Category Archives: Theory

Gaydar

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I saw this on HuffPost Gay Voices and found it pretty interesting.

Is Gaydar Real?
By Rebecca Adams

Academic studies can be fascinating… and totally confusing. So we decided to strip away all of the scientific jargon and break them down for you.

The Background

Whether or not “gaydar” — a supposed intuitive ability to identify gay people — is real, many people believe it’s possible to tell someone’s sexual orientation just by looking at them. The problem is, research (and anecdotal evidence) has found that gaydar tends to rely on stereotypical attributes — like the way someone dresses or how they style their hair — that don’t actually tell you anything about who someone’s attracted to. Gaydar, therefore, seems to legitimize these stereotypical myths, something that’s been shown to lead to prejudice and oppression. Unlike other forms of stereotypes, however, gaydar has seeped it’s way into popular culture, and it’s considered relatively harmless and socially acceptable.

In a new five-part study, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison set out to see if what they refer to as “the gaydar myth” is as “harmless” as some people may think or if it’s just a veiled method of perpetuating gay stereotypes.

The Setup

In the first study, participants looked at pictures of 55 gay men and 50 straight men’s faces selected from an online dating site. Each photo was rated for overall quality, from “very poor” to “excellent,” by a set of student raters before the study. Then, the researchers randomly paired the photos with a supposed descriptive statement about the person that was either gay-stereotypic (“He likes shopping.”), stereotype-neutral (“He likes to read.”) or straight-stereotypic (“He likes football.”). These weren’t actually applicable to the men in the photos, but participants didn’t know that. They were then instructed to determine whether or not the man in the photo was gay. For the second study, the researchers repeated the first study, but this time they only chose photos that were rated highest in quality from both the straight and gay men groups of photos.

Both the first and second studies found that when participants were given stereotypically gay personal statements with photos, they were much more likely to guess that the man in the photo was gay. Meaning: The pictures didn’t matter nearly as much as the stereotypes did.

The third study had participants categorize the same gay and straight men’s pictures without the accompanying stereotypic statements. The researchers found that people were more likely to assume men in higher quality photos were gay — they seemingly assumed gay men would take better photos. The fourth study replicated the third with women’s photos instead of men’s to see if the same was true for lesbians. Participants were unable to gauge sexual orientation simply by looking at a person’s face.

Finally, the researchers did their fifth study to determine whether or not gaydar serves as a legitimizing myth for these stereotypes. They gathered 233 undergraduate participants and divided them into three groups: one that would be told that gaydar is stereotyping, one that would be told that gaydar is real and one that would be given no information regarding gaydar. Participants then completed a modified version of the first study, using the same pictures and statements. This time, however, participants could refrain from guessing the person’s sexual orientation if they wanted.

The Findings

In the final study, participants’ answers depended on which group they were in. Those in the “gaydar is real” group tended to believe in gaydar more than the other groups, and people in the “gaydar is stereotyping” group believed in it less than the control group. In this final version of the study, it was easy to see that people didn’t assign sexual orientation simply because they were forced to choose — participants had a “no idea” option, yet they chose it “very infrequently,” according to the study.

As the researchers put it: “The evidence provided in Study 5 indicates that the folk concept of gaydar serves as a legitimizing myth, promoting stereotyping to infer orientation by giving that stereotyping process the alternate label of ‘gaydar.'” Basically, when people slap on a euphemism for stereotyping — in this case, “gaydar” — they feel free to judge groups of people by very limited parameters which legitimize societal myths. These findings build on past research about how stereotypes that seem plausible will likely lead to inaccurate assumptions.

The Takeaway

Taken at face value, the concept of gaydar may not seem like such a big deal, but there’s one big problem with stereotyping: It often leads to inaccurate conclusions. The researchers put it in terms of the “gay men like shopping” trope. If people assume gay men like shopping, that doesn’t mean that all men who like shopping are gay (or that all gay men like shopping). Not to mention, if gay men make up 1.8 percent of the male population in America, even if they’re ten times more likely to enjoy shopping, men who like shopping are still more likely to be straight — there are simply more men who identify as straight out there.

Perhaps the researchers put it best: “Whether people fit or violate their group’s stereotypes is immaterial to their value — we would hope that, rather than being judged or pressured based on the existence of a stereotype, people can be treated as individuals and judged on their own merit.” Amen.

The Closet Professor’s Conclusion

It seems to me that the study has two major flaws. First, it assumes that gaydar is purely visual and can be determined by a picture of a face. When my “gaydar” goes off, it’s more than just a picture of a face. It has to do with how he moves, how he talks, and basically, how he carries himself. The most sure fire way is to watch his eyes. If a hot guy walks by and his eyes follow, then he is probably gay, but if a hot girl walks by and his eyes follow her, then he is probably straight. You have to watch the eyes though, because head movements can be misleading, especially for someone in the closet.

Second, the study assumes that gaydar is something that heterosexual men possess. While I do think that some women possess gaydar, most straight men do not. Heterosexual men often use all kinds of bad stereotypes to identify gay men; however, gay men and some women use more subtle stereotypes to identify gay men. I do not dispute that a large part of gaydar is stereotyping, but I think gay men tend to be more careful with stereotyping and are more intuitive. Many gay men were stereotyped before they came out, so they aren’t as quick to judge others unfairly. That being said, I will postulate that wishful thinking does occasionally interferes with gaydar.

Finally, I think gaydar is possibly an evolutionary characteristic. Gay men have always existed, but we had to find one another. Historically, if a gay man hit on the wrong man, i.e. a straight man, then he might not survive the attempt. Therefore, I think along with the genetic code that makes us gay, we also have the ability to find one another. Then again, gaydar could be a complete myth built on stereotypes, but I think it is very real, some people just have better gaydar than others. I tend to think mine is pretty good.


A Difficult Climb

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Most people do not fully understand how an amendment can be proposed and ratified. As someone who teaches history and government, it’s part of my job to understand this process. Article V of the Constitution lays out the processes by which constitutional amendments can be proposed and ratified. It begins with the proposing of the amendment which can be done in one of two ways.

