Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The marriage argument: children confer power: at least, that's the psychological reality


One of David Lynch’s films was called something like “Fire walk with me” and some of these “existential” discussions about personal values get to the same material from different “vantage points”. So it is today. I walk the reader through a few points that seem critical to me at the time. But my point is to make “the visitor” – and the politician – aware of “how other people think” before making simplistic arguments to win rights – even “my rights.” Later, probably in another posting, I’ll come back again to “what can I do about it.”

Point 1: In our “modern world” of the 21st Century, all the more post 9/11, most of us expect to have the freedom to establish and implement our own personal life goals. That idea seems like the heart of modern individualism. Yet, at the same time, we want our expressions to benefit other people. Beyond the mechanisms of the marketplace that get us to do that, many of us have a sense of obligation to family or to some community that help make us who we are. Societies expect a certain amount of sharing and emotional loyalty within various communities (especially nuclear families) in order to raise children, take care of generations, and provide some meaning and life context for those who, in the global world’s measure, remain “less competitive.” Within any person, there is a natural tension between these two sets of values.

Point 2: Within families, adult people without their own children (who disproportionately may be LGBT) are often called upon to take care of other people in their families. This may include especially eldercare for parents or disabled siblings, and sometimes can involve radical sacrifice and life-changing events, the willingness of which can have a real impact on parents' longevity. A number of films and television series (such as TheWB’s “Summerland”) have presented the situation where an unmarried and childless adult is asked to take over raising a sibling’s children after a family tragedy. NBC soap opera “Days of our Lives” had a curious sequence in with the single bookwork character Nick is goaded into temporarily becoming the “father” of another woman’s children/ In practice, family responsibility doesn’t wait for conception to incur. Sometimes it seems like it’s the other way around.

The media, in the past few years, has widely reported the need for adoptive and foster parents, for teachers; the number of jobs involving intimate personal care has increased relative to the market as a whole. And there may be new legal muscle: some states, fearing increase in Medicaid nursing home expenses, could start enforcing filial responsibility laws with respect to caring for parents and even sometimes blood or adoptive siblings.

Point 3: When people have children, they do create responsibility for themselves that they must fulfill. But they also create responsibility for others. That is why the act of sexual intercourse expresses a certain amount of power, and that is one reason why society wants to regulate it (with marriage), and one reason why, throughout history (especially with monarchy) it is considered a way to pass down power and property. Of course, in modern liberal democracy we expect to “do better.” Nevertheless, children could become the responsibilities of siblings. Parents could become the responsibilities of their adult children. This seems to give heterosexuals power over non-heterosexuals, and in a sense that’s inevitable. In the workplace (and in some other sensitive situations) the childless (and often the single) are often expected to defer to those with “more responsibility.” There is a call for “personal involvement” and “attachment” even from the “unattached” that seems unprecedented.

There is a way to level the playing field a bit, adjust the starting places on the concentric racetrack. Adopt. When heterosexual couples do this, they take on and create responsibilities comparable to giving birth themselves. But so can single people in most states. And in many states, so can gays (usually as singles, but sometimes as couples). A couple states do ban gay adoption.

The political case for gay adoption would depend on the willingness of heterosexual couples to step up and meet the “need”. So far, it seems as though the need is about four times as great as the supply. In practice, children raised by committed gay parents do as well as those by committed married straight parents. So this does sound like a “win-win” argument for gay marriage, like that advocated by Jonathan Rauch. But you have to get past the “birthright” argument, that every child is entitled to a parent of each sex. That sounds like a perfect-world wish and not a reality.

Point 4: This gets to be the most difficult part. Social conservatives make nebulous arguments about the “meaning” of complementary and institutionalized marital love as in the Song of Solomon. Part of this seems to have to do with the “power” that this love has by procreation and social approbation. They want to keep that power (over the less “mature” or competitive in the family, who remain tethered) as the “payoff” for “growing up.” But much of it seems to have to do with the idea that marital love transcends adolescence, with a fundamental change in heart that enables the married person to “perform” as expected in the family bed with his or her legal spouse for a lifetime. That "transcendental transition" into final adulthood seems to be a necessary condition for being a successful parent. Maybe. But some gay couples (even gay male couples) do experience the same growth process and result. Earlier blogs have covered that in conjunction with psychological polarity.

