Being religious is a choice, being gay isn’t
Late last week, Ben Carson, one of the many people who are hoping to snag the Republican nomination for President, when asked about whether gay people deserve the same civil rights protections of other minority groups, gave a weird answer involving prison rape. He didn’t explicitly say prison rape (or any other rape in forcibly homosocial environments), what he said was that some people go into prison straight, and when they come out they’re gay. Therefore, this “proves” that being gay is a matter of choice, and therefore gay people don’t deserve civil rights protections.
I think he was more than a little surprised at how many people on his side of the political spectrum thought that was a ridiculous thing to say. There’s lots I could say about this, but I think the following clip from CNN in which a reporter talks to Dan Savage about this, sums up things fairly well. Please watch it, then I’ll continue on a related topic after:
To be fair, before the day was over Ben Carson had back-pedaled and offered a so-called apology. Keeping in mind that Ben Carson is, literally, a brain surgeon, and had just the day before his interview had officially announced that he had formed a Presidential Campaign committee, his answer is that he doesn’t really know whether there is any medical or scientific studies about whether being gay is a choice, and because he isn’t a politician, he wasn’t ready to speak about this issue. He also tried to blame the media for taking his remarks out of context.
There is an overwhelming medical consensus that being homosexual is not a matter of choice, nor is one’s sexual orientation mutable. Every medical association, including all of those Ben Carson has been certified by, reached that conclusion quite some time ago. So as a doctor, he should already know whether or not that have been any medical studies. Second, the moment he formed a Presidential Campaign committee, he became a politician. It could be argued that he’s been a politician since he started taking speaking fees to go to conservative political events and talk about what a bad president Obama is, and how he would be better at the job. In any case, he’s a politician now, and he can’t claim not to be. Besides, his whole schtick up to now has been that the reason he’s qualified to be president precisely because he isn’t a career politician, because career politicians don’t speak truthfully.
And, of course, if you go watch the original interview, you can see that throughout Carson’s entire painfully stupid answer to the question, there is not a single pause or jump-cut. His comments were not taken out of context.
And, as Dan points out, if something being a choice disqualifies it, philosophically, morally, of ethically, from equal protection under the law, then a lot of people are going to lose their rights.
But that isn’t my biggest gripe in this whole case. I’m more irritated at how everyone, even reporters like the guy in the clip, keep saying that it was Dan Savage who took this into “vile” territory. That Dan shouldn’t have mentioned a specific sex act in his reply.
That’s a load of hypocritical hooey.
Carson’s dumb comments about prison turning someone gay were not about homosexuality as a sexual orientation, they were about the reality that in the closed environment of prison, straight men with no other means of getting sex will rape (even if sometimes the coercion isn’t a physical assault, it is still rape) weaker men, most of whom are also straight. Many of those less physically strong or mentally vicious men find that the only way to survive is to allow themselves to be used by the other men. That doesn’t make them gay. Being coerced into performing same sex acts is not the same thing as falling in love with, being attracted to, and feeling physical desire for members of the same sex. It’s different.
And that culture of prison rape was exactly what Carson was talking about. So, it wasn’t the gay activist who first made reference to a “vile” sex act.
In a bigger sense, conservative politicians and their anti-gay supporters, are always talking about gay sex when they make their arguments against gay rights. Some of them are like that crazy Harlem pastor I’ve written about and linked to stories about before, who can’t seem to stop talking about anal sex and gay semen. I could link to those stories again, but none of us need to go there. Or like the politician who sneered that marriage equality advocates were trying to equate “the violent invasion of a colon by a penis” with the love between a man and woman.
Other opponents of gay rights are more subtle, using the code phrase “gay lifestyle.” The religious right is especially fond of claiming that they love their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, but they can’t support the “lifestyle.” But when someone like me points out that my lifestyle is sleep, go to work, discuss with my spouse what we’re having for dinner, wrangle over who’s doing the dishes, sometimes watch TV, try to get some writing in each day before going back to sleep, and somewhere in their paying our bills and taxes—and then ask them which part of that lifestyle is wrong or harmful, then start stuttering. They will allude to the answer euphemistically: that two men are living together as husband and wife. And then I say, “Yes, paying bills, cleaning the house, sometimes disagreeing about whose turn it is to empty the garbage. What’s wrong with that?”
You keep pushing hard enough, and they’ll finally admit that it’s the sex. And usually they refer to specific sex acts which they incorrectly believe all gay men engage in all the time. Which is why some of us point out that hundreds of thousands more straight people engage regularly in anal sex than gay people do. That lots of gay men don’t do anal sex at all.
They may try to wiggle out of it by saying that most gay people are promiscuous, living a life of meaningless one-night stands and drug and alcohol abuse. When we point out that statistically lesbians are better at monogamy than either straight couples or gay couples, and that there are again hundreds of thousands more straight people trolling bars, consuming mind-altering substances, and looking for hook-ups with members of the opposite sex every weekend than gay people doing the same, they get flustered.
Seriously, the last time I was in a bar, it wasn’t a gay bar. We were celebrating the birthday of a straight friend. The last time I was in a gay bar was, um, I think 1999 or 2000, and we were having breakfast before the Pride Parade. The last time I was in a gay bar at night with the intention of drinking and dancing and so forth, was 1998. And I’ve written before about that fact that not only have I never been stoned, but I was in my mid-30s when my husband, a former bartender, had to explain to me that the annoying smell I was complaining about in a convention hotel hallway was pot smoke.
There are lots of single straight men out there living a “gayer” lifestyle than a lot of gay and lesbian couples.
When people from Focus on the Family, or the National Organization for Marriage, or the religious right wing of the Republican party talk about the gay lifestyle or claim we’re assaulting the sanctity of marriage, et cetera, they thing they are angry about is the kind of sex they think we’re having. We need to stop pretending that that isn’t what they’re talking about. We need to confront them about it, and remind them again and again that they are the ones obsessed with our sex lives. We’re not the one’s making “vile statements.”
We’re the victims of their vile implications.