Categories
Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

People of Color Should Be More Than Just Useful

Disclaimer: Even though there is a certain amount of anger in this piece, I believe it is healthy anger. And anything I hold against white people is not against the people themselves but against the system that makes them white. I have tried to put as much calm and practicality into my essay for those people of color who have wondered all their lives how to express in words what white people can do to change racism in America, and for those white people who have genuine sincerity but feel helpless… to be educated and to be awakened. I write this in the spirit of Malcolm X and his hard truths, and I pity anyone who, because of this reading, ignorantly dares to call me a racist. If that is you, please try for a second read. Here’s hoping for peace in America… after a little truth.

As a person of color in America, I think about race often, sometimes casually, sometimes academically, sometimes mournfully: but not a single hour goes by when I do not think about the state of race relations in this country (either as relates directly to myself or in general theory). All people of color in America know that part of the amorphous label “white privilege” is the concrete manifestation of the ability “not to…”—in this case, the ability not to think about race. This is why so many liberal intellectual whites today will say things like, “Why does everything have to be about race? Can’t we all be human beings?” Truthfully, even to the well-meaning white person, discussions about race are usually just that—discussions, which she can dispense the way she dispenses toilet paper. At worst, it is a trash can that sometimes has an unavoidable stench. At best, it is an unpleasant locale she makes frequent trips to in order to alleviate the guilt of her conscience.

What can white people do? Think of race as an integral part of their being, if only by default, in being the only race in the United States that is not forced to be race-conscious every day of the week, every week of the year. I’ve heard many white people say, “we feel guilty enough,” or “it’s not our problem; it was our ancestors,” “I’m not a racist,” “you’re just as good as me,” “I just see people as human beings.” To all those white people, I say this again: concrete action #1 is to think of race as an integral part of your being because that’s what it is in today’s society. You cannot solve a problem by ignoring it. Identify the problem, recognize its existence, discover its prevalence, then work on solving it. But first you must recognize that race cannot be wished away any more than a building made of concrete can be wished away.

Still, I can hear the cry of the well-meaning white person: “But I’m not a racist! Maybe I have some hidden prejudices, but I do not discriminate.” Ask any white person who says this or thinks this way what those “hidden prejudices” are and she will not be able to answer you. Well, I can tell her exactly what they are—any time she perpetrates, or allows society to go unchecked with members perpetrating, the following:

1. White people (total strangers) asking an American-born Asian (without even knowing her name), upon meeting her, where she’s from (meaning some place in Asia, not an American geographic area), if she knows Kung Fu, or if she understands some butchered version of a Korean, Chinese or Japanese phrase.
2. White people always having an opinion about something, never once feeling it normal to just not know something that perhaps a person of color knows.
3. Along similar lines, as Malcolm X noted, no matter how a white person praises a person of color for her intelligence, asking her opinion solely on racially-related matters.
4. Casting Hollywood movies with white protagonists who have depth of character, supported by people of color who are either positive or negative stereotypes.
5. Assuming that the status quo, as per racial theory/ literary canon/ current psychology-related conventional wisdom/ etc., has an inherent (not rationally argued on equal footing) truth to it that so-called “radical” theories do not.
6. Referring to people of color as “Black people,” “Asians,” “Native Americans,” etc., and then feeling uncomfortable when a person of color says, “white people,” or “that white guy.”
7. A white person purposefully avoiding social situations where she will be the only white person present because they make her feel uncomfortable.
8. Not realizing and not bothering to find out the ways in which white people constantly remind people of color of their race while still affirming that “we are all human beings.”
9. White people feeling uncomfortable in a situation where people of color are leading a discussion or in which white people are not the loudest voices in the room or the people who get the most air time for their opinions.
10. Comparing Malcolm X to Martin Luther King, Jr., and discrediting Malcolm X because he “didn’t do anything. What did he really do?”

