Nate Silver Questioned About Gay Identity on Reddit

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As I mentioned on Monday, Nate Silver did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) interview on Reddit yesterday.

SilverReddit user snsiegel asked Silver:

In a recent profile, you stated you wished not to be known as a "gay statistician" but as a statistician who happens to be gay. Isn't that a bit naive in today's political and social climate? Don’t you think that whether you like it or not, people will treat you differently because you are gay and that your identity as a gay man cannot be limited to your private sexuality? As someone so ubiquitous now in the public sphere, should you be addressing issues in your writing that are related to gay rights as much as baseball?

Replied Silver:

It's a complicated issue that maybe doesn't lend itself so well to the reddit treatment.

My quick-and-dirty view is that people are too quick to affiliate themselves with identity groups of all kinds, as opposed to carving out their own path in life.

Obviously, there is also the issue of how one is perceived by others. Living in New York in 2013 provides one with much a much greater ability to exercise his independence than living in Uganda — or for that matter living in New York forty years ago. So perhaps there's a bit of a "you didn't build that" quality in terms of taking for granted some of the freedoms that I have now.

And/but/also, one of the broader lessons in the history of how gay people have been treated is that perhaps we should empower people to make their own choices and live their own lives, and that we should be somewhat distrustful about the whims and tastes and legal constraints imposed by society.

There were many more questions. You can read them on Reddit, or as a transcript in the NYT.

Comments

  1. KT says

    Good for Nate. I hope this shuts up the people who want him to identify himself as “Nate Silver, Gay Statistician” every time he introduces himself or to have it engraved on his tombstone.

  2. Nick says

    I may be in the minority here, but I find his desire not to identify as a gay man offensive. Why is he so willing to identify as a statistician, but not gay? Openly and proudly stating that you are gay is the single best act of activism any gay person can do. It opens the closet and exposes the truth. In this day and age, our history isn’t taught and our true heros are hidden by placing the words “may have been” in front of their sexuality. The least we can do now a days is have those of us who have profited from the work and pains of our past generations by standing up proudly and being an example of our community.

  3. RONTEX says

    His response is great and I think indicative of how future gay generations will see themselves. I’m 50 and very aware of all the battles we have had to wage to get where we are today but I don’t begrudge the younger gays taking advantage of them either. I think of it this way: I’m not a “gay pie” made up of different ingredients, I’m a “pie” made up of ingredients and gay just happens to be one of them. Isn’t the end game that ALL people are treated equally under the law?

  4. KT says

    Nick, Nate is perfectly willing to identify as a gay man. He was interviewed by Out this year as person of the year and was photographed for the Out100 in 2010 (which makes all the hubbub over his sexuality now a little out of left field). He just doesn’t always want to have to identify as “Nate Silver, gay statistician” in every interview or profile he does.

    I can understand. I am gay and proud of it but I don’t introduce myself as “I’m KT and I’m gay” to every person I meet. I don’t want to be known just for my sexuality. I think a lot of people feel this way; their sexuality is important but not the only thing that matters.

  5. Isaac says

    I think his response was thoughtful but I kind of agree with Nick. Mentioning that you are gay or speaking about your personal life in order to break stereotypes is needed. Most people are not able to do that because of the impact it might have on their career or personal safety. I don’t think that Nate has to deal with the negative aspects of his sexuality affecting his career or personal safety so he should speak up and be proud of his sexuality if only to show the world the diversity that exists within the gay community.

  6. Name2 says

    Agree or disagree with some of his points (and I’m not in 100% agreement), the man is smart and worthy of the time it takes to read his comments (Hi, Azaleia banks!) and for FSM’s sake, I am so very very tired of teh DUMB.

  7. J Y says

    @Nick, you can be gay and not “identify” as a gay man in the way that everything that you live for relates to that. There is a lot more to my life than who I go to bed with, and frankly, it’s insulting to everything ELSE I’ve done with my life that you expect me to add that asterisk to it.

  8. Nat says

    ” Why is he so willing to identify as a statistician, but not gay?”

    He did identify as gay. Which he was under no obligation to do, though it was nice. He has no other obligation to the gay community, other than to not campaign against gay rights.

  9. Tek says

    Nick, he does identify as a gay man, but doesn’t think everything he is needs to be identified as “Gay X” (gay new yorker, gay statistician, gay blogger etc). Being gay isn’t the only thing that defines people. His response talks about carving our own path in life. Often, after coming out, gay people feel like they need to be the “stereotypical” gay (go watch musicals, listen to lady gaga, love barbara streisand) and they do it to an extreme. The media also does this in their portrayal of gays. Thankfully, most people outgrow that after a while and normalize to become individuals.

  10. says

    It’s actually not that complicated an issue.

