TIME sexuality

The Surest Sign That Homophobia Still Exists Is the Size of America’s Closet

SF Gay Pride Parade Bolstered By Recent Supreme Court Rulings
Sarah Rice—Getty Images

Michelangelo Signorile is the author of It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality.

The presumption of victory whitewashes the hardship of millions of Americans

As opponents of LGBT rights in Indiana and elsewhere advance a backlash against marriage equality, promoting “religious freedom” bills and other legislation targeting gays across several states in recent months, it’s becoming clear that the struggle for full equality will continue for a long time to come. This reality defies what some in the media, and even many gay activists themselves, have portrayed as a state of near total victory as they anticipate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down same-sex marriage bans in all 50 states come the end of June.

Evidence of how deeply entrenched homophobia remains can be found in the research of Google data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. Using a variety of data sets — Gallup surveys, U.S. census data, Facebook profiles, Craigslist ads, Google searches, and dating and relationship sites such as Match.com — Stephens-Davidowitz determined that the closet in America among gay men is still much bigger than many might imagine. Men in many parts of the country, it seems from this data, are still afraid to come out. And the climate of homophobia that keeps these people in the closet is causing a great deal of pain and suffering. As a heterosexual man who attended Harvard, lived in liberal enclaves all his life, and supported gay rights, Stephens-Davidowitz told me he believed we’d come much further than we actually had. Instead, his research showed just how far LGBT people are from true victory.

After determining that the percentage of men attracted primarily to men is roughly equivalent in states throughout the country, based on dating site and adult-content searches, Stephens-Davidowitz was able to draw some preliminary conclusions. The barriers preventing men from building openly gay lives in certain parts of the country are clearly specific to the local social climate. For instance: The rate of Craigslist searches by men seeking casual encounters with men is higher in Mississippi than in New York, while there’s a higher rate of gay men seeking dates and relationships on Match.com in New York than in Mississippi.

“The closet doesn’t just mean you don’t announce your sexuality on Facebook,” Stephens-Davidowitz said. “It’s influencing people’s lives in a big way.” For a closeted gay or bisexual man in Mississippi or someplace like it, in other words, a relationship with a man may seem impossible. Some men in this situation are married to women or are trying to pass as heterosexual while seeking secretive, casual encounters on the side.

Regardless of geography, of course, not everyone is looking for a relationship. Many people who are openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual, too, enjoy being single or constructing various kinds of relationships. But Stephens-Davidowitz points to one horribly confining and terribly sad effect of homophobia in conservative parts of the country and even in conservative areas of more liberal regions: It allows gay and bisexual men in these regions to seek only furtive, often dangerous sexual encounters with other men rather than making free choices about their sexual and emotional interactions and enjoying the rites of passage of dating and relationships just as heterosexuals do.

Looking at Google searches, Stephens-Davidowitz found that the question “How do I know if my husband is gay?” is far more common than “How do I know if my husband is cheating?” or “How do I know if my husband is depressed?” Moreover, the highest percentage per capita of “How do I know if my husband is gay?” searches come from conservative parts of the country, with South Carolina at number 1, followed by Kentucky and Louisiana.

Stephens-Davidowitz noted that a woman’s asking Google this question doesn’t mean her husband is necessarily gay or bisexual. Again, it’s the consistent patterns among various data sets that permit him to offer the conclusions. The fact that he saw more men searching for casual encounters with men in these places, fewer men looking for long-term relationships with men, and more women searching for answers about whether their husbands are gay added up to something. Stephens-Davidowitz determined that, on Facebook (which is, of course, not anonymous, and where users can identify their sexual orientation), about half of gay men nationally do not identify publicly as gay or bisexual. In more conservative places, again using Mississippi as an example, that figure goes up to 80%.

The fascinating demographics of gay men in Stephens-Davidowitz’s research point to a broader fact: Far fewer people are openly gay (or, we can assume, openly lesbian or bisexual) than we have come to think, even in perhaps the most liberal places, and it’s extremely difficult to be out in many parts of the country. The presumption of victory whitewashes the hardship of millions of Americans — not just lesbians and gays themselves but also the spouses and children of people living in the closet.

Some of these phenomena may be partly generational. “In Gallup polls, among people under the age of 30, more than 6 percent of adults tell pollsters they’re gay,” Williams Institute Demographer Gary Gates told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2013, discussing Stephens-Davidowitz’s findings. That’s double the rate for adults over 30. “Is that really because young people are gayer?” Gates asked. “I think a large piece of that is younger people are growing up in an environment where this is acceptable, so they’re willing to identify themselves as gay.”

That is a measure of some progress, likely in some places while not in others. But it’s far from near victory.

Adapted from It’s Not Over by Michelangelo Signorile to be published on April 7th, 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Copyright © 2015 by Michelangelo Signorile. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

I Was Ashamed and Silent About Being Raised by Two Women

Gay Parents
Getty Images

Ariel Chesler is an attorney and writer in New York. He lives with his wife and two daughters, and one cat. He is the son of feminist author and psychologist Phyllis Chesler.

The Supreme Court can make sure a new generation of kids never knows this pain

Like a majority of children currently raised by same-sex couples, I was born to a heterosexual couple who divorced. The pain and anger I felt because of the absence of my father in my home was something people understood, and it was something I was able to share with others. On the other hand, even though I was taught to be comfortable with myself, I understood and internalized the sense that something was wrong with my new family after my mom began a relationship with her first long-term girlfriend — who lived with us and helped raise me during my formative years, eventually earning her the title “other mother” — and I was ashamed and silent about being raised by two women.

I did not talk about it with my closest friends, with whom I shared everything from my fears and anger to my crushes on girls. Even though these friends were in my home on a weekly basis, it was simply not discussed. Not by me. Not by them. Never.

