The Manti Te’o Story Is Back And The Question Remains: Is He Gay?

After Dr. Phil stepped in and set the world straight (no pun intended), the Manti Te’o story seemed to fade into the abyss—kind of like Notre Dame’s undefeated season in the national championship game. But on Monday Te’o’s name again popped up on my Twitter feed.

Towleroad and Outsports both posted a clip of an interview with NFL analyst Mike Florio on the Dan Patrick Show. Florio, who was speaking about Te’o’s performance at the NFL Combine, claimed that NFL teams want to know if Manti Te’o is gay. Florio called it the “elephant in the room.”

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Queer Presidents’ Day: An Argument for Queering Abraham Lincoln

This morning Huffington Post Gay Voice posted about gay rumors among American presidents. The blog was interesting but nothing I’d never heard before. What was the most interesting to me were some of the reader comments under the post. I know, I know the reader comments can be kooky from time to time, but I think they are sometimes more revealing than the blog post itself.lincolnTHUMB

The readers’ comments let you know what the community of users or readers is thinking. The general feeling of this particular topic, gay presidents—who cares it’s no body’s business. I disagree. A lot of folks care. Just ask the percentage of LGBTQ people in the United States—they care. Better yet ask the homophobic population of this country—they care.

So why does it matter? It matters for so many reasons. A community like the LGBTQ community has a long history, in reality, but officially the community’s history is pretty short. It is pieced together using documents filled with innuendo or coded reference to sexuality. Queer people are now in a position to go back in time and claim our history.

The LGBTQ community needs a group memory to know our place in history. Queering historical figures gives us those memories and establishes our place in American history, but, more importantly, it empowers the community. Figures like Lincoln, the emancipator, the man who saved the Union, the man who may have even slayed thousands of vampires (OK so maybe not the last one), are important to LGBTQs just the same as they are important to every other American—they are part of our identity. And if those figures also happen to be queer, then our queer identity is legitimized that much more.

Do you remember the feeling you got the first time you met another gay man or lesbian? Or the first time you met someone with a similar interest as you? You almost certainly felt some sort of validation for who you are. A queer historical hero is the amplified version of that instance. A queer Lincoln inspires pride.

Maybe a person’s sexuality is no one’s business—and for most ordinary citizens I might agree. But sometimes it is our business. Sometimes we should make it our business.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story behind the queer Abraham Lincoln here are some great pieces to get you caught up. The first is from Salon. It was written in 1999 after activists Larry Kramer spoke in Wisconsin about the first gay president. This is a more current piece written around the time that the recent release of the biopic Lincoln. Finally, for a more academic look at the queering of Lincoln, this book chapter by Charles E. Morris III is incredible.

Problematic Queer Representations in Downton Abbey’s Gay Villain Narrative

Today is Downton Abbey day. I’m a fan of the show—despite what I’m about to write. I remember seeing the buzz about a year ago with the start of the second season. I heard of the show but had never really given thought to watching it. I mean how many shows can a first year Ph.D. student watch in the name of pleasure.

Consequently I chalked it up to “research” or “staying up-to-date in the industry,” and I watched the first season on Hulu. I finished the last episode of the first season, bought the second season on iTunes, and then patiently waited for the season three premiere a few weeks ago.

I had read, before watching, that the show had a gay character, and I have to admit that was one of the most influential reasons for my watching. To my disappointment, however, the gay character, Thomas Barrow, was largely an invisible gay man. The only mention or insinuation of his homosexuality had more to do with his sociopathic nature than his sexuality. We’ve seen one “gay” scene with Thomas, played by Rob James-Collier, since the show first began. Why?

This month’s edition of Out magazine features James-Collier, and he had the same question. He told Out’s Aaron Hicklin that he asked the show’s creator and writer Julian Fellowes if Barrow was now straight because the subject of his sexuality was never discussed. The answer was that the third season will finally address Barrow’s same-sex desires and his identity as a homosexual man in 1920s England. It’s about time! But it still doesn’t answer the question of why.

After reading the Out article, I considered not writing this blog, but I do find Thomas Barrow as a gay character, to this point, problematic. A point was made in the first episode to identify Barrow as a gay (or homosexual or deviant as it would have been more likely identified in the early 1900s), but also, seemingly, as important was to identify Barrow as a villain.

Barrow, a footman unhappy with his station, was depicted as someone who would stop at nothing and walk on anyone to get where and what he wanted. His pathology became his character. We see him leave the house to go off to war, come back to Downton after committing an act of cowardice (shooting himself in the foot), and then weasel his way back into service in the house.