I am going to leave the list at ten, though I’m sure if other people of color in America had a few hours to think of more ways racism continues in the U.S. as systematic and prevalent (i.e., not isolated, extreme/ violent incidents), they’d be able to come up with at least 200 more, not the least of which is that some “scientific” white-initiated projects study only Blacks and whites in America and actually believe that white people have a genetic predisposition to intelligence that Black people do not. Oh, and complaining about how sexist or violence-promoting rap “is” without acknowledging the extent to which other forms of musical expression are as well.

The tenth perpetration is what irks me most about any talk about race. When I do think about race in America, I think about race in terms of three categories:

1. People of color who’ve read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
2. People of color who have yet to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
3. White people.

Most people of color I know do not agree with everything Malcolm X has to say (in fact, how can anyone ever agree 100% with anything she reads?), but they recognize the power of who he is after reading his book. Any white person I’ve talked to about race, whether she’s read Malcolm X or not, still questions his worth, his value.

I’ve had at least two people ask me what Malcolm X “did.” One was a white person, who had read the autobiography (yet who still asked me), “What did Malcolm X do? Martin Luther King, Jr. got legislation passed which affected everyone in America.” One person of color, very enlightened on racial matters in general (but who still had not read Malcolm X), asked me a similar question. I do not think, after reading the book, she will ask that same question.

Of course, the case could be argued that Malcolm X, in fact, did more than Martin Luther King, Jr. Many historians recognize that no matter what the abolitionists did, Lincoln only “freed the slaves” as a political move when it was convenient, and, in fact, he only ordered the emancipation of slaves in the South, over which he had no jurisdiction at that time. And Malcolm X himself told the truth about “The March on Washington,” and the power it had over civil rights legislation: nothing. Congress, the president, Washington… they do nothing, they pass nothing, unless it is politically advantageous to the parties in power: P.R., votes, image.

But there’s something more important than arguing whether Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work directly affected legislation in the U.S. Why should it matter that much? Evidence of the white American’s dominance of the national thinking about race is the fact that most discussions about race center on what’s “useful.” What legislation got passed? Are people making more money? I remember reading a Newsweek article recently about how conditions for African-Americans are improving. If that were true, no one would need an article explaining things were getting better.

The condition of race in the U.S. will not improve with legislation. Corrective legislation is supplementary, secondary to real social change. You can change policy, but you will not change racism until you change people’s minds… especially white people’s minds and their thinking about race. Then, the real change will happen. Once we can figure out a way to do the following, in the following order, racism will be on its way out:

1. Get every white person in America to recognize racism (which benefits whites and not people of color) exists as an operating and prevalent system, not a series of incidents.
2. Get every white person in America to realize that white is not some there’s-nothing-I-can-do guilt-trip to be stuck in… it’s not a complexion gene or eye color: it’s primarily an attitude of entitlement.
3. Get every white person to realize real integration can come about through only natural means: people of color want dignity, not to live with white people. As Nina Simone said, “You don’t have to live next to me. Just give me my equality.”
4. Focus on education: do not keep critical race theory in the upper echelons of academia. Bring it to the masses, the children, the public schools.
5. Work on uncovering subtle forms of racism. This will undermine more overtly violent expressions of race discrimination. Dwell on this illustration: who changed more laws before he died—Jesus or Hitler?

Categories
Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Mother Nurture

“I can’t run.”
“I can’t draw.”

I’ve heard these phrases over and over again and I wonder if they’re consciously devised excuses or simply naive delusions. This (excuse or delusion) notion of “can’t” stems from the unnecessarily polarized nature v. nurture debate. Where did the “v.” come from, anyway? Do they have to be fighting each other? I tend to, if forced to choose a side, side with the nurturists. After all, if something is to some extent genetically predetermined, why not fight it (if it’s bad)? Someone with a genetic predisposition toward diabetes does not shrug her shoulders, give up, and eat unhealthily in the hopes that she might speed the “inevitably” predetermined “genetic” condition.

