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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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Comments

  1. Caliban : I guess that all comes down to the (OLD, but still, it seems, relevant) disinction between "Gay" and "Homosexual". Etc.

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 18, 2012 12:42:57 PM


  2. “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."

    I didn't read the Out article so I don't know what else Nate might have said, but why do people presume that the parts of gay culture he is skeptical of are drag queens, Keith Haring, and other attention-demanding aspects of gay culture that some gay people find embarrassing?
    Perhaps he's skeptical about what I am skeptical of -- the notion of some that a gay person who has other identities in addition to being gay (ethnic, racial, gender, class, political beliefs, artistic creativity, spirituality, intellectualism, sexuality other than simply same-sex, etc.) is necessarily self-loathing. I'm fine with people who have only one identity, though I better understand people who have all sorts of identities which come and go depending on circumstances. For example, if you put me in a room of GOProuders my poltical identity as a progressive humanist is going to be a lot stronger than my gay identity.

    Posted by: MichaelJ | Dec 18, 2012 12:51:29 PM


  3. “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."

    I didn't read the Out article so I don't know what else Nate might have said, but why do people presume that the parts of gay culture he is skeptical of are drag queens, Keith Haring, and other attention-demanding aspects of gay culture that some gay people find embarrassing?
    Perhaps he's skeptical about what I am skeptical of -- the notion of some that a gay person who has other identities in addition to being gay (ethnic, racial, gender, class, political beliefs, artistic creativity, spirituality, intellectualism, sexuality other than simply same-sex, etc.) is necessarily self-loathing. I'm fine with people who have only one identity, though I better understand people who have all sorts of identities which come and go depending on circumstances. For example, if you put me in a room of GOProuders my poltical identity as a progressive humanist is going to be a lot stronger than my gay identity.

    Posted by: MichaelJ | Dec 18, 2012 12:51:30 PM


  4. to iban4yesu:

    You strike a rich balance between homophobic self loathing and hostile misogyny towards women, bravo sir, bravo.

    In regards to Nate, he is a genius in his own right...he's also benefited from white male privilege and in regards to not fitting into the gay identity, nerds regardless of orientation tend to be desexualized and exluded from peer groups. Oh, and for the record, I prefer me a sweet, greying geek so step off haters.

    Posted by: TADPOLICUS WEX | Dec 18, 2012 12:59:06 PM


  5. Exactly right Caliban, but it does take some maturity to realize that and to do, go, and be.

    Thing is gay Americans (like their straight counterparts) are often too lazy to go and seek those things out.

    Posted by: Chitown kev | Dec 18, 2012 1:01:59 PM


  6. think of straight people in small(er) towns and cities: law of numbers = less chances of high numbers of people "like them".

    same thing here with being gay, folks.

    do twinks complain about not fitting in with a bear identity?

    do bears complain about not fitting in to a gay geek identity?

    the trick is to stop viewing a gay identity through the eyes of straight people

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 18, 2012 1:03:34 PM


  7. @Taddy Rex

    Yeah, as a fellow nerd like Nate, that's what I'm really sensing here...this is a case where "it takes one to know one" is quite apt.

    And...why can't we have more heated, passionate discussions like this at towleroad without all of the vitriol...I'm am really enjoying this.

    Posted by: Chitown kev | Dec 18, 2012 1:04:43 PM


  8. amen, Chi.

    it's easier for some to sit back and blame everyone else.

    silver's point is more about being a nerd than being gay.

    gay geeks who seek out other gay geeks don't tend to hold the opinions Nate seems to be holding. why? they've done the work and found their people.

    can you imagine if straight people ventured into a club or two and based their entire feelings for their fellow-straight people on their experiences there?

    ugh.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 18, 2012 1:06:20 PM


  9. Didn't the article say that Nate met his boyfriend at a club in Chicago? Maybe I missed something.

    I've only been out about a year and the conversation here is a little intimidating. My head is spinning.

    Nate is now famous. With that everyone gets to parse your words and analyze your everything. Hope he has a thick skin.

    Posted by: Mark | Dec 18, 2012 1:17:29 PM


  10. "can you imagine if straight people ventured into a club or two and based their entire feelings for their fellow-straight people on their experiences there?"

    True but remember that part and parcel of being "normal" is that, paradoxically enough, to be "normal" is to be, by default, diverse.

    The author Toni Morrison once made a comment that I fell in love with.

