On Modern Love: An Informal But Rather Telling Quantitative Analysis

20Jan08

We have long suspected that “Modern Love” — the weekly column in the Sunday Styles of The Times — has been a startlingly barren landscape for gay writers, particularly when you consider its location in what is undoubtedly the “gayest” section of the newspaper (and — oh yeah — the gayest city in the world), where queens of all ages are regularly hoisted up and gawked at for our incredible skills in the decorative arts.

At the outset — in the fall of 2004 — we enjoyed these short but literary treatments of “real-world” love scenarios; the prose was witty and urbane, even when the subject matter was “heavy.” In the words of editor Daniel Jones, the concept of the column is to “[cover] a wide range of relationship experience: marriage, death, divorce, parenthood, dating… the complexities of love in all its forms, often through a contemporary lens.”

On the gay front (and what is more “contemporary” than being — umm — openly gay?), one of the first columns was written by a gay woman about her Ozzie-and-Harriet lesbian relationship, which seemed promising; we looked forward to seeing more gay-authored love stories, which — as an added bonus — seemed like the perfect antidote to the more brittle (if occasionally amusing) stereotypes that marked the rest of the style section.

Yet as time passed (and as much as we enjoy hearing from our straight female friends, with whom — just to be clear — we have no axe to grind), we became increasingly frustrated by what seemed to be the relative dearth of gay writers, as if we (speaking broadly here) somehow were not qualified to write on — and again we quote Jones — “marriage, death, divorce, parenthood, and dating.” (Note that gay marriages were already being listed in the wedding section by this point, and with much greater frequency than gay “Modern Love” columns.) Occasionally something would be published by or about a gay man or woman, but the rarity of these columns — which in no way seemed to reflect the population of our city — felt insulting. As Morrissey once sang: “It says nothing to me about my life!”

We wondered if we were purposely being ignored, or if we were just oversensitive. Could it really be possible that Jones received so few submissions from openly gay writers? Time passed; the situation did not improve; the question festered: what was up with “Modern Love”? Was it a snake-pit of insidious homophobia? We had to figure it out.

So today, with an eye to prove or disprove our long-held conspiracy theory, we decided to perform an informal quantitative analysis of the column. We found the results quite telling, and wanted to share them with you as soon as possible. First a word on methodology: we broke authorship and subject matter down into a range of categories — listed below — and assigned each of the 163 columns to one (and only one) category. While this entailed some very subjective line-drawing (e.g., did a column fall into “straight woman relationship” or “straight woman break-up”), with only one exception it wasn’t difficult to identify the gender and sexual orientation of the author, i.e., the straight/gay line was very bright indeed.

Now for the actual results: Listed are the categories in order of popularity, followed by tallies/hash marks and absolute totals, along with with descriptions/summaries of gay content and links:

Straight Woman on Relationships iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii i (36)

Straight Woman on Family iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii (35)

Straight Woman on “Looking for Love” iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii i (31)

Straight Woman on Breaking Up iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iii (23)

Straight Man on Relationships iiiii iiiii (10)

Straight Man on Breakup iiiiii (6)

Straight Woman on Gay Men iiiii i (6)
My Father Came Out and Died of AIDS
I Married My Gay Best Friend To Save Him from Being Exported
I Was a Surrogate Mother for a Gay Couple
I Was a Fag Hag at My Gay Friends’ Wedding
I Married a Fag and Still Regret it Even Though I’m Getting Remarried
I Tried To Convert a Fag and I’m So Hot it Almost Worked

Straight Man on Family iiiii (5)

Straight Man on “Looking for Love” iiii (4)

Gay Man on Family ii (2)
Dan Savage: My Son’s Birth Mother Is a Really Shitty Mom
God Help Me I’m Moving in with My Dying Mother and Sleeping in Her Bed

Gay Woman on Relationship i (1)
We’re a Lesbian Couple But We Act Like Ozzie and Harriet

Gay Woman on Family i (1)
I Wish I Had Used an Old Gay Friend of Mine Instead of an Anonymous Sperm Donor

Gay Man on Self-Hatred i (1)
To Be More Manly I Started Following the Patriots

Gay Man on Prom Date i (1)
High School Senior: I’m Helping Out All My “Girlfriends” Who Can’t Get Dates

Ambiguous i (1)
Judging from the Illustration I’m Probably a Gay Male Nurse — I Definitely Overprescribed Painkillers to a Crazy Bitch

So — to sum up — a whopping total of 6 (out of 163!) columns were written by openly gay writers. What is even more telling — and really, more disturbing — is that to date not a single piece has been written by a gay man describing what it’s like to be in a gay relationship, or even looking for one. We were further dismayed that more straight women have written about gay men than gay men! All of this makes us feel like animals in the zoo.

Rather than speculate about exactly what’s going on here, we would like to suggest that these numbers represent (to put in legal terms) a prima facie case of a biased editorial policy (to say the least). We think that Daniel Jones and his editors at The Times owe New York City an explanation, and we hope that you’ll join us in asking for one.

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