Saturday, June 29, 2019

You Say Delany, and I'll Say Delaney

Just a quick one today.  Samuel R. Delany explained on Facebook how he chose his nickname, "Chip," and then ruminated on the difficulty many people have spelling his surname correctly.
I don’t hold anybody personally responsible. I’m dyslexic; I can misspell anything, though it’s probably a reason I don’t volunteer for that particular job. On more than one occasion, I have said: "I will know that I am really famous when everyone spells my name correctly."
The usual misspelling is "Delaney," and I've seen it not only in casual writing, but in newspapers and other outlets that should have copy-editors and proofreaders.  Even academic publications about his work have made the mistake, and that is something for which somebody should be held personally and professionally responsible.

I'm amused by the speculation that fame has something to do with it.  J. R. R. Tolkien is pretty damn famous, yet his surname is frequently misspelled as "Tolkein," even by fans, though I admit I haven't often seen it that way in print.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Nostalgia Is Just Amnesia Turned Around

If only we had a President like this today: classy, compassionate, inclusive!  That is what a lot of diehard Obama cultists are still saying in social media, conveniently forgetting his actual record.

The quotation is authentic.  Also, "Obama said this year’s influx reflects 'the desperation and the violence that exists in some of these Central American countries.'"  That was true, as Obama knew well, for he had encouraged and supported the violence in some of those Central American countries - Honduras, for one, which suffered a military coup followed by state killings of dissidents.  But he has a history of smirking disdain for the suffering inflicted by the US and its proxies, to say nothing of his embrace of dictators around the world.

Even if the US had no share of responsibility for the violence and desperation these refugees are fleeing, we would still have an obligation to help them when they arrive.  Refugees are not illegal immigrants: under the law they have a right to seek asylum here.  And given the US' reluctance to honor that right, it's hardly surprising that many of them would try to bypass the official process -- especially since, as the ABC story admits, many of them have relatives here, including parents, who could take them in.  The whole aim of US immigration policy for the past several decades has been to make it more difficult for immigrants, or migrant workers, or refugees to cross the border safely.  That so many risk death anyway doesn't speak badly for them, it speaks badly for the US.

Comparisons to the Holocaust are distasteful to many, and aren't really necessary to condemn Obama and Trump, but it's worth remembering that many Jewish refugees found it difficult to escape Nazi Germany or occupied Europe, not only because the Nazis wouldn't let them out, but because other countries, including the US, wouldn't let them in.  That's as much a stain on our history as the internment of Japanese American citizens, though it's less remembered now.  It should be remembered: it's as relevant to current events as the concentration camps.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

I Am the Only Atheist in the Village!

Sometimes I feel self-indulgent for posting about religion -- though why not be self-indulgent, after all? -- but then I remember that a lot of what I criticize is not really religion itself but history and other fact-involved subjects.  For example:

This gem ornamented a thread devoted to mocking the Christian group that petitioned Netflix to cancel Good Omens, a miniseries based on Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's 1990 novel, appearing exclusively on Amazon Prime.

In a way this tweet unknowingly honors Pratchett's own biblical illiteracy.  The Bible was not written by "white dudes."  The Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament, was written by a bunch of "Orientals," as European Christian scholars used to call them.  The New Testament was written partly by "Orientals" and partly by members of the swarthy Mediterranean races.  Neither group was considered white by the nineteenth and twentieth century scientific racists who tried to bar them from immigrating to the United States.  It's doubly ironic given the indignation among liberals
over right-wing claims that Jesus was a white guy.

More seriously, rating a text by the author's skin color, whether positively or negatively, is a paradigm example of racism.  Can't really accuse the biblical writers of bigotry when you've got such a large beam in your own eye.  This is a matter of judgment, but the Bible is an anthology of writings composed over almost a thousand years, and while some of its content is bigoted by any reasonable criterion, some of it opposes bigotry.  As I have often had to lament, my fellow atheists are such a disappointment to me sometimes.

