would have zero impact on their view of whether their husbands or wives should continue to serve.
    Think those are statistics that can influence some moderate Senators -- here's looking at you Sens. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Richard Lugar, Scott Brown, Mark Kirk, George Voinovich, Blanche Lincoln, Lisa Murkowski, and even John Ensign -- to jump on board the repeal bandwagon? Here's hoping, because we need these votes to combat the antics of Sen. John McCain, who has pledged to keep discrimination in the military alive and well at all costs.
    Photo credit: U.S. Army

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