Neither should someone who thinks she’s non-athletic not participate in sports or someone who thinks she’s not artistic not practice drawing. If public education forces every student to learn math and English, and try her (theoretical) best, whether or not she thinks she’s a math or English person, why not encourage all potential artists and runners to draw and run?

I pick running and drawing in particular because from an early age my family, peers and teachers encouraged me to draw. And, ever since high school, I’ve suddenly become “a runner,” even though I’d had no athletic promise before high school, I never became that great a runner, and I’ve gotten severely out of shape since. Not only that, but I’ve seen other “non-runners” (like me) become record-breaking cross-country runners. And I’ve seen non-artists practice and practice and practice, eventually becoming amazingly skilled artists.

Now the discussion of ability in art is interestingly ironic. When artists are children (whose abilities presumably are limited by their young age) society judges the degree to which they are artists based on the quality of their representational art. Then, when an adult artist produces a piece of expression (at least in this day and age), society often judges the quality as being proportional to the apparent childishness of the “artwork.” In other words, in order to prove yourself to have artistic potential as a child, you need to draw as much like an adult as possible, and in order to prove yourself to have artistic potential as an adult, you must be able to draw like a child. It’s not just a joke of polite society—much of modern art does indeed look like the work of a kindergartener.

Categories
Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

An Attitude of Appeasement

Do not applaud Disney because its princesses now claim to be independent or because the cast of Mulan had people of color in it. Do not applaud Hollywood because “girls can kick butt” (what about women?). Mulan is not the model of cultural sensitivity and Charlie’s Angels is not the poster child for second-wave feminism. In fact, interviewed for such movies as Charlie’s Angels and Bad Girls, Drew Barrymore repeatedly asserts how refreshing it is to be able to be a woman in an action role without being a feminist.

What’s so dirty about being a feminist? Feminists have wondered this for years. It seems that movie producers have a worldview that includes two kinds of people: people who want to have fun and people who complain and spoil the fun.

Really, it’s the powers of the film industry that have polarized entertainment and politics. Would most Hollywood or Disney execs be thrilled about a film that

1. didn’t portray a strong woman as a stone cold “bitch” or a disorganized neurotic who simply needs a man to make her life better?
2. had Asian-American, African-American, Latino or Native American characters as the central focus of the film, with white people as only waiters, bus boys and taxi cab drivers?
3. didn’t make reference to the holocaust as the worst crime of humanity or Hitler as the ultimate representation of evil?
4. had a gay male character or characters who were not comic relief?
5. had a lesbian character or characters who did not somehow convert to wanting a man by the end of the movie?
6. did not have America as the hero of some war?
7. included social commentary without being oppressively preachy a la Milos Forman and Oliver Stone?
8. …and had fun while doing it?!

More troubling perhaps is the idea of the probable reaction of some Hollywood exec reading this short essay and saying, “Maybe if actually endorsed a movie that had those eight characteristics all those radicals would just shut the fuck up!”

“A [i.e. only one] movie…”
“those radicals…”
“shut…up…”

Hollywood isn’t interested in entertainment that’s enlightened or that promotes family (or any particular kind of values). Hollywood is like a candidate running for president 12 times a year. “What formula can we employ that minimizes costs, makes a lot of money, requires little imagination, and will give us the least amount of protest and lawsuits?” Think the “little imagination” is a bit harsh? Why did Blair Witch Project 2 come out? Why did Josie & the Pussycats follow shortly after Charlie’s Angels and Coyote Ugly ?

I understand the plight of Hollywood. For each member of a major motion picture production company, a job hangs on the line with every decision she makes. She might not be able to take a risk on a culturally sensitive film. For anyone who thinks that’s a valid excuse for the racist, antifeminist, overly patriotic, homophobic, tokenist drivel Hollywood puts out every one or two weeks, cry racism, cry antifeminism, homophobia, Americentrism, tokenism! Make sure everyone knows at least that there is a problem.

