There is a lot of apprehension about the effect a Trump administration could have on “LGBTQ” rights (or, depending on your viewpoint, “LGBTQ people”). The concern is not so much from Trump’s actions (he seemed OK with this issue on his show “The Apprentice” with gay candidates and obviously would have considered them equally), but with some of his proposed appointments to the administration, as well as Vice President Pence.
While the “popular” strategy on the Left, has been the “as a people” approach (remedying discrimination against a group), I’ve always gone at this from the libertarian to conservative issue: why is one adult’s consensual sex life another adult’s (other than a spouse) business? Why was it the business, in the past, of governments, churches, schools, employers, landlords, etc?
For indeed, in the distant past, the world very much interfered with my life, with huge consequences shaping the course of a whole adulthood, as it has for many other people. With all the rapid gains, most of all repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” and then marriage equality, and now in transgender areas (begrudgingly at times as with the bathroom bills), and today’s fights over phony “religious freedom restoration act” bills, it’s very important that younger gay adults and teens understand the history, which even recently was challenging. In the past, not only were gays “entrapped” in public restrooms; sometimes police raided gay establishments and invented false charges of public lewdness, leading to the concept of the “Mafia bar” in New York in the 1960s (during the 1964-65 World’s Fair, leading to Stonewall in 1969) and police harassment of bar patrons in Dallas in 1980.
From a libertarian perspective, there really seems to exist a delicious irony. In the past, LGBTQ people (so to speak) were persecuted not for what they did but for what they didn’t do – which was “play ball: with carrying on families (biologically). When I was expelled from William and Mary in 1961, the idea that being around me could threaten a roommate’s or dorm resident’s procreative potential was seen a much bigger threat than would (the opposite risk of) an unwanted pregnancy or becoming a romantic rival for someone’s girlfriend. That sort of idea would get into the debate on gays in the military in the 1990s, and form an irony framing all of my writing. A corollary is that, in dorm life for me, insecure men talked as if seeing someone like me succeed with women would make them feel more secure about their own prospects, as part of herd thinking.
Why were things “the way they were”? One observation stands out: tribal culture. Western civilization, for all its politics, developed from Abrahamic religions, all of which comprised tribal groups that had to be concerned with their group survival against enemies, whether religious, political, or natural. Religious moral codes (the Ten Commandments seem uncontroversial, but not a lot of other passages in the Old Testament) were developed with respect to risks to the sustainability of groups. Moral codes, imposing a certain uniformity of culture and behavior on everyone in a group, tend to give group life “meaning” for a lot of people, so a lot of people become “addicted” to looking at others through these moral ideas, especially “outsiders” (read immigrants, or people of other races, today). Homosexuality, with its obvious potential to detract from procreation, was seen as a proxy behavior for any existential threat to the long term survival of the group. The capability of looking at the world through libertartian lens is relatively modern, and becomes easier in richer cultures with higher standards of living and with political and infrastructure stability. But this capacity means less addiction to one’s own perceptions and more openness to interacting with others on terms other than one’s own – a difficult sell for many people. But this is a necessary context for most of the arguments below; the freedom to live just according to one’s own expectations from other peoples can, over time, inadvertently invite authoritarianism.
I have to add a caveat: some native societies, in North America and around the world, have been quite tolerant of gender ambiguity, willing to place “queer” people into positions of spiritual authority.
But now ;let’s run through the five big areas. I’ll work inside-out, inductively, and start with the most specific problems first.
Issue 1: Public Health
I had my “second coming” in the 1970s and I knew vaguely that typical “promiscuous” gay male “lifestyles” could increase the risk of traditional venereal diseases, and I often heard people talk about hepatitis (especially B). My last year in New York City, 1978, some things happened that gave me reason to wonder if something else could be going on. I moved to Dallas for a new job at the start of 1979, and that could have saved my life.
In early 1983, about a year before the CDC announced the discovery of HTLV-III (later known as HIV-I) a conservative state representative from Amarillo introduced a bill (HR 2138) that would have reinforced the Texas sodomy law (2106) and banned homosexuals from most occupations (let alone the military). Prompt activism by the Dallas Gay Alliance kept it from getting out of committee. A group called the “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS” advanced a theory saying that the chain-letter transmission of the then unidentified virus by anal intercourse within the gay male community threatened the general population because it amplified a dangerous virus that could then mutate and change transmissibility. Groups like DDAA jumped on CDC’s observation that the disease did not seem to transmit easily from women to men in “normal” intercourse, so heterosexual chains, well known with conventional venereal diseases or STD’s, would not sustain with AIDS.
