Teachable Moments: The Fragility of Manhood

I’m roughly a third of the way through my TEFL Certification course with ITA. The course is designed to prepare students to teach English in a variety of classrooms, both traditional and nontraditional, as well as to work as a private tutor. As I read about different teaching philosophies and method, I can’t help but think about my own experiences as a student.

This particular story isn’t about how a teacher inspired me, or about an innovative teaching style. This is a story about a teacher speaking to his class in an unexpected and, ultimately, sad moment.

(Warning: There is use of a particular slur in this story that some will find offensive.)

When we entered after lunch, Mr. Capp* was at the front of the class as usual, standing straight up in pressed slacks, a button-up shirt, and a solid green tie. He neither dressed formally in suits like Mr. Harkins, the civics teacher, or casually in short-sleeved polos like Mr. Wells who taught English and coached girls’ tennis; he taught Senior Psychology. Having entered into his 30s with an unassuming handsomeness, he watched us in silence.

Of my non-Humanities classes. Psychology was by far my favorite, an interest that would carry on into college. Two sections were of particular interest, the first on human sexuality and the other Depression-related disorders. Mr. Capp approached both subjects with professional nonchalance, covering subjects like homosexuality and suicide – delicate topics in any high school, let alone in the Midwest – with the same matter-of-factness as Ms. Pohl explaining vectors.  As his sartorial choices suggested, Mr. Capp straddled the line between Student’s Buddy and Strict Mentor. He knew how to engage with students, but he would commonly remind us that we were seniors and that meant we needed to act like upperclassmen. He had no patience for laziness or entitled students.

This particular Tuesday, he was uncharacteristically tightlipped as we streamed in.

Two weeks prior, in a discussion on gender norms, Mr. Capp had given a remarkably sympathetic and forward-thinking lecture, espousing the potentially controversial stance that one’s biological sex must not necessarily determine one’s gender or how one expressed it. To illustrate this theme, he split the class up into a male and female group and then had the groups compete in a series of stereotypically gender-specific tasks, such as running in heels and throwing a football. The catch was that the teams picked which member from the other team would compete in each activity.

Being a mostly anonymous student at the school, I assumed (and hoped) I would be able to ride out the whole competition in the background. To my great chagrin, I was chosen to participate in one event: I had to fasten a hinge between two blocks of wood. Apparently the ladies had figured I might not be the “manliest” kid in the class – perceptive, these ones. Their astute observation paid off as I was defeated handily by my female competitor. If it was any consolation to my team, the guys did win the high heels race.

Despite my embarrassment – and I was still young and insecure enough for the loss to feel deeply shameful – I enjoyed the section and found the topic to be reassuring.

This is what made the strange occurrence in Mr. Capp’s class that Tuesday all the more confusing. With all the students settled into their seats, Mr. Capp remained briefly silent. This was already an odd start since he was not one to waste any of the class period. We had just started the section on Bipolar Disorder, but when he finally did speak, it was not to begin the lecture.

“Last night, after school let out, I went to visit my mother.” I think most of us assumed Mr. Capp was telling us a story to illustrate the lesson. We quickly realized that wasn’t the case. “While I was in her house, some coward vandalized her property.” I don’t recall now if he actually said the word or merely suggested it, but either way, we all knew what had happened: Someone spray-painted the word ‘faggot’ on his mother’s driveway. “We know it was a student and the police will be thoroughly investigating.”

He continued through contained rage on the subject of respect and maturity. The entire class listened with the kind of rapt attention most teachers could only dream of. The speech Mr. Capp delivered probably only lasted five minutes, but it felt like it took up the whole class. There was undeniable fury seething behind Mr. Capp’s stony expression, his commitment to total professionalism losing out to filial devotion. He tried to focus his anger through derision, mocking the perpetrator for being dumb enough to not even graffiti the right house, but there was no mirth in his tone.

Then the venting took an unexpected turn.

“If there’s anyone here who questions whether I’m a man, we can go outside right now and I’ll prove it. Are you man enough to fight me? Or just a coward vandalizing an old woman’s house in the dark?” It would have been laughable if it hadn’t been stated with such virulence.

What were we supposed to make of this bizarre presentation? How could someone who had just weeks earlier taught us that gender norms were a societal construct now face us and insist that he would defend his manhood through the most banal display of machismo?

The simplest answer is that sometimes we can know something intellectually but not internalize that knowledge. In heightened emotional states, in those moments when we need them the most, we rarely maintain our grasp on our ideals. The whole display – his anger, his barely maintained façade, his hypocrisy – was in its own way one of the most profound lessons I’ve ever received.

