R.I.P. Steve Strange of Visage

3 03 2015

Steve Stranve IXFor those of you who don’t know, the ‘Fade to Grey’ song that all of you know was by Visage. Bonus points to those of you who can match Steve Strange with the image in the banner above.

Steve Strange was the lead singer of Visage. He was like Boy George in an alternate synthpop post-punk universe (wait, early ’80s London?) plus cocaine. He was part of the New Romantic scene, a movement which spanned from the late ’70s to the early ’80s and encapsulated an art form in various media which included androgynous dress and makeup, new electronic sounds in music, and an obsession with Vivienne Westwood’s casual ‘pirate’ look, which we can see if we simply YouTube Dead Or Alive singing ‘Misty Circles’ live.

It was that era that introduced elegantly-executed androgyny to the masses. Though short-lived (at least in the underground), it influenced the course of the ’80s by challenging people’s thoughts about gender roles, and what men and women should be. Was Annie Lennox a man, or a woman? I mean, do we seriously think this is weird nowadays? She had short hair and wore a fucking suit. Can’t a woman do that?? That’s exactly the point behind artists like the New Romantics. You, the viewer, are appalled by the fact that a short-haired ginger woman can wear a suit while dancing around in a field of cows, but you stare on in bovine wonder.

Everything weird and upturned is good.

I am sharing these videos (above and below) because:

A) Steve Strange, the tortured but talented lead singer of Visage, recently died of heart failure in hospital in Egypt (I will never accept this–it can’t be),

B) ‘She’s Electric’ is perhaps one of the greatest synthpop/dance anthems ever composed (how sublimely pulsing and ethereal?),

C) I am a big, fat, slutty whore for New Romantic music​, and

D) I just bought the CD single for ‘She’s Electric’ online! SO can’t wait to hear all the mixes. I’m especially excited about the extended mix. (Usually I like the original mix better than any of the shitty club mixes, so an extended mix of the original is like a diamond in my vagina.)

R.I.P. Steve Strange. Who cares about all your coke benders at the Blitz Club? You were a genius songwriter and performer. And you left us with what might be Visage’s best album. You left us with fashions which confuse people, makeup which makes a straight man blanch, artistic ideas which make the queerest heart quiver, and a renewed purpose behind showy spectacles like RuPaul’s Drag Race. If anybody went out in style, it was vous.





Erasure’s Violet Flame

18 09 2014

Erasure - Violet Flame (Photo Shoot)K, synthpop whores! It’s Erasure time again. For a lot of people, the release of a new album by a veteran band means, ‘Oh, fuck! All three remaining members of the Beatles are getting back together again to record…a re-recording of a 1994 compilation of…their number-one hits from, um, the 1960s, which is the only decade they made music!’ So, basically, nothing new.

Erasure are not like that. They consistently release a new album once every two to three years, often with delicious re-releases interspersed with new, original material, and re-inventing their style of synthpop with the latest producers. Most bands that originated in the ’80s can’t boast that, even if some rapper is using a synthesiser riff from their main hit in their latest song.

Erasure’s new album is a masterwork of electronic dance pop. And I say this as a hardcore fan who has criticised the band in the past for producing work which could be judged as marginal because it relied too much on trends in acoustic folk rock (which I deplore). This is entirely different:

My least-favourite album (Loveboat) was highly synthesised, well-written, well-thought-out, and expertly executed. So I am speaking in relative terms.

The band’s two previous albums, Light At The End Of The World and Tomorrow’s World (minus the Christmas album released last year) were very good and had very coherent, well-written dance anthems, but if we are talking about coherent, well-written dance anthems, The Violet Flame blows them out of the water. It is absolutely majestic in its scope. The lead singer, Andy Bell, boasts an incredibly fluid and nimble voice, synthesiser wizard Vince Clarke creates the most beautifully subtle, lush synthesiser arrangements, Andy Bell Erasureand producer Richard X polishes it off with his own HI-NRG take. The result is the perfect melodic dance-pop album.

Let’s talk about songs. ‘Under The Waves’ immediately stands out as an infectious bubblegum tune. It is the catchiest song I have heard in years. ‘Oh-oooh-oh-oooh-oh’, goes the chorus, on and on, against a thick, up-and-down italo-disco bassline. Also notable is the tune ‘Sacred’, which celebrates the extent to which love will realise itself. The most infectious and important of these transcendent dance songs, though, is the sinister and roiling ‘Paradise’. It is all about throwing away everything anybody thought about you and following your passion. It is about being true to yourself. And it’s a dance anthem! To me, this is perfection.

