Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What's a "gay conservative"? Do gay liberals ask for too much "attention" from political candidates?


Today, Gay Patriot has a blog entry “Gay Conservative Voters Don’t Need Gay-Specific Appeals.” It goes on to lead to the libertarian position” believe that if the government just leaves us alone, private institutions will effect the changes we need.”

I reflected on that sentiment in my first book, where I used “gay conservative” in the title, and find that many people find that combination of words an oxymoron. But Andrew Sullivan has developed a great deal of public “notability” (as Wikipedia defines it) as a “gay conservative” or specifically and simply conservative in the sense that is close to libertarianism, but still pragmatic, somewhat along the lines of the Cato Institute. He tells Metro Weekly “I'm a small government, low taxes, strong foreign policy, individual liberty kind of guy. I'm not [for a] big government, moralizing religious right.” What’s important for conservatives is to address some of the more existential challenges to freedom (even beyond religious hegemony) that look toward some abstract and sustainable idea of “justice”, and Giuliani mentioned this in the debates before he dropped out. Sullivan’s treatise on all this was “The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back" (Harper Collins, 2006) ISBN 0060188774. I’ve felt it necessary to dissect these existential problems in some long previous entries on this and on my main blog.

Gay Patriot takes us to an America Blog entry by John Aravosis, “Hillary’s Gay Problem.” OK, Hillary doesn’t mention gay issues as often as Barack Obama. Maybe. I haven’t really noticed. Obama seems a little bit further to the left, and some of his proposals could accidentally hurt gay people. For example, expanding Medicaid’s reach could accidentally drag more childless people into states future efforts to enforce filial responsibility laws.

The AmericaBlog entry offers a five-minute YouTube / Logo interview by Jason Bellini of Hillary Clinton offered before Super Tuesday. She talks a little about mowing down the Marriage Amendment, but the most interesting part of the interview deals with the prospect of repealing “don’t ask don’t tell.” She gives a pretty good answer, first pointing out that most of our major allies have done it with no problems (most recently, Britain, our most important partner in Iraq). She reminds the audience that as president she cannot do this by herself. Congress passed the 1993 law in a “veto-proof” environment, she says. She says we need to build a broad political coalition to lift the ban. That makes it sound difficult at the outset. One place to start is to ask more members of Congress and (beyond refreshing their minds on Marty Meehan's bill) to go back and read the detailed 1993 Rand Corporation report on just how to do it, commissioned by the Clinton Administration (Les Aspin) itself then. The book is "Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: Options and Assessment" and it’s on Amazon, but expensive.

Monday, April 28, 2008

HIV an issue with Foreign Service (State) and Peace Corps


HIV infection has been an issue for federal employment overseas (regular and volunteer) many times, because some countries will not allow HIV-infected people from outside to work there.

The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (LLDEF) litigated in 2003 in behalf of Lorenzo Taylor, who had been turned down for state department employment in the Foreign Service because he told them about HIV positive status. (Their link on this case “Taylor v. Rice” is here. ). However, recently the State Department has begun a policy of looking at HIV status on a case by case basis in Foreign Service assignments, probably because of pressure from the litigation.

However, now there are new stories about issues within the Peace Corps. Jeremiah Johnson was terminated from the Peace Corps after testing positive for HIV in Kiev while on a Russian Language Program. The ACLU posts his termination papers here (PDF): “365” has a story on his case “Peace Corps Fires Man with HIV” here.

The Peace Corps is supposed to consider these on a “case by case” basis, partly to comply with the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. As with Foreign Service, advances in the effectiveness in anti-HIV drugs should make overseas employment much more realistic.

Stephen Barr has a “Federal Diary” column in the Business Section, p D1 of The Washington Post, D1, Monday April 28, 2008 “For Volunteer, Early Exit Adds To Disease’s Pain,” link here.

