So, I have a question…

February 26, 2011 at 11:25 am (By Pat)

Yesterday, President Obama named Jeremy Bernard, a gay man, as the White House Social Secretary. Bernard is the first male White House Social Secretary in history, apparently.

On Facebook, one of my older gay acquaintances posts that he “sees this as a positive step.” A mutual friend comments to the effect of well, of course! If she ever were in a position to need a social secretary, of course she would never hire anyone other than a gay man. To which the original poster, a gay man (who was in the closet for a large portion of his life), replied: “lol. It is logical, isn’t it? Who else can be such a great party planner.” (The comment thread then deteriorated into snobby comments attacking a nationally prominent leader of the “family values” crowd who is originally from our area, suggesting he would never attend a White House party now that a gay man was social secretary.)

Isn’t that rather stereotypical? And is the appointment of a gay man to such a stereotypically “gay” job really that great of an advancement for gay rights? Wouldn’t it be more impressive to appoint a gay man as, say, a campaign manager, rather than a job which has historically been filled by a woman?

I’m just puzzled by people who, if questioned, would certainly say that they want to end outdated stereotypes against gay men, and yet themselves perpetuate some of those very same stereotypes.

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25 Comments

  1. wj said,

    I think that willingness, especially be a political figure, to hire an openly gay individual is a new enough phenomena that someone who lived thru the decades when the closet was an economic necessity could see it as a step forward. So I understand the reaction of your first acquaintance. He doubtless remembers when being openly gay meant being largely unemployable; doubly so in a prominent political position. And yes, it really is a small step forward. (Although not a big a step as it will be when a conservative, especially southern, Republican hires an openly gay staff member.)

    The rest of the discussion is indeed flat-out stereotypical. But stereotypes persist for some time after people realize — at least when they stop and think about it — that they are invalid. In part, they actually last because members of the stereotyped group (whether the group is racial, religious, sexual orientation, or whatever) get into the habit of making sardonic jokes using the stereotype. Just think, for example, of the number of Jewish commedians who still make jokes about Jews being tight-fisted.

    It seems odd from the outside, that someone would help perpetuate a stereotype that they otherwise decry. But it is a pretty common human phenomena.

  2. Tim said,

    An interesting question, and one about which I have almost no opinion, except that it possesses a certain Althousian je ne sais quoi. In fact, I already have in mind an entire Althouse comment thread on it, dreamt up in about the 30 seconds it took to finish reading the piece and gulp my coffee. I think most who have paid attention to Althouse over the years have developed a similar ability, saving much time and bother.

    I won’t say the same for this blog, however, which is the reason I’m reading and appreciating it. If that sounds like base flattery, sorry, the coffee has put me in an expansive mood, and, anyway, we all can stand to be flattered a bit.

    Now, isn’t it true that organized flattery is part of a Social Secretary’s job? What then are the qualifications for doing this? It may have been true in the past that women were the softeners of manners in society, and so natural choices for such positions. Is this an outdated prejudice against women in our new world of gender equality? Would a straight man, contemplating a career in Washington with all its high-powered connotations, be willing to take this post? Why would a gay man feel any differently?

    Questions. Questions. Maybe someone else has answers.

  3. James said,

    Wanna bet that the first African-American person employed at the White House was a servant? Whys is this such a big deal?

  4. Randy said,

    James, it seems to me that the post is basically a question asked in good faith. It’s not “a big deal” until someone attempts to make it one and someone else rises to the bait.

  5. pathmv said,

    Randy, I didn’t take James’ post as asking why I was making it a big deal, but as asking why it was widely reported as a newsworthy.

  6. Randy said,

    Thanks, Pat. Sorry about the misinterpretation, James.

  7. wj said,

    Why was it regarded as newsworthy? Because there is still a significant fraction of the population which has no experience with people whom they know are gay. (They probably have experience dealing with closeted gays. But denial is not just possible but easy in that circumstance.) So any time someone who is openly gay gains a prominent position, it is, for those people, newsworthy.

    For those in other areas of the country, or other social circles, it may be a non-event. But that definitely isn’t true of everybody.

  8. mileslascaux said,

    “there is still a significant fraction of the population which has no experience with people whom they know are gay”

    I wonder how one would quantify that.

  9. pathmv said,

    Somehow, I really doubt that there’s much, if any, overlap between the sets: (1) people who don’t know any openly gay people, and (2) people who read any news story at all about the White House Social Secretary.

  10. wj said,

    Well, I expect that they get some kind of news somewhere. Even if it’s only Fox News.

