One of the biggest pieces of non-news to hit the Internet over the last several days is that CNN's Anderson Cooper has come out as gay. It meets the description of non-news for two reasons: first, that it doesn't seem to have surprised really anyone and second, that the sexual orientation of a news reporter should not, in itself, be news.
I understand why it is, even beyond the whole fascination we have with people's bedrooms. Mr. Cooper is a successful public figure, who has demonstrated tremendous character and no small amount of courage in his professional career. Not only has he been covering warzones, there was the much-publicized clip of him setting down his camera, in effect setting down his role as impartial journalist, to grab an injured child and carry him to safety. He is admired by a lot of people for his tenacity and intellect. I like to think that a gay child could look at him and see the potential for success and respect that has nothing to do with, but is not hampered by, homosexuality. He has been a voice for equality, and now he can be an open role model. And, of course, the more people come out and say, "Hey, I'm gay, deal with it," the closer we can get to this NOT being a big deal. I am very, very glad he has spoken up, and done so with the words he used.
Many, many people have covered the "Someday I sure hope this stops being a big deal," angle, far better than I have, but the other half of it, the "Of course I knew that" half of it, is going generally unremarked.
All over my newsfeeds, my facebook, and my LJ, people are saying, "Well, he's been setting off my gaydar for years." So, let me get this straight (no pun intended). For years now, you've been making unfounded judgments about the sexuality of someone you've never met, just by looking at him on the television? What was it? Did he 'dress gay'? 'Talk gay'? Was it some sort of hand movement or gestural thing? A lisp, perhaps, that I never noticed? No, seriously, tell me how you 'knew' a perfect stranger was gay, and why you were thinking about it in the first place.
Perhaps I am sensitive on this because I've never had functional gaydar. I can't tell at all what another person's sexual preference is, and I've never been able to. It used to bother me, in that "Other people know something I don't know and I feel like the butt of the joke for getting it last," sort of way. It doesn't any more, because I came to understand that unless I actively want to sleep with someone, I don't actually care what his sexual preference is, on the personal level.
Do I care on the social and legal levels? Absolutely. My friends' sexuality matters to me if it's important to them, and because I want to know that they enjoy the same rights and privileges I do -- beyond that it's really just a matter of logistics and conversational pronouns as far as I'm concerned. Because, you know, one of the privileges I enjoy as a straight person is that people do not feel entitled to make random judgments about my preference of partners based on some nebulous set of behaviours or appearance criteria they can't explain. I'd sure like that one to be universal.
Perhaps I'm also sensitive about it because I've been on the receiving end of incorrect gaydar for most of my adult life. I have lost count of the number of times I have been assumed to be a lesbian. My usual response is "Oh, no, I'm straight" (and a polite 'thank you' if the assumption was coming from a woman hitting on me). Mostly, that drops the issue, but I'm occasionally asked, "Really? Are you sure? Because you give off a really different vibe." These are people who would never dream of asking a lesbian, "Really? Are you sure you're not into men?"
It is somewhat of a double standard. These people, the ones saying "Of course I always just knew it, it was so obvious," would be OUTRAGED if, for example, a teacher assumed an effeminate young man or a tomboyish girl preferred same-sex relationships. They get (rightfully) up in arms when guys who happen to like their long hair get called 'faggot' by the ignorant. But they see absolutely no contradiction in assigning sexual preference themselves without confirmation. I don't get that.
By the way, I've been asked how I manage my own assumptions regarding sexual preference. It's pretty easy. If you've never clearly stated your sexual preference to me yourself, in my head I assign you a nebulous potential bisexuality. Might like men, might like women. Might like both. Might like neither. Might be Captain Jack Harkness. You just never know.
And as a number of gentlemen of my acquaintance can attest, if it becomes personally relevant I have no reluctance to simply clear the air and ask the question. It started off as compensation for my lack of gaydar, but it's become more of a rejection of the notion that there's any way to really know anything about another person's sex life he didn't tell you himself, and an advocacy for the idea that open communication will always trump assumptions based on interpretations of social cues.