Archive for January, 2011

Things you should see

Oops, it’s been awhile. Tonight I’ll borrow a moment of your time to spotlight some useful/neat queer resources on the web.

Safe2pee is “a resource where people who do not feel comfortable with traditional public restrooms can find safe alternatives.” You can plug in your address or where you’re going, and get a nifty map of all the gender-neutral, gendered single-stall, and accessible restrooms in the immediate area. If you know any around town, you can also add them to the database. (I’m trying to add all the gender-neutral restrooms around UNO.)

T-Vox is a community for genderqueer, intersex, transgender, and transsexual people, and their curious family and friends. The main website is a wiki that anyone can contribute to, and there are also forums and a chat room. Right now the wiki is still taking shape, but there are well-written (at least to me) introductions to topics like the nature of gender, urban legends about hormones, how to come out, and all these crazy medical terms.

Finally, this girl is fucking amazing. A California high school senior used her time on stage for MLK Day to come out in front of the school. She’s an actress, very well-spoken and obviously in control of her apprehension, but talk about big balls… can I use that metaphor on a queer blog? Kayla is inspiring and real in ways that speakers at these events usually aren’t. See for yourself:

Keep warm! Only two, two and a half more months of winter weather and then I get to complain about the heat and humidity.

Brad White on Christians and the gays

There’s a great discussion going on at Friendly Atheist right now. Brad White of the new group Changing the Face of Christianity answered a lot of Hemant Mehta’s questions about the organization, which aims to get Christians to stop living up to their stereotypes: intolerant, homophobic, and so on.

White has a certain amount of naïveté as regards gay issues (for example, one sticking point is the semantic difference between “gay marriage” and “civil unions”). But it’s a pleasant surprise that White seems so willing to dialogue honestly with atheists and the gay community alike, so I used the comments to respond to his response on the question, “Do you consider being gay a choice?” Here’s an excerpt of his answer:

First, and possibly most importantly, I am a heterosexual and I can’t possibly walk in the shoes of a homosexual. So, all I can do is express my beliefs based on what I’ve seen, heard, and observed. I don’t claim to have any special knowledge in this area.

… Long Answer: I’ve seen strong evidence that it is a genetic pre-disposition. That’s tough to debate. I can recall kids as early as age 10 [who] were stereotypically effeminate, and very likely went on to BE homosexual after puberty. I’ve also personally known several heterosexuals who later Chose to be bi-sexual or homosexual. I don’t know what you call them, so I simply call them “switchers.” Another person I’ve not met but I heard about a while ago, who was a very active and vocal PRO lesbian her whole life but switched later in life, shows evidence that regardless of any genetic pre-disposition, it can still be a choice.

… So, what do I believe? If I had to take an educated best guess, I’d say that homosexuality is something you are genetically pre-disposed to and yet it’s still a choice.

He goes on to make an unfortunate analogy to alcoholism as both predisposition and choice. I’m willing to give him a pass there to address his misunderstandings. First, there’s the difference between sexual orientation (internal and unchangeable) and sexual expression (external and, technically, changeable). Next is the fact that it’s so unhealthy, no matter your orientation, to feel the pressure to hide or change your expression, and hide and deny your orientation even to yourself. Last I took on his conception of “choosers” or “switchers” who supposedly demonstrate you can change your orientation, which goes back to orientation versus expression, but also pulls in the idea that sexuality can be fluid over time.

Here’s what I wrote for Brad, who has been doing his part and watching the comments:

It’s a common argument mainly from theistic circles that even if homosexual attractions result from genetics, hormones, and what-have-you, acting on it is a choice. Well, sure it’s a choice. So?

When a man is attracted to a woman, he can choose to acknowledge and perhaps act on that attraction. Even if he wants to, he can choose not to act on it, deny to himself that there is attraction, even choose to go after other men he’s not actually attracted to, to try to deny and hide his actual desires.

But in that hypothetical (absurd) homosexist world, is this any less unhealthy than a gay man in our heterosexist society who denies his attractions to other men? Does it mesh with what he really wants? Does it not foster cognitive dissonance?

Similarly, it does no good internally for bisexuals to deny their various realattractions to one or the other sex. Many will still do it, facing stigma from heterosexists and homosexists (ironic but real). They face accusations from both extremes that they are truly gay or lesbian, unwilling to own up to being gay or lesbian, unable to make up their minds, indiscriminate sluts.

The morality of any particular sexual orientation does nothing to invalidate or solve that cognitive dissonance. It isn’t a lack of desire to pursue an attraction, but actively denying there are attractions you want to act on, that is so unhealthy.

