At The Quest First Tuesday Social earlier this week, the host for the evening set lovely icebreakers to get people mingling and having some stimulating conversations. One of the tasks read – ‘Whilst you are talking to people introducing yourself, try to identify at least 3 BIG GAY MYTHS: e.g – ALL gay men love musical theatre, ALL gay men are fabulous interior designers and ALL gay men adore Barbra Streisand.
The conversations were certainly stimulating and engaging, as all sorts of other gay myths were suggested and explored. The myths were plentiful and included – ALL gay men love beauty products, ALL gay are promiscuous…… ALL gay men are peadophilles…. the list went on. The subsequent conversations were rich, as we took time dispelling many of them on an individual basis.
Yesterday when I noticed a feed on tweeter saying the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had mentioned ‘gay men’ and ‘pedophiles’ in the same sentence, I could not help but reflect on our Tuesday night dialogue on gay myths. I was curious and looked online for more details. From what I have seen from the video clips, the PM is handed a list of alleged child abusers and asked by the presenter whether he will be contacting those on the list, ‘some of whom he knew’. The PM responds “There is a danger, if we’re not careful, that this could turn into a sort of witch-hunt, particularly against people who are gay and I’m worried about the sort of thing you are doing right now………”
Like many, I too was intrigued regarding the referencing of ‘gay’, and I see we have now been reassured that it was not the PM’s intention to associate child sex abuse with gay people. Although, I am certain that regardless of the PM’s intention, for some, hearing those remarks it would have reinforced a belief that they hold as The Truth.
The whole incident reminds me of a piece I came across in the Huffington Post earlier this year about the US census. The headline read – Gay Couples More Likely To Be Interracial Or Inter-Ethnic, According To New 2010 Census Analysis. And the image accompanying the piece featured…… well, see for yourself….
On reading the piece, I posted it on my Facebook page and asked ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ A couple of my friends said nothing was wrong with it, one person mentioned that it simply featured guys having a good time. I then asked those who had responded to read the headline and look at the picture again. When it appeared that I was perhaps not making my point clear enough, I asked what that image had to do with the headline. I also asked why an image of a gay couple had not been shown, instead of the image used. A friend mentioned that perhaps the journalist who put up the piece had been in a hurry to post it and had not given it much thought. We agreed to disagree.
The next day, the Huffington Post carried another piece about the US census. This time the headline read – Interracial Marriage: 1 In 10 American Marriages Are Mixed, Census Reveals. And the image accompanying the piece……. well, again see for yourself…..
I held the view that the first picture used to portray ‘gay couples’ simply reinforced a common stereotype about how gay men are perceived ; regardless of the well meaning intention of the Huffington Post. In conversations with my friends about the piece at the time, I also realized how many of us have ‘normalised’ such portrayals, that we are almost desensitized from it. The fact is, if you Google ‘gay culture’ right now, images like that shown by the Huffington Post will be on the front page of your search.
As we discussed gay myths this past Tuesday, I realized that it is actually in talking and debating these stereotypes and notions about gay culture that we start to dispel the untruths. Yes, the Huffington Post unintentionally got it wrong by reinforcing a stereotype about gay men, and yet it provided a powerful opportunity for me to sit down with my friends to talk about popular images of gay men, which of many of us had unconsciously normalized. And yes, the PM got it wrong too, by including the word ‘gay’ in his response, particularly as the question had not referenced gay people. Yet, the swiftness in which Downing Street issued a clarification and the speed in which cyberspace picked up the story tells me that a huge number of people are conscious of when a stereotype is being potentially reinforced.
Gay myths and stereotypes will always be with us, and in an age where so many of them appear to be normalized, it appears that vigilance is required by those who should know better, to ensure they are not unintentionally reinforcing something they know is not The Truth. And when they (we) unintentionally do so, the rest have a duty to debate the issue and dispel the untruths.