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Dear Little Bobby,
I was recently hanging out with some friends that are creative-types, meaning they are liberal artists. During the conversation, one of these friends mentioned someone who wasn’t around and said that their “gaydar” tells them this person is gay. I’m wondering, when someone claims to use “gaydar,” is that any different than being super judgmental about someone you don’t know and making very big assumptions about them?
—Trying to be kind
I applaud your effort of trying to be more kind. Trying is crucial if we want a better world for ourselves and others. We might frequently fail, but then we learn, try again, and try to do better. Those of us who do not even try…are…well, it’s obvious to tell who they are. Several of them have been running for President this year as Republicans.
When I first heard the term gaydar, it was many years ago and a gay friend was trying to tell me about how he could sometimes tell if someone was gay, based purely on his feeling. It involved observing the person and their behaviors, and watching the way they conduct themselves, the things they do and the choices they make. But even as a gay man with many, many years of putting this into practice, my friend was sometimes wrong in trying to figure out who was, and was not, gay.
The reason my friend was trying to, from a distance, tell if someone was gay or not was simple. It was the 1990s and we were in Texas, at a time and place where it was not safe to be perceived as gay. So not only were many gay men and women trying to hide their homosexuality—not holding hands in public, not wearing rainbow colors, not being open about themselves—but if a gay man was to hit on a man who was not gay, the person who was being hit on might take offense and bad things could happen.
That being said, most gay men I know would not dream of hitting on a random stranger unless—you guessed it—their gaydar told them that it was safe. It was, and is, a truly sad state of affairs that asking the wrong person on a date could get a gay man beaten or killed. If I ask a woman on a date, the last thing on my mind is, “She could take offense and then beat me to death.” And speaking as bisexual myself, being the victim of a “gay bashing” was something that had crossed my mind on more than one occasion when I was first visiting gay bars in downtown Dallas. After all, the murder of Matthew Shepard was all over the news in those days.
If you and your friends are discussing gaydar because a gay friend is wanting to pursue someone, to me that seems fine, and in fact, I wish that friend good luck.
But if you are just sitting around, spending time trying to “guess” who is and who is not gay, I would say that you are in fact being unnecessarily judgmental and shallow. Also, frequently you will be wrong. And unless you want to have sex with someone, what difference does the sexual orientation of another person make to you or anyone else? It is nosy and petty, something I expect from big-government-in-your-bedroom-Republican-types, not liberal artists. So let’s check our motivations.
—Little Bobby Tucker
“Do you like girls or boys? It’s confusing these days” —David Bowie, Hallo Spaceboy, 1995
Dear Little Bobby,
Sometimes when I am performing, playing and singing, I feel disconnected from the audience. Part of this is from nervousness and part of it is from looking out and seeing so many people talking or looking at their phones. How can I connect with, and interact with, the audience in a way that is more engaging?
—Disconnected On Stage
Looking out from a stage and seeing people who are ostensibly an audience, yet are fixated on the phones in their hands can be disheartening to say the least. Even as little as 10 years ago, this was not an issue. As I have seen this unfortunate change evolve over time, so has my reaction to it changed. I remember thinking that I needed to be louder and more bombastic to compel those in attendance to focus on me, our band and our songs. But I have since learned that being louder is not the way to accomplish this.
The key is confidence.
You say that you are partly nervous about performing. This can create a negative feedback loop where the audience feels that nervousness, then the nervous performer becomes even MORE nervous.
One way to counteract this very common fear (public speaking/singing) is by practicing, practicing and practicing to the point that when you are performing the piece you are solely performing it and not thinking about it. This is true of any activity in life: BE HERE NOW! When we are IN the moment, we are not, by definition, thinking about the moment. Meditative breathing techniques are also very beneficial for helping us be in the moment, unfettered by fear and nerves.
Once we have prepared ourselves for performing, the performance itself can help us. When we have experience with it, even though each performance is unique and open, our accumulated experiences of performing will be yet another source of strength for us when we sing, play, act, etc., and over time we can use that experience to improve.
After we have connected with our breath and our material, we can hopefully connect with the people in front of us. I see a lot of vocalists looking beyond those in attendance and singing to the back wall of a venue or they may even cock their head up and sing to the back ceiling. That is great if that works for them, but for me, I want to connect with the people who are standing in front of me as much as possible. So I purposefully make lots of eye contact and speak directly to them between songs. Sometime I refer to people by name when I see people I know. I make jokes that are personalized for the situation and I refer to current events, because each performance is of the moment.
Granted this is not for everyone, and it is not for every style of music, but what IS for everyone who wants to be a successful performer is confidence! Know the songs, breathe, be in the moment and then do your best to interact with the crowd to whatever degree you want. If the masses want to be fixated, looking down at their phones, then they will miss out on a lot of experiences, and have the resulting neck issues associated with that posture. You can only control you. Do your best. Give them something to look at and interact with. Give them a performance with which to be engaged. The rest will be as it should be, for better or worse.
Now let us put our damn phones down and go see some live music! It is SOOO much better than YouTube.
—Little Bobby Tucker
“Hey you, standing in the aisles with itchy feet and fading smiles…. Can you feel me?” —Pink Floyd, Hey You, 1979