We know that this (the speculated increase in contagion) did not happen. As in the old series “Science Fiction Theory” with Truman Bradley, we could ask, could it happen? Well, is that like a woman changing into a plant, as in one episode? I sound sarcastic. It’s unusual for viruses to change transmissibility, but yet they can cross species. If a virus got more contagious, it would probably become much less virulent. That would mean that this particular virus would need to infect other kinds of cells (like in the lungs or GI tract). One possibility was that it could become an arbovirus (and in fact the New York Native, Charles Ortleb’s little newspaper in the 1980s, speculated about an arbovirus, African Swine Fever, or ASFV, being experimented with by the government on Long Island. That actually could have been very dangerous politically. One could imagine such arguments being made about Zika now.
The credibility of this argument waned with time, as HIV did not change its basic behavior. By definition, the opportunistic infections carried by PWA’s were unlikely to affect people with normal immune systems. Even so, one cannot completely eliminate some other “science fiction movie” scenario that imagination can conjure. The transmission models for viruses attractive to terrorists (like avian influenza, maybe) are much more aggressive. Social distance becomes an issue, but that’s not a problem just in the gay community.
The cost of covering insurance for HIV (including PrEP and protease inhibitors) could become a hot button problem as Trump’s minions replace Obamacare (in fact, it’s a problem now). Pence, back in 2000, wanted to slash AIDS funding and support “conversion therapy”, with shallow but curiously pernicious logic “with no heart”.
Lesbians, it should be remembered, actually have fewer sexually transmitted diseases than straight women. Gender is not always “fair” in nature.
Issue 2: Procreation
I think that historically, most homophobia is centered on the (not completely correct) idea that homosexuals don’t reproduce and strengthen the population. Resources (maybe more votes) in this theory should go to people responsible for offspring (or maybe adopting children).
The tacky idea was that “homosexuals don’t recruit, so they must recruit”, at least in the mindset of the Westboro Baptist Church. It also sounds like the mindset in Russia.
Remember, in Russia, sodomy was made legal in 1993, and the 2013 anti-propaganda law was only about talking about it, or “promoting” it. Vladimir Putin, have promoted “conception days” for a sparsely populated country losing people and its former greatness, is thinking that speech about homosexuality will give less “secure” males (or “waverers”) the idea that having a family with children isn’t worth it, is too much or a personal encumbrance against other goals, a notion that lives at the heart of the culture wars. Volokh (a law professor) takes us this argument in this post.
This may be the most relevant argument in my own life, since I am an only child. That’s unusual, as gay men tend not to be first-born males (which adds to biological epigenetic theories). But arguably, I deprived my parents a “lineage” which, in some religious thought, matters for the afterlife.
Issue 3: Relativity and the Observer, or Distraction
One of Einstein’s ideas in his relativity theories was that objects are affected by the observer. OK, this comes down to the idea that sometimes people don’t like to be stared at, and scoped. The straight world understands that women don’t like this (maybe Donald Trump doesn’t, judging from his comments to Billy Bush, all that locker room talk). But men often object to being “evaluated” by other men, too. I can remember the phrase, back to around 1972, “I don’t notice men’s bods.” Arguably, straight men who are less than perfect physically don’t like the idea that other men notice how they tack up against potential competition. If these (heterosexual) men are allowed to keep male physical appearance (compared to female) outside the area of allowable public awareness, weaker men have a better chance of finding female mates.
I documented in DADT-1 that my roommate at William and Mary in 1961 feared he would become impotent if he continued living near me (he put it in more graphic terms). This sort of thing is what bothered the likes of Sam Nunn and Charles Moskos back in 1993 when Bill Clinton was forced to settle for “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military.
The distraction issue, in less wealthy and less stable societies, is significant because such societies tend to expect men to bond together when necessary to protect women and children in their communities. In recent years, in western countries, this has become less significant socially. Better educated men generally are not as likely to feel distracted when in an environment in which they know homosexuals are present. Actually, there was very little or no distraction during the Vietnam era, because of the authoritarian atmosphere, and the fact that when there was draft, people tended to support a double standard, pretending one thing and quietly acknowledging another. Similarly, the military did not try to discharge gay soldiers once deployed in Iraq because of severe “stop-loss” needs.
So the “distraction” argument tends to wane when there are more pressing problems around. To an individualist, even an Ayn Rand follower, this sort of argument sounds self-deprecating. But people who feel this way typically have much more invested in group identity, especially associated with religious beliefs.