Those so-called “radicals” will not shut up until Hollywood ceases its attempts to stop them from speaking and really starts listening to what they’re saying.

Categories
Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Antifeminism

I was fumbling around the web late at night, and I came across the funniest bit of antifeminist backlash I’ve ever seen. It’s apparently an excerpt from a book called Sex, Lies & Feminism by some guy named Peter Zohrab. I was amazed at how cocky he gets. He has the nerve to think he’s poking holes in the arguments of respectable scholars like Susan Brownmiller, when he writes stuff like this (excerpted text is all verbatim and [sic]):

A most surprising thing happened to me: I was working on the second draft of this book, when I went to an inservice course1, where a bunch of Feminists handed me the best disproof of the Feminist position on rape I could ever hope to find ! In fact, this group of people (mainly women) is so determinedly Feminist (and left-wing, generally) that I almost had to pinch myself, and wonder if it wasn’t some sort of set-up.

One topic which was covered during the one-day course was Brain Sex, based on the book of the same name. 2 After talking about a few of the differences between men and women’s psychology which are mentioned in that book, the Facilitator, talking to the females in the audience, said something like:

“You know what it’s like when you tell your husband not to buy you a present for your birthday — and he doesn’t !!”

There was a chorus of patronising agreement from the mainly-female audience.

So, of course, I jumped at the opportunity to say,

“That’s just like rape. The woman says ‘No’, and the man’s wrong whatever happens.”

There was a surprised, but almost unanimous, reflex chorus of “No” from this same audience !!! (I might have added that he could end up in jail for making one choice, and lose his marriage if he makes the other choice.)

This incident illustrates a number of points: One is that the Feminist insistence that a woman always means “No” when she says “No” is a downright lie — as Camille Paglia, though she calls herself a Feminist, has said. Many men have gone to jail because that lie has become official doctrine in some courtrooms.

Another point is that allowing only Feminists to have serious input into Sex/Gender policies has resulted in a Society where women can have their cake and eat it too — while men are put into a Catch-22 situation.

And the other point that this anecdote illustrates is that the Politically Correct are perfectly prepared to deny obvious truths and enforce them by sheer weight of numbers. This is shown by the chorus of “No’s” I got when my made my comment. To be fair, I could see at least one intelligent and rational woman in front of me had got my point — and I felt, on the next day, that my point had sunk in to some extent — so the “No” reaction was probably the reflex reaction of people who recognise theological heresy when they hear it.

But I should add that I had been preparing the ground for many years, with the gradual introduction of anti-Feminist heresies. If it weren’t for that background, the “No” reaction would have been really unanimous and permanent, and I would have suffered detrimental consequences in the workplace for my heresy.

Delicious, eh? Well, where to begin? First of all, the idea that there is only one “Feminist position” on rape is laughable. Every die-hard feminist knows positions on rape range from the extremely cynical (pro-male) likes of Katie Roiphe to the extremely cynical (pro-female) likes of Andrea Dworkin, with many moderate feminists (Susan Brownmiller, Robin Warshaw, etc.) in between. The funny thing is that this Peter Zohrab guy pretends to be an intellectual but ends up simplifying his opponents’ (many) positions into one that suits his rhetorical needs. I admit I’m biased toward anything remotely feminist (over those things more masculinist), but I do not imagine or wish that all antifeminism and backlash against feminism are the same things. Think about it—do all Republicans have the same beliefs? Do all Muslims have the same beliefs? Is there “the” Christian position on abortion (some would have you believe there is only one)?

But simplification is a natural human tendency, isn’t it? What I don’t understand is the way Zohrab has presented the supposed catch-22 facing men. There are two things at issue here: 1. The relation (if any) between buying presents and rape, and 2. The nature of consent in sex.

