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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.

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Comments

  1. "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.

    Posted by: Randy | Jan 9, 2013 1:06:41 PM


  2. @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.

    Posted by: MichaelJ | Jan 9, 2013 1:09:24 PM


  3. 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.

    Posted by: UFFDA | Jan 9, 2013 1:14:22 PM


  4. "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.

    Posted by: Nat | Jan 9, 2013 1:29:58 PM


  5. "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.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jan 9, 2013 1:54:04 PM


  6. 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.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jan 9, 2013 2:12:05 PM


  7. "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.

    Posted by: Nat | Jan 9, 2013 2:15:48 PM


  8. 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.

    Posted by: AZEXPAT | Jan 9, 2013 2:22:25 PM


  9. 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.

    Posted by: Nat | Jan 9, 2013 2:23:00 PM


  10. Azexpat, congratulations on that fantastic example of a "Strawman Argument"

    Now, step up to proudly accept your failing grade.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jan 9, 2013 2:29:51 PM


  11. If you don't agree with LittleKiwi, you are wrong. End of. Just shoot yourself.

    Posted by: Rowan | Jan 9, 2013 3:04:39 PM


  12. see? pretending it's "disagreement" and never specifics.

    *elegant curtsy*

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jan 9, 2013 3:14:28 PM


  13. 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.

    Posted by: AZEXPAT | Jan 9, 2013 3:15:47 PM


  14. 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.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jan 9, 2013 3:22:07 PM


  15. In a word, your style is wrong, otherwise so many others would not be so put off. You will never be a leader worth following.

    Posted by: UFFDA | Jan 9, 2013 3:32:58 PM


  16. I have no aspiration to be a leader. It's one of the benefits of being Out and unashamed of being gay. We all walk together. Feel free to join in.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jan 9, 2013 3:37:05 PM


  17. Sounds like a pret-a-porter Log Cabin Republican to me.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Jan 9, 2013 3:47:56 PM



  18. "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.

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Jan 9, 2013 4:39:53 PM


  19. 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.

    ;-)

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jan 9, 2013 4:46:26 PM


  20. "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<

    Posted by: AZEXPAT | Jan 9, 2013 5:18:38 PM


  21. 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."

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jan 9, 2013 5:25:52 PM


  22. @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.

    Posted by: Bill | Jan 10, 2013 12:10:43 AM


  23. 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.

    Posted by: Will.i.am | Jan 10, 2013 5:37:48 AM


  24. @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.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Jan 10, 2013 4:10:16 PM


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