Recently there was a New York Times article on white racism directed at Somali immigrants in Minnesota, which I haven't read yet because I've used up my ration of free articles for this month.  The author tweeted an outtake (not included in the article itself because he didn't have the quotation on tape): "a woman touching me (a black person) and saying 'we didn't love it when black people came, but at least they were christian.'"  It's a weird remark, and not only because the Somali Muslims in question are black, but because Minnesota has a history of racism, including the 1920 lynching of three black men in Duluth.  I presume the woman was talking about African Americans migrating north in the twentieth century, which indeed white racists "didn't love," resisted and fought.  That they were Christian didn't do them any good at all.

Someone, self-described as "a U.S. historian, educator, progressive, biracial," immediately jumped on the quotation:
Unbelievable. And ignorant if she's referring to black people being brought to the United States. They didn't come as Christians--they became Christian by indoctrination and the need for acceptance/survival. Christianity is not a native African belief system.
That's true, though I don't think that the woman was talking about black people being brought to the United States.  It's true that African slaves brought to the Americas "didn't come as Christians": about 10 or 15 percent are estimated to have been Muslims, the rest presumably practitioners of traditional African religions.  It's also true on a narrow literal level that "Christianity is not a native African belief system," but then neither is Islam. Christianity is "native" only in Palestine, Islam in what is now Saudi Arabia.  Like other world religions with a missionary bent, Christianity and Islam spread by trade, migration, proselytization, and conquest. Christianity isn't "native" in Europe, either, though many people, such as Jen, forget that. But Christianity came to Africa in the first Christian century, and spread over much of the continent before the rise of Islam; it's arguably more "native" there, in some sense of the word, than Islam.  (I'm sure this writer has heard of Saint Augustine; quite a few other famous early Church fathers were African.)  Most people, including adherents of traditional polytheism, "become" whatever religion they hold "by indoctrination and the need for acceptance/survival."  That doesn't justify the forced "conversions" of African slaves, but the fact of slavery itself is the greater problem.

The historian Kevin Kruse has been generously correcting right-wing falsifications of history on Twitter lately, providing free entertainment and education to many.  Unfortunately, Dinesh D'Souza and his ilk are not alone in trying to make US history conform to their political fantasies; liberals and progressives, atheists and liberal Christians, aren't innocent either.  The word "native" usually sets off alarms for me when someone uses it carelessly, and this was one more time it did so.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

What's in a Name, Etc.

I was pleased when I saw Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweet that "for the shrieking Republicans who don’t know the difference: concentration camps are not the same as death camps."  At least she knows the difference.  A lot of people don't.

That, I think, is the problem.  Of course Ocasio-Cortez was attacked by the Right, who claimed that she was comparing the Obama-Trump incarceration of migrants to the Holocaust, and she made exactly the right rebuttal.  She was referring not to Nazi death camps but to concentration camps, whose use by the United States and other countries predates the Nazis by a century or more.  (Unsurprisingly, controversy over the meaning of "concentration camp" isn't new either: some people have objected to the term's being applied to US camps for Japanese Americans during World War II.)  She was supported by numerous experts, including Jewish ones, on the point, though of course Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to undermine her with typical centrist-Democratic pusillanimity.  Probably she too believes that "concentration camp" refers to a specifically, even uniquely Nazi institution.  As one of the articles I quoted above points out:
Right-wing gentiles like [Lynne] Cheney are not credible advocates for Jewish Americans; their invocation of the Holocaust is a bad-faith ploy to distract Americans from the horrors of the current camps. But it’s a bad-faith attack that can easily find fertile ground in the American imagination because of a fundamental, and apparently widespread, misconception that the phrase "concentration camps" somehow belongs solely to the history of the Holocaust.
But it isn't only "shrieking Republicans" who cling to this misconception.  Quite a few of Ocasio-Cortez' fans and supporters believe, and say even in comments on her tweets, that she was in fact invoking the Holocaust, and was in effect lying about the distinction she drew so explicitly.  At best they ignore her denials and bring up parallels to Nazi Germany.  This isn't surprising, since Americans (among others) love to draw parallels to Nazi Germany, despite an ample supply of parallels in our own history, and every foreign leader who gets in our way will be compared to Hitler.  (Actual admirers of Hitler can be excused if they are Our SOBs.)  It's so much easier to dwell on the crimes of official enemies than to recognize or admit those of one's own country, and safer to blame whatever one deplores in one's countries on the evil influence of foreigners.  From anti-Papist agitation in the early 1800s to blaming Trump's presidency on Putin now, Americans have preferred to play it safe in this way.

