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    I like the way you cross the street ’cause you’re…precious

    All right, then. If both Nathan and Susanna are going to link John Derbyshire’s latest commentary on homosexuality and just kind of vaguely say that they don’t agree with everything in it without specifying what, I guess it falls to me to point out its weak points. I do so hate having to rouse myself from my normal state of serene benevolence toward the world around in order to be crabby and contrarian. The things I do in pursuit of truth.

    The excerpt that Susanna quotes (which Derbyshire himself cited from someone else) is the part I have the biggest problem with. Line-by-line, it’s perfectly accurate; what it lacks is context. It exemplifies an annoying tendency the hard right often exhibits when the talk turns to social policy: When it wants to make America sound like a sick society that has forgotten religion and individual integrity, it rolls leftist feminist, ethnic, and gay activism together into one big nasty juggernaut produced by broad-based cultural changes in the ’60’s and ’70’s. When it wants to make homosexuals seem manipulative and fundamentally anti-society in our thinking, it slices out gay liberation as a cultural development and gay activism as an industry and presents them in isolation.
    I doubt that this is done out of conscious craftiness, you understand, but it does give a distorted picture. Gay activists, tiresome (and frequently downright destructive to their own people’s interests) as they undoubtedly are, did not invent the idea that citizenship consists of goodies and entitlements, that the way to redress previous wrongs is through quotas and brainwashing and diversity retreats and cutesy bureaucratizing and funding grants. Strip that stuff away, and 90% of contemporary American public life disappears–gay, straight, bi, or other.
    I do agree–and have said before–that the problems such an approach to civic participation presents for gays are different and probably worse than they are for women and ethnic minorities. I’m not big on the idea that we need “role models” who are exactly like us in order to set and achieve goals for ourselves. And yet…if you’re gay and come out in late adolescence/early adulthood, sexual awakening tends to come down on you like a ton of bricks. Straight teenagers find sexuality confusing and frightening, too–I know that–but I think that most of them have a chance to sort of ease into it at the same pace as their bodies are developing. They see their desires for love and companionship and sex mirrored in the way their parents and community elders live. Being gay means learning to navigate those things, in many cases, from square one. It’s hard but nowhere near impossible to do responsibly. However, when that initial stage of big-time identity shift hits the spoiled leftovers of ’60’s anti-establishmentism, the results are not pretty.
    But I don’t think they’re intrinsic to homosexuality, either, which (intended or not) is the way the Johnson quote, with its unleashed-monster metaphor, makes them sound. For all the talk about the return to traditional values in America, after all, the divorce rate is still vertiginously high, the rate of births to single mothers has declined but is not exactly negligible, and you still encounter plenty of rude and uncivilized people. That doesn’t mean that the recapturing of wisdom that was thrown away in the last few generations is a figment of the imagination. It just means that lasting change requires time to take root; the important thing to focus on is which direction things are heading. Despite the many troubled aspects of gay life, I think we’re steadily getting our act together.
    And I feel compelled to point out that there are plenty of straight people who are in on the act. When I was coming out, none of my ten or so close friends was gay. The man with whom I had a halting relationship–I was a selfish, cocky, immature little bitch to him and still regret it, BTW–made arguments in favor of accepting my sexuality that I didn’t really find convincing. The support and encouragement that I responded to came from straight friends who didn’t want to see me go through the rest of my life trying to drink away what was obviously a fundamental part of myself. Some of them have exactly the same instinctive revulsion toward homosexuality that Derbyshire describes, and it doesn’t bother me. I don’t bait them, and they don’t make an issue of it. Pointed but good-natured humor is a big help, in my experience, and the enforced humorlessness of so much of the leftist program has, as Derbyshire implies, done nothing but dam up feelings and leave them to fester. I would just add that, in a free society, both gays and straights have to be equally prepared to be dished at when humor is necessary to dissipate tension and make civilized interaction possible.
    Along those lines, while this issue was only taken up by implication in Derbyshire’s article, it seems apposite here: this debate, like that over the role of women in society, that over parental autonomy in child-rearing, and that over cultural assimilation for immigrants, will continue to be contentious–it’s a debate, see?–and sometimes acrimonious. If we want to deal with these things honestly, we all have to be prepared to have our egos bruised and our cherished ideas exploded sometimes.
    That means that when conservatives say that they believe homosexuality should be decriminalized but still think it’s immoral behavior, gays have to quit wringing their every word for evidence that they “really” hate us and want us all lined up and shot. It also means that conservatives have to stop picking over the lives of gays who say they’re happy for evidence of the slightest misgiving or strain of melancholy to prove that we “really” aren’t. There are quite enough genuinely theocratic religious types and drug-addicted, financially insolvent homos running around, but it’s unworthy of free people who have given their own life choices due moral consideration to have to comfort themselves with the belief that no one could ever possibly be happy (at least in the Earthly sense) living any other way.
    The Internet, for all its virtues, tends to aggravate that particular problem. It is way, way too easy to read someone’s one-paragraph comment, or even ten-paragraph post, and assume that it holds the key to the writer’s entire way of thinking. But while posts emerge clean and self-contained, they originate in real life, where bad traffic, a botched account at work, an old injury that’s acting up, or an irritated exchange with the spouse can influence how one treats a topic as seemingly unrelated as whether Will & Grace should be on the air. The way to find out whether you’re interpreting someone correctly is to ask and see whether he explains it satisfactorily or, on the other hand, digs himself in deeper. The only things you have to lose are your assumptions. (Anyone who wants to point out that I don’t always take my own advice here is welcome to do so; we don’t jettison our ideals for the silly reason that we can’t always live up to them.)
    Added at 16:10: I noticed when going back to Susanna’s page that Myria, who writes the It Can’t Rain All the Time (presumably named after the wonderful Jane Siberry’s wonderful song from the soundtrack to The Crow) weblog had also tracked-back with an interesting response. I’ve always liked her posts, though I don’t read her regularly. Good thoughts on this one, and a color scheme to die for, darling.

    2 Responses to “I like the way you cross the street ’cause you’re…precious”

    1. John the Unrepentent Homophobe

      John Derbyshire has a fascinating column about what he terms his “mildly and tolerantly homophobi[a]”. I find I agree with…

    2. John the Unrepentent Homophobe

      John Derbyshire has a fascinating column about what he terms his “mildly and tolerantly homophobi[a]”. I find I agree with…