May 5, 2005

Does Peggy Noonan have a sense of humor?

Peggy Noonan begins her new column, which is about sharing private information, with this anecdote:
I was at a wedding, standing just off the dance floor, when a pleasant young man in his 20s approached, introduced himself and asked where I'd had my hair done. I shook his offered hand and began to answer, but before I could he said, "I'm gay, by the way." I nodded as if this were my business, but thought: I wonder why a total stranger thinks I want to know what he wishes to do with his genitals? What an odd way to say hello.

Well, I'm not hearing the intonation, but it seems to me the young man was being funny. A man in interested in a woman's hairdo and who her stylist is? That makes him look like a gay stereotype. It's funny at that point to say "I'm gay, by the way" because it's mocking the stereotype. A straight guy might say "I'm gay, by the way" at that point for that reason. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Noonan seems bereft of a sense of humor!


Dave said...

Noonan has always struck me as Michelle Malkin strikes me: earnest without a sense of humor and devoid of an appreciation for pop culture references.

They take themselves entirely too seriously. They come from the mold of cultural conservatives devoid of any sense of irony or sardonic commentary.

Jody said...

The guy's name is Jay. Peggy just misheard with the music and everything being so loud. Poor Jay. ;)

Tim said...

I thought it was tasteless to go from that introduction to pointing out how important it is to be open about having cancer. It's too easy a cognitive leap to end up comparing being gay with having cancer. This is not the stuff of Pointe du Hoc!

Laura Reynolds said...

If you'd ever seen the episode of "Win Ben Stein's Money" where Peggy Noonan and a couple other psuedo celebraties/political types were contestants, it would be hard to say she has no sense of humor. Clearly she's no Martin Short, but I would not go so far as Dave. I don't think cultural conservatives are the only ones "devoid of any sense of irony or sardonic commentary"

Neil Sinhababu said...

I thought he was just trying to make clear that he wasn't hitting on her.

Joan said...

As a cancer patient myself, and one who uses my blog routinely to discuss everything that's going on with my treatment, I approve of Noonan's column 100%. I disagree that folks will make some connection between homosexuality and cancer -- Noonan was quite clear in her topic, which was the publicizing of very personal information.

I can never figure out why people tell others they are gay, either. It really is none of my business. The few times I have been hit on by members of my own gender, no announcement of sexual orientation was necessary! I'm pretty sure the only time it's appropriate is to dissuade someone of the opposite sex who is hitting on you -- it's just the kind thing to do, if there is no hope for them at all.

Noonan does have a sense of humor, but but I don't think this guy wsa making a joke. He was just giving a completely superfluous explanation of his interest.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm sticking to my opinion that it was a wisecrack -- a typical witticism that a guy (gay or straight) would easily think to make after asking a woman about her hairdresser. Noonan failed ever to consider that it might be a joke, because she plugged in an opinion she already had about this culture of ours.

Joan said...

I think without the benefit of hearing tone of voice, timing of delivery, etc, that it's not possible to make a definitive judgement. I like to think of myself as having a sense of humor, but I just don't see "I'm gay" as a joke. But then again I know a number of theater/arts/fashion-employed guys who are not gay, and so I don't make the assumption that a guy interested in hair styles is gay.

I'm curious as to why you think someone saying "I'm gay, by the way," was meant as a joke. My experience is that people don't joke about being gay. The closest thing they get to a joke when discussing homosexuality is the Seinfeld quote, "Not that there's anything wrong with that," but the joke there is the speaker's denial of his obvious discomfort.

Josh Jasper said...

Dear Peggy Noonan: try living in a world where, once it gets out that you're gay, people who previousl called you friends end up treating you like utter shit.

Perhaps then you'll realize why gay men try and get that crap out of the way up front.

PS. Get over yourself.


Laura Reynolds said...

I agree with Joan. If it was a joke it was a bad joke and I don't think you can fault someone for not "getting it."

Ann Althouse said...

Well, I guess I've been "living in a world" where people say they are gay all the time and nothing bad at all happens. But to me, the humor's obvious. Noonan doesn't say where the statement in question was made, but I'll bet it was a very Blue-State place.

the critic said...

I think Noonan’s comment may well be a bit of a wisecrack itself, albeit a somewhat dry one that can easily be missed, and alludes to a greater criticism. I think this type of reading would be very typical of Noonan. I think she appreciated the young man’s comical affectation, but simply (and perhaps somewhat harshly) doesn’t find this humor sufficient to excuse the remark.