This shame was so great that I broke my silence and “came out” about my family in the oddest way. When a girl I loved and dated my senior year of high school decided to end our romantic relationship, I was so heartbroken that I suddenly began talking about my family to her in the midst of our breakup. Somehow, the pain of the breakup and the shame I had been holding inside for years became one, and they flowed out of me together. Still, I did not begin to talk to others about it until nearly a year after that breakthrough, when I participated in a panel in a college women’s studies course and publicly shared my story. Later, I wrote about my family in an autobiography course and began sharing my writing with close friends. It was truly liberating to be able to speak about this part of my life after years of avoidance and silence.

Opponents of marriage equality continue to focus on the alleged harms children of same-sex couples will suffer if same-sex marriage is legalized, thus attempting to make the issue all about the children. This strategy makes sense since nearly every other argument against marriage equality has been rejected.

Indeed, there can be no legitimate governmental interest in discriminating against private relationships based on the sex or sexuality of those in the relationship. So while this civil rights struggle is about recognizing the equal humanity of gays and lesbians and their right to have their relationships treated equally in the law, the truth is that it is also very much about the children.

And the research on children raised by same-sex couples concludes that same-sex parents are no disadvantage to them; there is no basis for believing that kids develop better in a household led by a man and a woman. In fact, studies have shown that while the emotional and mental health of children raised by heterosexual couples is essentially the same as those raised by gay parents, children of same-sex couples are more open-minded and empathetic, more self-aware, more adept at communicating their feelings. Because they are typically not subjected to rigid gender roles, they are freer to pursue a wide range of interests.

The keys to a healthy childhood are stability and love. Having two mothers during my formative years saved me because it gave me the stability, support and love I needed. The shame I felt and the stigma I experienced was unnecessary. Children should not be stigmatized because their families are different from the “norm,” whether they are raised in an interracial family, in a single-parent household or by a same-sex couple. Yet when the law does not recognize your family, stigma and fear are perpetuated and reinforced.

Now, the Supreme Court has a chance to finish the job once and for all and decide that the 14th Amendment requires every state in this great country to license a marriage between two people of the same sex. I make this appeal to the Justices, and particularly to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who two years ago in the Proposition 8 case recognized that “It’s the voice of those children” of same-sex couples that should be heard. As one of those children, I say, Do it for us.

Beyond the significant legal rights that will be afforded to children of same-sex couples who marry, including inheritance, adoption, hospital visitation rights, and other rights that ensure stability for the children, my appeal to the Justices is most concerned with the human element of the matter and the real-life effects of the ruling.

As Justice Scalia has remarked, the law reflects our society’s moral judgments. Our laws have reflected a moral judgment that same-sex relationships are lesser and not worthy of recognition by the government. In addition to the harm caused to those in same-sex relationships, children raised by gays and lesbians have suffered because of this moral judgment. It’s time for the highest court in our land to reflect a new moral judgment that same-sex couples should no longer be stigmatized, that their relationships should be recognized by the law and that their children will be better off for it.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME sexuality

No Ben Carson, Homosexuality Is Not a Choice

Pointing the wrong way: Carson is just plain wrong on the science
Richard Ellis; Getty Images Pointing the wrong way: Carson is just plain wrong on the science

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A presidential hopeful (and a doctor) gets the science all wrong—and makes things worse when he tries to explain himself

If you’re a candidate dreaming of the White House with virtually no chance of actually winding up there, it sometimes helps to say something ridiculous—if only to get your name-recognition numbers up. That is the very best and most charitable explanation for comments by Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, on CNN, arguing that homosexuality is “absolutely” a choice. His evidence? Prison.

“A lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight and when they come out, they’re gay,” he said. “So did something happen while they were in there?”

Prison, of course, is the worst of all possible examples Carson could have chosen—conflating sexuality with circumstance. Men confined together for years without women remain sexual beings and may take whatever outlet is available to them. Something similar was true in a less enlightened era of gay men and women who were forced to marry people of the opposite sex, and who dutifully produced children and tried to satisfy their partners despite the fact that they were getting little satisfaction themselves.

Carson, who was blowtorched in both social and mainstream media for his remarks, quickly walked them back, issuing a statement that, in some ways, only made things worse. “I’m a doctor trained in multiple fields of medicine, who was blessed to work at perhaps the finest institution of medical knowledge in the world,” he wrote. “Some of our brightest minds have looked at this debate, and up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality.”

That statement could indeed have the virtue of being true—provided it was issued in 1990. But since then, there’s been a steady accumulation of evidence that sexuality—like eye color, nose size, blood type and more—is baked in long before birth. The first great breakthrough was the 1991 study by neuroscientist Simon LeVay finding that a region in the hypothalamus related to sexuality known as INAH3 is smaller in gay men and women than it is in straight men. The following year, investigators at UCLA found that another brain region associated with sexuality, the midsagittal plane of the anterior commissure, is 18% larger in gay men than in straight women and 34% larger than in straight men.

One cause of the differences could be genetic. In 1993, one small study suggested a connection between sexual orientation and a section on the X chromosome called Xq28, which could predispose men toward homosexuality. The small size of the study—only 38 pairs of gay brothers—made it less than entirely reliable. But a study released just last year expanded the sample group to 409 pairs of brothers and reached similar conclusions.

Genes are not the only biological roots for homosexuality. Womb environment is thought to play a significant role too, since part of what determines development of a fetus is the level and mix of hormones to which it is exposed during gestation. In 2006, psychologist Anthony Bogaert of Brock University in Canada looked into the never-explained phenomenon of birth order appearing to shape sexuality, with gay males tending to have more older brothers than straight males. Working with a sample group of 944 homosexual and heterosexual males, Bogaert found that indeed, a first born male has about a 3% chance of being gay, a number that goes up 1% at a time for each subsequent boy until it doubles to 6% for a fourth son.

The explanation likely involves the mother’s immune system. Any baby, male or female, is initially treated as an invader by the mother’s body, but multiple mechanisms engage to prevent her system from rejecting the fetus. Male babies, with their male proteins, are perceived as slightly more alien than females, so the mother’s body produces more gender-specific antibodies against them. Over multiple pregnancies with male babies, the womb becomes more “feminized,” and that can shape sexuality.

