Thursday, November 25, 2010

I Was a Teenage Closet Case

Another good bit from Alan Sinfield's Cultural Politics - Queer Reading on gay neuroscientist Simon LeVay:
The drawback is illustrated in an exchange between LeVay and his father -- who is entirely persuaded by his son's work. So how does LeVay senior see gay men now? He says he regards Simon as he would a child born with spina bifida, a hare lip, or some other developmental deficit. LeVay finds this "pretty humiliating" -- though I don't see why he should, since it is a logical consequence of his theory. Indeed, the attraction of stigmatization is depressingly apparent; people with spina bifida may well feel their civil rights are violated when they are appropriated as the awful other by LeVay, senior and junior [70].
The exchange between the LeVays comes from a documentary, Born That Way?, which I haven't been able to track down. As Sinfield says, his father's attitude is perfectly reasonable. All that you establish if you prove that homosexuality is inborn is that homosexuals are not morally responsible for our condition: you haven't begun to touch the question of its moral status. And even that is doubtful, since human beings have so often managed to pass moral judgment on inborn conditions. Dark skin, for example, like other "racial" markers, has been read as the visible mark -- the stigma -- of inner wickedness. Most adults, at least, who throw around the word "retarded" as an insult are aware that mental retardation is a congenital condition, not a moral choice, but that knowledge hasn't had any evident effect on the word's popularity among our culturally-sensitive elites. For that matter, the word "sick" itself is commonly used as a moral cussword: just imagine someone spitting it out with ripe disgust.

LeVay, like many born-gay advocates, thinks that if homosexuality is somehow caused by the environment, if it's an acquired rather than an inborn condition, then it can be reversed by therapy. For born-gay advocates, the failure of change therapy is itself evidence, indeed proof, that homosexuality must be inborn. That doesn't follow either: psychiatry has a very poor track record in most cases. And even religious conversion is notoriously hard to undo, though it's a choice if anything is.

Also assumed is that if we can be changed, we must be changed, partly because who would reject the chance to be normal, to be spared the misery and persecution of gay life? I feel a terrible sadness when gay people talk like this. I don't feel that I'm missing out on anything by not being heterosexual, anymore than I feel I'm missing out by being an atheist. Maybe Homo-Americans don't really believe that desiring their own sex is being stuck with second-best -- which doesn't even make sense, when you think about it, since it would mean that heterosexuality was also settling for second-best. (If men are second-best, then straight women are stuck with second-best, and should turn to other women -- but wait! then they'd be lesbians, and stuck with second-best, just like straight men are, so they should turn to other men, but wait!...)

Even when I was a teenage closet case, gulled by heterosexual-supremacist propaganda, I knew that other males were what I wanted; and a crucial turning point in my coming out was the day I realized (admitted to myself?) that if I never got to touch a woman's body intimately, I wouldn't feel I'd missed anything, but if I never got to touch a man, I'd be haunted by the loss forever. The next crucial turning point was when it dawned on me that there was no reason why I shouldn't want to touch a man's body, and why I shouldn't do so if I could find a man who wanted me to touch him. The reason I'm gay is that the beauty of men takes my breath away -- not all men, but many men. Since the "science" of "sexual orientation" doesn't address that fact, which may be just as well (it's actually a mechanical theory of insertors and receptors), it's simply irrelevant.