HRC and Mormons speaking past one another?

I could have posted this as a comment in the previous thread about the thousands of gay activists in SLC who are there because of Boyd Packer’s remarks. But what I want to say about the situation, I felt warrants a new post.

Something I want to know is how many of the activists are local, or if HRC put out a bulletin that said “Everyone who can, let’s head to SLC to protest the Mormons again!” I can see HRC’s logic: Mormons contributed to Prop 8, they have the money and organizational power to influence the discourse on this subject in the West, so attack Mormons because they’re the biggest hindrance to gay marriage (which should have happened in California, so that the rest of the country can follow, right?). “Oh, those pesky Mormons. They’re a thorn in the collective gay foot!”

I don’t like it. I don’t believe in a collective gay foot. I don’t think it’s right to filter national concern about gay suicides into a collective campaign against Mormons, based on logic that Mormons (or this particular Mormon leader) are “factually wrong” about “scientific evidence” about homosexuality being “innate.” Which is how HRC frames this.

Perhaps I’m too read in queer theory to know that it’s not about these things. The Andrew Sullivans of the gay community decided in the 90s that this was the logic to use against the forces of “evil” — the logic being that of homosexual immutability — because for a lot folks, including Sullivan, this is itself a theological position: that gays are born that way and homophobia is about not adhering to this theo-biological fact. I just really think it’s awful, mostly because this logic leads people to speak past each other when what we really need is new discourse. When Packer says “Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” (referring to innate homosexuality) he is both using decades-old rhetoric (to refer to the biblical story that all temptations can be overcome) and he is asking a theological question: “If gays are born that way, then what about the Mormon worldview?” This is a legitimate line of reasoning from a Mormon perspective and Mormons have been asking it for at least twenty years. Part of the reason I think the Heavenly Father question was removed in the published version of Packer’s talk is because it no longer points to the biblical story as much as it points to the incompetence of Mormon leaders to make sense of homosexuality.

Packer’s language at the time of concern over gay suicides does make the Church seem insensitive. Plus his language just really shows he that he is from a different era. But I would also suggest that homosexual immutability is not the way to go on this subject. From my personal queer theological perspective, Mormon thinking on this topic is quite important, even if the current results in the Mormon context are bad. For a couple decades now, the Church has taken an unwavering position that behavior is more important than genes. If you keep arguing “genes,” the Church will keep arguing “behavior.” The importance of arguing behavior over genes is the notion of choice, and as many queer activists have stated: people should be allowed to be gay because of the importance of everyone choosing their romantic and intimate lives, as opposed to having to be with a certain gender because of genes or eternal gender roles. Think of this way: if being gay were genetic, and we live in an era of genetic modification, then unless people are okay with being gay, then people are going to try to get rid of gayness regardless. And Mormons will be the first to donate to the gay-eradicating tech firm unless people find a way to speak to each other. The origin of homosexuality is in its framing as something “different than” or “worse than” its other. HRC gets this when they talk about the APA’s position against reparative therapy, but being against reparative therapy is not the same as being for homosexual immutability.

40 thoughts on “HRC and Mormons speaking past one another?

  1. I know the HRC is coming to Utah, but won’t be here until next week. The protest last night was pretty homegrown. Most of the people were Utahns, even if they drove an hour or two to get to the protest.

    I would also suggest that at least half and maybe a majority of the protesters weren’t even queer. A lot of the people in my area straight, including an entire class of kids on social media who talked their teacher into letting them have class at temple square. I saw lots of LDS families, including parents who brought their very willing grade school children along.

    Listen to this podcast from Mormon Expressions for an idea of who was there:
    http://mormonexpression.com/2010/10/episode-87-the-october-7th-2010-lds-protest/

    I do agree with your larger point that we need a world where being gay is not just an accepted biological variation, but a respectable and valid CHOICE. I don’t know how to get there, but I am working for a world where people can choose to be gay if they darn well want to.

    But I think what will really get the attention of the guys in SLC is that they will lose numbers over this. the podcast includes an interview with a young woman who had an epiphany and went from being a believing Mormon Sunday morning to being so revolted by Packer’s speech that she doesn’t plan to go back to church.