So, for example: "Those soldiers on the train platforms in Germany loading the freight cars with people were just like this."  Why rely on foreign suppliers when such we have an ample collection of such behavior made right here in America? Those soldiers who massacred civilians in Korea and Vietnam and every other US war down to the present were just like this.  Those soldiers who drove Indians off their land on forced marches in which thousands died were like this.  Those Americans who returned escaped slaves to slavery were like this.  Those Americans who flocked to lynchings were like this.  Those Americans who did nothing when American citizens of Japanese descent were removed from their homes and sent to concentration camps were like this.

Besides blaming our problems on foreigners, it's easy and safe to rend one's garments over "what we've become," as though herding brown people into cages were a Trumpian aberration.  Again, there is nothing new about Trump's policies and actions; they're as American as apple pie.  There's been a wave of liberal fury, fully justified, at the federal government attorney who argued in court on behalf of the Trump regime that denying child detainees soap and toothbrushes, suitable food, and proper shelter, was compatible with the legal requirement to provide them with "safe and sanitary conditions."  But it must not be forgotten that the same attorney was in court four years ago, defending the Obama regime's policy of putting detained children into solitary confinement to punish their parents for insubordination.  Yet almost every day I see forlorn Obamaphiles lamenting that their god-king no longer holds the reins of power, and wishing he would return on clouds of glory to judge the quick and dead.

I've been wondering, though, how "concentration camp" came to be the standard name for the Reich's death camps. It feels comparatively euphemistic, though like most euphemisms it came to acquire negative associations.  It might have been partly because not all the camps were death camps, and "concentration" was chosen as an umbrella term.  It's not surprising that the pre-Nazi history of concentrations camps has been forgotten by most Americans -- it would be uncomfortable and so unnecessary -- and that they prefer to focus exclusively on the use of the camps by our enemies to the exclusion of our own.  And I can't help thinking that although Ocasio-Cortez knows the difference, the term has power for her because of its association with the Nazis.  I'm sure it does for her fans.

Another annoying motif is the Slippery Slope, that Hitler began with baby steps and became worse only gradually, because people elsewhere in the world didn't realize how bad it would get.  This comes partly from Martin Niemöller 's famous litany, and it's not entirely invalid.  But it overlooks that coming for the trade unionists was just fine with many people, not just in Germany but around the world.  So was stomping on Jews, and homosexuals, and Communists.  So was sterilizing the allegedly unfit, which had after all been pioneered by the US at the turn of the century.  There was widespread support for fascism in the United States in the 1930s, and that was a major reason why there was less concern about the implementation of fascism in Europe: not "isolationism," not "America First," not even myopia about how bad things would get; but active endorsement of Hitler's agenda, and a wish to emulate it here.

If Trump's concentration camps are a slippery slope, it's one that we've been careening down for some time now, on a bipartisan sled.  Perhaps bearing down on the accurate history would make many liberals uncomfortable. If so, so much for the worse for them. Take a cue from Martin Luther King Jr.: "I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government."  White liberals didn't like King's criticism of Lyndon Johnson's war, but so much the worse for them.  But it's more comfortable to draw a line between Us and Them, locating all the evil with Them, the Others, than to start looking for the source of the trouble at home.

