‘You Can Tell Just By Looking:’ New book dispelling stereotypes and false assumptions about LGBTs publishes Oct. 1Entertainment News, Online Only, Section 4A, Top Highlights Monday, September 30th, 2013
Today, conversations and debates about homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism are taking place everywhere in American society, from pop culture to politics. Because people seek easy answers for things they don’t understand, myths about LGBT people abound; some are casual and seemingly harmless, while others may be used to justify violence and discrimination. In an effort to dispel the pervasive stereotypes and false assumptions about queer citizens, Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico have written, “You Can Tell Just By Looking” And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People.
Drawing on court cases, scientific and sociological studies, statistical analysis, histories, literary texts, and popular culture, the book is a crash course in understanding LGBT life. The book provides LGBT people and their supporters with the concrete information, historical facts, and reasoned arguments needed to counter any of these myths in both private conversation and public debate. “We want to dispel harmful, often hostile, myths, stereotypes, and false assumptions about LGBT people,” write the authors. “But we also want to explain what myths do, how they work and move in the world, and why the myths in this book remain so compelling even when they are shown to be false.”
“You Can Tell Just By Looking” explores not only myths put forward by those seeking to limit rights and freedoms to LGBT citizens, but also those propagated by LGBT people and their advocates in an attempt to explain or defend themselves in the face of discrimination and marginalization. These include some of today’s most commonly held ideas about LGBT life, including:
- You Can Tell Who’s Gay Just By Looking: This myth addresses the idea of “gaydar” which in reality has nothing to do with seeing gayness, but rather seeing either stereotypical traits associated with homosexuality, or more often, reading into one’s expressed desire. The authors discuss the science of gaydar, looking at recent studies that attempt to prove or disprove its existence, and also address how being able to “tell” who is gay just by looking was once a matter of safety and necessity, as same-sex activity was illegal in many places and appearing gay in front of the wrong person could result in a restriction of rights, or violence.
- There Is No Such Thing as a Gay or Trans Child: Parents and educators put a lot of work into protecting kids from sexually explicit materials and things they deem inappropriate. Most adults also believe that children are void of sexuality until puberty and therefore cannot have a sense of their own gender identity or sexuality until they are older. In this section the authors explore why those assumptions are untrue, and discusses how the presence of sexuality from birth helps to shape gender identities through adulthood.
- All Religions Condemn Homosexuality: While it is true that many religions and religious leaders condemn homosexuality, there are many faith communities that support LGBT people. Additionally, many individuals within more conservative religions personally support LGBT rights. This myth looks at the changing history of religion’s relationship to homosexuality. The authors write that religions are variable in their organization, belief systems, rituals, and practices, and continue to evolve over time, which makes it impossible to say what “all” religions, or even all people of one specific religion, believe.
- Coming Out Today is Easier than Ever Before: Though positive visibility and public role models seem to lessen the burden, the reality is that coming out still presents challenges for many. The circumstances of where they live, their race, their religion, and various other factors have a major impact on how easy it is to come out, especially if one’s gay identity doesn’t align with what is seen in the media – usually white, middle-class, unthreatening individuals who are focused on marriage and family. This section of the book explores the history of coming out, from the 1920s to today, and looks at the real effect that coming out can have on people and families.
- Antidiscrimination Laws in the United States Protect LGBT People: In 29 states it is still legal to fire someone just because they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and the laws offer even less protection for transgendered people. And though the majority of Americans surveyed have said that they believe discrimination against LGBT people is wrong, few realize that they are largely unprotected by today’s antidiscrimination laws. This section explores the past, present, and possible future of antidiscrimination protection.
At a time when gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues are rising to the forefront of the media and political landscapes, “You Can Tell Just By Looking” aims to help readers understand and address hot-button issues surrounding gender and sexuality. The authors forgo easy answers and explore the complexities that lie at the root of these twenty-one myths and misconceptions. “The bottom line,” the authors write, “is that being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender is part of being human, and simply being human is very complicated.”
Michael Bronski has written extensively on LGBT issues for four decades. He is the author of award-winning books, including most recently A Queer History of the United States (Beacon Press, 2011). He is Professor of the Practice in the Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University and a senior lecturer in Women’s and Gender Studies and in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College.
Ann Pellegrini is professor of performance studies and religious studies at New York University, where she also directs NYU’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. She has written extensively about religion, sexuality, and U.S. public life. Her publications include Performance Anxieties and the coauthored book Love the Sin (Beacon Press, 2004).
Michael Amico is a PhD candidate in American Studies at Yale University. He’s published frequently in publications for LGBT youth, such as Young Gay America, as well as providing political analysis for publications such as the Boston Phoenix.
Dispelling common myths, stereotypes, and false assumptions is just part of the ambitious goals set by established gender studies experts Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegini, and Michael Amico. Exposing the claims and myths LGBT accept is another key aspect of their other mission. Beginning with the observation that LGBT as “a single, clearly defined cultural entity is itself a myth,” the authors classify myths and the social compromises they enforce by upholding existing norms, erasing complex differences, encouraging secrecy, and inhibiting logical discussion. This impressive undertaking covers the struggles associated with coming out, sexual abuse, gay identity, and homophobia, subtle and aggressive. This groundbreaking book is rich in smart, stirring, and forthright examinations of myths, negative and positive, and clarifying examples, and holds to scholarly standards while compellingly and revealingly addressing the curiosity and concerns of mainstream readers.
Publishers Weekly review:
This rigorous book addresses 21 beliefs about LGBT people held by those in and out of the LGBT
community. Academics Bronski (A Queer History of the United States), Pellegrini (Performance
Anxieties), and Amico have two goals: to “dispel harmful, often hostile myths, stereotypes,
and false assumptions about LGBT people” and to “explain what myths do, how they work
and move in the world.” The authors examine terminology (“transgender,” “bisexual,”
“LGBT”), statistics, research past and present, and cultural phenomena, to show how the
American public frames, processes, and accepts or rejects the presence of LGBT individuals
and communities through the construction of these foundational myths. What emerges is a
disturbing picture of the ways in which research, language, and media are contorted to suit pro-
or anti-LGBT agendas. As the authors note, “Our culture is pretty terrible at talking about sex
and sexual pleasure,” and it flattens “the messiness of reality” through unexamined myth. This
powerful book demands that we look more closely at the ways we move in and structure our
society, and asks vital questions that will steer the culture toward justice and equality.
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