By Erick Spangler |
Date: 2004 May 15
Comment on this Work
Here to Stay|
We're here, we're mildly and tolerantly homophobic, get used to it!
May 14, 2004, 8:57 a.m.
By John Derbyshire THE NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE
Having previously described myself in these pages, and elsewhere, as "a mild, tolerant homophobe," I feel it is incumbent upon me to speak out now and then about homogamy (that is, "gay marriage") and kindred topics on behalf of the homophobe community -- part of the larger Homophobic, Anti-Lesbian, Transsexuality-Hostile Or Moralistically-Oriented (HALTHOMO) community. The following are just random fugitive thoughts, with no particular coherence from one section to another and in no particular order.
Their worst nightmare. A "mild, tolerant homophobe" is the homo-activist's worst nightmare. Even to admit the possible existence of such a creature would explode his entire ideology. Anyone who does not give whole-hearted, roaring approval to the entire homo-agenda must, must, be tarred as a stump-toothed knuckle-dragging primitive, probably afflicted with grave psychiatric problems and hopelessly out of touch with the zeitgeist. If you are not totally on board with absolutely every tiny point of homo-dogma, then you are a sick, poisonous bag of cruelty and evil, who must be destroyed. That's what ideologues are like; that's the totalitarian mindset.
Just as Lenin hated the mild, constitutional Mensheviks with far more passion than he could ever bring to bear against the Tsar and his Cossacks, the homo-agitators hate folk like me much more intensely than they hate the killers of Matthew Shepard. Those felons, after all, serve a very useful purpose for homo-propagandists: By their awful crimes, they validate the victim status of homosexuals, and thereby the homo-activist project of upturning our society and rewriting all its laws to eliminate the "root causes" of such outrages. (Which are: the slightest, merest, faintest hints or traces of disapproval of homosexual acts.)
I, on the other hand, am of no use to them, and say things they don't want people to hear.
Well, all of that is their problem, not mine. I've been in this world long enough to know who I am, and I'm not in the habit of apologizing for any of it. I also know that there are vast numbers of Americans -- many tens of millions -- who think pretty much the way I do about this topic, and they are probably not in much of a mood to apologize about their views, either. We're here, we're mildly and tolerantly homophobic, get used to it!
A kindred spirit. Not just Americans but Englishmen, too. Here is historian and über-opinion journalist Paul Johnson, uttering my own homophobic thoughts in his 1997 book The Quest for God, pp. 28-29:
There were a great many of us, in the 1960s, who felt that there were grave practical and moral objections to the criminalisation of homosexuality, and therefore supported, as happened in most Western countries, changes in the law which meant that certain forms of homosexual behaviour ceased to be unlawful. Homosexuality itself was still to be publicly regarded by society, let alone by its churches, as a great moral evil, but men who engaged in it, within strictly defined limits, would no longer be sent to prison. We believed this to be the maximum homosexuals deserved or could reasonably expect. We were proven totally mistaken. Decriminalisation made it possible for homosexuals to organize openly into a powerful lobby, and it thus became a mere platform from which further demands were launched. Next followed demands for equality, in which homosexuality was officially placed on the same moral level as standard forms of sexuality, and dismissal of identified homosexuals from sensitive positions, for instance schools, children's homes, etc., became progressively more difficult. This was followed in turn by demands not merely for equality but privilege: the appointment, for instance, of homosexual quotas in local government, the excision from school textbooks and curricula, and university courses, passages or books or authors they found objectionable, special rights to proselytize, and not least the privilege of special programmes to put forward their views -- including the elimination of the remaining legal restraints -- on radio and television. Thus we began by attempting to right what was felt an ancient injustice and we ended with a monster in our midst, powerful and clamouring, flexing its muscles, threatening, vengeful and vindictive towards anyone who challenges its outrageous claims, and bent on making fundamental -- and to most of us horrifying -- changes to civilized patterns of sexual behaviour.
For how much longer will thoughtful, learned conservatives be able to write things like that under the imprint of a respectable publisher, without author and publisher both ending up in jail?
