If People Talked to Gay Men Like They Talked to Vegetarians: A dialogue


Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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69 Responses

  1. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    FYI, this ought to be titled “If People Talked to Gay Men the Way Some People Talk to Vegetarians”, but that doesn’t really work as a title.Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Brilliant ending, Vik.Report

  3. Avatar Griff says:

    “It’s just an experience everyone should have. How can you be sure that having sex with women isn’t great if you’ve never tried it?”

    I fully subscribe to this statement, with the caveat that it applies with equal force to sex with men.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    So now we’re all believers in souls again, are we?Report

  5. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    I don’t get it. I thought society had decided that being gay was something innate rather than a choice. I haven’t seen anyone arguing that vegetarianism is genetically-determined.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      That’s not the point. Whatever its cause, each manifests itself as a deeply held “preference”. For the people whom Vickram is talking about, that is, people like me, who are raised as vegetarians, it is not a mere choice, it is central to our identity. The kinds of questions that Frank asks are as offensive and ignorant when asked of vegetarians like me as when asked of gay people.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I think Katherine’s point is a good one, actually. Certainly Vik’s analogy reveals something about these issues, but I’m not sure the thing revealed is what you’re suggesting. For example, if part of my identity is the belief that Ford is better than Chevy, then (by analogy!) telling me to just give Chevy a try subverts a closely held preference, resulting on my taking personal offense. (Or worse!!!!) But I think at that point we’re in reductio land, no?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        And Hasidic Jews should just try bacon wrapped shrimp.

        No, Murali’s right. The Ford/Chevy analogy–on a Vikram Bath post no less, you monster!–doesn’t work because it’s not really analogous, because it’s not at all the same depth of identity. Your body doesn’t adapt to Ford, and find Chevies physically problematic, the way the body adapts to vegetarianism and is made ill by meat. Nor does it reflect as deep a world view as either Hindu or environmentalist vegetarianism does, or Jewish avoidance of pig meat and shellfish does.

        I think I just argued in favor of Vikram’s critique of analogies. I’d better watch my step in future comments, given how often I use them.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        the same depth of identity

        Ahh. The analogy turns on the depth of the identity. (Is there an objective metric to measure that?) Hmmm. I think my counteranalogy works just fine to make the intended point, but Vikram’s Postulate is definitely in play here.

        It seems to me Vik’s original analogy reveals something about the way we perceive others by normalizing our own preferences (treat them as objectively valid, or etc whatever) and projecting them outward rather than anything about personal identity. But that’s just me!Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW says:

        I’d think of vegetarianism as something closer to, say, political opinion (where we have no objections to trying to convince someone to change their mind, even if it’s not an a propos topic at all times) than to sexual orientation or even religious belief. If the vegetarianism or other dietary restrictions are for religious reasons, that’s another matter.

        And there’s plenty of vegetarians who have no problem urging it on others. Fine, you don’t like meat. I don’t like beans, lentils and tofu, which are fairly essential to preventing any vegetarian diet from resulting in malnutrition.Report

      • @stillwater

        At least vegetarianism doesn’t hold up the government.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Ahh. The analogy turns on the depth of the identity

        Well, yes, Stillwater. Every analogy ever analed depends for its strength on how closely it matches up to what is being analogized. If you’re going to suggest growing up a Pepsi rather than a Coke drinker is analogous to growing up Amish rather than atheist, I’m going to suggest you need a new set of glasses for observing the world.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Not at all. An analogy is legitimate insofar as the situations share relevant properties, which, in this case, is basing their identity on a held belief. (Which is directly relevant to Murali’s point about, well, basing your identity on held beliefs.) My analogy works perfectly fine to show that self-identification based on a held belief doesn’t constitute a rebuttal to Katherine’s point. You’re response to my analogy isn’t that it’s incorrect, but rather to change the point Murali was making such that the relevant property in play isn’t merely self-identifying with a belief, but rather that to focus on the depth of the identity. But that’s not a philosophical point (which I take it Murali was attempting to make) but an empirical one.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        @katherinemw I’m not sure I agree with you, but in support of your point, there are even some people who have no trouble urging others to change their minds on religious matters, although again it’s not always an appropriate subject for conversation.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        The belief isn’t the relevant issue, but how much that belief matters. A casually held belief has very little in common with a deeply held belief.

        And Murali said, “central to our identity,” so I am in fact in line with what he said, while you have drifted away to beliefs less central.