    The only gay men I’ve ever met who used this whole “I’m not defined by being gay!” thing are men who are still apologizing for being gay.

    newsflash – the only people “defined by their sexuality” are the ones who can’t shut up about how “not defined by their sexuality” they are. Ya are, blanche. Ya ARE defined by it – specifically, defined by a fear of others defining you by it.

    When you’re actually comfortable and secure in having a gay identity you no longer make asinine comments about how “there are things about me other than my being gay”. Why? because you actually believe that statement, and thus don’t need to SAY it, or downplay, censor, edit, or compartmentalize your sexuality or identity.

    i don’t get this “there’s more to me than whom i bed” apologetic idiocy.

    there’s also more to being gay than buttsecks, ya idiots.

    ugh. some people are so far behind that they think they’re first…

  11. Jack M says

    I think that nowadays one should identify as gays, only because it will help to advance the cause of being accepted by the straight world. The more of us they see, the better. Perhaps in the future it will not matter, but we’re not there yet.

  12. says

    actually, Tek, when many people come out they feel a terrified need to “NOT BE *STEREOTYPICAL*” – which is stupid, using stereotypical as a pejorative.

    note how your choices of “stereotypical” are, frankly, the stupidest and most benign things ever. OMG! HE came out and now he likes musicals and barbra streisand and lady gaga!”

    OH come on, Mary. don’t be such a ninny.

    when you post things like that you only prove everyone else whose balls have dropped to be right – your fear of a gay identity hinges entirely on the fact that you’re still caring WAYYYYY too much about how bigoted and ignorant Straight People see you as a gay man.

    note to all of you who continue to resist having a visible and known Gay Identity – man UP already, and stop living like a cowardly boy, who’s always looking over his shoulder worrying what The Straights are saying about you.

    seriously.

    http://www.towleroad.com/2011/04/streisand.html

  13. Eddie says

    @Nick, your offense to his statements are a result of your own desire to be offended. He has not made a claim that he doesn’t want to be gay, he doesn’t want to hide the fact that he is gay, nor does he say that he isn’t proud of who he is.

    I believe the point he is trying to make is that being gay has nothing to do with his ability to wow people with his statistics abilities, so why the need to mention it? Why be introduced by your sexuality any more than you should be introduced by how much money you make?

  14. JD says

    @Issac: “Mentioning that you are gay or speaking about your personal life in order to break stereotypes is needed.”

    Exactly! And this is PRECISELY what he does!

    To my ears, Nate sounds like he’s trying to unreservedly project the balance of traits that exist within him — in other words, he’s trying to be true to himself. I think that’s great. I think everyone should do it. Now, I’m sure for him, as it is for all of us, this is a process that isn’t yet complete, and that, day to day, it isn’t always obvious the right thing to do in each situation. Nonetheless he seems to be holding to this path and I commend him for it.

  15. Nat says

    “I believe the point he is trying to make is that being gay has nothing to do with his ability to wow people with his statistics abilities, so why the need to mention it? ”

    Exactly. It’s bizarre, to say the least, to tie a professional identity to a personal one. It’s not about being free to talk about one’s personal life in a work setting – that’s an important, but distinct issue. But to weld professional abilities to the personal life is unseemly in almost every profession for gay, straight, or bisexual individuals.

  16. says

    I’ve never met a straight person who spent as much time distancing themselves from their Straightness, in professional circles and with *personal* reasons, as I’ve seen gay people do it.

    If you believe that being Gay is “just a part of you, and not the whole” then you’d be Gay Identified. Why? Because you’d know, and believe, that there’s more to you than that identity. Distancing only shows that you’re not quite as comfy with it as you’d like others to believe.

  17. says

    Just proves the rule that you can be smart in some ways or even many ways and still dumb in others.

    “You didn’t build that” kind of nails it, though: he should read some gay history.

  18. MichaelJ says

    When it comes to references to one’s profession/occupation and accomplishments or quality of work, there is nothing wrong with wishing to be generally identified as a statistician, musician, teacher, store manager, etc. rather than a “gay _____”, a “woman ___”, “African American ____”, etc. Most of us want to be regarded for the quality of what we do and be in the company (figuratively speaking, if not literally) of all others in their profession. It is much more accurate to call Silver and brilliant statistician, not a brilliant gay statistician. The latter would be condescending. Joni Mitchell made a similar point when she complained about often being called one of the most significant female contributors to rock.

    And as others have pointed out, Silver has always been open about being gay. He’s not trying to hide anything.

  19. says

    I’m gay. Why would I want people to think that I’m straight, or (if you wanna play the “Magic Vocabulary Game”) not know that I’m gay?

    I want them to know that I’m gay. That way they see that not only am I gay, but that there’s “more to me than being gay” – if you refuse to be Out and Open about it then you dont’ change a damned thing.

    There’s no “there’s more to me than being gay” when you flatly refuse to identify as gay.