It didn’t take long for someone to find the ID of a student in the lawn of Mr. Capp’s mother. It belonged to Brady, a rich kid who no one seemed to actually like yet who occupied the center of the most popular social circle, an argument for class privilege if you ever needed one. One of those seniors who intended to ride out his final year in pud classes, it’s no surprise that Brady ran afoul of Mr. Capp and bristled at being asked to put in actual effort. 

As Seniors, we thought of ourselves as the elder statesmen, but Brady proved, we were still just kids.

I have no idea if Mr. Capp still teaches or whether anyone ever took him up on his challenge. I also don’t know what happened to Brady, though I suspect very little in terms of punishment or lasting consequence. Despite the disheartening display that Tuesday afternoon, I still think of Mr. Capp’s class as one of the most influential factors in my educational path, one that included many more psychology courses and has continued well beyond the formal classroom.

I wonder if Mr. Capp still thinks back on that day; if so, does he regrets his words? Maybe he’s ashamed, or maybe he feels it was justified.  Perhaps, due to cognitive dissonance – a concept I’d only study later in my college psych courses – he has somehow mentally rearranged the incident into something heroic or even noble, crafting a personal narrative in which he stood before his classroom and displayed the model of an enlightened, post-gender male. I’ll never know. It doesn’t matter.

It might be strange to say this but, I actually did learn a lot from this experience. It was the beginning of a long arc for me, coming to terms with my own idea of masculinity and strength. It’s a lesson we continue to learn every day, as Mr. Capp proved.

It’s also a reminder that, whether in front of a classroom or tutoring a student one-on-one, any moment as a teacher can be significant.

*All names are made up.

[“Calvin and Hobbes” created by Bill Watterson.]

What can a white, heterosexual, cisgender male do? Listen.

This past week has been loud.

Our entrance into the Gilded Phage erupted in protests, violence, and hate speech, while Twitter fights, Facebook rants, and, most vital, thoughtful blog posts remain at pre-Election levels. Voices are still reaching the cheap seats as dire warnings of an encroaching wave of racism and bigotry are met with caustic dismissals demanding people “Wait and see” and “Stop whining.” It’s a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector tumescent.

This election proved one thing: there are a lot of white, heterosexual, cisgender males in this country, and despite assertions that they are the new oppressed minority, they remain both the most powerful and vocal force in American politics. As a member of that demographic, I have never felt so dismayed to be so visible.

For the last year, ever since I completed 10 Cities, I’ve been largely silent. Up until last week, this website had gone dark and I had minimized my Facebook presence (I’ve remained somewhat active on Twitter; my apologies). I’ve been practicing a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me: Listening.


Listening to voices that aren’t white, heterosexual, cisgender, and/or male is critical for the continued growth of our society and for our growth as individuals. We only need look at last Tuesday to know what’s at stake when we don’t.

One of the ways I’ve been reminding myself to be a better listener is intentionally seeking out voices that wouldn’t naturally enter my sphere of interests. As a white, heterosexual, cisgender male, I’m striving to engage with the points of view of those who aren’t. I’ve not intentionally avoided or ignored those voices in the past, but by nature of our societal structure, I’ve done it all the same.

So far, this endeavor has had the greatest impact in my consumption of art, particularly music and literature. I’ve read assault narratives and about rape culture (Alice Sebold and Kate Harding), read fiction from people of color (Colson Whitehead and Zadie Smith; Zadie pisses me off because her first novel is just so damn good) as well as non-American authors (Arturo Perez-Reverte). I’ve read many other authors (including plenty of white males) this last year, but I hope to find even more diverse voices next year. 

Additionally, and to a much greater extent, I’ve been listening to a more varied slate of musical artists. My musical taste has always been eclectic, but my go-tos have generally been white, straight dudes. It seems like a trivial thing because it’s an easy thing; I love music and I love finding new artists. And yet, as easy as it is to do, it still had to be a conscious choice. Ultimately, that minimum effort to expand my palate has been deeply enriching.

To that end, I’m concluding this post with a by-no-means-exhaustive list of artists who are not white, or not male, or not straight, or not cisgender. The list could expand indefinitely, but these just happen to be some that I’ve come to really appreciate over the last year and who, importantly, offer a broader perspective.

And, finally, to my fellow white, heterosexual, cisgender males: There’s no prize for listening, no pat on the back; there’s just the pleasant reality that so many voices deserve our attention and we are invariably enriched by the simple experience of hearing a new perspective.

I hope you enjoy the music and that you’ll keep listening.

