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ISSUE 118 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/29/2005

Is he ... gay?

By Jennifer Hancock
Staff Writer


Friday, April 29, 2005

To ask, or not to ask – that is the question … that I am not prepared to answer. Is it okay for a woman to ask a guy in whom she is interested if he is gay? Is it ever okay to ask the “gay question?” At what point is it awkward or even insulting? Consider the following case:

I know a woman with a history of dating gay men just before they come out. She feels like she has been used in the past as a last-ditch effort at experimenting with heterosexuality. She questions herself, asking if these men were ever attracted to her in any way, or if they only managed to feign passion by imagining her with an Adam’s apple in the heat of the moment. She is now attracted to a man who exhibits some stereotypically “gay” qualities. They have hung out a couple of times, but she is not sure if these gatherings can be called dates. She knows that he likes “Sex and the City”, is wonderfully sensitive and enjoys shopping. It is difficult for her not to think, “Oh, here we go again.”

Of course, there are plenty of “metrosexual” men on campus, and it is not fair to deem a man gay just because he enjoys a certain television program. If said man is not gay and exhibits these desirable qualities, he just might be her dream come true. (And if he were gay, he would still make a good friend). But if she wants to know whether they can date or can only be friends, shouldn’t she just be blunt and ask, “Are you gay?”

Since I am a big believer in honest, open communication, my initial reaction was to tell her to go ahead and ask. However, everyone else she approached balked at such an idea. I think I know why. Many heterosexual men fear that others may perceive them as gay. They have to hide or overcompensate for any of the stereotypically “gay” characteristics they possess in order to avoid being pegged as homosexual. For heterosexual men who cannot or do not wish to hide their sensitive or fashionable side, life can be difficult. They have to face ridicule from other men and potential dates question their sexuality. Some of these men receive devastating blows to their ego when females ask, “Are you gay?”

I wish it weren’t so. I wish that being asked the “gay question” were not insulting to heterosexual men, but in our world, to ask a man if he is gay is to tell him that he is feminine, which is, of course, the worst sort of insult. But, let’s get something straight: being feminine is not bad, and a touch of femininity certainly does not make a man gay. Someday everyone is going to have to realize that gay men can be burly, beer-drinking brutes, just as straight men can be fine-boned, sensitive Cosmo-drinkers. Most of the time, these characteristics are all mixed up, creating real, complex individuals. Ever met a sensitive, beer-drinking gay man? Or how about a husky straight guy who likes fruity drinks?

I hope that someday straight men will not have to wonder if those around them are questioning their sexuality based on their drink order. However, men are not the only ones whose sexuality may be questioned based on overgeneralizations and stereotypes – though I must admit that I think it happens to men much more often. I know a woman who was sharing a pitcher with a female friend at a local bar when a man approached them and asked if they were lesbians. And why did he ask that question? Because they were two women alone drinking beer. It is news to me that beer is the favored drink of lesbians.

But let’s get back to the question at hand. Is it acceptable to ask, “Are you gay?” Thus far, I have mainly addressed heterosexuals, but I am sure that homosexuals face this dilemma too, maybe even on a more regular basis, when they want to ask someone out. I have to conclude that it depends on the individual and the situation. If this were a perfect world no one would feel threatened or insulted if someone asked about his or her sexual orientation, but this is not a perfect world. There is no need to unnecessarily bruise egos. If you suspect an acquaintance or potential date might be gay, subscribe to a “don’t ask, do tell” policy. Don’t ask unless it is certain no feelings will be hurt, but always strive to create a safe place for him or her to tell.

– Any questions or comments may be sent to sexcolumnist@stolaf.edu.





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