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Compassionate Bigotry and the Future of Anti-Gay Rhetoric

Compassionate Bigotry and the Future of Anti-Gay Rhetoric February 2, 2016

In recent weeks, a Townhall.com article from June 2014 has resurfaced. I read the article based on its title—5 Truths You’re Not Allowed To Say About Gays In America—and have decided to give it a once-over here on the blog. While the article is now twenty months old, many of the themes it covers are very much at the forefront of current debates over LGBTQ rights. Further, the article’s entire approach seems to me emblematic of hew rhetorics opponents of gay rights have used in recent years. These rhetorics are an attempt at a “softer, gentler” approach to opposing gay rights—an approach that fails miserably but must be addressed if only to be thoroughly refuted.

The author, John Hawkins, begins his article as follows:

It’s hard to have an honest conversation about gay issues because liberals treat anything other than outright celebration of all things gay as “hate.” That doesn’t leave people much room to discuss a complicated issue that involves real human beings who often have to deal with a lot of challenges because of their sexual orientation.

How sad for Hawkins that saying bigoted things about gay people is no longer socially acceptable! How hard it must be to be anti-gay in this day and age! I mean only three decades ago you could print stuff like this with a straight face, and today you can’t even equate gay people with pedophiles without people getting all upset!

Now, watch how different this rhetoric is:

If you’re a compassionate person, you have to feel some sympathy when you talk to people who are closeted because they’re afraid that their relatives won’t accept them or someone who feels isolated and alone because his sexual orientation makes it impossible for him to have a romantic relationship with 98% of the population. Life is hard for most of us — and if you know people who are gay, chances are you recognize that it’s even harder for them.

Yet and still, you can’t deny reality because there may be a few people who don’t want to hear it. Sure, you don’t want to unnecessarily create pain in people’s lives, but ultimately, nothing creates more misery than abandoning common sense because the obvious truth might hurt someone’s feelings.

This is what bigotry looks like in the mid-2010s. It’s couched in love, and even in compassion, but beyond that veneer it’s comprised of the same arguments and same concerns that have been rehashed for decades—the claim that being gay is a choice, that converting people back to being straight is a worthy goal, that gay people have lives that are less fulfilling, and that gay people are a threat to children. It’s not the content that has changed, it’s the packaging—and that distinction matters.

And now let’s get into the meat of the post:

1) You can’t change your gender: Have you ever heard of Body Integrity Identity Disorder? Long story short, there are people out there who believe they’re “supposed to” have less limbs. Maybe they want to get rid of an arm or a leg. The “problem” these people run into is that surgeons consider it unethical to remove a healthy, functioning body part and refuse to saw off their limbs. Instead, they just refer these people to a psychologist. That seems to make sense, doesn’t it?

Yet, when we have people who want to mutilate themselves to “change their sex,” we don’t treat that as a mental disorder. Instead, we take it seriously. So seriously in fact, we have 9 year olds getting hormone treatments so they can pretend to be another gender.

If a client went to a doctor and said he thought he was a cow, we wouldn’t send him to a surgeon to get horns and udders attached. Yet, you can no more change your sex than you can change into a cow. Even if you have a “sex change,” your sex hasn’t actually changed. A man who mutilates himself to look like a woman, still isn’t female. He can’t have a child. Very few men are going to knowingly date a man who’s surgically mutilated himself to look like a woman. This is a terrible, horrible thing we’re doing as a society to these mentally ill people. Instead of getting them the mental help they need, we’re catering to their pathology. It’s cruel, it’s wrong, and a more compassionate society wouldn’t wallow so deeply in political correctness that we’d allow people to do this to themselves.

Note that bigots are still bigots, they just start their posts with platitudes to how difficult it must be to be a closeted gay person, how hard life must be for them. Without, you know, the circumspection to realize that they are the reason there are closeted gay people. And frankly, that may be the most frustrating part of this.

This entire section on trans people drips of an unfamiliarity with the issues that is likely born of life in an echo chamber. Look, we know that 40% of transgender people attempt suicide. We also know that transition decreases this number—by a lot. We know that transition decreases dysphoria and improves mental health, but Hawkins throws all of this away by insisting that “you can’t change your gender” and that the compassionate thing to do—somehow—is to tell trans people they’re mentally ill and need “help.” And just what does this help look like, one wonders. Perhaps it looks something like gay conversion therapy? The sad thing is that Hawkins probably thinks he is actually being compassionate.

