Monday, February 12, 2007

A thought experiment

Another rescued draft. Originally written 1/4/07


What if heterosexuals were not easy to identify?

Imagine if everyone was closeted. A man and a woman live next door to me and there are children there too, but I am too polite to assume anything. What they do, or don't do, in their bed(s) is none of my business. Everyone is a little vague about their private lives; people talk a little about their "partner" but they are careful not to let any pronouns slip. We all somehow manage to live this way. People from far away tells us that our lives seems strange, but we tell them that we are not sure we like the way they live in their country. People's private lives are their own business.

Got it?

Now there are a lot of things we could do with this imaginary country, but today I want to do just one thing. Let's be researchers wanting to know more about heterosexuals. What are they like? How do they live? What issues do they face?

The problem is, of course, that we have to FIND them first. It possible that they are all around us, but it is not like they wear signs on their foreheads.

It is clear that we have to go where the heterosexuals go. Where, we ask each other do heterosexuals congregate? Someone suggests Home Depot and we all laugh, but agree that is a stereotype. We need to find a place where heterosexuals are comfortable "flaunting" their sexuality. Some place where you can tell. We need a place that is defined by heterosexual activity. where do heterosexuals go to meet other heterosexuals? We pack up and head off to singles bars and any other place that is intended to meet the needs of heterosexuals as heterosexuals. We go to places where heterosexuals get their sexual needs met, because those are the only places where we are confident that we will find heterosexuals.

Of course, what we find is a more than a little disturbing. They seemed very concerned about sex, for instance. They don't seem to have complete lives. We find a few couples, but most people seem to be alone looking perhaps for a long-term partner, or maybe just for a sex partner. They don't seem to be very successful in relationships. Very few of the people we interview have been in a steady relationship for more than five years.

What sad, lonely, desperate lives they lead.

And so we ask ourselves, "Are these really the people we want teaching and raising children?"


Okay, so I'm not certain that is what it would really look like, but I am sure of one thing. The more closeted a group of people are forced to be, the more difficult it will be to get an accurate understanding of how diverse they are. What we probably won't see are the people who are at home, trying to keep up with the laundry and helping the kids with their homework.

And if we forget that, if we forget the factors that affected how we choose our sample to begin with, we will come to some very wrong conclusions.


  1. Perfect. Do you mind if I link to it on my "other" blog?

  2. wondering4:02 PM

    I don't disagree with the general point; however, good pedagogy suggests that you start with people where they are. For a lot of anti-gay heterosexuals, the decision *not* to think of a homosexual's sexual preferences as the first thing about them is a big step, and an important one away from defining people solelly by their sexual practices and condemning them for them. Doesn't everyone deserve to spend time in at least some spheres of their lives where they are not defined solely or primarily by their sexual identity, and isnt' the willingness of some people to go at least this far an important step? I realize that I am speaking to a group of people who are not especially sympathetic to the "small steps" argument,

  3. Wonder...

    I think that the initial set-up of my example must not have been clear enough.

    I was not addresses the issue of people who just say they don't care if someone is gay or not, they just don't want to hear about it. I was really thinking about where some of our stereotypes come from and thinking about a time, not all that long ago, when most people thought that gay folks did not live in nice neighborhoods like theirs.

    I was wondering where certain stereotypes came from, and was wondering if they come from a time when most homosexual people were so deeply closeted that the straight world did not know they existed.

  4. I got it. It's a perfect thought experiment.

    It's something 'we've' been saying for years, but this makes it quite clear!


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