A range of other physical differences among gay men and lesbians also argue against Carson’s thinking—finger length for instance. In heterosexual men, the index finger is significantly shorter than the ring finger. In straight women, the index and ring fingers are close to the same length. Lesbian finger length is often more similar to that of straight males. This, too, had been informally observed for a long time, but in 2000 a study at the University of California, Berkeley, seemed to validate it.

Lesbians also seem to have differences in the inner ear—of all unlikely places. In all people, sound not only enters the ear but leaves it, in the form of what are known as otoacoustic emissions—vibrations that are produced by the interaction of the cochlea and eardrum and can be detected by instruments. Heterosexual women tend to have higher frequency otoacoustic emissions than men, but gay women don’t. Still other studies have explored a link between homosexuality and handedness (with gays having a greater likelihood of being left-handed or ambidextrous) as well as hair whorl (with the hair at the crown of gay men’s heads tending to grow counterclockwise), though there are differing views on these last two.

Clearly, none of us choose our genetics or finger length or birth order or ear structure, and none of us choose our sexuality either. As with so many cases of politicians saying scientifically block-headed things, Carson either doesn’t know any of this (and as a doctor, he certainly should) or he does know it and is pretending he doesn’t. Neither answer reflects well on his fitness for political office.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME sexuality

Fifty Shades of Grey Gets Women Into Porn, Research Says

After reading the best-selling book, some women begin using pornography for the first time

E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is introducing more women to porn — at least according to a narrow study conducted at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

Researcher Diana Parry interviewed 28 women in their 20s to 50s about their pornography habits. She discovered that women in the group increased their consumption of sexually explicit content after reading the book.

“So many of the women [we interviewed] were hopping in for the first time to pornography or sexually explicit material that was written by women for women,” Parry told Salon in an interview.

“I find it’s motivating women. It is exposing them to a genre of material that they either didn’t know existed or they didn’t know that they liked,” the professor said.

Parry employed a broad definition of porn, using a catchall label of “sexually explicit material” to reduce stigma surrounding erotica, porn websites and other sexual entertainment.

“But I think we need a cautionary note around it, because while they open up opportunities and provide women with unprecedented access to new genres or ways of thinking about their sexuality, at the same time, many of the scripts that are reproduced are really patriarchal scripts around women’s sexuality.”

[Salon]

TIME Sex

Fifty Shades of Grey and How One Sex Act Went Mainstream

A cultural evolution, from 'Fanny Hill' to 'Fifty Shades'

In 1976, a survey was distributed to American women through magazines like Cosmopolitan. The questions it asked were personal — very personal — and the answers, compiled in The Hite Report, were a landmark insight into female sexuality. Women were asked to describe their experiences, desires and disappointments. In a 1987 story, TIME praised the report’s author, Shere Hite as “the doyenne of sex polls” and “liberator of the female libido.”

(Read more from TIME’s archive on Shere Hite and her research on sex in America.)

In their anonymous responses, women vented and raved about both sexual practices and social attitudes. One of the findings that might shock audiences today, however, was actually one of the least “free love” of all. Buried in the section about receiving oral sex (and not even listed in the index), was a question about fellatio. One woman’s comment (expressed in blunter language than can be used here): “I would consider [it] with a loaded gun at my head. No other way.”

Reading that line, I wondered where that woman is now. Perhaps she’ll be one of the millions of people off to see Fifty Shades of Grey this week: the story of a young woman’s sexual awakening in which said act accounts for some of the tale’s least provocative moments. Advice about it is now a staple of Cosmopolitan today; indeed, today’s readers are told that it’s basically “the kickoff…for sex.”

How did attitudes change, and so quickly? As recently as the 1970s, this was certainly not something that a gentleman would expect. Today, the act is something more like bread before dinner: noteworthy only if it’s absent.

But there’s more to the history behind that change than a simple move toward permissiveness — and, it turns out, the ubiquity and “standardness” of fellatio is perhaps not as widespread as one might believe.

***

Fellatio has been happening for as long as humans have been around, and there are references to it from ancient Peru and classical Rome. Cultures and religions, however, have not all taken—and still do not take—the same attitude towards it.

I went to the Kama Sutra, thinking that would be an obvious starting place for historical ideas about the topic, but its discussion of fellatio is fairly brief, associating it with dirty and loose women. (Interestingly, the Kama Sutra spends much longer on the erotic quality of using one’s fingernails to impress dents in a lover’s skin.)

That classic of the dirty book canon, 1748’s Fanny Hill, makes no reference at all to fellatio, which suggests it wasn’t something commonly offered in London brothels at the time (or else that it wasn’t something that the clammy-handed readers of smut novels were expected to want). In American legal texts of the early 1900s, fellatio was clearly for fellas. The statutes referring to it, originally falling under the vaguely defined idea of “unnatural acts,” were about catching gay men. Hetero oral sex tended to get passing references in pre-World War II sex manuals, the kind that talk about the need for a man to “instruct” his presumably virgin bride. Apparently some healthy couples indulged in this kind of thing, the message ran, but it’s not part of most people’s repertoire. In 1919’s Sexual Truth Versus Sexual Lies, Misconceptions, and Exaggerations, the author wrote that cunnilingus and fellatio “are very common in the less worthy marriages.”

In his 2000 study, The Social Organization of Sexuality, sexual behaviorist E. O. Laumann theorized that oral sex became more popular in the 1920s. Laumann’s surveys, which describe the sexual histories of various age cohorts, show a big jump in oral sex right about the time when the baby boomers started hooking up. The sexual revolution brought fellatio into the public consciousness, via its most famous practitioner, Linda Lovelace.

Despite the counter-cultural frisson of the subversive act going mainstream, there’s indication that not everyone was on board with it at this point. Women started to write about fellatio, but as something they merely did, much more rarely as something they enjoyed. The narrator of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying (1974) references it, unpleasantly. Indeed, as Samantha, the most liberated of the group on Sex and the City, consoled a friend, “there’s a reason it’s called a job.”

