If you want to know about gay people—their lives, their desires, their ideas, their cultures—listen to gay people. If you want to know about straight people, listen to straight people talking about gay people.
Straight people have a lot to say about gay people. Of course they do. Everybody talks about everybody. The growing acceptance of homosexuality/queerness means that gays have more of a voice than ever, but also that straight people have more to say about gay people than ever. That's a recipe for a screaming match.
The fact of the matter is that straight people, given the sheer volume of them, have a louder voice, and this voice historically has been used to persecute gay people through mischaracterizations and lies. You want a contemporary example? Look no further than the rationale for the persecution of LGBT people in Russia.
This is not to say that no straight person can comment on a gay person or people. Some straight people are quite good at talking about gay people: Take noted internet thinker Jay Smooth, for example. He is thoughtful. He doesn't apologize for his pro-equality stance with a get-out-of-gay-free, no-homo card, nor does he inadvertently expose embedded ignorance and hypocrisy when he discusses those different than him.
Unfortunately, not all straight people are Jay Smooth. He occupies the ideal area of a spectrum. There are several different degrees of straightsplaining. That word, inspired by the increasingly common "mansplaining," describes the practice of straight people explaining how gay people are, or what gay people do, or how gay people do what they do, or why. This second-hand information can range from being virtually benign to chronically malignant. It is detailed below in that order, more or less. Come, let's explore this discursive cancer.
Level One: Well-Intentioned
Example: "If I was gay / I would think hip-hop hates me," says Macklemore in the pro-gay anthem/the United States' new national anthem "Same Love."
So what's wrong with that? Well, while you couldn't begrudge a gay person for feeling this way, given hip-hop's acceptance of homophobia, that's not exactly how it works. One can extract the abundance of goodness from hip-hop, while leaving the bad on the shelf—such selective absorbing is a key part of experiencing mainstream culture as a minority. Also, why on earth would you care about a straight man's hypothetical feelings when you can talk to a gay person about his or her actual feelings?
See also: David Carr in the New York Times asserting that "the culture has moved on" from focusing on sexuality in his takedown of Gawker's supposed "outing" of Shepherd Smith. Tell that to journalist Randy Gener, who suffered brain injuries when he was beaten in Hell's Kitchen last month, or this 11-year-old who tried to kill himself.
Level Two: Corrective
Example: Last week's issue of New York magazine included a review of the HBO show/our new national pastime Looking by indefatigable critic Matt Zoller Seitz. (For reasons that are unclear, the print version deviates greatly from his review of the show that ran online a few weeks ago.) Zoller Seitz (a man who has been married to a woman) seems intent on correcting the views of Slate's J. Bryan Lowder, a gay man. Here's an excerpt:
Lowder's Slate piece chides Looking for being aimed at viewers who "fear the queen," while also mentioning a "standing fuck," a furtive handjob in a park, and a character played by Scott Bakula who reminisces about the HIV-free bareback glory days of San Francisco in the seventies. If this is indeed a tame series, we either need to redefine the word tame or acknowledge that American society has evolved to the point where such material is no longer a big deal and can be presented without comment in the first episodes of a show, minus the constant feeling that one got while watching Showtime's Queer as Folk: that the hounds of hell were constantly circling the characters, waiting to pounce.
So what's wrong with that? Well, if you're going to take to task a gay man's assessment of gay culture, you should at least know your terminology. Positing that first sentence the way that he does, it seems that Seitz is pointing out a contradiction in Lowder's work, which would mean that Seitz thinks that being a "queen" is somehow tied to promiscuous sex, which... what? And just why exactly does Queer as Folk's more explicit handling of gay sex invoke "hounds of hell" in Seitz's eyes?
See also: Mick Stingley's "A Straight Man's Guide to HBO's Looking," which takes the show to task for not playing enough to established gay stereotypes, but also just seems like an undercooked attempt at humor and thus wasn't really worth the brief furor it sparked.
