Monday, October 18, 2004

The Chemical Damnation of Mary Cheney (and of everyone else, too) ...

Lost in the hubbub over Kerry's remark about Mary Cheney is the round-about assertion he made at the same time: "If you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as."

Here Kerry pays homage to a new article of political faith: Homosexuality is genetically determined before birth, and in no way involves choice. Those who question homosexual behavior, therefore, are questioning the inherent nature of the homosexual - and engaging in a hostile discrimination which is no different than criticizing someone for the color of their skin. This is the Essentialist Theory of homosexuality, but political activists assure us that it is no theory at all - it's an irrefutable fact, and anyone who doubts it is crazy at best.

When Essentialism began working its way into public debate a few years ago, it was not universally welcomed on the left. A number of gay activists took strong exception to the idea that they did not choose to be who they were; they saw Essentialism as a cop-out - a craven concession to the idea that homosexuality is immoral or undesirable conduct. A lot of minority activists didn't like it, either, implying as it did that being gay is no different than being black or Hispanic. They saw this as an encroachment by the gay community (a predominantly white community) on some jealously guarded Civil Rights territory.

These dissenters have largely been muzzled (though not entirely) as opposition to Essentialism has been ridiculed and demonized by the left. Before the big wet blanket descended, it was possible for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to take a neutral and objective approach, in this 1993 statement:

A study to be released later this week by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that there is a correlation between a specific chromosomal region in human males and homosexuality. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force NGLTF) welcomes study into the complexities of human sexuality. Regardless of the scientific origins of homosexuality, however, NGLTF calls for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Fair enough. A worthy call for an end to discrimination, without putting all their eggs into Dean Hamer's basket. A wise choice, as Hamer's NIH study has since been pulverized. And they wisely referred to "the complexities of human sexuality", something which the popularizers of the "Gay Gene" have treated with gross disrespect. However, the dogma was taking shape, as the NGLTF went on to say:

"The NIH study is an important addition to the growing body of evidence indicating a genetic basis for homosexuality in some people," said Peri Jude Radecic, NGLTF Deputy Director of Public Policy. "And it shows that homosexuality is a naturally occurring and common variation among humans -- a fact that gay and lesbian people have known all along."

And the political stakes are specified:

In the past, Right Wing organizations have claimed that homosexuality is not genetically based and some groups therefore encouraged "reparative therapy" to "cure" gay people of their "abnormal behavior." ... "We know that the Right Wing will use any research results against gay and lesbian civil rights, because theirs is a movement based not on seeking the truth but on perpetuating bigotry," Radecic said. "Our movement, on the other hand, wants to end discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people, regardless of how or why sexual orientations vary."

Wherein the suggestion is made that opposition to Essentialism gives aid and comfort to those who would treat homosexuality as a disease (though the idea that gays suffer from a disease is very similar to the idea that homosexuality is entirely determined by genetics - in both cases choice is denigrated).

Essentialism has mostly reduced human sexuality to a crude caricature by pretending that it is a simple matter of roosters and hens in a barnyard. Sexuality is portrayed as a kind of DNA-coded toggle switch with three settings: gay, straight, and David Bowie. In fact, sexual behavior covers an enormous amount of diverse ground, including some very troublesome ground (sadism, pedophilia, blood fetish, etc.) that no one is eager to call deterministic - how is it that socially acceptable forms of sexuality are deterministic, but abnormal sexuality is commonly recognized as being the product of bad nurturing?

Attempts to "cure" homosexuality are generally guilty of the same false reductionism. Homosexuality is a permanent possibility of human behavior. Therefore it exists, has always existed, and always will exist.

Of course there have always been those who argued that all behavior is minutely determined, either by genetics or by something even more profound - we had a term for it at my old school: Chemical Damnation.

To be continued ...