Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Gay Philosophy 411

The Gay Science (perhaps)

We often deal with competing values or competing “virtues”. I sketched this contradiction out with respect to “independence” and “interdependence” recently, but I’d like to get into the logic of this for gay issues. Here is a related posting on my general blog.

Think about what “we” tell young men as they are growing up. The important thing is to prove that you can compete for the ability to have and provide for a biological lineage. You need to prove you are “better” or “more worthy” than other peer men in sports and school. It used to be, as part of your initiation into public morality, that you took your turn defending the country (and proving later that you could defend women and children) with a military draft—and family afterwards was the reward.

Yet, as a matter of logic, if some people do better, then some people do worse (zero sum thinking to be sure), and yet we want to tell all men, once they are grown: the most important thing is to have a family and be faithful and actively interested in one wife for a lifetime, even if you wind up on the short end of the stick as far as public station in life. In other words, forget the earlier rites of passage of adolescence where you proved your manly worthiness. They don’t matter any more. Just do the best you can to support the transmission of your genes: the institution of marriage and the traditional family will still give your life all the meaning it needs (and some claims for the support of others). You don't have to achieve outside the family or be particularly competitive any more. Sounds like a contradiction.

Being able to perform as a provider regardless of external success in life is certainly a virtue. But there is another virtue, to know and express what is good and beautiful. Some men grow up learning to emphasize this quality in their personal psyches. Often this value goes along better with a proclivity to yield to other people in combative situations (psychological femininity). It becomes more attractive to become “the power behind the throne” than to occupy the throne oneself. In time, I found that living my life in such an unconventional and “creative” way could really work and could, with patience, attract the people I wanted, without the usual games of jealousy or possessiveness or clinging. Yet, is it “fair”?

This duality of virtues between knowing and acting transfers into the world of faith. Christians grapple with the inherent paradox of “salvation through Grace” on the cross, because faith implies appropriate works. Values based on “knowledge of good and evil,” besides challenging the authority of God (or Allah, held to be a virtue) threaten to judge others (wrong) and perhaps deny them “salvation”, yet it seems reasonable to suppose that everyone will at least indirectly be judged by works, too – which explains the doctrines of some religions (such as LDS), as well as the Rosicrucian notion of karma and reincarnation to achieve perfection. (For that matter, both Islam and Judaism come across as predicated upon works in fundamentally similar ways.)

During post Stonewall period from the late 60s until the 90s, gay rights were increasingly being viewed in terms of individual privacy rights. Before the Civil Rights movement, homosexuality was seen as a gross affront to public morality (it still often was, but less so); in the Internet age commencing in the middle 90s, equality for homosexuals became a visible issue, and again the culture wars tended to see these demands as an affront to the heterosexual family.

What does this really mean? As I reflect upon a number of circumstances and incidents over a lifetime, one pattern is clear. Sometimes, heterosexual men behave as if they though someone like me could pass judgment on them, call attention to the possibility of their own physical failure (an idea that Randy Shilts discusses in his 1993 book on gays in the military, “Conduct Unbecoming”). The affront seems to come, in part, from the fact that I personally eschew fighting and competing “like a man” but claim to hold the “knowledge of good and evil” (to borrow a Biblical concept) to judge them. That’s more apparent in the Internet age where writings and media circulate quickly and where others will try to place a cultural or predictive context on the expressions. But even before, male homosexual values (as expressed in parties, bars, discos, “dirty dancing”, etc) seemed to convey, to some people at least, an idea of eroticizing aesthetic judgments about people. It seems to them that personal discrimination ("noticing differences," an idea consonant with libertarianism and personal sovereignty), as a manifestation of one's own fantastical judgments and disinclination to respond to people "as they are," bears as much moral objection as societal class discrimination.

The conventional heterosexual world tends to depend a lot on local solidarity and “interdependence” among family members, which must be dependable because the unfair outside world may intrude at any time. Modern ideas of individualism and rationalism have countered that socialization with the idea that the individual should take care of himself and be free to live and express himself as he wishes, but this seems unfair to the people who raised him and leaves people dangerously vulnerable to what they cannot control.