There's been some complaint online about "quibbling over semantics" instead of acting against the camps.  I don't see them as mutually exclusive, and I believe that at least some people will learn something useful from the debate.  When the Right claims that "concentration camp" refers only to the Holocaust, they are lying, and it's always important to challenge lies.  Here's the thing: if the term you use for the US concentration camps makes them sound less bad than they are, it's the wrong term to use.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Identity Poetics

This post on "Graysexuality" (via) turned out to be somewhat better than I thought when I first looked at it, but it still has flaws.

They begin with the first sentence: "Graysexuality is fascinating because we get to watch the process of a new orientation being constructed in real time." The writer is using "orientation" as shorthand for "sexual orientation," which it isn't.  "Sexual orientation" means which sex one is attracted to erotically; it doesn't mean any particular variation of erotic object choice, desire, or practice.  I admit that the term has been inflated to cover such aspects of human sexuality, but that's inaccurate, confused, and confusing.  If "orientation" were correct in this case, it couldn't be a "new" one, because orientations are supposedly innate, part of our biology and nature; it might not have been noticed or labeled before, but like America, it was there before some sexological Columbus "discovered" it.  And the territory covered by "graysexuality" does not appear to be anything new in human eroticism.

The writer also seems to think that "orientation" is the same thing as "identity," for the two terms are used interchangeably in the post.  (This is not uncommon, unfortunately.)  It's quite possible that a new identity is currently being constructed around "graysexuality," but that's a very different matter.  When the New York Times published a long article on the "down low" in 2003, it occurred to me that a new erotic identity might be abuilding.  Not "orientation," because men on the down low were either homosexual or bisexual in their orientations and behavior, but because some men were clearly using the term as an identity, distinguishing them from exclusively heterosexual African-American men and from gay or bisexual African-American men whose flamboyant self-presentation embarrassed them.  (See Terrence Dean's autobiography, which I discussed here.  He seems to have adopted "gay" as a label since then, however.)  There was an interesting contradiction in the use of "down low" as an identity, because it means "secret" -- or "closeted," in gay jargon -- and if some men were going to refer to themselves publicly, openly, as "down low," the term's meaning was going to stretch pretty far.  Imagine someone telling Ellen and her vast TV audience that he was closeted.  Once you've told the world, you are not closeted anymore, by definition, though I can imagine some people would try to claim otherwise.  As far as I know, though, "down low" didn't catch on as an identity, though like "closeted" it is still an attitude and a practice.

What is "graysexuality," then?  The blogger Ozymandias provides numerous definitions in their post.  Here are some, from the Asexuality wiki: graysexuals
  • do not normally experience sexual attraction, but do experience it sometimes
  • experience sexual attraction, but a low sex drive
  • experience sexual attraction and drive, but not strongly enough to want to act on them
  • people who can enjoy and desire sex, but only under very limited and specific circumstances
Similarly, some people who might technically belong to the gray area choose to identify as asexual because it is easier to explain. For example, if someone has experienced sexual attraction on one or two brief, fleeting occasions in their life, they might prefer to call themselves asexual because it is not worth the bother of having to explain these one or two occasions to everyone who asks about their orientation.
Gray-As may also append a gender orientation to the label, as in "Gray-heterosexual".
It seems to me that these criteria are probably too diverse.  Some people will recognize themselves in one or two but not the others.  Ozymandias gives other examples, to which this also applies.  And before long, we'll see more new identities being constructed, using one criterion and excluding the others.  Then there will be gatekeepers, self-appointed boundary cops excluding those who, they believe, aren't real graysexuals.  We've seen this already with "gay" and "homosexual," which cover too much ground for some people and not enough for others.  Is the guy who penetrates another guy "a homosexual," or is it only the guy he penetrates?  Is he homosexual if he enjoys being penetrated by other males, even though he penetrates women "avidly"?  Is he "gay" if he's never danced shirtless in a Pride parade?  Is a male who calls himself a woman, dresses as a woman, and seeks out male partners "gay," as such males classified themselves in the US until about the 1980s, or is he "transgender"?  "Transgendered" used to be acceptable, but it was replaced with "transgender," and anyone who uses the former can expect to be the target of vitriol.