        Your analogy is like a cow that won’t eat spinach off a fence post.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Excellent research GC. Thanks for the link. I particularly liked this:

        “On the one side, you have those who claim a Ford is a slow, rusty muthinlaw car they wouldn’t have as a dog house, and on the other you have those who say that, in effect, their wife yes, their dog maybe, but their Ford, never. I mean, a statement like that implies they’re literally willing to give up their marriage over this issue. That shows a very serious level of commitment.”

        THis is all too true, and it’s a shame that these kinds of issues divide us. I wish we could all come together and agree that my (and other!) Toyota’s pee on both Chevy’s and Ford’s, but social progress can’t be forced on the backwardsassed.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Your analogy is like a cow that won’t eat spinach off a fence post.

        Your analogy is like a cloud looking for some rain in water fountain.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Ah, we have the cobras, facing off, over a rodent.


      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        zic, metaphors are to rodents as analogies are to zombie warriors.

        And my analogy is nothing like a cow. More like a graceful antelope. I have no comment on the spinach/post thingy.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Obviously, that cow is no Pop Eye, strong to the finish for failing to eat spinach.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Like a graceful antelope dancing a ballet on top of an unopened can of baked beans.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Close! It’s a graceful zombie-antelope warrior tap dancing on the beans of our misperceptions. The can was always open!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I am like the US in Vietnam, defeated and slinking away, while trying to persuade myself I am victorious.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        You can still impose metaphorical trade sanctions, so there’s that.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Wow! This is fun!

        What were we talking about again?Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        Who cares, it was space awesome just as it was.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Reading the threads that follow @katherinemw I think everyone is over thinking this.

      You use the pretense “If People Talked to Gay Men Like They Talked to Vegetarians” instead of, say, “”If People Talked to Drug Users Like They Talked to Vegetarians” because it’s funnier.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I don’t get the analogy…Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I think the second half is backward; the people speaking are the drug users, and they are speaking to people who have not necessarily made that commitment.

        The constructions are:

        People, the norm of straight males, talk to gay people — there isn’t really any way to read this as straight female.

        People, the norm being meat eaters, talk to vegetarians.

        In each case the people, the norm, is trying to get the exception — the gay, the vegetarian — to join in the norm.

        For social inebriation, the drinkers, smokers, and tokers are the norm, enabling the sober folk.

        Sex, ancient meme would have it the men trying to shake her trees.Report

  6. Avatar RTod says:

    This was really fantastic.Report

  7. Avatar Morat20 says:

    I talk to vegetarians as follows: “You’re vegetarian? Okay. Well, that rules out a few restaurants. Got a lunch suggestion?”

    My boss is one. For religious reasons, I think. Never asked. I just make sure if I’m tapped for a side dish or salad for a holiday luncheon that if it looks meat free, it actually is (no chicken or beef stock, that sort of thing).Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      When I was in grad school, vegetarians were common enough that everyone hosting a grad student or faculty cookout just made sure a vegetarian alternative was available as a matter of course. It would have been rude not to do so, a violation of basic social norms. Nobody talked about it, because there wasn’t much to talk about, just as we don’t normally have discussions about holding the door open for other people, except when someone doesn’t.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        My brother-in-law is a pescatarian (I suppose technically a lacto-ovo-pescatarian). My mother, who still has a bit of the 50s in her, lamented to me a few months before their marriage, “I don’t know what your sister is going to cook for him.” My instinctive response was to blurt out, “He can cook for his own damn self,” but aside from the antiquated view of gender roles (a view neither my sister or her now husband share), her worry revealed what I think is a the core difficulty in understanding difference without significant exposure: it ain’t easy to simply infer the potential ways of living as an Other. Someone has to give us at least a few seeds of the relevant basic knowledge so that our minds can do what they do.

        The difficulty for each of us is finding the right seeds. Sometimes it just takes a lot of exposure for them to get planted on their own.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        You went to Oregon, what do you expect? 😉Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:


        Your mother is a wise one.

        Why would a married man cook for himself?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Why would a married man cook for himself?

        Because he’s hungry.Report

  8. Avatar DavidTC says:

    ‘Have you tried not being a mutant?’Report

  9. Avatar RTod says:

    I know enough vegetarians that it doesn’t really show up on my radar as being unusual enough to try figure it out. I certainly don’t ever feel a need to convince them they should eat meat.

    Sometimes if I know the person well enough, however, m. I might ask why out of curiosity. (There are a lot of reasons why people choose not to eat meat, and I think knowing which one is an individual’s reason tells you something both interesting and important about them.)