The act is barely depicted or mentioned in mainstream films at all before the 1990s, when the act itself became a well-known activity in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton made famous the notion that fellatio is “not sex”, and 60% of teenagers today agree with him. (The idea that it is “not sex” could go part of the way to explaining why people tend not to use protection for it.) At the time of the Starr Report, Newsweek warned readers that some of the activities described would make readers “want to throw up”, which does suggest that their readers in the 1990s (or at least the editors at Newsweek) were still not of the view that the President’s predilections were “standard.”

***

Even today, the “everyone’s doing it” attitude that prevails in sex writing is not entirely accurate.

Perhaps the reason we’ve come to believe that everyone is into oral sex is because it’s most common among white people, and it’s white sex writers who are saying that it’s universal. Yes, 75% of white college women reported in 2001 having done it at least once, according to a 2001 study called “Race, gender, and class in sexual scripts,” but only 56% of Latina and 34% of African American college women say they have. (Of these groups, only 55, 46, and 25%, respectively, describe performing fellatio as appealing).

Other research over the last twenty years bears out these ethnic differences. Among college students in the ’90s in Canada, whites were more likely than Asians to participate in oral sex. In the U.S., a national survey in 2002-2003 of women ages 15 to 44, showed that 84.3% of white women had engaged in fellatio at least once, while only 60% of Hispanic women, and 57.4% of black women had. (That’s “ever in your life,” not “regularly.”) That study’s authors found that whiteness correlated highly with practicing oral sex: “White race, age of 20-44 years, being married and having higher numbers of life time ex-partners were related to having ever given oral sex.”

In addition, though the act is much more common than it once was in mainstream films and TV, not every pop-cultural depiction has caught up with the idea that it’s standard. In some cases, it’s still used as shorthand to suggest that the man receiving it is a jerk. He’s an adulterer, a corrupt cop, or from Wall Street. The message to viewers is disregard for these scumbags mixed with (depending on the film) some level of reluctant admiration for this jerk who manages to be on the receiving end. The message is generally less mixed for the woman involved. For her, the transaction is degrading. Even Tony Soprano thought that it was only for a certain type of woman: when asked why he had a mistress, he explained that his wife “kisses my kids with that mouth.”

In the 2013 film Don Jon, which is hilariously honest about casual sex, the main character describes his girlfriend (played by Scarlett Johansson) as too hot to need to give oral sex—as though that were something only unattractive women have to do, to compensate for their other failings.

Indeed, fellatio is often seen in pop culture as the act of a desperate supplicant begging for favor (see: every single joke ever about a woman earning a promotion on her knees), a source of homophobic innuendo or simply as some kind of punishment.

So how can something that almost “everyone” is doing also be something bad? After a century of rapid evolution in attitudes toward fellatio, we’ve arrived at the warped mindset that something that is seen as degrading and awful is also often seen as obligatory for straight women — and perhaps made even more disturbing by the fact that we ignore the people who prove it’s not obligatory at all.

These cultural differences and paradoxes are ignored in the “this item is standard” mindset. I spoke to several friends while writing this piece, and one told me of having the offer of fellatio declined: the man is from a culture where that just isn’t done. By normalizing a predominantly white practice—and not even one that all white people do—the message is “your culture is having sex incorrectly.”

It’s hard to reconcile a sex-positive attitude that was supposed to allow women freedom to express their needs with the mindset that says oral sex is compulsory. In fifty years, fellatio has gone from a niche (and in many places illegal) sexual activity—which at least would have offered the frisson of an illicit thrill—to something not only normal, but also presented by mainstream culture as obligatory.

And as attitudes toward the one act have changed, that progression has perhaps created space for other acts to move from niche to mainstream (see porn, Internet). And other formerly-rare practices among heterosexuals seem to be heading towards that tipping point. Just look at Fifty Shades of Grey. If you’re looking for a hint that bondage and sadomasochism have breached the mainstream, how about an R-rated movie that breaks ticket presale records? Though Anastasia Steele’s oral-sex choices might have once scandalized audiences, today they’re just filler before the real action begins.

TIME psychology

A Half-Century of Conflict Over Attempts to ‘Cure’ Gay People

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From the Feb. 12, 1965, issue of TIME An excerpt from the Feb. 12, 1965, issue of TIME

The history of treatment of homosexuality shows that psychiatry may need a cure of its own

Fifty years ago today, TIME ran a short article under the headline, “Homosexuals Can Be Cured.” The article reported that male homosexuals responded well to group psychotherapy, under the care of 64-year-old University of Pennsylvania professor and psychiatrist Samuel Hadden. Over the course of four to eight years, Hadden explained, patients shared and interpreted each other’s dreams, cast aside their “flamboyant” clothes and manners, worked through their hostilities and neuroses, and began dating women. Marriages were saved and made.

Hadden was not the only—or most prominent—psychiatrist to claim homosexuality was a curable mental illness, but he was representative. Throughout the 1960s, psychiatrists Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides were regularly quoted in newspapers and magazines, arguing that homosexual desire was a form of psychosocial maladjustment, resulting from childhood. Freudian theory held that all children are inherently bisexual, developing a fixed sexual orientation only in adolescence through identification with the parent of the same sex. Freud himself had explicitly stated by 1935 that homosexuality was not an illness and strongly discouraged attempts to treat it; nevertheless, by the 1950s, his theories were widely misappropriated by conservative American and émigré psychiatrists vested in reaffirming the heterosexual, breadwinner-homemaker household in the wake of World War II. With the popularization of behavioral therapies in the 1960s and ’70s also came new attempts to treat homosexuality, in the form of “aversion” therapies, including electric shocks.

 

Even while many people took medical authorities at their word, LGBT activists alongside radical social workers and psychotherapists pushed back. But as reparative therapy was broadly discredited over the course of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, it hardly disappeared. In fact it has more influence and impact on people’s lives today than many may realize.