We can't help it, we're born this way. To the best of my observation, it is congenital. The people afflicted by it report that they have always felt that way. You can't say it's unnatural, either -- there is plenty of evidence for it in the animal kingdom. And, let's face it, in 99.99 percent of cases, it's perfectly harmless.
I am speaking about homophobia, of course. Reading Louis Crompton's book Homosexuality and Civilization for a review, I found myself thinking that homophobia is, as a social and psychological phenomenon, more interesting than homosexuality. It seems to have been present in all human societies, though more intense in certain times and places than in others. Often -- for instance, in the United States until about 40 years ago -- it was well-nigh universal.
Where does it come from? Propagandists like Crompton tell you it's all the fault of Leviticus and St. Paul. Nonsense. Plato was a homophobe, at least by the time he got around to writing The Laws, yet he could not possibly have heard of St. Paul and I seriously doubt he was acquainted with Leviticus. If homophobia is socially conditioned, there seems never to have been a society that did not condition it to some extent.
If, on the other hand, homophobia is a "hard-wired" feature of the human personality, then the homo-propagandists have a tough job on their hands. Perhaps we should try to find out just what exactly homophobia is. Why aren't homosexualists agitating for intensive scientific research on homophobia? They're afraid of what we might find, perhaps.
Human nature has no history. Why am I -- how dare I be! -- so insouciant about my own homophobia? Aren't I ashamed of myself? Isn't it a cruel, bigoted, outrageous thing, to be a homophobe?
To believe that it is, you have to think very badly of the human race at large. As a conservative who reads a lot and takes an interest in history, I tend to accord some weight to the opinions of past generations. I do not subscribe to the fashionable belief that human beings suddenly got much smarter and more moral around 1965, and that everyone who lived prior to that date was a benighted ignoramus. There are plenty of people long dead who seem to me to have been very smart indeed -- much smarter than I, in many cases. It is even possible that one or two of them may have been smarter than the editorialists at the New York Times. I don't know, I don't say this necessarily was so, only that I wouldn't altogether rule it out.
And practically all of them were homophobes! My own father was a homophobe. Plato, as I have already mentioned, was one of us; so was Cicero (so far as the ancient world is concerned, I have never read anything that contradicts J. P. V. D. Balsdon's remark in his book Romans and Aliens, that "Homosexuality was one of the paradoxes of ancient life, universally practised and universally reprobated"). Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt were homophobes. So were the great novelist-prognosticators of the 20th century, Aldous Huxley* and George Orwell**. In none of these cases was the motivation religious. In fact, my father was, as I have mentioned before in this space, a militant atheist.
So am I supposed to think that all these folk were wrongheaded, and that in the matter of homosexuality I should prefer the opinions of Barney Frank, Andrew Sullivan, and Rosie O'Donnell? Sorry, no sale. I stand with Plato and Cicero, Churchill and TR, Orwell and Huxley, and my Dad. Not bad company, it seems to me. I feel pretty comfortable with it, anyway.
A funny thing. I object to the word "gay" as a synonym for "male homosexual" in part because in my experience homosexuals are not gay at all. If anything they are, in the generality, rather morose. Could anything be less gay than a "gay bar"? Certainly there is precious little humor to be found among homosexual activists, who take themselves more seriously than the average Old Kingdom Pharaoh. (As responses to this column will no doubt demonstrate.)
This is a shame, as one of the more traditional approaches to homosexuality was that it is funny. I suppose a homo-activist would say that this approach was demeaning to homosexuals, in the same way that the slow-thinking Amos'n'Andy caricatures were demeaning to black people. Well, there is humor and there is humor. Jokes can be used to insult and offend people; but they can also be great humanizers. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin," someone once said. He meant human nature, of which laughter is a key component, though you would never know it from mixing with ideologues.