Her article is all about sharing private information. Her comment doesn’t just show that she thinks "I'm gay, by the way" is a terribly awkward introduction, but also that it perpetuates irresponsible behavior. Even if in jest, comments like that can (reasonably, I think) make someone feel awkward, even if they get the joke (assuming it is one). In any case, though, she seems to think such comments discourteous.

Defenses of introductions that include “I’m gay, by the way” don’t seem to hold much water. One defense of such a comment might be that ‘straight people stereotype and treat gays badly.’ This seems to be the reason why an earlier commenter on this very page says “gay men try and get that crap out of the way up front”. But this doesn’t do much more than illustrate a stereotyping and disrespect of straight people, generally, even if it does have anecdotal factual support.

So my reading of Noonan is something like a jab against people who wear personal details (of any kind) as a badge of honor, as if there is something so provocative about their life that other, mature adults often can’t handle knowing about this quality. It shows disrespect for and a superficial prejudgment of the person to whom the comment is made.

I think Noonan was trying to say that she’s a big enough person to accept that someone might be gay, and that to warn her as a prophylactic against the perceived inability to peaceably accept that fact is simply inappropriate. And the appropriateness of sharing personal details is, after all, the very subject of her column.

Jacob said...

I agree with Ann. I think I've used the same line in similar context and I'm a straight male (you're, uh, going to have to take my word on that). I was at a party once and a girl said to me: "You're so funny, just like Jack [from Will and Grace]" and I replied, "Well, we are both flamboyantly gay."

I have no idea why I just shared that.

Mark Daniels said...

Is it possible that the guy recognized Noonan and assuming that as a conservative, she would have prejudices, immediately "put her in her place," pointing out that this man who had paid her an appreciated compliment was gay?

This seems like one possible explanation, although I'm inclined to buy the one mentioned by an earlier commenter: The guy didn't want Noonan to think that he was hitting on her.

What all this says about Noonan's sense of humor may not be very conclusive.

Mark Daniels said...

Jacob, that is really funny. It reminded me of the conversation between Mel Gibson and Marisa Tomei in 'What Women Want.'

Unknown said...

Hmm, I wonder if Peggy Noonan thinks that someone is telling a stranger what they "do with their genitals" when they mention their wife, their kids, their boyfriend or their girlfriend?

Straight people bring up their sexuality constantly, without even being aware of it. The fact is that when straight people meet someone else, they usually assume the person they are meeting is straight as well. They have no problem asking someone if they are married, if they have kids, etc.

As a gay person (oops - am I revealing too much????), it is extremely uncomfortable when people instantly assume I am straight, as it means that I will have to, at a later date, have the conversation to tell them that I am gay. The longer you wait, the more awkward the conversation. Indeed, straight people will often say "why didn't you say anything sooner?"

I know gay people who say "Hi, my name is Joe. I'm gay" whenever they meet someone new. Better to get it out of the way sooner, rather than later.

Despite Peggy's best attempt to force all gay people back into the closet, where she wants us to be, she's lost that battle. And declaring that you are gay is a very public statement. And it has nothing to do with your sex life. If the person had mentioned his intimate sex acts from the prior night, that would be private. But saying you're gay, or introducing your partner, or mentioning your partner, is not a private matter. It is a public matter.

And yes - I have a hunch the guy was telling a joke. But even if he wasn't, Peggy is still wrong.

It's her bigotry that's offensive. Perhaps she should keep that private rather than writing a column about it.

miklos rosza said...

my sister is gay. my wife's best friend is gay. our next door neighbors are gay.

i've never met anyone who's introduced themselves by saying, "I'm Matt and I'm gay."

what's the comeback? "Good for you."?

slipping in a "my partner" is enough to settle things if there's ambiguity, at least here in portland, oregon.

what about "I'm Jane and I'm bisexual."?

this starts to get ridiculous pretty fast.

Ann Althouse said...

Miklos: more support for my view that it's a wisecrack.

Unknown said...

I think it definitely was a wisecrack.

But then again, I do know people who say "Hi. I'm gay".

Especially in a situation where you are meeting lots of new people for the first time. Such as college, for example. Do you want to have people whispering behind your backs that you're gay? If you happen to be gay, do you want to have to wonder who knows if you're gay and who doesn't? Believe it or not, many people will actually be upset with you if you don't tell them.

So why not get it out of the way as soon as you meet them?

Some people I work with know that I'm gay. As for the other 1000 people I work with, I have no clue whether they know or not. And let me tell you, that creates awkward moments every day. I'll be lunching with 10 people, and one person might ask me why I don't have a girlfriend. Now how am I supposed to answer that without revealing my sexuality? And that question would have been a hell of lot easier to answer had I just introduced myself and said "Hi. I'm Jim. I'm gay" when I had first met them.

