Terry Gross forces me to question my marriage

It’s a brutal question. Suddenly, my whole life has become a lie because Terry Gross asked a penetrating question of a gay soccer player, Abby Wambach.

So I want to ask you more about like comprehending your sexuality, your sexual orientation. You’d had a boyfriend in high school. You went to the prom together. You were considered, like, the jock couple of Rochester, New York. Was it helpful on Long Island to have had a boyfriend, to have had sex with a boy, so that you could know with more certainty, “no, I love women?”

Dang, Ms Gross, you made me realize…I went through all of high school (and my life since high school) not even dating any boys, let alone having sex with them. With that huge lack of experience, how can I possibly know whether I’m sexually attracted to women, especially my wife? I’m supposed to be all about prioritizing empirical research, and apparently desire has to be evaluated like a taste test, and I have to sample all the varieties before I can truly love someone.


  1. Derek Vandivere says

    Interesting choice of adjective for the word ‘question’ there…

    I *guess* she was trying to get to a ‘when did you know you were gay’ kind of a moment, but she couldn’t have phrased the question much more poorly.

  2. rietpluim says

    There are roughly 7 billion people in the world.
    I dated about 10 of them before I met my wife.
    Guess I cannot say truly love her since I haven’t tried the other 6,999,999,990.
    And that’s only people. How about all other species? Perhaps I should have married an ant.

    Classified as “not even wrong”.

  3. rietpluim says

    Seriously: it’s nice that the people of Rochester, New York apparently are so broad-minded that Wambach could openly date another boy. I wish all the world was like that.

  4. says

    I think you’re being a little hard on Terry Gross. She generally doesn’t ask questions out of spite, or malice, and it’s either innocent ignorance on her part, or a question designed to inform the audience of how one might discover their sexual orientation. Sometimes that may involve “relationships” with the other gender to solidify what one already feels.

    And since when is Rochester on Long Island?

    But the answer to the question is important; the conflict between expectations and ones personal feelings. If somebody feels pressure from those around them to fit themselves into a particular little box, that’s a problem. Especially if that box doesn’t really fit. In a better world, someone like Abby Wambach would have felt free to follow her feelings from the beginning.

    So the question is less about you only like pussy because you’ve had dick and more about how has social pressure influenced your identity and relationships?

    That said, it is a fairly ignorant question, but to ascribe malice to it is going too far.

  5. evodevo says

    Terry Gross has always annoyed the CRAP out of me – I don’t know whether it’s that stutter schtick she has or the inane inquiries … I have to grit my teeth whenever my husband (oh, wait, am I REALLY hetero?!) turns on NPR ….wait, what was the question again?

  6. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    Admittedly I did actually try dating people on the grounds that maybe this attraction thing only happens when you try going out with someone. I certainly wasn’t going to randomly keep trying after I worked out that no, I wasn’t really attracted to anyone physically.

  7. blf says

    I’ve never heard of Ms Gross, and in doing some (admittedly quick) searching, found an interesting article about her and her style of interviewing, Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up (Oct-2015). In that article is an incident which seems relevant:

    In June 2014, Gross interviewed Hillary Clinton, who was then promoting her memoir, ‘‘Hard Choices.’’ Gross interviews very few politicians because it is difficult to get them to speak candidly. When she does, she moves into a register that is authoritative but no less authentic. Gross noted that as a senator Clinton didn’t support gay marriage, but as secretary of state she emerged as an advocate for L.G.B.T. rights. ‘‘She’s on the international stage, where gay people are still being executed in some countries, or certainly imprisoned, and she’s coming out not only for lesbian and gay rights but she’s adding the T,’’ Gross said to me. ‘‘I thought that was brave and remarkable. But I wanted her to bridge the gap.’’

    Gross framed the question by asking if there were things Clinton believed in personally but couldn’t come out and support as a politician — like gay marriage? ‘‘And I think she totally misinterpreted it as me trying to say, ‘You’re such a hypocrite.’ ’’

    The exchange became rivetingly uncomfortable, with Clinton growing increasingly defensive as Gross asked whether her views on gay marriage had evolved, or whether she was responding to changes in American public opinion. Clinton was stubbornly evasive: ‘‘I said I’m an American, so we all evolved.’’ The back and forth continued:

    Gross: So, that’s one for ‘‘you changed your mind’’?