In the first method which takes place in the U.S. Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate must approve the amendment by a two-thirds supermajority vote, a joint resolution amending the Constitution. Amendments so approved do not require the signature of the President of the United States and are sent directly to the states for ratification. The second method, which has never been used, requires two-thirds (or 34) of the state legislatures to ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendments.

Of these two processes, it is unlikely that a new Equal Rights Amendment as I outlined on Monday could pass by a supermajority of both houses of the current Congress. The atmosphere is highly politicized with Republicans largely against equality for LGBT Americans and Democrats largely for LGBT equality. With Democrats not holding a supermajority in both house, it is highly unlikely to be able to move through Congress.

However, 34 states legislatures could call for a national convention. The likelihood of this is fairly slim because it’s never been done before, and the majority of state legislatures, roughly 60 percent are controlled by Republicans. However, the majority of Americans, even if you go by state-by-state polls, favor same-sex marriage. At least, two-thirds of the states have 50 percent or more of its citizens who favor same-sex marriage. If the majority of citizens in favor of marriage equality in those 34 states became vocal enough, then state legislatures might be convinced to vote for a national convention for proposing amendments. This is also a tricky prospect because it would depend on who the states sent to a national convention and whether or not they would even even choose to propose a new ERA. The precedent set by the original Constitutional Convention would point to a national convention throwing out their mandate and proposing completely different amendments.

If a new ERA were proposed by a national convention, then it would move to the states for the ratification process. Again, Article V recognizes two ways for this to be accomplished. An amendment could be added to the Constitution if three-fourths of the state legislatures approve it. States may also choose to call ratifying conventions in which three-fourths of the states approve it. This method has been used only once, to ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition.

The fact is, I realize this is a dream. Even with the 30 states that currently have same-sex marriage legalized, not all of those states would want to agree to a constitutional amendment for LGBT equality. Some polls show that in 38 states, there is a majority or near majority of people who believe that same-sex marriages should be recognized. The Pew Research poll which looked at regional support of same-sex marriage showed that only 34 states supported same-sex marriage, with basically the old Confederate states of the South, plus Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia being opposed to same-sex marriage.

Of the thousands of proposals that have been made to amend the Constitution, only 33 obtained the necessary two-thirds vote in Congress. Of those 33, only 27 amendments (including the Bill of Rights) have been ratified. It’s a long shot but with enough momentum and support behind it, it is a possibility.

Sources:

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_States
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_opinion_of_same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_States
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_state_legislatures
http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/constitution/
http://www.freedomtomarry.org/resources/entry/marriage-polling
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/15/gay-marriage-arrives-in-the-south-where-the-public-is-less-enthused/

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Attractions

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Everywhere you look, people want to use labels: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight. Even within the gay community, we are put into types: bears, twinks, muscle daddies, leather men, queens, and the list goes on and on. The types of gay men in existence are wide and varied, and you can find any number of lists of gay male types. We are even expected to choose a “type,” i.e. a type of guy that we are attracted to. I’ve often wondered what my type of guy is. Most of my friends would say tall and skinny, but that’s not always the case.

The fact is, the type of men I find most attractive goes in cycles. Sometimes (and truthfully most of the time), I go for the smooth and muscular A&F type of guy, usually one that has a moderate amount of body hair and not totally smooth. The guy usually also has great hair. (I’ve never figured out my fascination with hair, but it’s definitely a factor when I look at a guy. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had “great” hair, and I am now losing what I have.) Think Charlie White, the Olympic ice dancer, although his chest might be a tad bit too hairy, but he has best hair. Then again, there are times when I’m turned on by a really masculine, hairy, muscular guy. Then at other times, I like the more pretty, slim, and somewhat effeminate guy (though I’ve always found the word effeminate to be offensive, but I can’t think of another word to use). Really, all of it is according to my mood at the moment.

Over the years, Ive done a fair amount of thinking about the types of men I am attracted to. Most often, I conclude that I don’t have a “type.” But I’ve always wondered why the type of men that I find attractive is different from time to time. When I say my tastes change it’s not like it happens from one minute to the next, I may find a particular type of man attractive for a week or more, before settling on another. I almost always find the cute A&F types attractive no matter what, especially, if its a particular person I have a crush on. And just a side note, baseball players always seem to get my blood flowing, but as I said that’s just a side note. However, I always come back to the same question: what causes my attraction to certain types to change every so often?

I’ve always kind of concluded that it is the testosterone levels in my body. Science has proven that men have hormonal cycles just like women. Some studies say that it is a roughly 90 day cycle. Others say that it is a 20 minute cycle, a 24 hour cycle, a seasonal cycle, or even a lifetime cycle. The basic consensus though is that men do have daily and seasonal cycles. The Daily cycle begins with high levels of testosterone in the morning, usually causing morning erections, and then as the day goes on, the testosterone levels drop throughout the day. Men’s hormones cycle also happen throughout the year. In studies conducted in the United States, France, and Australia, it was found that men secrete their highest levels of sex hormones in October and their lowest levels in April. There was a 16% increase in testosterone levels from April to October and a 22% decline from October to April. Interestingly, although Australia, for example, is in its springtime when France and the United States are in their autumn, men in all three parts of the world showed a similar pattern of peaks in October and valleys in April.

I should keep a diary of my moods and changing “types” over a period of time and see if it does correspond with any known hormonal cycle, but truthfully, I’m just not organized enough to do that. However, I have always believed that most likely when I find less masculine guys attractive, then my guess would be that my testosterone level is high, and I want to be more aggressive; whereas, when my testosterone cycle is on a down swing, I am more attracted to very masculine men. This is just a theory of mine, and a way of me thinking out loud and sharing with my readers.

I am wondering though, do any of you have similar periods when the types of guys you are attracted to changes? Do you always find the same type of guy attractive? This is a bit of shallow post, because I am only basing attraction on looks, when I much prefer to get to know someone and find a connection that I am truly attractive to, regardless of looks. So what do you guys think? I’d really like to have some feedback and see what you think about this topic of “types.”