As we noted, all of these things – independence, interdependence, awareness and judgment of beauty and character, social solidarity – are virtues up to the point that they come into conflict. The male homosexual is seen as a threat to the social cohesion that putatively is necessary for a society to survive. In general, attempts to enforce public morality for the “common good” lead to corruption, and individual expressive freedom counters corruption, which makes the freedom itself a virtue. A few relatively self-contained societies (like Singapore or the Mormon Church) have adopted aggressive pro-family cultures that attempt to force even “wavering” and “non-competitive” men to become socialized into the nuclear family without becoming too corrupt; but generally societies benefit from the diversity and the challenge that “emotionally different” individuals confront them with (when allowed freedom), keeping them “honest.”

So how do we balance competing virtues? I hope not by a philosophy of prohibtionism, so well described by Andrew Sullivan in his books in the 90s. But one idea that seems relevant is the idea that “everyone serves” or “pay your dues” – everyone learns to take part in responding to the needs of others in a real or physical way as well as intellectual. Indeed, as noted on previous blog postings, this explains a lot of the pressure placed on young boys to learn “manly” skills and the resentment that some of them feel about this pressure, and the relief that some of the claim when relieved of such expectations (as noted by some extremely graphic writings on the Internet).

This would, in practice, mean sharing the ability to serve in the military or other forms of service (like rebuilding after regional catastrophes like Katrina), provide for elders, and participate in the raising of children even if one does not have his own – and demonstrating the ability to do so. It would mean “involuntary family responsibility” -- developing responsiveness to empathy for others (especially family members or blood relatives) when they are not as intact or in a situation of familial dependency. Older gay people have often lived in a kind of exile for a few decades now and may be separated from these skills in a world that, given the problems of today, may demand more of them than in the past. On the other hand, knowledge itself is a good thing, as some of the problems requiring massive help from others can be prevented with proper use of knowledge in making personal decisions.

The political climate certainly helps explain this isolation. The military gay ban (or at least the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy as implemented now) implies that gay people are not fit to engage in certain kinds of activities requiring forced intimacy with others, and could affect other areas (like teaching where there are special needs). Some states have laws against gay adoption, and the debate on the “inequality” implied by marriage law is certainly well known. But social conservatives (as in the writings of Maggie Gallagher and others) seem to want to take the debate out of the area of “reason” and hide traditional marriage under an emotional shell that accepts unquestioned interdependence on others. For myself, I feel that the government has implied that I am essentially a second class being, and efforts to welcome me into other forms of service (even teaching certain kinds of students) seem patronizing and evade the real problems; I am inclined to resist these. At times, others have felt no compunction in compromising the freedom of me or others in order to insulate their own sense of psychic comfort relative to a larger world.

There is a related problem, however, that has to do with the integrity of my own psychic motivations. I do not appreciate occasional attempts by a few other parties, under the pretense of political correctness, assimilation, appeasement, or “helping” me and others, to invite me to pretend to be a male role model or authority figure, especially for disadvantaged youth or other people in some difficulty, and get them to obey me just because I am in charge and when there is no other reason for doing the right thing that they will relate to. Likewise, it does not do any good for some parties to question the "ulterior motive" (or expected "end result") of expressing some personal value that may make as others uncomfortable as I should be. I don’t need to be explicit here. But doing so would negate my whole internal (“psychologically feminine”) idea of yielding to “good” when I find it myself, and it would also negate my (“subjectivity”) idea of choosing and implementing my own goals. I document the truth and build on it, but I do not manipulate others in order to selectively protect them (or myself) from the truth.