What about the nine-year-old girl Hawkins mentions? I followed the link he offered and I used this thing called google, and guess what? The child in question isn’t scheduled to start hormone therapy until she’s 15, and won’t have gender reassignment surgery until she’s 18. Yes, she’s starting hormone blockers at age 9. But you know what? There is a big difference between hormone blockers (which temporarily suppress puberty by preventing the release of testosterone or estrogen) and hormone therapy (which involves taking cross-gender hormones, i.e. testosterone or estrogen). But you know what? The internet is full of articles on conservative news sites stating that the nine-year-old in question was starting hormone therapy when in fact the video they linked to as proof stated that she was starting hormone blockers. Nice fact checking there—and again with the echo chamber.

And now the next point:

2) Some people do choose to be gay: Most Americans tend to believe that people who are gay either choose it OR are born that way. However, the evidence suggests that there tends to more of a range of sexual behavior for people who are gay. Some people are clearly “born” gay and have always been attracted to the same sex just like most heterosexuals are only interested in contact with the opposite sex. However, there are also people who are more sexually ambiguous and some of them CHOOSE to be gay.

It appears that Hawkins has never heard the term “bisexual. The bi-erasure here is perhaps the most extreme I have ever seen. And it’s not over.

If you want to see an actual example of that, here’s an excerpt of an interview I did with lesbian talk show host, Tammy Bruce.

John Hawkins: Let me ask a related question to this because I thought this was kind of fascinating because it’s so different from what you often hear. In the book, you were talking about how you came to decide that you wanted to be a lesbian and you pretty much framed it in those terms. It was a choice. You were attracted to men and women and you chose to — you just liked women better — would you say that’s common or….

Tammy Bruce: Well, it’s difficult to say because it’s so politically incorrect to ask these questions. It’s one of the reasons why ‘ and I’ve made that discussion in the epilogue ‘ so that…parents (could allow) their children (to read) at their discretion.

…There is such a variety, at least within the community itself, …about why women identify as lesbians, but even what that means.

There are a number of women who identify as lesbians, some of them, somewhat well-known, have regular liaisons with men. …There are some women in the community that you could get to know…who’ve experienced violence at the hands of men and have turned to women for that reason. There are other women who say that they’ve been gay since they’ve been born and that, of course, is also politically incorrect to question or to ask them how or why they know that.

All of this, and still no acknowledgement that bisexual people exist. Hawkins even mentions a woman who was “attracted to men and women” and yet still he can’t get wrap his head around the existence of bisexual people. It sounds like Hawkins’ real beef here is with whom who are sexually attracted to both men and women choosing to identify as lesbians rather than as bisexual—or at least, I’d think that was his beef if I actually thought he knew bisexuality was a thing. But then, Hawkins isn’t the only one to use the existence of bisexuality as a supposed “proof” that gay people can change, when in fact that it is nothing of the sort.

Again I’m sensing the echo chamber, and again I get the feeling that Hawkins actually thinks he’s making a big reveal here—and in the process being more truthful and compassionate than those on the other side of the issue.

If that doesn’t convince you, then ask yourself why so many “gay” Americans end up with kids?

In the US, around 37% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people have a child, about 60% of which are biological.

In other words, there are a lot of “gay” Americans having enough straight sex at some point in their lives to produce a kid. Again, it’s clear that there are also people who are “born that way,” but there are an awful lot of gay Americans who don’t fall into that category.

First, I have a lesbian friend who has a biological son conceived via sperm donor. She came out as a lesbian in college and has never had sex with a man, and yet she fits within Hawkins’ percentages above. But second, is Hawkins aware that many gay people enter straight marriages in the vain hope that it will “cure” them, have biological children, and then realize they can’t live a lie? And third, once again, what about bisexual people? Hawkins seems to be lumping them in with gay and lesbian individuals, but their having children with members of the opposite sex presents no contradiction to their sexual orientation.

But let’s humor Hawkins for a moment. Let’s imagine that people do choose to be gay. Let’s imagine, in fact, that anyone can choose whether to be straight, bisexual, gay/lesbian, and so on. Why, in this hypothetical world, would we insist that everyone choose to be straight? Why not let people choose their own sexual orientation and leave it at that? What possible reason can there be for deciding other people’s sexual orientation for them? This is a point where we can push “compassionate” bigots, forcing them to reveal the raw bigotry undergirding their positions.

