Thursday, July 12, 2018

No Mr. Smith - Sexual Orientation is Not a Choice

“He is essentially asserting ‘it might not be a choice but it is a choice.’”
Kevin Spacey
Justin Bradford Smith is a young lawyer (admitted to the bar in 2010); an associate at a six-attorney law firm in Temple, TX. He doesn't seem to appear on any federal dockets.

Mr. Smith has acquired some odd ideas about sexual orientation which he has gleaned from — of all people — Kevin Spacey. Mr. Smith is the author of a polemic titled: Timeless Truths Gleaned from Kevin Spacey’s Choice.

Why should I bother? Smith is a minor player in the world of anti-LGBT animus and his post at an orthodox Catholic site has limited readership. The answer to my question is that Smith provides an opportunity for me to address a common meme among religious conservatives. It is one that confuses sexual orientation with sexual presentation and “lifestyle.” Sexual presentation means how we wish to be perceived by others.

Mr. Smith writes:
Rather, let us hasten onward to that infamous tweet … in which Spacey apologized while coming out. “I choose,” he wrote, “I choose now to live as a gay man.” You recall the uproar this caused, which is where, by the way, the real humor lies: Spacey was accused of one of the few sins still recognized by the world, and took refuge in one of the world’s few “virtues”—and it backfired. This would be passing hilarious were it not, again, that souls are at risk.
Here is the full tweet which provides context:
I am not at all certain what Mr. Smith finds hilarious. It was an uncomfortable time for Kevin Spacey and the gay community. While Mr. Spacey is an enormously talented actor, he has allegedly indulged in inappropriate (and possibly illegal) conduct with a minor. Reporters at Vox wrote:
…in tying his coming out to alleged sexual advances toward a minor, Spacey has opened the door for people to conflate being gay with pedophilia — an old and pernicious myth that’s long been used by anti-gay groups and individuals to oppose LGBTQ rights.
Smith goes on to write:
I have never entertained the grave suspicion that homosexuals might be more prone to commit acts of pedophilia; I have, I fear, entertained the grave suspicion that they might be more prone to commit acts of homosexuality. It is not this alleged connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, whether tenuous or not, that threatens the gay rights movement. It is rather the implication of two words—“I choose”—that, if pondered for a bit, topples the claim that because one is “born gay,” it cannot be wrong to commit acts of homosexuality. Spacey’s words and his evident internal conflict and external conduct expose this argument as a lie, and do so even if homosexuality is not, as an orientation, chosen.
Religious belief and morality are two very different things. Indeed religion has been and is currently used to justify some very immoral things. I happen to think, for example, that it is profoundly immoral to marginalize trans and gender nonconforming kids in public schools because of loyalty to scripture or religious teachings.

Religious belief in the Catholic Church is highly structured through the catechism. Yet Catholics support LGBT rights in greater percentages than the general population which means that they are choosing the degree to which they accept the dogma. This is not just a Catholic dynamic. For example, most Jews do not keep kosher.

Mr. Spacey's choice relates to sexual presentation and has nothing to do with sexual orientation. My take was that he was relieving himself of the pretense of heterosexuality that he seemed determined to preserve. That leads me to the science. First, I will remind readers that science is based on evidence. Religion, in contrast, is a belief system which is based on faith. According to the widely undisputed scientific consensus, sexual orientation is a continuum with heterosexual and homosexual at the extreme ends. I, for example, am a gay man. There are times when I find myself attracted to women. I have no control over these fluctuations. I am not making a choice to be gay. Rather, my attractions to men are more dominant and more prevalent.

I have no clue about Kevin Spacey's sexuality and neither does Mr. Smith. For all we know, his relationships with women were an attempt to obscure his sexual orientation. When I was younger I had relationships with women to convince myself that I am not gay. Neither the relationships nor the self-delusion worked out very well.

Moving on, Justin Bradford Smith's religion teaches that gay sex is illicit and “intrinsically disordered.” That does not operate to make gay sex immoral.

Smith claims that sexual orientation, even if not a choice, does not make gay sex permissible. That leaves us with two choices: Neurotic gay men can be celibate and become even more neurotic. In the alternative, neurotic gay men can make women equally neurotic by having relationships based on a lie. If they have children they are likely to be damaged by the strained relationship. In both cases the neuroses are the product of denying the truth of one's sexuality.

Suppressing one's sexuality to conform to religious belief is, in my opinion, one of the stupider things that people do. My definition of superstition is the choice of religious dogma over reality in the belief that a deity will punish those who choose reality; in this life or the next (which presupposes through faith that there is a next life). In fact, if you think about it, religion exists primarily to offer a path to an afterlife. Follow the rules and you end up in heaven when your croak. Disobey the rules and it's Hell for you. It is so childish that you have to wonder about its adoption by intelligent life forms.

