Many have questioned Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s qualifications to be the President of the United States, including some of his fellow Democratic candidates. I recently say a New York Times op-ed titled “Why Pete Buttigieg Annoys His Democratic Rivals” exploring how many find Buttigieg to be irritating and difficult to take seriously considering his age, lack of experience, and perceived naïvité. However, I feel like many find it surprisingly easy to take Buttigieg seriously considering the “straight-passing” privilege he holds.
Many gay men, myself included, find it difficult to be taken serious in professional, academic, and even social situations. This difficulty is exacerbated by how feminine, flamboyant, or stereotypically “gay” we are viewed as. Buttigieg dresses plainly, speaks in a monotone manner, and served in the military (the pinnacle of American masculinity). In addition to his whiteness, Buttigieg’s ability to “pass” as straight allows for him to be taken serious by news outlets and American voters.
Typically the term “passing” when it comes to race, gender, and sexuality implies that a member of a marginalized group can interact with others under the presumption that they belong to the privileged group. The appearance, mannerisms, or voice of someone who passes will not immediately “out” them. Everyone who knows Buttigieg knows that he is gay, so he is not operating under the guise of a straight man. However, Buttigieg’s lack of stereotypically gay traits allows for people to ignore his gayness at their convienicence. The straight moderate can choose to acknowledge Buttigieg’s gayness when it’s convenient and ignored when it’s uncomfortable.
When we look at other gay men who are in the public eye, we can see a different in the way media treat them based on how “gay” they may seem. The cast of Queer Eye represents some of the most famous gay men in contemporary media.
Jonathan Van Ness, known for his flamboyance and bubbly personality, has received extensive media attention. While he serves as an incredibly important figure to represent the LGBTQ+ community, the media appearances he gets are evening talk shows and beauty magazines discussing topics such as fashion, skin care, and ice skating. Jonathan did not start receiving more serious media coverage until his recent reveal of his HIV+ status.
This is not to say that Antoni’s media coverage is better or more valid than Jonathan’s because it is more “masculine”. Jonathan’s femininity is something I relate to myself and he is necessary representation for LGBTQ+ in the media. However, the different in media treatment between Jonathan and Antoni allows for some insight on how we view gay men in the media.
I am in no way saying that Buttigieg is not “gay” enough to be celebrated or embraced by the LGBTQ+ community. Gay men can come in any appearance or presentation. However, it’s important for us to consider how he has been able to be taken seriously in one of the most elite and important professional spheres in America.