  2. Let me fix this really messed up sentence: “A lot of the people in my area were straight, including a group of kids from a class on social media who talked their teacher into letting them have class at temple square.”

  3. I intend to respond more fully later on, but for now, the first thing that jumps out at me is your assumption that the pushback against Mormon influence in the political arena has somehow long been SOP for gay activists.

    It wasn’t until very recently that HRC had any idea how to deal with the Mormons. Never mind EQCA (who had no clue).

    Without any intent to sound harsh, I’ve long suspected that you underestimate the political clout and reach of the LDS church. No tinfoil hats required. It is what it is.

    Maybe it’s time we (re)explore that clout on this blog. Do you think Joe Solmonese just woke up one day and thought: “Let’s target Mormons”? No, he’s had plenty of evidence sent his way that confirms the facts on the ground: Absent support from the top LDS leadership, Prop 8 never would have gotten on the ballot; going forward, if there’s any chance to neutralize Mormon enthusiasm for gay marriage bans, that would pretty much clear the way for marriage equality.

    Not because Mormons represent some insurmountably large chunk of the electorate, but because they’re so goddam easy to mobilize. And when it comes to electoral politics, mobilization is more than half the battle. Do you remember how stunned you were when GWB won a second term? How did that happen? As Mormons, maybe we ought to know just how many precinct workers in Ohio were LDS. They flew out there from “the West” and nobody covered the story. And the No on 8 campaign certainly wasn’t interested in what 2004 portended until it was too late.

  4. Holly @ 1:

    I would also suggest that at least half and maybe a majority of the protesters werent even queer.

    Cool. Sorry that I irresponsibly painted a monolithic picture of just “gay activists,” but I’m glad you caught my larger point.

    In the reactionary politics of Mormon leaders, they keep bringing up the innate thing, and I have to think that they aren’t just pulling this from nowhere, but rather the discourse that they think needs to be addressed.

    I dont know how to get there, but I am working for a world where people can choose to be gay if they darn well want to.

    You see this with young queer people today. They will say, “I’m not out of the closet. But I’m not in it, either. I’m just me.” There’s a real change in the way sexuality is being framed so that innate homosexuality is just as insulting as compulsory heterosexuality. So older gay people who control the discourse and fight tooth and nail with older straight people need to listen to the way these young people are talking about themselves. If you read, for example, Elder Holland’s 2007 article about the conversation he had with a young gay male in its generational context as opposed to its heteronormative one, you’re going to find something interesting, I think. Holland says, “Don’t use your sexuality to define yourself,” which actually makes a lot of sense to young queer people. The young man had a bright smile afterward, if I recall. The point is, we have to move away from sexual determinism to the realm of choice, but I’m not sure how to “queer” Mormon theology in the process, if you know what I mean.

  5. The statement (not question) Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? is really at the crux of the matter. It does speak to the issue of Mormon worldview, and how it would appear to be impossible that God would create someone gay, given the assumption that gay sex is inherently sinful.

    But the phrase is problematic on many other levels, and speaks to the whole problem of evil. So I understand the prudence in dropping it from the written transcript. But it really is the question that needs to be asked.

    Fortunately, worldview issues can be overcome. We’ve done it with Evolution. We’ve managed to cope with the problem of evil. So it does seem possible to adopt a deeper understanding of human sexuality and gender beyond the Bronze Age view.

  6. Chino @ 3:

    Do you think Joe Solmonese just woke up one day and thought: Lets target Mormons? No, hes had plenty of evidence sent his way that confirms the facts on the ground: Absent support from the top LDS leadership, Prop 8 never would have gotten on the ballot; going forward, if theres any chance to neutralize Mormon enthusiasm for gay marriage bans, that would pretty much clear the way for marriage equality.

    I said in the post that Mormons are targeted because they are the biggest hindrance to gay marriage, which I wouldn’t say is an underestimation of the Church’s clout. But if you look at the specificity of HRC’s targeting of Mormons — for example, their website has a post titled: BREAKING NEWS: Mormon Church Attempts to Re-Write History; On-Line Change Proof Sermon was Harmful and Dangerous — this is too much. From that article:

    People across this country still need to hear from Elder Packer that he was wrong and that his statements were dangerous, said HRC President Joe Solmonese. Trying to re-write history is simply not good enough. Elder Packer and the Church must immediately and fully correct the factual record. Sexual orientation and gender identity is an immutable characteristic of being human and no matter how hard you pray, that wont change.

