Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Few Brief Notes

I mentioned the other day that many people conflate or confuse "sexual identity" and "sexual orientation."  Earlier this evening I was on a GLB panel speaking to an undergraduate class on human sexuality.  I noticed when we walked in that the instructor had projected a PowerPoint slide on the classroom wall, listing some "sexual orientations."




I'm quoting that list from memory, so I may have left out some.  I don't remember if GAY and/or LESBIAN were on the list, but they might have been.  I'm sure about those I quoted here, however.  The alert reader will have already noticed that some of the terms are not sexual orientations but identities: queer, and (I would argue) pansexual.  The latter is disputable, depending on what you consider a sex; several of our younger volunteers prefer the label pansexual because they are attracted to transgender and intersex people, so bisexual doesn't include enough sexes.  I think that pansexual is an identity that covers the same ground as bisexual, but maybe I'm an old fogey.  (I first encountered pansexual in the mid-1970s, in a rock-magazine article about Country Joe McDonald that I'll try to track down, but of course it meant something different then.  Just as bisexual has different meanings depending on context.)

Queer, however, is definitely an identity and not a sexual orientation.  The same would be true of gay or lesbian, had they been listed.  So why, in a college-level course on human sexuality, was this misinformation being disseminated to students?  I'm wondering if I ought to write the instructor and ask about this.  But for now, I just want to point it out as an example of the confusion I talked about before.

A big news item of the past few days is the coming-out of Michael Sam, a college football player who's moving into the pros this year.  Sam had told his team about himself in his senior year, and they all evidently adjusted with no problems, going on to a very successful year.  This is a novelty for professional sport, the first time a player came out at the outset of his career, rather than in its twilight or after it was over.  Of course the media are all trembly about this prospect.  Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good piece on the story, which includes a quotation from another player, Jonathan Vilma of the New Orleans Saints.  Here's a longer version of the same quotation, and you can see him say it on camera in this Daily Show clip.
"I think that he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted," Vilma added. "I don't want people to just naturally assume, like, 'Oh, we're all homophobic.' That's really not the case. Imagine if he's the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?" 
The Huffington Post article quotes "OutSports' Cyd Zeigler [who] suggested Vilma respond the way someone would to anyone who's looking in the shower: Tell a joke or just keep chatting like it never happened."  I think even this is reading Vilma too generously.  What Vilma seems to have meant by "looks" was something like "undresses me with his eyes" -- never mind that he's already "dressed, naked ... the whole nine."  After all, when a bunch of people are naked together they will look at each other; it may or may not mean anything.  What Vilma is afraid of is that a gay player would admire him, look at him in order to lust after him.  He knows he'll be able to feel the scorch of that lust, his tender skin will grow hot under it.  And then who knows what will happen?  I know it's unfair to suspect all homophobes of harboring secret gay desires, but Vilma really seems to be fantasizing there.

At least no one seems to have jeered that no self-respecting homosexual would want to have sex with an ugly toad like Jonathan Vilma; we're talking about a professional athlete here, it's very likely that many gay men would love to enjoy the riches of his body.  Jon Stewart handled the issue better.  I think there's no real way to reassure the Jonathan Vilmas of the world, and my answer to questions like this has always been that they can never know that other men haven't been scoping them out in the shower all along.  Indeed, the more men they've shared showers and locker rooms with, the better the odds that there have been gay or bisexual men among them, some of whom very likely just so happened to look at him.  He wouldn't have noticed.  What terrifies Vilma is knowing that one of his teammates is gay.

One commenter under some article I can't remember right now demanded that if there are going to be gay athletes out there, we must have segregated shower rooms -- one for the gay ones and one for the straight ones.  But that won't work, because the gay room would only house openly gay or bi players.  The closeted ones will still be lurking amongst the straight players, just so happening to look at them.  The only solution I can think of is private locker rooms and showers, or perhaps special locker room and shower garments so that modest men like Jonathan Vilma can cover their nakedness from the lustful eyes of other men, and of themselves.