Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Black Gay is Beautiful*

It's been a while since I watched this, but I couldn't let Jon Stewart's takedown of Mike Huckabee go by without comment:

Specifically, I want to talk about the colloquy starting around 3:40 of the clip, where Jon Stewart says:

Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality . . . talk about a lifestyle choice! That is absolutely a choice. That is absolutely a choice. Gay people don't choose to be gay.

On one hand, Jon's absolutely right. Being attracted to someone of the same sex is not a choice. However, I find the statement "it's not a choice" to be profoundly disempowering. The statement is a plea for mercy rather than a demand for respect. It implies that gays would be straight if they could, but they can't, so you should take pity on them. I think that this post makes the argument better than I can:

The case for/against gay marriage is hung-up on this idea of choice—i.e. we should frown on gay marriage because it's a deviant lifestyle. Or we shouldn't frown on it because it isn't a lifestyle, it's a biological fact. This is where the comparisons with race come in. But I always hated this argument. 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?

I'm not trying to minimize the bias and trauma that must come from being out, but a basic extension of humanity, a belief that those who aren't like me actually are like me, says that to be gay has to be more than coping with living beneath the boot of the ignorant. It's always about more than getting your ass kicked, no? What if you actually love the "more than?" What if it is who you are and what you choose?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that it isn't important to educate the public that orientation is an inborn characteristic. I think that people who realize the immutability of orientation are more likely to support gay rights. However, as true empowerment, sexual orientation must be viewed through a different prism than just whether it's a choice or not. Rather, the question is whether one's identity, choice or not, is worthy of respect. In that way, orientation needs to be viewed as religion is viewed. Religion is subject to heightened scrutiny by the legal system not because it is immutable, but rather because it is an integral part of one's identity and "it is not appropriate to require a person to repudiate or change his or her sexual orientation in order to avoid discriminatory treatment." In other words, even if it were a choice, it would be a legitimate choice to make.

* This is not to say that Black isn't beautiful--it is.


micah e. said...

I really appreciate the thoughts you brought out in this post.

I think it is perhaps more apt to say that people don’t choose (shouldn’t have to choose?) to be put in a political system/cultural system in which their immutable characteristics are presumptively excludable. In that sense, the burden is placed on the system to reform rather than causing the individual to feel that he or she is made inadequate because of the discourse.

Nate W. said...

That's a great formulation, Micah.