And one more thing about bisexuals and “switchers.” In many cases, no doubt, bisexuals aren’t obvious because we only notice their attraction to one particular sex, and assume they’re gay or straight. Dating a succession of people from one sex, even marrying, doesn’t erase a bisexual identity, and it shouldn’t be assumed that a wo/man who’s dating someone opposite from the sex s/he usually dates has “chosen” to “switch.”

That being said, there are lots of people who will tell you that sexuality can be fluid (i.e., that you can go from being heterosexual to bisexual, or homosexual to heterosexual, or any other such change). I have to agree. It’s easy to imagine that at different points in your life you may be attracted to one, the other, or both sexes; and how does it invalidate your present sexual orientation, that in the past your orientation was different? The fact my favorite sports car used to be the Corvette has no bearing on the fact I now want to drive a Camaro. We like different things (and people, and types of people) at different times; and some people, too, will always be solely gay or straight or Corvette fans.

Kudos to Brad for trying to reach out to both atheists and the gay community, and I hope I’ve done my part to illuminate him on the latter. A bit of Googling around will produce all sorts of surveys and explanations of sexual orientation versus sexual expression, fluid orientation over time, and so on. It sounds like his misconceptions about orientation are mainly just failures of the imagination; he doesn’t quite “get it” but he sounds a lot more reachable than many.

I encourage you to read his full response to Hemant’s questions and contribute to the discussion for Brad. One thing I really wasn’t sure I could coherently tackle was the the difference of sex and gender, and how that relates to orientation (and the terms I used above all fell back on the binary of man and woman, homo/hetero/bisexual.). That’s a whole discussion unto itself, and I’m sure someone’s out there who can adequately address it.

HRC makes me an offer that’s hard to refuse

The Human Rights Campaign is conducting a 2011 membership drive. They make a good case for joining:

This is the civil rights battle of our generation. Be one of 2,011 new members to join HRC for 2011 – and we’ll get right to work instead of contacting you again.

… Join HRC now – and you won’t get any more membership messages from us for the remainder of our campaign.

Gee. I’m not sure I can hold out much longer.

Atheism and conscientious objection

Apparently, about a year ago I took a call from an Army recruiter, and told him to call back when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed.

He called today. I’m genuinely impressed.

DADT was the first and foremost objection I gave to recruiters, with my queer friends in the military (past, present, would-be) in mind. The fact is that I’m a die-hard pacifist (get it?). Wars are fought by pawns, wielded by the kings and presidents who disagree with each other, and they last until one side runs out of pawns, not until the disagreement is resolved. I have nothing against my fellow man who is deluded or unfortunate enough to become someone else’s pawn; why should I kill him?

Although I admit that it’s sometimes necessary and moral to do things like kill in self-defense, war between nations is a broken system I can’t support or participate in. I just wish my friends and their “enemies” both the best, and look forward to the day that the actual parties in conflict settle things either at the bargaining table, or at least by themselves in Thunderdome.

Two men enter. They are both distracted by Tina Turner's big 80s hair.

 

I’ve decidedly been a pacifist since I was told I needed to register with the Selective Service System after my 18th birthday. The looming registration deadline inspired a lot of soul-searching, which only solidified my objection to war. But I decided that dodging the registration system wasn’t worth the risk, so I made an effort to establish a paper trail as a conscientious objector.

There’s really no obvious process, since a draft hasn’t been called since Vietnam. Successful conscientious objectors — when the draft comes up, they are granted that status by the draft board, not sent to fight despite their protests — have typically had religion on their side. Until 1971, religious belief was the only way out of the draft; among others, active Mennonites and Quakers could be exempted for belonging to “peace churches,” where pacifism is a long-established central doctrine. Selective Service now says:

Beliefs which qualify a registrant for CO status may be religious in nature, but don’t have to be. Beliefs may be moral or ethical; however, a man’s reasons for not wanting to participate in a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest. In general, the man’s lifestyle prior to making his claim must reflect his current claims.

But being religious, particularly Christian, still helps a lot. Agustin Aguayo — not an atheist, but “an agnostic who believed in a higher power,” was imprisoned and given a bad conduct discharge in 2007 after going AWOL, following multiple attempts to file for CO status since enlisting in 2003. The chaplain evaluating him said “it is difficult to assess the depths of his beliefs because they rest solely within his own thinking and personal values without the support of background, family, or faith group.”

I don’t know any atheists (or agnostics) who have been granted CO status, either after enlisting or when called up for the draft. If successful, though, depending on your convictions, you’re given a noncombatant assignment in the military, or alternative community service at home. Hopefully it’s not a situation that I and other pacifist non-Christians will have to confront; presently, at least, we’re getting along with the other big world powers, and the military’s recruiting and volunteer pool just got a bit bigger.