    Clinton: You know, I really — I have to say, I think you are very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue.


  8. Michael Ducey says

    Terry Gross is the single best argument for not pledging any money to your local public radio station. Her interviews are cringe inducing, but sometimes seeing her flail is entertaining. One of my favorites was when she interviewed Gene Simmons of Kiss, a creepy dude from one of the worst bands that afflicted my childhood but he ran circles around her.

  9. A. Noyd says

    Besides the overall teeth-gritting cluelessness of the question, the framing also comes with a ton of bi- and ace-erasure. It’s like she thinks the only sexualities are gay and straight and you can figure out which one you are by ruling the other out.

  10. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I may be in the minoruty here, but I like Terry Gross. She always seems to ask the right questions, in a way that is insightful.
    This particular question I can’t blame her for asking. I only blame the fact that it had to be asked of every LGBTX person, while non-LGBT are never asked if they made sure by first dating an LGBT.
    still, Terry framed the question non-confrontationally, as many would have. “You dated a man, and were quite stellar, so why did you go to wimmin?”
    Terry was essentially saying that even though Abby dated a man, she recognized that she was a member of LGBT. She provided Abby’s background to let her give a simple response without having to fill in all the minutiae of her background.
    sorry to be writing apologia for an interview some didn’t like. my opinion is no better than anyone elses, so I just wantd to share mine. that’s all. gotta go.

  11. A. Noyd says

    kdemello1980 (#4)

    I think you’re being a little hard on Terry Gross. […] it is a fairly ignorant question, but to ascribe malice to it is going too far.

    How about you quote where anyone has ascribed “malice” to anything.

  12. A. Noyd says

    slithey tove

    This particular question I can’t blame her for asking. I only blame the fact that it had to be asked of every LGBTX person […]

    Yeah, the Almighty Aspect of Interviews possessed the wholly blameless Gross and forced the words to come out of her mouth because it’s a universal law that this question Must Be Asked of all queers.

    Oh, wait, no. That’s stupid. Gross could have just declined to ask and, in doing so, helped to kill the culture that makes this line of questioning so inevitable.

  13. qwints says

    Eh, I don’t really think PZ’s analogy is as ridiculous as he seems to think. I do think there are a lot of people who are less straight than than realize because they never get the chance to be open to other sexualities. There are a ton of people, especially from older generations, who are in monogamous straight relationships because that’s what they were supposed to do.

    Of course, the culture is so hetero-centric that non-straight people really don’t (can’t?) have the problem of not considering straight sexuality. Terry Gross’s question would make a lot more sense if it were asked of a straight person.

  14. empty says

    I actually used to like listening to Terry Gross. Then before the Iraq War she started doing these very sympathetic interviews with the people pushing the war. Since then, not so much. This is probably unfair but “liberals” pushing war turn my stomach more than right wingers.

  15. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 13:
    I agree with you, I phrased my statement poorly. While it would have been nicer to not ask, I think silence is likely insufficient to squash the antiLGBT attitudes.
    I’ll stick with supporting her for asking a terrible question in a gentle, empathetic way; even while disagreeing with her motivation for asking it.
    Fresh Air, I consider in the top 10 of NPR programs, along with All Things Considered, so I guess I’m biased. BRB

  16. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    That said, it is a fairly ignorant question, but to ascribe malice to it is going too far.

    Whether or not an action is wrong does not hinge on malice. What are you, five?

  17. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Actually, most of the women I know who identify as lesbian tried dating men, and a lot of the gay men I know tried dating women. And for most of them, the fact that there was something missing from opposite-sex relationships for them was part of what clued them in to their sexual identity. It is very easy as a cis-hetero male or female to accept your sexuality. Society doesn’t question it, and if it seems to work for you, you don’t either. Going against the grain has got to be harder. Maybe it isn’t as stupid a question as it sounds.

  18. Zeppelin says

    Maybe I am being harsh, but this looks like a pretty basic case of “straight person feeling entitled to details of a gay person’s sexual life” to me.