  11. karen said,

    “Because there is still a significant fraction of the population which has no experience with people whom they know are gay.”

    WJ- i don’t exactly get your point; or, maybe i do and i don’t want to. You’re basically implying that these ignorant folk w/no gay experience are Republicans, right? I don’t think that really jives much due to the fact that we may(do) have family members that are openly gay. Also, if a person doesn’t disclose the fact that they are gay and they live in a manner that is indicative of that lifestyle, then, regardless if they are in the closet or not- it’s probably known. Maybe not, i could be wrong, but if it doesn’t come up and it isn’t denied– then it is accepted at face value, i’d say.

    Closet- meaning not acting or disclosing– that wouldn’t be the ~fault~ of the unknowing, would it? If someone is ~hiding~(for lack of a better or different word) their sexuality, that isn’t fair to say someone may know a closet gay. Or a gay in the closet and not know it?

    I’ve had good and bad experiences w/folks attracted the the same sex. My kid’s Aunt is gay- she and her partner of that time used to babysit and they employed me. Her personality was what was unsavory- not her choice of a partner. That being said, i still have a bit of a hang-up, for religious reasons, about marriage, yet i think that parenting is cool because love is involved. Ah- it’s complicated for me.

    As for my news source- that would be Ambiva–oooops– Ambience. Althouse. Anchoress. Ace. i never get to view Fox. Stereotypical? I have no idea about that. yet- maybe there were gay people hired by Republicans and they wanted to keep their sexuality private to the public. Who knows, really? Does it matter?

    These days w/young kids– it’s about the sex, not the sexuality. Teen girls make out at parties to turn on the guys and then the girl and guy she’s hoping to (****) hook up- wherever. I’ve heard that from my own kids. It’s a means to an end– not a true attraction.

    If i missed your point to begin w/– i am sorry. You still get my 2cents worth, lucky you :0).

  12. callimachus said,

    As I recall, no less than Rick Santorum, the devil himself, had a gay press secretary (an African-American, to boot), and defended him — from the attacks from the left part of the gay community. You can accept things privately and oppose them publicly and that makes you a hypocrite, but that’s not ignorance and not something that can be cured by a news story.

  13. pathmv said,

    And, of course, you can believe that nobody SHOULD discriminate against gay people without also believing that the law should prohibit such discrimination. And you can generally have no issues with gay people, but believe that “marriage” is something between a man and a woman. Thus, there is not even hypocrisy involved, often.

    Now, the stereotypical pastor who loudly condemns homosexuality while slipping off into the park to rub one off, or share a bathroom stall with some dude, THAT is hypocrisy.

  14. karen said,

    That is absolutely true, Pat. One of my favourite priests that we’ve had in our Parish- fav because he was a hard-ass on Liturgy and acceptable actions- got transferred and then caught up in an inappropriate mess w/an 18yr old guy. It shocked me deeply. Not that he was gay- just that he was arrested for inappropriateness of some kind. Maybe he wanted to get caught.

    Isn’t there a famous quote somewhere about the secrets that lie w/in the depths of the souls of men? We never know. That’s the point.

  15. karen said,

    Pat– i’ve been seeing you lately in other places where i would never comment, but you do– and very well. I’m fascinated by Wisconsin.

    The Unions and their use of violent force while blaming the Tea Party– reminds me of a kid in my daughter’s 6th grade class. He kicks the kid that sits ahead of him in class in the leg and then raises his hand and tattles that the kid he just kicked– kicked him!!!

    Everyone is incredulous over his account of how things happened, but the teacher sides w/him, at 1st. Isn’t that kinda funny- he kicks a kid and then accuses that kid of kicking him? Amazing. So like the threads i’ve been reading on Althouse.

  16. pathmv said,

    karen, thank you. I’ve been chiming in over at The Corner at National Review Online lately, probably a bit too much… I do have real work to do! I used to comment more at Althouse, but the comment threads feel pretty predictable to me, lately, and I don’t feel like there’s that much real discussion that goes on any more.

    That’s one of the reasons I enjoy commenting here so much. There’s thoughtful people who will push back in unexpected ways, or agree with you, but coming from an entirely different viewpoint and for a different reason.

  17. Spud said,

    Hey Karen, in their all-out war to crush union and Democratic power, Republicans are pushing the states into a headlong race to the bottom, because incomes, working conditions and educational performance are worst where union protections are weakest and Republicans poll best.

