include several people who are queer in one way or another and my friends' friends page
has even more folks with non-straight and otherwise unusual opinions about sexual arousal and human desirability. Coming to terms with your own gender and sexuality can prove challenging. Sometimes what your brain and body are saying isn't said by the people around you. Without good role models and sometimes without even good words, enacting gender and sexuality in a well-adjusted manner is an amazing feat. In an attempt to turn the kaleidoscope a bit for a new view, I'll share the following teaching.
In the summer of 1994, my mom and I attended a week-long workshop at Naropa with American Indian storyteller and medicine man Johnny Moses. One of the many fascinating tidbits he shared was about gender in Nootka society on (I think) Vancouver Island. In Nootka language and culture, there are eight genders.
- There are the straight men, and they're BOOORING.
- There are the straight women, and they're boring too, so the two of them get together.
- There are gay men
- And gay women.
- Then there's what we'd call bisexuals, but they're comfortable with people of all genders. So I suppose they'd be octosexuals.
- Then there are men trapped in womens' bodies
- And women trapped in mens' bodies.
- Then there are people who feel like their spirit is not human, they're from somewhere else in the universe and were made to inhabit a human body so they could learn a lesson.
- There are also people who are comfortable with all the genders, but aren't sexual at all. Perhaps they're octoasexual.
Other cultures in the area had different ideas about gender. Some had more, some had less, and others didn't really think about genders -- you just know what you feel like and you relate to people as they are. One group in the area have the concept of a gender whose members can't be sexual unless they pretend to be someone else.
Something bugs me about what passes for political debate and social dialog in America these days. The participants don't spend nearly enough effort in an attempt to understand and properly characterize what the other side actually thinks and why they think that. In our formal way, philosophers usually attribute the best interpretation of a work to its author. If his words can be interpreted in two ways, only one of which is totally absurd, the other should be assumed the intended meaning. Unfortunately, in common political and social thought, people often don't even rise to the level of willful misinterpretation. They start and end with making up positions held by their adversaries and then deriding those. For instance, some people voted for Nixon in 1960 because they didn't want the U.S. president to take orders from the Pope. Kennedy was elected, but the Pope's power in America didn't change.
This seems to be the current state of most of the gay marriage "debate" currently transpiring. It strikes me that a lot of constituents believe that proponents of gay marriage are following an agenda of goals that they do not, in fact, desire. I read somewhere that some anti-gay marriage leaders are intentionally ignoring the distinction between legal marriage and religious marriage. Thus, there may be lots of people who oppose gay marriage because their religion forbids homosexual unions and they don't want the government forcing their church to recognize and perform gay marriages. I don't think anyone on the pro-gay marriage side is claiming anything of the sort, but the misconception is out there. People therefore defend
a ban on gay marriage in the name of religious freedom, of all things.
In the hopes of increasing the general level of understanding in the universe, I therefore hope I can make this clear. Religious matrimony and legal matrimony should be two separate (though usually co-occurrent) concepts. Religions should be able to confer the "sanctity of marriage" on relationships at their discretion. If a church's elders or members decide that unions are only holy if both members are of the same religion, race, sexual orientation, or age bracket, so be it. No person should be forced to perform a religious marriage they don't bless, and if a church disapproves of people living together who don't have a sanctified relationship, they may so decree. To the degree that the church's doctrine influences its followers actions, the faithful should follow these guidelines.
Alongside the concept of religiously blessed union should lie the legally blessed union. It could be called almost anything for all I care -- marriage, civil union, 602(d), or whatever. But it should be called the same thing for everyone to which it applies. To qualify for an LBU, the participants must meet certain criteria. They must be of the age of consent, they must agree to the union without duress, and perhaps they should swear an oath indicating some of their duties. The benefits provided by LBUs should be entirely legal in nature -- tax breaks, prevention of housing discrimination, inheritance, partner benefits, and so forth. There should not be a box on the form to describe which party has what sexual organs, because that has absolutely nothing to do with the provided benefits. It should be possible to have a legally blessed union without that union being religiously blessed and vice versa. It should be possible to have a legally blessed union with more than one person at a time, though providing for this would require some careful thought about legal repercussions. It seems questionable to force an employer's partner benefits plan to cover all seventeen of a person's spice, since that could lead to loophole unions where people without a relationship get married purely for free health care. But this sort of thing is a minor issue which can be worked out in legislative committee after sufficient testimony.
Laws restricting marriage to certain gender combinations based on religious tradition is a bit like laws restricting the purchase of meat to certain days based on religious tradition. If your religion says you shouldn't marry another person, don't. (Alternatively, make the switch to a religion that will let you marry the person you love.) If your religion says you shouldn't eat meat on Fridays, or even that you shouldn't eat meat at all, then don't. But don't make a law preventing the sale of meat on Friday.
Finally, the anti-gay agenda is largely doomed. No matter how much people try, they won't stop people from doing any of the following with people with similar sex organs:
- stimulating sex organs to the point of orgasm
- living together and sleeping in the same bed
- creating and raising children
- sharing finances and possessions
- holding hands, kissing, or cuddling
- arguing, fighting, lying, breaking up, harassing, taking revenge, or any of the other not-so-fun things that happen in a relationship.
All that outlawing same-sex unions prevents is tax breaks, access to health care, sensible custody, and reasonable inheritance. And that seems like a really strange set of things to selectively deny to people.
Well, tax breaks, access to health care, child custody, and inheritance are frequently granted to the wealthy while they're harder for poor to obtain, but that's a problem for another time.
In the abortion debate, people who are pro-life want to increase the number of lives and people who are pro-choice want to increase the number of choices. In the gay marriage debate, people who claim to defend marriage and pro-family actually oppose measures which would increase the number of marriages and provide more legal stability to families. To quote Dr. Strangelove, "You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"