A friend of mine – call him A – is writing a magazine article about new research that is examining the speech patterns of gay men, to find out what these patterns are, why they exist, and to separate stereotype from reality.
A asked me to reach out to any other gay men that I know, to help him find subjects for the story (he didn’t want to interview me because I’m in the same magazine writing class – he doesn’t want the prof to think he only interviewed his classmate).
A, who is straight, also felt a bit awkward approaching gay men himself – he worried about offending them.
I actually have very few gay friends. It’s something I’m a bit embarrassed about – I seem to make friends most naturally with straight or bisexual women. Typing it out makes me realize how silly a thing it is to be embarrassed about.
I sent out a note to the few gay friends that I have, but I also remembered a guy that I met at a party last summer. He was one of those gay guys who appears to be completely straight – masculine voice, mannerisms, and the topic of conversation fell on the partying he had done while he lived in L.A. – and it sounded for some reason to me like kegs and girls, not drag shows. Somehow it came up that he’s gay, and he said right away, something along the lines of, “Yeah, everyone thinks I’m straight.” The girls at the restaurant where he works hit on him. So I thought he’d be perfect for a story about gay stereotypes.
I asked the friend of mine who had invited me to this party, (call him B), if I could get in touch with this straight-acting gay guy. B in turn forwarded my message to the friend of his who organized the party (yeah, this is getting complicated). Let’s call her C.
This is the part of my message that dealt with finding the straight-acting gay guy, that I wrote to B, and that he forwarded to C:
“I write to you today with an unusual, awkward question.
“A is doing a magazine article about the speech patterns of gay men – and there was this guy at your going away party who sounded SO straight but was in fact gay. He would be great for A’s article. Maybe you know who I am talking about? Don’t remember his name! ”
Then I included a blurb from A, my friend who’s writing the article, describing his project in a bit more detail.
My message, forwarded verbatim from B to C, offended C. “I find your question incredibly offensive,” she answered.
“Maybe A should be finding his own research subjects. The blurb about the project and A’s article sounds really interesting, but the way you asked what you did is why its being done in the first place.”
I assume that C has a problem with my capitalized “SO STRAIGHT” — it’s a blatant stereotype.
I couldn’t bring myself to apologize – though I did say I should have worded my email better, given that I don’t know her. I didn’t expect B to forward my email directly to C – though I should have seen that as a possibility.
B, for his part, had no problem with the “SO STRAIGHT.” What do you think?
I have this habit of speaking in exaggerations, to get my point across – but I always worry that it’s going to get me in trouble. I convince myself that saying someone seemed SO STRAIGHT is exactly the meaning that I wanted to get across in that context – that he seemed completely straight – seemed, not was.
And yet I have this nagging doubt, maybe people do have the right to be offended by my words. Maybe I am perpetuating a stereotype that is false.
And what if I had written SO GAY? It would be easy to imagine some straight public figure not being allowed to get away with that one.
But there is some truth in stereotypes.
I think I’m just going to get over this little pang of doubt and guilt over offending C.
Ironic though, that I ended up causing offense, when my friend had asked for my help so that he wouldn’t offend people.
If YOU are a gay man in Ottawa and would care to be interviewed about your speech pattern (a fascinating topic which I could write a much longer blog post about I think — I wish I was writing this article!) — let me know and I’ll put you in touch with A.