Questions about "What does it matter if someone is gay"

I put quotation marks around the subject heading in hopes that it would alert all to the fact that I am drawing attention to it as a cliche that I would like to address and ask questions about it, and make a few comments about.

First off, I realize that this may have been covered in Esprix’s ongoing threads “Ask The Gay Guy,” but I beg everyone’s indulgence, and hope that if so, it will be pointed out to me. So, I thought of posting it there, and then it occurred to me that I was being presumptuous–my questions, and thoughts, are directed at anyone who can enlighten me, agree or disagree with me, be they gay, straight, or bi.

Finally, my point: Oftentimes when the issue comes up as to whether an historical person may or may not have been gay, someone will always step in and say “What does it matter?” I can see where they are coming from, but I always think to myself–“It does matter.” It mattered to them in a first-hand manner, and it matters to us who are looking at their lives, perhaps trying to gain an understanding of them and the world in which they lived.

Example: I’m not sure if it was here or elsewhere that I read of the fact that the 15th President of the United States–James Buchannan–may have been gay (probably was gay). Now this in no way makes me think one whit less of Mr. Buchannon, or one whit more, for that matter. But as a (very very) amateur historian, I find it fascinating. I’m not talking about silly infantile titillation, I talking FASCINATING. I therefore find that I want to read more of this, perhaps to understand what it may have been like for a gay man in the mid-1800s, a gay politician (Andrew Jackson, hero of 1812 that he was, made some really derogatory comments re Buchannan and his “roommate”). I find that it fills me with questions to ponder–did his being gay in any way dictate any of his Presidential policies and decisions? Would his being gay have been more readily accepted anywhere in the world of that time more readily than in America. I could list more, but I think you’ll understand the point I’m making: It matters.

Along the same lines–the world of celebrities. In today’s (fairly) tolerant world, being gay in Hollywood is not as “shocking” as it once was. As a life-long movie fan, I found the book “Open Secret” by David Ehrenstein to be one of the more interesting I have ever read. It details the terrible world of secrecy that gay celebrities had to endure in the period roughly encompassing 1930-1980 or so. I highly recommend it.

I guess I’m asking for opinions here. Does my wanting to say that the “What does it matter?” question is a silly one, does my wanting to at least gain an outsider’s view as best I can of a lifestyle that I have no personal first-hand knowledge of and its history and impact on the world make me a “snoop,” a “titillator,” a “fill-in-the-blank”?

This post is made with the utmost sincerity, and I hope it will be treated with same, even if you disagree with me when I say that my answer to the aforementioned cliche is…“Because it’s interesting, fascinating, and maybe I can learn something.”

Sir Rhosis

I think that the “what does it matter” mode comes purely from thought of rejection or discrimination. I’m pretty sure that a lot of GLBT people would like others to be interested in their world, and their history, but too often, this is simply not the case.

I think it depends on the context–on your reasons for wanting to know.

I’ll use myself as an example–I’m 37 years old and single. If you were to ask me whether I was gay appropos of nothing, I’d be liable to tell you to buzz off–it would be none of your business. If we were debating about gay rights or something, and you asked me in that context, I would most likely answer–it could have a bearing on my views.

I think that would apply to others as well–it depends on the context. Perhaps James Buchanan’s sexuality (if indeed he had any) had some impact on his policies, though I can’t think of any mid-19th Century federal policies that would have anything to do with such things one way or the other. Perhaps, if J. Edgar Hoover was gay, it affected his handling of the FBI in some way. Or perhaps not. It doesn’t matter if they were gay on a personal level, but it could conceivably provide a glimpse into their possible motivations.

(For the record, I’m straight–I mention this because that necessarily affects my views on this question. I have no idea whether gay posters would agree with me or not.)

Well, if you want to talk about how being gay affected policies, there is always that hypocritical bastard, Roy Cohn-homosexual and homophobic as well as Joe McCarthy’s sidekick. Wonderful man. :rolleyes:

Might it not make a difference, however slight, to some gay kid in high school who learns that some famous person - Buchanan, Michaelangelo, whoever - was gay, just like him, and people respected that person for who he was, not what he was?

Just a thought. It’d have been nice to me at the time.


Of course it matters that someone was gay or not, if you really wanted to get a glimpse into their worldview. Especially in a matter such as this, gay people never really being accepted into most societys.

For a quick comparison, this not being particularly good, but for a minute compare being gay to being black. In the overall humanistic view, it doesn’t matter whether a person was black or white, at least as far as their personal worth as a human being. But in the context of society it matters a great deal. Sure, being black is quite a bit different than being gay (I know I’m treading dangerous water), but it will always color a person’s perceptions.

