Conservatives are losing their stand against LGBTQ rights, and they know it. With the growing number of LGBTQ individuals who are “out” about their sexual and gender identities, it’s an increasingly rare person who doesn’t know one—and it’s harder to oppose the rights of someone you know than to oppose the rights of someone you don’t know. The focus on marriage equality has also led to a public relations campaign aimed at shaping public perceptions of LGBTQ individuals, presenting them as normal people who are family-oriented and have similar goals as everyone else—and that campaign is working.
Conservatives opposing the campaign for marriage equality argue that children need a mother and a father, and that allowing gay and lesbian individuals to marry will deprive children of having a parent of each gender and thus cause them harm. This argument flies in the face of both the evidence and the fact that children are already being raised in lesbian and gay households and that denying these couples the right to marry won’t stop that. It also flies in the face of the public relations campaign in favor of marriage equality. The argument still has traction, but it’s losing ground.
This week The Gospel Coalition’s Thabiti Anyabwile suggested a new strategy. We’ll call this the “that’s disgusting!” strategy. What’s perhaps most staggering about Thabiti’s angle is that he claims that he is neither being “mean” to gays and lesbians or being bigoted. Allow me to quote from his post (trigger warning for blatant homophobia):
Here’s what I failed to do then and I’m convinced is necessary now:
Return the discussion to sexual behavior in all its yuckiest gag-inducing truth. Now to do this, we’re simply going to have accept the fact that we aren’t going to be liked. We’re going to be branded “mean” and “bigoted.” We should not in fact be mean and bigoted. We should speak the truth in love. But the consequence will be a nasty brand from the culture. I should say branded again because we’ve already been given those labels simply for being Christians. So, we don’t have much to lose and we just might re-gain some footing in this debate.
What do I mean by returning the yuck factor?
Consider how many times you’ve read the word “gay” or “homosexual” in this post without thinking about the actual behaviors those terms represent. “Gay” and “homosexual” are polite terms for an ugly practice. They are euphemisms. In all the politeness, we’ve actually stopped talking about the things that lie at the heart of the issue–sexual promiscuity of an abominable sort. I say “abominable” because that’s how God describes it in His word. I think we should describe sin (and righteousness) the way God does. And I think it would be a good thing if more people were gagging on the reality of the sexual behavior that is now becoming public law, protected, and even promoted in public schools.
So what are we talking about? (Warning: Obscene descriptions follow. If sensitive in conscience, skip the block quotes below and go to the conclusion)
We are talking about one man inserting the male organ used to create life into the part of another man used to excrete waste. We are talking about one man taking the penis of another man into his mouth, or engaging in penis-to-penis grinding.
We are talking about a woman using her mouth to stimilute the nipples, vulva, clitoris or vagina of another woman, or using her hand or other “toys” to simulate sexual intercourse.
We are talking about anilingus and other things I still cannot name or describe.
That sense of moral outrage you’re now likely feeling–either at the descriptions above or at me for writing them–that gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching, hand-over-your-mouth, “I feel dirty” moral outrage is the gag reflex. It’s what you quietly felt when you read “two men deep kissing” in the second paragraph. Your moral sensibilities have been provoked–and rightly so. That reflex triggered by an accurate description of homosexual behavior will be the beginning of the recovery of moral sense and sensibility when it comes to the so-called “gay marriage” debate.
What Thabiti says here is very familiar to me because I grew up in a family where gays and lesbians were treated with actual disgust. It wasn’t just “oh, they’re nice people, it’s just that marriage has always been a man and a woman and we think it should stay that way.” Oh no! If the topic came up at the dinner table (say, in a discussion of politics), my mother would visibly shudder in revulsion. She taught us kids the issue like this: “Gay is when men kiss on men and women kiss on women. Isn’t that disgusting?” We children agreed that it was (although at the time we thought heterosexual kissing was pretty disgusting as well). Through a million little moments, expressions, and phrases, we were taught to be viscerally disgusted by gays and lesbians (and also by trans* people, though that’s another story).
Anyway, back to Thabiti’s piece. One thing that strikes me is the extent to which evangelicals like Thabiti are moving away from widespread Christian themes in their desire to perpetuate their homophobia. For example, since when has Christianity tied what is right or wrong to whether or not something is disgusting? Even if you are a Christian who believes that God has condemned homosexuality, what does whether or not it’s disgusting have to do with it? Also, whatever happened to loving your neighbor? Whatever happened to being known for your love? Whatever happened to judging not? If someone can intentionally spend this much time dwelling on the “disgusting” things someone does in private, specifically in order to drum up visceral revulsion, and still “love” that person, love has lost all meaning.