Personally, I don't think I have the guts to do that. But I understand the tactic. Just get it out there, rather than leaving it as the big pink elephant in the middle of the room, that everyone is afraid to mention.

Sean Kinsell said...

Good grief. It's no wonder socializing can be so unpleasant nowadays, with every tossed-off remark considered fair game for scrutiny and psychoanalysis.

Some people just babble inane things every once in a while. If the man offered his hand (rather than waiting for the elder lady to offer hers as Grandma taught him), Noonan may have looked quizzical before taking it, and he may have mistakenly thought it was his question that had taken her aback, and the first obvious reason a man might ask a strange woman about her hair popped out of his mouth before he thought. There are thousands of possibilities, though I admit that Prof. Althouse's seems most likely.

Tom Grey said...

"What an odd way to say hello." -- I think this is quite humorous; I love Peggy's usually subtle humor.

I doubt that "I'm gay" was a joke, but getting it out there immediately seems a pretty good tactic to avoid the "why don't you have a girlfriend?" questions. (Because I like to use my genitals in a different way! ??)

Those who are gay need some social space in order to avoid the straight assumption, discussion of 'my partner' seems a good convention. It's quite likely that Peggy, like me, would actually prefer the gays to stay in the closet; Catholicism does claim it's sinful.

Hi, I'm a thief. Hi, I'm an adulterer. Hi, I'm an atheist. Most lifestyle sins are not publicized so early; but neither are assumptions so strong about it. (Hi, I'm a believer/ I'm a Republican, coming where .)

A good part of the culture war today is about whether or not Christians will be allowed to act as if they think gay behavior is sinful; or allowed to speak that thought. (downtownlad prolly would support hate speech censorship of Peggy's likely bigotry.)

Unknown said...

Wow Tom - Way to jump to conclusions about me.

Sorry - but I don't support censorship, although based on your words, I would put a lot of money that you do. Including trying to censor me, by trying to force all gay people back into the closet.

I don't even support hate crimes legislation. In fact I'm conservative on most of the major issues (pro-war, pro-life, pro-death penalty, less spending, less taxes, etc.)

Tell me Tom - You want gay people to stay quiet, because you think being gay is a sin. Do you think divorced people should refrain from mentioning that fact? Do you think people should not mention the fact that they are living with their girlfriend/boyfriend? Do you think people should refrain from mentioning that they ate a pork dinner? How about if they're a banker and charge userous interest?

That's nice that you think being gay is a sin. I really don't care. And you can publicize that all you want (as anti-gay people are very prone to do). Society can judge for itself whether or not your views are bigoted. At a minimum, your actions are "sinful" by your very own standards as Catholocism says that you should not judge others.

But gay people don't think that being gay is a sin. They know that gay people in the closet have much higher suicide rates than those who are out. And since we have nothing to be ashamed about, we're going to live our lives openly and proudly.

Will people like you and Peggy Noonan be offended? Maybe. Maybe not. But that's your problem, not mine.

Ann Althouse said...

Tom: "Those who are gay need some social space in order to avoid the straight assumption, discussion of 'my partner' seems a good convention."

That reminds me of the time I ran into one of my former students and asked him how things were going. He kept referring to his "partner," and the whole time I was thinking I didn't know he was gay, Only days later did it occur to me that he was referring to his partner in a two-person law firm.

Unknown said...

Ha Ha. I had the same experience at work. A colleague in London kept mentioning his partner.

Three months later, I found out that by "partner", he was referring to his wife. So it doesn't always work. Also, what if you're single?

The fact is that there aren't that many ways to let people know that you're gay. That's either by telling them or having someone else tell them.

I was 34 years old and had never had a girlfriend, and people were still surprised when I finally told them. Go figure.

Unknown said...

I have a question for Tom.

He prefers that all gay people stay in the closet.

How is a gay person supposed to stay in the closet without lying his entire life. Isn't lying a sin as well?

As someone who was in the closet for 34 years, I easily told over 1000 lies to cover up the fact that I was gay. The fact is that it is IMPOSSIBLE to stay in the closet without lying on numerous equations. Why don't you have a girlfriend? Why aren't you married? Can I fix you up on a date? Are you gay? Etc.

You can't answer those questions without revealing your sexuality.
So by staying in the closet, we are forced to lie.

Just curious how Tom thinks we should deal with this.

Ann Althouse said...

Downtownlad: "The fact is that there aren't that many ways to let people know that you're gay. " There's always asking them where they get their hair done.

Unknown said...