Normal?

What is normal?  Everyone seems to have their own definition of what makes up normal.  Merriam-Webster defines it as “according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle.” We mean that he or she is like everyone else, behaves as most people behave, and stays within current conventions. The idea of what is normal changes from one decade to another.

Behavior can be normal for an individual when it is consistent with the most common behavior for that person. “Normal” is also used to describe when someone’s behavior conforms to the most common behavior in society. Definitions of normality vary by person, time, place, and situation – it changes along with changing societal standards and norms. Normal behavior is often only recognized in contrast to abnormality. In its simplest form, normality is seen as good while abnormality is seen as bad. Someone being seen as “normal” or “not normal” can have social ramifications, including being included, excluded or stigmatized by larger society.

Although it is difficult to define normality, since it is a flexible concept, the existence of these ramifications also makes it an important definition. The study of what is normal is called normatology – this field attempts to develop an operational definition distinguishing between normality and abnormality (or pathology). The general question of ‘what is normal’ is discussed in many fields, including philosophy, psychology and sociology.

As part of the LGBT community, we are often seen by some as being abnormal, but really that is just an aberration.  Because we are all unique, I don’t think there truly is anything as normal or abnormal.  Teaching high school and college, I’ve known many students who buck the norm.  They want to be different, and they have no desire to be like all of the others.  Our former principal believed that for those who were outside the norm, bullying them back into the fold was natural and worth encouraging.  I, and most of the other teachers, believed that he could not be more wrong.  The uniqueness of students, and people in general, are what makes us such a wonderful society.  We don’t live in a totalitarian society or even a utopia where everyone is the same and there is no reason for normal v. abnormal.  For me, such a society would be a very boring place.  Instead, it takes all of our uniqueness to make the world a better place.  We all have our talents and individuality.

How can we claim that just because someone is different (especially when we are all different in some way) that anything is abnormal?  The definitions of normal and abnormal have long been reasons used for discrimination and hatred.  We all have a little bit of discrimination in us.  We all look at someone and think: they are a bit odd.  Truthfully though, we should embrace those differences and allow the world to be a better place for it.

We should embrace the rainbow of diversity. The use of rainbow flags as a sign of diversity, inclusiveness, hope and of yearning has a long history. This denotation goes back to the rainbow as a symbol of biblical promise. Aside from the obvious symbolism of a mixed LGBT community, the colors were designed to symbolize: red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), blue (harmony), and purple/violet (spirit). Just as one of the most well-recognized symbols within our community denotes diversity, why would we even want a world that was “normal”?


Modern Gayness and Medieval Friends: Homoeroticism and Homophilia

David and Jonathan

The following text is from People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History. People with a History is a www site presenting history relevant to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people, through primary sources, secondary discussions, and images.  As will all of Fordham University’s Internet History Sourcebooks, this is a tremendous collection of primary sources and other documents from history.  I have many times used these sites in my classes.

What qualifies as “gay history”?

The issue is reasonably clear for the past hundred years. But before that there are complications. This is especially the case for Medieval studies.

Some commentators, both avowedly gay and otherwise, wish to distinguish sharply between historical evidence about same-sex sexual activity in the past and other evidence about same-sex relationships. In other words they wish to argue, as I take it, that while the evidence about sexual relationships may indeed relate to a history of homosexuality, other non-sexual affective relationships must be subsumed under the sign of “friendship”. Often, but not always, there seems to be a belief that while sexuality is complex and constructed in particular ways, “friendship” is an unproblematic category. Some commentators, religious ones in particular, seek to see “friendship” as in some sense “purer” and cleaner than sexual relationships.

Greek adelphopoiia relationships

When looking at same-sex relationships in the past, use of the sex/friendship dichotomy induces problems. We very rarely know that two people had sexual relations. For discussion of same-sexual activity, we are often thrown to legal codes, penitentials, denunciatory sermons and so forth. We very rarely have, before the late middle ages when court records begin to survive in number, any real idea of how laws were applied. Careful analysis of Byzantine documents – but not court records – from the 12th century on, for instance, seems to indicate that the provisions against sodomy of the Justinianic code were not applied; and yet such laws are frequently taken as indicators of social attitudes centuries after they were legislated. They are no more compelling, than for instance, the argument that anti-sodomy statutes in the US stop heterosexuals having oral sex.

On the other hand we have a huge amount of material on same-sex emotional relationships: poems, letters, sometimes even sermons. We also have quite certain evidence that such relationships were, in various times and places, publically celebrated. (This is the minimal interpretation of the Greek adelphopoiia relationships: but has also been attempted, by Pierre Chaplais for instance, as an explanation of Edward II’s relationship with Piers Gaveston; similar interpretations have been given to medieval accounts of men sleeping in the same bed – for instance Philip Augustus and Richard the Lionheart.) Such relationships, it is asserted, were not “sexual” and reflect a variety of other forms of male-bonding.

Edward II

Let us, for a moment, accept such a point of view – that is that all the socially affirmed same-sex relationships we see in the past eschewed sexual activity: that David and Jonathan, Alexander and Hephaestion, Hercules and Hylas, Patroclus and Achilles, Tully and Octavius, Socrates and Alciabides – that all were never understood in the past to have had sexual relationships. What would such a point of view say about our own western society? We would have to note that a very narrow range of same-sex relationships are in fact possible. The intense emotional and affective relationships described in the past as “non-sexual” cannot be said to exist today: modern heterosexual men can be buddies, but unless drunk they cannot touch each other, or regularly sleep together. They cannot affirm that an emotional affective relationship with another man is the centrally important relationship in their lives. It is not going to far, is it, to claim that friendship – if used to translate Greek philia or Latin amicita – hardly exists among heterosexual men in modern Western society. Indeed we use the word “friendship” today to describe human relationships so different from those indicated in the ancient and medieval texts that to apply the word “friendship” to those past relationships seems, to me at least, to be actively misleading. I wish to acknowledge that this may indicate a serious failing in modern society, and to admit that I may simply not understand modern friendship.

