About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Right to Deprive


This has been a rollercoaster week for gay rights.  On the one hand, you have the first sitting president of the United States bluntly state that he believes that gays and lesbians should have the right to marry.  On the other hand, you have the Colorado House Speaker blocking a vote on "civil unions" through a parliamentary move, North Carolina banning gay marriage and even the watered down "civil union" idea through a popular vote, the head of the Republican Party claiming that Gay Marriage is not a civil right, and the presumptive Republican nominee assaulting a fellow student in high school for being "queer."

Let me be very blunt, the fight for equality based on sexual orientation and gender identification (GLBT) is the civil right battle that will define the first part of the twenty first century, just like the civil rights movement defined the fifties and sixties and the women's rights movement defined the twenties and seventies.  For a nation based on the idea that everyone is created equal, we have had to fight constantly against the idea that some people are more equal than others.

And the right to marry who you love is at the core of this battle. 

Since members of the GBLT community cannot be identified by physical characteristics, despite what Mitt Romeny believes, they can often escape workplace discrimination.  As evidence of this, many gays and lesbians had exemplary military careers when it was actually illegal for them to serve.  J Edgar Hoover, the man who defined the FBI, lived a shadow life as a gay man.  It is even likely that we had a gay president as far back as 1856, when Buchanan and his probable lover were known around Washington as Miss Nancy and Miss Fancy. 

Whereas race and gender are inescapable identifiers, sexual orientation is less overt, which makes some types of discrimination more difficult on some level.  As a side note, I suspect that that is why some people fear gays, because they could be anywhere and you would never know it.  Conversely this lack of ability to identify members of this particular minority means that many people who "act gay" are discriminated against just because people think they might actually be gay.  You never hear a racist say, "he might be black, let's get him," but you frequently hear homophobes say, "I think he's a queer, let's get him."  In fact we have a presidential nominee who said exactly that when he was in prep school.

But all this invisibility changes when someone wants to pledge undying love to someone of the same sex.  All the wallpaper of denial is ripped down and society has to confront a very real truth, some people are more attracted to members of the same gender than to the opposite one.  When gays have the right to marry, the final veil of secrecy will be ripped aside and homosexual couples will finally be able to emerge into the light of full equality.

And this terrifies people.

Let's look at some of the arguments against gay marriage and deconstruct them.

First is the old time standard, "Gay marriage destroys the sanctity of straight marriage."  Sorry, no fault divorce has already done that.  People no longer marry with the expectation of a lifelong partnership; Mr. Right has devolved into Mr. Right Now.  Any newly married couple will say that they are married for life, but in the back of their minds, most of them mentally add a silent, "I hope."  Marriage is no longer the sacred bond that it once was. 

If anything, gay marriage might strengthen all marriages.  Given how hard gays and lesbians have had to fight for the right, they are probably less likely to take the institution for granted, and more likely to try to make it work.

To quote Hal Sparks, "the only way gay marriage will impact straight marriage is if you want it as a option for yourself."  In other words, the only way gay marriage will affect anything is if you are gay.  There might be a small downtick in straight marriages, but only because fewer people would be lying to themselves and others about their sexual orientation.  The only other group that would be impacted is the small segment of the population who build a life around being a Beard.  (A straight or lesbian woman who marries a gay man to help him conceal his and/or her orientation.) 

As a straight man, I can assure you, legalizing gay marriage will not change one thing in my personal life and in no way does gay marriage affect straight marriage, unless, you yourself, are gay.  In fact the only thing it might mean for most of us is having to buy wedding presents more frequently.  

Next is another right wing favorite, "every child has a right to a mother and a father."  So I guess that means that not only should we ban gay couples from having children, we need to outlaw single parenthood as well.  Welcome back to the days of the shotgun wedding.  Also, do we institute an aspect of ancient law as well?  Specifically, I'm referring to the part where a widow is given over to her deceased husband's brothers.

The reality is that at least some gay couples will have children.  All gay marriage does is give those children security for their future.  Gay parents love their children every but as much as straight couples, again possibly more than in some straight relationships, because a child in a gay relationship will never be an accident.  Unless we make incredible advances in parthenogenesis, no lesbian couple will ever have the conversation, "I don't know how it happened, but I'm pregnant."  And for a gay couple to have that conversation will require even more outlandish medical advances.

But back to the point, gay marriage gives children security, the security of knowing that if one parent dies, the other will still be there, and if the parents split up, there will still be legal access to the child for both of them.  As it stands now, in states that do not allow gay adoption, only one parent is the legal parent to the child; the other has literally no rights under the law.  Should the legal parent die, their partner may be completely cut out of their child's life, and have to watch the child shipped off to a grandparent or, worse, to a foster home.