Or just mention how great the Madonna concert was...

Josh Jasper said...

Defenses of introductions that include “I’m gay, by the way” don’t seem to hold much water. One defense of such a comment might be that ‘straight people stereotype and treat gays badly.’ This seems to be the reason why an earlier commenter on this very page says “gay men try and get that crap out of the way up front”. But this doesn’t do much more than illustrate a stereotyping and disrespect of straight people, generally, even if it does have anecdotal factual support.

While I usualy agree with not saying "BTW, I'm gay" or some other such thing, Peggy Noonan is pretty much well known as anti-gay. In this case, we don't have all the facts, so who knows why they said it.

I generaly prefer to get knowledge of my sexuality out there in the open fairly quickly. My personal experiences are mine, not yours, and my pain at getting treated like shit by people who were friendly until they realized I was not straight is mine. I can't be sure, but I've probably lost jobs and promotions becaues of my sexuality. Finding out what people think of GLBT's is a defense mechanism.

Of course, some GLBT's in Ann's observation might not have the same experiences. Some have. Some are really battle scarred, and some have teflon skins.

We're all individuals (yes, lord, we are all individuals!) and we all act somewhat differntly. But I'll bet that getting sexual orientation out front is a noticable trend among GLBTs.

Is it a good idea? Is it polite? I can't say. It's hard to jusdge politeness in a world designed to treat me rudley. You or Ann may not see it, but you're not living in it, and it's rude to tell me my experiences and the experiences of others like me are not real, or not worth paying attention to unless you've experienced them too.

I'm not sure if that's what you're saying, but it sounds like it. Ann too. Neither of you know this man's story, and as far as I can tell, you're both straight (correct me if I'm wrong).

Ann Althouse said...

Josh: Do you perceive me as having told you your experiences aren't real??

Anyway, I didn't criticize the "I'm gay" guy. I defended him as having made a joke.

Bruce Hayden said...

My quasi-girlfriend, and now my 13 year old daughter, are always jumping on me for volunteering what they call unnecessary information to strangers. She says, with justification, that they usually don't want that much infirmation. And that was what this was - unnecessary information.

I have straight male friends who routinely do precisely what this guy did - give women compliments. One way they defuse this from being a come-on is by then stepping back. Works like a charm. The women take it just like it was intended - a true compliment.

I shouldn't generalize here, with Ann as the hostess, but women seem to like to be complimented. They do it to each other all the time. I find that I like doing it - in a non-come-on type of way. It makes her feel good. And it makes me feel good for doing it.

So, to me, the time for telling someone that you are gay is when it is relevant. Such as, for example, when someone asks about your girlfriend.

I, like most people these days, don't really care if you are gay. Indeed, I don't know if Ms. Noonan is a self-hating closet lesbian. Don't think so, but for me, it wouldn't detract from her columns.

Finally, I think that those who think her anti-gay don't read her enough. What seemed to bother her here, and, indeed, I think is seen in her columns, is what appears to be public flaunting of their sexuality. What she seems to be saying (IMHO) is that she doesn't want to know what you do in the bedroom, and isn't going to tell you what she does.

Unknown said...


How is saying you're gay describing what you do in the bedroom? If someone says they are straight, are they describing what they do in their bedroom? What if someone says they are NOT gay? What if they mention their spouse of kids, which usually implies they are straight? Is that describing what they do in their bedroom?

Telling people whether they are attracted to men or women is a public matter. Very public. Describing what someone does in the bedroom is a private matter.

I certainly don't picture someone's bedroom habits if I find out someone is straight, so why do straight people always picture someone's bedroom habits when they find out they are gay?

Peggy Noonan was quite clear that mentioning that you are gay is NEVER appropriate, as it is revealing too much information about what one does with their genetalia. I think that's a load of crap.

Coming out is not something gay people do just once. It is something we have to do day in and day out as we meet new people. And almost every gay person you meet will tell you that they hate it. It's awkward and annoying.

Gay people have different ways of coming out to people. Unless you're gay, I really don't think you'll ever truly understand how difficult this process can be. My family stopped speaking to me for six months when I told them.

So if this guy wants to tell everyone up front - and I still think he was just joking in this case - more power to him.

Unknown said...

Ann - I don't think you said anything inappropriate at all.

Josh's point was that most straight people don't understand how important it is for many gay people to get that fact out there (that they're gay) at some point in time. And we really can't jump to conclusions about why this guy said it. It's very possible that he wanted Peggy Noonan to know that, and it had nothing to do with her hair. Only the guy knows.