Similar considerations apply to "lesbian."  Some women-eroticizing women reject the term because they associate it with two femme women performing erotically together for a male audience; some, because they associate it with uncouth working-class butches and femmes.  I read somewhere the writing of an early twentieth-century womanizing woman who distinguished between "lesbian," "tribade," and "sapphist" as specific erotic practices; a tribade, as the term's etymology implied, rubbed vulvas with her partner; I don't remember which was which, but of the other two, one practiced cunnilingus and the other used her hand.  Were these the 'true' meanings of the words?  Of course not: words have no true meanings.  The interesting question is how widespread these meanings were.

All of these patterns of desire and behavior are much older than the contemporary American terms for them.  Even if you allow "orientation" as the equivalent of "identity," none of them are new, though many of them have been touted as new at various times. I have no stake in these disputes myself, I'm happy to be terminologically polyamorous, but I do expect people to use the terms they've defined consistently, and they mostly seem unable to do this.

Though I admit I wonder at times. Consider again "transgender," which is supposed to refer to having a gender identity at odds with the sex/gender one was assigned at birth.  It's about people's subjective sense of themselves.  So why do numerous academics, including trans academics, use it to refer to any and all gender variation, including visible behavior such voice, dress, body language -- what's known as "presentation"?  These may correlate with gender identity, but they are still conceptually or analytically distinct from "transgender" as it is officially defined.  (I might be trans by the official definition, for example, without modifying the way I dress, let alone seeking sex/gender reassignment surgery.  Or I might present myself in conventionally gender-discordant ways while still identifying with the sex/gender I was assigned at birth.)  The excuse I've seen is inclusion, but that's not valid -- especially since it's common for them to reverse course almost immediately, and fall back on the official definition.  That's equivocation, not flexibility.

When "queer" first gained traction as a reclaimed identity around 1990, there was considerable debate about whom it could include.  Was the heterosexually married Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, an important academic Queer Theorist, "queer"?  Could the straight women friends of gay men be queer?  Sure, why not?  I think that you can draw the line pretty much anywhere you like, as long as it serves some useful end in terms of thinking, discussing, or living.  The standards are, or should be, higher in professional academic discourse; in practice, as I've noted, they often are not.

It might be useful, for example, to distinguish between "label" and "identity."  Consider "men who have sex with men," which was invented during the peak of the AIDS crisis as a hopefully neutral label for the purposes of AIDS education.  It had numerous faults, among them that "sex" was not unambiguous: many people didn't think even of anal copulation as "sex."  But it was a label, not an identity; some men may have thought of themselves, "identified," as men who had sex with men, but I've never encountered anyone who did. A label can still be valid even if the person doesn't think of him or herself in those terms, perhaps to evade stigma -- consider "racist" for example, a label almost all racists try to reject -- or if it refers to a trait that isn't salient to his or her sense of self.  An example of this could be height: I am sixty-eight inches tall, but it's not my identity.

Another example is "monosexual," referring to people who relate erotically only to partners of one sex as opposed to "bisexuals" who relate erotically to partners of both sexes.  I am certainly a monosexual, but it's not an identity.  The word can be useful in discussion, though, and I can imagine situations where I might identify myself as monosexual, though it hasn't happened so far.

Ozymandias writes:
Indeed, we can see this with people whose experiences are equally far from the norm on the other side. A person with hundreds of sexual partners who’s had anonymous sex and who prefers to have sex two or three times a day might call himself “horny” or “slutty” or say he really enjoys sex; he will not characterize himself as having a sexual orientation related to being really really into sex.