Gay marriage helps provide loving two parent environments for children, which is a very good thing.

Next up is the argument that gay marriage goes against the Bible.  Well, you can certainly make that argument, at least based on Leviticus, however, and you may need to sit down for this one, this is NOT A CHRISTIAN NATION.  In a secular country, you base your laws on ethics, not morals, and bringing up a holy book, or any religious text, as the foundation for the legal system is absolutely out of bounds.  Besides, since eating shellfish is also an abomination in the eyes of the lord, according to Leviticus, if we are going to base law on the Bible, we had better outlaw the entirety of the shrimp and lobster industry.  Also, we need to dispatch the vice squad to arrest all of the cast members of "The Deadliest Catch," the second their boat docks.

Secular law is based on what is good for society, not on what is good for God.  The Bible even says this when Jesus states, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's."  Further, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that gay marriage is bad for society.  We have proof of this, since six states currently have legal gay marriage, and none of them have descended into anarchy.  Also, since none of them have met the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, I'm going to guess that God isn't particularly upset either.

Additionally, this interpretation of the Bible is a more recent development that Christianity, and there are records of Christian same sex marriage services that were performed as late as the 18th century.  The medieval church had actual services for gay unions, and there are many depictions of and theological treatises on St. Serge and St. Bacchus, who were openly described as loving partners. 

So, in the end, it doesn't matter if the Bible preaches against homosexuality, because even the Christian church, until relatively modern times, accepted gay marriage. (See this link for more.)

Finally, there is the argument that the homosexual lifestyle is a depraved lifestyle choice.  Basically, I guess that this means that all of the people who are gay have some sort of masochistic personality disorder, and want all they pain that being gay in today's hateful world brings.  I think this is the most disturbing of all the arguments.  I remember a gay friend in high school, who was frequently picked on for it, saying to me once, "Do you think I would chose this if I had any other options?"    

People do not chose to be gay.  I strongly suspect that it is a combination of genetics and environment, at least I hope it is.  You may think that hope is odd. The reason for that hope is, if it is purely genetic, and it is a simple genetic switch, gay people will become an endangered species overnight. 

Before you think this is an outlandish idea, realize that in the last twenty years the number of Down Syndrome babies has dropped precipitously.  Understand, I am not condemning someone for making that choice, especially given the healthcare situation in America, I am just stating a fact, probably half of the Down's babies are no longer carried to term.  I would expect homophobic parents to do the same, rather than deal with having what they would consider an imperfect child.  But all the same, they have already begun to identify genetic markers for homosexuality.

On the other hand, an argument for environmental triggers is not easily excluded, based on the history of ancient Rome and Greece.  In both countries, bisexuality was the norm, and pure heterosexuality was aberrant behavior.  This argues two things.  First, the genes for a wider range of sexuality than pure heterosexuality are far more common than we might think.  Second, there has to be some other factors, given the different demographics of the classical world and modern society.  (Although, I do think it would be funny if keeping a catamite was a modern status symbol, like it was in the Roman Empire; I can just imagine Donald Trump parading his around.  I can also see them in the halls of the Capitol.  Mark Foley would have been a trendsetter.)   

There are other cultures where homosexuality is common and accepted, so I don't think it is purely genetic, but I also don't think it is all environmental.  Even in cultures where homosexuality is acceptable, bisexuality is what is actually the norm, and there are always segments of the population that are purely heterosexual.  Even in America, many men think it is hot for a woman to be somewhat bi, even though the opposite is utterly inconceivable. 

And for those who think homosexuality is a mental health issue, the American Psychological Association struck it from the list of mental illnesses a few decades ago.

In the end, I think this is all about fear.  Fear of change, fear of happiness, fear of confronting a homosexual intrusive thought, and worst of all, fear of not having an enemy to demonize and blame all of the bad things on. 

I remember, two days after 9/11, Jerry Fallwell blaming the attacks on homosexuals, feminists and the ACLU.  If homosexuality becomes normalized in society, the only ones left to blame for bad things are the immigrants.  And since the immigrants have no actual political power, the right would have to accept that there is no enemy guiding the country in what they think is the wrong direction.  They would have to accept that maybe most of us just want America to move forward and become more accepting.

And, to them, that is the scariest thing of all.  

 And since I couldn't narrow them down this time, here are a few cartoons on the subject, that make my point far better than I ever could.

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