  20. Randy says

    “X happens to be gay”

    translation:

    “X (or the person talking about X) still has remnants of homophobia, incorrectly interpreting the gay label with cringe and as a barrier”

    Well, I guess Nate can’t be nerdly cool forever.

  21. MichaelJ says

    @Little Kiwi’s statement: “The only gay men I’ve ever met who used this whole “I’m not defined by being gay!” thing are men who are still apologizing for being gay.”

    Not having experienced Little Kiwi’s interaction with others, all I can say is that my own experience with such people is different. Most are very comfortable in their own skin and in having others know that they are gay, and none were apolgetic about being gay.

    Some are uncomfortable in certain settings — sometimes for good reason and sometimes not — but I don’t think we should presume that this automatically means that they are self-loathing and apologetic. And certainly we shouldn’t presume that for anyone who doesn’t want gay as a adjective or noun as part of their primary identification. That is certainly not the case with Silver.

  22. UFFDA says

    Be gay, be straight, be human any way you want. Take your own time your own way heeding only your own heart and gut. Your own answers will not be posted anywhere ahead of time.

  23. Nat says

    “translation:

    “X (or the person talking about X) still has remnants of homophobia, incorrectly interpreting the gay label with cringe and as a barrier””

    Nonsense. The ‘self-hating’ pejorative is nothing but a tiresome simplification. It’s a way to stifle anyone who dares to walk their own path or – heaven forbid – express ambiguity over the nature of a collective group identity.

    Not that it’s confined to LGBT circles. Jews who dare to criticize Israeli policies are labeled as self-hating. Women are damned if they elect to pursue a professional career at the expense of a family and equally damned if they elect to stay at home while raising their children. Every group and sub-group applies the same relentless pressure to force the individual to conform, to never speak up, to force others to adopt the same outlook on life.

  24. says

    “Jews who dare to criticize Israeli policies are labeled as self-hating. Women are damned if they elect to pursue a professional career at the expense of a family and equally damned if they elect to stay at home while raising their children. Every group and sub-group applies the same relentless pressure to force the individual to conform, to never speak up, to force others to adopt the same outlook on life.”

    Two very bad examples. There’s tons of criticism of Israli policy — in Israel. Here in the U.S. Republicans (most of whom hate Jews) excoriate anyone who dares to critize Israel for any reason whatsoever.
    Likewise women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t by fringe groups on both ends of the political spectrum. Rational human beings treat the choices women make about how to live their lives(and often as not they have no choice at all) rationally.

    As for Teh Ghey it’s still seen as a minus a “less than” — and so is omitted or muffled by those who are relutantly out and not at all proud.

    Nate Silver is out. He’s a very intelligent man. But I find his dealing with The Question oddly constrained.

    I recall WAY back in the day the great Canadian animator Norman McClaren was asked about his “current state” in a questionnaire. He replied “Living in homosexul bliss in Toronto.”

    Would that were all so forthright.

  25. says

    Ehrenstein, you are the love of my life. Thank GOD for you, dude.

    and remember, being Out is not the final goal, nor does it mean that you’re actually comfortable with who you are as a gay man.

    GOProud, anyone?

    rather than saying something like “stop saying we’re insecure about being gay” many folks would do well to stop making it obvious how insecure they are about being gay.

    if you don’t want “gay” used as your…uh…”primary adjective or noun” then you’re still proving my point for me: you’re still caring way too much about how others perceive you, and letting their perceptions DEFINE you.

    i don’t give a hoot how someone chooses to define me. it doesn’t actually have any impact on my sense of self, anymore. one of the benefits of actually listening to the older and wiser LGBT people who’d been where I was, and could show me how to get where they are – a place where you no longer cushion your gayness through a prism of Straight Acceptance.

    fun fact – when you don’t present yourself as an insecure homosexual then people don’t tend to take issue with you.

  26. Nat says

    “Two very bad examples. There’s tons of criticism of Israli policy — in Israel. Here in the U.S. Republicans (most of whom hate Jews) excoriate anyone who dares to critize Israel for any reason whatsoever. ”

    Nonsense. The most prominent critics of Greenwald, Chomsky, et al. on their Israeli views have been American and Canadian Jews, not Republicans, the evangelical Right, or neoconservatives. J Street is treated as a joke by most Jews (which it is, but for different reasons).

    “Likewise women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t by fringe groups on both ends of the political spectrum.”

    Again, nonsense. Witness the reaction to the Anne-Marie Slaughter piece. Many respected, otherwise rational women came to intellectual blows after its publication.

  27. AZEXPAT says

    So, I guess unless you put a rainbow flag on everything you own and do, you are somehow ashamed to be gay? Nate Silver is not a good enough gay, even though he has been open about being gay? He’s not the right kind of gay because every sentence he utters doesn’t end with, “and I’m gay?”

    So tired of the identity nazis. They don’t see how they, in their way, are just as bad as those who don’t believe being gay is real or okay.