Of course, this is very similar to the experience of gender-based attraction before the invention of heterosexuality. An ancient Roman man who is exclusively attracted to men might call himself a boy lover or say he doesn’t like women; he will not call himself “gay” and consider himself to be part of a group with all other gay men, opposed to all heterosexuals.
An ancient Roman man "will not call himself 'gay'" mainly because he speaks Latin or Greek, not English.  It's not clear -- scholars are still debating it -- exactly what linguistic, social, cognitive space terms like "boy lover" or "woman hater" (or their local equivalents) occupied or demarcated in their historical context.  In Japanese samurai male love stories, it seems that the Japanese equivalent of "woman hater" was used precisely to indicate that a man was interested erotically only in other males.  "Boy lover" and "woman hater" seem to have functioned as identities for men who preferred other men as erotic partners.  But in the 1950s and 1960s I used to see the English "woman hater" used in popular journalism to signify the same kind of males, males who would probably have labeled themselves "gay," "homosexual," perhaps "inverts."

For that matter, as I indicated above, it's not clear what space "gay," "homosexual," or "queer" demarcate.  They are disputed, contested, wrangled over.  All three of them have become loan words to other languages, generally with some alteration of meaning.  And, of course, "gay" went from an in-group code word to a neutral public term to a schoolyard insult within a generation, to the extent that some younger gay men thought it had always been pejorative.

Returning to Ozymandias, I'd also like to know why people who have a lot of erotic partners shouldn't have an identity for their particular life/erotic pattern.  It's not as if they are considered the unmarked positive norm, after all.  Some people, of both sexes I think, have tried to reclaim "slut" for just that purpose.  "Promiscuous" can be and has been used for such people, but it tends to equivocate between being a descriptor, however badly defined, and a pejorative.  Or remember how the sex-advice columnist Dan Savage had a conniption over a reader who identified as a "poly," or a polyamorous person.  "Poly is not a sexual identity, PP," he scolded, "it’s not a sexual orientation. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. There’s no such thing as a person who is 'a poly,' just as there’s no such thing as a person who is 'a monogamous.'"  But an identity is not a "thing," it's a self-labeling and if I say I am something, it's one of my identities.  (Savage backtracked later, after his readers criticized him.  Notice that he too seemed to equate or confuse "identity" and "orientation.")

I don't object to people defining themselves as graysexual, demisexual, or other identities that people have invented (and all identities are invented), since they clearly feel important to them, and I'm in favor of people defining themselves.  I am interested, however, in having contexts where these labels and identities can discussed and contested.  That extends, of course, to labels I apply to myself, such as "gay" or "fag."  Whether it's okay for men to fall in love with other men, to have sex with other men, to build communities of men-loving men, is one question; whether the origin myths and other rationalizations we have invented to support and justify our loves are valid is another.  I have my doubts about the discourse surrounding asexuality, just as I have doubts about the discourse surrounding gay men.  I've criticized, for example, the attempt by one advocate for asexual visibility to come up with an evolutionary basis for asexuality -- not because I'm an anti-Darwinist but because I reject the Darwinian fundamentalism of his argument, and because he showed a disturbing ignorance of basic aspects of human sexual biology.  None of which means that I reject people's right to refrain from sexual activity for whatever reason.

Once other people start using the term you've defined with such care, you lose control of its meaning and definition.  Not because they intentionally distort it: it will drift regardless.  That's the case, mind you, among academics writing for professional publication, where some rigor in language is to be expected, even if it doesn't occur in fact.  Move outside of that restricted space of discourse, and the sky's the limit.  When you enter the arena of public discussion at any level, though, you had better be prepared to justify your definitions and your arguments.

Which takes me back to the Asexuality Wiki's remarks about graysexuality vs. asexuality: some graysexuals, it says, might identify as asexual instead "because it is not worth the bother of having to explain these one or two occasions to everyone who asks about their orientation."  Again: neither graysexuality nor asexuality is an "orientation."  They are identities, and avowing an identity is supposed to inform other people of things about yourself that are important to you, if not to them.  "Not worth the bother"?

