Monday, October 18, 2004

Thank God we got Kennedy instead of Bork:

I used to have a modicum of respect for Robert Bork—he’s very intelligent, and is quite civil when he debates. He writes well and his work is always interesting. Plus, I respect his honesty about the intellectual and philosophical foundations of America. He, contra the religious right revisionists, whom he supports and vice versa, recognizes that “Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of Independence is an Enlightenment document” (Slouching Towards Gomorrah, p. 59). And that the Declaration lends no support to religious conservatives who desire to use government to implement their worldview on society. Finally, I feel sorry for the way he was treated during his confirmation hearings.

Although Bork has been a social conservative for some time, up until fairly recently he was a lifelong non-religious person (that’s when I had a modicum of respect for him). He recently has converted to a very conservative strain of Catholicism. And that seems to have driven him off the deep end into crankhood.

Bork’s most recent work for First Things shows evidence of a sad decent into antigay bigotry (and I use the word “bigot” very judiciously). (This polemic in favor of the FMA recaps much of what he has written in the 2003 afterword to Slouching. As bad as the First Things piece is, the afterword is worse.)

Here is what I took to be the most insulting part of the piece:

Homosexual marriage would prove harmful to individuals in other ways as well. By equating heterosexuality and homosexuality, by removing the last vestiges of moral stigma from same-sex couplings, such marriages will lead to an increase in the number of homosexuals. Particularly vulnerable will be young men and women who, as yet uncertain of and confused by their sexuality, may more easily be led into a homosexual life. Despite their use of the word “gay,” for many homosexuals life is anything but gay. Both physical and psychological disorders are far more prevalent among homosexual men than among heterosexual men. Attempted suicide rates, even in countries that are homosexual-friendly, are three to four times as high for homosexuals. Though it is frequently asserted by activists that high levels of internal distress in homosexual populations are caused by social disapproval, psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover has shown that no studies support this theory. Compassion, if nothing else, should urge us to avoid the consequences of making homosexuality seem a normal and acceptable choice for the young.

An increase in the number of homosexuals? This completely contradicts everything we know about human nature, where the percentage of homosexuals in any given society is consistent regardless of the level of toleration.

More important is his despicable “blaming the victim”—blaming homosexuals for the unfortunate suffering that we have been dealt at the hands of a society that morally and socially stigmatizes “same-sex couplings.” I don’t think Bork can begin to imagine the psychological stress faced by a homosexual individual growing up in a society that loathes homosexuals. If he wants to know how it feels, then he should start by reading this story by Arthur Silber:

I am about to turn 55. I was a teenager in the 1960s. Let me tell you a bit about what that was like. The prevailing view in the '60s was that homosexuality was unutterably disgusting, and it was very rarely even discussed. It was officially regarded as a mental illness, and the culture in general viewed homosexuals as sometimes colorful and interesting (and sometimes unusually talented), but always as perverted, revolting -- and doomed, to one degree or another. I absorbed and internalized all of that. I first began to realize that I was "different" at the age of about eight or nine. My feelings weren't specifically sexual at that age, but I was aware that I related to other boys, and to girls, in some way that was...well, just different from almost all the other kids I knew. By the age of 12 or 13, I realized that I was sexually attracted to other boys, and to men -- and that's when the real trouble started.

I regarded this knowledge as the dirtiest secret it was possible for me to have -- and I felt that no one else must ever know. Since I was (all too stereotypically) primarily interested in the arts, I found my "role models," if you could possibly call them that, in the arts, especially in the theater, in the opera world, and in literature. I looked at Tennessee Williams, for example: a once brilliantly talented playwright (much more talented than his contemporary, Arthur Miller, in my view -- Williams at his best was stupendously theatrical, and heartbreakingly poetic; damn, that man could write, in a way that Miller never could). But by the 1960s, Williams was a husk of a man -- a broken-down alcoholic (and drug addict, if I am remembering correctly), whose latest plays were extremely undistinguished, and sometimes just simply bad. And when he appeared on television, he was a pathetic wreck, and it was painful to watch him.

Or I looked at Truman Capote -- also someone who had been brilliantly gifted, but who was by then a caricature of a human being. In fact, Capote appeared to barely even be human, with that artificial, squeaky voice and delivery, and his overly-stylized (and ridiculous) manner of self-presentation, which he appeared to be simultaneously aware of and even mocking himself, but trapped by, too, and not knowing how to abandon it and return to something more resembling normalcy. People like Williams and Capote were the only public faces of homosexuality that I was aware of -- and when I looked at them, I saw my own future, and my own fate. (If you're wondering about someone like Noel Coward: even though it was commonly known that Coward was gay, he never spoke about it publicly during that period. With very rare exceptions, people just didn't talk about it then at all. It was only when books began to be published about Coward later, after he died, that a full picture of his life and his relationships was available.)