There have been films about this kind of problem, like “Rebirth”, which presents a self-help commune that doesn’t allow “spectators” because watchers can criticize people with skin in the game.
Issue 4: Relationism
Traditional marriage (or “complementation”, or even “complementaration”, see comment, Dec. 28 posting) is typically advanced by social conservatives (ranging from Rick Santorum to George Gilder, to the Family Research Council) as involving a certain amount of sacrifice by the man, for access to sexual intercourse (with children), buttressing his identity as a man. The FRC especially was quick to note that men often show lower testosterone levels when caring for children (although that presumes that the old-fashioned gender split with stay-at-home moms is breaking down). It used to be a standing joke that men gain weight and develop pot bellies after getting married – become less sexually attractive (go bald, too), having made their one conquest. That doesn’t need to happen, of course, and many times does not. But it still sets up a curious admission that seems self-deprecating to an individualist. Indeed, Allan C. Carlson, in “Family Matters” (1989) had written that traditional families would have to deal with or be protected from the “logical implications of radical individualism”.
Indeed, when one has kids, one is “encumbered” in a sense and changes into a new person, and takes on new goals and a new identity. Well, maybe not always. Donald Trump didn’t. But one could be competing with less encumbered childless people who can lowball him in the workplace.
The debate over paid family leave inverts this situation, but so does the fact that childless people can be in a real bind with faced with the demands of eldercare, as I was.
“Relationism” has a lot to do with finding meaning in an intimate or deeply relationship with a dependent, the opposite of “upward affiliation”. Having a family and becoming a parent the traditional way is the most straightforward way to grow into relational living (that’s Carlson and Mero and “The Natural Family”). But love within the family needs to branch out, and give the individual the capacity to get beyond his comfort zone in dealing with need interpersonally; this is an existential change to a sense of identity for a lot of people, myself included. It does get personal.
Issue 5: Right-sizing
The last issue is the most nebulous, but I had written about this before (Oct. 3). There is a general understanding that in western culture some inequality is inevitable if people are going to have incentives to innovate, and raise the living standards for everybody. But there is also an idea that if everybody has to follow the same rules in some sensitive areas (like sexuality), life has more “meaning” for everybody, and wealth and income inequality is more acceptable. It’s the “everybody else should have to deal with what I have to deal with” idea. Life isn’t fair, but it’s our best shot.
There is the fear that the elevation of the cultural norm of “husband and father”, for men who otherwise don’t distinguish themselves as individuals, could be diluted. There’s the idea that gays are “getting out of things” (supporting families) — an idea that the religious right sometimes hijacked early in the AIDS epidemic by calling gays “spoiled sophisticates”. There’s the idea of allowing one’s sexuality to be used for the adaptive needs of the community around you. There’s the idea that the value of the “less able” can only be ratified within a nuclear “natural” family structure where needs are known on the ground, and where everyone follows the same rules.
It may also have to do with resilience – the idea that a people, if challenged by a serious external calamity, could bounce back, even if individual people in the group accepted the idea of a lot of (otherwise uneven) personal sacrifice. But this is an odious idea for modern western democracy generally, that we cannot count on our system to be there for us. This is the moral mindset of much of the doomsday prepper crowd.
Sexual orientation is not by itself an identity (as much as perhaps gender identity itself is). Male homosexuality, in western culture, is very prone to “upward affiliation” because of the competitive context of individualism (Chapter 7 of DADT-2). That tends to exacerbate (through a sense of “proxy”) a perception of inequality and unfairness in some contexts and lead to -instability (Chap 6 of DADT-3). The proxy behavior appearance tempts some authoritarian politicians and religious leaders to focus on homosexuality as some sort of fundamental threat to the long term survival of a group, instead of on personal responsibility in the much narrower sense of liberal culture. This illusion also contributes to a belief among some traditionally married men that they are doing a good job providing for a family when actually they become vulnerable to loss of emotional investment in their marriages as the couples get older. And the illusion may cover up some domestic violence by heterosexual men.
If I ponder this along with my own attitudes about the way people become important to me, I can see that a strict moral code, enforced on everyone, can provide an effective “firewall” against obligated to get into personal relationships with people whom you don’t want to make OK, or accepting the idea of having to become dependent on others (not of your choosing) yourself, because of the common hazards we must all share.
I have a correlated post on my “Do Ask Do Tell Notes” blog here.
(Posted: Tuesday, January 3, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)