The Violet Flame is perhaps the best dance album I have ever heard. I hate most club mixes—they sound boring and monotonous to me. This album offers dance music that satisfies several important criteria: lyricism, melody, danceability, content. It is lyrical, melodic, danceable, and offers remotely intelligible insight into modern-day relationships and social issues. Erasure have outdone themselves with this album.

 

 

 

 





30 Years of Italo-Disco

28 08 2014

Michelle Pfeiffer Grease II Cool RiderIsn’t it funny how musical styles come and go? I remember 1950s rock ‘n’ roll being popular when I was growing up in the early ’80s, mainly because of Grease and Grease II. Michelle Pfeiffer straddling a ladder was one of my most cherished memories (and her electrocuting Christopher Walken to death in Batman Returns was perhaps my favourite scene in cinematic history). Everything ’50s was cool then, from the turned-up cuffs to the white socks. One of the first songs I learned to sing was ‘Rock Around The Clock’, but that was in 1982, long after the original song had been played on the radio, let alone penned. I was flooded with images of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Boy George. The same era had a peculiar dance beat which nobody had ever heard before—a 4-4 dance beat–with synthesiser arrangements.

In the early ’80s a new sound flooded the dance clubs of Europe and trickled down to America (as usual—new sounds happen in Europe first). It was a style of dance music with a rich, heavy, persistent bassline and simple yet elegant melody. It originated in Italy, with musicians like Giorgio Moroder, who produced music not only for Donna Summer, but also for films like Midnight Express and iconic ’80s fantasy films like The Never Ending Story. It clearly derived from 1970s disco, but reinvented itself with modern synthesisers. It became known as Italo-disco.

Probably my favourite italo-disco tune is ‘Hypnotic Tango’, by My Mine:

Isn’t it absolutely gorgeous?

One of my other favourite italo-disco tunes is ‘Orient Express’, by Wish Key:

Isn’t that the most seductive dance tune you’ve ever heard?

Glass Candy basically aced the whole italo-disco revival with the following tune:

How beautiful is that? Ida No, the singer of Glass Candy, is totally awesome.

New italo-disco style music is being created by Sally Shapiro:

Absolutely sublime.

Italo-disco is a gorgeous dance style. You just have to love dance, melody, and rhythm.





9 Reasons Why Anti-Ally Attitudes Make No Sense

30 01 2014

Macklemore GrammysI am tired of members of the LGBT community griping about how people who support them shouldn’t support them. It makes no sense. It is embarrassing to much of the LGBT community, and it makes them look like spoiled ingrates.

Macklemore recently performed at the 56th Grammy Awards alongside Mary Lambert (an open lesbian), Queen Latifah, and Madonna. He performed a song you would think all the gays would be grateful for: ‘Same Love’. Well, apparently that wasn’t good enough.

Some gays were up-in-arms over his performance. I can’t even begin to enumerate the asinine reasons why.

Let’s start with this superb piece by Arielle Scarcella:

Um, how can you refute any of these points? Please tell me how.

These are the types of arguments I encountered subsequent to Macklemore’s performance:

1) Straights cannot understand what it’s like to be gay.

Exactly! That is why Macklemore’s statement is so important. He doesn’t know. And yet he is still supportive, because he knows it’s Macklemore Grammys IIwrong. He shows empathy. Isn’t it a good thing when a non-member shows empathy for a member of a group? Or are you just divisive?

2) I didn’t ask for help.

He didn’t give it because you asked. He gave it out of magnanimity because young people needed it. Nobody is forcing your hand to accept his help. You can take it or leave it. Are you really going to take him to task for such a noble gesture? What is really annoying is that you suggest he’s forcing you to appreciate him. That is just disingenuous.

3) Privilege isn’t a shield.

He isn’t creating privilege as a shield! He is challenging his own privilege, and those of other straight men, by rapping about it! Do you really think he’s leveraging his fame to defend himself against criticism? Of what? Defending you? Now you’re just starting to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

4) He’s white56th GRAMMY Awards - Show

And? I understand some black people might not identify with his music, but surely we cannot ignore the black people who do identify with it, or invalidate the content of his argument on the basis of his race alone.

