Is He Gay?

by Alexandria Linn

In the fantastic world of relationship self-help, a new dating guide emerged to once again help the lonely American woman land her “dream” guy. Using senseless and sarcastic humor, the markets itself as a guide for women who need to know if their potential suitors are “gay” (according to the author’s understanding of homosexual qualities). For those particular women who want to know how to distinguish between men of the homosexual persuasion, and those who embody all of the violent and neglectful tendencies of the “masculine” male, Ed Baker and Chris Busick have answered the call.

In their book entitled Is He Gay?[1] (for obvious reasons) the two self-help authors follow the story of a young, white and single female as she comes dangerously close to falling in love with a gay man. Despite the author’s attempt to scream commentary to her from the sidelines of the pages, she begins to fall for the homosexual male. Her relationship is sustained by her denial, though she eventually recognizes that the man she’s dating is attracted to other men and not to her.  In the end, the woman leaves the relationship with only small disappointments (fortunately, no deep wounds) and resolves that she still loves him “as a friend”[2].

The good news is that other straight women can steer clear of making the same mistake. By heeding the authors’ advice, one can avoid the queer pitfalls that may occur in the single girl’s dating arena. For those who are not familiar with all the heteronormative ideals of homosexuality, Is He Gay? points out all of the stereotypical tropes associated with “gayness.” The authors, do however attempt to acknowledge their gross generalizations, with a disclaimer at the end of the book that reassures the reader that their mocking was done so “all in good fun,” of course.

Written in 2000, the book (illustrated by one of the authors Ed Baker) is an easy read with huge comic-like cartoons to tell the narrative of the story’s main female character. One side of the book is dedicated to this illustrated narrative (complete with thought bubbles of both the male and female) while the opposite side of the book is filled with the author’s commentary. The commentary is there to point out all signs of effeminate manhood that characterize the mannerisms of the gay male. The simple structure of the book is enhanced by the “legend” that is placed at the beginning. It is there to help the reader decipher the authors’ commentary instantly. After the dedication,[3] the authors present the reader with a legend that reads, “Hint = signs of gayness. Superhint = DUH. ♀= Girl’s Thought Process. * = Endnotes.” After the legend is established, the authors’ begin telling the story.

The trend in many self-help books is for the author(s) to present a problem to the reader while presenting themselves and their advice as the solution. In order for a certain trust to be established among the reader and the author(s) there has to be a list of credentials that makes the author(s) appear to be an expert at best or a reliable source at worst. Usually a trail of letters at the end of the author’s name (Ph.D, M.D, etc) accomplishes this. Occasionally some other form of professional, personal or other “lived” experience serves to validate the author.

Is He Gay? lacks this proof of credentials, leaving the readers questioning how, exactly, the authors came to obtain this information. The authors’ do not claim that their advice has any academic or scientific legitimacy. Nor do they profess to be experts on homosexual and/or straight sexuality.

Although the authors have created this text as a guide for women wanting to determine the sexual orientation of a potential male mate, they, themselves, do not make clear their own sexual preference. This ambiguity may lead the reader to question whether their insights of the thoughts and actions of gay men come from personal experience.

Moving past the unverified “authenticity” of the authors, one comes to the actual content of the book: the advice. As stated before, the book is structured by comic-like illustrations and sparse words that depict the “gayness” in each dating scene. For instance, the first scene shows a young woman out at a store being complimented by a man. The male states, “That shirt looks great on you” and the female responds, “Thanks!” According to the legend, the female is thinking, “WOW! What a nice guy.” The author’s advice, on the next page, however, tells us otherwise.

In this particular scene, the authors give this advice, “…he’s too pretty…designer clothes (tucked/tight)…he looks in your eyes, not at your boobs…you gave him YOUR number…” If only the female would have known the warning signs in her early interactions with the male, she could have avoided this whole altercation. Other warning signs of gayness throughout the book are, “…sushi…fabulous sense of humor…awesome dancer…gets easily excited…has cute guy friends…HE TAKES CARE OF YOU…great listener…no advances…wants to know you as a person…he cooks…giggles…doesn’t cop a feel… and gossips”[4]. In looking at the advice given, the book appears to be a sad attempt to mock women (especially women who have once gone out with or dated a gay man) and gay men (particularly those which consciously chose to date women while knowing they are sexually attracted to men).

Unfortunately, the book not only reinforces offensive and dangerous stereotypes about both women and gay men, but also adds to the hegemonic belief of separate and opposing masculine and feminine spheres.

The text intends to guide women away from any action committed by a male that appears “feminine”. To assume that a man is gay if he takes care of you, lays in bed without trying to have sex with you, cooks, calls people by their first names, and has fantastic posture speaks just as much to assumed “straight” male behavior as it does to “gayness”

Broadly defining what is too feminine for heterosexual “manhood” leaves men under heavy scrutiny from women and their “straight” male counterparts. With the turn of the century, women were not the only ones feeling the heat of the beauty myth. Just as women are seeing images of themselves as sexualized and objectified commodities, men were also exposed to representations from the mass media that characterizes them as viral and strong sexual predators.

Advertisers for companies like No Fear energy drink tell its male constituency to “Man Up!” Athletes, especially American football players,   continue to be idolized in mainstream media for their strength and brute power, on and off the field. Violent video games marketed to and purchased by a predominately male consumer base have been shown to promote aggressive behavior[5]. Movies, television and internet sites which display pornography and pornographic images at times promotes images of male-perpetrated violence against women[6].

Self-help books like Is He Gay? contribute to the mainstream narrowing of masculinity as violent, introverted, and detached. While it may appear as though the good-humored nature of the book prevents it from being taken seriously, the advice characterizes what being “gay” is (caring for others, cooking, talking on the phone, dancing) and encourages its female audience to go against their own ideals of what makes someone attractive. Instead of promoting their readers to listen to their own intuition, they encourage women to date men who have less pro-social behavior and more sexually aggressive behavior.

It is unfortunate that Baker and Busick use a brief disclaimer at the end of their text about its content being “one big MASSIVE generalization”[7] to override the homophobic and sexist rhetoric littered through the pages of the book. While self-help can be used to challenge hegemonic ideals around gender and sexuality, this text proves that it has a long way to go. ▢

Alexandria Linn is an aspiring socio-historian…and a Stewart Ewen fanatic.

[1] Ed Baker and Chris Busack. Is He Gay?: For Every Woman Who’s Met the Ideal Man and is Wondering—Why Hasn’t He Tried To Kiss Me? (NY: Fireside, 2000)

[2] Ibid., The authors have unfortunately left out the page numbers in their text. This quote is found on the last page.

[3] The dedication reads “Dedicated to all the women who’ve ended up ‘just friends’.”

[4] Emphasis is in the original text.

[5] Marc A. Sestir and Bruce D. Bartholow. “Violent and Nonviolent Video Games Produce Opposing Effects on Aggression and Prosocial Outcomes”. Journal of Experiemental Social Psychology. Feb, 2010.

[6] Authors of “Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos” concluded that of “…304 scenes of pornography 88.2% contained physical aggression…while 48.7% of scenes contained verbal aggression…. Perpetrators of Aggression were usually male, whereas targets of aggression were overwhelmingly female.” Ana J Bridges, Robert Wosnitzer, Erica Scharrer, Chyng Sun and Rachael Liberman. “Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis UpdateViolence Against Women. Oct 2010. Vol. 16

[7] Emphasis in original text.

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