Sunday, November 18, 2007

One Thing (For Now)

A clarification, because I don't like to be misunderstood:

A large part of Holly Welker's argument against "Getting Out" rests on this paragraph:

I don’t understand people who call themselves liberal and progressive but are threatened by homosexual reparative therapy enough to try to stop people like me from having that option. In my mind, this kind of thinking is anti-progressive. The whole point of the civil rights and women’s liberation movements was to allow blacks, women, and other minorities to break free from what had been their traditional roles. We live in a world now where it’s okay for blacks to do what was once considered “white” and for women to do what was once considered “male”—get an education, have a career, etc. Why then is it not politically correct for a gay man to venture into what is usually considered the exclusive territory of straight men—to marry a woman and have a family—if that’s what he chooses to do?

Apart from her accurate criticism of my painting the women's liberation and civil rights movements in such broad strokes, her objection, if I understand correctly, is that I seem to be co-opting these movements for my own purposes, essentially equating my position as a married gay man to that of women and black Americans. I can see how it may appear that way superficially, and if you interpret it thus it is certainly offensive. As Welker has pointed out several times, there is absolutely no legislation against gay people marrying heterosexually, no institutionalized bigotry as there has been and continues to be against women and racial minorities. I would have to be a complete moron and self-serving jerk to claim that I've experienced anything comparable to this kind of oppression.

If you read what I've said carefully, though, you'll see that I haven't made any such claim. What I've said is that it's contrary to progressive thought--for which I list as examples the progressive thinking behind the women's liberation and civil rights movements--to say that anyone--using myself as an example--should not be respected in their choice to marry any person who wants to marry them. I've not said that anyone is denying me that right, because no one is*, but that my choice is not considered "politically correct." This is demonstrated by the fact that Welker and others like her immediately jump to the conclusion that any gay man who dares to express his right to marry a woman who wants to marry him must be a backwards-thinking conservative hick. Would they accuse a woman expressing her right to marry another woman of having an overblown sense of entitlement? No; Welker has said as much. Why then the double standard? Why are some choices more politically correct than others?

A commenter on Welker's blog says that she is "astonished by the backwards reasoning of that paragraph you deconstructed, particularly the idea that having a woman to reproduce with and run your household for you has historically/traditionally been denied to men who are attracted to other men." I would be equally astonished by the backwards reasoning of such an idea, had I read an essay that made such a claim. What I actually say in the paragraph above is that "to marry a woman and have a family" [notice I've said nothing about who is running the household] "is usually considered the exclusive territory of straight men." There is a huge difference between the phrases "is usually" and "has historically/traditionally." The latter, hers, makes claims about historical reality, while the former, mine, speaks only of present social attitudes. No, gay people have not traditionally been denied heterosexual marriage, because traditionally gay people haven't been a part of public discourse. Notice also that I use the word "straight," which is not necessarily the opposite of "men who are attracted to other men"; I'm speaking not of sexual preferences that have existed for thousands of years but of sexual identities that have existed for less than two hundred. I would argue that yes, in the past fifty years or so since lesbians and gay men have legitimately entered the discourse, the assumption is that their rightful position--at least as far as progressive thought is concerned--is in lesbian and gay relationships. As I point out elsewhere in the essay, gay people in heterosexual relationships are "not even recognized enough to be repressed."

So if I'm not being oppressed, why then does it matter that some people, in the name of progressive thought, are so critical of mixed-orientation marriages? If there's no legislation against me, why am I complaining? Because bigoted legislation doesn't magically appear out of nowhere; it is borne of widely-accepted bigoted discourse. Twenty-six states haven't adopted constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage just because. They've done so because the majority of voters in those states believe the bigoted rhetoric against homosexuality that is so prevalent in our culture. Welker rightly criticizes my oversimplified statement that "We live in a world now where it's okay for blacks to do what was once considered 'white' and for women to do what was once considered 'male.'" No, as much as I would like to think so, we don't live in that world. I would like to live in a world, though, where no one's choices are limited by their gender, race, or sexual orientation, and I believe that world can only exist once we start respecting those who make choices different from our own, even choices we don't understand.

I am thankful for the many, many people--whether or not they would call themselves liberal and progressive--who have respected me in the choices I've made. I will do my best to return the same.

