Thursday, August 01, 2013

Are anti-gay measures overseas (Russia, Uganda) motivated by a fear of "intentional childlessness"?

On a day that Time Magazine made the “childless life” a cover story, the rhetoric in Russia about prohibiting gay speech has ramped up, and apparently Olympic athletes have been warned about the issue now, according to an ABC World News story tonight. 
Anti-gay harassment is much more common now in Russia than in western countries, and probably than it was before the law was passed.

The Russian law (specifically banning portrayal of "nontraditional sexual relationships" where minors can see them) appears particularly to apply to speaking about homosexuality in the presence of minors or children.  Would having a public pro-gay website make the law apply if a minor could find it?  (We had that kind of question in a different emphasis with COPA and previouly the CDA a few years ago.)  If so, would it not apply if Russia simply blocked the site?  This idea would be troubling to any writer or journalist covering gay issues planning to visit Russia (including possibly the athletes and staff).  
And it really seems that a major motivation for this draconian law is the low birth rate.  Russians seem to believe that if teenagers or children, especially young men, hear homosexuality discussed openly in terms of lifestyle, many will become less interested in having children.  This may include many “straight” men and women who decide the responsibility and cost is too much – although Russian (and generally, European) benefits for parents are much stronger than in the U.S.
To anyone living in a western country with so much progress on gay marriage, gays as parents, and gays in the military (although maybe not in scouting organizations or in stopping some bullying), such tactics sound like those of an authoritarian state.  And they are.  Many societies (throughout history) believe that people are born into the world with intrinsic obligations to society, some of which depend on gender.  In this line of thinking, procreation is a responsibility and it is intrinsically tempting to many people to avoid it.
What can bring this back into some kind of balance in a western society is the cost – in personal time as well as money – in dealing with an aging population, even to the point that in the US some states have filial responsibility laws and (like Pennsylvania) may start enforcing them. With more offspring, the responsibilities of eldercare are shared.
Time’s article has a sidebar, which downplays the rhetoric of the right-wing “demographic winter” argument, here. (There’s a paywall, but I went ahead and signed up for print and unlimited digital subscription at “only” $30 a year.) But Time’s comments depend particularly on the role of immigration into the U.S., which obviously complicates the arguments.

But, for me, it’s the psychological aspect of Russia’s thinking that needs the most attention.  (I must add, that Putin seems personally vitriolic against gays at the same time he gives asylum to Edward Snowden, a paradox.)   Mainstream psychologists and mental and sexual health professionals generally accept “immutability” of sexual orientation, and maintain that education or information about gay issues does not make young people otherwise so inclined less likely to have families in the future. In fact, many western observers find this idea so incredulous that they see it as simple scapegoating to cover up other issues.   Furthermore, western societies can look at encouraging more same-sex couples to adopt children.   Russia, as we know, has also prohibited adoption of children from Russia from any country allowing gay marriage.  But that measure might be understood more as a way to keep children from leaving Russia since it needs more population.
In my own experience, I have indeed encountered the idea that exposure to “me” could make other men less “fecund”.  At William and Mary, in the fall of 1961, shortly before I was “expelled”, my roommate did say words to the effect that he feared becoming impotent if he kept rooming with me.  (And the idea that I was a homosexual had started with him, partly when I had skipped out on a hazing ritual.)   In my “therapy” at the National Institutes of Health in the fall of 1962, I would again encounter hints of these ideas, even among the psychiatrists at the time.   Therapists were very concerned about the apparently existential implications of my sexual fantasies, as if I really believed that no man who was less than perfect should have a lineage, and would take some sort of post-Nazi pleasure in seeing that happen.  If so, it was understandable given the values of the world in which I had grown up, which had emphasized the horrors of physical inferiority and humiliation.  (Yes, it was like that in the 1950’s.)   Later, in the 1980’s, as I served on the board of a chess club in Dallas, TX, one member struggled with the idea that I must have chosen to be gay, but then,  saw through his over-fundamentalist upbringing and saw through his own thinking.  But this sort of thinking still persists in many parts of the world.  Try Uganda.    

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