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Nate Silver: 'Sexually Gay But Ethnically Straight'

OUT Editor Aaron Hicklin delivers an engaging profile of Nate Silver, whom the magazine has named its 'Person of the Year'. Over drinks, Silver goes in depth with Hicklin about his critics, about how he became so good at being a stats geek (perspiration), what his plans are for the future, and his sexuality:

Silver“To my friends, I’m kind of sexually gay but ethnically straight,” explains Silver, who came out to his parents after spending a year in London studying economics—“I don’t know how I got any work done”—and considers gay conformity as perfidious as straight conformity. He supports marriage equality, but worries that growing acceptance of gays will dent our capacity to question broader injustice.

“For me, I think the most important distinguishing characteristic is that I’m independent-minded,” he says. “I’m sure that being gay encouraged the independent-mindedness, but that same independent-mindedness makes me a little bit skeptical of parts of gay culture, I suppose.”

He recalls a series of flagpoles in Boystown in Chicago memorializing various gay Americans. “There was one little plaque for Keith Haring, and it was, like, ‘Keith Haring, gay American artist, 1962 to 1981,’ or whatever [actually 1958 to 1990], and I was like, Why isn’t he just an American artist? I don’t want to be Nate Silver, gay statistician, any more than I want to be known as a white, half-Jewish statistician who lives in New York.”

Nate Silver: Person of the Year [out]

Incidentally, Silver spoke out about his sexuality for the first time earlier this year, so, though technically out, he made our big list of the '50 Most Powerful Coming Outs' because he decided to talk about it.

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  1. I think it's as simple as this, mark, which i'm frankly stunned that so many apologists are either ignoring to choosing to not acknowledge:

    if you want to be your "own kind of gay", and claim that you are, you don't then describe yourself in terms of concepts of "Straight"

    saying "i don't need to conform to some gay standard" whilst describing ones self through a prism of heterosexual-norms utterly negates one's claims to any form of gay self-actualization.

    Posted by: LittleKiw | Dec 18, 2012 11:52:48 AM

  2. Mark : Just go by these Rules and all will be fine (assuming you're in the U.S.) : it doesn't matter what you say or do, it's who you ARE that counts in the Gay scene. You are unacceptable if you are...Republican; from Texas; from anywhere in the American South; from anywhere in the American Midwest; from anywhere in NYC except Manhattan; Israeli; pro-Israel Jewish; Catholic (unless French Catholic or, sometimes, French Canadian Catholic); Mormon; Irish; Irish-American; blue-collar. Just don't be in any of those categories (lie about it if you are) and you'll do fine in any gay scene.

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 18, 2012 11:56:57 AM

  3. But there have always been various Gay cultures, haven't there? In different ethnic/racial groups, different economic groups, different parts of the country, different parts of the world...different age groups, dammit.

    Diversity is fine. It's when you pass judgment on Gay cultures that you are not familiar with or have never been a part of--that's where the ugliness comes in (do I have to say his name? He'll be posting any second now. He can't resist this topic)

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Dec 18, 2012 11:57:04 AM

  4. Derrick : I'll have to disagree with you on that one. There aren't several gay scenes, based on all those other factors. Just one, with only the SLIGHTEST variations. I wish it WAS as you say, but I've found it's not.

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 18, 2012 12:00:37 PM

  5. I identify with Nate's viewpoint. As a tall geeky homosexual, I never fit into the scene. When I was at Boston University, I would go to gay clubs and it just wasn't my thing, and I certainly wasn't the club gays idea of attractive. I was too tall and lanky and wore glasses (hate contacts)...Not everyone fits into that culture. Thankfully, I met a great guy who happened to be Ukrainian and the rest is the life I have now! Getting married next June. I don't understand what "gay culture" is...I just live my life as I want to.

