Thursday, February 08, 2007


When I have time later this evening, I need to talk about the weird question a student of mine asked me.


I'm back.

So a student of mine knocks on the office door after 6pm this evening and says she needs to ask me something. Her tone of voice suggests it's something serious. I lean heavily backward, office chair creaking under my bulk, and raise my eyebrows in a gesture my students all recognize as calm expectancy.

"Can you tell if someone is gay? I need to know if a friend of mine is gay," she blurts.

My eyebrows move higher into "polite befuddlement" mode. I put on my pedagogue's hat and ask her to watch with me as we surf the Net for references to gaydar and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." We hit the "gaydar" entry at Wikipedia; I then choose a pic from Google Images that features the cast of "Queer Eye" all in a row, and start pointing out the guys who "look" gay to me, the most obvious being that flaming blond dude. I tell my student quite sincerely that a couple of these guys don't look gay to me, while a couple others are borderline, and one or two-- aside from the most obvious flamer-- strike me as "probably gay." Since we both know that all of the cast is gay, my point is that my gaydar (and that of many men) tends to be spotty at best, which means she's on her own.

While we're surfing, my student feeds me a few of the standard gay stereotypes: gays are neat; they tend to tuck in their shirts; they're stylish or over-stylish. But it's obvious she's floundering and has no clue. Not only that, but she knows she has no clue, and for some reason this bothers her, because she wants to know if her guy friend is gay.

It's only after my student leaves the office that it occurs to me: if that guy is really a friend of my student... don't you think she'd know whether he was gay? Wouldn't he have told her, if she hadn't figured it out for herself?

Having been on the receiving end of the coming-out process with a loved one, I can say this with assurance: gay folks are far more likely to come out to their friends than they are to their family. It's those closest to the gay person who are least likely to get the news at the beginning. In fact, years might pass before anything is revealed. Those of us who know that person might have our suspicions, but nothing will be "official" until very late in the game. That's how it goes.

Can't say I blame gay folks for operating that way, given how little welcome they receive from society at large. Of course, crass asshole that I am, when this loved one came out to me, one of the first things I asked was, "So can I still tell gay jokes?"



Malcolm Pollack said...

New word: crasshole.

Maven said...

Here's another perspective...

Perhaps the "friend" is actually a guy she's interested in, and fed her the, "sorry... I'm gay" line so to gently let her down, and perhaps she's trying to, in a round about way, "call his bluff" as to whether he's truly gay or not.

Just a theory.

Jelly said...

I understand your Queer Eye example, but you know - gaydar isn't just a visual thing. In fact, I'd say it's totally not fair to try to employ one's gaydar by just viewing a picture of someone. You need to use all of your senses, really, and most often it boils down to "the gut." I think if you know a lot of gay folks, or indeed if you are gay - it makes it a bit easier to pick other gays out of a crowd.