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


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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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807042458
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 424,952
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Michael Bronski (Cambridge, Massachusetts) has written extensively on LGBT issues for four decades. He is the author of several award-winning books, including most recently A Queer History of the United States. He is Professor of the Practice in Activism and Media in the Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University.

Ann Pellegrini (New York, New York) 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 US public life. Her publications include Performance Anxieties and the coauthored book Love the Sin.
Michael Amico (New Haven, Connecticut) is a PhD candidate in American studies at Yale University, and is writing a history of the love between two men in the Civil War. He has written for LGBT youth publications, such as Young Gay America, and provided political analysis for the Boston Phoenix and other venues.

Read an Excerpt

Myth 7

Excerpted from ""You Can Tell Just By Looking""
by .
Copyright © 2013 Michael Bronski.
Excerpted by permission of Beacon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part 1: Living in the World
Myth 1: You Can Tell Who’s Gay Just by Looking
Myth 2: About 10 Percent of People Are Gay or Lesbian
Myth 3: All Transgender People Have Sex-Reassignment Surgery

Part 2: Cause and Effect
Myth 4: Sexual Abuse Causes Homosexuality
Myth 5: Most Homophobes Are Repressed Homosexuals
Myth 6: Transgender People Are Mentally Ill
Myth 7: Homosexuals Are Born That Way

Part 3: Troublemakers
Myth 8: LGBT Parents Are Bad for Children
Myth 9: Same-Sex Marriage Harms Traditional Marriage
Myth 10: All Religions Condemn Homosexuality
Myth 11: Gay Rights Infringe on Religious Liberty
Myth 12: People of Color Are More Homophobic Than White People

Part 4: It’s Just a Phase
Myth 13: Lesbians Do Not Have Real Sex
Myth 14: All Bisexual Men Are Actually Gay; All Bisexual Women Are Actually Straight
Myth 15: Transgender People Are Gay
Myth 16: There’s No Such Thing as a Gay or Trans Child

PART 5: Struggling in the World

Myth 17: Positive Visibility in the Media Increases Tolerance and Acceptance of LGBT People
Myth 18: Coming Out Today Is Easier Than Ever Before
Myth 19: Antidiscrimination Laws in the United States Protect LGBT People
Myth 20: Hate Crime Laws Prevent Violence against LGBT People
Myth 21: Getting Tested on a Regular Basis Helps Prevent the Spread of HIV


