Monday, May 19, 2014

Should homophobic speech be "tolerated"? That question can lead to a curious moral paradox (like a gambit in chess)

The Care2 website has an interesting perspective by Steve Williams, “Why we don’t have to tolerate anti-LGBT intolerance, link here.  I found it on Facebook and tweeted it myself.  I also got an email link to a piece in Chronicle Review by Suzanna Danuta Walters, "An Incomplete Rainbow", link here
It’s true, that in the US and most modern western countries, public homophobic speech is becoming almost as unacceptable as racism, and a Donald Sterling-type event can happen. Various performers and sports figures have been forced to apologize or threatened with loss of business for insensitive remarks. One reason right now that this is so sensitive is that rabid anti-gay measures, both in terms of laws and vigilantism, are occurring in much of the Third World and, most unfortunately and shamefully, in Russia.  In practically all countries that have passed laws like this, other major instability or aggression has occurred in other areas, as in Nigeria and Russia.  There is definitely a connection.  The Pew Research Center has noted that homosexuality is becoming a proxy for a new divide between western and more collectivized (and usually authoritarian) cultures.  And it could soon create an asylum and refugee crisis that can challenge individuals in the west to pitch in and provide “radical hospitality” and support (this is an evolving possibility; we saw it with the Cuban refugees in 1980).

There is, however, a certain authoritarianism within some of the “gay establishment”.  And it covers a particular irony.  This concerns loyalty to the idea that sexual orientation is immutable.  It is true, it is like no other issue: controversial for reasons people can’t explain, and yet so invisible.  It seems like a plug-in, independent variable (or a “linearly independent component of a vector space”), that can occur randomly in any combination with any other personality and cognition-related traits. 

Immutability would not be a relevant observation about something that can lead someone to harm others.  A biological inclination for alcoholism (and probably a lot of drug absue) is probably genetic and immutable, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be treated.  But that’s partly because when people are intoxicated, they harm others (particularly when driving).  I’m personally lucky in that regard.  I didn’t inherit any particular susceptibility to alcohol and drugs, or to obesity or diabetes.  So sometimes I’m not real empathetic.

Yet, we often hear anti-gay speakers going out of the way to insist that homosexuality is chosen.  I remember someone telling me that over dinner in Dallas in 1983, between games of a chess doubleheader in a club-sponsored match.  (We had drawn the first game.  I had “come out” during dinner.  In the second game, after dinner, he got an early advantage and then blundered, probably from distraction, and allowed me to checkmate him quickly with a knight sacrifice.) 

Why is this such a big deal?  I think that male homosexuals, when open, used to make a lot of male heterosexuals aware of their own shortcomings and that they can fail physically.  We seem to them like the referees as to who is the fittest to have a long lineage.  And for some people, with limited opportunity in an increasingly individualistic culture, that’s all they have. (It's relevant that I am an only child, so I stopped my parents from having an indefinite biological legacy.)  I think that what is going on overseas has a lot to do with this.  There’s an accompanying irony, body fascism (or lookism) that is certainly common in the male gay community.  It’s a curious reflection of values, originating in smaller, often tribal cultures that really needed most or all men to look and act like “men” to protect the clan.  So the freedom to “be oneself” and follow one’s own sexual values, can invoke the freedom to hold personal attitudes about others that are still prejudicial, and to refuse to relate to others when perhaps openness is needed.  It is indeed a moral paradox.
So the moral logic would be, if it is part of nature, it doesn't affect how others (straight men) see themselves in their own relationships.  If it is a choice, it comes across as a way to step on other people's toes intentionally, and make them feel less secure.  One time, back in the early 1970s, a coworker, whom I always beat at chess, had gained a lot of weight suddenly after getting married.  He said, "I don't notice men's bods.  I notice girls' bodies." (He said, girls, not women.)  You can see where he was coming from.   

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