Level Three: Egocentric
Example: Jens Lehmann, a former German soccer player, says that gay players should stay in the closet because, "You shower together everyday," "Football is a man thing," and, "You can't foresee what would happen. You can't advise anyone to do so - they would no longer have fun playing football."
So what's wrong with that? It's not about you, dude, though I see how, oh, everything about society would lead you to make that mistake.
See also: The recent comments from New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma on this matter: "I think [a gay teammate] would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted. I don't want people to just naturally assume, oh, we're all homophobic. That's really not the case. Imagine if he's the guy next to me, and you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?"
Basically any time a straight person tells a gay person not to do something for the straight person's benefit, this applies.
Level Four: Apologetic
Example: "I'm neither a homophobe nor a hater. I'm simple enough to believe that a marriage of one man and one woman not only is the only biological combination capable of creating the next generation, but in the context of a monogamous and committed relationship, it's the best context for children to learn how to replace their parents. Now if we're determined to change the definition of marriage to accommodate how people feel and what they wish to do because of their mutual consent, then we should immediately release those incarcerated for practicing polygamy or bigamy." – Mike Huckabee
So what's wrong with that? If you have to preface anything by explaining how not bigoted you are, you're setting yourself up for failure. If you are not gay, don't try to explain what being gay is also like, because inevitably you aren't that thing either and you're just making shit up. In the words of activist drag queen Panti Bliss:
"I have been lectured to by heterosexual people about what homophobia is and about who is allowed to identify it. Straight people have lined up—ministers, senators, barristers, journalists—have lined up to tell me what homophobia is and what I am allowed to feel oppressed by. People who have never experienced homophobia in their lives, people who have never checked themselves at a pedestrian crossing, have told me that unless I am being thrown into prison or herded onto a cattle truck, it is not homophobia, and that feels oppressive."
See also: Anyone who recoils from the label of "bigot" while engaging in bigotry. Those people should grow a pair. Fuck those people for their homophobia, but fuck them harder for their cowardice.
Level Five: Apologist
Example: Describing why Russia's anti-gay law is actually no big deal, Canadian International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said, "In Malaysia, you can be put to death. In Nigeria, you can be put in jail for God knows how long. So it's a target of convenience with respect to Russia, not that I approve of the law, but putting it on a scale of 1-10 of odious laws, it's not way up there near 10."
So what's wrong with that? "I mean, it could be worse. Someone could actually be sawing off your head right now, as opposed to the reality of you sitting there not getting your head sawed off. Stop being such faggots about this, faggots."
See also: Non-gays who insist on a rigidly hierarchical view of discrimination. Take the recent viral response to Macklemore's "Same Love" by Bizzle that includes this section: "And I feel so disrespected that you were so desperate / You would compare your sexual habits to my skin / Calling it 'the new black?' Tell me, where they do that? / They hung us like tree ornaments, where were you at? / They burned us for entertainment, you go through that?" / Moms raped in front of their kids while they shoot dad / Ever been murdered just for trying to learn how to read, bro? / Show of hands? I didn't think so / So quit comparing the two it ain't the same fight / You can play straight. We can never play white." Oh, you mean other people have struggled? Cool. We'll stop complaining now.
Level Six: Denial
Example: Recently the mayor of Sochi, home of the imminent Winter Olympics and target of much debate given how heinously gay people are treated in Russia, had this to say about his area's gay population: "We just say that it is your business, it's your life. But it's not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live. We do not have them in our city."
So what's wrong with that? He is. There are gay people everywhere. There's probably one in your house right now, hiding under your bed or organizing your lipsticks, or rerouting your circuit board so that when you flip your bathroom light switch, your garage door goes up. Just to be, you know, cute.
See also: Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who told an audience at New York's Columbia University in 2007, "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you we have it." In response, the audience laughed and booed at the silly liar.
