Saturday, December 1, 2012

I And I-dentity

Speaking of identity, Dan Savage dug himself in a little deeper this week.

You may recall that a week ago he answered a question from a reader who in passing labeled himself "a poly."  Dan told him sternly "You are not 'a poly.' ... There's no such thing as a person who's 'a poly,' just as there's no such thing as a person who is 'a monogamous.'

So when tweaked by a tweet on Twitter, Dan protested, "from my perspective, polyamory and monogamy are relationship models, not sexual orientations."  But no one, not Poly or the tweeter, had said they were "sexual orientations."  As I wrote before, "sexual orientation" means which sex (male, female, or both) a person's erotic interests are oriented toward.  (We live in a strange world when pedophilia can be considered a "sexual orientation" by professional sexologists, but "polyamory" can't.)  Dan went on:
Poly can be central to someone’s sexual self-conception, and it can be hugely important, but I don’t think it’s an orientation in the same way that gay, straight, or bisexual are orientations.
Evidence?  There's none, of course.  I suppose Dan is relying here on the great circular argument that we know homosexuality is an orientation because it's inborn, and orientations are inborn so we know homosexuality is an orientation, which is therefore inborn because orientations are inborn.  This is at best an argument from definition, because there's no good evidence that homosexuality (or heterosexuality or bisexuality) is inborn.  Many gay people decided first that because they felt that their sex lives were central to their sexual self-conception, it must be inborn, and only then did the wave of research in the 90s try to find evidence to support the claim.  Another popular rationale was that they'd always known that they were gay, just as Poly wrote that "he has always known he's a poly."  If that's evidence for one, it's evidence for the other.  So far the jury is at best out, and preponderance of the evidence is against a primary role for the genes in the formation of sexual orientation.  Under the circumstances, no one can honestly claim that homosexuality is a "sexual orientation" if innateness is essential to the notion; we just can't say, because we don't know.

He concludes, "No one is legislating against polyamory here. Just thinkin’ about things."  Well, no, Dan isn't thinking, or even thinkin'.  He's just jerking the old knee.  Just like his old role model Ann Landers.  Landers used to lambaste people who wanted to get a divorce, Doctor Laura-style, because they were losers who didn't believe in commitment and responsibility.  Then her daughter got a divorce, and she changed her line to a more forgiving one.  Then Ann herself got a divorce.  As I recall, she eventually admitted that she'd made an agonizing reappraisal, and that her previous stance had been less than humane.  Dan seems to be made of sterner stuff.

No one needs anyone else's permission to claim an identity, no matter how outrĂ© or twee.  One might object that if Poly hadn't wanted permission, he wouldn't have asked Savage about it; but he didn't.  His question was whether a poly and a mono could find happiness together.  (Dan's answer to that part of it: Probably not; stick to your own kind, weirdo!)  It was Savage who took a detour to spend most of his reply telling Poly that he wasn't a poly, that there's no such thing as a poly, so there too!  It wasn't relevant to the question, just a hobbyhorse of Dan's.  He has related problems with bisexuals, and with the question of whether people who aren't born that way are protected by civil rights laws.  Well, we all have our blind spots.