Who asks you about your orientation anyway?  Potential sexual partners?  When you've reached the point where it's going to matter, it seems to me that a potential partner is entitled to a fuller and more accurate account of where you stand than a one-word brand name.  As I've said before, if you can't give an accurate, honest answer, no classification system will help you.  If you're not talking to a potential partner, your orientation or the level of your erotic drive is not their business.  One of the really useful things I learned from the advice columnist Miss Manners is that you don't have to give detailed reasons why you're not going to have sex with someone, and there are many reasons besides asexuality or graysexuality why that should be.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Right to Be Silly, Part 2: Is It a Lifestyle Choice?

Owen Jones is a youngish gay left British journalist and the author of a fine book on class prejudice in England.  He's written and said a lot of things that I like, but he's a bit erratic, and yesterday on Twitter he linked to an article about a Brexit Party MEP, Ann Widdecombe, who has a long history of antigay bigotry.
The former Tory home affairs chief was hauled up on a 2012 article that defended "gay conversion" therapy, and said the "homosexual lobby" was stopping people who want to turn straight from doing so...

But Ms Widdecombe today defended her comments and went further, telling Sky News science may yet "provide an answer" to the question of whether people can "switch sexuality"...

Ms Widdecombe suggested today that it would be wrong to "deny people the chance" to change if they are "discontented" with being LGBT.
Ah yes: advocates of conversion "therapy" have long pretended that they care about poor downcast gays and just want to give them a chance to be happy, as opposed to hateful gay activists who attack them.  There may be exceptions, but in most cases critics of conversion therapy do not attack those who want to change -- we attack the quacks who falsely claim to be able to change them.  Of course, in many or most cases, especially the very young, the patients are forced to undergo the "therapy," and people like Widdecombe take for granted that if homosexuals are unhappy being gay, the correct remedy is to turn them straight.  That might even be true, if it worked; but it doesn't.  Since it doesn't, the proper alternative is, first, to help the unhappy person learn to be happy, and second, to change the social pressures that cause or contribute to their unhappiness.

Jones's comment on Widdecombe was predictable, and was echoed by numerous people quoted in the Mirror article:
Ann Widdecombe suggesting "science may produce an answer" to being gay shows why the Brexit Party is such a threat: they are going to reopen debates about the rights of minorities which were supposedly settled long ago. We must fight them.
I agree that such people must be fought, but I was amused by Jones's remarks anyway.  The key word might be "supposedly": those debates were never really settled, for a number of reasons.  One is that bigotry may retreat, but it never goes away, and Jones knows full well that antigay bigotry is still alive in the UK and in Europe.  "Long ago" could only feel like the right term to someone as young as Jones.  Another is the appeal to science: gay people have been extremely excited about "science producing an answer" to the nature of homosexuality for a century or more, and like our opponents we have mostly gone with the wrong answers.  Though biological explanations of homosexuality are constantly being refuted, along with biological explanations of race and sex/gender, many gay people and our allies still find something very satisfying in the false (meaningless, really) belief that we were born this way.  And they cling to it no matter how often it's refuted, just as people like Ann Widdecombe cling to the hope that science will find a way to make us straight.

Oddly, Widdecombe seems to accept transgender and transsexualism: she tries to draw an analogy between scientifically changing a person's sex and changing their sexual orientation.
Asked about her 2012 remarks, she said: "I also pointed out there was a time when we thought it was quite impossible for men to become women and vice versa.

“And the fact we now think it’s quite impossible for people to switch sexuality doesn’t mean science may not yet produce an answer at some stage.”
The analogy breaks down when you remember that people adjust their bodies to conform to their gender identity because they want to, not because someone makes them do it -- that would be just as unethical as forcing people to change their sexual orientation, even assuming that it could be done.  It seems that she's willing to scuttle anti-trans conservatism in order to preserve her anti-gay beliefs.  If Widdecombe ever denounces forcible attempts at orientation conversion, I might take her more seriously.  I won't hold my breath.

