“I’m straight, and I don’t see how my interests have much to do with my sexual orientation. But it seems like my gay son only likes to do gay things. What is the relationship between sexuality and what kinda stuff you like to do?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Renee Zalles
As a firm believer that stereotypes do hold some truth, I can definitely see why it appears there may be a link between sexuality and the stuff you like to do. It is a well-known fact (and now a well-known joke) that all of my friends in high school knew I was gay long before I did, based almost solely on my music tastes and fashion choices. But the truth is, there isn’t a solid answer to this question – were my friends’ speculations based off of societally-ingrained stereotypes or some pattern of truth they’d witnessed in other lesbians? I’m guessing a little of both. But ultimately, it’s sort of a chicken and egg question. In a way, it’s like asking why one child in the family excels at math while the other is drawn to literature. We just don’t know. Scientists probably have a few educated guesses, but no firm answers. Similarly, we don’t really know what makes one person gay and another straight. We know it’s not a choice, but we don’t know much else.
If we look deeper into stereotypes, we easily see they tend to be socially constructed. Society tells us only boys like blue and only girls like pink, but we know that’s just not true. And if we look deeper into gay stereotypes, we can see them being disproved as well. A few notable examples include Michael Sam and Jason Collins – professional football and basketball players, respectively, who are openly gay but also participate in “masculine” sports – and there’s Frank Ocean – a very successful gay hip hop artist. While this list may not seem very long, I am sure that for every openly gay public figure, there are at least 2-3 closeted ones, many of whom are participating in a job or activity that isn’t stereotypically gay.
And this raises another question – why do many of these public figures remain in the closet when they have more power than the average citizen to actually reverse gay stereotypes? As we recently witnessed with Michael Sam, those who try are often held down by the exact stereotypes that keep them in the closet. Lauded as one of the most promising college football players in 2014, Sam was completely ignored in the 2014 NFL draft after coming out.
So, what I’m trying to say here is that there really isn’t a proven relationship between our sexuality and the activities we like to do. There are many people who disprove the gay stereotype every day, but unfortunately, many of them are not visible, either because we don’t know they are gay (because they aren’t aligning to the stereotype to which our society adheres), or because they do not feel comfortable revealing their sexuality. And it can be even harder when you’re younger. As a queer kid with a small social circle most likely limited to those in his school, it’s hard to even find people you can truly feel comfortable around. Your son may be hanging with some kids who perpetuate a stereotype simply because he has found a group of individuals he relates to because he’s gay, but not necessarily because of shared extracurricular interests.
The more we work to break down these stereotypes, the more we may learn they were completely wrong in the first place.
Renee Zalles has a BA in English Lit, a MFA in Advertising, and a PhD in being gay.
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