Gallant – Episode

Against Me! – Black Me Out

Tegan and Sara – Boyfriend

Lydia Loveless – Midwestern Guys

Solange – Don’t Touch My Hair

An Open Letter to Zach Wahls

Dear Zach Wahls,

I, like the majority of America, first came to know of you when the video of you advocating on behalf of same-sex marriage before the Iowa House of Representatives went viral.

It was clear from watching that 3-minute speech that a young man so well-spoken, personable and handsome would have more than one brush with fame, and so it comes as no surprise that as a 20-year-old man you are once again in the news having written a book (with Bruce Littlefield) celebrating your two mothers, entitled, appropriately, My Two Moms.  You have undoubtedly made numerous media appearances in support of this book, but the one that landed before my eyes was your interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

I should say upfront, I have not read your book yet, though I plan to.

My reason for writing this letter is both to state my admiration while also voicing my concerns.  Your speech before the Iowa HofR was inspirational, engaging and, most importantly, right.  It is perhaps the greatest weakness in the so-called Sanctity of Marriage arsenal to claim that homosexual parents cannot hope to provide the same loving, supportive, neutering environment that heterosexual couples provide.  As more and more states legalize same-sex marriage, there will be an increasing number of examples, such as your family, to undermine such arguments.  Anyone espousing the view that gay couples cannot possibly raise healthy families will soon be left utterly adrift, hung out to dry by their own prejudices.

This is the good side of the publicity you are bringing to the debate.

Unfortunately, I foresee a dangerous trap in this line of argument.

For better or for worse, the strength of your message lies in your moral character.  Your strength of character was what gave your initial speech such force, and it is, as I have gathered from your interview, the underlying premise of your book.  I don’t know you personally, Mr. Wahls, nor do the vast majority of the millions who saw your video or will read your book.  Your integrity is a matter of faith, and for most of us, even those who oppose your view, we are willing to accept it on your word.

But there will be people who want to see you fall.  There are those who cannot wait for the opportunity to exploit weakness, mistakes and missteps.  Public figures are scrutinized all the time and for many, that incessant watchful eye is too much to bear.  Celebrities crack, leaders stumble and public personas are dismantled, leaving the very real human underneath exposed.  Most of the time, these people are famous for reasons that have nothing to do with their character, and yet we still collectively salivate when their failings are paraded before us.

It may be unfair, but you are now the unofficial case study for the moral character of all children raised by gay parents.  Oversimplifying this subject in such a way is plainly detrimental to a legitimate discussion of same-sex marriage, which is exactly why people will want to do it.  If they can make you the focal point of the topic and then find a way to unearth any character flaws or manufacture moments of weakness, they will have effectively stymied debate.

I do not mean to suggest that a conspiracy of enemies will rise up to bring you down.  Quite the contrary, while there will be those in opposition to you who would gleefully watch your character denigrated, you are just as likely to find allies shoveling the dirt on your head if the opportunity presents itself.  This has nothing to do with same-sex marriage.  It’s just the sad state of human nature.

A cheated girlfriend (or boyfriend), a picture of you smoking pot at a party, a DUI or a public breakdown.  Any of the normal mistakes that every person makes at least once in their 20s will serve as the overzealous cross for your crucifixion because you are now the poster child for Same-Sex Offspring.

It’s ridiculously unreasonable.  No one has ever made heterosexuals prove that they can raise morally upstanding children before they get married.  In fact, all of the absolute worst people throughout history have been the product of heterosexual pairings.  No one would ever make the argument that Hitler or Stalin are arguments against hetero marriage (though, maybe they should). 

Rightfully, you are not focusing on such hypocrisies and are making your arguments purely from positive examples of homosexual families.  That may be your undoing.

I do not wish to imply that you have done anything wrong by stepping forward and presenting yourself as an example of a successful product of lesbian upbringing.  There are people in this country who need to see such things before they will believe it.  As preposterous as it is to expect homosexuals to prove they can be fit parents, we live in an environment where just such a thing must be done.

So, no, I am not chastising you for your methods.  I wholeheartedly support you in your fight.  Unfortunately, you have thrust yourself into a battle that on some levels cannot be won.  Those people who insist homosexuals cannot form strong, healthy families are not arguing from a rational point of view, but rather they are appealing to bigotry, ignorance and fear.  A thousand happy, healthy families will never erase their prejudice.

The best you can do is exactly what you and your family have been doing:  Be happy, be healthy, love each other.  Those people who sit on the fence, neither bigots nor enemies but still uncertain on the merits of same-sex marriage will finally be helped off the fence by seeing families like yours.  Alternatively, those people arguing that same-sex couples cannot raise healthy children will likely never be convinced.  They will sit in wait, anticipating the day that you succumb to your humanity.

