How to kill a stereotype
by Brandon Tietz
Raise your hand if you’ve ever made an assumption about someone. This could be about a guy not of your race or a woman wearing a burqa in 100-degree heat. You look at someone — a type of person you’re not familiar with — and because you don’t understand them, your brain plucks from the lowest hanging fruit in order to make sense out of their differences. This applies to culture, to religion, and yes, to sexual orientation. You see a young gay at a Halls or on the Plaza drinking overpriced coffee, and you ask yourself, “Is he a socially-adjusted ‘Modern Family’ type of gay or an attention-seeking Bravo network flamer gay?” This is how you not-so-consciously assess the situation/the person: by pulling from the very small bank of information you have, which includes but is not limited to popular TV shows, sassy gay friends in movies and whatever the media (social or otherwise) has managed to feed you over the years. In an effort to understand the unknown, we’ve developed this nasty little habit of oversimplifying and labeling. We all do it.
Ellen DeGeneres lays out the issue succinctly in her book, saying, “The problem with labels is that they lead to stereotypes and stereotypes lead to generalizations and generalizations lead to assumptions and assumptions lead right back to stereotypes.”
And you’d be hard pressed to find a demographic that deals with this more than gays. These stereotypes range from the common to the absolute ridiculous, and most of them originate from pop culture or fear mongering. Hopefully, we can debunk a few of these.
1. Gay people are sexual vampires trying to turn straight people
Wrong. This isn’t an episode of “True Blood,” and gay people aren’t hiding in the shadows waiting for unsuspecting straight people to prey on. No one is trying to convert you or your family. Please, calm down. Now, can a gay person be attracted to a straight person? Of course. Could this gay person pursue said straight person? Absolutely. Where this ends is when one party conveys to the other they don’t swing that way. Gays are fairly adept in knowing a lost cause when they see one. No one is trying to turn you. There’s no ritual to switch your sexual orientation, so chill the hell out.
2. All gays are flaming, human peacocks
See, this is what happens when the only thing Joe Schmoe knows about the gay community is the 10-second clip he saw of the Pride parade on Fox 4. Gay men are not scorching rainbow flames of flamboyance. Not once in the history of ever has someone said, “Ow! You just burned me with your gayness! Quick, somebody pour some Coors Light on these burns!” And although I can’t disagree that the hyper-sexualized neon hot pants-adorned variation of gay exists — it’s not all that exists. Much like the straight community, the gay community is highly diverse. To put this another way: don’t judge an entire demographic based on one parade.
3. Gay people love fashion and hate sports (except for sexual reasons)
Praise be to Adam Pally and the writers of “Happy Endings” for giving us a TV character to combat this exact stereotype. For the initiated, you should all be nodding your heads as your remember how Max Blume broke the mold of the token gay guy/sassy gay friend/flaming right hand man. For the uninitiated, please proceed to buy all three seasons and enjoy the spoils of a near-perfect series gone too soon. Remember earlier when I said that gays are just as diverse as straight people? Yeah, it applies here, too. That beer-bellied sports fanatic eating hot wings and pounding back domestic beers at your local Tanner’s could very well be a gay guy. You’re just having a hard time spotting him because you’re only wired to recognize the tropes. Stop troping, bro.
4. Gay men love casual sex and hard drugs … especially that Molly
For real, people believe this. I suppose because in the Venn diagram of life people noticed there was a huge overlap in gay culture and rave culture. Add to that all the countless TV and movie scenes in which young gays were portrayed dancing to trance music with candy necklaces and passing MDMA via French kissing, I can see how this happened. Guess what, though … straight guys love casual sex and drugs, too. Not sure exactly how the gays got the bigger market share of that stereotype, but that particular slice of nightlife is by no means exclusive to them.
5. Gays have HIV/AIDS
The ’90s were my formative years, and during the ’90s two very important pieces of media dropped. The first was a movie called “Philadelphia,” in which Tom Hanks played a homosexual with AIDS. The second was the San Francisco season of “The Real World” in which one of the housemates, Pedro Zamora, publicly struggled with AIDS. So you had this huge Oscar-bait movie and what was arguably one of the most popular shows running at the time on MTV — both centered on gay men fighting AIDS … and they set this rather unfair precedent in modern culture. We, as a society, became aware of AIDS, but the more ignorant of our species took it too far and operated under the assumption that all gay men have AIDS. To be an openly gay man in the ’90s meant that it was automatically assumed you were either dying or a harbinger of disease. It was brainwashing at its worst, much like those anti-vaxxer groups who believe celebrity science over real science.
Labels lead to stereotypes lead to generalizations lead right back to stereotypes, but this usually starts with something you saw or heard or read. The origin point is either a TV show or Buzzfeed article that offers a minute fraction of a point of view. Even this — the article you’re currently reading — is a mere two cents. It’s around 1,000 words of me encouraging you to not label, assume or judge those that are different from yourself. Once you’ve done that, the misunderstanding has already begun.