By Kaylia Metcalfe
OK, I’ll admit it. I skim.
I see headlines, I nod along if I agree, shake my head if I don’t and many times move on to the next sensational headline in my Facebook newsfeed. (Or, as the case may be, the next photo of someone’s baby/cat/lunch.)
“Gay and Bi Men Are Happier Than Straight Dudes” Sure, I think, why not? I file it away to maybe pull out in some future conversation and then move on.
I know I’m not the only one who skims and who sometimes just reads headlines. Let’s face it, life is short and there are a lot of interesting/sexy/shocking headlines out there to read! And a lot of baby/pet/food photos to “like.”
But we need to be careful. We need to be aware of our own assumptions and blind spots. Let’s say that headline had said “Blonds are happier than brunette women!” Well, as a brunette woman I would have been dismayed and would probably have wanted to read the article hoping that the title was misleading, hoping that it was only Bottle Blonds who were happier, hoping that at the very least redheads had been proven to be even less happy than us brown-haired people.
But if the headline doesn’t go against what I either already believe or, better yet, what I “want” to believe, I might not bother to read further. Like the “Dude” article from before.
Here’s another trap. Let’s say that the headline makes me happy but it sounds just a bit too good to be true: “Brunettes Proven to Be Smarter and Sexier Than Blonds.” There is a chance that I might look and see where the article originated from. There is a big difference if the headline comes from The Onion or, say, the American Journal of Science.
Let’s go back to the original headline: “Gay and Bi Men Are Happier Than Straight Dudes.” I would be shocked if the AJS used the word dude, so let’s see who is making this claim.
Thank goodness! A reputable gay-friendly media source! This isn’t a fly-by-night blogger, this isn’t satire. I mean, sure, the Advocate is biased, but it is biased my way and it does tend to cite its sources.
So there, the headline stays and we all breathe a sigh of relief.
But wait—there’s more. Travel with me into the rabbit hole of actually reading the article, actually using our critical thinking skills, of moving past—gasp—the headline.
… where we learn that the study actually “found that queer folks who had come out to their family and friends ‘have less anxiety, depression, and burnout’ than those who hadn’t.”
So, right off the bat we are talking about a group of people who have come out and who are glad about it. Not just general population gay and bi and straight men. I hope a red flag of concern just went up in your head.
Let’s keep reading!
… where we learn that the study that “proved” this extraordinary claim involved “the study of 87 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual Canadians — some out, some still in the closet ”
First off, I’m not sure how my lesbian sisters and female bi sisters appreciate being ignored in the article’s title… unless we are now all “dudes” and I just didn’t get the memo.
Second, and more importantly, 87 people? 87?
87 people that represent four different sexual orientations… and three of those orientations split into the “In” or “Out” category? Let’s pretend that they attempted to do the splits as equally as possible (even though we have no way of knowing for sure). That would be 21.75 people in each sexual orientation…. Meaning that we would have 65 people in the LGBT community and 22(ish) in the Straight community. And of the 65, maybe half are still in the closet and half aren’t? Or more? Or less? How did they find these people? What rubric did they use to determine happiness? Wealth? Family Acceptance? Sex Life? Religion? Travel? Education? Number of Hours on Facebook? Oh… and let’s not forget that they are Canadian!
I have no problem with Canada… but let’s take a quick look at the state of LGBT rights in Canada: LGBT rights in Canada are the most advanced in the Americas. LGBT Canadians have most of the same legal rights as non-LGBT citizens, and are extended more legal rights than many other nations where homosexuality is legal. Since 2005, Canada has offered civil marriage rights nationwide to same-sex couples. Canada was the third nation in the world where same-sex marriages were legally performed (commencing in 2003 in the province of Ontario), the fourth nation in the world to perform same-sex marriages nationwide, the first nation in the Americas to perform such marriages nationwide, and performed the first ever legally recognized same-sex marriage in the world (January 2001).
Wait… you might be saying… small sample size aside, surly the study was done by a reputable organization! Well, sure. The study in question was performed by the University of Montreal… Montreal, by the way, has the second-largest population of LGBT people in Canada and the largest gay district in North America.
Which means that if you take a (statistically TINY) sample of people from one of the most accepting cities in one of the most accepting countries in the world… you find people who are generally happy with who they are after coming out.
What this tells us, really, is that there are a lot of happy gay and bi men (and possibly women) in Montreal. Well, at least 65. Probably.
But wait… my favorite part of the article is this line: “The study is a surprise since it comes on the heels of other studies that pointed to high levels of depression in LGBT folks, especially during the coming-out process.”
What other studies you might wonder?
The article links to a study done by McGill Hill in which using “Two-hundred and twenty participants recruited through multiple sampling strategies….” found that internalized homophobia is a factor in depression, anxiety, and suicide in the gay and lesbian population… especially during the time of coming out.
There are other studies that basically say the same thing….dozens of them. Some with good sample sizes, some without. Some done by reputable sources, some not so much.
The point is that this “dude” study shouldn’t be a surprise; it should be an eye rolling object lesson in how not to do a study.
So, let’s get back to our headline. “Gay and Bi Men Happier than Straight Dudes.”
Sensational and optimistic? You bettcha! Misleading? Yeah. Possibly inaccurate? Definitely.
Now whether or not you are glad you went down the rabbit hole with me, the point remains: When it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
So next time you see an article on Facebook (or wherever you get your news) take a moment to go ahead and read past the headline. Proven right or proven wrong, you will be more knowledgeable for taking the time.
I will leave you with two quotes and the URLs to the articles in question.
“Information is not knowledge.”—Albert Einstein
“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”—George Bernard Shaw
The URLs to the articles referenced herein are www.advocate.com/health/mental-wellness/2013/01/30/gay-and-bi-men-are-happier-straight-dudes and www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15868835.
Kaylia Metcalfe is a brunette writer, blogger and activist in Fresno. She is a cofounder of Skeptics Without a Cause and serves on the Gay Central Valley Board of Directors. Her short story collection “Links” is available on www.amazon.com. Contact her at email@example.com.