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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i just won the ‘bluff the listener’ game on npr’s ‘wait wait don’t tell me’

Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

one of the most significant events of my academic life took place on september 10, 2009: i won on npr’s ‘wait wait don’t tell me.’

every saturday, npr broadcasts the smartest game show on the airwaves, which also happens to be some of the smartest comedy on air. hosted by peter sagal, the show features an assorted cast of authors and comedians that answer questions about the past week’s news. the panelists include mo roccatom bodettpaul provenzapaula poundstoneroxanne robertscharlie piercep.j. o’rourkekyrie o’connoradam felberamy dickensonroy blount, jr., and julia sweeney.

in addition, there are several games where listener contestants call in and participate in games including, ‘who’s carl this time’ (a game where venerable npr news man carl kasell reads quotes from the week’s news and the listener contestant must guess what newsmaker said it), the listener limerick challenge (where listeners must fill in the last word of a limerick that rhymes something odd about the week’s news), and the ‘bluff the listener’ game (where each panelist reads a far-fetched story from the week’s news and the listener must choose truth from fiction by selecting the real story).

after writing to npr and begging notifying them that i wanted to participate, i was selected to play the ‘bluff the listener game.’ i received the good news from producer emily ecton, who told me how the taping of the show would work. i waited for her call on september 10, and was ready to play. i was uncertain that i would have any success because i rarely choose the correct story on the ‘bluff the listener’ game while listening in my car.

finally, the moment of truth came. peter sagal welcomed me, and after a brief introduction and chit chat about my job as an archaeologist and instructional technologist at ucla, i heard the panelists’ three stories:

kyrie o’connor told a story about two girls stuck in a storm drain and who, instead of using their cell phone to call 911, used it to update their facebook status to cry for help.

charlie pierce told a story of a farmer who shaved letters in alpacas to advertise a farm, but who became embarrassed when the alpacas moved around and ended up spelling some not-so-appropriate words.

p.j. o’rourke told a story about a man who injured himself with a weed wacker, and who went to the blue cross headquarters instead of a hospital.

i made my decision quickly. i said that while all three stories were very clever, i had to choose kyrie’s story because i am a huge facebooker and i’d forever regret it if i didn’t. and i was right! i chose the correct story and won my long-desired prize: carl kasell’s voice on my voice mail answering machine.

i was already an npr listener, contributing member, and huge fan of wait wait. now, i can humbly, but proudly say that i am small part of the long history of wait wait…don’t tell me.

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