    She was asked (in the Paris review, I think) whether she minded being ghettoized (that wasn't the word used) and defined as a "black woman writer"

    She said that she wasn't but she then added the caveat that she had the right and the responsibility to define what "black woman writer" meant to her and to act accordingly.

    And what often happens is that what the majority might have in mind of whatever a "black woman writer": is or supposed to be has absolutely nothing to do with how she defines the term for herself.

    It was reading exactly that that was the catalyst in me to nor be so lazy (and I was at that time)

    Posted by: Chitown kev | Dec 18, 2012 1:18:44 PM


  11. I actually get what Nate is saying, but I think some of you really mean is that MAINSTREAM gay culture sucks. But all MAINSTREAM cultures suck because they're all a product of the laziest and least intellectual lowest-common-denominator. Straight mainstream culture is awful - but there are many subcultures and people who are fun and amazing. It's the same with the gay culture. There are so many variations and many are great.

    That means we each have to aggressively find and create the culture we want around us. It requires work and patience but the end-results are much better.

    Posted by: Elias Barton | Dec 18, 2012 1:20:39 PM


  12. Nicely put, Caliban and LK.

    I took what Nate was saying much as you did (his statement about Keith Haring didn't seem thought out, since "gay artist" is exactly what Keith was and it should be seen as a badge of honor given the times, but most of us say stuff that isn't thought out--it just doesn't get reported for posterity); many of us don't fit in to parts of "gay culture."

    But, then, what is gay culture in 2012? Is there really that much to fit into when there are out gay people all over the place living diverse lives? I feel part of the gay community, even though I live in a rural environment about as far from gay ghetto life as you can get, but I don't feel much need to fit into what many perceive to be "gay culture." (And I'd s*ck at it anyway.) Maybe it's the perceptions that are out of date and geeks like Nate--or other outliers of one kind or another--are actually more the norm than the exception. And, nowadays, people who are out and confident in themselves have so many options about how to fit in (or not) to a broader community. It doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all.

    Everyone needs to find their most natural place as an out gay person. If you don't like the prescription you think you're being handed, find one that works better.

    Posted by: Ernie | Dec 18, 2012 1:24:52 PM


  13. Elias : There aren't any variations on mainstream gay culture though. Maybe because there are less gays..? I'm not sure why. But, no matter what age, race, body-type you are, you have to decide early on if you are just Homosexual or Gay, and if you're gay you have to go along with very specific Gay Rules and not even try to think independently. (And, as far as I'm concerned, it has nothing to do with degrees of masculinity and/or femininity.It's more...Ghetto versus non-Ghetto). When they joke about mick firemen killed on 9-11, or dropping bombs on Texas, you BETTER laugh...or else !

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 18, 2012 1:30:28 PM


  14. somehow, i manage to be Gay, openly Gay, visibly Gay, and take part in many facets of diverse gay cultures and communities, and successfully do so without any nonsense about "gay rules" ever coming up.

    that b.s. is what closet-cases say as an excuse to remain self-annexed. so, yay.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 18, 2012 1:41:15 PM


  15. What the hell is ethnically straight?

    Posted by: Jack M | Dec 18, 2012 1:43:56 PM


  16. Hi Kiwi : I'm in the U.S. (in NYC, which has a really horrid gay ghetto). I grant it might be different in your country. (I know in Europe it can be different. Except for England, where the Gay Ghetto is bad too).

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 18, 2012 1:44:55 PM


  17. I remember the first time (or 1st few times) I went into a gay bar or was in a group of gay people (men). In the back of my mind I'd gotten the idea that it would be like "coming home," that finally I'd be accepted and understood, yadda yadda yadda. I'd imagined it as something like the happy ending of a movie, the kind of soft-focus warm welcome in movies usually reserved for people who've died and gone to heaven.

    Needless to say, that didn't happen. There was some mild interest in me as a newbie, someone new to possibly screw. (<-Poetry!) But I was still the same shy introvert, self-conscious about dancing, given to odd interests and conversational tangents. I'd resisted pressure from straight peers to be interested in sports or whatever and I wasn't going to pretend an interest in the Diva du jour or fashion and labels to "fit in" there either.

    So yeah, I was somewhat "disappointed" in the gay community, that it hadn't met my expectations. But then I got over it. I met people I *could* talk to, interesting people I like so it turned out OK.

    IMO people shouldn't worry so much about fitting in. Instead look for people who fit YOU. If you're gay you've been bucking expectations all you life, so why just trade one set of expectations for another?