    If you read my post above, you might understand how this language is not the way to go and amounts to little more than ideological chest-pounding.

  7. I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. Is it that the discourse should be about, “even though my genes made me male, that doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to make choices in my own love life”? Are you saying it should be a conversation about free agency, and how genes don’t determine behavior?

    If so, I like it. In the same line of logic that says, “even if you’re born gay, you don’t have to act on your sexual orientation, ” you can counter, “even if I was born male, I don’t have to conform to a cultural gender role in my behavior.”

  8. Theres a real change in the way sexuality is being framed so that innate homosexuality is just as insulting as compulsory heterosexuality.

    Alan — I agree that that will be great when homosexuality is unnoteworthy enough that people won’t have a problem with homosexuality even if/when it is by choice. I’m fine with respecting the POV of people don’t want to be boxed into the belief that they have no choice in the matter. However, there are plenty of other people who say “this is who I am, I didn’t choose it and I can’t change it (but I wouldn’t even if I could).” Those people’s POV deserves to be respected as well — their experience shouldn’t be dismissed as some sort of insult to fellow queers.

  9. Carla @ 7:

    Are you saying it should be a conversation about free agency, and how genes dont determine behavior?

    Yes, which is what LDS leaders have been saying for a while. Except, in Mormonism, there’s the “eternal gender” caveat that seems to cancel out what they’re advocating.

    chanson @ 8:

    Those peoples POV deserves to be respected as well their experience shouldnt be dismissed as some sort of insult to fellow queers.

    I’m not dismissing their experience, but I am arguing that “choice” trumps their politics concerning gayness, because choice is more inclusive. The problem is that the “innate” voice has become the “gay” voice of queer politics — when really, homosexuality runs the gamut from people who remember being gay as children, to people who say they were closeted to themselves until midlife, to people who say they weren’t gay until midlife, to people who remember being gay as children and are gay no more, to people whose sexuality is partner-dependent.

    When I reread the Solmonese quote above, there’s an interesting turn of phrase in which he says that sexual orientation and gender identity is an immutable characteristic of being human that can’t change, as opposed to sexual orientations and gender identities themselves being immutable. He probably meant the latter, but if he meant the former, then kudos to him.

  10. By the way, this is why Seth Perry’s contribution to Patheos.com is controversial:

    The Church that began with Gods personal appearance now carries out His work with more bureaucratic efficiency than prophetic aplomb

    Granted it’s a bureaucracy, but where’s the efficiency? Unless negative replacement rates herald some kind of newfangled efficiency, I’m left unimpressed.

    The greatest advantage of the staid bureaucracy that will define the Churchs immediate future has been its facilitation of international growth.

    International growth? I served an international mission and reported for duty in my mission office as an AP full of vim, vigor, spunk and 18 months of experience building Brazilian congregations from scratch. Did the Area Representatives give a shit about our retention problems? Or ask how my branches managed to beat the odds and achieve outlier status? Of course not. Before I was “called to the office” … I’d built a congregation from dozens to hundreds as Branch President. Did anyone above me care to hear about how we managed that success? Of course not. According to the Area Rep/aka North American rube, it was obviously the local members’ fault that retention numbers were for shit across the board. Nothing to do with our own inept administration, simply a south-of-the-border inability to internalize Gospel demands.

    Someday there will be a sudden, dramatic, and permanent increase in non-American faces in the global Church leadership greater autonomy afforded to local Church leaders; and tacit acceptance of local idiosyncrasies in worship

    If you think that’s possible, you’ve completely misapprehended the nature of LDS Inc. The Corporation will never, ever relinquish control to international GAs. Every less-than-pasty GA is merely window dressing for the masses.

  11. I’m not a local, but I know from many friends, gay and straight, attending the rally that it was driven by Pride in Utah via Facebook and social media. HRC really doesn’t have a lot to do with it. The genes/behavior bit is interesting but secondary to the more urgent points of 1)keeping religious intrusion out of the civil rights arena and 2) fostering an accepting, nurturing environment within the Church. The theological battles can come later.