I have old friends that still do not know that I'm gay. Why? Because I talk to them like once a year. And when I do talk to them, I find myself pulling away from them because I'm not being fully open with them. Honestly - I'm tempted to just end these friendships rather have yet another "conversation". Is that really fair to my friend, to just dump them because I don't want to have a conversation about my being gay? No - the correct thing to do is to tell them.

So when people like Peggy Noonan start saying that we should keep that fact private from everyone, I say bullshit.

She has absolutely no clue the struggles that gay people have to go through. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining about it. I just want people to understand where we're coming from. There's a reason gay people are much more likely to commit suicide. Because for many gay people, killing yourself is a much easier proposition than letting people know you are gay. So when people do gather up the courage to talk about it, the last thing I want to do is discourage people from being honest abut themselves and those that they meet.

leeontheroad said...

Josh, I think you're missing something that isn't really yours to *have to( see. But here's what I think it is: for many folks (including, I suspect, some (closeted) gay folks), meeting "out" LGBT folks in many social settings is still new and can be socially uncomfortable.

Few if any like to be made socially uncomfortable-- the exact reason folks have been arguing that bringing up one's sexual orintation might be a social defense mechanism.

Anyway, the newness and discomfort I think shows when Peggy Noonan thinks that saying "I'm gay" is about "genital acts," as though heterosexuals and gay men don't involve themselves in similar genital acts-- just with folks of different sexes. Or that "gay" is always only a (kind of?) sexual activity, not an identity.

So the argument that mentioning one's spouse is *as much* about sexuality as saying "I'm gay" is almost right. The closer equivalent is of course for gay folks to refer to a "partner," as suggested. But I think that's quibbling, myself.

Because the problem for single folks is that one can't honestly use the partner OR spouse dodge. So after 10 minutes at a wedding or perhaps 40 at a professional conference, folks can say something that assumes that the one to whom they are speaking is both heterosexual and assuredly interested in being set up with an "appropriate" partner of the opposite sex.

Which is proper etiquette? To correct them, or to endure a baseless and incorrect (though probably not ill-intentioned) assumption?

Has Noonan never met a gay man at a social function before? We know she has. And so does she.

Unknown said...

Leeontheroad - Spot on!

Tom Grey said...

Thanks for only mild flames about my desire to want gays to remain in the closet. I also want a USA without an income tax. Both unlikely, though the first is less likely than the second.

Downtownlad said: "It's her bigotry that's offensive. Perhaps she should keep that private rather than writing a column about it." This quote is NOT, I agree, a call for hate speech legislation (thanks to dtl for clearing that up). Yet it is the same sentiment -- when polite calls for self censorship fail, hate speech laws based on the objection to bigotry have followed. Many Leftists seem, today, to feel that way about defending Israel, for instance -- and disinvite campus speakers who defend Israel.

(I just read about Dave Winer's whining at Blog Nashville.) Prolly because I share Peggy's distaste, I don't find her offensive.

There IS an important question -- how to stay in the closet without lying? Perhaps it's not possible; so it's not the right important question.
B) How to be polite about informing a (well known Catholic, merely gay-tolerant) person about your identity without being offensive? "Partner" suffers from business (even more than "gay" suffered from happiness as a synonym.) "Social partner"? or jokes?: "of course, I'm not interested in straights", "if your hair dresser was gay, I'd love to meet him" ... even in my mind jokes seem limp.

"I'm gay." Simple, blunt, honest. And socially uncomfortable; worse than "I'm divorced" (today more like I'm single, meaning "looking" or not). And that's the point. IS one looking for a new sex playmate, or not; and of which sex. ("Hi, I like little boys." Nope.) Perhaps if the "I'm gay" is said in a joking tone? Helps some. Then it becomes one of the "jokes than can only be said in a joke". (What was that mouthwash left in a boss's drawer?)

But you give the game away, a bit: "That's nice that you think being gay is a sin. I really don't care."

Your words and tone indicate you really do care. Yet so do I. And we'll disagree about it. Both gays and Christians disagree, and care, and think it important.

It's awkward to tell married folk who are about to get divorced -- 'no, don't, stop!' But getting divorced is a one-time (infrequent, anyway) action. Same-sex orientation IS who you are. (Born or raised, by puberty doesn't matter so much.)

Part of the Culture war is about how gays can live in peace with Christians who think their identity itself is sinful; and how Christians can love the sinning gay person, while hating the gay sex activity.

It was easier on the Christians when the gays just lied and stayed in the closet. That time's gone; though on this issue it's not clear the advantages of honesty are worth the disadvantages of tolerating sin. I suspect that both sides will remain unhappy with any intermediate position.