Turning out attention to modern “gayness” we find a number of interesting points, points that affect how we understand the relationships of the past, and the texts which refer to and refract those relationships.

I use “gayness”, because it seems to me that altogether too many commentators have been willing to reduce “gayness” to sexual activity. In some parts of the world this may be true (leaders of the Egyptian gay community in New York have specifically claimed to me that same-sex sexuality in Egypt is “purely sexual”: whether this claim is true or not, I am in no position to judge). But in the modern West, “gayness” or its predecessors, have not been understood by gay writers in this way. From the mid 19th century on writer such as Karl Ulrichs in Germany, Edward Carpenter in England, and Walt Whitman in the US have claimed that same-sex relationships are much more than sex. Specific claims about “Uranian” (or “heavenly” love, a reference to Plato), or “homophile” love were made. Famously, the early gay male organizations in the US and Britain made use of the concept of “homophilia” to describe what they were concerned with.

Now it is true, gay leaders in the 1970s rejected the term “homophile” as conformist, and as a deliberate elision of sexuality. I think, for historical consideration at least, it may be time to resurrect this terminology. “Homophilia” points to a very important aspect of modern gayness – its support of a wide array of same-sex emotional relationships, with a an equally wide degree of sexual expression. Because of AIDS there are now many fairly well formed psychosocial studies of the gay male communities of large cities. I am most familiar with the Martin-Dean study conducted from Columbia Presbyterian School of Public Health in New York City. What these studies have found is that homophilia is a central aspect of modern gayness, in relationships between men whether sexually expressed or not. Some gay men form couples in which sex plays little or no part. Many other gay men form “families”, often of other gay men (some of whom may be former sexual partners) and sympathetic heterosexual women, families in which a high degree of emotional and personal closeness is achieved in a specifically “gay” context but where sex is not central.

Patroclus and Achilles

Given that human beings in the past do not “belong” to anyone modern group, I would still argue that “gay history”, as an aspect of “the history of human relationships” is specifically one focused on same-sex relationships. Since “gay” in modern use covers “homophilia” as well as “homosexuality”, I wish to continue to claim that placing the study of philia and amicita in the past exclusively under the sign of “friendship” and excluding from the sign of “gayness” is not only unnecessary but misleading.

Source: Paul Halsall, 3/27/96
http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/pwh/medhomophil.asp


Born This Way?

The following was posted on Brainstorm, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog about Ideas and Culture, as a guest post by Suzanna Danuta Walters, Professor of Gender Studies, Indiana University*

Spending time in Provincetown – Cape Cod’s mecca of all things homosexual – is both a thrilling inversion of everyday life where queerness is the banal majority and a depressing reminder that normative ideologies can seep into even the most festive of gay milieu. As New York made history by approving same-sex marriage, Ptown vacationers congratulated each other as they slathered sunscreen on their finely chiseled bodies and circuit-partied until the sun came up. But pro-marriage T-shirts (“Put a ring on it”) were soon eclipsed by the T-shirt slogan de jour “Born this Way.”
Now, I’m the last person to dis the wondrous Lady Gaga, but her well-meaning ode to immutability is less helpful to gay rights than Guiliani in drag. If marriage and military access are conjured as the Oz of queer liberation, then biological and genetic arguments are the yellow brick road, providing the route and the rationale for civil rights. The medicalization of sexual identity – and the search for a cause if not a cure – has a long and infamous history. This history includes well-meaning attempts by social activists to create a safe life for same-sex desire through the designation of homosexuality as biologically predetermined but also, more ominously, includes the sordid history of incarceration, medication, electroshock “therapy” and numerous other attempts to rid the body (and mind) of its desires.
Notions of homosexuality as “inbred,” innate and immutable were endorsed by a wide variety of thinkers and activists, including progressive reformers such as Havelock Ellis and not so progressive conservatives, eager to assert same-sex love as nature’s mistake. Richard von Krafft-Ebing in the 1880s and Magnus Hirschfeld in the 1903s – both pioneer sexologists and generally advocates of “toleration”– came to believe in some notion of “innate” homosexuality, whether through theories of a kind of brain inversion or through vague references to hormonal imbalances. These theories mostly had little traction, and no evidence whatsoever, and were further undermined during the heyday of the early gay movement which included a deep commitment to the depathologization and demedicalization of homosexuality, manifested in a long-term attempt to remove “homosexuality” as a disease category in the DSM.
Theories of biological origins of “gayness” have ebbed and flowed during different historical and social moments, most obviously intersecting with the rise of eugenics and other determinist frameworks in the early part of the last century. There is no question that the romance with biological and/or genetic explanations for sexual “orientation” has ratcheted up in recent years, due in no small part to the combined force of the gay marriage debates and the increasing “medicalization” and “geneticization” of behavior and identity, spurred on by the initiation of the human genome project in 1989 which furthered the already booming interest in genetic bases for behavior, personality, disease, etc.
This turning of the century seems to provide a “perfect storm” moment in which the idea of immutability takes hold of the public imagination. Even the hit Broadway musical Avenue Q couldn’t avoid having its homo puppets chime in:
TO TELL YOU IT’S OKAY,
YOU WERE JUST BORN
THAT WAY,
AND, AS THEY SAY,
IT’S IN YOUR DNA,
YOU’RE GAY!
No cultural moment sums it up like the otherwise quite illuminating debate that took place in August of 2007. Logo – the all-gay cable network – joined with the Human Rights Campaign to host the first ever Democratic primary presidential debate. At one point, host Melissa Etheridge asked the inevitable “born with it” question to Bill Richardson who clearly answered “wrong” when he responded that he didn’t know and even uttered the awful word “choice” in speaking about gay identities. Etheridge was quick to correct him, for how or why – she asked – would anyone choose to be gay?
Three years earlier, John Kerry made the same case in speaking of Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter. “We’re all God’s children,” said Kerry when asked a “gay” question by the moderator. Referring to Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Kerry said, “She would tell you that she’s being … who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it’s not choice.” Strangely enough, it was George Bush who said, “I just don’t know,” once again demarcating the “choice” position as the conservative one!
In our present political context, gay volition is like Voldemort – dangerous even to be uttered. This “born with it” ideology encompasses gay marriage, gay genes, gayness as “trait” and is used by both gay rights activists and anti-gay activists to make arguments for equality (or against it). This is bad science (mistaking the possibility of biological factors with wholesale causation) and bad politics (hinging rights on immutability and etiology). Causality is – of course – the wrong question and will only get muddled answers. The framing of “gayness” as an issue of nature vs. nurture or destiny vs. choice misses the point about (fluid, chaotic) sexuality and about civil rights. It’s not our genes that matter here, but rather our ethics.

