Thursday, April 3, 2008

Stranger at the gate

What's so terrifying about homosexuality?

Is it something in certain peoples' deep, primal psyches that takes issue with their inherent inability to procreate together? Bigotry and fear instilled by a religious system that decided to stigmatize homosexuality because its original oppressors (see: Romans) practiced it so freely? Ignorance? All of the above?

It can't be because it's "unnatural." Homosexuality exists in several species of animal--bonobos, dolphins, various birds, elephants, even lizards and fruit flies--and has been a recorded part of human history since we started keeping track.

It can't be because it's "harmful." Harmful to whom? I can't find a shred of unbiased research that shows any significantly higher risk of medical problems for homosexuals. Contrary to common stereotypes, gays and lesbians are no more or less promiscuous, prone to mental illness or likely to molest children than people who identify as straight. If anything, the only extra harm involved in being gay is that which comes from discrimination and hatred by other people.

So why is it, then, that homophobia is still so rampant?

Today, I read about Tammy Baldwin's partner being initially denied permission to fly with her on a military flight for a congressional trip to Europe. It took the intervention of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to secure an exception. Now, whether or not you agree that members of Congress should be allowed to bring spouses along on these trips, the fact remains that Baldwin's spouse was specifically disallowed because the Pentagon/military doesn't recognize same-sex partnerships.

This is ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as our military continuing to use the "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" rule.

Then, I read about further investigations into the US Attorney firings at the Justice Department, and how in at least one case, it looks very much like a highly qualified attorney was fired specifically because of rumors that she was gay. This part is especially telling:

The Justice Department's inspector general is looking into whether Hagen was dismissed after a rumor reached Goodling that Hagen is a lesbian.

As one Republican source put it, "To some people, that's even worse than being a Democrat."

Worse than being a Democrat. Is that how we want to run our country? By firing highly skilled professionals based on personal prejudices and then replacing them with less qualified partisan sycophants? I wouldn't want that to happen regardless of the political party that was doing it, period.

Gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in all levels and branches of the government and military, no exceptions. They're already there (and have always been), doing what they believe is their duty to their country, regardless of what the rules say. They should be judged for the positions applied for in the same manner as anyone: by their actual skills, records of service, etc--you know, qualifications for the job. Anything less is not only mean-spirited, it's short-sighted and detrimental to the improvement and safety of our country.

This sort of institutionalized discrimination should never be tolerated, especially so in a country founded on the idea that everyone should get a fair shake in life.


capper said...

You may be interested in a post I wrote at the beginning of the year. Even more interesting is the comment thread (don't let the zero fool you, there's a lot, just click on the zero.)

Zach W. said...

emily, you asked the question, "Harmful to whom?" If you're someone on the right, the answer to that is simple: homosexuality is harmful to the traditional family structure. After all, that's why we have organizations that are supposedly "defending American families" from the spectre of the homosexual agenda.


Seriously though, I'd have to agree with you in wondering why homosexuality is viewed as such a terrifying thing. Perhaps it's because I was raised to be a little more tolerant than most, but I've never understood the irrational fear - or hatred - so many on the right have towards homosexuals.

Cindy Kilkenny said...

I had this conversation with a friend yesterday. My honest answer: I can't tell you why it bothers me.

I don't think sexuality of any kind needs to creep into the workplace. Baldwin's partner on the plane isn't different to me than Sensenbrenner's. That I'm not impressed with ANY of them taking a free ride is another argument.

I suppose it's similar to other anxieties that creep in occasionally. I have no rational reason to be afraid of a mouse when it scampers across my foot, or heights when at the top of a tower, but I am. I choose not to react to my admitted irrational trepidation of homosexual relationships just like I try to manage my reaction to other anxieties. Frankly, the issue comes up about as often as mice and heights, so it's not top on my list of behavioral modifications.

Please don't jump to conclusions, I'm not the conservative likely to tip on this issue. I'd kind of like it if you didn't yell at me for not dealing with it.

Your post is extremely well written. Thanks.

Emily said...

Cindy - I have more understanding of people who simply aren't comfortable with homosexuality than of those who actively seek to stigmatize and discriminate against them. Maybe you weren't raised around anyone who was openly gay, maybe it's for another reason. That's something for you to deal with in your own way and in your own time.

What I take issue with is the kind of institutionalized discrimination that still exists against homosexuals. Do I think members of Congress should be able to take their spouses along on official trips, free of charge? Probably not. But if they're going to, it should be all or nothing.

Changing people's hearts and minds about the issue is going to take time, and no amount of screaming on my part is going to help that effort. Still, I believe very much in pushing for equal treatment under the law, as that's another issue all-together.

We didn't wait for everyone in the country to deal with their racism before passing Civil Rights laws. We recognized (more than a little late) that our laws were not living up to the ideals espoused in our own Constitution and we rectified it. And now, we've still got work to do.

clyde winter said...

Yours are good and cogent points, Emily. The harm and threat posed by the fact that not all people fit inside the tightest of imposed boundaries is due to the fear, hatred, and prejudice that some among us are unable to control and eliminate from our hearts.

