Benoit Denizet-Lewis: Gays, Kids and Sports

First published on LAist on January 14, 2010.

It’s clear that Benoit Denizet-Lewis loves the gays and the kids. We talked for about 40 minutes on Sunday about his book American Voyeur: Dispatches from the Far Reaches of Modern Life, and he notes a recurring theme of fitting in particularly in the gay culture.

“I think many gay people don’t feel like they fit in ‘gay culture’ whatever that means,” he said. “Some of these groups are trying to find a way to both be gay and do it in a different way because they have serious judgments about the limitations of modern gay culture.”

But he soon adds that “modern gay culture” is fast becoming an obsolete term.

“It seems like lumping too much together,” he explained. “There are so many different kinds of gay lifestyles, it just seems a little silly to lump it together.”

Denizet-Lewis also attributes to kids coming out sooner as another reason for the seeming obsolescence of the term “gay culture”. He documented some cases of middle school kids in middle America coming out as early as 11 years old in The New York Times Magazine article “Coming Out in Middle School”.

“What we’re starting to see are kids who are able to come out at 12, 13, 14, 15, whatever it may be and have a healthy adolescence,” he said. “By that I mean not having to live in shame around their sexuality, not having to be secretive about everything, not learning from an early age how to lie and be secretive and have a ton of shame about their sexuality. All of the normal adolescent developmental things that gay kids were not able to experience, we’re seeing more and more kids who are.

“I think that what’s going to be fascinating is what gay adults are going to look like in 10, 20, 30, 40 years.”

Having written about kids a lot, Denizet-Lewis is cautious if not optimistic about their outlook. As he writes in American Voyeur:

I’m often asked if I worry about “kids today.” It’s not an unreasonable question to ask of someone who has written so much about young people, but the truth is, I’m more worried about some of the adults who raise them., I can’t tell you how many teens I’ve met during the last decade who have suffered neglect or emotional abuse at the hands of their poorly equipped parents. Lonely, disconnected, and desperate for validation and connection, a generation of kids is busy medicating themselves with prescription drugs, video games, Internet chat rooms, pornography, and meaningless hookups.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that just as often, I meet teenagers who overwhelm me with their kindness, humor, talent, passion, integrity, and loyalty to their friends and family.

That being said being a teenager now is different than it was back in the late 80s and early 90s when I had gone through my adolescence. Back in the early 90s teen culture was about agitation and diversity marked by the rise of angst ridden Nirvana and the Toronto white guy reggae rap stylings of Snow. However teenagers now seem content with their nonconfrontational Zac Efron Miley Cyrus world.

“I don’t know honestly,” Denizet-Lewis told me when asked how such a culture shift occurred. After thinking about it for a bit he finally said, “I think that groups can be delineated from when they had email. I think it makes a huge difference, and I don’t think it’s for the better.”

As for the one trend amongst youth he wishes would change: “Kids are so ironic. Everything is like irony. It’s just really weird.”

Denizet-Lewis also writes about sports. Not only writing a weekly dispatch about Northwestern’s quest for their first NCAA Tournament invitation ever, he wrote a great piece on Barry Bonds in the SF Weekly back in 2000 a season before he hit 73.

We talked about the chances of seeing an out gay athlete in a team sport in America.

“We’re in 2010 and we have out people in every masculine profession, yet we still don’t have a player who’s out while playing,” he said. “It’s really a remarkable thing when you think about it.

“I think if a player was a good player and came out the right way, I think the player could gain in popularity and endorsements if they did it the right way. I think the media would jump behind them. At long as the player wasn’t being forced out so it doesn’t look like he’s a victim in some way.

“I actually think it might be a high school or college player who is actually out in high school or college who just doesn’t want to go back in the closet when they became a professional. I think that might be one of the first people we get who comes out.”

He notes that while there are some idiot athletes who would create some backlash he doesn’t think it would be harmful in the long run.

“The idea that if a player came out it would be the end of the world for team morale is bullshit I think.”

Of course being a sports writer I had to ask him his picks for the Super Bowl.

“Oh my god, don’t ask me a professional football question,” Denizet-Lewis cried out. “I ha… Well. I don’t follow the NFL. Do you want to ask me a college basketball question?”

I’m a very obliging interviewer.

“Who’s going to win the Final Four,” I ask him.

“Northwestern,” he replies at once spoken just like one of those delusional Big Ten folk. “They’re going to shock everybody.”

Well you can’t be insightful about everything.

American Voyeur: Dispatches from the Far Reaches of Modern Life is published by Simon & Schuster and can be found at all book retailers.

Catch Benoit Denizet-Lewis weekly on Deadspin chronicling his alma mater Northwestern’s quest for their first NCAA Tournament invitation ever.