More Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense

1 03 2014

I’ve already given eight reasons why homophobia makes no sense, but I am continuously discovering more reasons, as you can tell by the title of this blog entry.Morgan Freeman Homophobia

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer recently vetoed (for largely economic reasons) a bill passed by the Arizona legislature to allow business owners to discriminate against people on the basis of religious belief. Senate Bill 1062 would have allowed business owners to deny service to members of the LGBT community on the basis of personal religious faith. (The pro-business Brewer was pushed to her decision largely by corporations threatening to leave Arizona if the bill was passed.)

The bill also could have allowed business owners to deny service to Muslims, pagans, very many women, and others who do not subscribe to the religious doctrines of the business owner. If a business owner passed by a restaurant booth and overheard a conversation by a Muslim woman saying she was seeking or had sought an abortion, the bill, if passed, would have given that business owner the right to deny that woman service (if the business owner could prove their religious conviction in accordance with the re-written law).Stephen Fry Homosexuality Love

This whole fiasco drew opponents to homosexuality out of the woodwork, and they populated social media in force. They hemmed and hawed against religious restrictions, while LGBT advocates hemmed and hawed about equal protection (which is also a constitutional right in the United States).

So, with that in mind, I am going to focus here on the attitudes of people I have encountered in social media who supported the bill because it would have allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBT people. I am going to expose their fallacies and destroy them one-by-one. I cannot connect a single argument with a single person, but I can say I encountered these arguments commonly (and you have probably encountered them, too).

1) ‘Why should I serve people who flaunt their sexuality at the restaurant table?’

Why should I serve people who flaunt their sexuality at the restaurant table? Oh, wait, you are talking about LGBT people, and I am talking about straight people. Why do you think that gay people flaunt their sexuality at a restaurant table any more than straight Audre Lordepeople? Is it just the fact that you know they’re LGBT? As opposed to straight? How is there a difference? I am confused.

2) ‘What’s next? Allowing swingers and people in BD/SM gear to enter my establishment and demand to be served?’

Wait, what? So you equate LGBT people with swinging and BD/SM more than you do straight people? That’s silly, since straight people probably have just as much interest in BD/SM as LGBT people. If you shun LGBT people because of their scary sexual experimentations, why don’t you shun straight people as much for the same reason? It doesn’t make sense.

3) ‘You can’t compare LGBT rights with black rights.’

This is a false dilemma. You are saying that LGBT Lesbian Charactersrights do not compare with black rights because LGBT people choose to be who they are, while black people do not. First, how do you know that LGBT people choose to be who they are? Give me the evidence. Second, even if they did choose to be who they are, natural does not equal right, and unnatural does not equal wrong. Third, it is wrong to say that LGBT rights and black rights are entirely separate just because LGBT identities are based on sexuality, and not skin colour. No, LGBT and black rights are similar because both LGBT and black people have experienced institutional and/or systemic discrimination based on their status. Obviously their experiences overlap. Ask Audre Lorde.

4) ‘Gays and atheists and what-not will discriminate against me!’

No, they won’t! What they want is a compromise. The gay-theists will take wedding photos of you, because state law says they should, and you will take wedding photos of gay-theists, because state law says you should. Doesn’t it all work out to a magical equilibrium?

5) ‘Religion trumps everybody else’s rights’Gay Love

No, it doesn’t. True religious freedom means the right to exercise your religion in peace and harmony while also respecting the freedoms of others. It does not mean steamrolling over their freedoms; it does not mean controlling every aspect of their lives; and it is not a free pass to do whatever you want on the grounds of personal faith. Religious freedom ends when it seeks dominion over the basic freedoms of others.

So that is my response to attitudes about the recent decision in Arizona. I know I will not reach the heart of truly devout Christians who believe what they believe, but I hope something like this will make a dent in the beliefs of people who are on the fence. If you truly believe that God made Adam and Eve to procreate, you have to ask yourself why there are post-menopausal women who have sex, women who have had hysterectomies but have sex, sterile women who have sex, and women who simply choose not to have children but have sex. How is that any different from a gay person having sex? Obviously it is about love and devotion toward another human being. How is that wrong?