Already by the 1960s, such cures had provoked resistance: in April 1965, just months after that TIME article ran, the Philadelphia-based gay rights organization Janus invited Hadden to give a lecture on his research, only to surprise him with fierce resistance from the audience. Franklin Kameny, a pioneering gay rights leader, responded sharply, “This is not science, Dr. Hadden; this is faith.” Such attacks emerged amidst a broader turn against the psychiatric establishment, questioning the legitimacy, and benevolence, of clinical interventions.

Together, progressive professionals and lay counselors would spearhead alternative models of psychotherapy, affirming of same-sex desire. In June 1969, the Dorian Society of Seattle worked with a University of Washington pediatrics professor to found the Dorian Counseling Service for Homosexuals—the first center of its kind in the country. Soon renamed the Seattle Counseling Service, the center was staffed largely by volunteers, from fields including psychiatry, psychology, social work, education and pastoral counseling. In 1971, the center saw over 280 patients in individual treatment and over 75 in groups—with an average of 265 people calling their helpline every month. Similar centers would be founded across the country in the years to come, including the Gay Community Services Center in Los Angeles, Identity House in New York, and the Eromin Center in Philadelphia.

Gay activists would also claim a major victory in December 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove “homosexuality” from the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II), which meant that homosexuality was officially no longer considered a disorder in itself. The decision followed several years of heightened protest focused on the APA—including disruption of national meetings—that won the advocacy of increasingly prominent psychiatrist Robert Spitzer.

The sense of victory many gay activists felt may have obscured persisting ambivalence and bias among psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. The diagnosis of homosexuality was immediately replaced by “sexual orientation disturbance,” renamed “ego-dystonic homosexuality” in DSM-III, which was released in 1980 under the leadership of Spitzer and social worker Janet Williams. In an angry letter to Spitzer, Kameny described the APA as a dog who kept chewing at a bone, refusing to let go: “It nibbles at it and then gnaws at it. It buries it and then digs it up. But it never has the good sense just to put it aside and leave it alone.”

Ego-dystonic homosexuality was specifically aimed at patients who expressed ongoing distress or sadness about their sexual orientation, even if homosexuality could no longer be considered a mental illness. Now it was the internalization of homophobia that could make you sick. Many used the diagnosis of ego-dystonic homosexuality as an excuse to legitimize reparative therapy—and still do. Although the diagnosis was removed from the DSM in 1987, it remains today as “ego-dystonic sexual orientation” in the tenth (and still current) edition of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases. As some clinicians and activists have pointed out, the diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” in DSM-5, released in May 2013, also bears a strong resemblance, framing the distress commonly associated with gender variance as an individual rather than social problem.

Since the 1970s, reparative therapies have been reborn through “ex-gay” Christian ministries, including the umbrella group Exodus International, founded in Anaheim, Calif., in 1976. Mixing pastoral counseling, Bible study, individual and group psychotherapy, and aversion treatments, ex-gay ministries have promised a cure from—or at least avoidance of—homosexuality to thousands of men and women. Exodus International shut down in 2013, with an apology from its leader for giving “false hope”—though the wider network it spawned, Exodus Global Alliance, continues to operate.

And, although mainstream professional organizations have acknowledged the potential harm and ineffectiveness of reparative therapies, they have failed to act decisively to prevent them. In 1994, the National Association of Social Workers stated that their members have the responsibility to inform clients about the lack of evidence supporting reparative therapies, but fell short of banning clinicians from using them. The American Psychiatric Association, meanwhile, acknowledged the risks of reparative therapies in 1998—listing depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior as likely outcomes—but has likewise failed to outlaw the practice among their members, or charge reparative clinicians with professional misconduct.

Action has come instead through state legislatures and the courts. Reparative therapy for minors is now illegal in California, New Jersey, and Washington D.C., with pending legislative action in nine other states. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, four men who sought treatment from an unlicensed “life coach” in affiliation with Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH, are suing on the basis of consumer fraud. The court refused to hear claims that homosexuality could be cured from JONAH’s experts, who include a social worker and clinical instructor at Ohio State University; a psychiatrist and preceptor at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences; and a former University of Toronto professor of psychiatry. As that list may suggest, reparative therapists continue to practice throughout the country and world, some more recently incorporating otherwise “evidence-based” techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy and eye-movement desensitization and re-processing.

For Samuel Hadden’s part, his research—like the original 1965 TIME article—continues to be cited as evidence on blogs and discussion boards. Psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers have had a powerful role in shaping public opinion, and self-perception, of LGBT people, but their organizations continue to have difficulty working through their own histories. They were looking for a “cure” for individuals, and frequently missed the sickness, and unkindness, of society.

Stephen Vider is the Cassius Marcellus Clay Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Sexuality at Yale University. His book Interior Relations: Queering Domesticity and Belonging After World War II is under contract with University of Chicago Press. David S. Byers is a clinical social worker and supervisor at Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Center for Wellness, and PhD candidate and lecturer at Smith College School for Social Work. He has written and lectured on bullying, homophobia, peer altruism, and clinical diagnosis. David and Stephen are working on a book about queer youth.

TIME animals

What We Can Learn From the Love Life of Birds

Albatross on Galapagos Islands
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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

For the albatross, love serves a practical purpose

On Valentine’s Day, our thoughts inevitably turn to the birds and the bees. And as someone who studies birds, I can tell you our feathered friends have much to teach us about courtship and sanity.

Take hummingbirds, for example: If you know anything about them, you might think it would be a pretty cool existence.

Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards. They’re the fighter jets of the bird world. But have you ever watched hummingbirds fight with each other? They’re vicious.

At my home in Oregon, my backyard is visited by Rufous Hummingbirds during the summer, and I have to put out three different feeders so that three male hummers can stake out territory around the yard. They won’t tolerate each other at all.

Why are hummingbirds so mean? Only the greediest survive.

If hummingbirds were any smaller, they couldn’t physically eat enough to stay warm. Sharing your food might mean the difference between life and death. And if they slow down even for one minute, they risk running out of calories.