Barrow’s character fits the narrative of the deviant, mentally diseased homosexual so often depicted in the mainstream, at least in the United
States. His character reminds me of the narrative provided to the masses in the 1967 CBS documentary “The Homosexuals.”

He’s evil because he’s maladjusted and sick. He wants more (position, money, esteem, happiness…) in his life because he’s fundamentally unhappy with his ailment, homosexuality. His queerness is the root (the first thing we see) of all of his flaws.

No doubt the early 1900s would not have been easy for a gay man in service to the English aristocracy. The early 1900s probably weren’t all that kind nor open to gay men living in most of western civilization—or at least acknowledging and accepting of queer sexual desire. With that being said, not all gay men in the 1910s and 1920s were conspiring to have people fired or blackmailing people to gain position. In other words, Barrow becomes a stereotype that transcends time period and is understood whether in the context post World War I England or the post Stonewall United States or contemporary Western life.

I know what most people think. “Who cares if he’s gay or straight?” Most folks are just enthralled with the villain, but was he made the villain because it’s easier for the audience to identify gay and villain in the same character? Is this stereotype of gay men so powerful that it no longer seems to be an issue? Maybe the maladjusted and mentally diseased gay man is such a part of dominant thought that the narrative “makes sense.”

Think of the more “likable” characters. Why isn’t Anna (Lady Mary’s lady’s maid) a lesbian? Why was William (the now deceased war hero and footman) not transsexual or bisexual? Those characters don’t fit the dominant narrative of Downton Abbey. That is problematic.

I look forward to seeing the trajectory of Barrow in the third season. Maybe we’ll get more answers and his character will more accurately represent queer experiences of the 1920s. I hope we get to see more depth in the character. But I doubt the narrative will change tremendously.

Let the Manti Te’o Gay Rumors Begin

Yesterday I came home from class to find Twitter had exploded—almost literally. Deadspin’s article uncovering Manti Te’o’s GirlfriendGate was everywhere, and so were the jokes, rumors and speculation. One of the most interesting questions being asked, at least to me, were the speculations regarding Te’o’s sexuality. Many have asked whether or not the entire hoax may have been concocted to conceal the fact that Te’o is gay.

What if this is exactly that—a very odd beard scheme? Does that make the actions excusable? I can understand why he might fake a girlfriend if this were the case. But wouldn’t it just be easier and less umm fraud-like to just play the “I’m waiting until marriage” card like everyone else?

I can’t lie an openly gay college star that was headed to a first round draft spot would be an almost instant icon for the gay community. A first in so many ways. The first out NCAA Division 1 football player. The first out and active NFL player. The first out and active male professional athlete in the United States. After so many years of waiting and speculating as to who would be the first openly gay professional male athlete and what would happen to that person’s career, the gay community would have its star, its answers and its validation in the sports world.

Okay maybe that’s a lot to ask. But I don’t think it’s too far from the truth.

A quick search for blogs about Te’o gay rumors yielded your usual suspects of speculation and homophobic garbage. The Blue Board on 247 Sports dedicated a thread to the question, “So Manti Te’o gay?” The responses ranged from armchair psychoanalysis as to his motives to hurling around “gay” as an insult to his masculinity and athletic ability. And that’s where this gets into dangerous territory.

Speculating that Te’o may actually be gay and that he fabricated this story and person to hide his sexuality for fear of being “outed” is understandable. Would it be a misguided attempt to play it straight? Yes. He wouldn’t be the first athlete to hide his sexuality for fear of losing his job, but he might be the first to win an Oscar while doing it. Speculation of this sort has some legs. Maybe not legs that can yet stand but still it has some semblance of a reasonable thought.

What I find problematic is the folks hurling, “Te’o is gay,” as an affront or an assault on his playing abilities, his intellect or his masculinity. Being an openly gay football player is not a negative. Being an openly homophobic troll IS a negative.

Is it probable that Te’o is gay and will come out? Not really. It’s more likely that Te’o, and those around him, saw an opportunity to score points with Heisman voters (and I’m sure it scored a lot of points). Tyler Moorehead of College Spun reported that his Notre Dame teammates claimed that he still had “relations” with other women during the time he was allegedly involved with “Lennay Kekua.” Unless they’re all imaginary—which hasn’t been ruled out—it’s more likely that Te’o saw a big fat check at the end of the publicity rainbow and not the other rainbow.