The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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All I have to say about the Prop 8 verdict

This week, I finished reading a wonderful book – God Says No, by James Hannaham. The protagonist, Gary Gray, has this endearingly earnest, not-too-bright, surprisingly perceptive and doomed sense about him that really made me want to root for him throughout. Gary’s an overweight black guy attending a Christian college in Central Florida; he gets his girlfriend pregnant just as he realizes he has to question his sexuality. These two events catalyze a series of fairly significant catastrophes in Gary’s life, and through each one, I wanted Gary to succeed, to attain what he wanted.

Spoiler ahead.

Gary ends up in a “reparative therapy” institute that promises to teach him how to leave homosexuality. And what surprised me was how fervently I was rooting for Gary here too. He wanted so badly to become straight. Before I knew it, I found myself hoping he’d succeed – knowing it would be an extremely difficult journey, but wishing him strength, willing him to find a small stirring of bisexuality somewhere deep inside himself he could cling to for as long as he wanted it.

The ex-gay movement is incredibly personally threatening to gay folks, especially to those of us who’ve broken from deep, conservative Christian roots and left the closet behind for good. It’s threatening because we know how many people continue to believe that we could change if we only had the willpower, and we know what evil that belief continues to inspire. So the gay community has drawn together significant efforts – commercial, political and rhetorical – to try to discredit that movement.*  But when I caught myself wishing for Gary to succeed in his quest to turn straight, I realized something:

We won’t have won the fight for equality when we’ve discredited the ex-gay movement. We’ll have won when we’ve made it beside the point. As long as gays and lesbians face widespread discrimination and disapprobation, there will be folks trying to become straight, and others claiming to have done it. Perhaps one day they’ll figure out the combination of neurons, hormones and genes that determines a person’s desire, and they’ll concoct a treatment that can reverse our sexual triggers. We’ll have won if on that day we can applaud the scientists, wonder why anyone would choose to alter themselves that way, and yet accept – with no sense of personal threat – that there might be folks who will. We might even wish them success, as I found myself doing for Gary, because everyone’s journey is difficult in its own way.

And who are we to question another’s pursuit of happiness, if it causes harm to no one else?

* There’s another very good reason to seek to disarm the ex-gay movement: it often ensnares children who don’t have a choice in the matter. That’s insidious. I’ll happily fight for that practice to be brought to an end.

August 4, 2010 / Uncategorized


Tim Carmody says…

This reminds me of David Leavitt’s great book The Lost Language of Cranes, which tracks a young gay man’s sexual coming-of-age, along with his father’s coming to grips with years spent in the closet concealing his furtive sexual encounters from his family.

I read this book in a twentieth-century literature class, and my professor — the late, legendary Arthur Athanason, who’d served in the army and studied theater in London and Paris, who was almost certainly gay, and culturally vocally pro-gay, but so wound-up from generations of conservative religion that he couldn’t say it explicitly, even in private conversation, who sometimes intimated that he couldn’t have a relationship or even a casual sexual encounter because of the physical shame he felt — in the middle of the seminar, he hopped in the air and slammed down his feet, and softly shouted: “None of you understand. Most. Gay. People. ARE MARRIED!”

I think about Dr Athanason every time I watch Salvatore, the art designer in Mad Men. My favorite moment in the series, hands down, is the episode in the first season where he and a client, after a long, subtle coded series of interactions, meet at a bar and the client invites him to his hotel room:

Salvatore: I don’t know what to say.

Elliot: Salvatore, you don’t have to say anything.

Salvatore: No, I just… No.

Elliot: Have another drink. Think about it.

Salvatore: Elliot, I have thought about it. I know what I want. I know what I want to do .

Elliot: I know what you’re thinking. I’ll show you.

Salvatore looks around nervously before finally shaking his head no.

Elliot: What are you afraid of?

Salvatore: Are you joking?

And with that, Salvatore rises and leaves.

And then there is the wonderful speech from Ibsen’s Ghosts:

I am half inclined to think we are all ghosts, Mr. Manders. It is not only what we have inherited from our fathers and mothers that exists again in us, but all sorts of old dead ideas and all kinds of old dead beliefs and things of that kind. They are not actually alive in us; but there they are dormant, all the same, and we can never be rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper and read it, I fancy I see ghosts creeping between the lines. There must be ghosts all over the world. They must be as countless as the grains of the sands, it seems to me. And we are so miserably afraid of the light, all of us.

I am going to willfully try to forget that spoiler because I think I want to read that book.

It reminds me of this great Tanehisi post from a couple of years ago,

Whenever people say, “You should not discriminate against people because they didn’t chose to be black,” I hear the mild tones of wild liberal condescension.

Implicit in that logic is a kind of judgment, the notion that if I could choose, I obviously would choose to be white. But what if I just like being black? What if I could choose and would still choose black? Ditto for homosexuality. So what if you do choose to be gay? I understand that a lot of the science says you don’t, but why do we accept this implicit idea that heterosexuality is, necessarily, what everyone would chose?
. . .
What if it is who you are and what you choose?

Which moved me, b/c on one hand I feel like it’s important to acknowledge both the research and people’s sense of their immovable biological and psychological realities, but on the other hand, yeah, any sort of consensual sexuality should be a perfectly valid choice, since they are (by definitions) not choices that harm others; all arguments against them are themselves rooted in chosen religions. We experiment, we act, we try things, we are not just an immutable organic machine, but an accumulation of choices and experiences, and freedom includes the freedom to shape that. My freedom to be religious is completely entwined with mine & anyone else’s freedom to choose to be gay or bisexual or straight or genderqueer or whatnot.

because everyone’s jour ney is difficult in its own way.

Always a good reminder.

Tim Carmody says…

If you’re talking about Lost Language of Cranes, I don’t really think of it as a spoiler. It’s the premise of the book, revealed early on. If it’s a spoiler, it’s like saying “Hamlet’s father was actually poisoned by his uncle” is a spoiler.

It’s weird, though, because I first thought, “maybe she means Ghosts?” And I never thought of the “curse-of-the-father-inherited-by-the-son” dynamics in Ghosts applied to LLC. Eh, not sure it actually does.

But Leavitt as an heir of Ibsen — that actually might work.

Er, I was actually talking about God Says No. I should read more Ibsen though. Or preferably, see it first.

Ta-Nehisi had written another post I had in mind when I wrote this one, in which he talks about the disapprobation society casts on interracial couples, and says that in a world where it’s as hard as this one for two people to fall in love, he wonders how anyone could begrudge someone else succeeding in that.

But don’t worry, the spoiler in this case really doesn’t spoil much. Hannaham signals fairly clearly and early that Gary will not surrender to homosexuality without a fight.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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