3) Conversion therapy is a good thing if people want it: Let me say it as clearly as I can: No gay American should be pressured, harassed or involuntarily forced to go to therapy to try to treat their gayness. That sounds more like brainwashing than therapy and it’s not something that should be going on in this country.

On the other hand, if someone who’s gay WANTS to be treated, why should he be stopped from seeing a therapist? Granted, it would probably be futile for someone who has been attracted to the same sex since birth to try to change his orientation via counseling, but as we’ve already noted, not everyone is in that boat.

There are plenty of “gay” Americans who also feel some attraction to the opposite sex. What’s wrong with letting them get therapy if they want it and think it will make them happier? As a psychology major, I can tell you that I’ve read numerous old psychology books that matter-of-factly mention therapists successfully treating homosexual patients who then went on to date, marry, and have children. Does that mean it worked for every patient? Of course, not. No treatment works for everyone. But, would it work for some people who want treatment? Apparently, it does.

So, why should this even be a political issue? Because it makes some gay people who don’t believe they can change or don’t want to change uncomfortable? Because it might mean they have to tell some hopeful relative that, no, that therapy isn’t for them? That’s certainly not a conversation anyone would want to have, but it’s morally wrong to deny therapy to people who might benefit from it because it makes other people uncomfortable.

Look, no one is talking about banning a consenting adult from talking to another consenting adult. If you want to go talk to someone you call a “therapist” about how to stop your same-sex attractions, fine. It’s a free country. What we’re talking about are two things, really—first, gay conversion therapy for minors, which is inherently coercive, and second, whether therapists can offer a discredited form of junk therapy as therapy and retain their licenses. This sort of elision—acting as though banning conversion therapy for minors is somehow the same thing as banning consenting adults speaking with other consensual adults about their sexuality—is common in these sorts of conversations—and is something we can call out.

And notice, again, the bi-erasure. Hawkins mentions “old psychology books” that speak “matter-of-factly” about successful conversions of gay individuals to straight lifestyles. Look, Exodus International, a ministry that set out to “cure” gay people, folded a few years ago because it didn’t work. Can bisexual people choose to settle down with someone of the opposite sex? Absolutely! But people with only same-sex attractions can’t be “cured”—something even Hawkins admits. But you know what? Bisexual people who settle down with someone of the opposite sex are not cured gay people. In fact, they are still bisexual people.

4) Gay bullies have become commonplace in America: The biggest jerks you will ever run across are people who feel entitled to act like creeps because they believe they’re victims. A lot of gay Americans have had bad experiences with people who’ve treated them poorly because they’re gay. It’s unfair, it’s wrong, and it’s something that shouldn’t happen.

Unfortunately, a small subset of gay, liberal Americans wear their victimhood as a badge and believe it entitles them to oppress people who haven’t hurt them in any way. The whole idea that an unwilling Christian baker or photographer should be forced to bake a cake or take pictures at a gay wedding is fascistic. It’s similarly despicable to try to get people fired for opposing gay marriage. The people doing these things aren’t victims or crusading for civil rights; they’re just run-of-the-mill ***holes who happen to be waving a rainbow flag.

Ohhhh this is such a perfect moment for this video!

Looking carefully, though, this doesn’t appear to actually be what Hawkins is getting at here. His actual argument appears to be not that gay people can be assholes just like anyone else but hater that if you’re a gay person and you expect businesses to serve you the same way they would anyone else, you’re a fascistic jerk. This seems to be the main thrust of Hawkins’ argument here—that gay people who don’t want to be discriminated against are assholes. That leaves me curious. Were black people who didn’t want to be discriminated against assholes too? Why is it an asshole thing to expect to be served like anyone else, but not an asshole thing to deny service based on someone’s sexual orientation? Someone’s priorities seem slightly askew.

Hawkins says it’s “despicable” to try to get someone fired for being against marriage equality while seemingly unaware that we live in a nation where, in many areas of the country, people are actually be fired simply for being gay. In fact, we live in a country where an increasing number of Christian colleges are demanding the right to actively discriminate against LGBTQ students while receiving federal funds—and getting this right, too. But Hawkins is concerned that someone might be fired for being a bigot? Okay then. Those priorities are interesting, to say the least—but they’re also something that can be called out.