Valentine’s Day and Stupid Sexist Jokes

15 02 2014

Conan O'BrienLet me make this clear right away: I love Conan O’Brien. He is the funniest late-night television show host I have ever watched. He is refreshingly, self-deprecatingly wacky and off-the-wall. It is fun to watch Irish gingers make fun of themselves, too. Most late-night hosts don’t do that—Conan is uncannily British in his farcical humour, which is probably why he’s so popular in so many countries outside the United States. But he doesn’t write his own monologues—he works behind the scenes with writers and then delivers the final product on stage. He is not entirely at fault for the jokes he delivers in his monologues.

While I normally slap my knee uproariously over Conan’s crazy introductory monologues, I’ve been a little bit peeved lately at the show’s jokes about Valentine’s Day because of their retrogressive direction. One of the jokes was about how McDonald’s has offered discounts to 05 - Needle You - Vintage ValentineValentine’s Day couples, and how all the tables will be filled only by one person—presumably a man who was abandoned by his female lover for taking her to such an awful place for the most important date in her calendar. Another joke was about how Valentine’s Day bla bla bla men don’t care bla bla bla women love it bla bla bla therefore punchline about how men don’t care about Valentine’s Day, and just want to get their dicks sucked as payment.

OK. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, and I totally appreciate the overall vibe of the Conan show and other commercial outlets for St Valentine’s Day, but the whole ‘man pays woman with chocolates for sex’ thing is  just kind of annoying because it reinforces several very unfair things that many of us automatically assume about the ritual of love and romance. And it shouldn’t be this way; it should be about romantic love and devotion between consenting partners.

First, there is the assumption that men don’t care about Valentine’s Day as much as women do. Really? What kind of evidence do you have to support this assumption? I’m curious to know. The typical narrative is that the man gives the woman flowers and chocolates in exchange for sex. This suggests that men don’t care as much as women do about romantic love, for that is what Valentine’s Day is all about. It is an incredibly special day in which couples celebrate their love for one another. If you don’t believe the man cares as much Batgirlabout romantic love as the woman does, doesn’t this deserve explaining? Why do you think the man shouldn’t care as much? Men feel romantic desires too, don’t they?

Second, there is the assumption that women don’t care as much about sex as men do on Valentine’s Day. Again, really? Give me hardcore reasons for your assumption. We all know the drill: the man gives the woman chocolates and flowers as an expression of his love and devotion (like some brain-dead, sex-crazed zombie), and the woman rewards him by performing fellatio on him. Or more. This whole scenario suggests that sex is a form of payment to a man by a woman. No. If St Valentine’s Day means anything, it is that couples merge consensually in perfect, harmonic sexual love. There is perfectly good reason to believe that Valentine’s Day should be as sexually pleasing for the woman as for the man. It isn’t her fault that you don’t know where the clitoris is. Maybe that’s why she asked for chocolates.

My intent is not to ruin your joy—there is nothing more precious than true love—but it is to shatter the myth that St Valentine’s Day is an excuse to make a profit off some ill-conceived battle of the sexes. It is not the case that men have to earn sex by giving women flowers and chocolates, and it is not the case that women have to earn love by denying their own sexuality and gratifying a mate. It is far more egalitarian than that. Both women and men acknowledge that they both experience love and lust, and want to share it with one another. How fucking complicated is that? It sounds like a fun time to me!

And with that, I leave you with ‘Welcome to my VD’, by my favourite comedienne, Deven Green:

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2746119/welcome_to_vd_comedy_parody_by_deven_green/





The Creepiest Vintage Halloween Costumes

29 10 2013

Halloween 1910What makes something creepy? YouTube user Vsauce cogently explains that creepiness arises from uncertainty over whether or not something is a threat. It is never straightforwardly frightening; rather, it is unsettling because it straddles the border between safety and danger. Humans have difficulty handling vagueness and ambiguity.

This is a natural topic to discuss in relation to the upcoming Halloween holiday. Halloween is about uncertainty. Very brief history: The Christians Christianized a Roman holiday of the dead called Lemuria, which occurred in mid-May. They christened it All Saints’ Day. Then they realised there was another nasty pagan death holiday over in Ireland called Samhain (SOW-in) which occurred on 1 November, and they moved the Christianised holiday Lemuria forward six months to 1 November to co-opt the Irish holiday. That day became the new All Saints’ Day. Hence Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve. For pagans, there lay uncertainty over the intentions of the dead, and it was deemed wise to propitiate them, often by dressing up to imitate them and offering them food.

