Every time I turn around these last couple of days, I'm running into something I need to write about. Gods, I'm seriously considering hiding under my sofa for a few days to catch a break from being pissed. Unfortunately, I have dust bunnies. And that would annoy me.
Today's anger comes in the form of a blog an old family friend posted in which he stated:
[T]o say that one's sexual orientation -- a characteristic that connotes action, in other words, one must choose to act upon one's sexual preference-- is the same in kind as the color of one's skin -- a thing that is unalterable by the act of the will -- cheapens the human understanding of sexuality and ethnicity.
This is, so far, a fair argument. There really isn't a good comparison between sexual orientation and race beyond the fact that both are discriminated against. I'm gay, but I can butch up (somewhat) and no one will know. My skin does not declare me a part of a minority, nor am I so declared by any outward, immutable sign.
Unfortunately, this argument is made in support of this one:
This line is meant to imply that the term "non-traditional family" should include gay couples. As one who comes from a "non-traditional family" -- black step-father and white mother -- I resent this comparison. This clip equates race with sexual orientation.
The essential problem here is the confusion of what's actually being argued. In fact, the whole post reads like this. Towards the beginning, Foshee states that he finds several issues with the show that prompted his blog post, including women's rights concerns and the dehumanization of children. But he also states that, for brevity and clarity, he will confine his argument to the "race issue."
What follows is 282 words about how offended Foshee is at what he believes is an implication that gay couples inclusion under the heading "non-traditional family" equates sexual orientation with race.
I am now, officially confused. Also slightly hurt in my turn, but mostly confused.
First of all, let's break down the argument from the first premise: that inclusion of LGBT (specifically gay) couples under the heading of "non-traditional family" somehow makes a connection between the issues faced by gay couples and the issues faced by interracial couples, single parents, grandparents caretakers, adoptive parents, foster parents…
Hmm? Oh, no, he was only speaking of interracial couples. As he himself states, he is the child of a caucasian woman while his stepfather is African American. Problem is, he's using a very narrow definition of "non-traditional" to form this opinion.
So, Merriam-Webster defines a tradition as "an inherited, established or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom.)"
H-uh. Ok. So, based on roughly 225 years of established "American" social custom, with a couple hundred years more of British social custom behind that, a traditional family consists of: a strong male head of house who earns the sole income for the family; a female companion that runs and governs the house in the male's absence, does not work outside the home, and should defer to her spouse; between one and 15 children; and any parents or siblings of either the male or female leaders of the house who may be invalid, aged, or single. The final caveat is that, with the exception of any children born out of wedlock, all members of the family should have roughly the same skin color.
On the other hand, good 'ol Merriam defines the prefix "non-" to mean "not, other than, reverse of, absence of <nontoxic> <nonlinear>."
So, a "non-traditional" family in the strictest definition would be any family that doesn't have the exact structure, or some slight variation of the structure, that is described above.
Frankly, I'd have to say that covers a lot of ground. There aren't a lot of families that fit that definition. It should be noted that, culturally, the definition has be flexed a bit to include families with working mothers and female heads of house as long as there is a heterosexual racially homogenous couple as the center of the household. But even with that expansion, there's way too many family structures to try and make any definitive statements about the category as a whole.
So to say that two selections within that category are similar beyond their inclusion in that category because they are included in that category is nonsense. The only similarity that can be drawn from their simultaneous inclusion is that they are both non-traditional family structures. And definitively speaking, that is a correct statement.
Quick summation: there is no inherent comparison implied or made by the inclusion of gay couples in the "non-traditional" family group. Further, it is a matter of definition that such couples are inherently a part of that group.
Still with me then? Excellent. Let's take this to the next step.
The basic argument of "race ≠ sexual orientation" is a sweet bit of rhetorical real estate. There isn't a good counterargument, the statement is true on a 1:1 value, and there's a lot of charged dialogue that can be generated from it. The arguments for it even make themselves, as evinced above.
Unfortunately, Foshee decides to take a flying leap to another topic entirely to make this simple point.