First of all, Zohrab makes a false analogy here, mainly through the de-contextualization of a feminist slogan about “no” meaning “no” and “yes” meaning “yes.” No feminist I know actually believes the slogan applies to all situations—it is a slogan that derives directly out of the controversy surrounding consent as far as sex is concerned, and sex only. How do we know we can’t apply the slogan to gift-giving? Well, because if you tell someone, “No, you don’t have to get me anything for my birthday,” there is no law against him getting you one anyway; and, in fact, very few people complain about unwanted gifts (unless they are also coupled with unwanted advances or stalking-like behavior). The scenario the facilitator described had a humorously playful context—there is not the implication at all that the husband worries about whether his wife might misconstrue a gift as signifying some kind of unhealthy obsession. However, if a wife says, “No, I really don’t feel like having sex tonight,” she will unlikely be flattered by a reply of, “Oh, I know you’re being polite, honey, but I got you a penis, anyway.” The sticky situation is consent in the bedroom, not consent in gift-receiving. The two activities (the acceptance of a gift, the acceptance of sex) differ in nature, not just degree. If someone receives an unwanted gift, she can say, “No, really, please take it back,” and if the giver takes it back, there is no harm done. She can also, after having received the unwanted gift, throw it away, and usually not feel any more violated or vulnerable for having taken the unwanted gift. The same observations cannot be made about sex. If someone “receives” unwanted sex (to the point of penetration), even if she says, “No, really, please take it out,” and the rapist retreats from his position, there is harm done—the rapist has violated her. She cannot throw away that feeling of being physically overpowered, of having intimacy corrupted.

After having made a false analogy, Zohrab also makes a statement that doesn’t make sense: “That’s just like rape. The woman says ‘No’,[sic] and the man’s wrong whatever happens.” How is the man wrong whatever happens? Even Andrea Dworkin would not look down upon a man who did not have sex with a woman who said “No.” The idea Zohrab presents is that the man has no respectable option if a woman says “No.” As a matter of fact, there is a respectable option, and here it is: A man and a woman in a relationship have some quiet time alone together. They’re holding each other, talking, and maybe even kissing. Eventually, the man begins undressing the woman and begins unzipping his pants. The woman says, “No, not tonight, honey.” If the man says, “Okay. Sorry. I just got so excited. What’s the matter?” how is he then “wrong whatever happens”?

Zohrab himself indirectly calls into question one of his own statements (“the Politically Correct are perfectly prepared to deny obvious truths and enforce them by s
heer weight of numbers”) when he analyzes a passage from Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics: “It is a good rule of thumb that, if you want to look for the weaknesses in someone’s argument, you look for sentences starting with words such as ‘evident’,[sic] ‘evidently’,[sic] ‘obvious’,[sic] or ‘obviously’.[sic] These are precisely the weak assumptions that the writer/speaker needs to prop up with confident-sounding language.” Technically speaking, of course, he’s addressing only sentences that begin with those words (he uses the word obvious in the middle, not the beginning, of his sentence), but the same principle applies: Zohrab feels the need to “prop up” his argument with “confident-sounding language.” If you re-read the above long excerpt from his book, you’ll notice no “obvious truths” that he’s pointed out.

Lastly, the idea that the “chorus of ‘No’s'” shows the denial of truth by the enforcement of “sheer weight of numbers” is a mix-up of cause and effect. Just because there happened to be many people saying “No,” it doesn’t mean the people saying “No” were also implicitly saying, “And you have to listen to us because we are so many—and you, so few.” Maybe some of them thought that, but it cannot be logically deduced that all or any of them did. What he calls a “reflex reaction” is actually a logical response. His “obvious truths” on the other hand seem to be more of an antifeminist “reflex reaction.”