    I’ve gotten that a bunch of times — talking to people I’ve just met, and the fact that I have a boyfriend will come up or whatever, and they’ll ask “What, you’re gay? Which one of you is the woman?”.
    I generally pointed out that if one of us was a woman, we wouldn’t be a gay couple. But a disturbing number of them then went on to clarify and explicitly ask which one of us fucks the other in the ass. I don’t know what makes them think that this is an even remotely acceptable thing to ask a new acquaintance. Maybe it’s projection — all they think about when they look at me is Gay Stuff, so they assume it must be all I think about?

  19. says

    Wait, there’s no more interesting question she could ask a world class football player than “tell us about the time you fucked a dude”?
    Yes, tons of queer people go through straight dating first because that’s what’s expected of them. And from those that I know of that’s often a hurtful and embarrassing episode, so maybe not dwell on it, OK?
    And yes, tons of “straight” people are probably bi and they just went for “straight” because that was the easiest and socially accepted way.
    That still doesn’t mean questioning people about this isn’t dead wrong.

  20. woozy says

    Why do we assume people wouldn’t ask the equivalent of straight people who dated and had same-sex relationships in their past? In fact, isn’t the “experimented in college” cliche exactly that?


    One of my favorites was when she interviewed Gene Simmons of Kiss, a creepy dude from one of the worst bands that afflicted my childhood but he ran circles around her.

    Well, that’s a good example of confirmation bias. Every single person I knew (every person) who heard that show, left with the impression that Terrry Gross ran circles around Gene Simmons. You are literally only the 1 1/2th person I’ve ever heard of who thought it was the other way around. (One coworker, a big KISS fan, chuckled and said the interview was “awesome”. That’s the 1/2.)

  21. jrkrideau says

    I want to ask you more about like comprehending your sexuality, your sexual orientation.

    The woman’s a soccer player? What relevance does a dumb question like that to anything on a pitch?

  22. Rob Grigjanis says

    Oh, FFS. The question wasn’t asked in a vacuum. Wambach wrote a book, and Gross was asking her about what was in the book, which included her Catholic upbringing and the conflict between that and her sexuality. And the quoted question comes after a passage in which Wambach says

    So I’m 15, 16, 17 trying to figure myself out, figure out what I wanted. And, you know, I had a boyfriend in high school. And towards the end of my high school years, I met my first girlfriend, and I think that that was the first time in my life that I started to think for myself, right?

    So Gross isn’t testing her theory on lesbianism, she’s asking a follow-up question. That’s just lazy journalism from Cauterucci.

  23. drst says


    Ahem. Sorry. We upstaters get a bit testy when everyone assumes the entire state of New York is the city.

  24. congaboy says

    Rob Grigjanis @ 23:

    You have just ruined my ability to get pissed off and rant about how horrible Terry Gross is for asking that single, dishonestly or disingenuously isolated question. Context, and a more thorough review of the facts are total buzz-kills! Thanks a lot.

  25. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Zeppelin, Uh, dude, the details are in the book Wambach wrote. The book deals in detail with her sexuality, her marriage and divorce and her substance abuse. She went on the program to promote her book. That’s why authors go on Fresh Aire.

  26. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Here’s the transcript.

    drst, not a New Yorker myself, but I’ve got family ties all along the Thruway and down 81, so I feel your pain. But for the record, this is what Gross said:

    Was it helpful in the long run to have had a boyfriend…?

    Cauterucci had a mondegreen.

  27. jrkrideau says

    @ Rob Grigjanis
    Oh thanks. I had never heard of Gross, Wambach, or Cauterucci so clearly lacked the context.

  28. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says


    The Rochester in NY is probably the largest one in the world (210,565 in the city, over a million in the metropolitan area). It’s also the home of Eastman Kodak.

  29. Lady Mondegreen says

    @Michael Ducey #9

    Terry Gross is the single best argument for not pledging any money to your local public radio station. Her interviews are cringe inducing, but sometimes seeing her flail is entertaining. One of my favorites was when she interviewed Gene Simmons of Kiss, a creepy dude from one of the worst bands that afflicted my childhood but he ran circles around her.

    You mean the interview that had this exchange?

