Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The normalization, and moralization, of Teh Gay

A couple of different commentators have responded to the DADT repeal by thinking of what this may change about society's general views of homosexuality and sexual morality.

First, Gabriel Arana, in The American Prospect, sees this as a normalization of the gay identity.
The true fight has been about what it means to say, "I am gay" -- whether the affirmation is cause for social -- and in the military, literal -- ostracism and exclusion or whether it's a neutral means of describing yourself.

....To religious conservatives, allowing gay people to say who they are is a dire threat to society and the military. … Allowing service members to know their gay colleagues is so threatening to religious conservatives because, as studies have shown, actually knowing a gay person is the best predictor of how one views homosexuality. Once service members can utter the words "I am gay" without an official state sanction, the culture-war battle has largely been won.
Sounds nice, kinda like the HRC representative who was quoted as saying
"If you can fight and die for your country, there's absolutely no reason why you can't be granted the full set of rights" that others have, including the ability to marry a same-sex partner….Americans will deduce that on their own. We won't have to say a thing."
(Keep thinking those happy thoughts, which are yet another example of the disconnect of the HRC from reality. But I digress).

I think it's too simplistic to assume that the awareness of LGB people in the military will make the entire LGBT community somehow validated. It's not all going to get better instantly. It'll help, sure, but it's not enough just to normalize Teh Gay. We are arguing to MORALIZE Teh Gay.

Writing in Slate, Will Saletan tackles this, beginning with confronting the slippery slope argument. We have to "de-sex" who we are, to distinguish this battle from a general loosening of sexual morality.
Shouldn't someone who risked their life for this county be able to marry someone of the same sex, or more than one person, or a biological relative? Or at least share a life with the person(s) he or she loves without a fear that their own government will be against them? Is bravery and valor negated if a man loves another man, or his long lost sister?

Laugh or snort if you want to, but it's a serious question. If DADT repealers are correct that sex is a matter of personal liberty and it doesn't matter "who you love," why shouldn't that defense cover polyamory and sibling couples? Switzerland is proposing to drop its incest law on exactly this basis. …

You can argue that homosexuality is quite different. But to make that case, you have to go beyond privacy and consent. You have to draw moral distinctions. Homosexuality isn't just a matter of who you love. It's a matter of who you are. And it's compatible with traditional sexual values.

The conservative assumption about homosexuality, freely vented in the DADT debate, is that it's a "behavior" and "lifestyle." But nobody who's gay experiences it that way. You don't choose to be gay. You just are gay. …

If homosexuality is an orientation rather than a preference or choice—if it's a matter of who you are, not who you love—then it's detachable from other kinds of sexual deviance. In fact, it isn't deviant. A gay person can be just as faithful and monogamous as a straight person. And military rules of sexual propriety can apply just the same….

If the fall of DADT is ultimately interpreted this way—as a rethinking of homosexuality, not of sexual morals generally—it won't satisfy libertines or libertarians. But culturally, it might prove easier to digest. Is homosexuality about who you love or who you are? That debate, unresolved by the fight over DADT, will rage on.
I agree with Saletan. I don't think that the LGBT community should be reduced to a sex act. The conservatives constantly attack us with participating in a "if it feels good, do it" hypersexualized culture. But that's not what I'm fighting for. I'm actually quite conservative on issues of sexual morality, which is why the fight for MARRIAGE matters.

(A further take-down of the "slippery slope" argument is here, which distinguishes the potential harm and societal benefits of each. Worth a read.)

What do you think?

Cross posted at Gay Married Californian


dr.primrose said...

A propos the slippery slope argument -- you know how, it is. If you allow a straight guy to have one wife, the next thing you know, he'll want five. So banning straight marriage will nip this thing in bud.

JCF said...

I don't feel compelled to agree w/ the outlawing of Certain Distasteful Practices (adult incest and, to a lesser degree, polyamory), in order to justify the lifting up of That Which Straight-AND-Narrow People Find Distasteful (sex within a same-sex partnership) to the level of Marriage.

The point is---certain (relatively few) gay/lesbian activists notwithstanding---a same-sex couple really is, IN ESSENCE, little different than an opposite-sex couple. Bringing in the element of blood kinship (incest) or multiple partners (polyamory, and in a marital context, usually polygyny) is far more QUALITATIVELY DIFFERENT, than the mere plumbing of TWO (and only two!) partners.

*Two* (biologically-unrelated, but faithful, loving, monogamous, committed-for-life) partners is stable, good for children, good for society. Other potential partnerships MAY have some redeeming features . . . but come w/ well-deserved baggage. I sez "Leave them be . . . but don't give 'em marriage licenses" (not that I've heard they really want them anyway. The slippery-slope is all about those NOT in anything besides a het coupling, positing what implausibly COULD happen---not what those in such relationships really WANT to happen!)