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Can You Really Tell Who's Gay Just By Looking?

About 10 percent of people are gay or lesbian. Homosexuals are born that way. All religions condemn homosexuality. There’s no such thing as a gay or trans child. All bisexual men are actually gay; all bisexual women are actually straight. Coming out today is easier than ever before. Hate crime laws prevent violence against LGBT people.

You Can Tell Just by Looking: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People coverWe’ve all heard (and repeated) statements like these before. But, are any of them actually true? According to Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico, these are common myths and misconceptions about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender life and people. And in their new book, "You Can Tell Just by Looking”: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People they take us through some of the most enduring myths, providing historical background and examining the social and political factors that gave rise to and inform each myth. The myths covered here aren't just those that have been used to justify discrimination against and oppression of LGBT people, but the authors also examine those that have been embraced by the LGBT community and their allies. We hope the book will challenge readers to question their own beliefs and dispel some of the false assumptions many of us (even some of us at Beacon) have been carrying around for years.

Read on to see what the authors have to say about ten of the myths covered in "You Can Tell Just by Looking."

Myth 1: You can tell who’s gay just by looking.

Fact: Can you always “spot” a gay man based on obvious external clues such as limp wrists or “detect” a lesbian by her tattoos and crew-cut? No, that’s silly. Nevertheless, we also all know that our “intuition” about people is often right. You can certainly tell something just by looking…but, what?

Myth 2: Most homophobes are repressed homosexuals.

Fact: Do all white racists secretly want to be black? Of course not. Many factors larger than the individual can make a person feel uncomfortable around those who are or seem different. It’s more accurate to address how a combination of prejudice and power perpetuates antigay violence rather than to isolate any one factor.

Myth 3: Homosexuals are born that way.

Fact: Many gay people claim their sexuality is innate. Others insist it’s a choice. Scientists keep trying—and failing—to answer this question. Ultimately, sexuality is so multifaceted there is no one explanation why anyone becomes gay, bi, or straight.

Myth 4: LGBT parents are bad for children.

Fact: Overwhelmingly, national psychological and social-work professional groups have declared that LGBT parents do no harm to children. Good parenting does not rise and fall on the sexual or gender identity of a parent. What matters for children is that their parent or parents offer love, support, and understanding. 

Myth 5: All religions condemn homosexuality.

Fact: This is absurd on the face of it; religions are so varied and nuanced in their belief systems and practices that it is impossible to claim they all hold any single belief. This myth is primarily promoted by conservative Christian opponents of homosexuality as a political attack on same-sex marriage.

Myth 6: There’s no such thing as a gay or trans child.

Fact: It is possible, even likely, that even young children can be aware of their sexual desires, as well as their gender identity. This possibility would be better understood if we encouraged children to speak openly about their desires and bodily experiences—and actually listened to what they have to say. 

Myth 7: Lesbians do not have real sex.

Fact: Lesbian sex is only a contradiction in terms if it’s assumed that “real sex” requires penetration with a penis. It doesn’t. There are many ways of having and enjoying sex, and penis-in-vagina sex is hardly the only game in town. (Heterosexuals know this too.)

Myth 8: All bisexual men are actually gay; all bisexual women are actually straight.

Fact: Lived experience is much messier than the tidy boxes we are commonly asked to check off: gay or straight, women or men. Bisexuality is both a concrete identity, distinct from the categories of gay and straight, and a way of naming the fluidity of desire, the fact that people’s desires often change over their lifetime.

Myth 9: Transgender people are gay.

Fact: Sexual desire describes whom we’re attracted to and what we want sexually. Gender identity describes how we think of ourselves as female or male—or somewhere in between. Some transpeople are attracted to members of their own sex. Others experience themselves as heterosexual. Many transpeople and LGBT people have formed productive political coalitions.

Myth 10: Hate crime laws prevent violence against LGBT people.

Fact: There is no hard evidence that hate crime laws, which mandate harsher punishments for perpetrators, deter violence against LGBT people. Hate crime laws may make people feel safe, but that is very different from being safe. The social causes of this violence are far more complex than “hate.”