Friday, March 01, 2013
"The Virtue of Maleness": Proposed Chapter 2 conclusion from "DADT-3" book
On the public policy level, we have seen a remarkable change in the area of “gay rights”. What used to be posed in terms of the right to be left alone in one’s private life has migrated to a perception of sexual orientation as characterizing a separate “people” (or as Chandler Burr noted in a book title, “a separate creation”), who must be treated as equal, somewhat as what has happened with race.
At the same time, at the personal level, many of the same issues remain. I’ll be explaining more in succeeding chapters how this developed for me once I had to assume eldercare responsibility for my mother. But we look around and see unprecedented concern about bullying among our young people. Is this new or getting worse, or are we no just no longer “too sinful to notice” (as a commentator in Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty once noted)?
I want to note here my own sense of personal loss at the tragic story of violinist Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide in September 2010 after his roommate spied on him in an intimate encounter and Rutgers University apparently didn’t do much about it. He might have been a tremendous musical talent. His roommate situation was in many ways very different from mine a half century before at William and Mary. What he had said in private notes has not been disclosed, and I won’t get into complicated speculation, other than that he might have seen the world as too evil a place. I would add, the idea that “It gets better” (so promoted by celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres) seems incomplete, because such a phrase implies that some of the bullying is inevitable. That’s not good. Bullying happens because people believe that they have to fend for themselves in “social combat” and that the larger legal (and economic and political) “system” doesn’t work for them and therefore doesn’t “apply”.
I also want to emphasize, in these days, that the political correctness of “equality” blinds everybody to “the lives of real people”, that in the past (during my coming of age), efforts to witch-hunt gays, presumably to send an indirect message about the expectations of social conformity to the power structure, really took place. Yes, at one time people were entrapped, and bars were raided, as late as 1980 in Dallas. (And, by the way, despite the old stereotypes about public sex – only one person in my whole life ever approached me in such a setting, and that was way back in 1972 at a hotel hosting a high level chess tournament.) The political environment during the AIDS epidemic for a while threatened to bring all this back. The two-decade (almost) battle over the military ban brought this to a head. All these concepts (privacy, social and unit cohesion, due process, even equality) came together in the barracks. It’s taken the Boy Scouts of America a long time to catch up (even with the lifting of DADT – and remember the Supreme Court’s allowance of them as a private organization in 2000). Changing popular opinion and the need for public support is finally turning them around. It’s also important to note that the BSA issue shows that a collective sense of religious morality, created when stricter denominations gain influence beyond their membership, can raise questions as to how far religion can go and still be treated “preferentially” by tax policy and even rules for public accommodations.
The whole concept of “equality” seems a bit of an intellectual artifice. In nature, no two organisms can be exactly “equal”, but they most “complement” one another for all to survive. That explains how biological communities “evolve”. And perhaps physics explains reproduction. Conscious life seems like a way for nature to oppose entropy; and reproduction is the process to recover from the decay with aging that entropy says must happen.
And depending on “immutability” has always seemed unsatisfactory to me – partly because it isn’t completely true, and because it leads to bad comparisons on other issues (like a tendency toward chemical dependency or obesity, which is partly inherited, but which requires behavioral control).
Remember, that for most of history, gay rights has indeed been more about respecting the right to “private choices” than about “equality”, and the appropriate question to ask those who attempt to damage the lives of homosexual people (or people who seem to exhibit homosexual inclinations and probable conduct), is “Why do you interfere with others? What’s in it for you?” Or, “Why does my own personal life affect you so much?”