*Suzanna Danuta Walters, author of All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America and the forthcoming The Tolerance Trap: What’s Wrong With Gay Rights.


I understand Professor Walters’s argument, though I don’t agree with her argument that our sexual identity/orientation is not genetic or inborn.  Yes, there is little if any scientific evidence that there is a gay gene, but just because there is not evidence does it make it untrue.  I believe in God, but I have no hard scientific evidence that he exists, just faith.  Quintus Tullius Cicero, from 63 BC until his death in 43 BC, told everyone he knew that the end of the Roman Republic was near. Not only did he uncover the Cataline Conspiracy, but he believed that Julius Caesar would cause the end of the Republic.  He never was able to get hard evidence of what Caesar was planning, but we all know that he was right.  Caesar ushered in the end of the Roman Empire (sorry for the tangent, but I have been reading Robert Harris’s book Conspirita). The point is, that just because we don’t have hard evidence doesn’t make it false.  That being said, I do not believe that I am the only one who thinks this way.  There were many comments to this post, and here is one that I found very poignant.

OK–someone help me out here. I understand the author’s argument to be that gay rights should not be based on identity–ie, one’s right should not be limited by what or who someone is (including race, sex, ethnicity, gender, or other innate/inborn quality)–but on the premise that we should not restrict somone’s rights on the basis of their sexual behavior–ie, persons should have the same right to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex or to marry members of the same sex, etc. regardless of whether this is a matter of choice or a matter of inborn preference. To put it somewhat crudely, my right to do something shouldn’t be based on whether I can help doing it or not. Do I understand that correctly?
If I do understand this argument correctly, then it appears to become a sort of libertarian argument that I should be able to do whatever I want to do (in matters of sex, in the case) regardless why I want to do so. But if that’s the case, then isn’t the argument susceptible to the same sort of arguments for limitation with which libertarian arguments are always addressed: You can do whatever you want to “as long as . . . (you don’t hurt someone else, you conform to the general/religious/ethical standards of society, you don’t break any laws/you do so in private, etc.).”
It seems to me that while there may be strong philosophical reasons to support the position that permission for certain behavior (or even the idea that certain behavior requires permission) should not necessarily depend on the reasons for that behavior–in particular, on the premise that the behavior is inborn–that in practical terms the legal status of the behavior most likely depends on an appeal to the argument that “I was born this way (and I can’t change it)” and should therefore not be penalized or restricted for it.” That this position is also then liberating for persons who engage in the behavior by choice is a bonus.
Human rights are premised on identity. Human rights become civil rights as the result of legislation, but these civil rights depend ultimately on some foundational belief based on human identity. “I was born this way” is another way of saying “my sexual idenity is part of my humanity and therefore must be respected.” Laws removing restrictions based on sexual orientation are based, like those desgregating insitutions or removing voting and property restrictions based on race and gender, on an expanding sense of what it may mean to be fully human, on, that is, a fuller sense of who you may be. They affect behavior, but they are based on identity. To jettison this premise is, I think, dangerous.
(NB: And as I write this it occurs to me that the issue may be whether human identity is based on more than [simple] biology.)

So what do you guys think about the nurture v. nature/gay gene/born this way debate?  I would love to hear your opinions.


Blue? Or Maybe, Gay?

The above title is a play on words: blue/sad and gay/happy, but it also has a different meaning. As some of you may know, the Smurfs movie opens in theaters today. I remember watching the Smurfs on Saturday morning as a kid, it ran on NBC from 1980-1989, my prime years of watching cartoons. But to be honest, I didn’t remember much about them except that they were blue, they substituted the word smurf and various versions of it for other words, and that their nemesis was Gargamel and his cat Azreal. So, being the curious person I am, I looked up the Smurfs on Wikipedia. The article was quite enlightening. From Wikipedia:

The Smurfs (French: Les – Schtroumpfs) is a comic and television franchise centered on a group of small blue fictional creatures called Smurfs, created and first introduced as a series of comic strips by the Belgian cartoonist Peyo (pen name of Pierre Culliford) on October 23, 1958. The original term and the accompanying language came during a meal Peyo was having with his colleague and friend André Franquin in which, having momentarily forgotten the word “salt”, Peyo asked him (in French) to pass the schtroumpf. Franquin replied: “Here’s the Schtroumpf — when you are done schtroumpfing, schtroumpf it back” and the two spent the rest of that weekend speaking in schtroumpf language. The name was later translated into Dutch as Smurf, which was adopted in English.

Papa Smurf

I had no idea that the Smurfs had been around since 1958. Moreover, I didn’t realize some of the odd criticisms that the Smurfs has received. Not only were there allegations of the Smurfs representing a communist utopia, with Papa Smurf (the only one to wear red) as a representation of Karl Marx and Brainy Smurf as representing Leon Trostky. Regarding these accusations, Thierry Culliford, son of Peyo and current head of Studio Peyo, said the accusations were, “between the grotesque and the not serious.”