So, Halloween was never really about running around trick-or-treating dressed up as Superman; it was about exploring the strange world of spirits, be they good, bad, or mercenary—we never know for sure. (In fact, trick-or-treating isn’t even a hundred years old.) Well, I think Halloween celebrants have appropriately reflected this cognitive dissonance toward the dead in the form of some very disturbing masks and costumes. Below are some of the most unsettling vintage photographs and stills of humans mimicking the dead or otherworldly creatures. Importantly, they are utterly lacking in any modern-day commercialism or skimpy ‘sexiness’.

Take the following portrait, for instance:

Halloween - Vintage Witch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a drear and dour portrait. The expressionless face and slightly smug grin creeps me out. I can’t tell quite what she is thinking. Is she going to hex me, or ask me to go bobbing for apples (which, creepily enough, actually stems from a pagan divination ritual)?

But that one only scratches the surface. Consider some of the more clown-like masks and costumes, as in this image:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes XI

Holy shit. Look at the one in the bottom middle. Is that Michael Myers from Halloween in drag?  I can’t tell what she’s thinking. Some of them are scowling, but others are smiling. Others yet are just characterless black masses. Um, I’ll pass on this party. (Or will I?)

It gets even creepier when you put children in masks. Look at these little creeps:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes IX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh my God. These creeps outdo everyone at the local cosplay convention in terms of effect. It just goes to show you don’t have to spend a thousand dollars on a costume to look like the spawn of Satan. Just dig it out of your grandmother’s closet.

You know how they say clowns are creepy? Well, not as creepy as these gorgeous creatures:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look at the creep on the bottom right with the triangle balloon head. Is he dressed for a German S&M porn film? Why don’t we do this anymore? Old-timey Halloween was way creepier than modern-day Halloween.

But, still, children in masks are creepier:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VI

I seriously feel concerned for that little kid in the foreground with the hat turned askew. Look at that fucked-up Uncle Sam behind him and the creepy rodent thing in the Boy George hat to his right with the garden tool in his hand.

But these little creeps, they are truly disturbing:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes III

In 1985 when I was in Grade One our class watched an old film about Norwegian troll folklore. There were music trolls, graveyard trolls, and bedroom trolls. The bedroom troll lived under your bed and would reach up and grab your hand, trying to pull you under. The actor playing the bedroom troll had this matted fur covering his arm. Some of the others wore prosthetic skin masks. Ever since then, I have been unable to sleep with my hand dangling over the edge of the bed. These creeps remind me of that.

Look at these shady creeps:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes V

This isn’t creepy because of the masks they’re wearing, but because they’re a bunch of brown rabbits surrounding a little white rabbit like they’re about to pounce, and they have these fucked-up grins on their faces. Especially the white one. And those ears are unnatural-looking.

Still, the masks are the creepiest, in my opinion:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes

Masks like these look like they’re half-melted; they resemble the face of a terribly deformed burn victim. The ratty mime costumes don’t help to allay my—fear?—no, uncertainty.

More little creeps from the suburbs:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VII

I personally think these kids look creepier than Michael Myers or Jason. But again, they’re not exactly scary—their masks have ambiguous half-smiles, which makes them even more disturbing.

The younger they get, the creepier they get:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes X

I call this one China Doll Black Face KKK Bloated Child Corpse Mash-Up, because that is exactly what it looks like to me.

The little creep below is one of the most disturbing of all:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VIII

Not only is she creepy because she looks like one of those trolls in the classroom film I watched, but she is creepy because she is alone, like some solitary hunter,  about to run at me with a hatchet concealed beneath her cowl.

But this, oh, this is the creepiest image of all:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes XII

This is actually a still from the Vsauce video I mentioned above about why things are creepy. I don’t even know what these little creeps are supposed to be, let alone what they are thinking underneath their fucked-up masks. That is the unsettling part.

So, those are the images of the creepiest vintage Halloween costumes I could find. I really think Vsauce is spot-on in his observations—the creepiest things are those which straddle the border between our sense of safety and our sense of danger, those which toy with our need for certainty. And none of these costumes is in the least cute or sexy. They aren’t princesses or fairies (unless you mean fairy in the sense of the Aos [Ees Shee], the capricious spirits of ancient Irish folklore). Maybe we can stop with this trend of marketing sexy French maid costumes to women and revive the custom of disturbing people’s minds.