The LGBT Community and its allies, such as I, support you Zach Wahls and all your endeavors, not because you are the son of lesbians, or an unofficial spokesperson for same-sex marriage, but because equality for all is something all decent, moral people want to see. The kind of decent, moral people who are the product of good parenting,whether gay or straight.

Best of luck.

Sincerely,

Lyttleton

Arguments Against Gay Marriage: Addendum

In a previous post, I discussed common arguments against gay marriage and laid out counterarguments against them.  Considering the blog setting, the post couldn’t possibly deal with all of the nuances of each argument.  I attempted to make my points as readable and succinct as possible without expending too much energy on arguments that are, frankly, rather weak.  The arguments against gay marriage that I presented could certainly be polished up and presented in a more convincing way, but they would be no stronger for it.

That said, in the past week, I have been dealing with a more complex and seemingly coherent argument and I felt that it would be best to deal with it thoroughly in a separate post in order to more fully lay out both the argument and the counterargument.

A blogger by the name Right Libertarian was the man who posited a great deal of this argument.  Warning: Reading his blog might make you want to punch your screen.

The Argument:

Homosexuality is not normal.  In fact, homosexuality is not only ‘not normal’, it is a harmful deviance.  Homosexuality is linked to higher mental illness (there are, in fact, studies that show this), greater risk of AIDS and STDs (again, studies support this) and a higher occurrence of promiscuity (studies again), even among married homosexuals.  To allow gay marriage would be to ‘normalize’ homosexuality (and all the subsequent ills of it) in society, which would in turn undermine society.   Furthermore, children shouldn’t be raised in such an environment.

My Response:

I hope I’ve done the argument justice.  This was never explicitly written out.  It had to be extracted from pages and pages of comments and tangential asides and links to studies.  Generally, though, I think this is a fair and concise summary of the argument.

And I think it’s a pretty good argument.  Better than ones based on the Bible or slippery slopes.  On the surface, it does make sense.  Why would we wish to normalize a lifestyle that scientific studies have shown is linked to illnesses, high risk behavior and a proclivity for non-monogamous relationships?

Normal:

Let’s start from the beginning with the idea of ‘normal.’  Well, normal could mean, colloquially, the norm.  As in, what most people are.  In this case, homosexuality is clearly not normal.  Just like left-handers and redheads and albinos.

Recent estimates suggest that homosexuals represent 2 to 3% of the population (though those same estimates put the percentage of people who have engaged in homosexual sex at 8%, which rightly raises the question of whether or not self-identification of one’s sexual orientation is a reliable gauge for homosexuality’s prevalence in humans).  It is, of course, only an estimate, and even the man who presents those numbers admits that it basically comes down to a very educated guess.  Until we live in a society that doesn’t shun homosexuals, I don’t foresee ever reaching an accurate estimate.

Based on those estimates, though, we can firmly say homosexuality is not the norm.  But we don’t legislate on percentages.  Civil Rights didn’t come about because the black population hit some magical percentage.  They came about because it was right, because black people are human beings (not just 3/5ths of one).

Normal means something else: Natural.  Is homosexuality something that occurs in nature?  Well, yes, among animals it does.  But we aren’t mere animals, we’re humans (actually, we are mere animals, but that’s beside the point).  “Animals eat their young,” they say, “so should we do that , too?”  Only if they’re tender, I say.

But, let’s think about that.  Should we do everything animals do, just because biologically we are also members of the animal kingdom?  We are more ‘highly evolved,’ aren’t we?  Well, technically, the idea of being highly evolved isn’t a scientific notion.  We are highly complex beings, but our evolution isn’t a matter of superiority over the animals, just a matter of being better suited to our environment.  Are lions ‘better’ than jellyfish?  It’s an arbitrary question.

Anyway.  We don’t do things that animals do, but then again, sometimes we do.  After all, animals hunt food, build shelters for their offspring, and they have sex, just like us.  We don’t eat our children because we don’t want to harm others.  Homosexual (consensual) sex hardly harms other people, so it really can’t be equated to eating our young.  It’s an asinine comparison.

Is homosexuality genetic?  Well, as conservatives will point out, many studies on this question have been inconclusive.  On the other hand, a rather extensive amount of research has shown a variety of likely biological factors for homosexuality.  These studies all show a correlation between homosexuality and some genetically inherited feature that implies a significant, though not absolute, connection.  The fact that no single factor can be attributed to homosexuality is unsurprising.  From the Darwinian perspective, homosexuality is not a beneficial trait for reproduction, so we should not expect to find a so-called Gay Gene.  How would that gene pass itself on?  However, it would make sense if there were a confluence of genetic factors that on their own were insignificant, but when mixed together led to a higher predisposition towards homosexuality.  Nature would not select against it, because any one trait on its own would be benign (probably even beneficial in some unknown way).