Brainy Smurf

There were other allegations that the Smurfs were homosexual society. Now if you remember the Smurfs, you may ask yourself, what about Smurfette. In the original Belgian versions of The Smurfs, Smurfette did not exist. Hal Erickson said in Television Cartoon Shows: An Illustrated Encyclopedia 1949-1993 that the inclusion of Smurfette was “bowing to merchandising dictates” in order to “appeal to little girl toy consumers.” Jeffrey P. Dennis, author of the journal article “The Same Thing We Do Every Night: Signifying Same-Sex Desire in Television Cartoons,” said that the inclusion of Smurfette in the cartoon version of The Smurfs was likely to serve as an object of heterosexual desire for the other Smurfs and to end speculation arguing that the Smurfs were homosexual. In a response to Dennis’s statements, Martin Goodman of Animation World Network, said that Dennis had not taken into account Erickson’s comments about merchandising. Goodman further argued that capturing the young female audience would increase ratings, so the networks were more likely trying to pander to young girls than trying to defuse accusations of homosexuality; Smurfette was the most frequently merchandised of the Smurfs.

Smurfette

After reading about Jeffrey P. Dennis’s work, I decided to look into him a little more. Jeffery P. Dennis received his Ph.D. from SUNY Stony Brook in 2001 and is currently an Associate Professor of Sociology, SUNY, College at Oneonta. He is interested in the intersection of deviance and criminology with issues of gender, masculinity, and sexuality, especially the historical representation of deviant youth and bullying, harassment, and delinquency among LGBT youth today. Dr. Dennis is the author of Queering Teen Culture (2006), We Boys Together: Teenagers in Love before Girl-Craziness (2007), and many chapters, articles, and research presentations. However, I wanted to look more closely at his article “The Same Thing We Do Every Night: Signifying Same-Sex Desire in Television Cartoons.” Journal of Popular Film & Television. Fall 2003. Volume 31, Issue 3. 132-140.

Though I could not get a look at this article, I did find in Soundscapes—Journal on Media Culture, the article “Queertoons: The Dynamics of Same-Sex Desire in the Animated Cartoon” by Jeffrey P. Dennis, which seems to be remarkably similar, if not the same article under a different name and publication In this article he discusses same-sex relationships in cartoons, though the article is in need of being updated in regards to present-day Fox Network adult-oriented cartoons, such as The Simpsons, American Dad, and Family Guy. The article was quite interesting, but I think he is extrapolating ideas that aren’t intentional by the cartoonists. I want to end by quoting what he has to say about the Smurfs:

Vanity Smurf

[J. Marc] Schmidt finds a “homotopia” in The Smurfs (1969-1986), a group of small blue humanoids named after their primary personality characteristics (“Hefty”, “Brainy”, “Clumsy”), because all but one was male, and because the Smurf named Vanity was a self-absorbed dandy who might be read as a homophobic stereotype. However, male Smurfs never developed exclusive or even close relationships with each other, whereas they often developed goofy crushes on Smurfette. The back story reveals that an evil wizard created Smurfette to introduce discord into the all-male village; more likely the character was introduced specifically to provide an object for the Smurfs’ heterosexual desire and defuse conjectures that they might be “really” gay.

Some of these arguments, I find to be quite humorous. People will read so much in a simple cartoon. I remember with G.I. Joe, and a few other cartoons of the same time, having a moral at the end of the show. “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.” I just thought that this was interesting and wanted to share. So what do you think? Were the Smurfs a homosexual/communist utopia? Was Smurfette merely a cover-up, i.e. the smurf’s beard?


What Is Really to Blame?

My post on Bigotry has faced a number of criticisms in the comments section.  One of those criticisms, which I want to address first, is that my post made it sound as if there was an organized selective breeding program of slaves going on during the Antebellum South.  As Russ Manley of the blog “Blue Truck, Red State” wrote, “It’s important, though, not to give people the impression there was any organized program going on – all depended on the individual whims of slave owners, and antebellum accounts are full of complaints about the “lazy darkies” who had to be watched and prodded every minute to get their work done.”  I certainly didn’t mean it to sound that way, and one of the reasons that I love to have you guys comment is so that I can clear up misunderstandings in my posts.  I do that with my students as a way to get discussion going in the classroom.  As long as civility reigns, I very much appreciate comments and criticisms.


Furthermore, there was also much debate about religion being the main cause of homophobia and bigotry.  I admit, that it is part of the equation, but not the only reason.  When we choose one reason for homophobia then we are missing the larger picture.  Homophobia, or the hatred of same-sex intercourse, has been around much longer than Christianity of Judaism.  More than likely, it has been part of societies since the beginning of man.  Therefore, there are many parts to this equation.


In another criticism, Lonnie left the the following comment on my post about “Bigotry“:

I think John D’Emilio and Sherry Wolf give a much better account of the origins of gay oppression:
http://platypus1917.home.comcast.net/~platypus1917/demilio_captialismgayid.pdf

http://www.isreview.org/issues/37/gay_oppression.shtml

Since it was suggested, I read the two articles.  I found Wolf’s article to be particularly hard to stomach, but I read it anyway.  Both of these authors present a Marxist historiographical approach to the question of the origins of gay oppression.  In its most basic form, the Marxist historical tradition blames all of the problems of the world on capitalism and class struggles.  However, I have always found it deeply flawed.  For one, if you look at the sources used by Marxist historians, you will quickly find that more of those sources are from other Marxist historians.  They so narrow down their sources, until they ignore the larger historical picture, even though they claim to be looking at the larger historical picture.  In my opinion, this effectively removes their objectivity which is at the heart of true history.  They ignore those sources that contradict their point of view.  You cannot be an effective historian and dismiss the sources you do not agree with, you must take them into account.  History has many schools of historiography (the study of the history and methodology of the discipline of history), and Marxist interpretation is only one of them.


Before I continue, I want to say this, John D’Emilio is one of the greatest LGBT historians.  His books Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 and Intimate Matters:A History of Sexuality in America are two of the seminal books on LGBT American History.  The article suggested above by D’Emilio, and I do hope that each of you will go check these links out for yourself and not just take my opinion, was written while he was still a graduate student, which does not diminish his writing in the least, but his tone has changed since those early days in the 1980s when it was written.  Still, the two books above are well worth reading if you want a greater understanding of LGBT history in America.