  12. Hell, yeah, it was driven by Pride in Utah. And whatever HRC has to do with it comes from years of prodding them to pay attention. Just like this site took years of groundwork before HRC would get on board with their dollars:

    http://nomexposed.org/

    The LDS church might be an opaque monolith, but HRC is not. For those who may have missed my last ten shout-outs re our Main Street Plaza YouTube channel: that it’s achieved 85K views so far is mostly down to HRC. And I’m not even a fan. I enjoy it when Cleve takes Joe to task for his corporate ass-kissing proclivities, but still … c’mon. When Joe does good, what good does busting HRC’s balls do for anyone?

  13. Arthur @ 11: Which came first, the civil rights chicken or the theological egg?

    I’m glad to hear that it’s local foremost. The Church’s support of those nondiscrimination ordinances came about through local dialogue; I trust Utahn queer politics. HRC is gearing up for a press conference next week “in partnership with Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons, Equality Utah, and the Utah Pride Center,” but I kinda wonder why HRC needs to be there. I can see the need for national organizations on national issues, but I just have a low tolerance threshold for how this gets done on the local level, who speaks for whom and why. I’m not hating on HRC. In fact, I’m interested in applying for this.

  14. It’s admittedly past my bedtime, but I want to ask a question that’s been on my mind, so humor me:

    Is anyone here worried about the LDS project completely unraveling in their lifetime?

    If so, I’d suggest you need to take that worry very, very seriously. Especially if you’re young, and interested in Mormonism on an academic level, because this is your future we’re talking about.

    Because it’s going to happen. It’s going to unravel. Daymon Smith is right. There is no “Mormon Studies” … there’s only the latest Atkins diet.

    If it was my kid, I’d suggest he not put his eggs in this basket. It will not find its way to market.

  15. Hell, yeah, it was driven by Pride in Utah.

    One interesting coincidence I’d like people to know about: the Sunstone office, the Utah ACLU office, and the Pride Center are all right next to each other on 300 West in SLC. And they’re all really decent to each other. Sunstone makes a point of offering a good chunk of its GLBTQ sessions on Saturday, when more people can attend, and the Pride Center distributes fliers for Sunstone. The ACLU bought a nice big ad in the 2010 symposium program.

    the Pride Center has a pretty good coffee shop. Joe and Jill Public are welcome to hang out there. It’s actually a really great place. And even if you’re just a straight supporter, once you start paying attention, you realize that the Utah Pride Center does A LOT of work, and does it really well.

  16. You are raising several important points, Alan, most importantly, about the behavior prohibition. Mormons have been engaging the brethren on that for quite a while. The reason why we had to fall back on essentialism was because Packer argued the homosexuality was naturally disordered.

    That remains the position of the Vatican.

    The fact that sexual orientation is a natural trait doesn’t mean, by the way, that homosexuality is genetic and, if it is, the genetic link will quite complex. So it will probably be quite difficult to eradicate homosexuality with tools such as abortion or in-vitro fertilization.

  17. Chino @ 14: Studying Mormons isn’t the same as Mormon Studies. Besides, even if the Church did implode, it would be like a supernova with a dwarf star waiting in the middle; there’d be so much to talk about.

    Hellmut @ 17:

    The reason why we had to fall back on essentialism was because Packer argued the homosexuality was naturally disordered.

    That remains the position of the Vatican.

    Like I’ve said, essentialism will get you nowhere, because that line of reasoning is already subsumed within the behavior model. “Whether or not homosexuality is genetic,” LDS leaders say, “you can control your behavior.” Homosexual immutability is not the only response to this, but saying homosexuality is “natural” is a good start. Basically, these are some of the good words and phrases: natural, a variation, morally neutral, and the bad ones are genetic, innate, immutable. The reason is that the former opens the door for everyone to choose their romantic lives, whereas the latter closes that door even when people think they’re opening it.

  18. I’m loving watching the LDS retreat and retract and redact and act all defensive thanks to Boyd K Packer. Loving it. It’s now national news that the Mormon Church has retreated after pressure and protest from gays and allies.