Of course, homosexuality can be associated with the desire to have a polarized (regardless of biological gender) relationship for its own sake, without reference to social supports. That might have actually been easier when communities were more separated and might be harder in a global world where people get public so quickly and others feel affected by the examples they set. I know I've upped the ante with my views of "role modeling" and an indirect result is that the military gay ban and other problems in the political climate make me reluctant, as a matter of integrity, to consider civilian jobs where I would be viewed as a comparable "male role model."

In sum, whatever my genes or biology or brain wiring, I do see the moral point: if my self-expression can impact the socialization of others, I have an obligation to participate in helping them. Both the political climate and my own internal values narrow the things I can do about it.

See also a posting about the "Everyone Serves" website.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Poland is schizophrenic on Gays; teachers in dire straits

I visited Poland myself in 1999, as the last stop on my European trip. I had taken the night train East from Berlin to Krakow, to visit Auscwhitz-Birkenau 40 miles away, and taken the train north to Warsaw, seeing farmers milling grain by hand.

The gay media has a couple of opposite stories. Anthony Cuesta has a story "Thousands March in Poland's Annual Gay Pride Celebration" from May 20, here. But on p. 14 of Pittsburgh Out (World News) has a story "Openly gay Polish teachers could face fines, jail time." I happened to pick this up at the Andy Warhol Museum this weekend. Teachers could be fired and charged with crimes if they disclosed their homosexuality in public, and so could their administrators if they tolerated the teachers. This is the most vile form of "don't ask don't tell" (or maybe "do ask don't tell").

Poland's Deputy Minister of Education Miroslaw Orzechowski announced a new bill, also supported by Roman Giertych, who claimed "homosexual propaganda must also be limited so children will have the correct view of the family... The propaganda of homosexuality is reaching younger children. If we will not use all our power to strengthen the family, then as a continent there is no future for us. We will be a continent settled by representatives of the Islamic world who care for their family."

This sound also most like a replay to the Nazi's attacks on the Jews, an odd development in Poland.

But the story reflects a disturbing sentimemt crawling out of the woodwork, and it is no blob. That is, families will not form and parents will not remain together and in passion for one another if they cannot count on the complete loyalty of their children to continue the families on. The "failure" of homosexuals to want their own biological children (not always ture) is becoming the main reason for their being viewed as much less than equal.

Ironically, gay conservative author Bruce Bawer has discussed the issue of Muslim settlement in Europe in his book "While Europe Slept," reviewed here, and discussed also in this blog entry.

Update: May 23, 2007

The Washington Times ran an op-ed (p A19) today by Paul Beilen, who discusses Poland in Europe's triangular culture war between "Judeo Christian morality," "secular hedonism", and "Islamic Jihadism". The hedonism might be confused with rationalism and objectivism. Beilen discusses a warning to Poland from the European Parliament of sanctions if Poland adopts a DADT law against gay teachers (again, a lot like gays in the military, which is well accepted in most of Europe). At the end of the column, Beilen refers to a 1954 quote of Karl Popper, who equates the biological nuclear family as equivalent to the "moral framework... (that) ... serves as a basis which makes it possible to reach a fair or equitable compromise between conflicting interests where this is necessary." That is, welcome to forced interdependence and socialization.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

GA: School bus driver firing raises new First Amendment questions for gays in "sensitive" jobs

Ryan Lee has a story in the May 11 2007 Washington Blade, p. 31, “Your Boss Is Watching: Experts Avoid Caution When Posting Ads on Gay Internet Dating Sites.” The story originally appeared in "Southern Voice" on May 4. There is a comparable story on "Pam's House" at this link, which gives some other disquieting stories about teachers and personal profiles (which have in a few cases been made up by students).

The detailed story concerns a school bus driver in Henry County, GA, who was first questioned and then terminated by the public school district for posting an ad on a gay dating site on the Internet, that had been found in 2004 on Bear411.com by a parent. He was terminated “for the best interests of the school system” in June 2006.

It’s important that the driver did not use school computers or facilities in any way. All of the postings were done on his own time with his own hardware and software. The ad also apparent sought only legal adult partners, and should not be confused with the issues presented by recent NBC Dateline stings.

