Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The closet's a fine and private place

Yesterday I got a DM on Twitter that left me scratching my head a little.

Here's the body of it, verbatim:
I don't mean to be offensive, but why do you make such a big deal of being bisexual?  What your preferences are and who you like to go to bed with are nobody's business.  But because you and other people like you want to push it in everybody's faces, you make it our business whether we want it to be or not. 
Then you complain when people are rude or discriminate, which they wouldn't have done if you didn't put it all on the front page in all caps. 
Think about keeping your private matters private out of courtesy to everyone else who would rather not hear about it.
So there's a lot to unpack here in only three paragraphs.

First, in my experience, when someone starts with "I don't mean to be offensive, but..." they're about to say something offensive.  (Analogous rules apply with phrases like "I don't mean to sound racist, but..." or "I don't mean to sound homophobic, but...".)  But leaving that much aside, there are still a few things that jump out at me.

First, I really didn't think I was "making a big deal out of being bisexual."  It's in my profile, okay. (Nota bene: it's not in all caps.)  I retweet LGBTQ awareness stuff when I see it -- maybe once or twice a day, if that.  Last week I got in a quick, lighthearted exchange with a friend about actor Tom Ellis's role in the series Lucifer, and I said that if the real Lucifer is as gorgeous as Tom Ellis, it really doesn't give me much incentive not to sin.

And that's kind of it.

Mostly what I get involved in on Twitter are discussions with other fiction writers, and (unfortunately) posts about politics.  So it's not like I'm waving a rainbow flag in front of people's faces.

Which brings up the question of why it would be a problem even if I was.  The subtler bit of subtext here is that the writer thinks it's fine for me to be queer as long as no one else knows.  The message is that she's only comfortable when she can pretend that people like me don't exist.  Because the assumption in our culture is you're straight unless you say otherwise, it's not that she thinks all identification by sexual orientation should be a closely-guarded secret; she's perfectly fine assuming that everyone is 100% straight, and therefore engages in the behavior associated with sexually-active 100% straight people.

But my even mentioning that there are folks who don't fall into that category is apparently a problem.  Or, more specifically, it's a problem that I'm one of them and I'm not ashamed of it.  Well, let me say this as explicitly as I can, and as politely as I can manage: that's how I lived for forty-some-odd years, after I realized I was bi when I was fifteen years old and suddenly found myself goggle-eyed over a handsome friend who took his shirt off on a hot day.  That's forty years of shame, coupled with a desperation that nobody must find out about that part of me, that the only way to live was to pretend to be someone I wasn't.

Now?  I have the 100% support of my wonderful wife, friends, and family.  My public coming-out last year spurred at least two people I know of to proudly claim their own identity (something that makes me choke up a little every time I think about it).

So re-enter that closet?  Not just no, but fuck no.

Because you know what?  Now that I'm out, I like being bi.  It gives me twice as many opportunities to openly appreciate the beauty of the human body.  It hasn't damaged my relationship with my wife; if anything, it's strengthened it.  So if you expect me to sink back down into shame and self-loathing because you're uncomfortable with the fact that I'm not uncomfortable...

... it's your problem.  Deal with it.

So anyway.  That was how my day started yesterday, and I decided instead of getting angry, to respond publicly.  Maybe it'll open a few eyes, and if not that, at least it might shut a few mouths.

Because I'll be damned if I'm expected to pretend Tom Ellis isn't drop-dead beautiful.  Yowza.


This week's Skeptophilia book-of-the-week is brand new -- science journalist Lydia Denworth's brilliant and insightful book Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond.

Denworth looks at the evolutionary basis of our ability to form bonds of friendship -- comparing our capacity to that of other social primates, such as a group of monkeys in a sanctuary in Puerto Rico and a tribe of baboons in Kenya.  Our need for social bonds other than those of mating and pair-bonding is deep in our brains and in our genes, and the evidence is compelling that the strongest correlate to depression is social isolation.

Friendship examines social bonding not only from the standpoint of observational psychology, but from the perspective of neuroscience.  We have neurochemical systems in place -- mediated predominantly by oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphin -- that are specifically devoted to strengthening those bonds.

Denworth's book is both scientifically fascinating and also reassuringly optimistic -- stressing to the reader that we're built to be cooperative.  Something that we could all do with a reminder of during these fractious times.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

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