5) He’s a man

So, what? He is trying to dismantle gender roles based on sexual orientation. Isn’t that one of the most gender-subversive things a man (or anybody) can do? He is unusual among men for that reason, and that does deserve appreciation.

6) He’s exploitative.

How? He has leveraged his fame to advocate for gay rights. How is that exploitative? It can only be beneficial to the gay rights movement. He could donate to a gay charity, but that wouldn’t have the same visible impact. The mainstreaming of gay rights does require some commercialisation. It really  isn’t a big deal.

7) You have to look at the context.

What context? These are Macklemore’s lyrics. What else are you looking for? A swastika? We are being challenged on so many sides, and occasionally a beam of supportive light shines in through a grand lunette window. It is a ray of hope, and it is from a privileged person. That is our context. How can it hurt, then, to accept the help of an ally??

Madonna8) He can’t speak for us queer people.

He can’t? What would you rather he do? Stand on the sidelines and let Pat Robertson take over? Or outright oppose you like Pat Robertson? That is just ridiculous. No, you don’t have to know exactly what it’s like to be queer in order to support queer rights, and, yes, the majority can speak for the minority–out of basic human empathy, compassion, and solid ethical reasoning.

9) I’m just going to couch the terms of my argument in newfangled rhetoric.

This is perhaps the most intellectually disingenuous and disrespectful attitude I have encountered. I don’t know if it is rooted in some queer radical movement or what, but it has no business in honest dialectic. Underprivileged. What does that mean? That you can get away with saying anything you want, regardless of the illogic of your argument, just because you happen to belong to a so-called ‘underprivileged’ group? Because it doesn’t. You still need to abide by the laws of reason and open, honest debate. The fact that you may be less privileged than a member of another group does not automatically make your argument valid. It is just as likely that you are leveraging your own status as ‘underprivileged’ to bitch about people who are actually trying to help you. Which makes no sense.Macklemore Grammys IV

It is perfectly possible for underprivileged people to begin to assume the position of the privileged by taking their current position for granted (French Revolution).

The point is this: yes, LGBT people are underprivileged. However, being underprivileged does not protect you from being a total, complete asshole. The fact is we do need allies, and we start to look like real shitheads when we refuse to acknowledge our allies’ hard work to redress the crimes of the past. As Arielle Scarcella says in her video above, allies are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Personally, I am shit-holy grateful as an effeminate gay man. I will be damned if I don’t show my allies the gratitude they deserve. If you don’t like that, so be it—but keep in mind, we are not so privileged as you may think.

Oh, and during the Grammy Awards ceremony, Queen Latifah herself performed a mass wedding ceremony for both gay and straight couples, so what the fuck are you motherfuckers complaining about? Hm?





OMD (Late to the Game, as Usual)

10 10 2013

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The DarkYes, I already know that Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) are the seminal synthpop band of the late ’70s and early ’80s. The question is: how the fuck did I miss the fact that they reformed in 2005 and released albums in 2010 and 2013? I attribute it to marketing. Marketing, commerce, pop culture trends, avarice, blah blah blah.

Happily, OMD entertained my tardiness by travelling back in time to the very distant past–2010–to release their first album in something like fifteen years–History of Modern. And it is amazing. And then they released another album a couple years later in 2013–English Electric, which is equally amazing.

Hold my breasts, Jesus. Is this for real?

Yes. It is, and OMD’s new material gives veteran synthpop duo Erasure a run for their money–and I am a hardcore Erasure fan.

Consider the extended version of ‘History of Modern (Part I)’:

But it doesn’t end there. OMD’s synthpop genius carries on to their song ‘Sister Marie Says’:

Perhaps their most poignantly beautiful song since their reunion is ‘Stay With Me’, from their 2013 album English Electronic:

Actually, come to think of it, I think ‘Helen of Troy’, from the same album, might be even more stunning:

This last track reminds me of a lot of material being produced by newer bands like College, FM Attack, and Parallels. Just look up those last three bands to see what I mean.

Honestly, I am impressed by OMD. They have made an amazing comeback. They didn’t try to kowtow to current electronic dance trends–otherwise they would have ended up sounding like Lady Gaga–rather, they wrote intelligent material which incorporates modern technology to create delicious, melodic pop anthems. That is what I love about synthpop bands. They evolve.





Erasure Announce Release of New Christmas Album, “Snow Globe”

13 09 2013

Erasure - Snow Globe“Erasure are releasing a Christmas album in November! It’s called–oh, fuck. You’re Muslim.”