I considered volunteering for the Peace Corps in 2002, after my “retirement,” but found that I didn’t have the volunteer experience in volume sufficient for an effective application. In 1988, I was interviewed by Mitchell Systems in Washington DC for a position doing applications programming for the State Department’s Payroll System. I took a different position, and even then, I really didn’t want to have to worry about a security clearance. It is said to be much better now.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

LGBT people could be affected by talk of "demographic winter"


Recently I leafed through the Monarch Notes for Crane Brinton’s history text “A History of Civilization” when I took both semesters of world history at GW the summer of 1963. On p 53 there appears a summary of “social Darwinism” with brief identifications of Herbert Spencer, Cecil Rhodes, and ideas like eugenics, "Rascism" (that's how they spelled it), and elitism, as they developed in the 19th Century. (Charles Darwin alone was not the “culprit.”) Even in those days, before the Civil Rights movement blossomed fully, college texts and professors had to treat these subjects (they seem to go back to ancient Sparta) with great respect and care. World War II was a much fresher memory. I noticed that I underlined some ideas, not to agree with them but because I thought I would need to remember them for exams. Even given my personal experience at William and Mary in 1961 and then as a “mental patient” at National Institutes of Health in 1962, I did not fully grasp how ideas could shape my own life yet.

As I would discover in the early 70s when networking with activists, leading to my own “second coming,” the practical effect of capitalism is to have a world where some people are better off than others, and where we want to associate their station in life with some idea of their worthiness – we call it “meritocracy.” John Stossel even says that some times: “our system is supposed to be a meritocracy.”

How do we separate ourselves from the horrific abuses of this type of thinking in the past? For one thing, we believe in giving everyone a chance. The Americans for Disabilities Act has sometimes enabled to the personal development of some of our most productive people in the workplace, especially in fields like information technology. The same can be said about special education, which (as with autism) sometimes really does work. Our legal system embraces the libertarian notion of non-aggression and non-coercion, or at least it’s supposed to. My own mental perception of this idea as an adult has been more the viewpoint of objectivism. I devoured “Atlas Shrugged” while in the barracks in the Army (as did several other “buddies”) and it certainly influenced my adult thinking. One more critical concept is "equality before the law" but not necessarily in outcomes; yet in practice this sometimes invokes arbitrary prerequisites and group identity.

I bring this up on my LGBT blog, because it does relate to how I have experienced my own life as a gay man and with the pressures I feel today from some people. In the 1990s, particularly, objectivism, and a focus on “personal responsibility” (developed out of necessity during the AIDS epidemic) became popular within some segments of the gay community, such as Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty. It was “logical.”

In fact, that’s where I have a bone to pick with religion. Christian faith generally stresses the idea that one cannot always be “lord of his own jungle,” that one needs others, one needs God, one needs Grace (especially -- I like to mediate that with karma), and sometimes has to accept living life on the terms of others despite one’s best efforts. (I remember a 1972 sermon on “The Rich Young Ruler” – “only God is good” and “don’t pander me.”) That seems counter to freedom. “Righteousness” and “justice” are not always equivalent concepts.

I have sometimes encountered expectations that I be willing to center my own life on the needs of another person(s), even if I did not elect to do so by marrying and having children. In a few cases the demands on me are quite determined. There is resentment that I would even enter the public limelight and “catalog” political issues “objectively” without first having more personal accountability (even as an adult) to other people. I should experience the same exposure to material and emotional risk as anyone raising a family, before being heard from; otherwise, anything I say seems (to them) to float on top of an attitude of detachment and contempt. One way mandatory family responsibility can develop is with eldercare. In some families, single people have been called upon to raise siblings’ children after family tragedies. I don’t want to go into more personal detail than necessary, but I don’t think I am the only gay man stumbling into this kind of quicksand.

I wrote about the limelight issue in 2005 with an essay “The Privileged of Being Listened To” and that created a bit of a stir. Some people reacted with, “well, why not run for office then” or at least be willing to work for political candidates? It seemed more important to win converts that win arguments.