Mapping American Social Attitudes

28 03 2012

I’ve found maps fascinating ever since I was a wee lad. I remember getting a globe for my birthday in 1986 and an atlas for Christmas in 1991, and getting new maps and globes over the years to watch the changes in national boundaries. I was shitty at math but adored maps. Maps say so much in pictures  about people, politics, migratory patterns, industry, the environment, natural resources, social attitudes, and loads of other hot, steamy, bloggable stuff. Looking at different maps of the United States, we can see a stark divide in political and social attitudes about race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Here I want you to take a look at some maps of the U.S. to see where different attitudes are concentrated. It’s amazing to see the clear patterning of regional differences, which in turn shows us where we have our work cut out for us in terms of achieving social equity.

We can start this work by looking at the political attitudes, which frequently overlap with social ones. Consider the following maps of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. The first map shows states with red, Republican majorities, and those with blue, Democratic majorities; the second one shows this same information, but with a focus on population density.

As we can see, Republican voters were clustered in the south, the Great Plains, and the interior west, while Democratic voters were clustered in the northeast, Great Lakes, and west coast. As it so happens, the red areas also generally reflect sparsely populated areas, and the blue areas, more densely populated areas, revealing a correlation between cities and Democratic values.

But does the Republican-Democrat divide reflect something more than just urban versus rural? If we look at the following Gallup maps from 2011 and 2010, respectively, we get a better idea how conservatives and liberals are distributed across the country.

Not only are the northeast and northwest regions predominantly Democratic and urban, but they are also decidedly more liberal than the south and the midland. (The midland tends to be a grey area, as we shall see.) The ideological divide along geographical lines begins to deepen. Urbanity, Democratic politics, and liberalism begin to characterize the northeast and west coast while rurality, Republican politics, and conservatism begin to characterize the hinterland.

The regional difference comes into even sharper focus when we look at education and religiosity in America. Below is a 2009 Gallup map showing the most religious and most secular states in the country as well as a 2000 Census Bureau map showing educational attainment.

As the first map suggests, the south is much more religious than average, while Cascadia and New England are much more secular than average. The second map shows the inverse for education: the more secular areas tend to have better-educated people, and the more religious areas tend to have less-educated people, especially when we compare Washington state and Massachusetts with Mississippi. What this seems to show is that religiosity and lower educational attainment pattern together in the south, while secularism and higher educational attainment pattern together in New England and Cascadia (anchored by the cultural and educational centers of Boston and Seattle, respectively).

This ideological divide becomes particularly important when we look at the history of black civil rights in the United States. Consider these maps on slavery and anti-miscegenation laws:

It’s probably no surprise that the south consisted almost entirely of slave states, and the north and west almost entirely of free states and territories. Nor is it surprising that the map of anti-miscegenation laws so closely follows this pattern, with the south resisting the repeal of racist marriage laws until 1967, over one hundred years after slavery was abolished. The south wasn’t always overwhelmingly Republican, though: the region was full of “Dixiecrats” when the liberal Democrat and conservative Republican binary was not as stark as it is today.

But this general pattern of a blue, liberal region wrapping around a red, conservative hinterland doesn’t end with race; it also shows up in opinions about women, women’s rights, and sex differences, as illustrated in the following maps of women’s suffrage laws and attitudes about abortion.

In the suffrage laws map, the divide between a conservative south and a liberal north and west is slightly blurred. Large parts of the northeast joined with the south in resistance to suffrage, but vast parts of the west and northwest remained progressive on this issue, in stark contrast with the south. The north-south binary reappears, however, in the 2006 abortion map, which shows a northeast and west coast far friendlier toward reproductive rights than the south.

The south’s apparent concern for unborn babies seems incompatible with its poor record on child welfare. We see another stark regional difference looking at maps of state-by-state child poverty rates and overall child welfare across the United States.

On the 2008 child welfare map, children are better off in the lighter-shaded areas, which include Washington state, Utah, the Upper Midwest, and New England, but they are worse off in the south–the same part of the country where women’s rights, black civil rights, and post-secondary educational attainment tend to lag behind, and where religiosity tends to flourish. A very similar pattern holds for child poverty rates, with a dark band of impoverished children in the south and a lighter strip of well-off children in the west, north, and northeast.

No discussion of American social attitudes would be complete without mention of gay rights, which seems to be the social justice zeitgeist of our time. It’s everywhere in the news, at least in the United States, where everything is controversial. Once again, the general pattern we have been seeing holds true when we look at the maps below showing the advance of gay rights in the United States.