    Posted by: lucas | Dec 18, 2012 12:00:50 PM

  6. Derrick, my brother, and i think you and i are the other regulars who possess the gifts of intellectual discernment and empowerment as LGBT people understand that the naysaying complainers are simply committed to their confirmation bias:

    ramble some nonsense about "the community" and "the scene" that shows that they're still basing ideas on them by what anti-gay straight people have said, and then use said things as an excuse to remain annexed away.

    it's the same old, same old.

    those who've not yet dipped a toe into an openly-gay world unleash their collection of excuses for not doing so, couched with some bogus fabricated stories.

    you can't claim to be a self-empowered gay man who bucks the trends and doesn't favour conformity while then describing themselves with "straight" quantifiers.

    i learned that lesson by 21. others, apparently, refuse to learn it at much older ages.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 18, 2012 12:01:13 PM

  7. He could be right and he could be wrong. Classic statistician! I like him. Once we completely embrace a cause or belief without any doubts, we have traded the hard work of honesty for a pleasant, absurd flattery.

    As for Keith Haring - well, Nate, I have a feeling he didn't choose his own memorial flag. We are often not remembered the way we would like to be remembered. Waaaaah.

    Posted by: Yeek | Dec 18, 2012 12:04:03 PM

  8. Ah, the prison of language, Little Kiwi (since I can't post too much else...)

    Posted by: Chitown kev | Dec 18, 2012 12:06:32 PM

  9. People like this are kind of annoying. They try and distance themselves from other gay people by saying how different they are from it. Kind of sad.

    Posted by: J. | Dec 18, 2012 12:06:45 PM

  10. Lil Kiwi, I don't doubt your experience or understanding for a moment. I'm over my head here. But why the distinctions?

    Posted by: Mark | Dec 18, 2012 12:10:39 PM

  11. Yes, J, and as I said before : If he was Republican (or in any other of the Enemy categories) the Towleroadies would be ripping him to shreds. It shows how they react to who one IS rather than to what he says.

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 18, 2012 12:12:12 PM

  12. J nails it.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 18, 2012 12:13:03 PM

  13. @ LUCAS: Gay Culture is exactly as you described. Your experience is not unique; I believe that it's shared by many of us, and that makes it never more endearing.

    As for Nate Silver -- I absolutely love him. As a political junkie, he's my fix. HOWEVER, he clearly does not understand Keith Haring's work or legacy. Keith would be deeply honored to be known as gay first, and artist second. And Keith lived in a time when such a classification was both bold and brave.

    As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing wrong with being known as "Nate Silver, gay statistician." In fact, I find that label refreshing and new. Think about it...How many famous gay statisticians do you know? Such a label does not enforce stereotypes, it breaks them. Such a label does not belittle his work, it elevates it.

    Some of us would be proud to be known as a "gay" anything, and it's sad that feeling is not shared by all LGBT identified people.

    Posted by: Isaiah | Dec 18, 2012 12:14:52 PM

  14. No he doesn't.

    The fact that you want to revoke someone's gay card actually nails it, david.

    Posted by: Chitown kev | Dec 18, 2012 12:15:35 PM

  15. i suppose i'm just relieved that i, and many others, rather than having a few experiences in a bar (??) and then deciding that those experiences in those bars "defined the gay scene and community" i actually walked these balls of mine to other avenues of social interaction and found the diverse, and THRIVING, communities that are more in sync with my chosen energy in life. and they're still pretty darn gay.

    it seems like people are continuing to give excuses to not do the same. how's that workin' for ya so far?

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 18, 2012 12:15:47 PM

  16. I do agrre with the comments here about Keith Haring.

    Then again, I came out in the mid-1980's and lived in NY at that time.

    Posted by: Chitown kev | Dec 18, 2012 12:17:09 PM

  17. Isaiah, you've got it.

    we have to embrace and own and identify as "gay" as a positive thing if we ever hope to live in a world where gay is not treated as a knee-jerk "negative" and apologist comments about being gay can be done with.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 18, 2012 12:18:59 PM

  18. (I love Keith Haring too, but I don't mind if others think his work is childish junk. Same with how I feel about Warhol. It's art, need to get heated over the arguments. The arguing is all part of the package).

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 18, 2012 12:19:47 PM

  19. Excuses such as what, Little Kiwi?

    The fact is people within (fill in the minority group blank) can be quite rigorous and demanding in enforcing group conformity.