There is something particular about all this, that the therapists at NIH made a lot of during my “hospitalization” in 1962: the “upward affiliation” (a favorite term of conservative pundit George Gilder) that I’ve often mentioned. During my “second coming out” in the 1970s, I did have to focus a lot of attention on my own “social needs”. (People who remember my participation in the talk groups at the Ninth Street Center then will testify to that.) I eventually found that if I accepted being alone for stretches and developed my own skills (whether social, professional, or expressive, as with writing or music) I could attract the people that I “wanted.” I would tend to “feel” (like a “psychological subjective feminine” in Center terminology) for those men with whom I could “affiliate” – those men whom I perceived as “better” by some personal set of “standards,” which could include appearance. But I would remain emotionally distant from everyone else (including blood relatives). I found that this approach to life would actually “work,” because my capacity for emotion was channeled where I wanted it to go; it seemed to express “integrity”. But as my life progressed through time and past all of these political issues and changes, others with needs and who perhaps believed I owed them an emotional debt came to express the idea that this approach to life was unethical, unfair, and deprived others of the support that they had once given me. The idea of "fairness" seemed to them an abstraction, as were all of these global Internet expressions; "real life" was to comprise codependent familial or communal relationships for their own sakes, regardless of inevitable externally imposed hardships.

One way they would sometimes deal with this is to present me with an “opportunity” that fit their agenda for political and social (and maybe religious) correctness, adjusted for the 21st century world. I would be asked to serve as a “role model” and become emotionally involved with certain people (children or boys) in situations that I would not have chosen and that I did not believe to be appropriate. It seemed that my serving in this manner could make them feel better about themselves, and perhaps less exposed to criticism for their own “weaknesses”. This struck me as an odd turnabout, after decades of “urban exile” and political debates about keeping the exclusion of open gays from the military and from adoption or involvement with children. Suddenly, the world realized it needed everyone, partly because of the eldercare caregiving crisis, and because of the need for teachers, and because of the possibility of a “demographic winter.”

My reaction to all this is two-fold. First, I would be more willing to “change” how I related to people (and consider jobs where typical parental “socialization” is needed) if there were certain legal reforms, like ending “don’t ask don’t tell.” If you need everyone to be able to “serve”, come clean about this, please, and admit it openly. Another reaction is that accepting “leadership responsibility” in areas in which I had never worked or made any significant individual contributions toward, would disrupt my own “psychologically feminine” psyche and ability to respond according to my identity.

Some people, however, are particularly taken back by this sort of proclamation. Gay men don’t often say things like this in polite company, but on the recesses of the Internet, on some message boards and chatrooms, one finds comments by some men that they want “relief” from the “responsibilities” of initiation expected of men, and particularly the expectation that they can “protect” families with women and children. (In the modern world, most women, it seems, want to protect themselves and want their own independent lives anyway, they say.) This is not the same thing as a trans-gender identity, but sometimes it leads to consideration (and glorification) of certain self-destructive acts. Although gay men generally aren't thinking about "political defiance" during intimacy, others may perceive the public openness about it as rejecting one's own "blood" in a competitive and sometimes hostile external world. Families of these men may feel jeopardized by such statements. School systems find this particularly problematic with male teachers.

Where does this all lead? An easy way out is the "politically correct" and partially scientifically valid idea of homosexuality as immutable. There are problems with this, when comparing to some other possibly genetic "behavioral" inclinations. But to me, it seems insulting: it ultimately panders to the notion of homosexuality as a quasi-disability, because if interferes with almost obligatory biological reproduction and "life affirmation".

With some people, this seems to lead to a moral principle that everyone should be accountable to someone else and prove that he or she can provide for others (especially blood family members) regardless of actually having children and marrying. If you don’t have your own kids, some other responsibility will be assigned to you. This sort of thinking would seem to confound the notion of marriage as we know it today (even before considering gay marriage). In the past, however, the maze of apparently logic-driven ethical contradictions could be skipped with a prohibitionistic policy toward homosexuality (especially for men, with its “upward affiliation”). Now, it is coming back. It could reintroduce a world where having children becomes a cultural and economic necessity. Parents will behave as if marriage needs to be pampered, honored, and sheltered from distraction if lifelong monogamous commitment is to remain "worth it".

