The pity about much LGBT discourse is that much of the discourse among LGBT activists comes from a position of pity and despair.
I mean, let’s take the main thrust (from an L and G perspective, although we can extend it to the others with more time). The idea is that some people just happen to like people of the same sex; they didn’t choose this, can’t choose to change this, and so we should accommodate them for their orientation. In other words, they should have rights because they can’t help whom they love (with analogies to other marginalized groups emphasizing that those groups also “can’t help” who they are.)
As a result, LGBT activists go head over heels to try to defend this point: that there exists, always has, and always will exist a small, marginal, yet fixed portion of the population that just “can’t help” feeling that way, and so they should have rights as accommodation because there is no way to “change” this (note: the other side will read such a word with the undertone of “fix”, of course.) To this extent, they will argue that it is preposterous that in the case of any social change (say, the acceptance of gay marriage and the acceptance of gay relationships) there could be any disruption to the status quo of sexual orientation. The vast majority will be straight, and some small, marginal, yet fixed portion of the population will continue not to help being gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
One problem with this position is that, well, people can already fight against it. By distinguishing between “orientation” and “behavior,” someone opposed to gay rights can just say, “Well, ok, we accept that they feel that way and can’t help it…it’s a pitiable thing…but they should choose against these inclinations.” An argumentation of, “Give us rights because we can’t help whom we love” doesn’t actually establish that what “can’t be helped” ought be supported, encouraged, or accepted.
Does this sound familiar? Perhaps it does because it’s basically the church’s current position. Even if some people may be “same-sex attracted” (or whatever the term is these days), one can always choose to act otherwise.
But the second problem with this position is that it goes out of its way to support and promote the heteronormativity that frustrates it. In other words, LGBT activists never question the presumption that straight is “right” or “normal” and that gay is wrong or abnormal. And so, to address the opposition who fears the spread of so-presumed abnormality (e.g., more people being or becoming gay [orientation wise] or acting gay [behavior wise]), LGBT activists essentially argue: “No, the abnormality will remain in a small, marginal, fixed portion of the population.”
What it drills down to is a fixation on “innate” orientation and a fetish for biologism to support such.
In a way, it makes sense why LGBT activists might be fixated on these things. After all, these activists, while “in the field,” have to argue with the idea that being gay (orientationally) is a choice — and so, in the heat of a discussion, it seems like the prudent thing to do would be to argue that it isn’t a choice. But underlying the opposition’s argument is not just the belief that homosexuality is a choice, but the idea that it is a bad, wrong or immoral choice. LGBT activists do not address the value judgment when they argue for innate orientation.
It seems like a sure deal arguing for innate orientation. It seems sensible. Scientific, even. (I anticipate that someone will suggest that I’m being anti-scientific here.) But the final kicker of the shortsightedness is the issue that sexual orientation research was founded to support the heteronormative enterprise. Though homosexuality may not be on mental illness lists anymore, the foundation of such research (and thus, its continuing legacy) still pays tribute to the assumption of the wrongness, badness, or abnormality of homosexuality. The shocker — if you accept it — is that science, even well-intentioned science, is not pure and undefiled from human bias.
Consider: when talking about a scientific basis for homosexuality, no one ever phrases whatever combination of genetic or hormonal or biological or whatever factors that result in homosexuality as the “ideal” or “proper” arrangement. Even if one advocates for biological diversity and doesn’t necessarily want to change or prevent such combinations from occurring, the implied premise is that of course, the straight norm is ideal.
The thing is…even if activists on the front lines don’t quite see it, theorists have. Consider the comments of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick from two decades ago:
…What whets these fantasies more dangerously, because more blandly, is the presentation, often in ostensibly or authentically gay-affirmative contexts, of biologically based “explanations” for deviant behavior that are absolutely invariably couched in terms of “excess,” “deficiency,” or “imbalance”—whether in the hormones, in the genetic material, or, as is currently fashionable, in the fetal endocrine environment. If I had ever, in any medium, seen any researcher or popularizer refer even once to any supposedly gay-producing circumstance as the proper hormone balance, or the conducive endocrine environment, for gay generation, I would be less chilled by the breezes of all this technological confidence.
The only question is…when will the paradigm shift…and what will be its cause?
Here are a few practical questions:
How many people do you know support gay rights because some people can’t help it? How many people would withdraw such support if someone suggested something to the contrary? Are you in this boat?