"An idea starts to be interesting when you get scared of taking it to its logical conclusion." - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes
"What else can I say? Everyone is gay." - Kurt Cobain, All Apologies
I think we are all at least a little bit gay.
Even in the midst of high unemployment, a volatile stock market, crushing national debt, and a pending presidential election between "The Socialist Secret Muslim" and "The Scariest Replicant Since Rutger Hauer", what seems to stick hardest in everyone's craw is same-sex marriage.
Liberals will say "Why should anyone care who two adults sleep with, love or marry? Each individual has the right to do whatever they like so long as it doesn't harm anyone else. And being offended does not equal harm. Any objection is just bigotry and homophobia."
Liberals think of Cam and Mitchell on Modern Family, who are funny, witty, sweet and never even kiss each other on the lips.
Conservatives will say, "Homosexuality is offensive to my moral values, and best kept behind closed doors. Same-sex marriage is as an insult to and subversion of my own marriage. Sanctioning it creates a poor example and role model for my children ---- as if the prospect of adolescent heterosexual activity isn't sufficiently jarring of a parent's modicum of tranquility!"
Conservatives think of the guys with the ass-less chaps gyrating in the NYC Gay Pride Parade, and the can't-look-but-can't-look-away image it presents.
I'm trained as a lawyer, so I have a bias toward putting as much importance on how someone justifies an opinion as I do on the conclusion they reach. As a result, more often than not I find myself in the awkward position of agreeing with the liberal's conclusions, but having more respect for the conservative's reasoning.
The liberal's protestations to the contrary, we are all inescapably fascinated by sex.
Not because we are perverts, but because we are human beings. And, as I believe Freud pointed out, our feelings about sex get a little complicated. When religions move beyond being a local tribal cult dancing and singing to control the weather and start setting up clergy and rules and regulations, sex is usually top of the list.
I think the conservative's reasoning represents a more realistic, more complex, and richer worldview.
The conservative, in their way, has tremendous respect and awe for sexuality and Eros. They understand that sexuality rests at the grey area between nature and nurture, civilization and the wilderness, knowing that at its most compelling and fulfilling, sex disturbs and unsettles our sense of place and self.
Jerry Seinfeld's brilliantly mordant comment, "Not that there is anything wrong with that!", has become the standard disclaimer following any so-called liberal's gossipy, salacious commentary or joke regarding gays or lesbians, an attempt to lay a thin blanket of enlightened tolerance over their very real ambivalence.
I think underneath the conservative's moralism is not "homophobia", and behind the liberal's sanitizing is not "tolerance", but the tacit acknowledgement that homosexuality is part of the typical spectrum of human behavior.
What if any of us who identify as straight were put in jail for 10 years? Or attended a same-sex boarding school? The real examples of homosexual behavior in these situations -- not just sexual release, but seeking fulfillment of Eros through love and affection-- are legion.
I don't think all of these people were simply closeted gays and lesbians. Put into those situations, could any of us guarantee how we would feel or act?
We can puff out our chests and say "Not me. Never". We can also think of many, many situations where we said "Not me, never" where, when faced with a living, breathing choice, we acted otherwise. Those who have pledged a fraternity or sorority can acknowledge that "Hell Week" activities play with this sexual ambivalence.
Does this mean we are all bisexual?
Maybe that's not the question.
Perhaps the question is: Can we acknowledge that our differences are a matter of degree, not kind, and that a broader view of our own, and others, very human capacity for Eros, might be a bit closer to the truth?
Many thanks to some good friends (you know who you are) whose intelligent and stimulating discussion inspired this blog post!