I do think that modern generations have lost sight of this problem: this is how it was, folks, in the 50s. It started to “break down” with the Civil Rights movement in the 60s, and then will all that followed: the violent year 1968, then Stonewall, the collapse of the Vietnam war, and Watergate. Libertarians will say that this is a matter that should be resolved within families (as with wills). But the law does get involved. States, under financial pressure, might start enforcing filial responsibility laws, and that could target GLBT people. (The gay establishment doesn’t want to talk about this, because of a fear that publicity would bring it on. But the coming "crisis" comes in large part from medical practice that can prolong life without vigor and independence, while at the same time families are smaller.) Tax policy obviously will pay more attention to dependents (unless we could some day have a Forbes “flat tax” or a Huckabee “Fair Tax” but even then, there will be issues.) Employers have to deal with family leave, and paid family leave can become a political issue where the childless subsidize the childed.

We do need to start talking about this openly. In that regard, discussions about “demographic winter” that seem to have originated with the political Right may be welcome, even if some of their assumptions are flawed.

Correlated post, here. That post presents a more integrated "material" view of karma, whereas this one is more about the psychological, familial and emotional view.

Monday, April 21, 2008

PA: Tricky constitutional amendment ("functional equivalent" of marriage); FL; VA


A battle over an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment in Pennsylvania, hyped in the media before Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary (that has little to do with it), sounds a bit like the battle over the Marshall-Newman amendment in Virginia.

The Equality Advocates Pennsylvania “Take Action” Amendment is here. They also have a “take action” page and form letter here.

The text of this amendment S 1250 can be found at this link.

The critical wording is:
4 The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
5 hereby resolves as follows:
6 Section 1. The following amendment to the Constitution of
7 Pennsylvania is proposed in accordance with Article XI:
8 That Article I be amended by adding a section to read:
9 § 29. Marriage.
10 No union other than a marriage between one man and one woman
11 shall be valid or recognized as marriage or the functional
12 equivalent of marriage by the Commonwealth.

That would seem to ban what we call “civil unions” (“functional equivalent” wording) too. However, many groups have claimed that it could prevent people from leaving estates to same-sex partners, or interfere with other rights from housemates separately arranged by contract or power of attorney.

For example, one law professor, Bridget Crawford at the University of Pittsburgh, provides this legal analysis (PDF), here.

The text of that 2006 house proposal to amend the constitution, similarly worded, can be found at this link:


The text reads

ONLY A MARRIAGE BETWEEN ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN SHALL BE VALID
3 OR RECOGNIZED AS A MARRIAGE IN THIS COMMONWEALTH, AND NEITHER
4 THE COMMONWEALTH NOR ANY OF ITS POLITICAL SUBDIVISIONS SHALL
5 CREATE OR RECOGNIZE A LEGAL UNION IDENTICAL OR SUBSTANTIALLY
6 EQUIVALENT TO THAT OF MARRIAGE FOR UNMARRIED INDIVIDUALS.

There has been considerable litigation about a previously legislated gay marriage ban, as with this link:


As I’ve noted, Pennsylvania has adopted some particularly biting “pro family” legislation, such as in 2005 when it moved filial responsibility laws from the welfare code to the domestic law section, implying that adult children have a responsibility for parents comparable to what parents had for them as minors. So far this has not been enforced as far as I know. (See this link, July 12).

In other states, Florida has been trying to enlist senior citizens to support its constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage (AP story, Washington Blade, April 18, 2008, link here.

There is also an ongoing legal battle where a former lesbian partner from Vermont kept visitation rights when her partner separated and moved to Virginia, by Joshua Lynsen, March 19, 2008 link here.
The case will go to the Virginia Supreme Court. Here is the Lambda Legal link for the case, "VA Supreme Court Hears Interstate Custody Case".

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pope's moralistic sermons still a bit ambiguous for LGBT people


The Pope apparently waved at Dignity and kept the tone of his moral remarks within bounds. He talked about balancing “rights and responsibilities” and the human tendency to appeal to relativism and “lower common denominators,” the need to understand the downstream effects of one’s choices, and most of all to honor “Divine Plan” which includes family identity was well as an individual’s.

This is not to pay undue heed to the priest’s scandal, which is not anymore a “gay problem” than the recent takeover of an FLDS compound in Texas is a “straight” one. (In saying this I have to take the state's "probable cause" at its word, and maybe it's early to do that -- Larry King Live has presented the women's side; see here, toward end of posting. Also, the overwhelming majority of perpetrators on NBC’s Dateline TCAP stings were heterosexual.) I personally think that banning married men from being priests is like banning gays from the military – even though there are theological doctrines. There’s more about this on the issues blog Feb. 22.