The first map shows the northeast, Midwest, and west coast taking the lead in knocking down old laws banning sodomy between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. Most of the south (as well as Mormon country) had to be forced by a 2003 Supreme Court ruling to catch up with the rest of the country. And, in typical fashion, the northeast, Midwest (Iowa), and northwest (Washington state) shine bright blue as the beacons in the gay marriage movement, while the south and Great Plains are steeped in a mostly dark blood red. We must take care not to lump the entire south into the category of “retrogressive”, however: one former slave state–Maryland–is now a gay marriage state. Now, that’s a remarkable transformation. How many states can say that they used to have slaves, but they will soon have legally married gay couples if all goes according to plan?

Certainly, looking at a few maps gives only a rough depiction of social attitudes in America, and much more investigation is required to yield a truly refined and nuanced portrait of the issue, but we can still get a general idea where American attitudes lie with respect to the rights of women, minorities, children, poor people, etc., by looking at maps. Cascadia and New England generally represent more liberal, educated, healthy people while the south generally represents the opposite. We can use this kind of knowledge to focus our efforts on helping those who have been targeted for oppression. It isn’t about judging ignorant rubes–it’s about demonstrating compassion for the underprivileged. With further research, and with the facts in mind, we can reach out to disenfranchised minorities, abused children, poor people who don’t have money for rent, young pregnant women with no access to reproductive health-care, bullied gay youth with nowhere to go, and the lonely, ostracised atheist or Muslim, with the goal of creating equity for all. This is the purpose of looking at social attitudes in America.





The “Plug-in-Socket” Paradigm: How Homophobia Overlaps with Sexism

3 03 2012

Homophobia, it turns out, has its roots in good, old-fashioned sexism, and I’ll tell you why. On February 6th, Washington state residents Jennifer Morris and Allison Vance, a 13-year-old, testified against gay marriage before the Washington State House Judiciary Committee. Their argument was basically that gay marriage is wrong because men and women complement one another. The state Legislature didn’t buy their argument, however, as Washington state legalised gay marriage on 13 February, the day before Valentine’s Day. (The Seattle bars were rife with exuberant homosexuals that night.) Still, it is important to deconstruct Morris and Vance’s argument, expose its fallacies, and show how they are motivated by sex stereotypes.

The arguments of people like Morris and Vance are usually put in rather crude, simplistic terms. Lacking a grasp on nuance, they tend to compare marriage with things that involve inserting one object into another in order to make more “stuff”, or to produce something tangible. Consider the analogy Morris draws between copulation and buildings, which the Seattle alternative weekly newspaper The Stranger reported on in its official blog, Slog:

Today my main message is that specific tools are for specific purposes…. If you were going to build a skyscraper, you would not be putting bolts with bolts and nuts with nuts, because the structure wouldn’t go up. And if it did it would probably fall apart, probably destroying many lives…. I feel very demeaned by the fact that roles don’t seem to matter.

Nuts with nuts. Such prurient imagery. According to Morris, sex is about creating people, not pleasure—despite the fact that the world is verging on 7 billion. Morris seems to care more about the tribal Bronze Age ideal of propogation than the twenty-first-century ideal of sustainability. The notion is that sex is about breeding as much as possible, despite the stress this may place on the environment, and ultimately on people. Echoing Morris, Vance says that trying to make a same-sex-headed family work is “like trying to walk with two left shoes.” She also says that “[i]n order to walk properly, you must wear one left shoe and one right shoe”. In other words,the only proper sexual union is that between a man and a woman, because the only proper sexual union is between two people who can procreate, and only opposite-sex couples can procreate.

Of course, we already know that this is ridiculous, since sterile couples, hysterectomised women, postmenopausal women, and couples who choose not to have children can marry despite their inability or choice not to procreate—because they love each other. For the same reason, then, gay people should be allowed to marry one another. Any adult can marry another adult who consents to the marriage. Simple as that. But conservatives are immune to this kind of reasoning—it tends to go in one ear and out the other, or else they come up with increasingly desperate and tenuous counter-arguments to avoid facing the fact that this kind of reasoning makes perfect sense.