    TG : Now, clothes that you’ve worn on stage. You wear fishnets…
    GS : No, fire your research person, no fish nets.

    TG : I was sure I’d seen you in them, but I trust you.
    GS : Don’t ever do that, I’m a man.

    TG : Let’s get to the studded codpiece — Do you have a sense of humor about that?
    GS : No it holds in my manhood, otherwise it would be too much for you to take. You’d have to put the book down and confront life. The notion is if you’re going to welcome me with open arms you also have to welcome me with open legs.

    TG : That’s a really obnoxious thing to say
    GS : No it’s not, why should I say something behind your back that I can’t tell you to your face

    TG : Has it come to this? Is this the only way you can talk to a woman, with that schtick.
    GS : Let me ask you something. Why is it schtick when all women have ever wanted since we crawled out of caves is, “why can’t a man just tell me the truth and speak to me plainly”. So if I do that, you can’t have it both ways.

    TG : So you really have no sense of humor about this do you?
    GS : I’m laughing all the way.

    TG : Yea to the bank!
    GS : Of course, don’t I sound like a happy guy?

    TG : Not really to be honest with you.
    GS : I was going to suggest you get outside of the musty place where you can count the dust particles falling around you and get out into
    the world and see what everybody else is doing.

    Yeah, that was good.


  30. Nomad says

    I dunno guys. I had to try gay sex to know if it was for me. I’m in a weird bi-ish class that lead me to clearly enjoy hetero sex, but still have a strange, nagging suspicion that I might have been bi even while the idea of gay sex grossed me out. I always figured I’d have to meet a guy I was really attracted to to want to try, then it kind of happened but not in the way I figured it would, and in the end I found I preferred straight sex, but preferred my boyfriend to any girlfriend I’ve had before.

    I find myself identifying with a lot of what Wambach said. She answered that question differently from how I’ve seen other people answer it. Even how my boyfriend answered it. He started off with other girls in high school too. For him it was about the sex, not the romance.

    For me, it was “oh my goodness, that’s how you’re supposed to feel”. I still don’t know what to say, did I love my ex-girlfriends? I still think I did, but it didn’t feel like this. Maybe they weren’t the right ones for me? I have no idea, and if this relationship lasts then I’ll never really know for sure.

    If the issue is simply that the subject wasn’t suitable for an interview, well I won’t comment on that. Especially given the now revealed context of the book that the interview was promoting. But if straight people are just supposed to not care about what the gay experience is like then I have a problem with that. Curiosity about it suggests a desire to understand, and I thought that that was supposed to be a good thing. And I’m saying this as someone who’s sexuality isn’t easily encapsulated by any label. I have straight *and* gay people making false assumptions about me. It took my boyfriend explaining it to a straight friend who kept concluding I was gay no matter what I said. I know about bi erasure and I guess that’s nominally what this is, but it’s more than that, it’s people not understanding that the options are more then both ends of the Kinsey scale or sitting right smack dab in the middle.

    To me, the problematic attitude is “oh, so you were straight in high school and then you chose to change?”

    As I’ve talked to people I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no single concept encapsulated by the label “gay”. I’ve found some people who identify as gay but sound more bi if you listen to their back stories. On the other hand you might think I’d more fit the classification of hetero, and yet I find myself saying I’m bi if I want to avoid telling my long, convoluted history.

    If you personally don’t care to talk about it I certainly won’t force you, but I think this is a conversation we should be having more, not less, if we’re to understand the differences between us better.

  31. rrhain says

    This very much depends upon the context in which it was asked. And from what I can tell, Cauterucci left it all out.

    That is, imagine a world in which everyone tells you that you’re straight. From birth, you are presented with images of heterosexuality. Even though you don’t really understand what that means, all the imagery you see of how people are supposed to behave and what you can plan and expect to happen in your future is heterosexual in nature.

    You might end up thinking you’re straight when you finally starting thinking in that way. You might not understand why it is that you aren’t feeling what all the imagery has been telling you that you’re supposed to feel. Even if you aren’t actually bi, you might have talked yourself into it a little bit because nobody has ever honestly discussed the idea that there are gay people in the world.