I think it’s safe to say, from a biological point of view, homosexuality is normal because it does, indeed, happen naturally.

Harmful Deviance:

Alright, so it’s normal.  But it could still be a ‘harmful deviance.’  After all, just because someone is born with a predisposition towards something, that doesn’t mean it’s good.  Alcoholism has been shown to have a likely genetic predisposition.  And mental retardation is a trait from birth.  These are both conditions that are unhealthy and lead to shorter lifespan.  Though, we don’t prevent alcoholics or the retarded (I feel no qualms using that term) from marrying.

But that’s different.  Well, sort of.  If the anti-homosexuals are right and it’s a choice, than it’s a lot like alcoholism, a condition that requires an action on the part of the individual.  On the other hand, if the liberal side is right, homosexuality is akin to a condition like mental retardation (I hear the gay-bashers laughing at that), in the fact that a person is or isn’t.  There is no choice.  In reality, it’s more of a middle ground.  A homosexual can choose to abstain from homosexual sex for their entire life, but that doesn’t mean their natural desire will be any less real (ask George Rekers; or, you know, like a dozen other gay hatemongers whose hypocrisy has been revealed).  Alcoholism is triggered by the consumption of alcohol.  Homosexuality, on the other hand, is there with or without action.

Still, homosexuality is harmful, right?  That’s all that matters.  We don’t encourage alcoholism, and we shouldn’t encourage homosexuality.  For instance, studies have shown that mental illness such as depression (and related conditions) are higher in homosexuals than in heterosexuals.  The study I linked to used a large sample and found that 42% and 43% of gays and lesbians (respectively) were found to have a mental illness, in contrast to 12% and 20% for heterosexual males and females (in a separate study).  Clearly a big difference.  Then again, 66% of those surveyed also said they had faced discrimination due to their sexuality.  (It’s probably safe to say that 0% of the heteros faced such discrimination).  Discrimination against homosexuals is a pretty common occurrence and it should be no surprise that people who must constantly be aware of attacks would also have more mental stress.

My sparring partner pointed to this survey from the Netherlands, a more “tolerant” nation, that indicated higher mental illness among homosexuals there, too.  One could pretty easily argue that even in the most tolerant countries, homosexuals will still face some level of discrimination.  It’s not like the US suddenly became a land of lollipops and love for African Americans after interracial marriage was legalized.  Bigotry has a way of lingering.

But, more importantly, I want to discuss this notion of legislating by surveys.

Correlation Vs. Causation

The numbers are interesting, but they are just numbers.  Does homosexuality cause mental illness?  Does mental illness cause homosexuality?  More likely, neither causes the other, they just happen to be connected by an unknown chemical process in the body.  There are so many societal and personal factors associated with homosexuality (even in ‘tolerant’ nations), one can’t generalize any definitive meaning just by looking at numbers.  There’s a classic phrase used when talking about statistics:  “Correlation does not imply Causation.”

One study found that of those homosexuals who had considered suicide, the cause was more likely to be the end of a relationship than sexual bigotry (though discrimination was the second leading cause).  This would seem to be an argument for encouraging longer, more meaningful relationships between homosexuals, yet Right Libertarian used this fact to claim homosexuals shouldn’t marry.  They aren’t depressed because of discrimination, his logic goes, they are depressed because they are promiscuous bedhoppers, unwilling to stay in a monogamous relationship.  They’re depressed because they just can’t help but jump from relationship to relationship, all willy nilly.

I don’t know about you, but if a person considers suicide after the end of a relationship, that doesn’t indicate to me that they didn’t care about the relationship.

Promiscuity and STDs

That leads directly into the promiscuity argument.  Homosexuals are just more promiscuous.  Fact.  And as curt as that sounds, the truth is, studies do support that.  Even among homosexual married couples, there is a greater openness to multiple partners.  I don’t accept the notion that having multiple partners is inherently wrong, as long as there is open communication between partners.  But, for the sake of argument, I’ll work from that assumption.

If your nation tells you, “You are not a real couple, we will provide no support for you and your loved one and we will not legally recognize your relationship,” why wouldn’t you be promiscuous?  Society at large says homosexuality isn’t natural, isn’t real love, and then society condemns homosexuals for behaving in a way that conforms to that stereotype?  I don’t see promiscuity as an argument against gay marriage.  I see it as an argument for it.

From the Netherlands study mentioned above:

“The finding that homosexual people are less often involved in steady relationships than heterosexual people is seen as resulting from the limited opportunities homosexual people have to find an intimate partner, lesser legal and social support for developing and maintaining homosexual relationships compared with that for heterosexual relationships, and differing norms and values regarding sexuality and personal relationships.”