Sexuality must be actualized by the will, and because of this, is one of the most humanized actions we are capable of doing. In other animals, it is simply instinct. Whether or not one is born with homosexual tendencies does not take from him the ability to choose to act upon his sexuality. He can choose to reject it, accept it, flaunt it, suppress it... etc. Choice defines this aspect of our lives. I should know; I'm choosing to live a celibate life as a priest.
Ok. This is an old, old argument. Ever heard the old saw "love the sinner, hate the sin"? This is the grown up non-Aesop-y version of that. What we've got here is the acknowledgement that being gay may or may not (despite lots of evidence for 'not') be a choice.
"But even if it isn't, having gay sex or relationships certainly is! So there! It is a choice to 'be' gay, because you can choose not to express it! HA!" says inner straw man.
For those that can't see me, I'm doing a Spock eyebrow right now at my inner straw man.
This is actually a fabulous argument, rhetorically speaking. Some people are going to throw things at me for this, but it's fabulous because, definitively speaking, it is in fact true. Any action requiring conscious deliberation and consent by the actor before action can occur is made by choice.
But a person born of a certain ethnicity does not have the ability to choose anything about his race. He simply is black, white, latino, asian... etc. Sure, you can try to change things -- the way you dress, how you act, even cosmetic changes. But you can't act upon your ethnicity.
I went on with the quote before completing this argument because it needs context to be clear. Again, I'm not entirely sure why the comparison is being drawn between these two very different groups based on an umbrella term that encompasses both, but we'll go on anyway.
While it is true that there is no element of choice in racial heritage, and it is true that any action taken is definitively a choice on some level, this is where the "choice of action" argument hits a snag.
This would be it. I give you the 2005 National School Climate Survey.
Listen to how this sounds for a moment: "you're a good and wonderful person. But unless you find someone that you aren't attracted to that you can live with, you must spend your life alone and celibate, because any action you take that follows your inclinations is inherently sinful."
At any point during that, did you stop hearing "don't sin" and start hearing "you're broken, and must die alone if you want to avoid the wrath of God"?
I did. And to paraphrase Foshee: I should know; I'm a gay kid raised Catholic, who had to learn to support that argument in apologetics classes.
And the best bit is, that's a summary. Since the statement is only very rarely made in total, it never sounds that bad to the person saying it. And on the off chance that a kid puts all the pieces together and then has the guts to ask if that is that actual total statement?
Cue an hour long explanation of why God loves us enough to give us what is essentially a near free ticket to heaven, as long as we spend life without intimate companionship. And intimate can definitely mean relationship here. Sure it's possible that two gay guys might live together, love each other, and never have sex. But there's this fun little clause known as "the avoidance of near temptation." Basically, it means "don't get in situation that might tempt you to sin."
Which in turn means the "celibate companion" option is either never brought up, or decried if it is.
What all this boils down to is that there is no mercy shown by the "choice of action" argument. It's a way of intentionally or unintentionally cloaking the same argument of "gays are TEH EVULZ" in ways that make it sound somewhat palatable at first glance.
By way of my own out-of context comparison though, I feel the need to make a point of my own as a conclusion to this mess. Foshee says in his closing line:
Sure, you can try to change things -- the way you dress, how you act, even cosmetic changes. But you can't act upon your ethnicity.
Fair warning: what follows is a nasty, ugly argument made for the purposes of rhetorical comparison, and only for those purposes.
Technically speaking, and by the very definition Foshee uses to allow for gay people to be human while still demonizing any homosexual action taken, yes you can. After all, if there is a "choice of action" in acting homosexual, there is an equal "choice of action" in acting black or Latino, or Chinese.
No, the color of the skin can't be changed. Throughout history, however, there have been horrific attempts to "whitewash" cultures and languages. By the definition of "choice of action" as used by Foshee, all ethnic individuals that embrace their cultural heritage are "acting on the choice" to be who they are. The fact that it can't be hidden is immaterial. Any such individual could "choose" to abandon their heritage and culture, and attempt to be "as white as possible."
End Comparison. You were warned.
But if I was to seriously suggest that the best way for any ethnic minority to avoid discrimination was to "whiten up"? I'd be lynched, and rightly so.
Now please…explain to me the difference between discrimination and hate based on the color of skin, and the "whitewash" solution — and discrimination and hate based on who one loves, and the "don't act gay" solution?