    So yeah, you might have had relationships with people of the opposite sex and they do indeed help you in understanding that no, you’re not attracted to that. When a gay person who has been told all of their life that they are straight and has been trying to do the straight thing finally gets a chance to be with someone of the same sex, it can sometimes be like a lightbulb finally lights up: “Oh! So THAT’S what everyone is talking about!”

    Not to mention that there are asexual people in the world. And if you think we don’t really talk about the existence of gay people, we *really* don’t talk about the existence of asexual people. So yeah, you might actually do some experimenting and those experiences can be a positive thing (at least in the end even if while it was happening it wasn’t the most wonderful thing.)

    So if asked in that context, the question is fine. Because when you look at Wambach’s full answer, you see that’s exactly how it was taken:

    “Yeah. I mean, I think the person that I am … I will pretty much try anything once because I can’t have an opinion about something that I don’t know of or that I haven’t experienced. And that’s kind of the same thing that went into sorting my sexuality out, right? … I went to Catholic high school, Catholic grade school when I was younger, believing in this God that was basically telling me that the feelings that I might be having internally were sinful. I was like, “all right, well, I got to try this other life out. I got to see about it.” And I tried.

    “You know, I did what I was kind of, quote, unquote, “supposed to do” as a kid. And I dated the boy and I experienced the boy, and as soon as I met and started dating my first girlfriend, I then got it. I understood what I was missing all along, and this is no disrespect to my boyfriend in high school. This is just, like, more of a knowing—like I met this woman, and I was like, “oh, I get it now. This is how you’re supposed to feel.”

    “I remember having conversations with my friends in high school, like, “what do you think love feels like? You know, I don’t know. I think I’m in love.” And if you ever in your life say, “I think I’m in love,” you’re not, right? When you are in love, it’s a knowing. It’s a knowing like you know your own age, and you know your own family’s, like, last name. That’s what love feels like. And if you are in question of it, you probably aren’t in love, and I’m sorry to tell you that.”

    Consider the possibility that you weren’t told everything about what happened.

  32. A. Noyd says

    “Do you think dating a guy helped you figure out that your orientation didn’t fit social and religious expectations?”

    This is the question a lot of people seem to think Gross asked. But that’s not actually the same as “Was it helpful [in the long run] to have had a boyfriend, to have had sex with a boy, so that you could know with more certainty, ‘no, I love women?'”

    First, my version is explicitly about social expectations. If that was what Gross was getting at, as so many people are claiming, it’s really easy to just ask that directly. Second, it doesn’t encourage people to feel entitled to the details of Wambach’s sex life. She can choose to talk about it on the air or not. Third, it doesn’t assume that what happens in the sheets defines one’s orientation. (And for those unclear on what’s wrong with that, consider that no one, whatever their orientation, will have satisfying experiences with everyone they’re attracted or potentially attracted to. So disappointment in bed is a terrible way to measure sexuality. Especially for young women.) Fourth, it doesn’t depend on reducing human sexuality to some binary.

  33. A. Noyd says

    slithey tove (#16)

    I’ll stick with supporting her for asking a terrible question in a gentle, empathetic way; even while disagreeing with her motivation for asking it.

    Do you also support interviewers asking about the state of trans people’s genitals or pressing Asian-Americans about where they’re “really from” as long as it’s in a gentle, empathetic way? Or can you just stop trying to justify a fuck up from someone you happen to like?

  34. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 39:
    I see your point. got me.
    I wasn’t trying to justify her, only trying to justify why I like her.
    oh well.
    signing off. continue speaking among your selves.

  35. A. Noyd says

    slithey tove (#40)

    I wasn’t trying to justify her, only trying to justify why I like her.

    Hey, people we like fuck up all the time. We can still like them while recognizing they fucked up and hoping they do better in the future. If you have other reasons for liking Gross, that’s fine. Really. Just please don’t try to downplay her fuck up. That’s all.

  36. speed0spank says

    Does this person not realize how large Rochester NY is? You couldn’t possibly be “the jock couple of Rochester NY” because there’s a ton of schools and we had no clue what the hell was going on at them if we didn’t attend. I realize that’s the least dumb thing but it struck me as stupid since I live here and don’t even know where she went to school.