It’s hard to imagine if you’re not in an oppressed minority, but these people are hated by other people by simply being what they are. I’d imagine that would govern quite a bit of your actions, whether you liked it or not.

And unfortunately, while most people will not admit to being rascist, homophobia is still wide and rampant.

I wish I had a good point to wrap this post up in, but as far as I know that’s where things lie. At least in the world I’m living in. In an enlightened world it would not matter a whit if one was gay or not, but I’ve never seen that world, let alone visited.

Tomorrow takes work.

I’m a straight person who finds discussions about whether a certain historical figure was gay to be interesting, particularly when it concerns writers. If people such as Shakespeare or Melville were gay, it might explain their understanding about youthful desires to break free from the norms of society. What does everyone else think?

I don’t know much about this, but I think any “discussion” about whether someone is gay and whether it affected their accomplishments or goals or policies or whatever in life - any of this discussion is interesting. However, it seems to me that a lot of this “discussion” is provided to the public via a tabloid-like media, and the actual value of the person is considered less important than the fact that so-and-so is gay and is dating so-and-so. To this, I say “What does it matter?” Because when it DOESN’T affect anything except how much EntertainmentTonight air time someone gets, it’s really unimportant.

Also, although I can’t think of any specific examples offhand, I have seen or heard of situations when someone’s sexual orientation has been used in discussions to try and discredit them. I think this is sick, because it is usually a case of homophobia being used as somesort of evidence for someone disagreeing with the person in question.It’s based on fear, it’s a pointless argument, and again, in this case, it does not matter a whit whether the guy/girl was gay or not.

Just my $0.02

If the subject under discussion is sex-related then sexual orientation probably matters. But how could it be relevant to a discussion of rain forests, dinosaurs or Microsoft’s plans for the future?

Why the hell is it that if someone has a southern accent, they’re immediately pigionholed as gay-massacreing, ignorant, closed-minded grease-stains?

The south is not all like “The Duke’s of Hazzard” While there are no doubt some areas like that, there are also art galleries, museums, universities, and (dare I say) liberals. Take my hometown of Tallahassee for instance. It certainly has it’s hick elements, but there are also 2 universities, a community college that is the best in the state, a private college, and is the capital of the state!
There may be some folks here who fit the southern stereotype, but there’s ignorant folks everywhere. There’s people here who are capable of abstract thought too!

End of Hijack, back to your regularly scheduled polling.

Southern accents sound great to people outside the United States and a lot of them are probably mystified by “southerner bashing”. In fact, if elocution schools taught dialects, southern accent lessons would probably be in demand. Such schools could well exist in the future. Preservation of dialects will become fashionable sooner or later and I can’t think of any other way to do that than to speak them.

I thank everyone for their replies. I am privileged to be able to ask such questions of the fine people here. A few replies. Esprix, I agree with you, sir. It would seem to me that a teenager who is gay would benefit from being taught the heritage of gay men and women. Do I think it will happen in public schools (or in most situations)anytime soon? Probably not. My opinion is that it will continue to be like the situation at President Buchannan’s museum/birth-home. The questions about someone being gay will be dismissed out of hand, and we will not learn. Also, I would consider sexual orientation to be part of “who” one is, as opposed to “what” one is. “What” to me barely signifies anything above the job I do. If asked “what” I am, I’ll say something like “CNC Machinist, aspiring screenwriter.” All other information about me, including my sexual orientation would fall under “who” I am. Or am I being dense and mis-reading your post?

G. Nome, sir or ma’am, I don’t believe it is relevant to rain forests, dinosaurs, etc, per se, but is perhaps relevant to the mind-set of an individual making decisions about such. I believe our decisions are all based on who we are in every aspect, including race, sex, age, gender, sexuality. I apologize if I missed your point.

muffinman, I too have a slight southern accent, probably not as “southern” as yours, and have found that although at first this may cause the problems you mentioned, that once someone gets to know someone else, it’s not a problem. But, yes, it is still considered funny to deride southerners basely soley on their drawl.

Guin–Admittedly, I have only read sketchingly of Roy Cohn, but have wondered how he could have lived with himself. But again, I don’t know enough to form any kind of reasonable opinion or hypothesis.

Again, thank you all.


Sir Rhosis

Here’s my take…YMMV

I think it does matter, only in the context of the general public liking to dish. Does that make sense?

Millions of people buy People Magazine (et al) because they want to know who is screwing whom and who is screwing whom over.

It’s gossip, people like to gossip.

Any story you ready about a public figure nowadays will not only list their accomplishments, but their more famous dalliances, their current ones, their children, their childhood pet, thir favorite ice cream flavor, favorite book, etc.

Why should gays be immune to it?