    The beautiful irony is that the LDS took their idiotic Prop H8 campaign in the hopes that Southern Baptists and other evangelicals would finally accept Mormons as Christians. Instead, the Baptists took the Mormon money and the free labor, and left the LDS holding the bag as poster-children for anti-gay bigotry. And the Evangelicals still don’t accept Mormons as Christians, Mitt Romney gets asked about Boyd Packer’s weirdness and needs to act defensive, it’s just too perfect. Pew Center says 46% of Americans have negative views of Mormons, compared to 17% who have negative views of Jews, and the Evangelicals hate the Mormons as much as they hate the gays. Wow, think about that in historical context. It’s perfect symmetry.

    The net changes everything. If Mormons want to be left alone you need to leave other people alone to live their personal lives and be equal American citizens like the constitution says. If you want your General Conferences to stop being comedy for the entire world, Mormons need to keep backing off. Those of us who grew up LDS are watching every move and will be delighted to expose every single hypocrisy.

    Schadenfreude never tasted so good.

  19. @Chanson– LDS signed up to be punching bags on gay equality, nobody forced them. It’s smart politics to link the anti-gay movement to MOrmons.

    LDS are very distrusted if not despised in America, the least liked group after Muslims. Evangelicals can’t stand Mormons, Catholics don’t trust them, liberals despise them, it’s win-win-win to use the LDS as a wedge for gay rights. I support the HRC campaign to embarrass the Mormons as smart politics. I’ll do my bit as a straight ally to keep pressure on the LDS by mocking them and embarrassing them at every opportunity, using everything I learned from primary thru MTC.

  20. Keep Sweet — That is so true.

    On some level, I feel like I’d rather see them do the right thing than fizzle out. However, the fact that their rotten, selfish strategy is biting them on the ass is certainly a just reward.

  21. p.s. Thanks for not taking offense at my earlier comment. I agree with most of what you said. Their whole anti-gay political mobilization is like the bully who wants to get into the “in” crowd by picking on some other social outcast. It’s rotten and selfish behavior, and the fact that their religious right allies used their efforts ant left them holding the bag is pretty much what the LDS leaders and strategists deserve.

    The Mormons could have chosen to stand by their fellow minorities. Instead they went with the Orwellian double-speak of claiming that protecting the right of the Christian majority to oppress minorities is somehow a critical component of religious freedom.

  22. Chino @ 14: Studying Mormons isnt the same as Mormon Studies. Besides, even if the Church did implode, it would be like a supernova with a dwarf star waiting in the middle; thered be so much to talk about.

    And I’m sure we would (talk about it). By the way, point taken about your good words and I think they bear repeating.

  23. @chanson – Thanks, I was worried that my aside to Alan re Seth Perry’s piece at Patheos.com might be taken as some kind of threadjack. It wasn’t meant to be. Rather, just like it’s important to keep Alan’s good words handy when discussing homosexuality (b/c they help us avoid reducing our humanity/sexuality to an inevitability), it’s important to keep in mind that the LDS church’s continued existence relies on human choices that are by no means inevitable.

  24. Chino — If I get what you’re talking about, I think this is a subtle philosophical point.

    Personally, I feel like there are fundamental parts of my identity (including aspects of my sexual and gender) that I did not choose and cannot change. I don’t think that admitting that fact reduces my humanity in any way. If other people feel limited by the same sorts of categories that I’m happy to merely accept in myself (and see them as their choices and/or not fundamental to their identity), that’s OK too. Both are valid, human perspectives.

  25. Oh, if you’re detecting subtle philosophy in anything I’ve written, you’re probably giving me too much credit. My nod to Alan is mostly based on my being a huge fan of Gattaca (and Gore Vidal, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, the entire goddam project):

    I never did tell you about my son, did I? He’s as good as any. Better than most.

    Anton: How are you doing this Vincent?

    Vincent: You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it: I didn’t leave anything for the swim back.

  26. The statement (not question) Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? is really at the crux of the matter. It does speak to the issue of Mormon worldview, and how it would appear to be impossible that God would create someone gay, given the assumption that gay sex is inherently sinful.

