March 21, 2007

Makeup as Discussion of Human Sexuality

by PG

Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post says, "In Utah, a new law requires school principals to police every student organization to ensure that there's no discussion of 'human sexuality' (though experts believe the topic may still come up among teenage students). Lest it seem discriminatory, the statute applies to every student group under the sun, but it is entirely a reaction to the formation of gay-straight clubs at Utah high schools." I've never been able to understand why Grown Ups, i.e. people who left school before 1995, think that gay-straight alliances, or LGBT clubs, or Queer Unions, or whatever they're calling them nowadays, focus on discussion of human sexuality.

From what I've observed from the outside, since my high school didn't have one, the gay-straight alliances seem to focus on slightly self-righteous educating of other students about why gay bashing is bad. The few meetings I attended of the LGBTU at UVA were about national and state politics, and a demonstration of how to dress in drag (taping up the eyebrows is vital), prior to the Drag Bingo event put on every semester and reasonably popular even on a relatively conservative college campus. Such organizations certainly are an opportunity for gay students to be in a safe space, and to meet other gay students with whom they could hook up or form "a personal bond that is more enduring." But to my knowledge, they're rarely about human sexuality itself. Admittedly there may be some self-selection in my understanding of gay organizations; I'm inclined to align with those that are about equality politics or gay culture more than those that are about the practice of sex. Still, in my many years of education in fairly mainstream institutions, the people most inclined to talk publicly about sexual practices seem to be straight girls.

The Utah legislation that I found is slightly different from what Meyerson describes; it forbids clubs* that "involve human sexuality." Presumably an acknowledgement that people have different sexual orientations and certain orientations are discriminated against involves human sexuality, given that a recent proposal said,

"Involve human sexuality" means:
(a) presenting information in violation of laws governing sex education;
(b) promoting or encouraging self-labeling by students in terms of sexual orientation;
(c) disclosing attitudes or personal conduct of students or members of their families regarding sexual orientation, attitudes, or belief;
(d) advocating, approving, or engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage; or
(e) presenting or discussing information relating to the use of contraceptive devices or substances, regardless of whether the use is for purposes of contraception or personal health.

I'm not sure if the members of the band are all engaging in sexual activity outside marriage together whether they'll have to be disbanded. Is dressing in a manner not traditional for one's gender designation and showing men how to apply makeup a discussion of human sexuality? Are you discussing human sexuality if you lecture your classmates on why they shouldn't use "gay" as a negative term for anything they dislike or call someone they don't like a "faggot"?

That aside, the bulk of Meyerson's column is silly. He gets excited about what he sees as the contradiction between acknowledging a genetic basis for homosexuality, and continuing to condemn homosexual sex as wrong.

But once you recognize homosexuality as a genetic reality, it does create a theological dilemma for the Mohlers among us, for it means that God is making people who, in the midst of what may otherwise be morally exemplary lives, have a special and inherent predisposition to sin. Mohler's response is that since Adam's fall, sin is the condition of all humankind. That sidesteps, however, the conundrum that a gay person may follow the same God-given instincts as a straight person -- let's assume fidelity and the desire for church sanctification in both cases -- and end up damned while the straight person ends up saved. Indeed, it means that a gay person's duty is to suppress his God-given instincts while a straight person's duty is to fulfill his.
We know that many alcoholics have a special and inherent predisposition to sin due to their genes. We may someday find that senior citizens who are sexually attracted to 15-year-old girls have a genetic predisposition (technically, all straight men are genetically predisposed to want to have sex with a female who looks like she can breed). That doesn't remove moral culpability from those who cannot control their consumption of alcohol, or from adults who try to have sex with 15-year-olds. People can stop themselves from having sex with minors, or with people of the opposite sex, or with people of the same sex.

The question is not "with whom are you genetically driven to want to have sex?" It is "with whom is your desire to have sex superseded by the moral impermissibility of having sex with that person?" Sex with someone who is not yet fully physically developed (15 year old girls aren't ideal babymakers, despite the urges of human sexuality), nor sufficiently aware of the social, emotional and health effects of sex, has been deemed wrong in the United States. For conservatives, having sex with someone of the same sex -- even if you got married in Massachusetts, by a liberal preacher, and are much better at sexual fidelity than the majority of straight couples -- is always morally wrong. They aren't going to stop thinking it's wrong merely because someone has a genetic predisposition to do it. So Meyerson would be more helpful if he could convince Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr. that there is no reason to discriminate between men and women in determining whether someone is morally permissible for you to sleep with; that the categories of male and female lack moral content relevant to whether one should prefer sex with one or the other.

I don't hold out much hope for this among Southern Baptists, given that they think that the categories of male and female hold moral content that excludes women from ordination in the church as pastors and that make wives submit to their husbands but not vice versa. In my experience, people who think that men are responsible for X and women are responsible for Y are not going to be able to wrap their minds around the concept that both men and women can do both X and Y well, and therefore a representative of each sex is not required. Someone who declaims that mothers' role is to nurture and fathers' to discipline is not worth trying to convince about the virtues of same-sex marriage and parenting.

* In fairness to Utah, the legislation also forbids a club that promotes bigotry, which "means action or advocacy of imminent action involving the harassment or denigration of persons or entities, including harassment or denigration based upon race, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or sexual orientation." Although I'm not quite sure what the part immediately following, which says, "an evaluation or prohibition may not be made of the truth or falsity of any religious belief or expression of conscience unless the means of expression or conduct arising therefrom violates the standards of conduct outlined in this section," affects the anti-bigotry provision. It implies that I can start a "Baptists Against Gays" ladies' club on the ground that I'm not encouraging harassment or denigration of homosexuals, I just want them to stop being homosexuals.

March 21, 2007 06:42 PM | TrackBack
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