Religion often imposes suffering and the more one suffers the better the next life will be. What? To make up for the shoddy treatment or to explain (rather awkwardly) the all-powerful deity doesn't make life wonderful for everyone all of the time?

None of that makes much sense to many people. Our duty is to make the most of the life that we have. We are also obliged not to harm others.

One of Mr. Smith's more remarkable paragraphs (in part):
If Spacey is equally divided in his orientation, half of him preferring men and half preferring women, how would he choose men over women except by an exercise of his free will? Otherwise he would remain in equipoise to this very day. If, instead, he prefers women to men, then plainly an effort—perhaps even a supreme, “courageous” effort—of his will was required to overcome the stronger impulse. Otherwise, it would be impossible for him to come to a settled preference against his dominant nature.
First, we do not know if Spacey is bisexual or if he had relationships with women for other purposes. More importantly, his argument only makes some sense if Spacey is dead center on the continuum which is highly improbable if not scientifically impossible. Smith also ignores the fact that there is some fluidity in sexual orientation. It does not express itself as one day someone is gay and the next day they are straight. Most importantly, there is no choice in any of this.

Smith wants things both ways. He is asserting that sexual orientation is a choice while, at the same time saying that the dogma holds true even if it is not a choice. Intellectual honesty requires Smith to eliminate the ambiguity of convenience.

With my bullshit detector at “tilt:”
In reality, whatever his real orientation—whether it is entirely the product of choice, or entirely unchosen, or a combination of choice, nature, and environment—Spacey is a free moral agent, and his tweet shows that he knows it. “I choose,” not “I am,” and it is the former two words that truly set the gay rights movement back. For years we were told we could not condemn homosexual behavior (quite a different censure, you understand, than condemning homosexuals) because it was not chosen: a person’s orientation was supposed to be fixed by Nature, and so his actions in conformity with that orientation were supposed to be morally licit.
He is essentially asserting “it might not be a choice but it is a choice.” He is also confusing religion with morality and they are not interchangeable in the real world. Mr. Smith is judgmental and he is viewing things with the assumption that his judgments are imposed on others.

I'll not reiterate the science regarding sexual orientation. Suffice it to say that the condemnation of gays and gay sex is based on religious belief substituting for science and morality. Morality should be underpinned by how our behavior affects others. Slavery and then segregation were carefully justified by religious belief yet both were immoral. I cannot find a way to believe that what I do in my bedroom with another consenting adult is immoral.

Ah but wait. I am endangering my life after death. If there is an omniscient god then he or she is responsible for my being gay. He or she also gave me a libido which religious conservatives say I must disregard because the same deity that made me gay will be angry with me. I must suffer. This is the stuff of ancient human sacrifice to appease a god in order to get him to produce some rain during a drought.

No conservative Catholic essay is complete without throwing in some transphobia:
For in some sense my belated commentary on a no-longer-current event may be still further out of date: has not the ground shifted and the argument changed? Man may now be whatever he likes, no matter what his given nature is. In our modern marvelously advanced society, we are neither Jew nor Greek, certainly not slaves and especially neither male nor female—but we are free, free to make or remake ourselves according to our pleasure and regardless of our unchosen nature.
Yes, yes. People volunteer to have gender dysphoria. A 12 year old boy raises his hand and decides, on a whim, to wear his sister's dress to school. And Mr. Smith thinks he is making sense. It is hard to blame him since the current pope seems to be obsessed with about a half-percent of the population. Transgender people offend him, … and Mr. Smith.

Speaking of fixation, “these people” are convinced that we want their approval:
For years we were told we had first to tolerate, then to approve, and finally to promote, homosexual acts …
We neither seek nor require your approval. I removed my reference to an anatomic impossibility. I found a substitute in writing that Mr. Smith is spectacularly arrogant. Not only must we obtain his approval but, according to him, we insist that he “promote” gay sex. I have no idea how he would do that even if that was our desire and it is not. What they are doing is deflecting criticism by conflating it with a request for approval. That simply is not true. We do not care what they think. Our needs are pretty simple: Equal protection, due process, and don't fuck up our LGBT kids or the kids raised by gay couples through shame or guilt.

They have even redefined truth:
Man is free; to disregard this truth ends, as all slides from the Catholic Faith always do, in contradiction; man’s conflict with himself and with Nature shows that he has within himself something beyond Nature; man is great—all these truths from a tweet. If there were a title to be bestowed in our religion of Unwitting Defender of the Faith, perhaps Spacey would have a persuasive case to have earned it.
Sorry but I am a pragmatist. Truth is not defined by religious dogma. As man is able to explain more and more about the natural world he is less dependent upon religion.

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