But Morris and Vance’s anti-gay sentiment is not just about procreation—it is about the sex roles associated with these (as Morris herself suggested above). Think about it. Traditional sex roles involve a dominant, independent male penetrating a submissive, dependent female. The male is the logical, aggressive, disciplinarian “yin”, and the female, the intuitive, submissive, nurturing “yang”. The male is the dominant force, and the female, the recessive one. The male is the unemotional breadwinner, and the female, the emotional care-taker. Or else, as in the T.V. show Whitney, the woman is the passive-aggressive psychopath, and the male, some dumb, confused testosterone machine who stares like some fucking dumb piece of numb-brained shit at women’s asses. Here we see Vance’s left and right foot. Her argument against gay marriage is founded on old-fashioned, sentimental ideas about a relationship in which a dominant male complements a submissive female (an inherently hegemonic system), and on teaching children these roles early on.

What does this have to do with lesbians and gays, you may ask? Well, in the view of people like Morris and Vance, lesbians and gays are traitors because their relationships do not involve a man dominating a woman (left versus right shoe). Lesbianism does not involve a man dominating a woman, and male homosexuality does not involve a man dominating a woman. Not only does the rigidly mechanistic “plug-in-socket” scenario of “male and female mate, thereby producing offspring” break down in these relationships, but so do the hegemonic, sex-based social roles which derive from it. In a word, gays and lesbians have sex for pleasure, not to dominate a member of the opposite sex and keep the plug-in-socket hierarchy functional. For this reason, in the eyes of gay-marriage opponents, gay marriage is wrong.

But are traditional sex roles really a desirable thing? I don’t think so. They basically imply that women should be nicer people than men (because they have different limbic systems or whatever). But this is kind of like saying that normal people should be a little bit nicer than psychopaths. We don’t say that psychopaths should be crueller than normal people; we say that they should be as nice as normal people, and so we medicate them accordingly. Similarly, we shouldn’t be saying that men should be meaner than women; we should be be saying that they should be as nice as women, and teach them accordingly. And even if there is some biological explanation for men’s greater aggressiveness, it isn’t an ethical imperative; it is merely an observation of a natural phenomenon, like a genetic predisposition for cancer. We don’t say that those genetically predisposed to cancer should be more susceptible to cancer; we treat them for their condition. So, everybody should be held to the same standard of sensitivity and compassion, and it is simply giving licence to cruelty to say that “boys will be boys”. What gay rights activists should be doing, then, is pointing out that homophobia cannot be justified using sexism, because sexism itself is not justifiable.

Besides, true Christians (who make up a sizeable portion of homophobes) shouldn’t be buying into the temptation of saying that male aggressiveness and female submissiveness are biologically predetermined. They believe in Jesus Christ. Well, the Bible says that Jesus was compassionate (Matt. 9:36), that others should be compassionate (Matt. 18:33), and that Jesus himself commanded people to be like him (John 14:12, 1 Corinthians 4:16). If Jesus was compassionate, if others should be compassionate too, and if he told people to be like him, it follows that Jesus and the Bible required people to be compassionate and peace-loving. Now, because Jesus was male, and because he commanded everybody to be as compassionate as he, he necessarily required males and females to be equally compassionate. After all, he is the common denominator for compassion among Christians. So, while sexism motivates homophobia, if Jesus himself breaks down traditional sex roles, Christians can’t use them to justify homophobia.

I didn’t write this post using the traditional English essay formula; I wrote it in a sort of stream of consciousness format. I guess I was channelling Virginia Woolf or something. Anyway, I wanted to show how homophobia stems from sexism, how sexism is stupid, and how sexists have no basis for using Jesus to justify homophobia, since Jesus-quotes don’t justify sexism. Hopefully I’ve achieved this much. It’s important to emphasise that homophobia and sexism have a lot in common. Both gay people and feminists defy patriarchy by defying traditional sex roles. In order to attack homophobia, what gay rights advocates need to be doing is attacking sexism, since this seems to be used to justify a lot of homophobia. A discussion on gay rights is not complete without mentioning women’s rights at some point. Both concern sex roles and sexual identity, and as such they inform one another. In the meantime, let’s celebrate the recent gay marriage victories in Washington state and Maryland.





Hillary Clinton, Gay Rights, and Cultural Relativism

12 12 2011

I’m not a cultural relativist. Sometimes customs are culturally relative, and sometimes, quite frankly, they are not. I don’t believe that sexism, racism, child abuse, animal abuse, rape, torture, murder, or homophobia are excusable depending on cultural context, because in each context these atrocities share the traits of hatred, violence, and exploitation committed against a sentient being. Let me get this caveat out of the way first: on some issues we are in no place to judge the practises of other cultures, and on other issues we most certainly are. In return, these other cultures are allowed to judge us on our faults. With that out of the way, LGBT rights are not an imperialist vision; they are a humanist one.