    Posted by: Caliban | Dec 18, 2012 1:54:28 PM


  18. Yupp - you're a troll who is full of s**t. congrats.

    if you're a gay man in NYC and cannot find other gay men like yourself to congregate with, and cannot find a "scene" where you fit, amidst the countless scenes in NYC, then your problem is your own pathetic insecurity and dedication to self-annexing.

    i lived in NYC for years. I still spend a lot of time there each year.

    your comments are an hilarious example of the lengths a coward will go to convince himself of his own lies.

    thanks for sharing.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 18, 2012 2:13:16 PM


  19. In my opinion, saying you're "str8 acting," or as Mr. Silver puts it, "ethnically straight," is probably the most "ethnically gay" thing someone can say.

    I don't understand people who make complaints about people like Keith Haring being identified as gay, and not simply American. It ignores the fact that Haring's art was produced at a time when America was even more anti-gay than it is now. He wasn't creating "American" art. It was gay art, queer art. It was the sort of stuff rejected by America. Americans didn't want to talk about AIDS. The anti-apartheid movement was highly controversial in America. But now he has to claim American as his primary identity?

    That attitude also downplays the importance of gay culture. Is Latino culture unimportant too? What about black culture? Or Deaf culture? Jewish culture? Southern culture? The lists goes on.

    People who make those arguments never explain why American should and must be our primary identity. Particularly in light of the fact that nationality is the most accidental and random identity we have. If I were born anywhere else, in the world, I'd probably still hold all the same identities except for my nationality. I'd still be gay. I'd still be Latino. I'd stil be Christian. Maybe those identities would be expressed in different ways than now, but they'd still be there. So why should American be the first and foremost of those identities?

    I understand that Mr. Silver doesn't want to take part in gay culture, and that's fine. We all have identities that we don't prioritize or participate in the associated culture. If he doesn't want to be a gay statistician, that's fine. But the solution isn't to quash gay culture and force everyone to prioritize their identities in the way your prioritize your own. The solution is to fight against stereotypes and educate people about the diversity of people and viewpoints within a single label.

    Posted by: John | Dec 18, 2012 3:12:50 PM


  20. I think that Silver must have meant something more like "culturally straight." Even then I don't think it's self-loathing, just that in his career and personal life he probably deals with a lot more straight people and his gayness doesn't come up all that often.

    I have mainly straight friends, but it's not like anyone would think that I'm straight or pretending to be. They don't care and I don't either.

    Like your comments, Caliban.

    Posted by: Paul R | Dec 18, 2012 3:22:15 PM


  21. I feel that the frequency of gay guys declaring how non-stereotypical they are is so high that such declarations are stereotypical themselves.

    Posted by: Charles in DC | Dec 18, 2012 4:20:16 PM


  22. This makes me love Nate all the more. He sounds very happy and well adjusted. Non-conformists are the brave ones.

    Posted by: Lars | Dec 18, 2012 4:24:39 PM


  23. Charles, you're spot-on.

    I'm a wee bit puzzled as to what Silver specifically means , re:
    "not a fan of New York’s gay scene, which he thinks is too diffuse"

    too diffuse AND, uh, "gay conformity".??? HUH?

    what the heck is "gay conformity" anyway? there's no such thing. may allow themselves to feel a need to conform to a specific niche, or clique, or social circle, but that doesn't have anything to do with "gay" in the broader sense.

    whenever i hear someone complain about 'gay conformity' they always negate it by touting their own conformity to something else.

    *yawn*

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 18, 2012 4:28:51 PM


  24. No, Kiwi, you're the one who is full of it. You live a coddled easy life with your parents in Canada (AND you're a Protestant), and you're certainly not in NYC every year. What in the world would require you to be in NYC every year? I've lived in NYC all my life and know gays from the ghetto to multi-millionaires and ....if everything I've concluded about NYC at least gives good warning to someone who has to move here (for business or education) I've performed a necessary service.

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 18, 2012 4:37:03 PM


  25. If you're gay you have to go along with very specific Gay Rules? Really, Yupp, in NYC--sounds very provincial there, in that case. Hmmm, what happens if you just, like, live your life as you see fit and make your own rules for contentment? Does the Gay Gestapo track you down and lock you up in the Gay Ghetto? Some people seem to be imprisoned by their own lack of imagination.

    Posted by: Ernie | Dec 18, 2012 4:39:20 PM


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