Point 5: This is all a bit heavy, to say that people owe part of their lives to others – especially family – before, even as adults, they can do what they want with their lives. It sounds like the law of karma. Of course, it matters when parents “reject” their kids. All kinds of other arguments matter. Some parents believe that their kids owe them grandchildren as evidence of “respect for life”. They may argue (like the Vatican) that one, when intimate, must be open to transmitting life in order to share the unpredictable risk and challenge that new life can bring. Really, these kinds of arguments are familiar. They came to be articulated after Stonewall on the far Left in collective terms (sometimes with calls for forced redistribution of wealth), with an obsession with what individual people “deserved” if they were divorced from any inherited wealth or privilege and could prove they had earned what they had and could share the burdens of others. This sort of argument drives with the idea that there is an obligation to share the obligations of defending freedom, even if specific wars (like Vietnam or Iraq) were immorally started, and even if a pure draft or conscription would constitute involuntary servitude. This line of thinking favors national service, and sees the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military as saying gays do not deserve equal rights because they do not share equal responsibility. Nice circularity. In fact, the military's argument regarding "forced intimacy" in military units brings up the specter (perhaps a canard) that the "presence" of gays in such circumstances would interfere with the "socialization" that enables most men to start and keep families.

Related posting on main blog Monday, here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Security clearances for gays: Clinton and Bush; still some disturbing questions


In researching matters for a new Wordpress blog on law and technology, I reviewed all the major bills and court opinions regarding the "don't ask don't tell" policy, security clearances, and ENDA.

I recall that President Clinton claimed to have ended the practice of discriminating against gays in the granting of security clearances with his Executive Order in August, 1995. I could not find the order online, but found numerous articles about it. The main article ("Clinton Ends Ban on Security Clearance for Gay Workers") seems to be by Todd S. Purdum in The New York Times, link here (may require registration or purchase). Apparently the Executive Order was a complete overhall of security procedures. Frank Kameny had said on a radio show hosted by Scott Peck in 1993 that the security clearance situation for civilian gays had improved considerably during the "first Bush administration" especially once the Persian Gulf War was underway in 1990.

On March 16, 2006 the AP published a story "Dems criticize Bush’s security policy for gays; White House revises sexual orientation language on granting clearance," link here. Barney Frank was involved in the criticism, but the (current) Bush administration denied that there was any significant change.

On March 17, 2006, The Washington Blade ran a story "Security clearance rule change may impede gays; Gay Activists slam Bush administration over ‘stealth’ move," link here. To quote, "The new rules also say behavior that is "strictly private, consensual and discreet" could "mitigate security concerns."

Federal GLOBE ("FEDERAL GLOBE GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL EMPLOYEES OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, PO Box 45237, Washington DC 20026-5237") had an article March 17, 2006, "Didn't Ask Us, Didn't Tell Us," link here. GLOBE asks the existential question, if there is no change, then why the announcement?

I came of age when security clearances were a big deal. After my William and Mary disaster in 1961, I was never able to get a top secret security clearance, although I was processed twice, once while in the Army, and once while employed by the Navy Department in 1971-1972. In 1972, an investigator asked me if anyone had ever tried to blackmail me. The ambiguity of my security clearance "eligibility" contributed to my decision to leave that Navy department (NAVCOSSACT) job in 1972 and enter private industry (I went to work for Sperry Univac, a computer vendor, which at the time was, by happenstance, one of the most progressive companies in promoting women).

In recent years, we have come to think of the security clearance problem as one of Dick Cheney 's "old chestnuts", but now I wonder. As I indicated in previous posts, I think there are ways where the military DADT policy can indirectly affect civilians. Personally, I would not want to deal with a security clearance application unless there was a specific job need that applied to me (and I can actually imagine how this might happen).

Update: May 1, 2008

Although this story is not specifically about gay issues, it is interesting: "Pentagon Changes Policy for Security Clearance Applicants: Change Is Aimed at Removing Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Care," by Anne Scott Tyson, link here. My own "psychiatric" history was a factory in my applications for TS clearances in 1968 and again in 1971, first when in the Army, and then when employed by the Navy Dept.

Friday, February 22, 2008

DADT: CSSM is now the Michael D. Palm Center


The Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California at Santa Barbara is now The Michael D. Palm Center. The basic information is at this link. It publishes a newsletter The Spring 2008 newsletter is here.

Some of the stories include a call by twenty-eight senior officers in November 2007 to repeal "don't ask don't tell" and a Palm Center study that finds that the policy undermines military reputation.

I visited the Center and Dr. Belkin in February 2002, while on a trip to the West Coast from Minnesota, shortly after "retiring" from my job there as of the end of 2001. Nearby is the city of Goleta, where a company called Records International that sold many hard-to-find classical records and CD, did business back in the 1980s and 1990s.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Conflict of Interest II


The second part of this “conflict of interest” discussion concerns my experiences as a substitute teacher from 2004 to 2007.

Shortly after starting in the Fairfax County Public School system, I took a day’s job as a “PHTA”, or “Public Health Training Assistant.” I did not know what that meant, and I had not placed it on my profile. Everyone got these calls. I got there, and found that it was a special assistant for severely disabled students in the most intensive of the special education programs. Subs could be hired for this. There was the possibility of being asked to do custodial care for a same-sexed disabled person. In fact, I was not asked to do that on that day, but I might have been. Two days later, I had a similar assignment in Arlington. In that experience, the teacher asked if I would borrow as swim suit and get in “the deep end” (yes, that’s the name of a “gay movie” from 2001 – pun intended). A sixty year old man at the time, I declined.