That is exactly how I introduced the new Erasure album to my Muslim friend, who told me he loves Christmas music.

Erasure are releasing their first-ever full-length Christmas album on 11 November, and it consists of both classic Christmas songs and original material. This is perfect. I love Christmas albums that combine classics with original works.

The first single off the album, according to the Erasure Information Service, is a rendition of Gaudete, a Latin Christmas carol believed to have been composed some time during the sixteenth century, but which probably existed as a hymn in the late Medieval period. It sounds deliciously haunting, right? It is a bold idea for a single, too.

Veteran folk band Steeleye Span have already released a stunningly beautiful version of this old carol, and quite frankly I believe it belongs in everyone’s Christmas playlist.

Isn’t it hauntingly gorgeous? I hope Erasure improve upon it. With Vince’s slick, synthesised production and Andy’s peregrine-like vocals, I doubt they will fail to please. Vince and Andy have a strangely, chillingly cool understanding of pop music which I adore.

I know it is barely the beginning of Autumn, but I love the Autumn and Winter seasons. Fleeces, pumpkins, trees decorated in candy and glass baubles, and new tunes to listen to. So this new album by Erasure is absolutely perfect.





Jinkx Monsoon Kills Detox on “Drag Race” Lip Sync

21 04 2013

Jinkx Monsoon RuPaul's Drag Race Lip Synch IIII would have posted about this earlier, but I only just found the perfect clip of it on Youtube. If you’ve been following the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’ll have noticed it was the first time kooky underdog-turned-fierce-multi-talented-competitor Jinkx Monsoon had to lip sync for her life. And boy did she put Detox Icunt in her place–albeit in her sweetly flamboyant, non-aggressive manner, which I must say is perhaps her most refreshing and endearing trait.

In Episode 11 of the show, the queens had to perform a ‘sugar ball’ as well as create a candy-inspired look in three categories: ‘super-duper sweet sixteen teenage party girl’, ‘sugar mama executive realness’, and ‘candy couture: edible eleganza’. Alaska killed the cougar construction supervisor look. Amen! For the last category, Detox donned this odd black-and-green toxic licorice contraption, Roxxxy Andrews created this very precisely made long stringy licorice look, Jinkx wore this weird candy-cane-deer-on-crack look, and Alaska Thunderfuck cobbled together a gorgeous bodice-corset thing with thick, gorgeous plumes of cotton candy bursting out of the top and bottom of the piece, and lollipops stuck to the bodice and cotton candy plumes. It was the best-conceived outfit, and Alaska deserved to win that week’s challenge for it.

The look is one thing–the full repertoire of talents is another. RuPaul had Jinkx and Detox lip sync to a tune unfamiliar to most of us–Malambo No. 1an operatic mambo piece performed by Peruvian chanteuse Yma Sumac and composed by Moisés Vivanco. From the start Jinkx nailed the rhythm with her thump-a-thump hip thrusts and bomp-a-bomp fist twists. By the end of this most unusual of lip sync challenges,  RuPaul had proclaimed Jinkx the winner and sent Detox packing. Jinkx was able to prove her talent as a lip sync artist, singer, dancer, and actor, and she was able to meld all of these things into one stellar performance. But perhaps most important, she was able to express her appreciation of vintage drag and burlesque culture.

I didn’t want Detox to go. I thought she deserved to be in the top three along with Jinkx and Alaska, but Detox and Roxxxy were really busy being jealous of Jinkx, while Alaska seemed really kind towards Jinkx and circumspect about her former RoLaskaTox teammates’ jealousy. She even began to identify with Jinkx as a common comedy queen. How often does that occur? Well, I thought Roxxxy should go because she seemed professional yet uncreative. But Ru decides. If you really want my opinion, the triumvirate of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5, in order of the contestants who deserve to win, are Jinkx Monsoon, Alaska Thunderfuck, and Detox. We will see shortly who takes the crown.





Disco Wagon Wheel!

29 01 2012

The geniuses at Penisco have outdone themselves. Revel in the new sensational product that will keep you busy with wonder and delight for many hours. Disco Wagon Wheel is so amazing that our advertising department didn’t know exactly what to say about this product. Well, they’ll have lots of time to think about it now while they look for new employees! This thing is really a treat for all!

Enjoy Disco Wagon Wheel when you unwrap it on Christmas morning, and have a blast with the old ladies. Boy George can’t keep his hands off it, nor can that old dyke in front of the American flag. Even Uncle Mary wants a piece of that shit. So buy Disco Wagon Wheel today, and enter a totally new universe of fun!