Now that I have stated why I disagree strongly with Marxist interpretations, I want to address some of the semi-valid points in their arguments.  First of all, homosexual identity as it is seen today was nearly non-existent before the twentieth century; however, that does not mean that just because we did not have the word for it, that it did not exist.  I think it most certainly did, though it was quite rare and was not always practiced in the same way, it still existed.  The love between persons of the same sex existed before the advent of capitalism, which did not emerge until the end of mercantilism in the late 19th century.  D’Emilio and Wolf try to state the difference between homosexual behavior and homosexual identity.  Do you really think that no one before 1900 realized that they had an attraction to someone of the same sex and that they were not attracted to someone of the opposite sex?  Do you think that we become homosexual because family structure has broken down?  The answer to these questions is no.  The history of Florence, Italy during the Renaissance shows that homosexuality/sodomy was not illegal during that time period.  Some men married because they felt the need to procreate, but other did not.  They had homosexual relationships.  Also, the Inquisition records of the Catholic Church in Brazil during the 17th-19th centuries has numerous documented cases of homosexual persecution.  This was not a phenomenon of capitalism. Brazil only had a brief history of capitalism in the early twentieth century that was quashed by Getúlio Vargas and his corporatism from 1930-1954 and then largely under the control of the military until 1985. Likewise, Spain who continually persecuted homosexuals under Francisco Franco from c. 1936 to 1975, was not a capitalist country but was a hybrid of corporatism, fascism, and dictatorship.  Even in the late 19th century in America, there was talk of so-called “Boston Marriages,” a term is said to have been in use in New England in the decades spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries to describe two women living together, independent of financial support from a man.  The term was believed to be first coined by Henry James in The Bostonians.  Since 2000, many mentions of “Boston marriage” cite as examples the same few literary figures, in particular the Maine local color novelist Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Adams Fields her late life companion, the widow of the editor of The Atlantic Monthly. There is often an assumption that in the era when the term was in use, it denoted a lesbian relationship. However, there is no documentary proof that any particular “Boston marriage” included sexual relations, but there has been a great deal of speculation, some of which comes from what we know or the private life of Willa Cather.


Furthermore, these authors argue that same-sex segregation during World War II brought about modern day homosexuality.  First of all, World War II is not the first time that large numbers of men and women have been separated from their families. This has happened in all major modern wars.  In Europe, this had happened in the First World War, and to a lesser extent in America.  So I don’t think that you can pinpoint WWII as the starting point.  It had all happened before.  Wolf does not address that millions of men in Europe served in World War I, and that millions of women left their homes and family to either work in the military or in factories during World War I.  Because it is convenient for her argument, she dismisses the history of Europe when it is inconvenient, and then turns around and uses it when it is convenient and the same history in America in turn is inconvenient.  In addition, both authors cite WWII as the beginning of homosexual persecution in the military and that it has continued largely uninterrupted until the modern day.  The problem is that it was largely ignored during Vietnam, when men identified as homosexual to not be drafted, most of those men truly were homosexual, however, they were forced to serve in the military anyway.  The ban on homosexuals was largely ignored by the draft board and military during the Vietnam War.  Likewise, today, when America is fighting two wars, and there is an increasing need for soldiers in the war against Terrorism, they have repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  It is not a coincidence in my opinion.


I have three more points that I want to make.  Both authors claim that sexual liberation, that is sex for enjoyment not for procreation, is capitalist invention/byproduct.  I cannot buy that explanation.  First of all, communism and socialism pushed for the ideas of free love, long before the flower children of the 1960s.  The sexual revolution was made much more visible because of birth control, but people have been having sex for reasons other than procreation since man first had an erection.  We are the only species who we know for sure have sex for enjoyment.  It is not a modern phenomenon.


I also want to point out that Wolf argues that the family has not always existed in human history.  If she would look at the anthropological studies, archeological studies, and historical studies of mankind, she would realize that it has always existed.  From the earliest humans, the family structure has been the governing structure.  The idea of the family or clan is the first political structure in any society.  As the family grows larger, the head of the family becomes the head of the clan.  From there, stronger clans take over weaker clans and form chiefdoms, which eventually grow into kingdoms and empires.  The family structure has always been the basis of human society.  Even as gay men and women today, we are not abandoning the family, we want families of our own.  We want marriage, and we want children (at least I do, and so do many others.)


The last point that I want to make is that urbanization has led to gay communities more so than capitalism. Urbanization has more to do with the industrial revolution than it does the rise of capitalism.  As fewer people were needed to work a farm, due in large part of the end of slavery and the mechanization of the farm, that excess labor moved to the cities to find work.  Most did not abandon the families, and a large family often lived together in a household trying to make a living wage.  However, the urbanization of America began before capitalism, and thus I feel that it is not the cause of the breakdown of the family, nor is it the cause of class warfare.  Class warfare has existed long before capitalism, and therefore, capitalism cannot be the blame for all the evil of the world.


Wolf is not totally wrong in all that she writes. In fact she (surprising to me) got this part of history correct:

In Paris and Berlin, medical and legal experts in the 1870s examined a new kind of “degenerate” to determine whether or not these people should be held responsible for their actions. The word “homosexuality”was first coined by a Hungarian physician named Karl Maria Benkert in 1869.  Homosexuality evolved in scientific circles from a “sin against nature” to a mental illness. The first popular study of homosexuality, Sexual Inversion by Havelock Ellis in 1897, put forward the idea that homosexuality was a congenital illness not to be punished, but treated. Nineteenth-century sexologists developed ideas about homosexuality as a form of mental insanity. One famous theory held that gayness was the result of “urning”–the female mind was trapped in a male body (or vice versa). Another theory widely disseminated referred to homosexuals as a third sex.

I do want to make one final point before I end this post.  Both D’Emilio and Wolf argue that there is not basis for being “born gay.”  This is a recent argument that I have actually come across several times in the last few weeks from LGBT activists and scholars.  Most of the recent attention to arguments against a biological component to homosexuality is because of the Lady Gaga song, “Born This Way,” to which some in the LGBT community are now starting to argue against.  This is a topic for a future post, so I won’t go into much detail right now. I merely wanted to mention this as part of the discussion.

