Thursday, June 12, 2014

All Over the Place

Dagnab it, I'm not supposed to be this busy and distracted when I'm traveling!  I guess I'm not complaining.  But I am behind.

On my flight to San Francisco I read Afrekete, edited by Catherine E. McKinley and L. Joyce DeLaney, published by Anchor Books in 1995.  It's an anthology of Black Lesbian writing, and as usual with anthologies, it's a mixed bag, very uneven.  One of the more interesting pieces is "Revelations" by Linda Villarosa, about the former Essence editor's experience coming out as lesbian and encountering conservative Christian objections to homosexuality.

Like so many gay people who've grown up in what might be called soft-shell churches, it had never occurred to Villarosa that there might be any conflict between her Christianity and her lesbianism.  When she discovered that many people thought there was, she did a little research.  Not too much -- just enough so she could say she'd been there and done that.  And right off, she came up with one of those delicious tidbits of ignorance, like the Saint James Bible, that make gay Christians so entertaining:
The New Testament had been written in Greek and then translated into Hebrew [221].
I've never seen this one before.  As a collector of gay Christian misinformation, I'm always delighted to encounter a new specimen.  Yes, there have been translations of the New Testament into Hebrew, but they were made centuries after the originals were written, and they have nothing to do with the main tradition of the Biblical text: no English translation would use them as source material.  Villarosa seems to believe that an official Hebrew version was prepared early on for use by the church, which of course isn't true.  It's a minor error, but still revealing of the biblical illiteracy of so many American Christians.

Today there's a fuss about some remarks made about homosexuality by Texas governor Rick Perry while he was on a goodwill mission to the heathen state of California.  In the very heart of Sodom, San Francisco itself, Perry told an audience last night:
"Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that," Perry said. "I may have the genetic coding that I'm inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way." 
This inspired the predictable liberal responses: Ohhowcouldhesaysuchanawfulthing!  Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco, demanded on Twitter that Perry "'must apologize for (his) ignorant and hateful remarks,' noting also that it is Gay Pride month."

The trouble is that, first, there's no real yardstick for deciding whether a condition is a "destructive addiction" or "an aspect of human diversity"; and second, gay people and our allies have relied on the same highly dubious kind of science which claims alcoholism to be a genetic condition to claim that homosexuality is a genetic condition.  Much of mainstream gay apologetics holds that we shouldn't be discriminated against because we were born this way and it's in our genes, we can't help ourselves.  This, as I've argued before, does not construct a terribly positive conception of homosexuality.  It makes the bogus claim that inborn conditions are necessarily good, which is belied by the reaction when someone compares homosexuality to other supposedly inborn conditions that clearly aren't good.  It also assumes that only inborn and immutable conditions are worthy of legal protection against discrimination, which is false.  (Civil rights laws cover not only inborn conditions like race and sex, but learned and mutable conditions such as religion.)

It pains me to say it, but Governor Perry made a defensible point; it's just irrelevant to a serious discussion of the issue.  We do expect people not to give in to every natural, inborn desire they have -- to commit adultery, for example, which the advocates of same-sex marriage must surely concede.  Perry was wrong about the moral status of homosexuality, though that is not graven in stone either: it's a judgment.  Gay people who jump from the (false) belief that homosexuality is inborn to the (false) believe that it therefore is morally good or at least neutral are playing with the same set of assumptions as Perry.  Much that is "natural" is bad; much that is human choice is good.

I'm leaving aside here the question whether homosexuality is chosen, which I don't believe it is; but "born this way" and "choice" are not opposites, nor do they exhaust the possibilities.  Nor is it clear how "choice" can be assigned to sexual orientation, or to many significant aspects of the human condition.  The twentieth-century psychiatric diagnosis of homosexuality as a disease assumed that it was not a choice, but resulted from disturbed family dynamics beyond the control of the victim.  Like the nineteenth-century diagnosis of drapetomania, I'm not sure the close-binding-mother / absent-father theory was ever definitely disproved, as much as it was abandoned for other reasons.  (It made a slight comeback among the ex-gay reparative therapy movement associated mostly with reactionary Christianity -- which is ironic, because if homosexuality is a disease it can't be a sin.)  There was also, for the change therapists, the inconvenient fact their treatments didn't work.  This doesn't prove that homosexuality is inborn, though, because psychiatric treatment doesn't work in general.

In good American politician's fashion, Perry is now trying to avoid clarifying, discussing, or defending his remarks.  (See the video clip embedded above.)  So it goes.  While I was working on this post, sitting near the TV in my hotel room, I heard a soccer fan, excited about the beginning of the World Cup, say "This game, when you're born into it, it's in your genetics."  It's a reminder just how confused most people are about what it means to be "born into" anything, or what "genetics" involve.