    I went through, perhaps Silver has gone through that.

    Posted by: Chitown kev | Dec 18, 2012 12:20:34 PM

  20. I think Nate is onto something important.

    Posted by: barney | Dec 18, 2012 12:25:08 PM

  21. Chitown, you can't claim to be free from "group conformity" while then in the very next breath describing yourself with concepts of "Straightness"

    all that proves is that you're still viewing "gay" through the eyes of straight anti-gay prejudice.

    "oh i had bad experiences in gay bars and clubs. i'm just not into the scene" say Quitters.

    when i was first coming out in my teens my first gay social circle were shallow, vapid uninteresting boys who can't about nothing more than getting laid and being seen as "hot" in the bars.

    was that "the shallow gay community"? No. it was a particular group of vapid boys whom i made the decision to no longer hang out with. lo and behold, i sought out my crews, my own social scenes, and a life that made me happy on my own terms. and yet somehow managed to still be gay. with other gay people. doing gay things. gay gay gay.


    i could have done what it seems others are still doing, and basing my entire views of "gay" and the "scene" and the "community" on that small circle of *Bar Stars*, but i chose instead to make my life enjoyable, by realizing that that was just one small group. of many.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 18, 2012 12:26:21 PM

  22. how about y'all remember the most important lesson about Coming Out, which is to live your life on your own terms, and apply that to your Out lives?

    yeah, i spent a few years trying to be a certain kind of gay man so a certain social circle would invite me in. what did i learn? they were boring and not my people.

    did i sit and complain that all gays were like them? no. i went out to find my people. and found 'em i did! and life has bloody ROCKED ever since.

    and instead we have complainers on here who seem utterly proud that their decisions to not seek out people like them have resulted in them being miserable sad-sacks.

    yay, good for you! you've stuck to your ideologies and remained miserable and (semi)Closeted!

    what a wonderful decision to make!

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 18, 2012 12:30:17 PM

  23. He's using "ethnically straight" the same way many agnostic or atheist Jews (like Silver) talk about their Judaism. They recognize or even celebrate the holidays without actually believing in the hokum, the same way many atheist or agnostic Christians do. He's just applying the term in a broader sense, stylistically.

    I get what he's saying. He's an introvert and an intellectual who spends a lot of time thinking about abstract ideas and ideals. Because of that he's an outsider to the world in general. He's not 'dissing' the gay community or its members, just saying that there isn't much there that interests him personally.

    I'm the same way. I don't quibble about the word "gay" because I see it as a synonym for homosexual, which I am. If you've got issues with the word "gay," chances are that's YOUR problem because nobody is forcing you to do anything- put on a dress, shake your booty on a float, and rhapsodize about Judy/Liza/Cher/Madonna. Nobody is stopping you from being a GAY lumberjack so quit whining. If you're miffed that the cute denizens of you local Boystown haven't welcomed you into their midst, tough sh*t. Newsflash: you don't have much in common with them other than being gay, which isn't really that much to have in common with someone. You're going to have to look for people who you DO have things in common with and there are plenty gay outsiders out there.

    I don't have a lot in common with many gay people. That's not their fault and it's not mine either, it's just a statement of fact. Outside of a narrow range of topics like (perhaps) gay politics we just don't have a lot of shared interests. They don't care about my hobby-horses and I don't expect them to- that doesn't keep from being respectful of them and I expect the same in return. (Unless they're a gay homophobe and then all bets are off.)

    Go, be, DO, but don't expect a f*cking parade because you don't fit in with what you see as some monolithic gay community because it doesn't exist.

    Posted by: Caliban | Dec 18, 2012 12:37:29 PM

  24. As long as he doesn't vote Republican.

    Posted by: Peter | Dec 18, 2012 12:37:40 PM

  25. Caliban. make love to me. in a gay bar filled with sapiosexuals. your words are like foreplay.

    if y'all are feeling like you have no place, rest assured you do. you may just have to hike up your britches and seek it out.

    i did. worked.

    believe it or not, it's entirely possible to find like-minded brothers to bond and share your lives with.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 18, 2012 12:40:09 PM

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