Many gay people become furious when the failure of the born-gay paradigm is brought home to them, and they declare that if we aren't born gay then They could legitimately force us to change.  This isn't true, any more than sex-reassignment surgery can be imposed on people who don't want it.  It's common for both pro- and anti-gay people to claim that if we aren't born gay, then it is a choice (which is an invalid leap anyway), and we can't be protected by civil rights laws, which only cover immutable conditions; this is also false, since civil rights law also covers religious affiliation and marital status, both of which are lifestyle choices.

I don't know how many gay people would like to become straight, but I believe the numbers are not small, even among those who claim to be happy as they are with their gene-given sexuality.  I've mentioned before the self-proclaimed proud gay man who said that if it were proven definitely that homosexuality was a choice, someone would make a lot of money helping him undo that choice.  He said this publicly, in front of a class of prospective social workers, which was pretty remarkable for him to do.  No one attacked him, and I -- militant faggot though I be -- felt only sadness for him, not anger.  That depression, suicide, and substance abuse are still widespread among us are also indications that there would be a market for change if it could really be done.  I believe that a lot of declared gay pride is basically whistling in the dark.

Back in in the mid-1990s, a gay journalist named Chandler Burr wrote an article, later expanded into a book called A Separate Creation, defending the position that homosexuality is inborn.  That in itself wasn't surprising, given the high profile of that position generally.  What shocked many of Burr's readers and reviewers was that he went on to argue that Science would eventually be able to modify our genes and make us straight, and he declared that on that happy day he would willingly undergo gene therapy, in order to conform to Society as a good person should.  I was wondering what became of him, and I see that not only has he become a famous perfume maven, but he's married to another man and has two adopted sons.  I guess he got tired of waiting to be changed.

But you know something?  Those people have a right to want to change, and as I've said for many years, I think the gay community would be better off if they could.  It can hardly conduce to anyone's quality of life to have so many people who are here because they feel trapped by their biology, who are miserable and often take out their misery on other gay people.  But Ann Widdecombe to the contrary, there is no reason to believe that science or any other institution will ever be able to change us.  We're here, we're queer, get used to it.  There are bigger problems in the world.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Right to Be Silly

So I was in San Francisco this weekend, and on Sunday I went to the Castro to meet an old friend who lives there.  I arrived early, and found a curious event in progress.

It took me a while to learn what was going on: it was fan-dancing, in connection with various Pride Month events.  A DJ provided music, mostly techno mixes of 80s standards such as Abba's "Lay All Your Love on Me."  (A longstanding guilty pleasure of mine, that one.)

My first reaction was "Oh, Mary, it takes a fairy to make something tacky."  I sat down to watch while I waited for my friend to show up.  It was blustery and chill in San Francisco this weekend, and the performers had difficulty controlling their fans in the wind.  All of them were middle-aged, including the woman who joined them soon after I arrived.  She was the only one who really coped with the wind.



As I watched I took pleasure in the sight of these older, mostly bearded men playing, seriously but lightly, laughing as the wind blew their fans over their heads from time to time.  I remembered, not for the first time, that the music and the pastime are old-people stuff now.  "Lay All Your Love On Me" was recorded in 1980, almost forty years ago!

It must have been tiring, but they kept going for quite a while; they were still at it when my friend turned up fifteen minutes or so after I got there, and for some time after.  They didn't draw much of a crowd, but those who paused to see were appreciative, some singing and dancing along -- including some family groups.  I noticed one little boy who stood stock still, watching warily but intently, while his father encouraged him to join in.  I expect that after they left, the boy relaxed, and opened up about it.  Some little kids did right there.  The amateurishness of the performance was part of its appeal: if they'd been a Rockettes-style precision line of drag queens, people would still have enjoyed it and danced and sung along, but I doubt the same fellow-feeling would have been there.  It's tacky, but it's also lovely, and I was charmed by these people having such uninhibited fun, exercising our Constitutional right to be silly.