So an article by Michael W. Hannon called “Against Heterosexuality” popped up in First Things recently. The basic gist of it is that the language of gay/straight etc. is a cultural construct that hurts everyone involved. For people in the heterosexual camp, their desires become a sort of badge of moral superiority, while people in the homosexual camp are straightjacketed into the gay lifestyle, as it were.
You all likely know that I’m no longer much of a fan of essentialist language when it comes to sexual desire, and so I’m sympathetic to Hannon’s argument. But I also grow weary of these terminological battles. It seems at times like the injunction to treat people as people first quickly gets lost in needlessly divisive contretemps over linguistic purity. Or maybe I’m just a little cantankerous.
Anyhow, Mark Joseph Stern at the Slate did a bit of a critique of the article, labeling what Hannon is doing as a sort of “new homophobia”:
This argument is cruelly clever. Mainstream, garden-variety homophobia was doomed to failure as soon as it accepted the existence of gay people. Once gays became widely seen as a class of humans with immutable identities, like women and blacks, most homophobia became politically and philosophically untenable. America was, after all, founded on principles of equality and liberty; how could the government deny basic rights to a group of people just because they were born a little different?
But a certain faction of homophobes maintained their insistence that the gay identity is an illegitimate construct—and now that mainstream homophobia is receding, this fringe group is taking center stage.
A couple of points: assuming that the only reason for upholding the Christian sexual ethic is a hatred for gay people is a pretty good way to not think about things. You may disagree with it, but the idea that there is no rationale behind it aside from wanting to see them disgusting queers get drawn and quartered is empirically false, and shows a gross ignorance of an entire philosophical/theological tradition on the nature of sexuality, and also galling in light of all the really hurtful things in the world – Uganda’s recent act, anyone? It’s like saying, “the only reason why you’re for gay marriage is because you’re just really depraved.” Good luck trying to start a dialogue there. Hannon’s language may perhaps get a little intense and polemical, but this isn’t the Westboro Baptist Church here.
It also trades on the assumption that people like me don’t exist, or that if I do exist, it is because I have so internalized all that homophobia and so succumbed to false consciousness that I have rendered myself unable to think clearly about this and can only possibly be saved from my slavery by, well, by people like Stern.
Stern’s argument there states that the realization that, hey, some people are just attracted to their own sex for whatever reason and that’s just a fact of life for them, was crucial for disarming ‘homophobia’. And here I might almost almost align with him, because I do think it is a good thing that we have become more knowledgeable and sensitive regarding homosexuality, and that people can talk frankly about it without wrecking their lives. I do think it is a good thing that we no longer have draconian and inhumane laws regarding sexual morality.
But, again, the idea that this somehow defeats Christian sexual morality just isn’t true; it just means that we should be more sensitive than we were in the past. The prohibition on same-sex behavior doesn’t rest or fall on whether or not the feelings that lead to it are a choice. It rests on whether we can say that human sexuality has a specific telos which is both unitive and procreative, over whether Genesis’ description of the male/female binary is normative, etc., etc. We can debate the merits of these ideas until we’re blue in the face, but unless you’re actually willing to recognize where your opponent is coming from, things aren’t going to go anywhere.
Look, dude, life is complicated. Saying that you shouldn’t have gay relationships is not the same thing as saying that there is no love in those relationships, or that the people in those relationships are monsters who need to be thrown to the wolves; they are, like anyone else, people made in the image and likeness of God, and who have the same dignity that that confers. There are very few unmixed goods and evils in this life.
(dammit I am getting distracted from my reading/papers again)