    But the phrase is problematic on many other levels, and speaks to the whole problem of evil. So I understand the prudence in dropping it from the written transcript. But it really is the question that needs to be asked.

    Amen. And that is doubly true if you are concerned about the safety of Mormon children.

  27. Like Ive said, essentialism will get you nowhere, because that line of reasoning is already subsumed within the behavior model. Whether or not homosexuality is genetic, LDS leaders say, you can control your behavior. Homosexual immutability is not the only response to this, but saying homosexuality is natural is a good start. Basically, these are some of the good words and phrases: natural, a variation, morally neutral, and the bad ones are genetic, innate, immutable. The reason is that the former opens the door for everyone to choose their romantic lives, whereas the latter closes that door even when people think theyre opening it.

    Again, Alan, you need to be more careful about essentialism. There is more to essentialism than genetics. There are any number of factors that may play a role in determining inborn traits and that includes a number of environmental factors.

    I agree with you that some of the brethren such as Marlin Jensen and Dallin Oaks have conceded that sexual orientation may be an inborn trait, allow that gays can be gays but that gays need to be chaste.

    That appears to be the correlated line at the moment. However, as you can see, that notion is still contested among orthodox Mormons. Many Mormons, such as Boyd Packer, still argue that homosexuality is unnatural and therefore sinful.

    That belief threatens the lives of faithful Mormon teenagers. If they can understand that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon that does not hurt anybody and therefore cannot be a sin then they have the ideational resources to emancipate themselves from a belief system that would have self-destructive implications for them.

    No argument is more powerful than essentialism. If you can invoke the nature of things then it is difficult to prove you wrong. Just because Dallin Oaks issues a press release, we cannot assume that our discourse prevails in Mormon culture. Until it does, we need to continue to press the point.

    I agree with you that Mormon conceptions of chastity are problematic, especially since gays are also subject to a Mormon marriage prohibition. That is an important argument to have and I have written an essay about that, which I should have submitted to a Mormon studies journal long ago, but that doesn’t detract from the fundamental role of essentialism in this or any other debate.

    If your concept of nature prevails then you will control the high ground. Oaks and Jensen have had to retreat already. This week the correlation committee ratified their line. Now, we need to exploit those gains and educate Mormon society.

  28. Chanson @ 28, Hellmut @ 31:

    It sounds like what you both are talking about is strategic essentialism and not essentialism itself. Essentialism in my mind conjures ideas like “eternal gender” and “innate homosexuality,” by which things are a certain way regardless of what a person wants. Strategic essentialism is when you say, “I am a woman” or “I am gay” which means “this and that” for “these and those reasons” as opposed to an essential woman or gay, or the sort of relativist notion that there are no actual women or homosexuals. Still, choice is supreme when it comes to strategic essentialism.

    The reason why essentialism can be so bad is because it gives ammunition to an oppressive force to categorize a group as a certain way. This was particularly the case during the time of colonialism (which is not finished, btw), whereby Africans were deemed “uncivilized.” Women were “incapable of being educated,” or “destined for domesticity.” With homosexuality, it was the case for over 100 years in which it was as a “disease” to be cured. Before this, people did not categorize homosexuals to be a category of people, or consider same-sex love to be abnormal–rather certain acts were criminal (like sodomy) and certain personalities might have been considered “possessive” or “selfish” when marriage time came around. (You can see this logic in Packer.) Strategic essentialism is when the essentializing power is put in the hands of the people who are essentializing themselves rather than being essentialized. But you have to be careful with it, because if you keep arguing “I am different because…” then it can become difficult to argue “I am the same as you because…”

  29. On the question of gay suicides, for example, homosexual “deviants” get essentialized as being more likely to commit suicide, as opposed to an essential homosexuality being accepted as “natural” to prevent suicide. You can see here that essentialism works both ways and you have to be careful with how it is employed.

  30. Alan, I’m not totally sure I get what you’re saying. My perspective is this:

    What it means to be male or female has a huge cultural component, and that meaning is something that we can help to define ourselves. The fact of being gay/straight/male/female is something that probably more than 90% of the population cannot change. Gender is a real part of our human experience even if it is largely culturally constructed and blurry around the edges. And that’s OK. People shouldn’t be made to feel that it’s somehow inferior or wrong not to be able to pick their own gender or orientation at will.