This whole possibility does raise the squeamishness monitor. The religious right is not afraid to speculate on the supposedly dangerous potentialities of these situations, as with Linda Harvey’s comments in Ken Wells's "Opposing Viewpoints" book “Teenage Sexuality.” At one middle school, I found my assignments repeatedly canceled after I brought a copy of Clay Aiken's book "Learning to Sing" and pointed out the passages discussing special education and care to a couple of teachers in the break lunchroom, one of whom, reading the "Book of Mormon" got quite perturbed (she canceled every assignment the system gave me thereafter).

From that point on, I declined the calls related to possible physical assistance. I personally took the position that, since I had been public with my homosexuality to the point of trying to take “commercial advantage” of it (publishing a book), my giving custodial care to a retarded male could violate his right of consent. I asked some lawyers informally and they tended to agree. But this follows from the logical reasoning that motivated the 1993 “don’t ask don’t tell” law mandating discharge for the US military of anyone whose statements indicated past homosexual acts or a propensity to engage in them in the future. I felt that it could be applied outside of the military, because it had codified a definition of “homosexual” into United States Code.

To be fair, the law does state that the military is a “separate society” and can impose military personnel conduct restrictions that would not normally be acceptable in civilian life. But does the law provide a “persuasive precedent” for excluding self-declared gays from occupations where similar concerns about “forced intimacy” exist? This whole thing about the shower stalls and bathrooms had become a malignant notion. In the mid 1970s, a proposed gay rights law for New York City had been objected to by firefighters for the same reason. But the NYFD seems to have gotten over it.

What if this argument were to be applied to medicine? (some people say that medicine is like the military, a unifocal existence). Well, at least, patients sign consent forms, normally. What about day care? What about nursing homes? That’s not a job I would ever want, and it’s usually at the bottom of the pay scale. But someone could make something of a consent issue.

There are a couple more wrinkles here, however. First, had Congress and the US military in 1993 been able to accept a more “reasonable” policy (which President Clinton wanted and tried to propose in July, and even tried again to implement with the administrative regulations in February 1994), preventing at least the “witch hunts”, I would have personally accepted the idea then that the issue had been resolved in a fair, self-contained manner (which Congress thought it was proposing) that did not concern those outside the military, even civilians associated with it (as I was in the 1990s, as in the previous posting).

But the other contains the Internet. When the debate over a fair “compromise” on the military was being conducted in 1993, the future influence of the Internet and search engines was hardly known. In the middle 1990s, some discharges occurred because of “telling” on the Internet, as with AOL profiles (predecessors to today’s social networking sites). Any reasonable Clintonian “honorable compromise” policy at the time, if the Internet had been factored in, would have probably prohibited public statements of homosexual orientation or intention on the Internet (I don’t recall seeing that in the 1994 regs), but that then raises the basic “unfairness” that straight people can talk about their lives publicly, and of course, and to my surprise, soldiers are often allowed to blog from Iraq about combat. I would have thought that military service would require a “blogging policy” commensurate with the issues that military services raises. Perhaps such a policy would preclude open blogging (in areas accessible to search engines) by everyone in uniform, and would require other approved channels for battlefield journalism to reach the states. This is a tough one.

At various times, states have tried to ban gays from other occupations. California tried it with teachers in 1978 (the Briggs Initiative), and Washington did in 1986. In 1983 (in the wake of the new AIDS epidemic), Texas considered a bill (Ceverha) that tried to strengthen the sodomy law and contained this language: “It is against the public policy of this state for persons who commit homosexual conduct to be employed in positions of public trust and responsibility.”

The bottom line today for me, at least, with this untidy problem is this: for me to take a job that risks this kind of involuntary intimate contact with others (particularly minors), I need to see the current DADT law repealed or at least replaced by a policy that is more limited and reasonable, and not malignant and slanderous. Call this a "strike" or a strange form of "solidarity" if you like. I have said this before online, school officials have found it; and, yes, the idea caused them consternation.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Can being "out" as GLBT create a "conflict of interest"? Part I


Sometimes people have said to me that I seem to be intentionally bringing “discrimination” upon myself, by refusing to work in certain scenarios where I believe I am not welcome because of homosexuality. In their view, if I want self-respect, I should fight for myself by deliberately taking on those fights and challenging notions of glass ceilings. This does sound like a fictitious Dr. Phil program confrontation to me.

In fact, there have been a couple of situations where my activities could indeed provide a concern about “conflict of interest.”