It’s easy for heterosexuals to look at homosexuals and say, “They should be more like us.”  But what do heteros really know about what it’s like to be in a homosexual relationship?

Related to that, the high incidence of AIDS and STDs among the gay community is obviously related to said promiscuity.  I don’t know that anyone is seriously arguing that gay sex produces AIDS or STDs (it simply isn’t true).  These diseases spread because homosexuals are more likely to have multiple partners, allowing for greater opportunities to contract an infection.  If we all agree that disease is a bad thing, why not encourage something that would likely diminish promiscuity and its related ills?  It’s like those anti-abortion people who rail against teaching safe sex.  They want to reduce abortions but they don’t want to use a method that would help do just that, simply because it doesn’t meet their moral standard.

(I’ve already addressed the idea that homosexuals shouldn’t raise kids in the previous post, so I won’t rehash that here.  I will say this on the matter:  Considering how many children are left in poorly maintained foster homes, wouldn’t financially stable, committed gay couples who want to adopt be a good thing for society?)

Bringing It All Back Home

It seems to me, ‘normalizing’ gay marriage would probably rid the homosexual community of a great deal of the ills mentioned here.  But of course, that isn’t the anti-homosexual’s point in mentioning them.  They aren’t concerned for the welfare of the homosexual community.  Their argument really comes down to, “Gays are mentally ill, sexually deviant disease carriers, and we just want them to go away.”

Or, more succinctly, “Gays are icky.”

But homosexuals aren’t going to go away.  It’s not a fad, it’s not Satan’s scheme.

Let’s put these numbers in perspective.  It’s easy to throw studies back and forth and say percentage this, percentage that.  But, what do those numbers mean?  Even with a higher occurrence of mental illness among them, it doesn’t mean all homosexuals are cursed.

From this site:  “A recent study indicates that gay teens are twice as likely to contemplate or commit suicide compared with heterosexual teens; however, the same study found that 85% of same-sex–oriented youth never contemplate taking their own lives.”  15% is a lot, and if your whole goal is to make homosexuals look like deviants, it serves your point to focus in on that number, devoid of context. 

On the other hand, 15% isn’t a majority, not even close.  It means 85% of the gay population, if given the choice, could very likely grow up to be well-adjusted, happily married parents (as could the other 15%; mental illness is not some sort of death sentence).  We shouldn’t bar the rights of an entire group for 15%.  We should, instead, focus on making the society better for homosexuals struggling with mental illness.  Homosexuals are going to exist, whether your preacher likes it or not.

Do we tell heterosexuals they can’t marry if they have mental illness?  Or if they have a penchant for promiscuity?  Or if they have a case of the herps (or even AIDS)?  Of course not.  Why?  Because the government isn’t in the position of making value judgments about people’s lifestyles.  Its concern should only be whether or not gay marriage is good or bad for society.

Aye, there’s the rub.

This particular argument reflects the point of view that society is worse now than it was in the past.  This was Right Libertarian’s underlying point.  He thinks the world is worse off, not just because of homosexuals, but because women are not staying at home with their kids (really) and because liberals are pushing their agenda on America.  His words.

That, simply, is a matter of opinion based on (conservative) personal preference.  Debating this topic for a couple days has driven home just how much this argument hinges on how you view the world, not on facts, which is why some people will never agree on this subject.

You will never get a homophobe to admit they are homophobic.  They will wrap themselves in statistics and say the numbers don’t lie.  Well, the numbers don’t lie.  But they also don’t have a fixed perspective.  One person can look at the numbers and say, “See, homosexuals are bad.”  And another person can look at the numbers and say, “See, society mistreats homosexuals.”  In truth, your personal bias is always going to skew your interpretation of numbers.

Like Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Most psychology studies are wisely filled with caveats and carefully worded conclusions that discourage politicizing the data and encourage further study.  People usually ignore those parts.

Could I be accused of skewing the data to my own agenda?  Certainly (and I will be).  That’s why I’m trying to step back from the numbers and look at society as a whole.  I don’t see the world getting worst.  I’ve yet to see a country crumble because it legalized gay marriage.  I’m actually pretty optimistic, I see us making progress.  Gay marriage will be legal here in the US.  I don’t know exactly when, but it will happen.

I freely admit my bias.  I believe this world is better thanks to liberal things like Civil Rights, Gender Equality, Worker Rights and Gay and Lesbian Rights.