I saw my future in other places, too: one of my most vivid memories of growing up during that period was seeing the film of Advise and Consent. In that story, I identified most with the young Senator played by Don Murray, who was apparently happily married, and had a young child. But he had a deep, dark, disgusting secret: when he had been in the military, he had had a brief homosexual affair. In the course of the political battles in the film, one of the Senator's enemies discovers this secret -- and blackmails the Senator with the threat to expose the affair, in an effort to get him to change his position on a key Presidential nomination. Tormented by the predicament he finds himself in, the Senator finally kills himself.

Those are the sorts of messages the culture gave me. And the culture did not give me any others at all -- and it certainly didn't provide me with any images of gay men living happily, having good jobs, or being in anything like fulfilling long-term relationships. So it is hardly surprising that when, at the age of about 15, I first went to a psychotherapist (the first of many to come), I told him during our initial session that I had these sexual desires, but that I hadn't yet acted on them. I also told him that I did not want to act on them, that I, too, thought they were revolting and disgusting -- and that I would do anything to change them. And he had a "solution": electroshock therapy. (I was later told, by another psychotherapist whom I believe on this matter, that even in the mid-1960s this was not a view commonly held by psychotherapists with regard to "curing" homosexuality -- but I also have to say that the therapist who suggested electroshock therapy to me was very well-known, the author of several books, and generally well-respected.) It is hardly surprising that, throughout my teenage years, I was deeply depressed -- and occasionally thought about suicide myself. It never got beyond the stage of "thinking," but such thoughts were never too far away.

There are countless other anecdotal stories I could point to, many of them involving people much younger than Silber, for instance, this by Jason Kuznicki.

You see, unlike the case with other hated groups—blacks, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses—gay people are often raised by families that hate gays. Or at the very least, even if the family is accepting, gays are still a minority within the family. Could you imagine what it must be like to be the lesbian daughter of Alan Keyes? Or even worse, listen to Maya’s (Keyes’s daughter) partner’s tale of her family life:

Any of you that have read my journal for more then one week probably know that my mother is virulently anti-gay. She is scarily fundamentalist Christian - supports Bush, the Federal Marriage Amendment and believes the Bible is the complete Word of God and that every single word should be taken in the utmost literal sense. She doesn't even believe in evolution, for chrissakes...However, she does believe that being gay is a sin and that all gays are going to hell. And, she reminds me of that every, single day. And this was before you all were so kind as to plaster my relationship with another woman all over the web. I don't even want to repeat what she calls me now. I've been kicked out of my house twice in the past week (thank God for safe houses and unlocked windows) and she is now refusing to help me with anything in my life - this includes taking me to see my psychiatrist and my psychologist and helping me pay for the psychiatric medication that keeps me alive. She is also insisting I pay her back for the three semesters I spent at my Christian college because I "obviously learned nothing". The jury is still out on whether or not she will help pay for my school (I was planning on taking some courses at a local community college this upcoming semester), although, the outcome does not look very positive.

But gay people’s higher rates of suicide attempts are their own fault, right?

And Bork gets no points for citing gay hating crank Jeffrey Satinover as authority. Satinover is a professional gay-bashing crackpot whose credits including writing a book about “the Bible Code,” endorsing the debunked fraudulent gay lifespan figures of “researcher” Paul Cameron, and noting

that the Renaissance "could have just as easily been called 'The Great Death,'" since it killed off the anti-pagan hegemony of "Judeo-Christianity" in favor of modern science.

Maybe Bork should just spend more time talking to gay people to get a better understanding of this issue. I think the gains that gays have made in recent times, not only politically, but also culturally, is a great achievement of this society. And many of those gains are very recent, and are only beginning to be felt by the youngest generation of gays, a generation that will come of age in a fairly tolerant atmosphere. For instance, I’m 31, and in growing up in the fairly socially liberal Northeast, there was no “gay-straight” alliance in my public school, or any of them in the area. Now practically all of the schools in the area have them. Here is Andrew Sullivan—who is about 40—discussing his interactions with the youngest of the gay generation, the generation that grew up post-Philadelphia, Ellen, Will & Grace, Pedro Zamora, etc….

They know who they are. They appear to have good relationships with their straight peers; and even in their occasional struggles, know they own the future. It's strange to be in the middle of such social change. I'll never know what it's like to grow up in a more accepting age, not to have the torments that so many in my generation went through (let alone the poor souls older than me), but the results in these youngsters' lives are truly inspiring. They lift me up and cheer me on. With each generation, the psychological damage and pain recedes a little. And the pursuit of happiness begins again. Some of these kids think of me as a mentor. How do I tell them that they are actually mentors to me?

The point is, Sullivan is 40, Arthur Silber is 55, I’m 31…and none of us grew up in the tolerant atmosphere that we see in today’s day and age of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” And even many a young folk growing up in today’s post Lawrence v. Texas society, don’t have the privilege of growing up in a social liberal climate with parents who will accept them when they come out, despite the positive messages that the culture gives them. How dare Robert Bork et al. try to blame gays for the suffering that society has inflicted on them. And how dare he attempt to preserve whatever is left of “good old days” that Arthur Silber referenced above.


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