Teachers have been fired for being found involved with pornography, and in once case on the Dr. Phil show there was a teacher whose contract could not be renewed for having been a nude model 11 years earlier. All of these raise First Amendment questions that have been discussed elsewhere on these blogs.

However, this was a case with a school bus driver, who does not have the authority to grade or make decisions about students (other than immediate safety issues on the bus). A similar concern could exist for short term substitute teachers and assistants, who do not have meaningful authority over the lives of students in the long run.

The Blade story notes that teachers often post (usually heterosexual) personals and other materials on the web and are typically left alone. The story suggests that the bus driver was fired for being gay, or for saying so publicly, as with a “don’t ask don’t tell” philosophy.

Legal literature, although obscure from the public’s point of view, supports the idea that teachers are not supposed to disclose “personal” information in public spaces at all, because of the way they may perceived in their role as authority figures by students (and, given social context, the remote possibility that students could regard such postings as enticing). Of course, teachers have conventional “family pictures” and other non-controversial material on the web (and on their desks in classrooms) all the time.

Similarly, the story notes that the military has often discharged servicemembers for saying that they are gay on the public Internet, after going on fishing expeditions with search engines.

Of course, many legal experts recommend anonymity on the web for people in sensitive positions, and the ACLU has vigorously defended anonymous speech. Yet, the need to remain anonymous is a concession to inferior social or political status.

The Web, with its possibility of offering instant worldwide audience by “astral projection” raises serious new questions about equality and personal worthiness in a world where the social limits created by family responsibility have long been melting away. First Amendment cases whose parameters could have barely been conceived of ten years ago will come up, and COPA was only the beginning.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Eminent Domain, the Washington Nationals, and DC's displaced gay clubs

The Washington Nationals are 10-25 (that's .286 ball, algebra students!), and the subject of a critical Washington Times editorial today of their fielding a minor league team while they try to rebuild. In the meantime, while a new stadium and real estate development on the Anacostia are welcome, residents are displaced (often to PG county) as are businesses, including several gay businesses.

None of the six gay clubs displaced have re-opened, and they seem to face considerable opposition wherever they attempt to go. Lou Chibbaro Jr. has the latest story on p. 6 of the May 11, 2007 Washington Blade. A bill introduced by city councilman Jim Graham would give the establishments one year (a “one strike and you’re out” law) to find locations, probably in an industrial area in NE. There will be questions of security, Metro access, and the like. But the biggest questions concern the objections of current occupants of the area to “anti-family” businesses coming into the neighborhood, even in the politically liberal District.

Remember, that the six clubs were displaced by eminent domain. (See Chibbaro's May 4 story here.) (I’m not sure that this is strictly true of all of the other gay businesses, as the land simply became too valuable “Monopoly style” not to be redeveloped). Government, to advance one commercial interest (which admittedly is beneficial and many citizens want) can disrupt another business and then put it out of business permanently. Because right now there is a real chance that some or all of the businesses may never be able to re-open. Eminent domain can easily become a tool to enforce majoritarian "cultural values" and that seems to have happened here.

The business that I miss is Velvet Nations, which had replaced Tracks. Back in the 90s, Tracks had the wonderful outdoor sand volleyball court as well as disco floors. Velvet would have the foam parties. And the dancing would tend to start early, by 11 PM, and the main hall was usually open at midnight.

The two dances clubs in the Dupont Circle area seem to be Apex and Cobalt. Apex attracts a crowd Friday night, and Cobalt on Saturday, although Cobalt has tried free admission on Friday. But the crowds that would have gone to Velvet do not seem to come, Typically, dancing does not get active until midnight or later. Apex has also experimented with drag shows on Saturday (and has long had a successful Karaoke) on Friday. It seems like the customers really do want a large dance club back, but given the real estate and zoning and cultural issues, that seems like a long hall, although the Nations management promised it would try to reopen.