  31. The fact of being gay/straight/male/female is something that probably more than 90% of the population cannot change. […] People shouldnt be made to feel that its somehow inferior or wrong not to be able to pick their own gender or orientation at will.

    Surely you see how this framing is paradoxical. Either only 10% of people get to “pick” (and it is wrong for the 90% to be able to pick, because they cannot) or the 90% isn’t as unchangeable as you say it is.

    The “homo-hetero” binary has a history. Were people “gay” or “straight” prior to this binary? Were Africans “black” prior to Europeans describing them this way? I would say no. Essentialism is about cordoning off a group of people (even if they’re cordoning off themselves, which is preferable) as much as it’s about supplying truth to difference. Being gay is different than being straight, just as being female is different than being male, but it’s also the “same as.” One has to work from this in-between space to create mutual understanding (if one is indeed interested in creating understanding). For this reason, I shy away from percentages unless I’m talking about “at this moment.”

    One of the things conservatives worry about is that if there is national gay marriage, or rather homosexuality is normalized, that more people will become gay. I think this true to an extent. I also think there is an “essential” element to homosexuality that makes it not true, but of course conservatives are more interested in the former. Really, the source of this paradox is built into the homo-hetero binary. According to gender theorist Eve Sedgwick, the homo/hetero binary is so tediously argued over because of an incoherence “between seeing homo/heterosexual definition on the one hand as an issue of active importance primarily for a small, distinct, relatively fixed homosexual minority … [and] seeing it on the other hand as an issue of continuing, determinative importance in the lives of people across the spectrum of sexualities [because desire is so potentially disrupting].” (taken from Wikipedia) The paradox is the result of framing desire as related to a binary gender system in which there are only two options (bisexuality is a third, but bisexuality tends to be a fall-back, or excess position, rather than one of normative substance. For example, William Bradshaw who gave a talk at BYU recently about the “innateness” of homosexuality uses bisexuality to explain those who “change” their orientation. “Oh, they were bisexual all along.” I don’t think this position really explains all that much, particularly since a lot of folks don’t self-identify as bisexual, especially women who define their sexuality by who they are partnered with at a given moment.) Anyway, in the article I’m working on, I’m trying to make this as clear and easy-to-comprehend as possible, in an historical perspective within the Church. The only well-known psychologist I know of who is spot on with these issues is Lisa Diamond, and I heard her say at an Affirmation conference last year that there is a lack of studies on men who are 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s on the Kinsey spectrum.

  32. Surely you see how this framing is paradoxical. Either only 10% of people get to pick (and it is wrong for the 90% to be able to pick, because they cannot) or the 90% isnt as unchangeable as you say it is.

    What? I didn’t say it was wrong to be able to pick, for anyone. I’m just saying there’s nothing wrong with not being able to pick. There’s nothing paradoxical about this; it’s just my observation that the overwhelming majority of people can’t pick their gender or orientation (even if there may exist some people who can). And that’s OK. It’s not a value judgement either way: neither choice nor its absence is “right” or “wrong” (or even “insulting” or “dehumanizing”) in this case.

    Naturally, I invented the 90% figure out of thin air.

    The homo-hetero binary has a history. Were people gay or straight prior to this binary?

    It’s not just a binary. Don’t forget the bisexuals and transgendered folks. When someone feels that s/he was born into a body of the wrong biological gender, I doubt they chose to feel that way. It’s especially interesting to read about transgendered kids — there was an NPR segment on that; maybe I can find the link.

    As far as the history is concerned, true, it’s quite interesting. I imagine that people who have never learned such a concept as “gay” don’t perceive themselves as gay. Nonetheless, people fall in love with some people and not others, and

    Were Africans black prior to Europeans describing them this way?

    The comparison with race is an interesting one because the concept of race far more culturally constructed than gender. My impression is that humans naturally tend to divide the world into “our people” and “others,” and that the human pattern-seeking brain will look for superficial traits to use to group people. This tendency manifests itself in the concepts of race, ethnicity, and (to some degree) nationality.