    But I’ll be honest: I always feel a little sorry for them when I sit down to a good barbecue.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      Mostly this.

      There’s a ton of vegetarians and vegans in my extended social circle. I invite them all to the big giant beer-and-smoked-meats fest on my birthday and make sure I have one grill that’s been cleaned thoroughly and isn’t used for anything that isn’t vegan-friendly.

      This takes, like, nearly zero additional effort.

      Why anybody cares about anyone else’s preference in food, drink, sexual proclivities, favorite sorts of pets or sports or leisure activities other than idle curiosity, looking for recommendations, or the occasional very good natured ribbing I don’t understand.Report

  10. Avatar zic says:

    I’m struggling with how often I’ve heard similar conversations over drugs and alcohol. I shamefully admit to, on at least a few occasions, being the enabler, talking someone in to taking a toke. Once, to long-term consequence. I am not proud.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      And I can’t begin to count the times I’ve been on the receiving end, someone wanting me to drink alcohol. (I don’t, it triggers migraine.)Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      I’ve been in a few situations where people were quite determined to convince me to drink or get drunk. I don’t like it, don’t like the taste (with rare exceptions), and certainly have no interest in being drunk.

      The really funny thing is that, in the same conversation at the same time, the same people were dismissing the existence of “peer pressure” as not real. I made some efforts at pointing out that what they were doing was literally the definition of peer pressure, but they didn’t agree (“no, we’re just encouraging you”). I didn’t feel any particular pressure – it was during an overseas internship a couple years ago, and everyone else was several years younger than me – but if I had been their age, and it had been my first long stint away from home as it was for some of them, I would have.Report

  11. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I have had conversations with vegetarians whose attitude toward vegetarianism were roughly analogous to my attitudes toward omnivorism. (e.g., if someone asked them “Why don’t you just eat whatever you want?”, they’d be able to answer “I do.”)

    I have had other conversations with vegetarians whose attitude toward vegetarianism were based in moral arguments and, wouldn’t you know it, my omnivorism was seen as being outside of their defined sphere of morality and that tends to start folks yelling at each other.

    I admit to preferring interactions with the former to the latter.Report

  12. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I think about something similar when someone announces they don’t drink…

    “I don’t eat mayo.”
    “More of a mustard guy, are ya?”

    “I only drink diet soda.”
    “Is it a health thing or a taste thing?”

    “I don’t drink alcohol.”

  13. Avatar Murali says:

    @katherinemw @stillwater

    There seems to be something whitesplainy or perhaps protestant-splainy about what you said. Let me try to put my finger on it.

    Of course is not exactly about Protestantism, but at least until there were a lot more open atheists, protestants were the dominant religious group that had the least taboos or ritual requirements. Everyone else had pretty much the same taboos as protestants plus some others. This means that a protestant dominated society was likely to see those other groups as malingerers, shirkers and party poopers. The dynamic I’m trying to describe is between a group which has fewer taboos and a group which has all the taboos of the first as well as some others.

    Consider: At a party, the protestant is free to drink some beer and eat some bacon. The muslim, for whom both are haram would avoid both and thus be seen as a party pooper. Mutatis mutandis for vegetarians, Hindus, Jews, Catholics etc. Also consider: The devout Muslim has to pray five times a day. In a predominantly Muslim society, this is provided for by structuring the work day such that there are explicit prayer breaks. In most non-Muslim societies, such a person is going to be viewed as less productive and perhaps more disruptive. And because of his various taboos, he is going to be the odd man out during any post-work “team-building” sessions. If after work, everyone goes to the nearby pub to hangout, Ahmad’s abstinence is going to be a wet blanket (either that or he becomes everyone’s designated driver). In some ways, being the only sober guy in a room full of drunk people is alienating.