Chibbaro has an article that reports that most clubs have lost business because of the smoking ban. Some clubs did not respond (and that probably means a loss). Yet, most customers and bartenders report anecdotally that they like the smoke-free environment. Dancing may become more intimate when no one holds a cigarette. If one stays late enough, many clubs eventually still seem packed. But maybe for not enough hours.

Chibbaro's story on May 11 is here.

On May 26, the DC Examiner, p 5 (story by Courtney Mabeus) reported that DC Council Harry Thomas wants to keep such clubs 1200 feet apart; there is another provision in the bill to protect clubs affected by eminent domain and unprotect any other such clubs.

Would it help us feel better if the Nationals could become a winning team? Right now, they may underperform the 2003 Detroit Tigers or 1962 New York Mets.

Update: 5/23/2007

Right after posting this, the Nats had a 7-3 homestand at RFK. (They actually won their first game in Cincinnati in three years last night.) But remember the "old" Senators with those 18 game losing streaks (like all the games on a "western trip" in 1959, streak from July 19 to Aug 5, look here at baseball-statistics.com); or similarly the last 13 games of 1958, and the "new" Senators of 1961-1971? Remember Bob Short?

On Tuesday May 22 The Washington Times had an editorial (p A16) blasting the idea of a "red light district" in NE Washington not too far from the entry portal of New York Avenue / US 50 (where all the speed cameras are). The Washington Times building itself is in that area, near the Arboretum, and the Amtrak main line. The editorial pointed out that this area is often many visitors' first impression of the Nation's Capital (already not a good impression). Then it adds "Mr. Graham's point seems to be that gays must have their porn, and the gripers and complainers should shut up." Not in my neighborhood? Please!

The Washington Times followed with another aggressive editorial on Friday, June 1, in which it suggested that "red light" (or maybe "Red Road", as in the recent film) businesses should be spread out in every neighborhood, which of course most neighborhoods would oppose.

Yolanda Woodlee has a major story on the issue, June 5m 2007, page, B1, "NE Residents Fear that Bill Would Create a 'Red-Light' Zone," link here. The main areas are called Ivy City and Trinidad. Much of the land is along New York Avenue, with scattered pockets in other northern parts of the District. One point that seems not completely clear if the concern is over nudity on the property, or if gay disco clubs (like Velvet Nations) in general (those without allowing nudity) present an issue for many residents. I think it is really the latter. The Council is set to vote on Graham and Thomas today (June 5), and I'll report on it here.

Jim McElhatton has a story "Clubs' Landlord Acquires NE Sites" in The Washington Times, p. A1, here.

Here is a typical blog entry ("Dean's") on the lost Velvet Nations.

Picture: Another homeowner on 22nd St in Washington (near GWU) who resisted pressure from developers.
Additional pictures: New Nats' stadium on the Anacostia River under construction; the area where the Velvet Nations Club, and Edge and Wet were has been razed for condominiums and office complexes; nearby slums were raised, with residents probably headed for Prince Georges County. That is the pattern with DC gentrification.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

John McCain calls open gays an unacceptable threat to military good order and discipline

To quote Senator John McCain:

"I believe polarization of personnel and breakdown of unit effectiveness is too high a price to pay for well-intentioned but misguided efforts to elevate the interests of a minority of homosexual service members above those of their units. Most importantly, the national security of the United States, not to mention the lives of our men and women in uniform, are put at grave risk by policies detrimental to the good order and discipline which so distinguish America’s Armed Services." McCain who voted in favor of the notorious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law (the Defense Appropriations Act) in 1993. He added, "I remain opposed to the open expression of homosexuality in the U.S. military."

McCain wrote this in a letter to Service Members Legal Defense Network, where he also argued that the law "unambiguously maintains that open homosexuality within the military services presents an intolerable risk to morale, cohesion and discipline."

The SLDN posting is "Senator John McCain Defends 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' Calls Gay Troops an 'Intolerable Risk'