Males and females can’t even get along enough to raise their children together. Mating takes about a second, then the female retreats to build a nest and raise the chicks all on her own. Does this sound like a life you’d want to have?

If I were given the choice to become any bird in the world, I’d be an albatross.

Just imagine having all the time in the world to put out your wings and glide indefinitely. Albatrosses have the lowest cost of flight of any bird.

When an albatross is gliding on the wind, it has a lower resting heart rate than when it is sitting on the water. So they stay in the air, and fly, and keep flying.

By the most conservative estimate, the average Wandering Albatross will fly several million miles in its lifetime—mostly alone.

With all this time alone, you might think that albatrosses have sacrificed something in their love lives, but nothing could be further from the truth.

When I visited Black-browed Albatrosses in the Falkland Islands, off the tip of South America, it was a moving experience. Up close, these birds are huge, and they just feel, well, incredibly calm and collected.

They truly do mate for life: So-called divorce rates in albatrosses have been measured at near zero percent. Pairs stay together until one of them dies—they’re the most committed lovers of any bird. Human divorce rates around the world hover near 40 percent.

Like us, albatrosses take a long time to pick a partner. When they’re a few years old, they return to their nesting colony and begin to perform elaborate dances with prospective mates, at first in small groups, then, gradually, with fewer and fewer partners, until each bird dances with only one other, which will become its mate. At that point, they pretty much quit dancing and move on with their lives.

It’s humbling to watch a pair of albatrosses in their nest. They snuggle, preen each other tenderly, and gaze into each other’s eyes, just as you would imagine from a pair of lovebirds. The oldest known albatrosses are still raising chicks with their partners into their 60s.

Do these birds actually experience love like we do? Well, I think so. Since love is really just a flood of chemicals released in the brain, there is no reason this feeling should be limited to humans.

Love serves a practical purpose: It helps parents and families stick together. The same evolutionary forces that acted on us, and made us fall in love, have also acted on albatrosses, which live a long time, don’t have many children, and put a lot of effort into their offspring.

And if this kind of devotion comes with a life of calm and a bird’s eye view of the entire world, what’s not to love?

Noah Strycker is the associate editor of Birding magazine, and the author of Among Penguins (2011) and The Thing With Feathers (2014). In 2015, he is on a quest to be the first person to see half the world’s bird species—5,000—in a single calendar year. He wrote this for Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME sexuality

Sex and the Super Bowl

Friends in a pub watching football
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Marina Adshade is a professor of economics at the Vancouver School of Economics a the University of British Columbia and the author of "Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and Love." David Berri is a professor of economics at Southern Utah University. He is the lead author of "The Wages of Wins" and "Stumbling on Wins."

Who wins and who loses may determine what Seattle and Boston fans are searching for online Sunday night

On Sunday night, as confetti rains down on the University of Phoenix Stadium, there will be millions of elated sports fans declaring “We Won!”

For many people who do not follow sports, fans yelling “we won” appears to make no sense. The fans didn’t play the game. And the lives of the fans after the game will be just as they were before it was played.

But, a major victory by the favorite team of a male sport fan does more than simply cause the fan to scream and yell. Seeing his team dominate on the field can cause a man’s endocrine system to ramp up the production of testosterone. And where there is testosterone there is the desire to seek out sex. And where there is a desire for sex there is, often, a population searching for pornography online.

This chain of events begins with something every hard-core sports fan knows to be true. Your team’s victory is your victory. From the fan’s perspective, you may as well have been personally responsible for each perfect pass, acrobatic catch, and bone-breaking tackle. And for fans of the loser, they know that the team’s loss is their loss, and their feeling of despair can be just as acute as it is for the players who’ve had their dreams crushed on the field.

But, you don’t have to be sport’s fan to know that the victory (and the defeat) of another individual can feel very personal to those who are cheering on the sidelines. You probably remember how you felt, for example, when Barack Obama was first elected President of the United States.

We would expect that both Obama and McCain would feel these losses. And the Challenge Hypothesis, which says that during competition the testosterone level of a dominating male rises and of a defeated male falls, predicts such a physical response. But recent research suggests that these biological responses went beyond the individuals running in the elections. In his first address following the election, soon to be President Obama said, “I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.” Many voters would have shared that sentiment; just as many others would have felt that the defeat of John McCain belonged to them as well.

Psychologists Patrick Markey and Charlotte Markey conducted research that found that in the week following George Bush’s Presidential victory in 2004, Google searches for the top 10 pornography keywords increased above the average for the year in red states and fell in blue states. After the midterm elections in 2006, when the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, these Google search terms for porn rose in blue states and fell in red states. And in the week following Barack Obama’s presidential victory, porn searches were up again in the blue states and down again in the red states.

Elections matter, of course, but Democrats and Republicans have seen their party win many times. Each year, fans of only one team get to experience a Super Bowl victory. So, what does seeing your team win this game do to your testosterone levels?

Last year — in Super Bowl XLVIII — the Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos in a 43-8 victory. After this win, residents of Washington State took to their computers to look for porn; key word searches for the top five porn keywords increased in that state by just under 8% relative to the previous week. Residents of Colorado, on the other hand, found something else to do; searches for the same words in that state fell by 1.5%.

The previous year we saw the same story. Super Bowl XLVII ended in a narrow victory by the Baltimore Ravens against the San Francisco 49ers. After this victory, residents of Maryland increased their porn keyword searches by an average of 3% relative to the previous week and residents of California decreased theirs by 5%.

At this point these numbers are really nothing more than back of the envelope calculations using the same methodology applied in Markey and Markey’s research. But they suggest that on Sunday night male sports fans — in Washington and Massachusetts — will be, literally, physically transformed by the game.

The Other Way Testosterone Affects the Game

The impact of testosterone is not only felt by fans after the game. It also affects the actual participants in the game. Higher levels of testosterone are related to physical attractiveness. And one glance at Tom Brady and Russell Wilson — the opposing quarterbacks in this game — reveals that these are two good-looking men.

