Let’s Talk About Homosexuality

Everybody else seems to be. (Trolling for traffic? Me?)

I’ve done it once before myself, but it’s apparently the topic of choice at the moment. For instance, Maureen Dowd has written a rambling, almost incomprehensible piece (I know, what’s different?) that somehow morphed from Bush-bashing to lesbianism that showed up in today’s NYT. In it, she refers to this Washington Post piece about teen girls being “partway gay.” (That stirred up a pretty long thread over at AR15.com, too, as you might imagine.) On top of that we have, oh for example: Ellen, Will and Grace, Bravo’s Boy Meets Boy and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, innumerable films, Madonna’s lesbian kisses at the Grammys, the gay marriage controversy, the “Defense of Marriage” act, and – my personal favorite – South Park episode 708: South Park is Gay. (I DARE you to watch that episode and not laugh.)

That’s just a short list off the top of my head.

Clayton Cramer is right about this: America, at least the popular culture portion of it, celebrates homosexuality rather than denigrates it.

On my way home this evening I was listening to the Hugh Hewitt show, (yes, being an agnostic does not prevent me from listening to evangelical Christian radio talk shows – I’m quite secure in my lack of faith) and Hugh was discussing homosexuality and Howard Dean. At issue was Dean’s assertion (also in the Washington Post) that:

“The overwhelming evidence is that there is very significant, substantial genetic component to it. From a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people.”

Uh, right Doc.

Not that I disagree with the idea that homosexuality is in some part genetic. I actually think that’s probably the case, but the bit about it not being sin because God was responsible for it I find… well “laughable” doesn’t quite cover it. The Bible (you know, the revealed Word of God?) is pretty explicit on the topic:

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination”. Leviticus 18:22

“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.” Leviticus 20:12

(Both from the King James version.) Interestingly enough, there appears to be no similar prohibition (or penalty) for women “laying together.” At any rate, it would appear that the Christian God has a bit of a problem with at least male homosexuality, and, as a result, so do His devoted followers – understandably so. As I mentioned before, Clayton Cramer seems to have a pretty serious problem with homosexuality across the board, as he seems to favor “denigrating” it. Nor do I think this religious aversion is limited to Christians. I believe both the other Abrahamic faiths have the same or similar prohibitions, and I’ll admit ignorance when it comes to other faiths.

But there’s a major argument going on about just what constitutes homosexuality, and that argument isn’t limited to the Christians and the doctors. Even the gay community has a bit of a split over it.

The burning question is, of course, “Is homosexuality a choice?” I say no, but homosexual activity IS.

Please, put down the torches! Let me explain. There is homosexuality, and then there is homosexual activity – and there’s an important distinction between the two.

Homosexuality is, as far as I am concerned, the mental disposition (ignoring whatever cause) that makes one exclusively physically attracted to the same sex, even if the person in question never engages in a homosexual act.

Homosexual activity is sexual activity between two (or more) people of the same sex regardless of their physical attraction. Homosexual activity ranges from the physical act between a lifelong monogamous couple to homosexual gang-rape. (As Den Beste puts it, DON’T WRITE LETTERS – I’m not equating the two, I’m setting a definition. There is no assumed, implied, or stated value here.)

It is my belief that homosexuality is a relatively rare thing, but that it is, in fact, “natural” since it has been mentioned in the historical record about as far back as our written history goes. Here’s where it gets controversial, though: I think there’s most probably more than one “cause” of homosexuality. I have absolutely no doubt that some homosexuals are “born that way.” I’m a great believer in the bell curve, and find it improbable to the point of ridicule that this would not be the case. I also believe that homosexuality can be the result of or at least influenced by such environmental factors as child abuse and public acceptance of homosexual behavior. Homosexuality was, for decades, treated as a mental illness. Then, the American Psychiatric Association declared in 1973 that homosexuality “does not necessarily constitute a psychiatric disorder.” I think they’re right, it doesn’t, necessarily. There are people still today who work to “cure” homosexuals – with varying “success,” but now people get treated for homophobia, too.

Like I said, I’m a firm believer in the bell curve, and I think, therefore that there is a broad potential for sexual behavior in the human species. Let’s face it, after self-preservation, reproduction is the most powerful urge in life. As Robert Heinlein put it, “A zygote is a gamete’s way of making another gamete.” Without assigning a moral value to it, homosexuality does nothing to accomplish that. Homosexuality would appear to be an evolutionary dead-end, but it keeps recurring in our species. Then again, so do other things detrimental to possible reproduction. This doesn’t make homosexuality or any other reproduction-preventing condition “wrong” or “immoral.” It’s just another condition of humanity.

But homosexual activity, I think, is far more common that the specific condition of homosexuality, and the amount of that activity is strongly affected by environment. Broadly: culture, but specifically the immediate environment of any population. Ancient Greece is held up as a society in which homosexual activity was not denigrated, (nor, so far as I can tell, celebrated) but accepted. As a result, homosexual activity was not uncommon. Then again, even in tightly controlled populations where it might result in severe punishment or even death, homosexual activity still occurs.

My point is that people who engage in homosexual acts do so for a wide variety of reasons. There is no simple “nature or nurture” answer. Some people engage in homosexual acts due to mental aberration that ought to be treated (and for that matter, the same holds true for some people who engage in strictly heterosexual acts.) Some people may engage in homosexual acts because they find emotional comfort in someone who happens to be of the same sex. (Anne Heche comes immediately to mind.) But overall, I think that as we come out of the womb we have place in the bell curve of human sexuality, and where we end up is strongly affected by our immediate environment (family, friends) and more subtly by our society. I think the bell curve tends us strongly towards heterosexuality because that way lays reproduction, but the pleasure circuitry that goes along with our sexual urge affects us too. If homosexuality is not strongly denigrated by the society in which you live, then as more than one wag has put it, your chances of getting lucky might be doubled.

Personally, I’m a product of the 70’s and 80’s. Male homosexuality was strongly denigrated during that period, but female homosexuality was not. That, I think, is responsible for what the Washington Post was reporting in female teen populations today – increasing social acceptance has lead to an increased incidence in the activity, even though there is probably no higher a percentage of women who identify themselves as homosexual than there was twenty years ago. Our society now largely accepts, even encourages, acts of female homosexuality (e.g.: Madonna, Britney, and Christina), and is grudgingly beginning to accept acts of male homosexuality. (You’ll note, however, that in any episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy the most the audience is going to be exposed to is a hug. Well, maybe a kiss on the cheek, but absolutely no tongue.) Is this a sign of the moral collapse of America? Well, if you’re an Evangelical Christian, I’d imagine you’re wondering if you should drop your car insurance because Rapture must be right around the corner, but no, I don’t really think so. On the other hand, the Mepham High School hazing incident(s) tell us that there are major problems to be found, and however much I disagree with Clayton Cramer on the overall topic of homosexuality, he does have a point that behavior that is acceptable in San Francisco would be considered pathology anywhere else.

But I don’t think it signals the end of America. We’ve got much bigger problems than that.

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