I don’t generally conjure up graphic images of heterosexual intercourse every time I say the word “straight.” So Thabiti’s statement—”consider how many times you’ve read the word ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ in this post without thinking about the actual behaviors those terms represent”—makes no sense. Should I be thinking about a man putting a penis in a woman’s vagina every time I see a straight individual? Because I don’t. But if we’re supposed to be constantly bringing to mind images of homosexual sex every time we come in contact with homosexuality . . . shouldn’t we be bringing to mind images of heterosexual sex every time we come in contact with heterosexuality?
While we’re on the subject of going out of one’s way to thing about sexual acts, has Thabiti forgotten his religious tradition’s tenet that merely thinking about committing adultery is a sin? Matthew 5:27—28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Is seeing a sexy member of the opposite sex and dwelling on the thought of sexual intercourse with him or her totally sinning while going out of your way to conjure up graphic images of gay or lesbian sex is totally a-okay? In what world does that make sense?
Speaking of what one purposes to think about—has Thabiti forgotten that the Bible commands Christians to dwell on what is pure rather than what is impure? Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Does this verse mean nothing to Thabiti? You would think that if he believes gay or lesbian sex is impure and sinful, he would be bound by his own religious beliefs to avoid thinking about it. But . . . apparently not. There must be a gay sex exception clause somewhere in there . . .
There seems to be another gay exception in Thabiti’s theology as well. Thabiti says that “we should describe sin (and righteousness) the way God does.” I really hope Thabiti spends as much time calling shellfish “abominable” as he does throwing that word at LGBTQ individuals. But somehow I really doubt he does. Evangelicals often go on and on about how the Bible calls homosexuality an “abomination,” but they skip right over other things God also calls an abomination. This doesn’t strike me as very consistent.
Let’s also talk about what is or is not disgusting—and what does or does not trigger the gag reflex. I read through Thabiti’s descriptions without my gag reflex being activated. Nada, nothing. His suggestion that any normal person is of necessity repulsed by homosexual intercourse is quite simply false. While Thabiti finds gay and lesbian sex disgusting—as does my mother—there are I’m sure some people who find graphic descriptions of any sex “disgusting,” or graphic descriptions of heterosexual sex “disgusting.” What is or is not disgusting is often socially constructed, and beyond this it can also vary by person and by experience. And if we’re to be ruled by what we find disgusting, well, if you were going by the opinion of grade school children, you might well end up with a case for banning any form of sex altogether.
Also, you know what? Someone needs to tell Thabiti that there are straight couples who engage in anal and oral intercourse, and who—gasp!—use sex toys and their hands to stimulate the sex organs. Or does Thabiti only find these things disgusting when they are done in the context of gay or lesbian sex? It’s unclear—but if Thabiti finds these things universally disgusting, I feel bad for his wife. Women don’t generally orgasm without some form of manual stimulation. This also reminds me of when I was a kid and, like most kids, found any sort of sexual intercourse disgusting. So guess what, Thabiti? There are plenty of straight couples who do things you consider disgusting! Why does Thabiti put LGBTQ individuals in such a separate category here?
Look, if Thabiti finds homosexual sex disgusting, he doesn’t have to engage in it. Or think about it, actually, but clearly he’s decided to make the decision to do so. But there is nothing that gives anyone the license to ban something just because they find it disgusting. Thabiti’s article and the strategy he outlines is pure and unadulterated homophobia. Those using the “what about the children” strategy can at least pretend that they’re not homophobic. Those using the “that’s disgusting!” strategy can make no such case (even as they try to).
In the end, Thabiti’s suggested strategy boils down to nothing more than intentionally drumming up hate. In a nutshell, Thabiti is arguing that rather than approaching them like we would anyone else, we (i.e. straight people) should constantly remind ourselves of how “yucky” gay and lesbian individuals are. And then he says this isn’t about being “mean,” it’s just about “speaking the truth in love.” Oh, and this emphasis on approaching homosexuality with sheer disgust has nothing to do with why LGBTQ teens commit suicide at such a high rate. Oh wait.
What say you? What would you add? I’m especially interested in LGBTQ individuals’ thoughts, because I always worry that I may miss some important angle or point given that despite my queer tendencies I approach this issue from the perspective of an individual living a straight lifestyle and as a partner in a heterosexual marriage.