5) Gay scoutmasters would be more likely to molest Boy Scouts: There’s a lot of back and forth on whether gay men are more likely to be pedophiles than heterosexuals, but in the end, it really doesn’t matter very much when it comes to the Scouts.

Why is that?

Because a teenager in the Boy Scouts shouldn’t be spending a lot of alone time out in the woods with someone who could potentially be attracted to him. This is so basic we don’t even think about it when teen girls are involved. If a thirty year old, strapping male P.E. teacher took a group of 15 year old cheerleaders out in the woods, their parents would GO INSANE. Incidentally, they’d be right to be upset. Similarly, a gay man has no business being in the woods with a bunch of teenage boys. In fact, if the Boy Scouts ever allowed gay Scoutmasters in their organization, it would kill them as dead as Disco because most parents don’t want their child spending a lot of alone time with an adult who could be sexually attracted to him. In fact, that is so obvious it’s clear that the people pushing this idea the hardest are primarily concerned with destroying the Boy Scouts, not enabling “gay rights.”

No man of any sexual orientation has any business taking a group of teenage boys into the woods alone. Look, my daughter is in Girl Scouts. She’s a Daisy Scout, and is in a troop with half a dozen other kindergarten and first graders. They meet after school. A couple of weeks ago her troop leader was going to be half an hour late to one of their meetings, and I was tapped to step in and help out even though the other leader could have easily handled half a dozen girls for half an hour. I was asked to come in because they have a rule that you always have to have two adults. Not one, two.

This two-adult policy is considered best practices for protecting children against sexual abuse in clubs and groups that involve children. If Boy Scouts doesn’t have a policy like this, they desperately need to adopt one. After all, without accountability measures in place, what’s to prevent a Jerry Sandusky—who was straight-married, by the way—from becoming a troop leader and sexually abusing the boys in his care? Oh wait, google to the rescue! It turns out Boy Scouts does have this policy! It’s listed under “Scouting’s Barriers to Abuse“:

Two-deep leadership on all outings required. A minimum of two registered adult leaders, or one registered leader and a participating Scout’s parent, or another adult is required for all trips and outings. One of these adults must be 21 years of age or older.

And actually, they have a whole list of prevention measures, including things like this:

No youth may share a tent with an adult or a person of the opposite sex other than a family member, guardian, or authorized nonrelative adult. Assigning youth members more than two years apart in age to sleep in the same tent should be avoided unless the youth are relatives.

Maybe if we spent more time putting policies in place to prevent sexual abuse and less time portraying gay people as the threat, our children would be safer. Actually, scratch that maybe, because there’s no maybe about it. A focus on gay men—or trans women—as inherently a threat gets in the way of our ability to recognize actual threats. It’s one of the reasons churches so frequently overlook abuse—if someone pulls off a good godly image, they’re given a free pass, and no one sees any reason to create policies that focus on accountability and abuse prevention. It’s the image of the gay man as a threat that is the actual threat to our children, not the gay man.

Also? Boy Scouts now allows for gay scoutmasters (though it leaves that decision up to the individual troop), and as far as I can see nothing has imploded.

But what really struck me upon reading Hawkins’ article were his desperate attempts to portray himself as not at all anti-gay. Not at all! Hawkins began his article by expressing concern for how difficult it must be to be a closeted gay person, or an out gay person looking for a partner (these are apparently hard to find), and then he went on to argue that being gay is frequently a choice, that gay conversion therapy should be defended, that gay people who expect to not be discriminated against are bullies, and that it would be totes dangerous to allow gay people to be Boy Scout scoutmasters. NOPE. There is so much noping going on over here right now.

Still, this is the direction in which anti-gay rhetoric appears to be going. It’s the world of people who totally don’t hate gay people, but you know, children just need a mother and a father. It’s an expression of concern and compassion that masks a “just the facts” bigotry no less painful for its deceptive sugar coating. It’s a world where Focus on the Family can publish a resource titled “Responding in Love to an Adult Gay Child” that encourages parents to state their “concerns about the morality, health risks and potential dangers involved with the gay lifestyle.” It’s the future of anti-gay bigotry. 

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