No, the Pope’s multiple sermons on this visit seem to address the futility of human attempts to design absolutely perfect social justice on his own terms. There is always some kind of ideological rationalization for any political solution (and the history of the past century with Communism, which Pope John helped President Reagan bring down, and Fascism), which will justify the worst kinds of totalitarianism (which is almost never tolerant of gays). I’ve noted on these blogs that the arguments about individualized social justice get tricky indeed. They go beyond taking responsibility for personal choices (whether supporting children one has fathered or preventing STDs and pregnancy with “precautions”) to a broader sense of sharing both responsibility and risks (which procreation inherently does, something the Vatican always points out), and accepting some contingent level of interdependence even while expressing freedom. I’ve sometimes called this the “pay your dues” moral philosophy.

Even these arguments, however, probably don’t fully respect the inherently transitory nature of self-interest. When I prance on the disco floor at the TownDC, the assembly of people, mostly young adults (men) that I see still represent a snapshot in time. They were kids once, and most of them will be old some day, my age. That’s basic modern physics, call it general relativity. Religious faiths constantly seek to give men institutions (marriage) that coax them to change their perception of self-interest. Anti-gay "Levitical" moral codes (whatever the distinctions between "identity" and "conduct" and all the stuff about "objective disorders" from the 1980s) often seem like a convenient canard for keeping the moral ideas "simple" enough for the majority of people to follow, when the details about how real peoples' lives play out get very complicated. Institutionalism tries to tell the majority of people "how to live" to meet majoritarian needs, and is counter-libertarian.

I’ve said that a proper moral debate would focus on what “society” should expect of and how it should treat someone who is differently wired, in such a way that he or she will not approach taking on family responsibility in the “normal” way. Yet, it seems that the Pope’s comments ultimately leave this up in the air, as “divine purpose” and institutions deal only with large numbers of people. That is one reason it is so hard to win the gay marriage debate on the grounds of just “individual rights and responsibilities.”

I have an older essay on Vatican ideas of sexual morality here (2004).

Picture: GLBT issues presented in Free Speech exhibit in just-opened Newseum in Washington DC.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Gay couples often struggle more on Tax Day


As tax day approaches, some LGBT people and couples anticipate mad midnight rushes to post offices with returns, as they may be more likely to owe money because of lack of access to the benefits of joint federal filing. While possible for state income taxes in MA only, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 would preclude any such possibility for federal returns.

The major story "Gay couples face higher tax bills" appeared on CNN today, link here.

Some gay partners get health benefits through their partners' work, but they actually have to declare that as income, the article points out.

The federal government regards a gay couple as two separate households. However, there may be some circumstances where that is and advantage. There has always been a lot of noise from social conservatives over the "marriage penalty," as discussed here on Wikipedia, including uneven attempts to eliminate it. In earlier times, the marriage penalty could be significant enough that sometimes single people actually paid less in taxes.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Conservatives claim that legalizing gay marriage jeopardizes (First Amendment) religious liberties


Back in 1980, before the coming crisis with AIDS was publicly known very much, the gay community in the south, particularly Dallas, where I lived then, was dealing with the likelihood of the need for assistance from an expected influx of Cuban refugees. There was an expectation that the refugees would include many gay men, fleeing Communist Cuba (remember the film “Before Night Falls”). There was talk, especially within gay churches, as to how they would be housed. I thought about becoming involved, and even took a Spanish course in downtown’s El Centro College (and the term was refugiados cubanos).

In September 1980 I went to talk to Catholic Charities about this, in their low rise facility on Lemmon Ave., ironically in Oak Lawn and the heart of Dallas’s “gay neighborhood”. I met a young man named Mr. Perez inside, and after a few sentences, I heard the words “But the fact that you say you are gay ends this conversation.”

That incident comes to mind, as I look at an op-ed on p. 19 of the Monday, April 7, 2008 DC Examiner, by Roger Severino, “Legalizing gay marriage will spark lawsuits against churches,” link here. He discusses, besides the legal outcome (of Goodridge) in Massachusetts, current litigation over same-sex marriage in California and Connecticut. He tries to argue that constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty could be undermined by decisions favoring gay marriage.