In early 1990, I started working, as an individual contributor programmer-analyst, for a life insurance company that in the DC area that specialized in selling to military officers. There were other businesses, like salary deduction, which is what I spent most time on, and in the beginning I didn’t think much of it. Then from mid 1990 to early 1991 we had the Persian Gulf War, containing Saddam Hussein (I can resist quoting the name, “one who confronts”). Then in 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton started suggesting lifting the ban on gays in the military. In May 1992 Keith Meinhold “came out” on national television, leading to a legal battle against the “old policy” that he would ultimately “win.” In September 1992, former midshipman Joseph Steffan’s moving book “Honor Bound” was published, and I bought a copy and met him at Lambda Rising in Washington. (Review. I worked behind the scenes on this issue in 1993. In July 1993 President Clinton announced his “honorable compromise” on the issue, and the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy was formally codified into law on Nov. 30, 1993. In Februrary 1994, the Pentagon issued an administrative interpretation of the policy that seemed to allow covert gay servicemembers to “have a life.” I had already published two letters in “The Washington Times” in 1993 urging that moderate approach. But very quickly it became apparent that some commands were conducting witch-hunts, and SLDN went to work with huge load of cases.

By the later summer of 1994, I had decided that I would write a book, linking what I thought had caused my “William and Mary expulsion” (the “forced intimacy” of dormitory living) with the rationale used to justify “don’t ask don’t tell” in the military (forced intimacy, the lack of “privacy” – the concern of Sam Nunn and Charles Moskos then, and “unit cohesion,” along with the legal doctrine of “deference to the military” apparently supported by Article I of the Constitution). I was becoming active with GLIL, getting commentaries published in print in it, as well as in a newspaper in Colorado, “Ground Zero News.”

In September 1994, the company I worked for agreed to be bought by a larger company in Minneapolis. Although employees often dread mergers, I welcomed this one. Libertarian, free-market capitalism would rescue me from a potentially serious conflict of interest.

Why? There are a couple of reasons. It’s true, that access to sensitive information about military personnel was possible there. I had stated in public an aim to become involved with changing the policy and lifting the military ban. Conceivably, there could have been customer information (like HIV related) available at work. No, I never looked, and I never misused it, but the mere availability of the information raises the issue of potentially “proving a negative.” Since this was still the middle 1990s, there was not yet the concern for consumer privacy that is now so well known and controversial today with issues of Internet safety and companies’ protecting their clients’ personal information. (In those days, employees took work home and thought nothing of the security implications of doing so.) Then there was the cultural issue. Management at work was never hostile in any way to homosexuals. However, customers sometimes visited the facility in uniform. I was not comfortable with the idea of remaining there forever, even without my public involvement with the issue. At one time, in early 1990, a comment had been made in a training class that this cohort of customers presented a better risk because of a lower incidence of HIV. (That may not be completely true.) Moreover, there was simply my own personal background. I actually did serve in the military in 1968-1970 without incident, but was “sheltered” and kept stateside because of my graduate degrees in Mathematics. There is a basic question of moral fairness with this that I have taken up elsewhere. But the kind of customer we had could probably regard me as a “coward” or the kind of person who had to be protected when as a young male I should have been doing the protecting. I simply did not want to stay in the situation.

I sometimes discussed this on AOL message boards in 1996 (those were the predecessors to today’s blogs and social networking sites, but even then I wondered if I risked something discussing this in “public”), even before my first book would come out in 1997. I got a mixed response. There was sometimes a tone recalling those left-wing days of the early 1970s when “working for the enemy” was a middle-class crime against the “people.” Those boards have disappeared long since.

In May 1996 I discussed this with one of the attorneys representing one of the major serivcemembers challenging the ban, having been put in touch with him and his law firm by LLDEF. I asked him if he thought his could represent a legal conflict of interest. He indeed did. But it’s hard to say if this is purely a legal feeling, or more a political one, having to do with remote ideas of solidarity. One observation that came from my discussion with him is that the "military gay ban" issue (before and after "don't ask don't tell") tends to connect itself to many other social issues invoking personal identity within a group, and therefore can be expected to have unpredictable effects on or "unintended consequences for" civilians. But that extension reminds me of how things used to be, before "Stonewall": because gays were perceived as having a character deficiency, they were excluded not just from the military (and actually they often weren't), but from civil service jobs as well, especially those requiring security clearances. That was the "legacy" I had come of age with an lay in the background of my story.

I finally discussed this with the company, particularly in December 1996, six months before the book would appear. I recall a snowy weekend in “almost heaven” West Virginia thinking about how this meeting would go. Eventually, after the book was published in July 1997, I applied for and got a transfer to Minneapolis, the parent company away from apparent connection to this “fraternal” line of business. We went through the formal corporate job application procedure, so there was never a “formal” agreement over the conflict of interest. There was a well known understanding, however, that the political issue had a lot to do with the move. But so did conditions in the company, as the operation in the DC area might be downsized some day, as a natural elimination of redundancies that happens after mergers. Before I relocated, I visited the Greenbrier Resort fallout shelter (in W Va) in August, 1997, a bit of an irony considering what I had written a book about (going back to the Cold War and the draft, when the attitude toward gays had been utilitarian – actually, the military had stopped “asking” in 1965 but started again in 1981). I was actually an exciting time for me.