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"You Can Tell Just By Looking": And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
jimnook More than 1 year ago
A punchy motto for this informative and provocative exploration of LGBT myths might be, Get real! "'You Can Tell Just By Looking' And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People" explores a wide range of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans myths, both pernicious and affirmative, including how they have evolved, and what they mean for people's lives today. It also highlights the effectiveness of combining empirical "reality-based" evidence along with our personal experiences. The authors -- Michael Bronski (Dartmouth, Harvard), Ann Pellegrini (New York University), and Michael Amico (Yale) -- bring a formidable background to this book, drawing on both their community involvement and academic achievements. They deftly employ the social sciences, history, literature, mainstream culture, religion and more, to separate fantasy from LGBT people's actual lives. The book scrutinizes a host of LGBT myths, in its 21 concise and clearly-written chapters. It's geared for a general audience, who will find a wealth of factual information, nuanced analyses, and goads to discussion. Not to mention some witty eclecticism. To take one example, the introduction's first page encompasses an overview of the book's themes, by way of gay history, in the guise of Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar Wilde's fair-weather boyfriend), pop culture via Lady Gaga, and straight allies who can even be found in the NFL with linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. It also pairs up Douglas's famous quotation about homosexuality as "the love that dare not speak its name," with the latter day quip that it's now, thankfully, "the love that won't shut up." You may be wondering, What's so bad about myths? Like pollen in August, they're everywhere. As the authors point out in the introduction, myths, however appealing and ingrained, also have a pernicious side. They unthinkingly uphold the status quo to the detriment of social progress; erase the real differences -- and sometimes similarities -- between people; project uncomfortable issues onto an out group such as LGBT people; and stop rational discussion since 'everybody knows that [fill in the blank].' As the authors write, myths "cannot explain away underlying anxieties; they actually feed on them," and yet they help us "negotiate the messiness of personal and cultural histories that shape how we live and understand our lives. In this way, all myths express some kind of truth." Some people fear splitting open myths, seeing the endeavor as anarchic; but this book shows us that in fact the process can be liberating, helping us come closer to our authentic selves and each other. Not all of the myths examined in the book are antigay; some dearly held progay beliefs are also dissected. Part V looks at the reality behind such wishful thinking as: increased media visibility makes LGBT people more accepted (so you can just sit back and relax), anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws "automatically" protect LGBT people and, perhaps most troubling of all, just getting tested for HIV "magically" helps prevent its spread. A major strength of the book is that the authors don't just toss out reality-based data to dispel myths. They look at why, and show us how, the myths took hold in the first place, and what basic needs they pretend to fill. Take sex. Wouldn't it be tidy if sexual orientation or gender could fit in a little box? As if. Statistically, it turns out that "straight" society reveals even more confusion and nervousness about sexuality than, on average, LGBTs. Part of that is our biological nature, all tangled up with cultural myths and our personal doubts. The authors strip away distortions from both anti- and pro-LGBT advocates, including self-proclaimed scientific researchers, some of whom bend findings to fit their particular agenda. They prove no less "objective" than, say, the self-defined heterosexual guy who gets off on erotic lesbian videos, but who then gives a resounding "Ditto!" to "Myth 13: Lesbians Do Not Have Real Sex," all the while knowing, first-hand, that there are many forms of sexual connection besides face-to-face male into female, but he'd rather brag to his macho BFFs about his "scores" than look at the (fascinatingly) complex dynamics of desire (myth-based self-deception is as tortured, and stereotype-laced, as this sentence, you betcha). Speaking of hetero- and other orientations, a key chapter is "Myth 2: About 10 Percent of People Are Gay or Lesbian," that looks at the contradictory ways in which LGBT people are classified and counted. Factoring in bisexuality, including temporary bisexual "phases," the actual percentage can swing anywhere from around 3% of the population to 50% or 60% or higher. The Kinsey Scale, still going strong after 65 years, runs from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual), with most people falling in between those two rare extremes. Getting even a numerical grip on sexual orientation can be hard, but then, what about sex is easy? OK, guffaws (revealing, aren't they?) over, let's continue. Our team of intrepid myth-busters covers an almost full range of LGBT issues and experiences in this brief book. I suspect that most readers will have their own nominees for additional topics to be covered; mine are the military, and class. However, the authors do touch on those themes, in the context of other matters. Throughout, the book judiciously cross-reference topics, even with those that get their own chapters, such as lesbianism, bisexuality and race. One essential thread concerns the most vulnerable LGBT population, young people, as we see in "Myth 4: Sexual Abuse Causes Homosexuality," "Myth 8: LGBT Parents Are Bad for Children," "Myth 16: There's No Such Thing as a Gay or Trans Child," and "Myth 18: Coming Out Today Is Easier Than Ever Before." Marriage equality is in the news daily, and this book contains the single best overview I've read anywhere. The authors succinctly cover all aspects, from its history to society-wide implications, in "Myth 9: Same-Sex Marriage Harms Traditional Marriage." Also outstanding was the discussion of what's shaping up as the new #1 anti-LGBT battlefront, so-called "religious freedom," parsed in "Myth 11: Gay Rights Infringe on Religious Liberty." As the authors clarify, religious freedom entails both a separation or "disestablishment" of church and state, that our Constitution guarantees (the reality is more jumbled), as well as the free exercise of religion for all. Homophobic religions (but as the authors point out, many religions are staunch LGBT allies) want the legal right to have their way with LGBTs, being able to fire them or deny services or disintegrate their families, all in the name of their narrow sectarian "morality." In the inclusive sense, "You Can Tell Just By Looking" argues that "Religious freedom, far from being the opposite of 'gay rights,' forms a necessary ground for LGBT equality and freedom. How people arrange their intimate relations and their gender identities involves important moral decision-making." Amen. Every reader will have their own unique response to this book, but here's one way that it helped me. Until recently, I had not understood the dimensions of trans experience. Fortunately, I've now had the opportunity to meet and listen to several transpeople; and this book further deepened my understanding by providing context, as in "Myth 3: All Transgender People Have Sex-Reassignment Surgery," "Myth 6: Transgender People Are Mentally Ill," and "Myth 15: Transgender People Are Gay." In additional chapters, trans and intersex people are integrated within other LGB issues and experiences. While in 2013 fewer than half of the states have LGB antidiscrimination laws, I learned that only 17 provide trans-inclusive "gender expression." And while we can all cheer the end of the dysfunctional "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy for LGBs, it's not widely known that the T was left off. Specifically, trans and intersex military personnel were excluded from reform, and are still vulnerable. Those injustices now have a gut level impact, as I get a fuller sense of transpeople's lives and issues, primarily from getting to know individuals but also, synergistically, from background information, including what's in this book. As engaging as "You Can Tell Just By Looking" can be for the individual reader, it comes even more fully alive when it's discussed with as diverse a group of people as possible. I was fortunate to see the book in action at an event, moderated by co-author Michael Amico at Yale, that inspired a lively, at times heated, discussion with a large audience. In fact, the book would be ideal for any discussion group, from any point on the political or religious spectrum, conservative to progressive. Its insights are guaranteed to stir up debate, especially when participants compare their personal experiences with the book's investigations. The authors' use of social science methodology is rewarding, but neuroscience could also help map what makes individuals, and hence society, tick. Neuroscience explores the physical brain and nervous system, and how they affect the mind, including our thoughts, myths and behaviors. It's a rapidly growing field, but to engage a wide audience, that doesn't wield scalpels or MRIs, it needs a book as clear and compelling as "You Can Tell Just By Looking," such as Michael Shermer's popular "The Believing Brain: How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths." Quibbles aside, this book is an exceptional achievement, illuminating and inspiring. "You Can Tell Just By Looking" shows us why, and how, to strip away mythic deceptions, using a combination of empirical analysis and our own lives. This book can help us understand our culture more fully, and maybe even -- through our evolving experience and engagement -- make this a better world, really.