It turns out, this is not unusual for NFL quarterbacks. In an article published in Economic Letters, researchers used the computer program Symmeter to measure the facial symmetry of NFL quarterbacks. They found that while the average score of men is in the high 80s (on a scale of 0 to 100), the average NFL quarterback has a score of 98. And of the two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl this weekend, Tom Brady’s score is 99 and Russell Wilson’s score is 99.4. Yes, Brady and Wilson are good-looking, even relative to other quarterbacks.

These scores suggest that higher levels of testosterone — which again, result in higher levels of attractiveness — are a pre-requisite to even play quarterback in the NFL. And testosterone doesn’t just get you on the field. Perhaps surprisingly, it also impacts a quarterback’s paycheck. Even after controlling for performance, a better-looking quarterback receives more money.

So it appears the impact of testosterone affects both players and fans. Testosterone appears to have a role in who gets on the field of play, and the play impacts the testosterone levels of the fans.

If you happen to invite a non-sports fan to your Super Bowl party, you might hear this person exclaim that none of this really matters. Now you know, though, that this person is wrong. This game has the power to physically transform the fans who “win” and “lose.”

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME sexuality

What the Reaction To Billy Crystal Tells Us About Gay Tolerance

speaks onstage during the 'The Comedians' panel discussion at the FX Networks portion of the Television Critics Association press tour at Langham Hotel on January 18, 2015 in Pasadena, California.
Frederick M. Brown—Getty Images Billy Crystal speaks onstage during 'The Comedians' panel discussion at the FX Networks portion of the Television Critics Association press tour at Langham Hotel on Jan. 18, 2015 in Pasadena, Calif.

Steve Friess is a freelance writer.

Gays won by persuading everyone to view us as sexless—now the culture needs to adjust to reality

By now it seems fairly clear that the comic actor Billy Crystal did not intend to single out gay sex scenes in his reply to a question this weekend about how uncomfortably graphic some television has become. He was speaking broadly about a lot of what’s on TV now of all sexual varieties, but a reporter clipped the remark for maximum impact. The scolds of the Internet, always on alert, did the rest of the work. But set aside the insane idea that Crystal — the first straight actor to play an openly gay TV role on “Soap” back when it was career-lethal and truly cutting edge — might be some sort of sex-negative homophobe. The preposterousness of that is baffling enough; if anyone in the history of the cathode ray deserves the benefit of the doubt, it would seem, it would be him.

And yet — what if Crystal’s unremarkable remarks hadn’t been sensationalized? What if, in fact, he was just a 66-year-old grandfather who finds the increasing visibility of same-sex intimacy, especially on network TV, off-putting or startling to his sensibilities? What if seeing the bobbing head of a woman as she implicitly performed some sex acts on another woman’s lower half, say, makes some viewers uncomfortable — and they have the gall to admit it when asked?

I ask because those people exist. There are, in fact, a lot of them. The smug folks in their L.A. and New York bubbles might think they’re backwards, irrelevant, and scarce, but they’d be wrong. Their points of view are easy to understand, really. And it does not make them “haters” or any of the other epithets thrown at Crystal this week.

In fact, gay activists are as responsible as anyone for the fact that a large swath of Americans who thought they were OK with gays are finding themselves surprised by their own reactions to what they’re starting to see. This is, after all, a civil rights movement that aggressively worked for many years to downplay the mechanics of gay sexual behavior.

The gay-rights push may have started in the 1960s and 1970s with its pursuit of the fundamental liberty to have consensual sex with whatever other adults one pleased and to break free of traditional gender roles, but it morphed in the 1980s into one that preached, rightly, that being gay was about much more than mere sex. When gay male intercourse in particular became equated in the minds of millions with the transmission of AIDS, the best option was to de-emphasize it and instead make the case that our relationships are the same in every meaningful way as straight ones. Also, it did nobody any good to have our parents, much less our grandparents or our teachers or our bosses, visualizing us naked in sexual positions.

This is how the fights over the integration of the military and legalized same-sex marriage were won. Every time anti-gay forces tried to gross out the nation by referencing the gritty details of, say, anal sex, gay advocates would reply by accusing them of being secretly titillated by and obsessed with it. Whenever some crusty old military hack would grouse about gays being naked in showers or barracks with straight soldiers, gay activists did everything they could to insist gay people are supernaturally capable of stifling every fleeting sexual thought even when something attractive is before them.

Gays won, essentially, by persuading everyone to view us as sexless because we knew that how we express love and lust was at best unfamiliar — and at worst repulsive — to many people. Looking back now, it was probably the right strategy, and it was definitely a successful one. It enabled enough fair-minded people to look at couples like Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, together for more than 40 years before Thea died and the government tried to disinherit her octogenarian widow Edie, and imagine how they’d feel if the law did that to them after a lifetime of companionship. When the Supreme Court fixed that for Windsor in a landmark 2013 decision that forced the federal government to recognize their marriage, most Americans felt a grievous wrong had been set right.

But now, after decades of telling the folks that what we do in our bedrooms is not of their concern and should not matter to their opinions of us, we demand that they be happy to look upon depictions of gay sex with a big shrug or, even, a round of applause. If anyone breathes even the slightest hint of discomfort or dismay, they must be berated and humiliated. Where once the anti-gay legions used shame to scare and silence us, now it’s the pro-gay forces who think it’s a weapon.

So here’s a dirty little secret: I’m gay and I hate watching straight sex scenes in TV shows and movies. I always have. It subconsciously conjures up the apprehension and anxiety I felt when I was still closeted and tried to force myself to want to experience that. I know what straight people do, how they do it and what all of their parts look like. But I could do without bouncing breasts in every other scene of “Boardwalk Empire” and “Ray Donovan.” It’s the opposite of what I want to do or feel or see, so I wait it out and enjoy the rest of the show. It’s part of the bargain of consuming art sometimes and occasionally it actually even has a purpose.

Does all that make me a heterophobe? I hope not. Some of my best friends are straight. It’s just not my preference. And yes, in this case, we’re talking about preferences and not orientations. As Crystal said, albeit in a broader context, it’s about one’s personal tastes, nothing more.