In 1999, there was a family emergency back in the DC area. Certain persons wanted to pressure me to move back. I would not. This could have become a very serious matter, for me to keep to what I felt I had promised. Fortunately, the matter was settled without my moving back, although there were some scary moments and problems the details of which I can’t really disclose yet. I also discussed the conflict of interest issue with management again in 1999. At the time, the agreement was similar to what one sees in blogging policies today (I have another posting on that here. This included not mentioning publicly (including online) where I worked, which I still see many people do today (even outside of resume sites).

I had seen an earlier version of the “conflict of interest” problem. I worked for a credit reporting company in the 1980s in Dallas. Although not commonly done in practice, credit bureaus could do “investigative consumer reports” on applicants, an issue that I thought was becoming increasingly sensitive because of the AIDS epidemic that had erupted in the early 1980s among gay men. In 1987, there had been rumors in the gay community that another credit reporting company that had rumored to investigate the life insurance claims of a Delta plane crash in Dallas in 1985 would buy our company. I felt it was a good idea to get out of the business, and came back to the East Coast in 1988. It seemed in the Dallas area that never-married men were seen as insurance risks for employers (although only one company asked me about it during interviews).

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Is sexual identity "chosen"? Personal history makes it an irrelevant question.


Nature or nurture? Immutable or chosen? From my own experience, these are almost meaningless questions. Psychosexual development is what mathematicians would call a non-commutative process. In my case, there was and interlaces sequence of cues and reactions, coupled with biological wiring and events, that added up to my adult personality.

There could be many factors. I was wired with musical groups but with a tendency to shun gratuitous personal emotions usually necessary for heterosexual socialization later in life. Perhaps there is some connection with Asperger’s, too. I had the measles just before my seventh birthday. Many of my problems with physical performance and motor coordination started sometime after that, as did some problems getting along in school – problems that I would eventually “outgrow.”

I recall, at about my twelfth birthday, sensitivity to various visual cues having to do with the adult male, cues that would be normally visible or noticeable and differentiable in a public context (such as secondary sexual characteristics). They mattered and took on a moral or merit-related connotation. It matter that some men seemed more “masculine” than others. In time, the desirable man (perhaps “The Perfect Human” as in the Lars Van Trier film of the 1960s) would be both smart or intelligent (have good grades) and “masculine.” It was important to excel at both.

Of course, I knew how biology works. I knew as a child where babies came from, even though I was an only child. In high school biology, of course, we learn the significance of “sexual reproduction” in nature. Remember those genetics problems on the final exam? Why, then, one asks, didn’t this fascinate me? There is “no reason,” as they say in employment law. It just happened that way. I did not perceive child conception as a “miracle” that related to me personally. I understand, though, that religious training could lead to that perception, as could having responsibility for younger siblings, which I did not have. (At one time, in fact, my parents considered adopting a younger sister, maybe in part to “socialize” me.) There is anecdotal evidence that in general, boys other than the first child may be more likely to be homosexual. (I am the “exception”.) There could be intrauterine autoimmune explanations, or it could be that having younger siblings has an affect on the personal values associated with one’s own future participation in conception and procreation (that sounds more like the Vatican position). This just seems unclear.

I came to think of procreation as “mundane” and an everyday occurrence, something to be taken for granted. Novelist Clive Barker sometimes talks about this attitude toward “fecundity.” The negative social attitudes toward unwed pregnancy and teen heterosexual intercourse, well intended to prevent babies without married and properly educated parents, tended to make heterosexual activity look cheap to the “over-rational” and not fully pruned teenage brain (mine). Of course, the attitude could have been different. It just wasn’t.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I had put the pieces together, I knew what it meant. I remember a moment of “epiphany” walking to high school on a warm October Friday night to work behind the Science Honor Society coke stand at the football game. It “made sense” to admire the young men who “had it all.” Why isn’t it a good thing to “admire” the best people? The "cardinal" analogy was relevant: the male cardinal, with his red plumage, attracts visual interest; the female seems duller. Why feel attracted to a being who will become dependent? (until having a biological legacy becomes an important aim of the personality.) That is how the hyper-rational teen brain works. Of course, I didn’t think about the flip side. How does that make me look? (Their “superiority” would rub off on me.) All of this would get to be elaborated with the politics of the time: a preoccupation with who was "worthiest" (the student deferment issue) in a world with apparent enemies and a need to draft young men to fight them. The idea of having my own family some day didn't mean anything; I was still focused on my own needs with school. And I could elaborate my values with a lot of fantasy, with no vulnerability to "the tender trap" or to "confusion" (as from illicit pictures or illicit intimacy), as my father would have called it. The collective emotions expected in the adult world of marriage meant nothing to me then, nor did the idea that as an only child I might have extra "responsibility." Given the challenges that I faced in "making it" in the ordinary young adult world, I was not willing to develop an emotional rapport with those who would actually depend on me in some complementary, custodial or developmental fashion , not enough to find the prospect of fatherhood sexually "interesting."