In any case, the impulse to poke fun at each other using group stereotypes is obviously irresistible to the human psyche, and it would be a great loss to humanity if the PC ideologues were ever to succeed in their campaign to stamp it out. Amos'n'Andy may have left the scene, but we still have some harmless fun with the group characteristics of black Americans -- and white Americans, and Jewish Americans, and every other kind -- using less obnoxious stereotypes. Would you laugh quite as much at Saturday Night Live's "Ladies' Man" if he were white, for example? Or at Jackie Mason if he dropped the shoulder-shrugging and Yiddishisms? When it comes to foreigners, of course -- the fussy Englishman, the haughty Frenchman, the boorish German, the over-polite Japanese, etc., etc. -- the fun has never stopped. (Arabs? Check out the back page of the March 8, 2004, Weekly Standard.)
In re male homosexuality, the old stereotype of the emotive fairy has pretty much disappeared from the public square now, mainly through changes in homosexual style. Your modern male homosexual spends half his time working out at the gym and the other half shooting up with testosterone. He is "cut" like a thoroughbred racehorse and has a voice so deep it makes the crockery vibrate. I think only the intrepid Sean Delonas (select the February 15 cartoon) is still working with the older stereotype.
In any case, you can hardly switch on your TV without catching some sitcom in which the funniness of homosexuality is at least a secondary theme. Homosexuals may not be gay, but their existence surely adds to the sum of human gaiety. On balance, though, I think that to most people, lesbianism is funnier than male homosexuality. It seems to me, in fact, that quite a lot of people cannot utter the word "lesbian" without smiling. The notion of Sally and Suzy making the beast with two backs is just intrinsically hilarious. It is probably not a coincidence that while there is no nationally-known male homosexual comedian of any stature, Ellen Degeneres has got her own TV show.
"One touch of nature..." That was the Swan of Avon, of course -- Ulysses's great speech in Act 3 of Troilus and Cressida. I had never attended a performance of this play, nor even read it through, until this month. What happened was, a reader of my review of Louis Crompton's book took issue with my statement that there are no "gay" characters in Shakespeare's plays. Surely (he said) I must at least allow Pandarus? Barely knowing who Pandarus was, I ran for my Shakespeare and read T&C.
I couldn't see the thing about Pandarus. I mean, I could see from reading the play that he might be interpreted as "gay," but it didn't seem necessary. (Though I admit the line "If my lord get a boy of you, you'll give him me..." needs some explaining.) The clown Thersites, however, struck me as a much better candidate -- so much so, that when reading the play, I wondered if my correspondent had got his characters mixed up, and really meant "Thersites" when he said "Pandarus."
However, there is nothing like seeing a play acted on the stage to bring out these things. Since there were no stage performances of the play in my vicinity, I bought a DVD of the BBC/Time-Life production, with Charles Gray as Pandarus. Sure enough, Gray queened it up a bit, though I still don't see the absolute necessity. The Thersites in this production, though, was played as what the English call a screamer. I think it's the "gayest" portrayal of any character I've ever seen in a play that is not actually about homosexuals. The credits bill the actor as "The Incredible Orlando." Oh, he was incredible, all right -- wooo-hooo! But no, I still don't get the Pandarus thing.
(I am inclined to take the BBC/Time-Life production with a grain of salt in any case. It was directed by Jonathan Miller, he who put on a performance of Rigoletto with everyone dressed up as modern mafiosi -- and also, if memory serves, a production of Titus Andronicus with the action located on the surface of the Moon. "An imaginative production," as they say. No, I am not convinced.)
A river in Egypt. One of the creepiest things about the many e-mail exchanges I get into with homosexuals is the act of doublethink that all of them -- all of my correspondents, anyway -- have now performed in regard to AIDS. One recently asked me to enumerate my objections to homosexuality. I responded with a list that included the fact that male homosexuality is a public health problem. How, my correspondent asked, in apparently genuine bafflement, could a mere 3 percent of the population cause a public health problem?
Another common deflector is: "Well, in Africa, AIDS is spread mainly by heterosexual contact." Which may very well be true. Unfortunately, it is also true that this is not Africa.