Austra

18 01 2012

I think I may have discovered my new favourite band. That is hard for me to say, since Erasure have occupied the most prominent setting in my crown of musical gems since 1995. That may soon change. Their competitor is Austra, a synthpop/darkwave/indie electronica band from Toronto who just released their debut album, Feel It Break, last year. (Yes, I know, as usual I am late to the game.) However I am not yet ready to give the number one position to Austra, simply because Erasure have produced fourteen studio albums, and I have only heard one by Austra, but if they keep up the amazing work, they very well could earn that place. Besides, a tie between the two bands isn’t entirely out of the question.

OK, so you want to know what the hype is all about, don’t you? It’s about their coherent, well-developed style, their professional-sounding technical wizardry, their eerily fun dance sensibility, lead singer Katie Stelmanis’s chillingly pure, cold voice, their artistically spooky themes, their rich harmonies, their otherworldly melodies. All of these in combination produce a lush, full, satisfying sonic experience. Listening to their debut album, Feel It Break, one imagines opening up a book of occult lore and exploring the hidden mysteries within. I would liken them to a cross between Florence and the Machine, Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, and Karin Dreijer of The Knife and Fever Ray. But at least as creepy as Karin Dreijer. Finally, an album that sounds weirdly Scandinavian without getting mired in slow, dissonant, undanceable experimentalism. It’s musically exploratory, thematically fascinating, and fun to dance to.

Check out the video for their single Spellwork, taken from the debut album. In my opinion is encapsulates the overall deliciously spooky theme of the work:

This song gives me goosebumps. One thing that stands out is the strong verse-chorus structure characteristic of pop songs—but it’s all done in such a beautifully strange and ethereal way that it doesn’t sound commercial or formulaic. Stelmanis’s eerily quavering vocals are spot-on, the melody soars like some dark-winged bird over bare tree branches, and those rich harmonies complete the vocal arrangements. And those layers upon layers of tinkling synthesisers just sweep you away into a glittering fairy world of yore. I can’t get enough of the cryptic occult references, either. Lots of Youtube commenters have said that the video is “weird”, but it’s supposed to be. The song is about pagan rituals (or so I think), so obviously the video reflects that. It’s so enticing because it’s so arcane.

Then there is the light, bright, beautiful synthpop gem Lose It. This is probably as pure, pretty, and pristine as synthpop can get, and Austra have distilled the essence of the genre in this song, and yet we haven’t quite heard synthpop done in such a fresh, clever way before. At least I don’t think so. Just have a listen:

Isn’t that just delightful? It makes me pee my pants. And it makes me pregnant. With twins. The most remarkable thing about this song, I think, is the perfect harmony between Stelmanis and the background singers in the chorus. Together, they create this plaintive, crystal-clear, birdlike song of hope and sorrow. It almost sounds like Enya in a strange way, but a cool, synthpoppy Enya. Delish.

OK, on to our last video. Showing their ability to master a range of synthpop sub-genres, Austra reveal their goth goth side in this video for their single Beat and the Pulse, and boy is it sexy. Be forewarned: I don’t do censorship, so this video is not safe for work! (That means it’s NSFW):

So what did ya think?? In my opinion, This is the difference between pornography and erotica. The models are portrayed in a seductive, tasteful manner, and they exude a mysterious power. It’s not crass and exploitative; it’s subtle and stylish. Besides, listen to the pulsating bassline that suddenly creeps into your ears when the beat kicks in. And, again, that rich texture of harmonies fills out the song and sends chills down one’s spine. This is dark, sinister synthpop at its finest.

Speaking of weird Scandinavian-sounding dance music, compare Austra to Karin Dreijer when Dreijer accepted the award for best dance artist on behalf of her band Fever Ray at this Swedish music awards ceremony:

Kooky! And fabulous. Now that we’ve established that both Austra and Fever Ray are cool, creative bands with a statement to make, it’s time to ask the question: which one is weirder? All that matters is that they are weird, and there’s a rhyme and reason to it, even if the typical Beyonce-glamoured American can’t see past his milquetoast Top 40 music collection. Consider this Youtube commenter’s post about the above Fever Ray video: “Its unfortunate most people cannot understand the statement of the absurdity of award shows, come up, make a stupid speech and say thank you within 20 seconds and walk off stage for the next commercial, absolutely meaningless. If viewers can only see the surface level and think ‘Man that lady is weird, whats with the face?’, they need to start digging deeper past the surface [sic]”. So true. So, so true. I cannot improve upon that observation, except to say that the average American isn’t into the musical creativity of artists like Fever Ray and Austra, because they’re only exposed to the commercially successful acts.