I would, after all, have my own world of emotion, a lot of it tied to music. I would shun the gratuitous pampering of “girls” (that is, future “mothers”) that I knew was expected in the “normal” heterosexual world. I didn’t need it. Of course, however, others would believe that they “needed it” from me and, at least as a matter of karma, had a right to expect it. But my homosexuality developed as an evolution of events in a particular sequence; it was not, as I know some people believe, a repudiation of my own "blood."

This brings me to the time of William and Mary, and all the history I have covered before (the Nov. 28, 2006 entry in my main blog). Starting in the mid 1960s with the Civil Rights movement and the breakdown of the credibility of government and the social order with the Vietnam war and Watergate, society would become much more “individualistic.” That worked perfectly for me. Radical individualism would solve many problems (it would remove the incentives for group or tribal-thinking-based racial and gender-issue discrimination), but it could also leave a lot of more dependent people stranded, and strain many families to rupture. So, the culture wars continue, and in the post 9/11 world, intensify.

The practical reality today seems to be that we are re-entering a world where social interdependence, which used to center around the extended nuclear family (itself predicated on socially ritualized marital sexual intercourse) becomes more important, and where those of use who are “different” are once again expected to “fit in”, show respect for the social practices that rear children and even be able to participate in rearing them, and, especially, take up the burden of eldercare. Partly because of the increase in "collective need" in family and community, some of us, who never expected to need to give and demand personal respect in the context of family needs (partly because we never voluntarily took on the responsibilities of procreation), are finding again that we must do so.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

VA: local option bill SB 51 on domestic partner benefits


Equality Virginia is advising voters to contact their state representatives to pass a bill that allows local governments to grant same-sex domestic partner benefits when they choose to do so (which Arlington would do).

Here is the main link for the bill SB 51 Health insurance; extension of coverage funded by localities.

Here is the Equality Virginia fact sheet.

Virginia, of course, has to deal with the Marshall-Newman admendment which passed in 2006. My link for that is here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Polarity and submissiveness: it's a loaded concept, depending on cultural and political context


During the 1970s, when I frequented the Ninth Street Center in New York City and became familiar with the theories of Paul Rosenfels, I was quite interested in the theory of polarity and how it might apply to me.

One of the basic links that explains this concept is on the NSC site, here. Check also the Carnegie Mellon English Server on the Paul Rosenfels collection.

The polarity concept was controversial, because when it is applied in the “adaptive” global world it tends to get mixed up with measures of people and takes on a political concept. It was a terminology that worked well within a relatively closed community, then mostly gay men in New York City, especially the East Village. The coordinated context was psychological surplus and creativity, and character specialization. There was an understanding that “adaptive” requirements of making it in the physical world were met, and that men (or women) had the resources to spend on relationships for their own sake. “Creativity” applied to psychological growth within a committed relationship or relatively close-knit community. External social supports (such as the legal supports for traditional heterosexual marriage) were at best superfluous and could actually get in the way of the relationship.

Great ideas may start with relatively free people in large cities, but in time they spread if they are good or if they seem to answer major questions. That’s always been true (Christianity started out small and closed, and gradually spread throughout the Mediterranean; Da Vinci spread his ideas in the 1500s) but it’s even more true today with globalization and the Internet.

It’s a bit arrogant to call the world of marriage, family and procreation “adaptive” although it may seem relevant if it refers to comparing focus on others to focus on the self. In fact, much of the traditional world of “family” starts with a presumption that biological lineage must be the most important Many people find that the socially supported structure of marriage and family, with religion around it, supplies them with a sense of identity (reinforced with appropriate and expected emotion) that relieves them of the need for too much self-evaluation or introspection. Any system of ideas that seems to call for that becomes threatening. Family socialization allows marriage to presume ownership of loyalty of adult children, in exchange for having nurtured and protected them, a process which the adult children used to be expected to continue with their own lineage.

The global, “outside” world, however, must deal with the reality that individual people are wired differently, especially with respect to extroversion and introversion. That concept tracks somewhat reliably with the “polarities” in Rosenfels. “Yielding” or “submission” in the “external” world, particularly in a male (and whatever the physical events are), sometimes still has a very negative cultural and possibly moral connotation. It is taken as a sign of disloyalty to blood, an invitation for abuse from enemies of the self and maybe even other family members, a denial of basic reverence for the continuation of life. It is seen as a refutation of a claim for self-respect. (That even tracks with the recent and surprising issue of “reputation defense” on the Internet.) It might, in some guises, be viewed as a "sadistic" celebration of the inevitable marginalizing of the "unlucky." But that interpretation assumes that the individual (who may be a homosexual male, particularly with “feminine polarity”) wants to or is expected to interact substantially with the outside world and compete by its rules and culture. That expectation has become more relevant again in the past couple of decades with globalization.