Why? Largely because religious charities often consider legal marriage (and expect to find opposite sex couples and parents) when they deliver services. They often run into state laws, including public accommodations laws, that prohibit discrimination already on the basis of sexual orientation. In the situation I mention above in Texas, there was no such law, but in some other states Mr. Perez probably could not have said (at least today, if the circumstances repeated) what he said then. Severino writes that in Massachusetts, Catholic Charities was forced out of the adoption placement business as an indirect result of the state’s definition of same-sex marriage. The big problem with Severino's argument seems to be his presumption that the delivery of services by charities needs to be intertwined with the support of government and the state, a situation that libertarians have always wanted to decouple.

In this regard, it’s understandable that some states (as Maryland now proposes) will want to consider defining-down “marriage” as civil union for everyone, and then write laws say that churches and private charities are free to treat couples any way they like in the assignment of services, as long as they don’t take public monies. That’s hard to pull off. When I was editor of The Quill for Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty in the 1990s, Gene Cisewseki wrote a cutting 1996 op-ed “License Expired” (direct link) (or go to GLIL and look under archives in a separate HTML frame).

Of course, this gets back to the privileges and perks (and yes responsibilities) that marriage brings. Sometimes unmarried people have to subsidize them. That’s part of the rub. A pastor David Ensign at Clarendon Presbyterian Church in Arlington dramatized the issue when he refused to perform legal heterosexual marriages in his church, making couples go to the County for the official legal recognition. For example, see the story by Elizabeth Weill Greenberg in The Washington Blade, Nov. 25, 2005, “Presbyterian church nixes weddings for all: protest against ban on gay marriage by Va. Presbyterians,” here.

Friday, April 04, 2008

US Appeals Court rules that roommates service may not "ask" sexual orientation


Some visitors to my blogs are familiar in my story about my expulsion from William and Mary in November 1961 for admitting "latent homosexuality" to the Dean of Men. The story is on my main blog here. There was a roommate issue in the sequence that led to this.

How times have changed. The Ninth Circuit has ruled that a commercial website roommates.com may not ask the sexual orientation of clients, even though some people believe that it would be relevant. Prospective college students often use the site. The site has a rather detailed "terms of service" that does not mention sexual orientation.

The main story is by Adam Tanner on Reuters, "Straight or gay? U.S. court says Web site can't ask," link here. The story also appears on MSNBC. The Court made a comparison to asking religion or race by phone before conducting business. So this is a "don't ask" without a "don't tell."

There are reports that co-ed dorms are more common. When I stayed in McCollum Hall at the University of Kansas in the 1960s as a graduate student, the dorm was co-ed my last year there, with a partition in each floor's lobby to separate the genders. Two wings were for men, one for women. I recall other anomalies of the period: undergraduate women had curfews, men did not. Schools believed that they acted in loco parentis.

Steven Menashi has a somewhat convoluted discussion of the issue of sexual orientation in college dorms in the Dartmouth Review from Oct. 2, 2000, "Colleges' Housing Hypocrisy," link here. The article discusses the objection from many mainstream and elite schools from the military "don't ask don't tell" policy (and the Solomon Amendment) as it can affect the enrollment in their ROTC programs on campus, and as it also affects their receipt of needed DOD funds. Yet the schools do sometimes have issues with gay students in dorms. Sometimes a few of them have separate wings, and many of them will separate roommates on request of the straight student. (I recall somewhere seeing Moskos note that with regard to Northwestern University.) A few apparently will not. The situation may be changing gradually, is this article is now seven years old.

In my case, I believe that William and Mary should simply have separated us (and waited until completely after Thanksgiving Weekend to call me in). Had the Dean simply done that, I might be a W&M graduate rather than a GWU graduate, and might have led a different life, and had a much better social experience in college, even in the early 1960s. My life might have been very different. Who knows, maybe I would have gone to med school, and become a CDC epidemiologist when AIDS broke out in the 1980s, or been an NIH researcher. (I'm more of a content, numbers and research person than a patients person.) Either life would have appealed to me.

Times do change.