I guess I’m just a crazy Leftist radical that way.

a softer world

Arguments Against Gay Marriage: Refutations

In the vein of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Goldstein, I intend to use this post to list out the most common arguments that are given against the legalization of Gay Marriage, and then I will offer a refutation of each one.  This is not to say that I thought of all of these (or any) on my own.  Rather, just think of this as a handy compendium for the debate, a reference if you end up engaged in this conversation and need a prepared, organized response.  Will this list be comprehensive?  No, but it should be thorough enough, and I will add to it as new arguments come up (or when I remember them).*

Ultimately, what I will show is that there are no strong arguments against gay marriage, and all opposition ultimately comes down to personal distaste.  Distaste of homosexuals specifically, and change in general.

The List

1. Gay Marriage Would Redefine ‘Marriage’

Besides being a rather quaint argument in the age of internet slang and Urban Dictionary (gosh, a word getting redefined, who will think of the children?), it’s also revealing of how little people know of history.  The notion that marriage has always been some unassailable love pact between a man and a woman is simply false.  Historically, marriage has been a business agreement longer than it’s been… whatever it is now.  Hell, arranged marriages and marriages for status still happen today, and no one’s keeping 23-year-old buxom blondes from marrying wealthy, wrinkly octogenarians.

Which leads into the second argument:

2. Marriage is a Sacred Bond Between Man and Woman

If the sanctity of marriage is under assault, the barbarians at the gate are not singing showtunes.  Divorce corrodes the ‘sanctity’ of marriage.  So do drunken Las Vegas marriages, “Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire?” and fairy tales that end with “And they lived happily ever after.”  Marriage is about as sacred as a cow in McDonald’s.

And that’s not even addressing the notion of marriage being ‘sacred.’  Sacred meaning: devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated. In other words, a term that has no meaning in a secular consideration of laws (and despite all attempts, the United States of America is still a secular nation).  This argument is ultimately a religious argument, and I’ll deal with those momentarily.

3. Marriage’s purpose is to produce children; homosexuals cannot have children

This argument is wrong on both sides.  First, marriage is clearly not about producing children.  If that were the case, every couple would have to take a fertility test before walking the aisle.  The government has no business legislating the why’s or how’s of the bedroom, so whether or not a married couple has children is no concern of any elected official (except for their own children, of course).  Sterile couples get married, post-menopausal women get married, dudes with floppy dicks (and fat wallets) get married.  Reproduction is obviously not the point of such marriages.

And homosexuals can have children.  They’re called surrogates.  The Kids Are All Right. Need I say more?

4. Children raised without both a male and female parent will be unhealthy/deviants/screwed up

Take it away, Zach.


(Nailed it.)

Addendum: The counterargument to this that I have encountered is that this is just one example, not representative. To which I reply, “Representative of what?” Are we taking a poll of how many screwed up children come out of heterosexual marriages to determine whether or not we should keep it legal? Because, I can assure you, the vast majority of screwed up people in this world throughout history came out of hetero marriages

Hitler’s parents were a married man and woman. There you go, proof that heteros shouldn’t be allowed to marry. (I’m obviously not being serious; I’m mocking this argument and the tendency to compare everything to Hitler/Nazism. I’m multitasking.)

One example of a homosexual couple successfully raising children is sufficient for this argument because it undermines the very premise: Homosexuals should and cannot raise children. If the argument was, some homosexuals should not raise children, then there would be room for debate. You’d probably have some gays who agreed with you. Then again, some straights shouldn’t raise children, either.

This whole argument is moot anyway, because gay couples can already adopt and only a fringe group of America is trying to prevent that. Allowing homosexuals to officially marry could only bring more stability to these children’s lives, not less.

5. Once gays are allowed to marry, I’ll be allowed to marry my dog (Thanks Casey)

This is the classic slippery slope argument, and there are multiple problems with it.  First off, this makes the assumption that homosexuality is a sexual perversion on par with bestiality or necrophilia. Homosexuality is a sexual orientation, and despite what they might have thought in the 50s, we all (should) now understand that A) Homosexuality is not a choice and B) Homosexuality isn’t wrong or perverted, it’s just different than heterosexuality.

Secondly, homosexual marriage, like heterosexual marriage, is a commitment between two willing adults.  A marriage between an animal and a human can never be defined in this manner as an animal’s will is unknowable.  Homosexual marriages are no more a precedent for marrying your dog (seriously, who thinks of this stuff?) than hetero marriage.  This is also why you can’t claim homosexual marriage will lead to marrying children, because homosexual marriage still requires consent.  The ‘Gay Agenda’ (oops, did I just let that slip) has no interest in changing the age of consent laws.