Even though Zohrab makes one logical blunder after another, the real issue (i.e., not the one Zohrab brings up about men always being wrong, especially when they take everything seriously, even when there are no laws to put them in prison) surrounding the consensual/non-consensual nature of sex is, in fact, a sticky one, though. There is the possibility of teasing, of an actual polite “no” being mistaken for a coquettish, playful “convince me.” That’s why when we upstart feminists ran/run our sexual assault workshops (I’m speaking specifically of ones I helped run at Wesleyan University; I’m assuming they’re still being run in the same fashion), we stressed the need for communication (between both parties) in sexual relations. We recognized that most rapes were male on female, but we did not, through our language or meaning, encourage a blaming mentality. Those who had been raped were “survivors,” not “victims.” The focus was on “How can we communicate both our desires and our limits?” not “You bad men, you very bad men, why don’t you stop raping women?!” Zohrab is, as most (not all, of course) antifeminists do, fighting a straw (wo)man—the feminazi. I am a die-hard feminist. I’ve read all of the famous die-hard, moderate, and antifeminist feminists (yes, there are antifeminist feminists—Christina Hoff Sommers, Camille Paglia, etc.), and I have not read anything so radical as to be completely unreasonable or, as the accusation has gone on for decades, “man-hating.”

The problem of backlash is quite widespread, actually. I’ve noticed a lot (and, this is probably another essay entirely) that whenever I teach students about racism, homophobia, or other forms of systematic oppression, they (especially white, straight males) tend to confuse the identification of an injustice with the perpetuation of a victim mentality. Just because someone points out a wrong, it doesn’t mean she is saying, “Woe is me. Pity me. I have it so awful. I have it much more awful than you do, you lucky bastard. There’s nothing I can do to better my situation.” Most people who try to educate others about injustices merely do so because those “others” do not even acknowledge such injustices exist. And, if we don’t acknowledge injustices as existing, how can we correct them? How can we fight them? Feminists do not want to put confused men in jail. We want to put rapists in jail, and we will work together with men, women, feminists, even antifeminists, to improve the lines of communication between partners of any genders so that we can reduce instances of rape—so that we quell the constant manifestation of injustice.

Categories
Christianity Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

A Christian Perspective on “Homosexuality”

Growing up in a non-denominational, evangelical church in America, I often heard the phrase “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Christians usually used it in reference to “homosexuality.” The funny thing is… no one around me demonstrated that love for the sinner. It was really “Hate the sin and the sinner.” The Bible tells us to set ourselves apart from the world and the thinking of the world, but Christians often interpret this to mean that we should judge other people and make ourselves seem more holy (which would go against everything Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount). Really, though, it’s not setting ourselves apart to hate gays—plenty of people in the world hate gays.

When I’m with uptight Christian friends (UCFs, for short), and they see a gay person on tv, their reaction is not one of love—it’s one of disgust: “Ew. That’s so gross.” I’ve also heard UCFs refer to AIDS as God’s punishment for gay people. No UCFs get upset when they hear about anti-gay violence. In fact, they tend to think it’s great. UCFs often have no qualms about using the term “fag,” “faggot,” or “dyke.” The discrepancy lies in how they treat other “sinful behavior.” UCFs, when seeing heterosexual allusions to premarital sex may (if prodded) say it’s “wrong,” but rarely (above the age of 15) will UCFs react with an “Ew, that’s so gross.” They do not make up derogatory terms for people engaging in premarital sex, and UCFs do get upset if promiscuous people get beat up for no reason. So, why is there a discrepancy? Theoretically, if it’s both sinful to engage in premarital (and/or promiscuous) heterosexual sex, shouldn’t UCFs regard it in the same way as the sin of engaging in gay sex?

It goes a step further, though. UCFs will be disgusted even by straight men who act “gay.” Any sign of effeminacy both male and female UCFs will think is “wussy” or “gay.” Again, this is not setting apart from the world… it is being the world. Being set apart from the world means actually hating the sin, and loving the sinner. Because all of my liberal non-Christian friends love the sin and the sinner, and all of my conservative Christian and non-Christian friends hate the sin and the sinner; it seems logical that the godly stance is to actually love the sinner and hate the sin.