I have an earlier posting on the tendency for parents to check out assigned or prospective roommates with Facebook and other social networking sites (based on a USA Today story), here.



Update: Breaking News, April 6:

John McCain today, speaking in Pensacola FL, called for military expansion. He said resuming the draft was neither "necessary" nor "desirable." But then he called "disgraceful" the practice of many universities of trying to deny access to ROTC. He did not say or admit that this problem is related to the "don't ask don't tell" policy and the Solomon Amendment, but he said that the "rights" of all students should be fully respected, as if to hint that he could someday be open to repealing DADT.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A gay male teacher as "surrogate family?" A very dicey notion


A few days ago, ABC News gave us a story about how some school districts were encouraging teachers to act as “surrogate family members” to help underprivileged kids stay in school. I gave the link and some notes in this posting, toward the end of the posting on the Issues blog:

I have some more reaction to all this, and some of it may sound a bit brutal, as well as frank. In making some of these comments, I’m recalling how overwhelming, overbearing, and downright intimidating Paul Rosenfels could become in those talk groups at the Ninth Street Center in New York back in the 1970s. “Be cause I said so, it is so.”

I did sub for about three years (with one long break), and I did run into this. There were situations where kids needed a surrogate father. I found myself (as a sub) in some delicate situations a couple of times. And I realize that this complicates things further, because the story was intended to apply to permanent teachers.

You can guess the political context: gay teachers, tracking back to gays in the military and “forced intimacy.” That’s right. To present a news story like that with all the “politically correct” hype about inner cities is a bit reckless without looking deeper. My own reactions are complicated enough to wonder whether they fit “Weekly Standard” or “Mother Jones” most closely, because they run both ways.

What some kids need is emotional connection. There is a similar problem, at a very basic level, with eldercare. What seriously disabled parents need is unconditional love and emotional connection from the kids, regardless of all the political and moral arguments that run around the situation (“personal responsibility,” etc.) There is an element of forgiveness, Christian style. Because we are dealing with problems that should not happen except for neglect and wrongdoing. Who throws the first stone?

What I find is that I am most unwilling to give out that emotional connectivity gratuitously, to suspend my own emotional selectivity (which was a good thing in the Ninth Street Center’s world – up to a point). Particularly, I cannot make something "right" that I don't think is right just by "protecting" someone or talking down to their emotions. I also find that, at age 64, I would be much more open to doing so in teaching jobs (especially dealing with disdanvantaged kids) had I married and had kids myself. It might even be OK had I married and created a lineage, and then divorced because I was gay. I still would have experienced procreation and the emotional responsibility it creates. Then I would be ready for this. But I never did that. I spared the two young women that I dated in the early 70s the grief of any pretense of this. They both married happily an monogamously, and had good families, with real passion, as far as I know.

On some assignments, students (usually teenage girls) would as if I was married and had kids, and then, “why not?” It went beyond just asking “are you gay” (the obvious DADT question). A couple times I got them off the subject by talking about episodes in TheWB’s Smallville, Everwood, and particularly One Tree Hill (teenage girls seemed to like Chad Michael Murray). But they less privileged kids were especially suspect. Why did I not think enough of my own blood or family to want to continue it? In their world, where culture may give no other expressive opportunities or than family formation, that’s how they seem to see this situation.

As I indicated back in February 2008 (Feb 18), I was somewhat of a social outcast as a kid. I was reminded that I was not “manly” or “competitive” enough, and that was taken to mean that I should not have a family, given the “overrationality” of my teenage brain and the way it calculated “self-interest”. I would have a psychological interest not only in (“psychologically feminine” in Rosenfels terminology) “submission” but in judging, at least privately, who was “worthy.” A lot of this goes on under the table in the gay male community. I see a “Mr. Right” somewhere and my gut emotional reaction is that this is someone whose appearance demonstrates “virtue” or represents my values. Soon, nothing else is “good enough” to be worthy of sexual attention.

Imagine, then, my sense of personal affront. I am supposed to pretend (in front of immature teenagers) that I really am “competitive” enough to have had a wife and kids and kept one wife for a lifetime, when “rationally” that’s not true. Maybe this is utilitarian thinking or “radical individualism” run amok, to the point that its own logic force contradictions. Almost nothing could be more offensive. That kind of expectation of connection and fake “intimacy” borders on sexual harassment. That is how I experience it.