Thirdly… seriously, who wants to marry their dog?  Is that contingent of America really big enough to be considered a concern?  I think the people that make this argument are revealing more about themselves than anything else.  It’s creepy and it’s stupid and it reveals exactly how irrational this debate can become.  This, of course, goes back to the idea of ‘redefining marriage,’ in that people claim if we change the meaning of marriage to include the union of man and man or woman and woman, we can redefine it to mean marrying anything, animal, fruit or vegetable.  This argument ignores one important detail:  Male or female, humans are humans.  The leap from homosexual marriage to bestiality isn’t a slippery slope, it’s a jump over the Grand Canyon.

6.  The Bible condemns homosexuality

This is true.  The Bible, that ancient book written by sheep herders and religious zealots, does indeed condemn homosexuality.  EDIT: There is reason to think that the Bible doesn’t actually condemn homosexuality.  I didn’t argue this point originally because I felt it didn’t matter what the Bible did or didn’t say.  However, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer this information as a counterpoint to the assumption that homosexuality is roundly condemned in the Bible.
Looking up the passages that specifically mention homosexuality (or homosexual acts), I went to Conservapedia (because if you need to reference nutjobs, go straight to the source), and found 5 verses.  Two are in Leviticus (Old Testament) a book that also forbids sex on a woman’s period, wearing clothes made of two different materials (homo says what?) and prescribes death as a punishment for sexual sin, including homosexuality.  Outside of the Phelps family, is anyone going to go along with that?  Didn’t think so.

But the New Testament is where it counts.  Jesus came, changed all the rules (think reboot, not sequel), and now, whatever Paul said on homosexuality is all that matters (ignoring the fact that Jesus said nothing about it).  Paul hates the gays.  And the women.  Paul’s writings were epistles (letters) to various churches (or followers) and when read as a whole (as opposed to individual verses, which is not how Paul wrote them, obviously), they clearly prove to be blog posts intended for a specific audience dealing with specific issues.  This is why when Paul tells women to be quiet (and ask her husband if she’s got any questions), most modern Christians just say, “Oh, he was just speaking to that specific church.”  Joyce Meyer spits in the face of Paul.

Yet, when it comes to the fabulous, uh uh uh.  LAW!

The point is, the Bible is a pick and choose smorgasbord of random commands, and to claim that we should legislate based on it is preposterous.  If we were truly a consistent Biblical-based nation, we’d make Fred Phelps look like a tofu eating hippie.

7.  The Bible establishes Marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman

It really doesn’t.  Adam married Eve, so, sure, the first couple out the gate was your traditional all-nude, constructed from dust and ribs hetero couple.  After that, things get wonky.

Abraham (the forefather of all 3 major monotheistic religions) had a kid with his wife’s handmaid.  Jacob (father of the 12 nations of Israel) married two sisters.  Moses had two wives.  David (God’s favorite king) had a whole stable of wives and concubines.  These 4 men are the most beloved figures of the Jewish faith, and of the Christian faith up until Jesus.  And Jesus never married, kind of flying in the face of marriage being sacred (the holiest man never even bothered to get married; how sacred is that?).

8. Any religious argument against Gay Marriage

Before any argument can be taken seriously, it must have firm premises.  The religious argument rests on the following premises: A) That there is a God and B) That this god is the God of a particular religious tradition (in America, that’s the Christian tradition).

I’m just going to say it.  There is no good argument for God.  Read the appendix of Rebecca Goldstein’s novel for a handy guide to the “strongest” arguments for God, and her dismantling of all of them.

In a nation that was founded on religious freedom (freedom to practice whatever religion, and freedom from being forced to practice any religion), the idea that we should legislate based on faith is beyond reprehensible.  It’s antithetic to our core values as a nation.  You can have faith, you can practice it freely, you can even let it dictate the way you vote (though, I wish you wouldn’t), but you can’t claim you’re making a logical or rational argument.  You are making a faith argument.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Straight from the horse’s mouth.  Faith is based on nothing.  By the transitive properties of common sense, arguments from faith are based on nothing.

9. Gay’s are icky!

Let’s be honest, this is what it’s all about.  You don’t like the idea of a dude buggering another dude.  And you only like girl-on-girl when it’s being filmed and the two fake-titted ladies are unexpectedly visited by a well-muscled repair man who gladly joins in.

Unfortunately, there is no way to refute this.  Just as there is no arguing with a member of the KKK or fans of the Black Eyed Peas, irrational stupidity cannot, by definition, be dismantled by rationality.  So, have your way, vote against gay marriage, claim that “separate but equal” is fine.

Just don’t claim you have good reasons for your discrimination.  Because you clearly do not.

Addendum: A longer argument.


*Feel free to add your argument in the comments.  I’ll gladly refute it and then add it to the list.