What does that mean, though? Well, first of all, as Christians, I think we need to recognize that being gay is only sinful if you are a Christian… I mean, sure, you could argue non-Christians can be sinful, too, they just don’t realize it, but that’s the whole point—they don’t realize it! Just as it behooves everyone to use proper grammar, I’m not in the place to correct everyone’s mistakes, because not everyone has agreed to that arrangement–only my students have. We may all be subject to God’s judgment (and redemption), but if people have not entered into a contract (or covenant) with God, it won’t make sense to them when we chastise them for not living up to laws they don’t agree with.

Secondly, we need to treat the “sinfulness” of being gay just as any other sin. There’s nothing in the Bible that indicates that it is a worse sin to be gay than to commit any other sin. Jesus himself never mentions homosexuality; he spends most of his time blasting hypocrites, gossips, etc.; and James writes, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10, NIV). We need to be careful how we focus our energies.

Thirdly, if we’re loving the sinner, we need to treat the sinner as a human being. Violence against human beings is not okay. Human beings living in fear of their lives or verbal attack is not okay. Human beings not being able to marry or have relationships of their own choice is not okay. That’s right. I’m an anti-homosexuality, pro-same-sex-marriage Christian. Until gay people convert to Christianity and realize being gay is wrong, they should have every right to make mistakes because they don’t know any better. And just as we do not pass laws forbidding hypocrisy, gossip, judging others, or pre-marital sex, it doesn’t make sense to pass laws forbidding gay marriage.

Lastly, to follow up #3, Christians should be the first ones advocating for the rights of gays—to live, to not be discriminated against, to marry, to be proud and out… only when Christians fight for those rights will gays be able to actually believe Christians love them while hating their “sin.”

Now, of course, since some of my readers are non-Christian, they’ll probably be appalled that I even think being gay is sinful, but I think my ideas are unconventional enough that the mere fact that someone thinks the way I do should be worth a good read by both non-Christians and Christians alike.

A little bit about people being “born” gay: It’s not something people choose consciously. I don’t think it makes sense to say it’s “biologically determined” either. Very few things are “biologically determined.” I was born right-handed. I wanted to be ambidextrous when I was six or seven and I started writing with my left hand. I didn’t realize I had to keep practicing with my right hand. So now I do everything with my right hand (play sports, sharpen pencils, use scissors, use chopsticks, etc.) except write with a pencil, pen, or paintbrush. If it were “biologically determined” that I was right-handed, I would not need to practice writing with my right hand to keep it. However, I did have a biological predisposition to right-handedness; just as some people have a biological predisposition to left-handedness. The tragedy with forcing lefties to write with their right hands isn’t so much that it’s “unnatural” or “forced” as that it demonizes left-handedness. You need to change because there’s something wrong with you. So must any sensible argument go against changing gay people. We are not going against nature to say gay people can be… not gay. We are merely invalidating something people view as a part of their identity (I’ll return to this idea later). However, we cannot say that anything that goes against “nature” is wrong. I’m naturally pre-disposed to getting diabetes when I’m older. I’m also naturally pre-disposed (moreso than my brother or father) to developing plaque and tartar. I will do everything in my power to fight these tendencies, because I view them as wrong.

More to the point, though, the typical objection then is that gay people are not a sickness, not wrong, not damaging to teeth. Well, the problem is that most people in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries believe that people have been gay since the beginning of time. I, too, believed this before I took a course at college on the history of gay communities and cultures (taught by a gay professor who was extremely ex-hippie). People have not, in fact, been gay since the beginning of time. People have practiced same-sex sex since the beginning of time. It is only since the turn of the twentieth century (the late nineteenth, starting with Oscar Wilde) that people started thinking of gay behavior as part of a new kind of identity. Just as now if a person teaches for a living (as I do) we call her a “teacher.” But if someone eats pistachio ice cream on a regular basis we don’t call her a “pistachio ice creamer.” The development of the gay identity was, in a sense, a defense against extreme homophobia. I can bungee jump a few times every month without being called a “bungee jumper.” And even if people called me a “bungee jumper,” they wouldn’t be so much insulting me as just being plain imprecise. However, once people have same-sex thoughts or one or two same-sex experiences, they feel the pressure to categorize themselves because society categorizes them. Look at message boards, letters columns, etc. People are always asking questions like, “I fantasized about my best friend. Does that make me a lesbian?” or “One time I sucked my friend’s dick just to experiment. Am I gay?”

