Posted by Jay Livingston
If you were gay and getting married, would you go out of your way to hire a homophobic photographer or baker? Would you seek out the florist who, as he delivers your flowers, lets you know that God despises you for your sinful and disgusting ways?
Let’s get real. The uproar over the Indiana law is about something other than a relatively small number of gays prevented from boosting the bottom line of bigots. It’s about something more important – not the practical consequences but the symbolism. What the law symbolizes is the relative status of different groups. It is an attempt to reassure religious Christian Hoosiers that they still hold sway, that Indiana is still their state. The corollary is that in the state’s official view, gays do not have the same moral standing as Christians.
That reduced status of gays can have real consequences. The more that gays sense that others disapprove of their sexuality, and the more they get the message that their sexuality is not legitimate, then the more likely they will be to stay in the closet, generally not a happy place for them or their loved ones.
Although it seems eminently logical and reasonable to me that gays who live in places where homosexuality is not accepted will be less happy, it would be nice to have some data. Unfortunately, getting information on gays – the number in and out of the closet, and their general happiness – is an inexact science, and we have to turn to sources not usually explored in the undergraduate Methods course.
Over at Sociological Images, Lisa Wade recently posted some data from PornHub on the relative frequency of gay porn use in the 50 states – the percent of all PornHub searches that were for gay porn. They compared states with and without marriage equality.
PornHub’s research report has a couple of problems. For one thing, their map is badly out of date. They posted it only a couple of weeks ago, but they used old information. The number of marriage-equality states is not eighteen (including DC), it’s thirty-eight. Those fuchsia circles on the map are my addition – marriage-equality states that PornHub classified incorrectly.
Another problem is that PornHub did not take into account basic demographic facts about the states – age and marital status, for example – that might influence the numbers of gay and straight porn consumers.
Still, it’s surprising that the demand for gay porn, relative to straight, is as high in the deep South – Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi – as it is in states with well known gay areas.* That similarity is real, not just an artifact of PornHub’s possibly flawed methods. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, writing in the New York Times in December 2013 (here) found similar results using different data – Google searches for terms like “gay porn” and “Rocket Tube.” These searches, like those at Pornhub, constituted about 5% of all porn searches.
Stephens-Davidowitz also found that ratios among the states were similar regardless of general attitudes towards homosexuality.
|While tolerant states have a slightly higher percentage of these searches, roughly 5 percent of pornographic searches are looking for depictions of gay men in all states. This again suggests that there are just about as many gay men in less tolerant states as there are anywhere else.|
Stephens-Davidowitz’s “tolerance” measure is more sophisticated than PornHub’s simple law/no-law variable (even if they’d gotten it right). It was based on Nate Silver’s estimate of support for gay marriage laws.**
In 2012, states in the Northeast scored about 50% higher than did states in the South and Southwest. Yet in the ratio of porn searches specifying gay material, differences were very small. But while the proportion of men who are gay may be about the same in Mississippi and Oklahoma as it is in Massachusetts and California, the lives of those men are very different. Men in less tolerant states were, not surprisingly, more likely to be closeted. In the less tolerant states, fewer men identify themselves as gay in their Facebook profiles. In Mississippi, for example, while porn-search data suggests that 5% of the men are gay, only 1% of Facebook gender preferences are for another man.
Match.com shows similar results.
Of course, it’s possible that gay men in less tolerant states are already matched up with other men and have no need to declare their preferences on Facebook or Match.com. Possible, but unlikely. Instead, these men are seeking others offline. Or they are married – to women, of course – and surreptitiously searching for gay porn on the Internet. If so, they are not doing such a great job of fooling themselves. Or their wives.
If you Google “Is my husband,” Google will complete the phrase according to the frequency of searches. This is what you’ll see.
|Searches questioning a husband’s sexuality are far more common in the least tolerant states. The states with the highest percentage of women asking this question are South Carolina and Louisiana. In fact, in 21 of the 25 states where this question is most frequently asked, support for gay marriage is lower than the national average.|
Anti-gay sentiment in a state, a sentiment that takes the concrete form of laws, forces gay people into unhappy and unfulfilled life in the closet, including marriages that are unfulfilling for wives as well. Maybe that’s what the supporters of these laws intend. The laws are their response to the feeling that their position of dominance is slipping. That same fear motivates proposals to make English the official language of a state or the country, or to make Christianity the official religion.***
In its symbolic message, Indiana’s “OK to Say Nay to Gays” law makes hetero the official sexuality of Indiana. The law is a reassurance to conservative, anti-gay Christians that Indiana is still their state. And the nationwide reaction against the law is no more about wedding cakes than the sit-ins of the 1960s were about the delicious hamburgers that Woolworths was serving to its White customers. What’s at issue is the moral legitimacy of an entire category of people.
* In Maira Kalman’s famous December 2011 “New Yorkistan” cover for the New Yorker, Chelsea appears as Gaymenistan.
**You can find more on Silver’s method here.
*** An earlier post on the wish for Christianity as the official religion is here. I have also argued (here) that the reaction against Obamacare is more about status politics than it is about health care.