*Except for the campaigns against homosexual reparative therapy that I reference in the paragraph preceding the one quoted here, which I'll freely admit is an entirely different argument than the right to marry. I'll also freely admit that my conflating the two arguments in the paragraph above is confusing. On the other hand, they do both come down to respecting the right of mentally capable adults to make the decisions that they deem best for themselves. The only difference is that in the case of reparative therapy we're talking about a single person--the one who seeks out reparative therapy--while in the case of marriage we're talking about two people--the two spouses who, as consenting adults regardless of their gender and/or sexual orientation, decide to marry each other.


Mr. Fob said...

On a somewhat related and self-congratulatory note, I would like to point out that when I refer to gay people as a group throughout "Getting Out" I refer to them using terms like "gay men and lesbians." I was happy when re-reading the essay this morning to discover that even in early 2004, long before I found myself under the lens of feminist scrutiny and long before I did my own extensive research on gender bias in Library of Congress subject headings referring to lesbianism and male homosexuality, I was careful to use such inclusive speech. I'll be sure to put the lesbians first next time.

Samantha said...

Actually, alphabetically, gay comes before lesbian. I'm not feeling slighted if lesbian isn't put first, nor am I slighted if referred to as a gay woman (in spite of the lesbian motto: We're not gay, we're angry...). And just for the record, the only reason I stayed out of the fray this time is because I got sidetracked by my own rude visitor. Sorry.

Chris said...

So if I'm not being oppressed, why then does it matter that some people, in the name of progressive thought, are so critical of mixed-orientation marriages?

I think some people who consider themselves progressive are critical of mixed-orientation marriage because the forces that generally drive gay men to marry women are antithetical to progressive values. To many, it appears that gay men marry straight women because they are self loathing (strong word, I know) or because they come from religions and cultures where homosexuality is condemned. You yourself posted in your subsequent confession that you got married for many bad reasons. Straight people surely marry for bad reasons as well, but it seems obvious to me that some of your bad reasons were rooted in your own interalized homophobia. (I certainly believe that to be a significant contributing factor in my own mixed-orientation marriage experience.)

So while you may well be staying in your marriage for reasons that progressive thinkers can applaud, I don't think you got into it for those reasons, and I think few gay men who marry straight women do.

(With apologies to lesbians who marry straight men for excluding them in my discourse.)

Samantha said...

It's okay, you can exclude me. I didn't marry a straight man because of religious reasons (since I wasn't really religious at that point in my life), or because of self-loathing (since I've never really loathed myself). I did it because I met someone I never wanted to be without for another day--and I knew if I didn't marry him, someone else would and he'd be gone. Purely selfish--although one might possibly say I loved him.

Chris said...

Well, I'm sure I could exclude a lot of individuals, gay or lesbian. I was speaking in gneralities.

Mr. Fob said...

You've had me thinking about this all morning, Chris. I can certainly see your point.

I suppose part of the problem is that I consider myself to be progressive, liberal, and a moral relativist, and I tend to conflate the three because in my mind they all come down to the same core values. The fact, however, is that despite the picture many conservatives often paint, not all progressive liberals are moral relativists. I am.

The moral relativist in me distrusts any kind of judgment made on another person's choices based on my own experience and worldview. Yes, you and I may agree that internalized homophobia played a factor in our decisions to get married, but I'm extremely hesitant to generalize from there. Even the fact that I include "Because God told me to" on my list of bad reasons is reflective of my own worldview--it's not a generally accepted fact that marrying someone because God told you to is a bad thing. Many people would argue that divine decree is the best reason to choose a spouse, and in a pluralistic democratic society I believe it's in everyone's best interests for us to respect those differences of belief. I'm not a complete moral relativist, mind you--I'd draw the line somewhere this side of some guy claiming God told him to kidnap a child and force her to marry him, for example, but in the case of two mentally capable adults choosing to marry for whatever reason, I believe it's best for the rest of us to step back and let them decide for themselves which are good reasons and which are bad.

(And as I post this several instances wherein I have not been consistent with this value system come to mind, so feel free to enumerate examples if you also think of them.)

Chris said...

I think you may have made an important point about not equating progressivism with moral relativism. I think there are many progressives who are moral abolutists.

I'm not a proponent of mixed-orientation marriages in general. And the reason is simple: I think most gay people will find more enduring and deeper happiness in gay relationships. If we lived in a world free of homophobia and anti-gay bias, where gay men didn't feel the pressure from their families, communities, cultures and religions (and consequently from themselves) to resist or rid themselves of their gay urges and impulses, or to dismiss them as fleeting or insignificant or purely "lustful", then I'd would gladly say "to each his own."

