"You Can Tell Just By Looking": And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People

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by Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, Michael Amico
     
 

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2014 Lambda Literary Award Finalist: LGBT Nonfiction

Breaks down the most commonly held misconceptions about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their lives

 
In “You Can Tell Just by Looking” three scholars and activists come together to unpack enduring, popular, and deeply held myths aboutSee more details below

Overview

2014 Lambda Literary Award Finalist: LGBT Nonfiction

Breaks down the most commonly held misconceptions about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their lives

 
In “You Can Tell Just by Looking” three scholars and activists come together to unpack enduring, popular, and deeply held myths about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, culture, and life in America. Myths, such as “All Religions Condemn Homosexuality” and “Transgender People Are Mentally Ill,” have been used to justify discrimination and oppression of LGBT people. Others, such as “Homosexuals Are Born That Way,” have been embraced by LGBT communities and their allies. In discussing and dispelling these myths—including gay-positive ones—the authors challenge readers to question their own beliefs and to grapple with the complexities of what it means to be queer in the broadest social, political, and cultural sense.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 09/02/2013
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. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"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." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"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." —Booklist

“One of the most complete sourcebooks about science, sociology and LGBT life out there.” —PopMatters

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807042465
Publisher:
Beacon Press
Publication date:
10/01/2013
Series:
Queer Ideas/Queer Action , #9
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
500,417
File size:
0 MB

Read an Excerpt

Myth 7

HOMOSEXUALS ARE BORN THAT WAY

Award-winning and openly lesbian actress Cynthia Nixon landed
herself in hot water—twice. Her missteps? Nixon, best known for playing brainy and neurotic Miranda on Sex in the City, stated, in her acceptance of GLAAD’s Vito Russo Award in March 2010, “I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.” LGBT advocates objected to the implication that homosexuality was a choice. In a January 2012 interview with the New York Times, Nixon unapologetically stood her ground: “For me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me.” Nixon’s words went viral.
 
Since the Stonewall riots in 1969, LGB activists have encouraged gay people to come out and speak the truth about their lives. Why were activists so angry with Nixon for boldly telling her own truth? What political, and personal, nerve had she inadvertently struck?
 
In the past decade, the argument that homosexuals are born that way has become a major talking point used by LGB advocates to argue for equal rights. Nixon’s declaration, “For me, it’s a choice,” strayed from this carefully crafted political and legal script. Worse, it could be heard as reinforcing the antigay message of some conservative political groups. These groups, in their own public relations strategy, describe homosexuality as a “lifestyle choice” or “behavior-based identity.” If being gay is a “choice,” it supposedly

does not merit the civil rights protections extended to racial minorities and women.
 
But “born that way” is more than a sound bite in a public relations war. Many LGB people describe their sexual identities as in- born, an immutable part of who they are. Some others, like Nixon, claim they choose to be gay. This may be particularly true for lesbians. In the late 1970s, some feminists believed lesbianism was a chosen political and sexual identity. These “political lesbians” did not necessarily have sex with, or even sexually desire, women. Most self-declared lesbians decidedly do desire and have sex with other women (see myth 13, “Lesbians Do Not Have Real Sex”).
 
Still other LGB people would say their sexuality is both chosen and unchosen. They may not have chosen their same-sex desires, but they do choose to act on them and come out as L, G, or B. Other LGB people would say they do not care how or why they came to be gay—they are gay and it is fine. LGB people, like straight people, have all sorts of ways of answering the question, “Why are you the
way you are?”

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