Friday, May 1, 2009

And it matters that he's gay because... ?

Check out this article in today's Lexington Herald-Leader.

In my opinion, this article is not so much about the "special place" for celebrities to chill in at the Derby, as it is about pointing out that the person who designed it is a gay man from Kentucky, without really saying that he's gay. There is so much going on here, I don't even know where to start with an analysis, except for, why does it matter that he's gay, and why did they have to emphasize it so much throughout the article?


hwong14 said...

I agree that the headline doesn't fit the story -- it's not about the tent, it's about the designer. But if there's really a hidden message that a gay man from Kentucky designed it, rather than just the non-hidden message that a man from Kentucky who made it big from Hollywood is back in KY, then I would still suggest that it's not necessarily a negative message. Why does it matter that he's gay? Because it's good to see openly gay people in this state. We don't have enough of them! To be honest, I think that story would have been written whether he was gay or not, because the pitch is that a local person made it big in Hollywood and is bag. The fact that it's easy to tell he's likely a gay man shouldn't be that big a deal. On the east coast, it's not. My two cents :)

LBD said...

That's an interesting perspective! And insightful, especially coming from a former newspaper writer. I totally agree with you that it's good to see more openly gay people in/from Kentucky. Let's hope that articles like this eventually lead to more acceptance, tolerance, less hate crimes, positive attitudes about same-sex marriage, etc. Hopefully readers would take away the message that "look, gay people are awesome, talented, and hard working, and from Kentucky, just like straight people!" But I think what bothers me is that it's also stereotypical. They made every effort to make sure we knew that he "sounded" and "acted" gay, both in the narrative and the picture. Like, it's not enough that a man from Kentucky made it big in Hollywood and came back to help out his home state, but that we have to know he's gay. I am torn about what to think about discourse that reinforces the differences among "groups." One one hand, I firmly believe that we know of, understand, and embrace our differences in the interest of tolerance and equality. But on the other hand, I often think that some differences are just social constructs that exist to maintain the dominant group's (white men's) power, or to maintain inequality.

In the interest of full disclosure, I've been reading a lot lately about performance of identities, so I'm hyper-sensitive to this kind of thing. How do we know that someone's gay? A woman? A man? Feminine? Masculine? Black? White? Asian? This is a major underlying research question in my dissertation, and it's been rather challenging to answer. :) I'm sending you my dissertation when it's finished; really interested to hear if you think my conclusions were accurate!