The underlying question isn’t really “Does that make me a lesbian?” or “Am I gay?” It’s really, “What will other people think of me?” Just as I can try pistachio ice cream (a rather nasty flavor) and not wonder, “Is this going to detract from my vanilla and cookies ‘n’ cream status?” That’s because there is not a vanilla and cookies ‘n’ cream status. There is, however, a het status. The idea of fantasizing once about a girl friend making a girl a lesbian or of sucking someone’s dick once making a boy gay has the implicit assumption that there is a hetero status that needs defending. I can straddle the ice cream flavor line or the bungee jumping activity line as much as I want. Once I’m forced to pick a side, that’s when I have to develop an identity. Another way to think about it is a world without borders… no countries, no states, no cities, no villages; just houses, swimming pools, work buildings, cars, bikes, people, boats, etc. People could come and go as they please. Yes, we might actually name some regions, but there wouldn’t be as strong a sense of “belonging” to one area because the boundaries are not stringent. Well, we live in a world where boundaries are stringent. Even people with dual citizenship have had to ally themselves with two countries instead of all countries. My being an “American” goes beyond merely permanently residing in America. It is my culture. It is my community. And it is the law. If I leave I need my passport. I cannot come and go as I please. I need visas and/or employment to stay in other countries for an extended period of time.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. Back in the times the Bible was written, there were no people who said, “I’m gay.” Neither were there straight people. There were just people. And most people ended up married to someone of the other gender at some point. There weren’t gay people. There was same-sex sex. There were men sleeping with men (often as a recreational or religious activity) and women sleeping with women. No one questioned that these men loved their wives or that these women loved their husbands. If someone talked to his best buddy and said, “I just fucked that guy in the ass,” the other guy wouldn’t reply, “What are you—gay?!” He’d probably reply, “That’s great. How’s the wife?”

It’s only because society (and not just religious society) punishes people for straying from heterosexuality (not so much on the grounds that it’s wrong, but more on the grounds that it is sick or somehow less-than-human) that people who have had gay thoughts and feelings have felt the need to defend their gay tendencies, to conceive of a gay identity. When you attack gay behavior these days you cannot do so without offending a gay person. Now, it is not just behavior. It’s identity.

How do I know it’s the “sick” and “less-than-human” accusations that made people form identities out of sexuality and not the “immoral” charge? Well, as I said before, plenty of people think it’s “immoral” to have pre-marital sex, to gossip, to lie, to be hypocritical, to cheat, etc. We do not have identities for these behaviors as strong as the identities for sexuality. If I gossip once or twice, no one will accuse me of being “a gossip.” Nor will I write into a letter column and say, “I gossiped about a friend once. Am I a gossip?” But one time I remarked that Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was hot (in Bend It Like Beckham) and my wife teased me about it that whole day. I told her that was the reason there is so much homophobia these days. Guys can’t admire another guy without someone accusing them of being gay or not-fully-heterosexual. Whereas women can say a woman is hot and no one bats an eyelash (which alludes to the double standard with lipstick lesbianism—as opposed to butch-femme lesbianism—being chic… surely, a discussion for another time).

What we need to do is revert to a society where sexuality is fluid. There should be no identity around sexuality. It should be viewed mainly as behavior. Listen to Dave Schmelzer’s sermon on gay marriage