  28. Nat says

    One other point:

    “There’s tons of criticism of Israli policy — in Israel.”

    There’s very little meaningful criticism of Israeli policy in Israel that amounts to anything approaching reality. A significant amount of denial – brought about by the uncontested primacy of the bunker mentality – has narrowed the ambit of debate. There are certain positions that are sine qua non in order to maintain one’s authentic Jewishness in Israel. Unfortunately, most of those positions serve as the current impediments to peace coming from the Israeli side.

  29. AZEXPAT says

    KIWI – Thanks for proving my point. If I don’t agree, I have failed. Your black-white, either-or thinking is so arrogant. You can explain yourself at great length, and have a well-thought out argument on most things you post. Sadly, like most philosophers, you lack humility. It never occurs to you, because of how well-thought out your arguments are, that you could ever be wrong. So tiresome.

  30. says

    what am i wrong about? that you made a strawman argument? i’m not wrong on that.

    this has nothing to do with rainbow flags nor, uh, “ending every sentence with And I’m GAY!”, but with the insecurities one reveals when they distance themselves from a Gay Identity because they’re still viewing their gayness through the eyes of a Straight Person.

    duh.

    Ehrenstein put it perfectly.

  31. EchtKultig says

    “Just proves the rule that you can be smart in some ways or even many ways and still dumb in others.”

    Well, sorry to break it to you, your dumb is going to become the new norm for anyone who’s gay < 25 years. Get used to it.

  32. says

    Echt, while that may be true of some, it (thankfully) will not be true for all. I’m so impressed with the resilience and gratitude of many of today’s gay and queer-identifying Youth. yes, there will be the unappreciative ninnies who insist on pretending that they’re “post-gay” or something, rather than admit they’re still living in fear of What The Straights Think, but the birth of the internet has given an outlet for so many younger LGBT people to get a real sense and affinity for not only our collective history, but the specifics of the hard work that was done to get us to where we are today, and where we’ll continue going.

    you’ll know them by their refusal to blend in.

    😉

  33. AZEXPAT says

    “Ehrenstein put it perfectly” – by your definition of perfect. I think NAT, MICHEALJ, and KT, among others, said “it” quite well. But anyone you’ve ever met who agrees with them has a problem with or is making excuses for being gay, KIWI (your words to that effect).

    For someone who claims no interest in being a leader, you spend an awful lot of time telling people how to think and act.

    >elegant curtsey<

  34. says

    or, to be more precise, that your words, actions (and inactions) will indeed reveal about you the exact opposite of what you want people to believe.

    if you don’t want to come across as an insecure and reluctant homosexual you’d do well to not regurgitate S**t Insecure Homosexuals Say.

    it’s like i said to a member of my extended family in the USA: “I’ll stop calling you a tired old racist when you stop insisting that President Obama was born in Kenya and he wants Iran to have nuclear weapons because he’s a secret Muslim who hates America.”

  35. Bill says

    @Nick: he said he wanted to be thought of as a statistician who happened to be gay rather than a gay statistician. He has a valid point – he’s doing a form of applied mathematics for a living. It would sound strange to be called a “straight statistician” because his area of expertise has nothing to do with his sexual orientation. A simple rule is that if “straight X” sounds off, then you have a valid reason not to be called a “gay X” for the same X.

    To use an historical example, nobody except the Nazis and maybe some other antisemitic nuts identified Albert Einstein’s discoveries as “Jewish physics”: the laws of nature are not dependent on one’s ethnic background. So, German
    physicists (i.e., ones living in Germany) working on the atomic bomb under the Nazi regime used the equation E=mc^2 to calculate the amount of energy that would be released during nuclear fission, but simply called it something else so the political operatives watching them wouldn’t accuse them of using “Jewish physics”. The operatives could be fooled as easily as dog owners fooling their dogs by spelling out “walk” to avoid getting their pets excited.

  36. Will.i.am says

    A lot of you really need to read the work of queer theorists, poststructuralists, etc. and then maybe you’d realise that 20th Century identity politics isn’t the only game in town. There are legitimate schools of thought that offer alternative ways to undermine heterosexism other than being openly and actively gay. For queer theorists, seeing gay people makes straight people feel safe – if you define yourself as other, a minority, something different to straight people then you only reinforce heterosexism. It’s bisexuality and transexualism that really screw with people’s categories of sexuality and gender. I’m not entirely sure of what I think, but IT IS arrogant for any of you to try to peddle your way as the ONLY way.

  37. jamal49 says

    @MICHAELJ: You nailed it square on the head. It is fun, though, to read through all the self-righteous, um, “gay-identifiers” (you know, KIWI, the always amusing ERHENSTEIN, et al) as they spittle and spume their way through contorted denouncements of Mr. Silver and his desire to be his own man, not theirs.

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