Level Seven: Inadvertently Explanatory
Example: "[Homosexuality] has deadly consequences for those people involved in it. They have more suicides. They're more discouraged. They have more illness. Their lifespans are shorter. It's not a lifestyle that's good for this nation. In fact, studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades…I honestly think it's the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam." – Sally Kern, Oklahoma state legislator
So what's wrong with that? This kind of villainizing is among the reasons why gay people kill themselves or are discouraged. This is the discursive equivalent of taking a person's hand, forcing it to make contact with his face, and then asking, "Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?"
See also: The pitying mother stereotype who shakes her head in disgust and mutters something about being gay amounting to "such a lonely life."
Level Eight: Entrepreneurial
Example: "We have to understand: barbarians [gays] need to be educated. They need to be disciplined. Just because someone feels it or thinks it doesn't mean that we are supposed to go down that road. That's what is called the sinful nature. We have a responsibility as parents and as authority figures not to encourage such thoughts and feelings from moving into the action steps." – Marcus Bachmann, wife, I mean, husband of Michele
So what's wrong with that? Well, besides revealing ignorance by purporting to expose it, Bachmann is a known reparative therapist, which means he stands to make money out of educating gays right out of their homosexuality.
See also: People whose "brand" is based partially on anti-gay rhetoric: Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, The 700 Club's Pat Robertson, etc.
Level Nine: Sexual
Example: Ugandan pastor Martin Sempa's rant about gay sex involving fisting and shit-eating:
So what's wrong with that? I promise you, that's not the way it works. Also, straight people do some nasty shit, too. Sempa was widely mocked for this, thanks to his accent and phraseology: "Eat da poo poo" became a meme because, really, this was so hard to take seriously it made the Westboro Baptist Church seem rational.
See also: Everyone's least favorite Bachelor, Juan Pablo, claiming that gays are "more pervert" than straights. Really, see anyone discussing gay sex who hasn't had it. Why are you so interested in gay sex?
Level Ten: Religious
Example: "I believe that all of us are born heterosexual, physically created with a plumbing that's heterosexual, and created with the instincts and desires that are basically, fundamentally, heterosexual. But I believe that we have the ability to experiment in every direction. Experimentation can lead to habitual practice, and then to a lifestyle. But I don't believe anyone begins a homosexual. They begin the way God made them: male, female, with all the dispositions that are built in. If they choose to be bisexual or transgendered or homosexual, they're human beings, and they have the ability to do it. But as a Christian, biblically, scripture makes very clear that it's an immoral position. Even Romans I says that at some point, when they finally are just so committed to doing that. The quote from the King James is, 'God gives them over to a reprobate mind,' or a malformed mind." – Jerry Falwell
So what's wrong with that? Oh for fuck's sake, what's right with it? (Spoiler alert: Nothing.)
See also: Church, people who use supposed love of God to hate and demonize, etc., etc.
Level Eleven: Political
Example: Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said that the country's law against "gay propaganda" "does not offend anyone." He went on: "People with non-traditional sexual orientation cannot feel like they are second-rate because they are in no way discriminated against: not professionally, not career-wise, not when it comes to recognition by society."
So what's wrong with that? Here is the law in plain English:
Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.
This discriminates against those who want to live their "nontraditional" lives in the open. It comes down firmly on those who are LGBT but consider themselves equal. It has led to activist arrests.
It's fucking offensive.
See also: The dangerous environment that such legislation fosters. The open violence against gay people in Russia is offensive and discriminatory. Being treated as second rate would be an improvement.
Level Twelve: Protective
Example: Ugandan politician and parliament member David Bahati told Rachel Maddow that he drafted the country's "Kill the Gays Bill," which made "aggravated homosexuality" a capital offense punishable by death, because millions of dollars were being poured into the recruitment of children into homosexuality.
So what's wrong with that? This is unsubstantiated bullshit, as this intro to Maddow's interview with Bahati proves:
See also: Anita Bryant, Jesse Helms, Pete Huxtra, supporters of Prop 8…this is basically the lazy homophobe's go-to argument to scare even lazier people into homophobia. This is often what's meant by the phrase "gay agenda."
[Images via AP and Getty]