It’s simple, and yet it’s hard. Yes, parents often want an indefinite lineage, and for those without other economic or expressive opportunities, that’s one thing they may think they have a “right” to count on. A family can be “killed” just as a person can. (That sort of thinking may help explain the draconian anti-gay laws under consideration now in Uganda.) But there’s obviously more. People tend to believe they need to prevail in social competition; and stomping on those “beneath” them, despite the obvious moral contradictions that this entails, may be almost instinctive social behavior. (That’s how one gay Midwestern prosecutor explains it to me.) Once in some sort of political or social control, and particularly when there are external enemies or various demographic or environmental problems threatening long term sustainability and stability, leadership (religious or not) seeks rationalizations for its situation. One such rationalization is that those who are in some way challenged “adaptively” and dependent on the infrastructure above them should not oppose the “hands that feed them” but should remain subservient or obedient, lest they put everyone in jeopardy (particularly of enemies in a “class warfare” sense). Such individuals can point to the distraction that those like me can pose to those who try to raise families, both by economic competition but also by “kibitzing” and projecting personal value systems (“upward affiliation”) which might prove tempting to others or “contagious”, or which might actually make other people of lesser means feel even less worthy in the grand scheme of things. Such ideas seem to house their own internal moral contradictions, to be sure. Particularly, they seem to project a belief that sexual pleasure from sadomasochistic or “alternating current” psychological mechanisms (where abasement or shame becomes a source of pleasure) is naturally tempting to people as a “path of least resistance” for those who have trouble adjusting. They may have a stronger point when they argue that ordered freedom, as a whole, depends on individuals in local families and communities all doing their part, even at an intimate level, not always chosen. Marriage in this view becomes more a result than a source of “moral values”. This sort of thinking is most vehement in more closed religious communities, which seek to make others comply with their views to maintain a grip now only on power but also on “meaning”.
It’s important to contemplate what “religious morality” (especially Vatican) means by “no sexuality except in marriage” (heterosexual, that is, and it refers to fantasy as much as acts). It obviously plays out differently for gay people than straight. But the old-fashioned “simple rule” really was intended to get people to save themselves for procreation and raising another generation for the benefit of the family or tribe, not just for preventing unwanted babies.
Likewise, the whole thrust of the “right to life” and anti-abortion movement is much more than just an abstract respect for human life. It has to do with getting people to become actively involved in protecting the vulnerable. It ultimately has to do with loving “people as people” (to quote my dad) and as part of family, as a given. But it, in the area of opposition to stem cell research and therapy, have overreached its own purposes.
Indeed, it has become striking to me how much my own psychological makeup expressed a love of “abstract” virtue (and beauty) for its own sake – a belief (rather like that from Oscar Wilde) that beauty is its own justification rather than the result of an organic, earthy process involving people meeting their own real needs with complementarity, extending to raising the next generation. I inherited this mindset from the conservative culture that raised me, and curiously fed it into my values of what I could find exciting in other people. I tended to view others through strictly moral terms (as I thought I had been viewed), without regard to circumstance or possible disability. A corollary is that I (still now) resent having the needs of others forced on me as motives that should pre-empt what I have already come or even “chosen” to feel. I didn’t feel “pleasure” in meeting the needs of someone who could never become “perfect” – and at the time, feeling this way seemed like my own prerogative. I don’t like to admit it, but I can see even in myself how fundamentalism, and the need to see others comply to a set of beliefs so that I can comply too, could grow even in my own psyche. It’s scary. (You don’t want a value system where something is right just because “everybody does it”.) Like a fundamentalist, I needed the “freedom” to explore my own belief system, claiming that it was harmless fantasy or a private choice—yet the motives could eventually have serious public consequences. I can see how I could have felt had I grown up and somehow “made it” under radical Islam or some other strict, fundamentalist religious system.
People tend to make a great deal of the “narrowness” of others in the ability of others to feel and sustain interest. Indeed, some of the notes at NIH explicitly noted my indifference to “girls”, but indifference can become an issue in the same-sex world, too. Sometimes, when I’m at a disco and watching someone who looks “interesting”, someone who is “not” interesting according to my own internal value system will try to divert me. Everyone has a right to say “no”, right? If you can get rejected, you can certainly reject. (To allow anything else would be to accept sexual harassment, maybe.) That certainly sounds like the normal idea that comports with “personal responsibility”. But the idea that people remain so narrow in their “choices” sounds like one that can spread; “body fascism” could encourage real fascism again. So I can understand why some people make openness to love in some way that involves some psychological complementarity (the Rosenfels polarities) as well as “affiliation” (the “he can do better than that” problem) and openness to risk and unpredictable responsibility (even having children) an important religious and perhaps moral precept. But in the grand scheme if things, mere biological difference in gender seems to mean less all the time.