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.