I may have rambled a bit in this post, but I wanted to talk a bit about historical interpretation.  I hope that you will read those two articles cited above and give me your take on them. I do not believe that either author presented a convincing argument for the beginnings of gay oppression.  In fact, from my reading of the articles, it seems to me that both vaguely lay the blame on capitalism, but do a poor job of giving evidence to this claim. Do you think that I am completely off base or are they completely off base or are all of us a somewhat right and somewhat wrong?  I want to know what you think.  I personally think that the origins of gay oppression is a many faceted problem and cannot be explained in a simple historical method.  We have to look at all parts of the picture and not ignore those parts that we find inconvenient.


Bigotry

As a historian who has done most of his studies in the Southern United States, I have studied a great amount about race relations and the Civil Rights Movement.  I think that the fight for GLBT equality has a few things it can learn from history of bigotry in America.  Nearly a year ago, I wrote on this blog about my theories of the origins of homophobia.  I still believe that the origins of homophobia boils down to at its base a need for a larger population.  Yet, there is still more that can be added to the equation.  Why do homophobes fear/hate us, when studies like the one I discussed yesterday state that homophobic behavior is associated with penis arousal to male on male sex?  So if you look at that study about homophobic behavior, what does it have to do with racism?  This is why I want to look at the origins of racism and bigotry.

In the South during Reconstruction and afterward, the greatest fear that white males had was that their women would be taken sexually or found sexually attractive by black men.  They feared black male masculinity.  A trait that slave owners had tried to breed into their slaves.  Once the Transatlantic Slave Trade was discontinued, slave owners realized that they needed to breed their slaves in the same way they bred livestock in order to perpetuate production.  The vast majority of slave holders, and by the laws of southern states, perceived slaves as property, just as they did livestock.  (I’m getting to my point here, just bear with me.)  How do you make sure that you have the best livestock?  You breed the best of the species together.  Many slave owners did the same thing with slaves, either using the women and breeding them with the slave owners themselves for stronger stock, or by forcing the strongest male slaves to breed with the strongest female slaves to get sturdier workers.  How do you choose the best livestock to breed?  When livestock is young, the size of the testicles are measured to see who is the most fertile, therefore it is not hard to deduce that slave holders would have also taken the most virile men (those with the largest private parts, those most fertile, and/or the strongest) to breed with women who had the widest hips and largest breasts.  So in the end, slavery had produced strong, well-built, and handsome black men. (See the announcement for an 1855 slave auction in Kentucky to the left; pay attention to the descriptions of the slaves.)

The result of this is a terrifying prospect for the former southern slave holders.  With already a belief in African-American inferiority taught to southerners,  they feared that women might look to that African-American virility.  Thus groups like the KKK and others were formed to “protect southern womanhood.” Not only were numerous atrocities carried out by these groups against recently freed slaves, but also they began a move toward African-American demasculation/emasculation to make them seem less virile.  The same strategy was used by the North against former Confederates such as Jefferson Davis and was essentially a homophobic strategy.  The need to take away masculinity has long been a political tool used since ancient times.

But what does all of this have to do with why the most homophobic men tend to be aroused more than non-homophobic heterosexual men by male on male sex?  Homophobia and bigotry, in general, at its core is a fear of something that you most want to be or afraid to admit that we are.  It is internalized hate.  White men feared the masculinity and strength of African Americans (also in the North the same fear cause discrimination against blacks because of a fear that newly freed slaves could do jobs better than white men).  Slave holders had feared that black men would take advantage of white women in the same way that slave owners had taken advantage of slave women.  Slave holders also feared that white women might take advantage of black male virility just as white men had taken advantage of to black female sensuality.  The same is true of homophobia.  Homophobic men are afraid to admit their own attraction to other men.  The penis can’t lie like their mouths can, and so when shown gay pornography blood rushed to their dicks while they tried with their internalized homophobia to block out that arousal with their minds.

Bigotry often derives from a fear of what we secretly want most.  That fear breeds hatred which leads to internalized and externalized bigotry.  This is by no means the only answer to this question, but it is a theory of mine based on other historical theories taken to a reasonable conclusion.  I’m sure that I will get a lot of flack about this post, but know that it is only a theory and that I laid out some of the arguments presented by hate groups and those who have studied hate groups in order to explain my theory.  I personally think that bigotry and hatred are plain stupid.  We hate what we fear and don’t understand, whereas we should strive to learn more and get beyond the fear of the unknown and thus overcome hatred.  Better education is one of the things that I see as a way to end hatred and create harmony and peace.


Homophobia Associated with Penis Arousal to Male on Male Sex

Recently in a Psychology Today’s Blog post “Homophobic Men Most Aroused by Gay Male Porn” discussed a 1996 study of homophobia by psychologists at the University of Georgia.  Yes, the research is 15 years old, but in light of several recent anti-gay rants in the news, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by Nathan Heflick’s latest post at Psychology Today.  Here is the abstract of the study:

The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals. Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men and a group of nonhomophobic men; they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia (W. W. Hudson & W. A. Ricketts, 1980). The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire (A. H. Buss & M. Perry, 1992). Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.

You can read the full study here (pdf file).  Henry E. Adams, Lester W. Wright, Jr., and Bethany A. Lohr of the University of Georgia make an interesting argument.  Even a man who thought that women want to have sex with their fathers and that women spend much of their lives distraught because they lack a penis is right sometimes. This person, the legend that is Sigmund Freud, theorized that people often have the most hateful and negative attitudes towards things they secretly crave, but feel that they shouldn’t have. If Freud is right, then perhaps men who are the most opposed to male homosexuality have particularly strong  homosexual urges for other men.

The facts of the study are this:  When viewing lesbian sex and straight sex, both the homophobic and the non-homophobic men showed increased penis circumference. For gay male sex, however, only the homophobic men showed heightened penis arousal. Heterosexual men with the most anti-gay attitudes, when asked, reported not being sexually aroused by gay male sex videos. But, their penises reported otherwise.  Homophobic men were the most sexually aroused by gay male sex acts. 

How do you feel about this study?

If you would like to read more about this study, you can check out my suggested readings by clicking “Read More” below.


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