    And this last bit is especially important. Something is taboo for me which is not for others and this puts me in situations where others can have fun but I cannot or where others can bond more easily with work mates than I or where I have to work harder to overcome any negative impression my religious obligations might arouse. In that situation, telling me that I’m being unnecessarily squeamish or that my abstention is somehow unnecessary can be and often is very offensive and insulting.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      I dunno, Murali. My response was merely that there are all sorts of culturally-driven deeply held beliefs, so merely appealing to it’s “deeply heldness” doesn’t really accomplish anything. Unless we want to say that the Chevy v Ford War is actually legitimate. But I also proposed what I think Vik’s analogy addresses and that it has nothing to do with personal identity, but rather the fact that people express beliefs based on their own values as if they were “normal” or “hold objectively” or “ought to apply to other people” or whatever. Perceiving those responses as an attack on your identity is ancillary to the main problem, it seems to me.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        By the way, I think privilege definitely rears it’s head in these types of things. Anyone who presumes to tell a gay person that they oughta try going straight cuz they might like it more could only say such a thing from the comfortably numb security of being in the dominant culture, it seems to me.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        I think deeply held-ness can do a lot of heavy lifting. But this does not mean that I necessarily have to commit to the chevy vs ford war. If chevy people are hugely committed to chevies in a way that connects up in some fundamental way with their identity and ford owners likewise, then fighting over which is better is like vegetarians and omnivores fighting over which is better. But Vikram’s post is precisely that it is better not to argue about these things when they are so connected up with people’s identities. So if deeply-heldness is the sort of thing that we should defer to, we should have a détente between Chevy owners and Ford Owners: The opposite of the Chevy-Ford wars. Its only when Chevies and Fords do not connect up with people’s identities so strongly is it acceptable to try to get people to change their minds in such ways.Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        I wonder if ‘norm’ works better here?

        In any social group, there are norms; and there’s some amount of peer pressure to get outsiders to conform to the norms of the group.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Its only when Chevies and Fords do not connect up with people’s identities so strongly is it acceptable to try to get people to change their minds in such ways.

        Who’s to say how strongly those things are connected Murali? Surely not the person who’s advocating or another person to change their alterable behaviors, yes? Surely the issue, on your view at least, doesn’t resolve to whether the behaviors in question are justified by independent (ie., not subjectively determined identity-based) criteria, since those would be a trumping consideration.

        Look, this stuff is complicated, but one thing that strikes me as problematic is the idea (defended here by you and others on the thread) that there’s something wrong with a straight meat-eating person telling a gay vegetarian to try hetero sex and meat because they might like it better. IF a person says that stuff, they’re either ignorant (and require education) or they’re revealing their private sense of privilege. But they haven’t done anything to undermine your personal identity since you can either educate them or call them on their privilege.

        The one thing that makes no sense to me (and maybe this is just me) is to try to distinguish between types of culturally constructed identity-forming beliefs and say that a religious-based identity is more fundamental than a Ford-based identity, or a gun-rights based identity, or an environmental-based identity, or whatever. At the end of the day, in my view at least, the relevant distinction between a) the observational fact that certain beliefs are closely held and constitute some folk’s personal identity and b) the independent justifications for or against accepting and acting on those beliefs.

        As I said, my personal take on Vikram’s OP analogy is that it reveals how folks project their subjectively determined (often culturally constructed!) values outwards and onto other people in ways to don’t pass scrutiny upon considered reflection.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:



      • Avatar Murali says:


        I think you are misunderstanding me. I don’t think that Fords and Chevies are not deeply connected with at least these people’s identities.

        You do identify a real problem though: How do we know how deeply connected a given issue is to a person’s identity. Anyone could deeply claim that it is so, but they could be doing so strategically. That is to say, while the deep-connectedness provides a right making (or wrong making as the case may be) criterion, it does not provide a clear decision procedure. However, there are, I think some ways to infer such deep connectedness. Part of this is to observe other behaviour related in the same domain. For example, if a person puts in a lot of effort in avoiding meat (more than she puts into maintaining other religious obligations), that should be taken to be good evidence that it is strongly connected up with her identity. Mutatis mutandis for car model.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      Thanks for the post; it’s very enlightening.

      In my later post I drew a distinction between vegetarianism for religious reasons and for other (taste, health, animal welfare) reasons. I would never urge someone to eat meat, or another food, if they were abstaining from it for religious reasons. (Including going off meat or chocolate for Lent.) Telling people not to abide by their religion because you find their convictions uncool or a “wet blanket” is definitely wrong. (Same goes for telling people who abstain from sex until marriage for religious reasons that they’re repressed/prudish and need to “loosen up”. And it seems like everyone does that.)Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      For what it’s worth, I see the taboos that you have that affect your own behavior as being worthy of respect and I should do what I can to accommodate them if doing so won’t be too disruptive and I should communicate to any and all that they should not bug you about your taboos.

      The taboos that you have that make you want to change *MY* behavior? I’d like to tell you to engage in some acts that would probably break some of your taboos.Report

  14. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    1) I thought you didn’t like analogies.

    2) You act like the conversation you posted has never taken place.Report