Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"Upward affiliation" and moral dualism; a hidden part of the marriage and parenting equality debate

The most obvious gay news today may well be bill in Texas, which could be mimicked in other states, to pre-empt a coming Supreme Court decision on “states’ rights” and gay marriage which, it would seem, social conservatives expect to go against “them”.  The constitutional legalities of this is a topic for another day.  It sounds rather silly, and like an uncoerced confession.  
It still seems rather important to me, at least, to lay out how I have processed my own sexuality and how I have processed the reactions of others to it, and how that blossomed to  how I view coercive efforts in other areas.  For purely logical reasons, depending on immutability for political battles has never seemed like a good idea to me.  The truth is more nuanced.  

As the very first sentence of my first DADT book notes, my erotic interests, during teen years, seem to develop on their own, which follows the idea of immutability. But there was a particular context that is disturbing.  By grade school, I was “weaker” than other boys my age, and behind in coordination (I didn’t learn to swim, and my only report card D was in  tumbling unit in PE in 11th grade). I also developed a compulsive tendency for attention-getting by interrupting in class.
Why I fell behind physically isn’t clear. My birthday is in July and I started first grade at 6, so I may have been younger than most boys.  Malcolm Gladwell might make a lot of that.  But, by the time I was in ninth grade, my skills in, say, playing back yard softball were about par with boys three or four years younger, and that isn’t so good. 

I had measles in June 1950, before second grade, but comment report cards show some mild concerns about development in first grade.  Second grade went well, but my third grade teacher was all over me about my physical backwardness.  During third grade, I started piano, and it may well be that my brain was pruning what it wouldn’t need prematurely to focus on what I was good at.  This would be something similar to mild autism, or Asperger’s.  That doesn’t always affect physical motor development, but it sounds reasonable that it sometimes does. 

But I developed a behavior pattern that psychologists sometimes call “upward affiliation”.  There was a 50s-style myth that you couldn’t be male and smart at the same time, so I admired young men who were “both at the same time” and, following the cultural values of the time, believed them to be “morally” superior, or virtuous.  This took on the aspects of an almost religious belief. 
No question, in my case, my own values started to affect by “automatic” sexual response to what I would see in others.  Then I would develop the tendency to monitor others “privately” to reassure myself that they lived up to “standards”.

I knew that the culture expected men to provide for women (after giving them future babies).  The idea of “no sex except in marriage” (“SIBM” as in the Army) seemed to set up a double standard.  But during the period after my William and Mary Expulsion (1961) and NIH stay (1962) it became more apparent that religious Christian standards of sexual morality were designed to make marital sex exciting and keep marriages together as people aged and were challenged in various ways.  
I also picked up on the idea that my “upward affiliation” disturbed or at least perturbed others.  It had the potential, when expressed (as in the closed environment in a dorm, or later at NIH, and today on the Internet) to lead others who were less “physically gifted” to believe they were somehow morally “unworthy” for marriage and procreation.  This could become more disturbing to some people than the more usual competition that leads to jealousy.  At least, this is the message I was getting from people, who saw me as psychologically sadistic at times.  Yet, I remained attached and “addicted” to my own moral beliefs, which presented a certain dualism. 

I was preoccupied enough with my own ideas that I simply didn’t even think about the idea of having a family myself, or raising my own biological progeny to adulthood.   From observation, I certainly see what that means to other people today.  I also see the risks.  A child can grow up to create the next Facebook test, or vaccine or cancer test, or a child can be profoundly disabled and needy.  A lot of luck is involved as well as good parenting.  I made my own separate peace and lived in my own world, where marriage and lineage were a private afterthought. 
So I had no desire for intercourse with women, even when I tried dating.  I could interpret this in terms of my physical backwardness.  Had I been more competitive myself physically, I probably would have viewed all this differently, and become interested in having a family.  Then I would have my own children today, and a biological extension of myself until the Sun becomes a red giant.  As an only child, that means my parents’ lineage “dies” too. 

Still, I could have married and had children, and maintained an “upward affiliation” for men at the same time.  We all know that his happens a lot.  That could have led to a situation where I could have exposed a potential wife to HIV in the 1980s, even leading to infection at birth.  I never did become infected.  I was attractive than usual and less active than usual, and moved out of NYC in 1979.  Still, I was active enough in Dallas through 1983 that I could have been infected.  I just wasn’t.  Or do I have a gene that offers some unusual resistance to HIV?  That’s possible, a kind of reverse Darwinism. 

There used to be a stereotype that gay men were effeminate and “weak”, an idea that gradually died in the 1970s, after Stonewall, as gay men, at least in the large cities, became more visible. In fact, I found when competing in physical events (like the Oak Lawn Softball Association in Dallas in the 1980s, or hiking with Adventuring in DC) that I was behind most adult gay men, too, physically.  I remember a moment in December 1990 when on a hike up a 3800-foot ridge in West Virginia on an Adventuring hike that I fell behind on the 1500-foot climb and a stray dog met me and escorted me up! *  We all know that even transgendered people who start as men can be physically competitive (like Bruce Jenner, or “Lady Valor”, Kristin Beck (Movies, Sept. 4, 2014), well before they change genders. 

Does this refute immutability?  No, it refines it.  It also adds fuel to arguments about “fairness”, and concerns that someone like me can ride on someone else’s sacrifice. 

Fast forward decades later, when am a self-published author and blogger leveraging my story on the web behind the scenes.  I face a certain coercion and disruption from some people, who want me to become silent, follow them, but, guess what, pimp their causes and, even more, take turns caring for their troubled children.  And, I was caught in this situation, of having to protect my own mother, and “take care” of people.  Yes, I am supposed to do that despite not having the experience of having my own family.  It's certainly true that, as a singleton now, I'm not as flexible in taking advantage of life-extending medical care, should that be necessary, if I haven't built the real world social network from family (ironically less could be done in these situations when I was growing up, so I didn't internalize the idea of using a marital relationship that way, as would be necessary today). That really puts a lot of twists in the gay marriage and gay adoption debates. It also means that some measures, like that suddenly announced in Texas, show a self-serving moral circularity. 

I sometimes also get confronted, somewhat coercively, with the idea that I should become personally involved with others in a way to make others “all right” (including pimping narrow causes based on "need").  Complicating the moral assessment is the fact that at the end of 2010 I benefited from inheriting most of an estate.  I certainly buy the idea that, in the grand scheme of things, I should be able to provide for other people. But I want to do by making my own creative work successful, not by pimping other people’s causes and needs. 

There is something, though, about the whole upward affiliation issue, the whole “he can do better than that” idea.   Yes, liberty seems to demand the right to control your own relationships, to reject others without question, and to define the course you will take before taking on a family. But “body fascism” is allowed to be OK, because if reinforces some moral beliefs that are quite addictive (like religion), we can all find ourselves drifting back toward real fascism.  Around the world, our enemies know this. 

I guess the next time someone who doesn’t appeal to me wants to dance, while I’m gawking at a disco, I should remember this.  

Update: May 13

The Dallas Morning News has a detailed story of the legislation proposed in Texas, here, by Robert Garrett. 

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