See "Marriage Means Love Ye One Another" in the category "Marriage and civil rights", linked to my name.

Fair Play said...

You only have to know one homosexual person to know that they are definitely born homosexual, and that they cannot help but be homosexual. So, therefore, they are normal.

I love it when "religious" people will take the step to accept that people might be born homosexual, but they insist that they should not "act" like a homosexual. What in the world does that mean?

Palmer said...

Emily & fair play - I urge you to tread carefully when it comes to "natural" and "normal". Just by virtue of being born a certain way doesn't necessarily make one "normal". If a child is born with no arms and no legs, there is something abnormal about its body morphology. Likewise, there are many aspects of us that are "natural", in so far as the term is generally understood, but that doesn't make these things desirable. Our capacity to kill one another is "natural" and "normal" yet it is not something we necessarily want to hold in high esteem and cherish.

It is normal and natural for people in general to distrust, dislike, and/or fear people who are different from themselves.

Emily said...

Palmer - You may be right when you point out that homosexuality is not "normal." It certainly only appears in a minority of people (though I suspect the actual numbers are higher and more fluid than we think). Something being different from the "norm," however, doesn't mean that it's unnatural or should be feared or considered "wrong".

You give several examples of "unnatural" characteristics that we shouldn't hold in high esteem, but what you fail to mention are the many other things/traits that only occur in a minority of people and are not bad: red hair, two different colored eyes, liking Michael Bolton, being left-handed, etc.

Like I said, I can understand why some folks who've maybe had very little to no interaction with openly gay people would be fearful of them. That doesn't mean they should lash out against homosexuality, or that we should claim that it's "unnatural" and should be discouraged. As I've already pointed out, homosexuality occurs in nature several times over and throughout history--suggesting that it is, indeed, perfectly "natural."

You then go on to mention that certain "natural" traits are undesirable, like murder. The analogy is fallacious. Homosexuality is not at all like murder. It harms no one. Period.

Palmer said...

I think you failed to grasp my point, Emily. I never claimed that homosexuality is not normal. The point was that "normality" and "naturalness" should have no part in determining how one treats homosexuals. You were the one who said that homosexuality is "natural" and, because of this, equated it with that which is good.

"Something being different from the 'norm,' however, doesn't mean that it's unnatural or should be feared or considered 'wrong'".

I agree with you 100%. What I am saying is that there is a chasm between your should and what is. You point out the existence of homosexuality in history and I am pointing out a similarly long history of human beings fearing, hating, and killing those who are different. You know, constructing an "Other". I'm not justifying it or saying it is steeped in rationality, but rather I am saying that such is how we have been and how we remain.

"As I've already pointed out, homosexuality occurs in nature several times over and throughout history--suggesting that it is, indeed, perfectly 'natural.'"

This is the naturalistic fallacy. Just because something is natural does not make it good. It does not matter where else in the animal kingdom you find homosexuality nor that it has been present in humans throughout history - none of these things determine the goodness or badness of homosexuality. A homophobe claiming homosexuality is unnatural and thusly bad is using the same fallacious logic as someone saying that since homosexuality is natural, it is good.

I think you again missed the point with my examples. There is a qualitative differences between human beings having a range of hair colors and people missing arms. It is normal for people to have a various hair colors. However, being born without arms is not normal. Your examples were all instances in a range that goes under "normal".

You are wrong - my analogy holds. You read something into it that was not there as your comment leads me to believe that you think I wrote that homosexuality was bad or that it harms others. Where did I say this? And where did I use the word "murder"? Please read what I wrote above. The idea is merely to say that a trait is not necessarily good by virtue of being natural. Let me rephrase was I wrote in my previous comment:

Homosexuality (& heterosexuality) are human traits; the capacity to kill people is a human trait.

There is no moral component to the above analogy. All I did was point out similarity - they're all "natural". Homosexuals ought to be treated like heterosexuals but not because their sexual orientation is normal or natural. Even if sexual orientation were a 100% learned behavior, this would be absolutely no justification for the crap that the Christian Right spews.

I object to the way you imbue a moral dimension to an amoral concept - natural. Natural does not equate to good nor does unnatural equate to bad. Things are good or bad independent of their naturalness. This is important because the sword cuts both ways.

Equating the natural with good is also done by scumbags who would absolve rapists of culpability by saying "boys will be boys". Imagine one of these maroons telling you "Well, rape occurs elsewhere in the animal kingdom and it has been present throughout history. Thusly it is natural and, by extension, good."

Emily said...

Palmer - I appreciate you sticking around to clarify your point, as I had indeed been misreading what you wrote as an argument that homosexuality was wrong.

I object to the way you imbue a moral dimension to an amoral concept - natural. Natural does not equate to good nor does unnatural equate to bad.

A lot of the people who are convinced that homosexuality is wrong use the "it's not natural" argument in their claims. Being that this is what I thought you were doing, I was attempting to counter it with the facts--homosexuality is natural. But you are correct when you say that simply because something is natural does not mean that it is also good (or vice versa). I had not intended for my argument to stray into the opposite conclusion, and if it did so, that was poor communication on my part.

The Lost Albatross