Pushing back against “born this way”

Postmodernists are opposed to “essentialism,” the notion that ANYTHING is innate or predetermined.  Thus I have found it interesting that when it comes to homosexuality, the prevailing argument is that this condition IS innate and predetermined.   I have been waiting for signs that postmodernism is on its way out, and this seemed to be a significant development.  But now it seems that postmodernists are pushing back against Lady Gaga’s assertion that we can all say “I was born this way.”  Instead we are seeing a revival of the notion that identity, including sexual identity, is “fluid.”  Thanks to Tim Challies for his comment alerting me to this from Gender Studies professor Suzanna Danuta Walters:

If marriage and military access are conjured as the Oz of queer liberation, then biological and genetic arguments are the yellow brick road, providing the route and the rationale for civil rights. The medicalization of sexual identity – and the search for a cause if not a cure – has a long and infamous history. This history includes well-meaning attempts by social activists to create a safe life for same-sex desire through the designation of homosexuality as biologically predetermined but also, more ominously, includes the sordid history of incarceration, medication, electroshock “therapy” and numerous other attempts to rid the body (and mind) of its desires.

Notions of homosexuality as “inbred,” innate and immutable were endorsed by a wide variety of thinkers and activists, including progressive reformers such as Havelock Ellis and not so progressive conservatives, eager to assert same-sex love as nature’s mistake. Richard von Krafft-Ebing in the 1880s and Magnus Hirschfeld in the 1903s – both pioneer sexologists and generally advocates of “toleration”– came to believe in some notion of “innate” homosexuality, whether through theories of a kind of brain inversion or through vague references to hormonal imbalances. These theories mostly had little traction, and no evidence whatsoever, and were further undermined during the heyday of the early gay movement which included a deep commitment to the depathologization and demedicalization of homosexuality, manifested in a long-term attempt to remove “homosexuality” as a disease category in the DSM.

Theories of biological origins of “gayness” have ebbed and flowed during different historical and social moments, most obviously intersecting with the rise of eugenics and other determinist frameworks in the early part of the last century. There is no question that the romance with biological and/or genetic explanations for sexual “orientation” has ratcheted up in recent years, due in no small part to the combined force of the gay marriage debates and the increasing “medicalization” and “geneticization” of behavior and identity, spurred on by the initiation of the human genome project in 1989 which furthered the already booming interest in genetic bases for behavior, personality, disease, etc. . . .

In our present political context, gay volition is like Voldemort – dangerous even to be uttered. This “born with it” ideology encompasses gay marriage, gay genes, gayness as “trait” and is used by both gay rights activists and anti-gay activists to make arguments for equality (or against it). This is bad science (mistaking the possibility of biological factors with wholesale causation) and bad politics (hinging rights on immutability and etiology). Causality is – of course – the wrong question and will only get muddled answers. The framing of “gayness” as an issue of nature vs. nurture or destiny vs. choice misses the point about (fluid, chaotic) sexuality and about civil rights. It’s not our genes that matter here, but rather our ethics.

via Born This Way? – Brainstorm – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Of course, the author doesn’t cite any evidence for her contention, just surveying the overall history of the question, which is how postmodernists tend to argue.

The sociology of the gay marriage debate

Australian Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent,  looks at the sociology of the gay marriage debate, how the cultural elite are using the issue to achieve moral superiority over the non-elite.

From a sociological perspective, the ascendancy of the campaign for gay marriage provides a fascinating story about the dynamics of the cultural conflicts that prevail in Western society. During the past decade the issue of gay marriage has been transformed into a cultural weapon that explicitly challenges prevailing norms through condemning those who oppose it. This is not so much a call for legal change as a cause: one that endows its supporters with moral superiority and demotes its opponents with the status of moral inferiority.

As a result, it does not simply represent a claim for a right but a demand for the institutionalisation of new moral and cultural values. This attitude was clearly expressed last weekend by Trevor Phillips, chairman of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. The burden of his argument was to accuse Christians, particularly evangelicals, of being more troublesome than Muslims in their attitudes towards mainstream views. In particular he warned that “an old-time religion incompatible with modern society” was driving Christians to clash with mainstream views, especially on gay issues. Incidentally, by “mainstream” he naturally means views he endorses.

Phillips’s use of language implies opponents of gay marriage are likely to be motivated by “old-time religion”, which is by definition “incompatible with modern society”. From this standpoint, criticism or the questioning of the moral status of gay marriage violates the cultural standards of “modern society”. What we have here is the casual affirmation of a double standard: tolerance towards supporters of gay marriage and intolerance directed towards its opponents.

The declaration that certain values and attitudes are incompatible with modern society tends to serve as a prelude towards stigmatising and attempting to silence it. That is why the so-called enlightened opponents of “old-time religion” more than match the intolerance of those they denounce as homophobic bigots. . . .

In the US, questioning the status of gay marriage is often depicted as not simply a rhetorical expression of disagreement but as a direct form of discrimination.

Consequently, the mere expression of opposition towards a particular ritual is recast as not a verbal statement but as an act of discrimination, if not oppression.

As American journalist Hadley Freeman wrote in The Guardian, gay marriage is not a suitable subject for debate.

“There are some subjects that should be discussed in shades of grey, with acknowledgment of subtleties and cultural differences,” she wrote, before adding that “same-sex marriage is not one of those”.

Why? Because “there is a right answer” she hectored in her censorious tone. The phrase “there is a right answer” represents a demand to silence discussion. And just in case you missed the point, she concluded that opposition to her cause should be seen for what it was: “As shocking as racism, as unforgivable as anti-Semitism.”