Anyway, I haven’t written about a cool band in a while, so when I discovered Austra I just knew I had to say something about them and spread the word. I entreat you to do the same. Spread the word. As you would your seed. No, just kidding. Sort of. I can’t wait to hear their next album! I’m thinking of writing about new releases by a few other bands who make me want to diddle myself, like Glass Candy and Chromatics, so keep visiting this blog. (Oh, and I’m posting another instalment of the fabulous lady-comic Julie Gentron and the Lady League very soon, so look for that too.) So go out and buy Austra’s debut album Feel It Break—make sure it’s the deluxe version—and support one of Canada’s most talented and interesting musical products of recent times. (The album was released by Domino or Paper Bag—can’t remember which—and it’s on iTunes, of course.)





Are We Really “Born This Way”?

11 11 2011

I’m sick of Lady Gerber, but I have to write about her because of this song she wrote about being born with immutable sex characteristics. The danger is in how she implies that these characteristics are unchangeable.

Upon its release, Lady Gerber’s dance hit “Born This Way” instantly became a brazen vindication of homosexuality’s biological basis. The LGBTQ community revelled in the message that homosexuality was immutable and therefore deserved society’s approval. The problem, though, is that the song’s message is founded on the precepts of biological determinism, a philosophy which reinforces the social inequities that the LGBTQ community and other minorities are struggling to eliminate. In other words, the song’s message relies on a socially damaging cop-out about human nature. Perhaps what we need to do is take a fresh approach to gay and lesbian apologetics by critiquing biological determinism for the way in which it disenfranchises us, because it doesn’t necessarily liberate us.

Essentially, biological determinism states that people are born with certain immutable biological characteristics, and that these characteristics help explain the social inequities we see in society. By contrast, social determinism posits that the behaviour of the individual is determined by social mores and institutions. Since they are both forms of determinism, biological and social determinism are the opposite of free will, a philosophy which states that human beings ultimately possess agency and volition over their actions. Finally, compatibilism states that free will and determinism are not incompatible, and that both work together to influence the behaviour of the individual. And then there is epigenetics, which is relevant but lies outside the scope of this article.

One might think that, ostensibly, biological determinism would serve gays and lesbians, because it transfers responsibility for homosexual behaviour from the person to the person’s physiology, thereby exonerating that person of any claims of moral turpitude. According to this view, if homosexuality is biologically predetermined, gays and lesbians are not sinning against God, because they are blameless. A person’s same-sex affection is driven by the neurochemistry of his or her brain, and it is unfair to blame a person for neurobiological processes they cannot control, hence it is unfair to blame a person for his or her same-sex affection. In short, the idea is, “You can’t blame a person for something they can’t control.”

It seems like a triumphant final “hurrah” in defense of homosexuality, but is it really a good philosophy for human beings in general? Maybe not.

Using biological determinism as an excuse for our behaviour might inadvertently hamper efforts at achieving gender equity. The biological determinist model posits that boys are inherently more aggressive, lustful, and dominating than girls, and girls, more passive, emotional, and nurturing than boys, because of some genetically-influenced cocktail of hormones which shaped their brains in the womb. But is this philosophy scientifically sound, and does it serve boys and girls? As Cordelia Fine points out in her book Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, testosterone does seem to determine which set of genitals a baby will develop, but it does not necessarily determine which toys children like to play with, let alone which types of careers they wish to pursue later in life. She also shows in the first section of the book that the scientific attempt to prove that girls are more empathetic than boys is implausible. Fine shows again and again that the “neuroscience” of hardwired sex differences use to justify gender inequity is methodologically flawed, misinterpreted, or simply nonexistent.

If we think about it, we can see the slippery slope of excuses which might be used if we embrace biologically determined sex inequity: for example, when a man rapes a woman, it isn’t really his fault, because he was being controlled by his testosterone levels. In effect, rapists get off the hook because “boys will be boys”, and girls like to please. In other words, men get to violate women because that is what it means to be a man, and women should just lie back and think of England. But biological impulse does not excuse rape, because rape hurts people. I know. Novel concept. If you’re impelled to rape, you deserve to be sequestered, medicated, and treated psychiatrically, not excused because of your testosterone levels. And if you continue to try to rape, a stable of women martial artists should be set on your ass to put you in your place, bitch.

