I'm a little surprised that no one has jumped down my throat over my checking the idea of "acting straight" when writing about the latest Olympic to-do. It occurs to me that if you're sufficiently young and enlightened, you may not recognize that as actually a Thing.

I think it's pretty clear from context that what I'm talking about is intentionally suppressing mannerisms and behaviors traditionally associated with homosexuality in the hopes that no one will ask any awkward questions, and it's pretty clear from the quotes that it's not my phrase. It's just that as a concept, it doesn't have much meaning anymore. It describes the act of consciously crossing a cultural divide that has largely ceased to exist, even if the memory of the underlying stereotype persists.

Twenty-five years ago, "acting straight" or describing someone as "straight-acting" had a distinct meaning, and it would be disingenuous to pretend that it didn't. We harp a lot on the idea of "everyone is fundamentally the same!" these days, but anthropologically-speaking, this is only true to a certain extent. There's no mysterious gay lobe of the brain that makes all queer men like fashion and all queer women like softball -- or straight lobe that makes het men like beer and het women like expensive shoes, for that matter -- but some of the behaviors associated with homosexual people did exist, albeit in less ridiculous form, as subcultural markers. Sort of a secret handshake, that let members of that culture identify each other in an environment where it wasn't safe to just say, "Hi, what team do you bat for?" Learning to consciously suppress these when not in the company of like-minded members of your own subculture was a social survival skill, i.e., it kept you from getting lynched. So far as I know, the phrase was only commonly in use within gay culture, and possibly among outsiders who had extensive contact with it.

Fifteen years ago, "straight-acting" had become a derogatory accusation leveled at someone you thought was doing a disservice to the gay rights cause by not being identifiable as gay at first glance. The transformation was akin to the one undergone by "passing" (as in, "passing for white") in the earlier civil rights movement -- something which was previously lauded for enabling one to blend in with the more privileged culture was now derided as disingenuous and abandoning your own culture rather than fighting for it. I am under the impression that this is when the general public would have started hearing the phrase in media, although straight people, being kind of oblivious, would still more likely have referred to it as "acting normal".

The phrase is rather meaningless anymore, particularly to the under-30s, who think that 'acting like a straight person' just means wanting to have sex only with the opposite gender. Collisions between these people and the older generation who remembers when there was a whole constellation of differences can be rather amusing, like the time Jack Whitehall informed the QI panel that his new beard was 'peacocking', and Stephen Fry advised him that if he was looking to attract women with that he might want to be "a bit less camp". Whitehall has only ever mentioned dating women that I've heard, but flirts outrageously with anything bipedal, and nobody his own age seems to find this particularly weird.

I find it astounding that this much change has happened within my own lifetime, and generally in a saneward direction. You collegiate whipper-snappers were probably watching the clips I linked to of Boitano at the Olympics and going, "I dunno, I guess I'd wonder? It's not like he's trotting around in Loubies or anything. What the hell does it matter?" In 1988, it mattered, and it was pretty obvious. Not satirically obvious, like you might see in the movies, but the real-life kind of obvious that might get the snot beaten out of you if you ended up in the wrong neighborhood. He wasn't hassled about it nearly so much as a lot of other people were, because America liked him, and pretending you hadn't noticed was the polite thing to do. Wrap your head around that.

Boitano, and a lot of other athletes his age, are pissed about the Russian thing because they remember all this shit from when they were young. It's no picnic to face individual prejudice, but it's fucking terrifying to be Officially Disapproved Of with no legal recourse.

The other Brian they kept talking about Boitano having a rivalry with in '88 was Brian Orser, who later sued in an attempt to keep from being outed by a palimony case because he was afraid it would end his career. It didn't, but he didn't know that; he'd probably been advised for most of his life that it would. The massive public support he got when his suit failed and he was outed anyway is one of the big reasons that Billie Jean King, Caitlin Cahow, Brian Boitano -- and now also Johnny Weir, who is going over to do live commentary for NBC -- can stand up and do this now: Because whether they come back on their scheduled flights or get summarily deported, they're still going to be welcome at home.

Tangentially, if anyone's got a betting pool going on who gets into the news first, I'm going with Weir. Though the government would undoubtedly try to rescue him if he actually got himself jailed, he's essentially a journalist going with the backing of commercial network TV instead of the State Department. Despite the impression one might get by visiting America, these two things are not actually equivalent. He's also much more likely to make himself a nuisance. A flamboyant loudmouth media figure who has a decent idea of how your culture works and can cuss you out in live, untranslated Russian -- would you keep him? I wouldn't. If the Russians renege on their semi-formal promise not to enforce any of the offensive laws on athletes or foreign attendees of the Games, I'm betting they're going to yank his visa and toss his ass onto the first westbound flight they can find as soon as they can work up a reason.

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