This state of doublethink is impervious to reason or evidence. Male homosexuals apparently all believe that (a) AIDS has been a ghastly tragedy for them, deserving of widespread sympathy from the rest of us, not to mention lavish government-research funding paid from our taxes; (b) that the presence of this horrible disease in our society is no responsibility of theirs whatsoever; and (c) that AIDS is pretty harmless anyway, now easily controlled by drugs.
But look at this report from the New York Academy of Medicine. "HIV remains the leading cause of death among New Yorkers aged 25-44 years...drug abuse and sex between men fuel the epidemic.... About 3.9 percent of all men between the ages of 40 to 49 years have HIV infection or AIDS...."
Is homophobia dying out? Homo-propagandists make much of opinion polls showing that young people are more tolerant than their parents. I don't think they should be so sanguine. The experience of marrying and having kids makes people more conservative, so that the liberalism of the young may not be so much a feature of the age we live in as a feature of their age. Any pollster will tell you that married women are more socially conservative than single women, and if you think about it, it's not hard to figure out why this should be so.
In any case, I see no good news for homosexuals in opinion polls. Homogamy? As Jonathan Chait -- a metropolitan liberal who supports homogamy -- points out in the March 15, 2004, issue of The New Republic, opinion pollsters only get a bare majority of respondents favoring legal homosexual relationships, never mind marriages. Last July, for example, in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll quoted by Chait, the numbers broke 48-46 on the statement: "homosexual relations between consenting adults should or should not be legal."
If you mention these figures the homo-activists spin like crazy; but every private conversation confirms the plausibility of the poll numbers. (And if you need further confirmation, look at the extreme reluctance of major-league politicians, even extreme liberals like John Kerry, to declare in favor of homogamy. These folk live, eat, and breathe polls.) I know several people -- well-educated suburban American adults raising families and holding down responsible jobs -- who think homosexual relations should not be legal. I don't myself agree with that position, thus being more mild'n'tolerant on this topic than around half my fellow citizens (as if that will spare me from being called "extremist"!); but if mere opposition to homogamy is a form of "bigotry," well, my goodness, what a lot of us bigots there must be.
The last homosexual. My personal bet is that homosexuality will disappear before homophobia does -- possibly quite soon, in a generation or so. Here's my logic: One of the least controversial things you can say about homosexuality is this: Practically nobody wants his kids to grow up homosexual. Some people mind the prospect more than others, but practically nobody welcomes it -- not even, I should think, homosexuals. (One of the rare exceptions is Sharon Osbourne, who recently remarked: "My only regret in life is that none of my children are gay." I doubt any very large number of Americans take Mrs. Osbourne as a parenting role model, though.)
Now, the trend in current research on homosexuality, if I have understood it correctly, suggests that the homosexual orientation is indeed mostly congenital -- the result of events in the mother's womb, or in early infancy, with perhaps some slight genetic predisposition. The thing is, in short, mainly biochemical -- part of a person's physical make-up.
Supposing this is true, let us conduct a wee thought experiment -- admittedly a fanciful one. A young woman in the late stages of pregnancy, or carrying a small infant, shows up at her doctor's office. "Doctor," she asks, "is there some kind of test you can do to tell me if my child is likely to become a homosexual adult?" The doctor says yes, there is. "And," the woman continues, "suppose the test is positive -- would that be something we can fix? I mean, is there some sort of medical, or genetic, or biochemical intervention we can do at this stage, to prevent that happening?" The doctor says yes, there is. "How much does the test cost? And supposing it's positive, how much does the fix cost?" The doctor says $50, and $500. The woman takes out her checkbook.
Of course this is not happening anywhere in the U.S.A. right now. If my understanding of the state of current research is correct, however, it might very well be happening on a daily basis ten years from now.
If this really comes to pass, the results will be curious and interesting. They will not necessarily bring an end to homosexuality right away. No test, and no $500 fix, is likely to be 100 percent effective. Also, there must be some few borderline cases who "turn," or get "turned" quite late in life. For sure, though, if such a thing becomes reality, there will suddenly be a vast reduction in the numbers of homosexuals. From the current proportion -- from 1 to 4 percent -- of the population, we might, in a couple of generations, see a drop to, perhaps, 0.01 percent.