The cultural context of sexuality fits in with a delicate balance: society has to develop methods to maintain fulfillment of contradictory needs: one is for freedom, competition, self-expression; the other is to take care of less competitive members, especially rearing the young and caring for past generations, the latter having suddenly become much more important because of demographics. Radical individualism is concerned with “measuring” individual performance on some universal scale; but a practical world must protect people from external threats and from problems, like medical ones, that they cannot prevent, in a caring environment. The nuclear family, with all of its complementarity, has been expected to strike this balance, to keep government from becoming too intrusive; yet in doing so, the family may well believe it should impose on adult family members who do not have their own children. That could become an increasing problem with eldercare, and filial responsibility laws could become the next big (and ambush-generating) issue for GLBT people. The traditional family expected a “man” to compete to develop a human domain (including children) to address the adaptive needs of other family members, so that the leader could pursue his own pursuits. In the external world, there is a tendency to rationalize results with moral "principles"; the capability to pursue one’s own chosen expressive ends still comes across as an earned privilege, and family responsibility could be one component of earning it. Many will regard this as a "political" problem after all. Personal performance (even with "parenting skills") and adherence to a philosophy of "paying your dues" may become the main paths out of these existential moral problems.

Monday, February 04, 2008

MD GLBT issues in public school curricula


Television station WJLA reported today that a judge has approve the plans in Montgomery County, MD (next to Washington DC) to include information about contraceptives and about sexual orientation in some middle school and high school health curricula. The news link was not there yet. The most recent story on WJLA is from July 2007, here.

Here is a link from July 4, 2007 (p B06) in The Washington Post, by Daniel De Vise, "Md. State Board Approves County's Sex-Ed Curriculum," URL here.

The New York Times link from Aug. 15, 2007 by Diana Jean Scemo, "On Education
Lessons on Homosexuality Move Into the Classroom," is here.

NBC4 offers a video on the school board hearings from Jan. 2007, here.

I have a published contribution in the "Opposing Viewpoints" series, discussed here.

Update: Feb. 5, 2008

There is a story on WJLA about an email that supposedly "outs" choir members in an African American church, here.

Update: Feb. 28, 2008

In Loudoun County, VA, the book "And Tango Makes Three" was returned to a school library. The controversy was about the fact that it depicted two male penguins raising a baby, which happens in nature (males incubate the eggs, as in the movie "March of the Penguins"). The NBC4 story is here.

See also March 5, 2008 on this blog for a posting about California SB 777.

March 7, 2008


Megan Greenwell has a story "Sex-Ed Curriculum's Opponents Won't Appeal," p B05 of the Washington Post, Metro, Montgomery County MD news, here. The opposition group was called "Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum." There had been objection to teaching the "theory" that sexual orientation is immutable because it has not been proven as fact.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Early Mardi Gras party in DC


Last night, Sat. Feb. 2, the new Town DC disco had its "Mardi Gras" ("Fat Tuesday") party. The dead-of-winter evening in Washington was unseasonably mild, with outdoor temperatures around freezing and the Metro system having single-tracking delays. Lent, with all its expected self-denials, starts on Feb 6 and Easter is early this year, March 30. The pagan derivation of the Easter date shows does not comport well with its spiritual significance.

The 11:00 PM drag show featured a golden throne, spinning on the lower level dance floor, with Miss whoever on her throne looking like Cate Blanchette from "Elizabeth: The Golden Age. But the highlight came with a pantomime of a major diva aria from Verdi's Aida, with an Egyptian costume, and some donkey heads that remind one of a scene from David Lynch's recent film "Inland Empire."

Upstairs, the dance party started as usual, and in general it was not shirtless (as advertised). But on both floors there were dancers. The music was hip-hop, a big variation from the 80s music that a lot of people like/

I wondered whether hip-hop and the hardest rock would sound like if orchestrated and developed with even more syncopation and strettos, with real motives and themes, so that it could be performed as a movement of a symphony as well as danced to. That would be the challenge for any modern composer. (See my "drama" blog.) But classical music (especially ballet) sometimes is used in discos. The closing coda of Stravinsky's "Firebird" works. Another idea is the frantic presto scherzo from the Shostakovich Tenth Symphony, that sometimes finds its way into horror movies ("The Beast with a Million Eyes"). I wonder how the patrons of a bar would react if some of Jonny Greenwood's sensational music score from "There Will Be Blood" were to be suddenly pumped on the disco floor.