If I were a 22 year old gay male who could present himself as competitive (even better an African American) and chose teaching because of the obvious need for young male teachers (even as surrogate "role models"), being expected to do this might well be all right. But not for a 64 year old who has lived in a separate “dominion” (urban “exile”) for three decades. There is just too much history, social and political hostility to overcome.

But I am also forced to realize a couple of other things. One is a moral precept to be sure. If I can be critical of others for their “failings” (which are many) when they demand emotional attention that I don’t want to give them, why can’t they be just as judgmental about me for failing to even try to reproduce? That does represent the “moral thinking” in many religious areas. After all, the world is a dangerous place. It doesn’t guarantee a smooth ride. It demands hardships, and they are not always allocated equally. (Think about Job.) Then, why not at least say that someone who will enjoy some of the perks of a more privileged life should at least take the risk and responsibility of continuing a biological lineage before insisting on how own agenda, most of all me, an only child: The only answer that the conventional gay community offers is “how you are born” or “who you are.” But that doesn’t work for other areas.

Then, again, there is “personal responsibility.” Remember how in the 1980s, the religious right wanted to hold gay men accountable for their own afflictions during the AIDS epidemic. They talked about “behavior based disease.” There was an “element” of truth to this. But then, twenty years later, we are faced with the enormous problems or aging and degenerative disease, and with the idea that much of this could also be prevented with “lifestyle” or “behavior” (never smoking, reducing calories and fat, exercise, etc) or “personal responsibility.” Sounds like the same convenient finger pointing. There is almost no reason, ideologically, not to blame the afflicted for their own “sin” if one insists.

The “reproduction” problem leads to another twist that comes back into focus, and helps explain the “public morality” of the past and the vehemence with which I was expelled from college in 1961 (other blogs). In many social circumstances, the presence of gay men provokes less secure straight men into fearing that they too will have trouble “performing” because of lack of “competitiveness,” that they too, can fail physically, This is the great dirty little secret of McCarthyism that no one wants to admit, even today (although Randy Shilts pointed this out in his massive “Conduct Unbecoming” about gays in the military). In fact, gay male “culture” sometimes “brags” that it can judge “who has it”. Understandably, this puts a lot of people on edge, perhaps intentionally. This whole process may help explain the popularity in the past of male “rites of passage” or “tribunals” or outright hazing. It was supposed to make all young men see themselves differently, accept their fungibility, and be prepared to function as husbands and fathers, however troubled their past adolescence “competitively.”

Recently, evangelicals Jackson and Perkins in their book “Personal Faith, Public Policy” (review: ) pointed out the dangers of “utilitarianism”, however circuitously; back in 1990, Allan Carlson had discussed the dangers of “the logical consequences of radical individualism” in his “Family Questions.” (In this regard, it’s interesting to see the unconditional emotions that surface in the eldercare issue in the three recent programs on eldercare on PBS and ABC; see my TV blog on April 1-2). They do have a point. Philosophers have debated how design a world that offers “absolute justice” in human terms, winding up with our “isms” at times. Consider how, under communism, fascism, extreme Christian fundamentalism, and radical Islam, various people believe in an absolute moral ideology (religiously based sometimes) that seems to “rationalize” results that work to the advantage of those who grew up in the respect system and became conditioned (even sexually) to respond to its values. The effect of these ideologies, with their self-righteousness, is to remove individuals from personal emotional risk. They do not have to take the chances that they can be wrong if they have to become more open emotionally to others on terms not of their choosing. They have an ideology that protects them and helps them function. Sometimes they do not even see the downstream results of their beliefs for others, until outside influences (the West, sometimes through wars) force them to. Then to avoid “religious”, ideological or personal shame, they will sometimes even surrender their own lives in spectacular fashion, as history has shown. Freedom always entails some risk like this, taking the chance that you can be wrong about everything, because there is no way to make everything just. This observation takes the idea of “responsibility for others” or involuntary family responsibility, linked to the gay marriage and adoption debates, to a whole new level.