At the end of yesterday's episode of The Tyra Banks Show, "The Science of Gaydar", Tyra noted that the topic was one that she and the show's producers had wavered on covering for some time before they finally decided to cover it. Tyra and her crew should have wavered a while longer as yesterday's show was a mess.
Tyra's guest was Dr. Richard Lippa, a psychology professor from the California State University at Fullerton, who recently drew media attention for noting physical traits that can indicate sexual orientation. Tyra put Lippa's claims to the test by using six volunteers who who alowed themselves to be compared to the traits that Lippa highlighted.
As the show progressed, watching the volunteers got increasingly painful as they seemed to get more and more self-conscious about what was going on. Frankly, I wondered if they fully understood what they had gotten themselves into. After all, it's one thing to be an openly gay person on national television, but were they prepared to have the way they spoke and walked be scrutinized to such an uncomfortable degree?
Adding to the awkwardness was Tyra's audience, who became more and more comfortable with yelling "Straight!" and "Gay!" in reaction to every revelation. Even worse, as the show progressed, they seemed more and more comfortable with assigning certain stereotypes to gay men.
Lippa seemed to get increasingly uncomfortable as well as Tyra repeatedly and bizarrely tried to turn individual traits into a sole, reliable indicator of sexual orientation. (As if every Opera-loving, well-dressed man must be gay.) And each time Lippa would remind her the way his study worked. "Nothing's 100%," he said several times during the hour, stating that his study noted overall tendencies and not steadfast rules. No one trait could be used in isolation, he'd warn again and again. Nonetheless, two minutes later Trya would'd make another generality.
As the episode progressed, Tyra and the audience seemed to become more comfortable using stereotypes. That was most clearly seen in the segment where the volunteers were sent to a restaurant for lunch. "As they order we can see their hand gestures," Tyra narrated. "Are they making broad sweeping motions or firm, specific moves? As their drinks arrive we can see who ordered what. Are they drinking beer or a white whine spritzer?" (At this point a waitress gives one of the volunteers a Shirley Temple.) "Do they grip them tightly and chug away or raise them delicately and take a dainty sip?"
Gee, Tyra, I wonder which traits were we supposed to associate with being gay or straight?
Another cringe-inducing moment came when one volunteer (who had by then identified himself as gay) expressed concern that studies on sexual orientation might lead expectant mothers to learn their unborn child's sexual orientation and decide to terminate the pregnancy based on that information. "I never thought of that!" Tyra reacted. Quick — someone get her a copy of The Twilight of the Golds.
Obviously, Lippa's study isn't a subject of study that should be forbidden. However, it's a challenging topic that should be tackled sensitively. Unfortunately, Tyra didn't seem up to the challenge.