Given my wariness of cultural relativism, I was elated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s amazing speech at the United Nations in Geneva. In her speech, Clinton declares that the Obama administration will defend LGBT rights as a part of its human rights and foreign policy, and that the President will command all government agencies operating overseas to defend LGBT rights through various diplomatic strategies. She makes several points about how and why the world community should end persecution of LGBT people: first, LGBT rights are human rights; second, homosexuality exists in all cultures; third, religious and cultural beliefs do not justify persecution of LGBT people; fourth, the world must confront persecution of LGBT people, not dismiss it; and fifth, we must employ practical means to obtain equality for LGBT people. All of these points are interesting and relevant, but the most provocative to me are the second and third points, which challenge the cultural relativism cited to defend persecution of LGBT people.

In her second point, Clinton challenges the assumption that homosexuality and LGBT rights are purely Western, imperialist conceptions being foisted on non-Western cultures. This is simply not true, Clinton shows, because homosexuality exists in every culture, and homophobia is a problem in every culture. It is, in other words, a human condition, and creating artificial cultural barriers to LGBT liberation would do a disservice to LGBT people:

Some seem to believe [homosexuality] is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbours.

And just in case anybody insists there are no examples of efforts to advance LGBT rights in non-Western cultures, Clinton deftly turns the tables:

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Clinton has obviously done her fact-checking (which is to be granted, given that she is America’s chief diplomat): heteronormative sexualities, if not exactly ubiquitous, are well-distributed among the world’s cultures, hence LGBT rights are a relevant concern to all of the world’s cultures. It is now common knowledge among well-informed people that homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, and intersexuality are not the product of a particular culture; they are a product of living organisms in general, from shellfish to human beings. It seems absurd, then, to say that these sexualities are the luxurious fad of one particular society (the West) of one particular species of animal (homo sapiens), hence it seems absurd to suggest that LGBT rights are relevant only to that society or species.

In her third point, Clinton criticises the notion that cultural or religious beliefs somehow justify persecution of LGBT people, and roundly dashes it to pieces. (I exaggerate, but still, she could have, and she probably would have if representatives of countries like Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan weren’t present.) She does this by comparing LGBT rights to the rights of other persecuted peoples. Specifically, she draws an analogy between crimes against LGBT people and crimes against women, both of which derive from patriarchal hegemony:

[The justification for persecuting LGBT people] is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

Cutting off a woman’s clitoris is universally wrong because it causes unspeakable pain, stress, and health problems for the victim, whether she is from Sweden, Somalia, or Seattle. This is because every person of every culture possesses a common human physiology; the nervous systems of all human beings are basically the same. I suspect every woman feels immense pain when she is mutilated, burnt to death, or stoned to death, despite the cultural situation. And when proponents of cultural relativism cite reasons for their stance, those reasons fall nothing short of pathetic: women shouldn’t be allowed to have sex with men other than their husbands, women shouldn’t be allowed to experience sexual pleasure, or women shouldn’t be allowed to live if their husbands die. Forgive me if I find these justifications more solipsistic than utilitarian, and hence hardly socially beneficial. They’re just the laws of self-serving tyrants who view women as mere incubators. Similarly, every gay person experiences unconscionable pain and horror at being hanged or crushed to death for being gay. Opinions, insecurities, and concerns specific to a culture do not justify violence against women or gay people, because we all share the same basic human physiology despite cultural context. I think this is what Clinton was pointing at.

I won’t mince words. Hillary Clinton is right, and the cultural relativists are wrong. Heteronormative sexuality is found everywhere in the world, and LGBT rights are no more culturally relative than women’s or racial minorities’ rights, because all are products of a common human mental and physical experience. For some reason, though, this is a sensitive topic for many anti-imperialists, who often happen to be from the West. It seems to me that a lot of this cultural relativist dogma stems from white, middle-class people who feel guilty about their colonial heritage, and they spout this disingenuous nonsense about relativism to soothe their own conscience. But think about it. Arguing that women’s or LGBT rights are culturally relative is basically discriminating against women and LGBT people who live in countries, like Iran, which don’t recognise their status, and that isn’t very feminist or pro-gay, is it? It isn’t even very pro-human, as Clinton showed, and I can’t help but respect her for sending such a bold, unapologetic message to countries which still use cultural relativism as a loophole to commit human atrocities. It was truly a satisfying vindication of LGBT rights.





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