Hollywood and its audiences are in a transitional period regarding how to cope with the modern era of out gays and the specifics of how to show and talk about it. Some straight people, especially older and more traditional ones, will be uncomfortable. Others won’t. Most will, as we gays have regarding explicit heterosexual sex scenes, come to accept it even if they never love it.

And all of that should be fine. Gays have enough actual enemies: people who really don’t want us to live happy, productive lives as our true selves. We certainly don’t need to turn our straight allies — be they grandparents or groundbreaking actors — into bogeymen, too.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

How To Shake Up Gender Norms

ballerina-girl-holding-basketball
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Will continuing to challenge gender norms and document their harmful impacts lead to their extinction — or evolution?

What determines your destiny? That’s a big question with what should be a complicated answer. But for many, the answer can be reduced to one word: anatomy. Freud’s assertion in 1924 that biology is the key determinant of gender identity, for instance, was for years a hegemonic idea in both law and culture.

Ever since Freud made this notion famous, critics have been objecting to body parts as central predictors of one’s professional and personal path. Many now believe that identity isn’t solely the domain of nature or nurture, but some combination of the two. Still, Freud’s theory isn’t yet dead; enduring gender norms show us that the bodies we’re born into still govern lives of women and men around the world.

But according to some recent research, its influence may be fading. In one new study, a majority of millennials surveyed argued that gender shouldn’t define us the way it has historically, and individuals shouldn’t feel pressure to conform to traditional gender roles or behaviors. Enforcing norms can even have health risks, according to another study. Some women’s colleges are now reportedly rethinking their admissions policies to account for gender non-conforming students. And even President Obama is getting in on the norm-questioning trend: While sorting holiday gifts for kids at a Toys for Tots in December, the president decided to place sporting equipment in the box for girls. “I’m just trying to break down these gender stereotypes,” he said in a viral video.

But will continuing to challenge gender norms and document their harmful impacts lead to their extinction? To answer that question, we need to first consider another: What’s so bad about traditional gender norms and the way we currently categorize men and women?

For one thing, the way we categorize gender is far too facile, explained Alice Dreger, a leading historian of science and medicine, in a 2010 TED Talk. “We now know that sex is complicated enough that we have to admit nature doesn’t draw the line for us between male and female… we actually draw that line on nature,” she told the audience. “What we have is a sort of situation where the farther our science goes, the more we have to admit to ourselves that these categories that we thought of as stable anatomical categories that mapped very simply to stable identity categories are a lot more fuzzy than we thought.”

Fuzzy – and maybe not entirely real in the first place.

“If there’s a leading edge that is the future of gender, it’s going to be one that understands that gender is relative to context,” said author and gender theorist Kate Bornstein at a recent New America event, noting that geography, religion, and family attitudes are all contextual factors that can alter one’s perception of gender as a determinant of identity. As long as we hold onto the notion that gender is a constant, “we’ll keep doing things to keep the lie in place,” she said. But the fact is that “it doesn’t stand on its own, and is always relative to something.” Bornstein argues that the trick to stripping these norms of their harmful power is to mock and expose them for both their flimsiness and stringency.

Which is what photographer Sophia Wallace attempts with her work. Girls Will Be Bois, for example, is a documentary of female masculinity, featuring women who have traditionally “un-feminine” occupations – bus driver, boxer, basketball player – and a sartorial masculinity (baggy pants, and bare-chested). In Modern Dandy, Wallace switches up the way women and men are directed to look at the camera (or not) in photographs – whether to appear submissive (traditionally feminine) or dominant (traditionally masculine). Cliteracy, Wallace’s most recent work, uses imagery of the clitoris and text about female sexuality to illuminate a paradox: we’re obsessed with sexualizing female bodies, and yet the world is “illiterate when it comes to female sexuality.”

But it’s not as bad as it once was. Wallace thinks that photography is evolving – that some gender-focused imagery is less tinged with ignorance today. “There’s so much that I’ve seen that has been hopeful,” she said. “There are actually images of female masculinity, trans-men and trans-women now that didn’t exist when I was in my teens and early 20s. In other ways we have so far to go.”

Part of the struggle of relinquishing gender norms comes from an uncomfortable truth. “Men have everything to gain when we overthrow patriarchy…but they also have something to lose from giving up their traditional masculinity,” said Tavia Nyong’o, an associate professor of performance studies at NYU, emphasizing that male rights vary widely across race and class divisions and that white men have even more to lose than men of color. What do they lose, exactly? Privileges (the ability to open carry a gun and not be worried that they’ll be shot by the police, Nyong’o argued). Control – over political, economic and cultural domains. Access – to networks, jobs and economic opportunities. Put simply, they lose power.

“You walk out the door in the morning with a penis and your income is 20 percent higher on average for nothing that you did,” said Gary Barker, the international director of Promundo, an organization that engages men and boys around the world on issues of gender equality.

When asked whether the future of gender was evolution and extinction, Barker, Nyong’o, Wallace and Bornstein all said they hoped for extinction. But at the same time, each acknowledged how difficult that goal would be to achieve. Beyond the power dynamics, there’s a level of comfort in well-worn identities. “It’s easy to sit in these old roles that we’ve watched and to feel a certain comfort in their stability in a world that feels kind of hard to understand,” Barker said.

But change is not impossible. Barker advises demonstrating how our traditional version of masculinity may not actually be worth the fight. “Men who have more rigid views of what it means to be men are more likely to suicidal thoughts, more likely to be depressed, less likely to report they’re happy with life overall, less likely to take care of their health, more likely to own guns, the list goes on,” he said. “There is something toxic about this version of masculinity out there.”

Detoxing society requires ripping off a mask of sorts. “It’s about getting as many people as possible to have that Matrix moment, Barker said, when they realize, “wait – [masculinity] isn’t real. It’s all illusory, it’s all performance.”

Elizabeth Weingarten is the associate director of New America’s Global Gender Parity Initiative. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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