if m.i.t.’s methodology is correct, i may be outed against my knowledge

researchers at boston’s massachusetts institute of technology (m.i.t.) have apparently developed a way to determine whether or not someone is gay (well, at least gay on facebook). this new technological advance purports to determine statistically whether or not one is gay by examining a person’s facebook profile, including the sexual orientation of one’s facebook friends.

…two students in a course on Internet ethics and law designed a program that looked at the profile information—including gender and sexuality—of a person’s Facebook friends and analyzed the information to predict the person’s sexuality. The students called the program “Gaydar.”

as many of you know, i’m a huge facebooker. in fact, facebook was instrumental in helping me win carl kasell’s voice on my home answering device on ‘wait wait…don’t tell me!,’ the npr news quiz. and i’ll tell you right now: i have many facebook friends, including many gay facebook friends. up until recently, my relationship status has always been hidden (in keeping with my now six-year old policy of ‘my private life is none of your business.’) likewise, i have regularly written against california’s proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in california (see also here and here and here). likewise, i am single, clean, in shape, in my mid-thrities, use a mac, drive a hybrid prius, own a cat, love coldplay, regularly write poetry, work in west los angeles, and have generally been described as a ‘metrosexual’ (however one defines it).

so i am curious (not bi-curious, just curious): what will the m.i.t. researchers conclude about me? imho, the fact that i’m writing about this betrays what i already think their conclusion will be. i don’t care if m.i.t. or fresno city college is running the numbers, statistically, i’m gonna make a few blips on the so-called ‘gaydar.’

but should this be the case? should we assume that advocates for same-sex marriage and those who love listening to ani difranco sing ‘little plastic castle’ are themselves gay? part of the reason i never answer the question of ‘are you gay’ is because so much of the anti-gay and anti-same-sex marriage lobby relies on the assumption that those who show solidarity with gay causes must themselves be gay. they may never say so aloud, but they rely on the assumed implication to marginalize the person at church at work within certain social circles. while this may not necessarily be the case, every time a straight man emphatically answers, ‘no!’ to the question of, ‘are you gay,’ it perpetuates this assumption. of course, there are some occasions where the question can and should be answered (like getting hit on in a bar, or a party, or a library, or a public lecture, or at sbl, or at church or, well, you get the picture). but, when someone inappropriately asks, ‘are you gay?’ for reasons of marginalizing the one questioned, straight men need to begin answering, ‘that’s none of your business.’ the sooner straight individuals stop answering the question, the sooner those asking will learn that is an inappropriate question to ask.

while statistical correlations can sometimes indicate certain likelihoods, these statistical trends cannot and should not be used to stereotype, pigeonhole, discriminate against, or define individuals. being friends with, hanging out with, or spending time with individuals of certain persuasions does not result in one being of a similar persuasion. was jesus a prostitute? a tax-collector? a leper? a drunk?? black friends do not make me black. muslim friends do not make me muslim. straight friends do not make me straight. and gay friends do not make me gay. likewise, one who supports the civil rights of homosexuals is not necessarily gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that), just as supporting the civil rights of women, blacks, or straight white males does not make one a woman, black, or a straight white male. we should be free to love one another and do business with, eat dinner with, worship with, marry, live next to, and simply befriend individuals of all races, religions, nationalities, genders, and sexual orientations without being chastised for being friends with them.

i am very comfortable with my masculinity and i do not need to act macho, make fun of homosexuals, denigrate women, or drive a muscle car to try to convince prove to the world i am straight. to me, raging, macho heterosexuals are just as annoying as flamboyant, in-your-face homosexuals. why can’t we simply comfortable with who we are? let the quirky be quirky. let the nerds be nerds. let the gregarious be gregarious. let the soft-spoken be soft-spoken. let the straight be straight. let the gay be gay. and let those who cannot accept those who are different from themselves (or some contrived religious ideal) remain alone in their insecure, judgmental, cookie-cutter, tract housing, suburban, plain vanilla lives.

as for me, i shall continue to state what i have always stated: i like what i like, i’ll date whomever i’ll date, and my sexual orientation is none of your business. i shall continue to add gay and straight friends alike on facebook, and will not ignore their friend requests because they happen to declare a different sexual orientation than my own. and if researchers at m.i.t. want to think i’m gay, it’s fine by me. from what i’ve experienced, they won’t be the only ones.

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4 Responses

  1. You are my hero! (again!)

  2. Correlation is definitely not causation, but it is not irrelevent. That being said, it occurs to me that they may not actual be measuring what they think they are measuring; while they are going to focus on the positive correlations within the population and assume affinity, I think it is far more likely that the reciprocals are the significant data; my guess is that these researchers don’t have much of a sociology or ecology background, because they are drawing the wrong assumptions from the data.

  3. I would point out that sexuality is NOT simply a dichotomy between gay and straight–the spectrum of bisexualty stretches all the way from teenage messing around with both sexes to men and women who have longterm relationships with members of both sexes throughout their adult lives. My husband was mildly p/o’d when his lesbian hairdresser revealed herself to be in fact bisexual and then moved away to live with her new husband–my husband couldn’t find someone to cut his hair the way he likes it for two years!!! ;)

    More seriously, I think/hope that one of the things that will be accomplished by the gay rights movement is the increased recognition of bisexuality (recognition by both straights AND gays), for two reasons:

    (1) because people should, as Dr. Cargill says, be able to be who they are, whatever that is, and

    (2) because society assumes that bisexual people who end up in longterm relationships with people of the opposite sex are “straight”–which only serves to perpetuate dishonesty, straight privilege, etc., etc., etc. (often, sadly, with the cooperation of the bisexual him- or herself). There is a national coming-out day for gay people–there should be one for bisexual people as well.

  4. WOW! Dr Cargill, I’m glad I caught “Indiana Jones and the Ultimate Quest ” on the History Channel today because I saw you on the show, which lead me to your site. (I can’t believe you have time for this.) Anyhow, I had to check out who this handsome Dr Cargill is. Yep…I am gay!

    I was a bit concerned when I saw your focus on biblical study…..thought you’d be another wack-job Bible thumping extremist. I’m sooooo glad that isn’t the case. There needs to be balance in the Force after all.

    What I’d like to share about the whole gay issue can best be taken from Alfred Kinsey’s study, which is more about a state of mind than a label. Few people fit in the totally straight or totally gay ends of the spectrum, most of us are somewhere in the middle. So, I guess in the label since, most of us are bi. I don’t like labels anyway….so most of us are just people who can have a wide range of tastes.

    I can remember when I was growing up hearing about the Kinsey study and how perverse it was, little did I know at the time how it could have helped me figure out my own sexuality. I only picked up his book after I saw the movie about Kinsey a few years ago. I found it fascinating reading, umm not the first 5 chapters.

    Maybe things would have been a lot different in this country if his study would have been embraced instead of shunned. Our children might be a little safer and not feel the need to take their own lives to escape the torment from their peers.

    I don’t mean to sound like a Debbie Downer but you inspired me to write about a very important issue. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts and look forward to reading more.

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