It is worth noting that the transformation of gay marriage into a crusade against sexual heresy coincides with the cultural devaluation of heterosexual marriage. In contemporary times, heterosexual marriage is frequently depicted as a site for domestic violence and child abuse. . . .

Paradoxically, in some quarters the idea that marriage for heterosexuals is no big deal coincides with the cultural sacralising of a same-sex union.

via Where gay matrimony meets elite sanctimony | The Australian.

HT: Joe Carter

End of the professional/personal divide

An article on how the Navy has been sacking commanding officers for personal misconduct ends with a striking quotation:

The Navy has fired a dozen commanding officers this year, a near-record rate, with the bulk getting the ax for offenses related to sex, alcohol or other forms of personal misconduct.

The terminations, which follow a similar spike in firings last year, have shaken the upper ranks of the Navy, which has long invested enormous responsibility in its commanding officers and prides itself on a tradition of carefully cultivating captains and admirals.

Over the past 18 months, the Navy has sacked nine commanding officers for sexual harassment or inappropriate personal relationships. Three others were fired for alcohol-related offenses, and two on unspecified charges of personal misconduct. Combined, they account for roughly half of the 29 commanding officers relieved during that period.

Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, called the increase in firings “bothersome” but said the Navy was duty-bound to uphold strict behavioral standards, even when commanders are off-duty. He attributed the rise in part to the revolution in communications and technology, which has made it easier for sailors and their families to snoop on one another and then instantly spread the word — even from once-isolated ships at sea.

“The divide between our private and professional lives is essentially gone,” Roughead said in an interview. “People can engage in the debate — does it really matter what a commanding officer does in their personal life? We believe it does, because it gets right to the issue of integrity and personal conduct and trust and the ability to enforce standards.”

via Navy has spike in commanding-officer firings, most for personal misconduct – The Washington Post.

It has been something of a mystery why Rep. Anthony Weiner was forced to resign for his social media postings, while President Clinton with his actual as opposed to virtual adultery was re-elected.  Perhaps this is the answer.  Our technology has evolved to the point that there is no longer a boundary between one’s private and public lives.  Not just when it comes to misbehavior but in other areas as well:  Computers and cell phones enable people to work and do business at home as well as at the office.  People are always on their cell phones, sometimes dealing with business while at a ball game or a family gathering, and sometimes dealing with family issues at work.  But it isn’t just work. . . .

Could it be a healthy development that we are becoming less compartmentalized?  At least when moral behavior and holding people accountable are concerned?

Getting treatment

Ruth Marcus, writing in the Washington Post, notes that today bad behavior is thought of in terms of “addiction” and the need for “treatment.”  She prefers the concepts of sin and absolution:

The arc of modern scandal is depressingly familiar. Transgression followed by exposure, perhaps accompanied by a fleeting detour into denial. Then tearful confession and, finally, the inevitable journey to rehab.

Didn’t you know, from the moment the story broke, that New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner would end up checking himself in somewhere?

I don’t begrudge Weiner the therapy — he could no doubt use “professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person,” as his spokeswoman said in announcing that he would seek a leave of absence.

But whether or not Weiner manages to hang on, the episode underscores how rehab has become an all-purpose laundromat for irresponsible behavior, an infuriatingly easy substitute for accepting blame and living with consequences.

Increasingly, in our Rehab Nation, the concept of sin has been replaced by the language of addiction. Shame has been supplanted by therapeutic intervention. The disease model of misbehavior dictates that there are no bad people, only damaged individuals compelled to commit harmful acts. In this scenario, personal responsibility evaporates and virtue becomes an anachronism.

“This is not something that can be treated away,” Weiner said at his tearful news conference. One excruciating week later, Weiner was, yes, getting it treated away. The congressman, his spokeswoman said, “has determined that he needs this time to get healthy.” Excuse me, but this isn’t about Weiner’s health; it’s about his shameful behavior. . . .

Writing on Time.com, Maia Szalavitz, herself a former heroin and cocaine addict, described the dangers of defining addiction downward.

“If anyone can go to rehab when his actions lead to public humiliation, is rehab still a medical treatment or does it become some form of absolution?” she asked. “If every time someone behaves like a jerk and the reason behind it is addiction, doesn’t that mean addiction is just an excuse for bad behavior?”

via In Rehab Nation, sin becomes addiction – The Washington Post.

Of course, some bad behavior does need “treatment,” just as, theologically, some sin calls for spiritual counseling and pastoral care.  And yet simply medicalizing sin, as in Rep. Weiner’s case, seems like a way to duck responsibility.   How can we tell the difference?  What bad behavior calls for medical help and what calls for spiritual help?

How many lesbians are actually men?

A blog entitled “A Gay Girl in Damascus” by an Arab-American lesbian named Amina Arraf attracted quite a bit of attention with her accounts of living in the oppressive and dangerous society of Syria, chronicling too  the “Arab Spring” of the populace rising up to demand freedom.  The blog especially made headlines when a contributor claimed that Amina had been arrested by Syrian authorities.  But now it turns out that the whole blog was a hoax and that the lesbian Arab was really a married man from Georgia named Tom McMaster.

The gay community, of course, was outraged.  The lesbian blog Lez Get Real was especially indignant.  But now it turns out that the woman who has been running that blog for 8 years is herself a man, Bill Graber, a 58-year-old married construction worker from Ohio.

via Paula Brooks, editor of lesbian site Lez Get Real, is really a man named Bill Graber – The Washington Post.

I mean, men have a lot in common with lesbians–they are both attracted to women–but what is going on here?


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