Apologies to the cartoonist: Gary Larson once published a cartoon showing a man sporting a grinning rubber horsie inner tube and a rocket launcher.
I was recently a guest in the home of some friends. A neighbor dropped by unannounced for a visit. Every once in a while, we all meet people whose agendas are the first thing out of their mouth when they enter a room. You know, like “Hi, I’m William … and I really, really admire transformative flotation devices, don’t you?”
In less than three minutes, “guest” had offered us three off-the-cuff pronouncements, for no reason anyone could think of:
1. He thinks another one of the neighbors is in some way wired a little weird.
2. He thinks homosexuality can’t be a genetically inherited trait; since homosexuals “can’t pass it on” through procreation, if there ever was a gene, it would have been bred out of the race thousands of years ago.
3. He thinks “global warming” is just so much propaganda; this was obviously going to happen anyway and we bear little or no responsibility for it.
So, in a minute and a half “guest” has explained away our neighbor, who’s a nice and likeable guy. He’s explained away 6,000 years of recorded human history and all current research on patterns in “gay families”. He’s explained away a carbon dioxide buildup that even NASA says has a 99% certainty rate — the only difference being that, since we became aware of it, we’ve since exhausted any “slack period” when we might have done something more proactive about it.
What did I say about all this?
Nothing. Barring the fact that I was a guest in my hosts’ home, and wasn’t asked, and we didn’t have an audience of innocents to get sucked in by the rhetoric: refer back to the Gary Larson cartoon.
Science hasn’t found a “gay gene” yet. It has found evidence of patterns of dominance along the maternal line. This is all anecdotal, but many families with a gay child discover a strong pattern in the whole family, sometimes going back generations. Mine was one of them. The theory that a recessive trait is bred out of a species smacks more of neoconservative “survival of the fittest” dogma than real Darwinian science or Mendelian inheritance. Red hair may be a recessive trait in some families, but in Scotland this trait is found in about 13% of the population.
If there is a “gay gene”, are we all related to Leonardo Da Vinci, Sal Mineo, Barney Frank, Ian McKellan, Bayard Rustin, Martina Navratilova (or one or more of thousands of other famous “gay” people)? Did J. Edgar Hoover and his second-in-command boyfriend Clyde Tolson “choose” to become gay? Obviously,
1) Determination of sexual orientation is a little more complicated than red hair, or what Christian Coalition thinks is undermining the very fabric of American society;
2) Some of us fight our identities and may never show up on the surveys and polls. Some of us accept what our orientation is telling us and live free and open lives from a young age. Some of us accede to the truth only after long, bitter struggles. But almost on one says, “You know what? I think I’ll become gay today.”
“Guest”, having some training in the gentle art of rhetorical debauchery, left his audience guessing what’s left if you rule inheritance out of a same-sex orientation.
The basic choice that “guest” _chose_ to ignore is that what we are, determines in part what we “ought” to be. He chose to ignore a rich and vast history of gays and lesbians in the workplace, theater and stage, sports, high political office, commerce, transportation, acedemia, literature, the military and every other walk of life. He chose to ignore the fact that somewhere between 3 and 10% of the population identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender – I would put that at around 18,000,000 in the United States alone. GLBT people live and work in every nation on the face of the earth (despite draconian sanctions in the many backward countries). We coexist within every national, cultural, ethnic and religious boundary in the world. Gay people are nothing new, being found in isolated neolithic tribes whose roots go back 40,000 years.
You can’t explain the history of mankind with a simplistic 18th-century armchair theory of eugenics.
More to the point, we don’t have to. We have the same rights and responsibilities as all other peoples. As the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall put it, “Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time and in the same place.”
Socially, it really doesn’t make any difference whether there’s a gay gene or not. Like everybody else, our job is to live up to the potential in our own lives. No one needs to wait for scientific “excuses” to start living, or to stop apologizing for why some folks are gay, or have red hair.
I will always publicly defend our rights when it is appropriate, such as when a loud-mouth has an easily swayed audience. But we are under no obligation to correct dogma-ridden individuals who choose dismissive ignorance and irrational bias over fact, freedom and free intellectual inquiry. My obligation is simply to live the best life I know how, and stay well clear of people who send signals with rubber horsie inner tubes.
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