But bio-determinism is dehumanizing for another important reason: empathy is something that defines us as human beings (or as mammals at least), and we need as much of it as we can get, but bio-determinism posits that boys are inherently less empathetic than girls, so, essentially, what it is suggesting is that half of the human race should be crueller than the other half. This is absurd if our goal is to encourage the greatest degree of empathy possible in everybody, male or female. If empathy is so valuable, why are we making exceptions for it? That’s just schizophrenic–it’s shooting ourselves in the foot. Does the LGBTQ community really want to endorse such ridiculously irrational self-limitation? I hope not.

Bio-determinism could even be used to justify racism. As bio-determinists, we might argue that black people are inherently more violent than white people in order to explain the disproportionately high number of black people in American prisons. We might also invoke bio-determinism to explain the higher mortality rate of black people, and why they need this-or-that medicine (the commercialisation of race for the purpose of lining the pockets of drug companies). This racialisation of social ills is roundly criticised by Dorothy Parker in her book Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century. When we embrace bio-deterministic explanations for racial inequity in health and crime rates, we are automatically enabling such inequity to persist. Clearly, promoting the assumption that ill-health and violent tendencies are in the nature of dark-skinned people is detrimental to both dark-skinned and light-skinned people, so we should stop making excuses and figure out the larger reasons why dark-skinned people tend to crowd our prisons and hospitals. For this reason, the LGBTQ community might wish to be cautious about using bio-determinism as an explanation for behaviour.

Ironically, the “Born This Way” maxim might not just hurt women and racial minorities—it might actually end up hurting the LGBTQ community itself. Does it really matter whether or not something is natural? By using biological innateness to justify their desires, gays and lesbians are simply giving power to the oppressor, because they are sort of implying that they “can’t help doing something that might indeed actually be wrong”, as if it’s some uncontrollable disease. In other words, they’re suggesting, homosexuality isn’t OK because it makes somebody happy; it is OK simply because it can’t be helped. It’s kind of like saying that freckles are OK because they’re natural, not because they make somebody happy. Of course freckles aren’t OK just because they’re natural; they’re OK because they make somebody happy.  Similarly, homosexuality isn’t OK just because it’s natural; it is OK because it makes somebody happy.

What is taking place here is an “appeal to nature” fallacy, which states that a thing is good because it is natural, and bad because it is unnatural. But a thing is not good because it is natural, or bad because it is unnatural; it is good because it creates pleasure and happiness, and bad because it prevents pleasure and happiness. Clearly, rape and murder are part of human nature, but nobody in their right mind says that these things are good. Conversely, aeroplanes are unnatural, but nobody goes around protesting against aeroplanes because they’re bad. So, what gays and lesbians should be doing is saying, “Even if homosexuality weren’t natural, that doesn’t make it wrong. It is right because it makes people happy. It is also your choice to be a Christian, and that’s a man-made decision, but I don’t discriminate against you because of that.” Thus, to deny power to the oppressor, the LGBTQ community should focus on critiquing the appeal to nature fallacy, not affirming it.

As we can see, Lady Gerber’s widely adored anthem ostensibly vindicates same-sex desire, but in many ways it actually reinforces damaging social inequities for women and racial minorities, as well as LGBTQ people themselves. It hurts almost everyone. Certainly, biology plays a part in who we are as human beings, but it does not necessarily define who we are in a distinct linear fashion from womb to adulthood. Absolute biological determinism, like social determinism, seems a little implausible, so perhaps we should consider paying more heed to compatibilism–the philosophy that allows for a complex interaction between the mind, the body, and society. We might even argue that we have more free will, more agency and autonomy, than we give ourselves credit for. Maybe we weren’t strictly “born this way” after all, and maybe there’s a bigger “socio-biological” picture to why we do what we do, but that doesn’t make homosexuality wrong any more than it makes, say, Christianity wrong. Maybe what we should be doing is defending minority sexual identities for their own sake, not for their basis in biology.

Of course, at the end of the day, it just so happens that there is a mounting heap of evidence defending at least the partial innateness of homosexuality, but, alas, it is exceedingly difficult to teach a religious fundamentalist new tricks, isn’t it?

Source:

The Muck of Ages