    It’s my impression that many people — especially those who have lived in more than one culture — have a range of cultural/ethnic identities, and — to a large degree — can choose how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them. Again, this is not a value judgement, merely an observation.

    Could we create a post-race human society, where the concept of race (as we know it) doesn’t exist? Possibly. Without orientation? Certainly, since many societies never had that concept (even if the underlying tendencies existed). Without gender? I doubt it, but I can’t definitively prove it impossible.

  33. As far as the history is concerned, true, its quite interesting. I imagine that people who have never learned such a concept as gay dont perceive themselves as gay. Nonetheless, people fall in love with some people and not others

    What is perhaps more important than the history of the homo/hetero binary is the history of the association of erotics with marriage. It was not until the 1920s and women gained the right to vote that there was public discourse that women should also have the right to be happy in bed. In terms of women as “baby machines,” birth control was obviously a huge issue that has yet to be resolved fully within the Church, but by the turn of the 21st century Mormon leaders decided that it was time to stop being mean to each other based on family planning decisions.

    A Catholic article against same-sex marriage that I read recently made the following argument: Because same-sex marriage is predicated on this societal “turn to desire,” it is foundationally different than opposite-sex marriage, which is about putting one’s desires second to one’s spouse and God. The author described sex as something in which you give instead of receive. Obviously here, there is a dissociation in which sexual happiness for Catholics is for God’s sake and not one’s own sake (there are many Catholics who pray before they make love), and since gays aren’t having sex “for God, but only for themselves,” it’s therefore “wrong.” This is why I think queer/feminist theological arguments are desperately needed at this time in the public arena, because while people on the surface argue about whether homosexuality is genetic or not, the decades-old ideas about homosexuality being about “selfishness” are still very much in play. It really annoys me that groups like HRC keep turning to genetics to try to make their points to American society. It’s bad policy in 2010, it’s not really theoretically sustainable, and it feels spiritually empty. So, yes, I agree that people should not be made to feel bad if they think they made no choice to be gay, but in my observation, much of the reason people say this is as a reaction to a society that insists they be straight rather than a fully self-determining position.

  34. I agree that the changes in straight marriage (especially seeing the woman as a partner and not property) have led to gay marriage.

    Obviously here, there is a dissociation in which sexual happiness for Catholics is for Gods sake and not ones own sake (there are many Catholics who pray before they make love), and since gays arent having sex for God, but only for themselves, its therefore wrong.

    That’s kind of an interesting perspective. One could argue that sex within a loving partnership is less selfish because you’re taking your partner’s needs into account (unlike an owner/property marriage, in which only the owner’s needs and desires matter). Regardless of the theological ideal, I would guess that the number of people who have sex purely for God’s sake are a minority, even among the religious.

    It really annoys me that groups like HRC keep turning to genetics to try to make their points to American society. Its bad policy in 2010, its not really theoretically sustainable, and it feels spiritually empty.

    It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s good strategy or spiritually fulfilling to claim that orientation is/isn’t biological. It’s not just a question of strategy. The current scientific consensus is that orientation has a real, biological basis (not entirely genetic, but determined by the prenatal environment).

    in my observation, much of the reason people say this is as a reaction to a society that insists they be straight rather than a fully self-determining position.

    You’re probably right that some of the impetus to identify as gay is a reaction to society’s expectation that people must be straight. But humans are such complex creatures with a myriad of complex motives. Maybe for some people it is a reaction, maybe for some it’s something else, or a combination of factors.

  35. I would guess that the number of people who have sex purely for Gods sake are a minority, even among the religious.

    Let me rephrase. It’s not that they think they’re having sex for God, but rather that the sex they’re having is a gift from God and so they do it with thanks in mind, whereas they say gays are just using their bodies in an ungodly (read: selfish) way.

    The current scientific consensus is that orientation has a real, biological basis (not entirely genetic, but determined by the prenatal environment).

    Yes, but like I said above, this kind of language does not in and of itself normalize homosexuality for the public because of people’s continued interest to cure it, even if it “began” in the prenatal environment (notice how no one ever says heterosexuality began in the prenatal environment). In the current political climate, the way homosexuality is talked about (scientifically, spiritually, etc) is a strategy for normalization.

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