    To make their case during the current stand-off in Madison, conservatives have taken aim at Wisconsin’s teachers. Unfortunately for their GOP echo chamber, the right-wing blogosphere made the mistake of complaining that Wisconsin received millions of dollars in federal education aid when solidly Republican red states get much, much more. Then, the would-be Republican union busters are whining that Badger state students can’t read. As it turns out, Wisconsin students outperform their counterparts in those reddest of states where collective bargaining rights are few – or non-existent.
    I see you rooting against teachers in the same way as dairy processors rooting against decent milk prices for dairy farmers.
    The bottom 90 percent of Americans now earn, on average, only about $280 more per year than they did thirty years ago. As with milk prices paid to farmers, they got more in 1979 than what they received in 2009.

  18. PatHMV said,

    Spud, those sound-bites you picked up from Paul Krugman or MSNBC would be quite damning… if only, if only, if only they were true.

    In reality, you see, the figures being tossed around to show that Wisconsin students outperform their counterparts in places like Texas are based on average ACT/SAT scores. And all those are, when used to compare one state to another in the U.S., are proxies for race. States with larger black populations have lower standardized test scores, because of the various assortment of ills which plague the black community in this country… broken families, poverty, lack of family members going to college, and continued racism.

    As Iowahawk demonstrates nicely, when you compare white students in Texas to white students in Wisconsin, or when you compare black students in Texas to black students in Wisconsin, in both cases Texas outperforms unionized Wisconsin teachers in educational achievement as measured by average ACT/SAT scores. The only reason that Wisconsin outshines Texas in the performance measure you allude to is because Wisconsin is not a very diverse state. But when you control for that lack of diversity in Wisconsin, the statistics you read somewhere and didn’t bother to look closely at, show a very different picture.

  19. karen said,

    “… in their all-out war to crush union and Democratic power, Republicans are pushing the states into a headlong race to the bottom, because incomes, working conditions and educational performance are worst where union protections are weakest and Republicans poll best.”

    How mauch Republican force do you suppose is up here in the Kingdom in the school of NTroy- where our school tests so inefficiently as to be talked about for poor performance in the local paper? Yet- our unionized teachers still make approximately 35-50 grand for their efforts. How many teachers poll conseervative and the representation in VT has been Democrat for how long now?

    Give me a break.

    You know, spud– all i want is the truth- not spin or soundbyte.
    If i am wrong about things- i’ll try to rearrange thought processes to reform my opinions.

  20. Spud said,

    Karen, evidently it’s only democrats and liberals who become teachers, fireman and policeman? Why’s that? Besides, the issue in Wisconsin is not about them making too much, they made concessions, it’s about busting unions.

    Pat, why is it whenever I view statistics on education, it’s the red states who are at the bottom?

  21. karen said,

    I don’t believe that it’s only Dems who choose those careers- it seems that when money is involved- we’re all for which political party can deliver. That is not being honest- it smells more of corruption- both sides responsible. Besides, people voted and the results should be respected. Instead, there’s some kind of emotional blackmail going on w/Dems MIA, Union members being assh*les(guess i shoulda starred an ~s~) and pouting about their losses. Collective bargining my ass– it’s all about money.

    Like the MILC welfare checks that we just signed up for. You and i should not be getting that money because we already make about parity- if not then we sure as hell make more than those conventional rubes. Not sayin’ i’m not a rube– saying i’m not conventional. It should all be readjusted. The basis of milk pricing should all be done over. Yet, here’s freaking Bernie Sanders– how many yrs professional teat sucker? and he doesn’t have the power in all his cumulative yrs in office to try and do the right thing– fix pricing?

    Go figure.

  22. Spud said,

    “Besides, people voted and the results should be respected.”

    You mean like when Americans elected Obama, those results?

    “Collective bargining my ass– it’s all about money.”

    It’s all about breaking unions

    You shouldn’t have signed up for MILC if you feel that way about it. Parity is $42 cwt…
    Bernie is a shoe in in 2012. He’s one of the view politicians that hasn’t been bought off.

  23. karen said,

    If it’s going to be given to us– we’ll take it. Allan was all for letting it go by the wayside.

    I didn’t know parity was 42$. I should feel more sorry for the conventional farmers, i suppose(but, i kinda don’t).

    “You mean like when Americans elected Obama, those results?”
    Your point being…?

  24. karen said,

    Yeah, that’s what i thought.

  25. Spud said,

    “You mean like when Americans elected Obama, those results?”
    Your point being…?”

    “Besides, people voted and the results should be respected. Instead, there’s some kind of emotional blackmail going on”

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