I one looks out across a gay disco dance floor, it seems like a substantial percentage of men are tall, well over 6 feet. Somewhere, I read once that gay men are statistically taller than average. I don't know if this is an urban legend, or if there is really something to this, adding material to all of the theories about homosexuality and genetics.

Picture: Atlanta Pride, 2004

Friday, February 01, 2008

Recalling George Gilder's ideas


Back in the 70s and 80s, conservative writer George Gilder (I don’t know if he’s the same person as the finance column writer) wrote some books and columns on marriage as it affects men. The second of these, “Men and Marriage,” was published by a small company near New Orleans in 1986. He had a chapter “The Perils of Androgyny,” in which he advanced what may sound today like a laughable theory about male homosexuality. He claimed it was related to non-monogamy and philandering among heterosexual men.

He was especially critical of what he called “the sexual princess problem,” in which young attractive women capture well-to-do-older men who already have wives, instead of settling down with men their own age and starting out in adult life. The end result, he says, is many “weaker” or “less-competitive” young men who can’t find wives and turn to homosexuality. He believes that this is particularly common in Muslim society, obviously a nerve-piercing observation giving the goings on today (especially given the comments by Iran president Ahmadinejad at Columbia University in September 2007). The observation would fit in countries or tribal areas that encourage or allow polygamy.

Andrew Sullivan once, as I recall, mentioned Gilder’s ideas. For me, like so many theories like this, they may exhibit the proverbial, if toxic, grain of truth. Men, writes Gilder at one point, bear the responsibility for initiative and performance, a requirement many men would probably like to be relieved of (and there is plenty of the latter on message boards on the Web). A less competitive male (like me as a boy) naturally develops other mechanisms to adapt to the world. One would be to learn to enjoy “submission” and, at the same time, develop the critical facility to “notice” other men and decide among them who is the fittest. The behavior is to be protected as a “private choice” or “individual fundamental right” (e.g., Lawrence v. Texas (2003), as long as the partner is a consenting legal adult), but the publicly expressive result (especially now, with the Internet) is to put straight men on edge and tease them with the idea that some of them can fail physically. Randy Shilts wrote about this with respect to gays in the military (his 1993 book “Conduct Unbecoming”), and mentioned that even as far back as the early 80s popular culture was putting a lot of pressure on heterosexual males to prove that they could all “compete” when it knew very well that many of them can’t.

Of course, men relate to each other for “creative” reasons, for the value of the psychologically polarized relationships themselves, a paradigm developed at the Ninth Street Center in the 70s and discussed in some places on my own sites. The founder, Paul Rosenfels, would have considered the mechanism Gilder describes as a psychological defense common with "psychological feminines" and a form of "sadism." (For "masculines" there is "masochism".) But that sort of community seemed to be more effective when it was relatively closed and circumscribed, as it was on the lower East Side in New York then. As ideas circulate and become more public globally, they tend to have unanticipated effects on others at the margins.

I think Gilder’s theories do help explain what we know as “homophobia” and horrific attitudes like those expressed by Iran’s president, or what happened to me at William and Mary in 1961. Most people perceive homophobia as generated primarily by religion. Perhaps it is more related to hyper-individualism and rationality taken to their logical extremes. Free societies must allow men to compete, and must deal with the natural result that some men (and women) compete better than others and that their families will often be better off as a result. Societies must use this freedom without allowing notions of “meritocracy” to take over to the point that many less “successful” (in “Darwinian” terms) people are marginalized (by the takings of more powerful people) and allowed to perish (or, in an ultimate endpoint, possibly forced to perish). One way to keep society stable in some sort of dependable ordered liberty, says Gilder and most social conservatives today, is to ration partners: one per customer, in a recognized marriage with rights and responsibilities. Logically, then, that same idea could apply to gay couples and justify gay marriage. Another way, say some conservatives, is to curb the media (whether corporate or amateur) expressions that discourage the more “average Joe” people from being in the game and forming and keeping stable marriages. That runs into our First Amendment tradition.

Many of the more conservative religious faiths (the Mormon Church is a good example) make an attempt to socialize all men and, whatever their competitive experiences as children (which inevitably must be brutal on some younger "marginal males"), mold them as adults and socialize them into adaptive stable procreative marriages (for Mormons, "Eternal Marriage") by considerable Church activity. There are variations, to be sure: the Catholic Church tries to maintain a priesthood of men who seem less interested in conventional procreation (the Vatican has a religious explanation, and it doesn’t seem to hold water in practice); many Muslim cultures maintain rigid patriarchal domination of their families (with the hiding of women) that seem related to what Muslim men think they need to keep performing. An overriding idea in religious culture is that the individual’s own “competitive” standing with respect to others is insignificant when laid against the common welfare of the family and group again. If religion contributes anything here, it is perhaps to play down the excessive preoccupation in our commercial culture with “measuring people.”