That would be a radically different situation. It would also be a very miserable one for homosexuals, as they became an aging, fading cohort, with practically no younger people of their inclination to socialize with. The situation would also be self-reinforcing: As more and more parents took the test and got the fix, the loneliness facing homosexuals would become so dire that no person of conscience could think of raising a person who might become homosexual. The fix might even be applicable later in life, with adult homosexuals "converting" en masse.
In which case, there would be someone, somewhere, who was the last homosexual. What a situation! Think what a playwright or a novelist could do with it!
* * * *
Somewhat oddly in Huxley's case, as he was a sexual progressive, at least in the matter of "open marriage," and was also a lifelong friend of the homosexual Gerald Heard. The main evidence here is at the beginning of Chapter 12 in Sybille Bedford's biography. Bedford was a longtime family friend of the Huxleys:
He had been reading [André] Gide's latest novel, Les Faux Monnayeurs. He usually found him disappointing -- too elegant, too literary. Now he was interested, 'The only good book he has written...in its way very good. It is good, I think, because it is the first book in which Gide has ventured to talk about the one thing in the world that really interests him -- sentimental sodomy.' It was also, it might be said in passing, one of the things that least interested Aldous, he was rather hoity-toity about sodomites, sentimental or otherwise; whereas Maria [i.e. Mrs. Huxley] got on extremely well with what she loudly and to their faces called our bugger friends, Aldous was made rather uncomfortable by evident male homosexuality. About lesbians he was tolerant, even had a faible [= partiality] -- after all he shared their taste, as long as they were feminine and not too orthodox."
** For Orwell, the references are legion.
Yet where's the pink that would have thought it odd of me To write a shelf of books in praise of sodomy? -- "As One Non-Combatant to Another," June 18, 1943
Pink sodomites seem to have haunted Orwell's nightmares, perhaps as a consequence of his having attended one of the old-style English boys' boarding schools, where he was (according to Cyril Connolly [according to Malcolm Muggeridge]) not considered sufficiently attractive to take part in the sex games. See also this striking apothegm in Chapter 8 of The Road to Wigan Pier: "You can have an affection for a murderer or a sodomite, but you cannot have an affection for a man whose breath stinks." Homosexual Orwellophiles can take some small comfort from this. Plainly our George didn't like homosexuality, but at least he rated it higher than halitosis!
DAVID FRUM'S DIARY
NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE
MAY. 14, 2004: FINAL DAYS
Barring some unforeseen late-breaking development, the state of Massachusetts will commence issuing same-sex marriage licenses on Monday. About 15 minutes after that, the national debate over same-sex marriage will shift from lively to brawling.
Back in the 1980s, conservatives used to joke about a phrase that the Washington Post and New York Times regularly applied to politicians or judges who shifted from right to lift: "Once a reflexive conservative, Judge So-and-So has in recent years won a strange new respect from his former critics ...."
In recent months, the battered old principle of federalism has benefited from a similar influx of unlooked-for acclaim.
People who had little use for federalism when the issue was abortion have suddenly discovered a huge new respect for state sovereignty now that state sovereignty can be invoked to protect Massachusetts' revised version of marriage.
I've argued in this space that marriage long ago ceased to be a local institution - that the modern American economy and modern American government cannot cope with the possibility that two people can be married on one stretch of I-95 and unmarried an hour down the road.
Now we're going to put the issue to the test. And we're going to test something else too: the good faith of the proponents of same-sex marriage in a single state. A little while ago, I wrote out a list of examples of the difficulties that would be caused by this new insitution of now-you-see-it-now-you-don't matrimony. You can find the complete list here. My friend Eugene Volokh of UCLA law school recently posted an impressively thorough reply to my challenges. His answer, basically, was that from the point of view of the other 49 states and the federal government, these Massachusetts marriages would be completely nugatory and could be ignored at will. Well, we'll see about that. My own prediction is that the forces pressing for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts will not long remain content with Volokh's answers, theoretically credible though they might be. So long as the battle over the Federal Marriage Amendment rages, they'll swear devotion to the doctrines of local self-determination. But those vows will quickly become inoperative. After all, if they really cared so deeply for local self-determination, they would have tried to persuade the Massachusetts legislature to rewrite the law, rather than persuading one of the country's most insulated judiciaries to do the job instead.