And, really, that's pretty much what I say now. It's certainly not my place to judge. But I do feel a sense of...obligation? mission? work for the gay-friendly and affirming world I mention above, where same-sex marriage and relationships are celebrated and honored every bit as much as opposite-sex marriages, where consenting adults can choose to couple with whomever they love and desire, as you and FoxyJ have.

Mr. Fob said...

Again, I see where you're coming from. I don't expect you to advocate for mixed-orientations, because frankly it's not necessary. No one's trying to take away the legal rights of people in MOMs. It's enough that you don't go around bashing me for my decision.

I feel a personal (read: selfish) need to speak up for MOMs, simply because I don't like people attacking me and my family, either directly or indirectly. I feel ambivalent about being as vocal as I am, though, because I know there are people who would use my position for their own agenda against same-sex couples, who are certainly in greater need of advocacy than I am. I am a proponent of same-sex marriage in general not because I like you and Jed or Scot and Rob or John and Goran (though I do in all three cases), but because unlike those of us in MOMs, people in same-sex relationships actually are being deprived of legal rights. And even a moral relativist can recognize that that's just plain wrong.

Chris said...

I feel a personal (read: selfish) need to speak up for MOMs, simply because I don't like people attacking me and my family, either directly or indirectly.

I don't like it when they do that either!

And the fact that you, in a MOM, are a proponent of same-sex marriage gives you a great deal of credibility in my book, as does your willingness withhold judgment from those who have made different choices. (As opposed to some in MOMs... I'm thinking of one in particular who has recently appeared on the MoHo blogs.)

Mr. Fob said...


J G-W said...

I like this conversation very much, and I am really grateful for what you have said here about same-sex relationships and why you support legal same-sex marriage.

God didn't tell me to marry Göran, that was pretty much my choice. But I did receive a distinct, clear message from the Holy Spirit (I can tell you exactly when and where and how it happened!) that I should be open to all possibilities, not just marriage and celibacy. This was a startling message to me, because at the time I was praying for guidance as to whether I should go for marriage, or whether I should commit myself to a life of celibacy. The Spirit very clearly said to me that those were not my only options.

Later, as I have wrestled with my new-born testimony of the Church, I felt the need to get some reaffirmation or some confirmation of this. This is because I had received such clear, strong witnesses of the truthfulness of the Church, and I couldn't ignore the fact the Church seems to be SO SURE that my relationship with Göran is completely wrong. And the clear, undeniable message I got back was that under no circumstances should I consider leaving him and that to do so was a sin.

I've had numerous experiences in the past year or so, in which it has become very, unambiguously clear that the Lord simply expects me to be patient with the incongruities in my life caused by the Church's current understanding of things and my commitment to Göran. Things will all work out in due course. That has been difficult for me at times, but I can't even begin to describe how happy I am right now, truly happy at how things have evolved in my life.

I know you're kind of an agnostic now, and I was intrigued by what you said in your other post about inspiration being a dubious source of wisdom in such things as relationships. But in my own journey, I have found those moments of inspiration so powerfully confirmed by subsequent events, and by how things have unfolded in my life. I would be crazy to deny and not be incredibly grateful for the clear hand of providence in my life, guiding me in these decisions... It has all worked out far better than I ever could have imagined.

Mr. Fob said...

The reason I'm wary about inspiration in relationship-forming decisions is that, in my experience at least, inspiration is such a murky, ambiguous thing. What seems crystal clear to me one day is open to question the next. The problem then, if I've based a relationship on that inspiration, is that another person has become dependent on my continuing belief in that initial inspiration.

That said, I've made most of the important decisions of my life because that's what I felt good about doing--both as a believing Mormon and as a whatever-I-am-now--and I honestly can't say I regret any of those decisions. And it seems to be working for you, so I'm not going to argue with that.

That's the beauty of moral relativity! :)

J G-W said...

This is the all time weirdest conversation in the world. The mixed-orientation-married agnostic dude and same-sex-partnered born-again-Mormon dude weighing the relative merits of Spirit-driven relationships.

I give up trying to make sense of the world. But I love it!

Mr. Fob said...


John, I think you and I were supposed to be archnemeses, but someone somewhere screwed that one up.

J G-W said...

OK, now I'm laughing so hard I'm crying.

Yeah, they screwed that one up big time. My admiration for you grows by leaps and bounds. I would so much, much rather be friends.