In the midst of this swirling debate comes a truly remarkable book, Jonathan Rauch's "Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America."
Rauch's name may be familiar to NRO readers. He is a much admired Washington journalist, probably best known for his subtle understanding of the workings of government. In the mid-1990s, he waged a long and noble struggle against the wool-and-mohair subsidy. When the incoming Republicans of the 104th Congress at last abolished it, I congratulated him on his victory. "Just you wait," he replied - and sure enough within a single congressional term, the subsidy was back, reinvented as a wool-and-mohair "institute" ....
Jonathan's outlook on the world is basically a conservative one. As a result, his case for same-sex marriage shows a better understanding of the case against it than one hears even from many defenders of the traditional institution.
I know self-described defenders of marriage who argue that "government should just get out of the marriage business altogether" - let any two people do what they want, and let the churches bless or refrain from blessing according to their particular doctrines. Jonathan explains how wrong and destructive this view is. Marriage is not a contract between two people. It creates rights and obligations that extend all through society. Nor is marriage just a personal matter. Society suffers when men and women cease to marry, as they are ceasing in Europe. Marriage is a social norm, a social expectation. It is emphatically the public's business.
Jonathan appreciates too that marriage will be harmed if the government tries to redefine marriage in ways that shock the conscience of its people. If "legal marriage" deviates from "real marriage" - if for example the US Supreme Court were to announce tomorrow that same-sex couples can "marry" in exactly the same way that men and women can - the court would not change Americans' minds; it would only discredit the institution of marriage.
This recognition has made Jonathan one of the few sincere advocates of a federalist approach to the same-sex marriage issue. Most of those who now profess to accept Eugene Volokh's tough restrictions on the validity of Massachusetts' same-sex marriages are quietly preparing to reverse themselves on Tuesday and to begin agitating for full nation-wide judicial recognition. Jonathan is an exception.
That calm and principled fair-mindedness makes Jonathan the nation's most effective and persuasive advocate of the same-sex marriage argument, and Gay Marriage the most powerful polemic yet to appear from the same-sex marriage side of the debate.
Most polemics on the subject are persuasive only to the already persuaded: They begin by assuming that man-woman marriage is the modern-day equivalent of segregated lunch counters, and then reason from there. To most of us, though, the suggestion that it is "discrimination" to confine marriage to men and women makes about as much sense as suggesting that it is "discrimination" to confine voting in US elections to US citizens.
Jonathan does not waste time on this so-called "civil rights" argument. His logical mind notices that in fact the "civil rights" argument is not an argument at all - it is an analogy masquerading as an argument.
Jonathan's argument instead goes like this: probably somewhere between 6 million and 9 million Americans are homosexual. That's the population of a good-sized state. It's wrong to ignore the needs and claims of so many people - and the thing they need most is society's sanction for their emotional relationships. Homosexuals may be different in many ways from heterosexuals, but they still need to be nursed in sickness and old age; they need intimate companionship; and they need to meet their fellow-citizens as equals, without some guilty secret lurking in the background.
Those are strong and even moving arguments. But Jonathan's own vision of marriage explains why his arguments ultimately fail. Jonathan suggests that many liberal Americans already accept same-sex marriage. They treat same-sex couples as "married": and when the government refuses to follow, the government discredits the institution of marriage in the eyes of this sector of heterosexual society and makes cohabitation a more attractive option for them. That's why (he says) same-sex marriage would be "good for America." But it's also true that there is a much larger population of Americans who show no signs of ever accepting the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. What Massachusetts is proposing to do will marginalize them and banish their deepest principles and convictions to the outskirts of American life. If we want to have a national consensus about and in favor of marriage - as Jonathan rightly wants - we have to recognize that the only way we can have it is on the terms that exist today, before the mischievous rulings of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Council begin their destructive work.