I originally started writing this in the summer of 2010, during the trial over repeal of California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in the state. The wrangling over that has continued, and the hateful National Organization for Marriage that funded the whole thing has certainly not gone away. Gay people still can’t get married in California. Fights over marriage equality are gearing up in a number of states this year, and things may get better in some states and worse in others. Here in New Mexico, so far, the influence of the Catholic Church has prevented us from getting even domestic partnerships for heterosexual couples, which seems like such a no-brainer, let alone same-sex marriage.
There is a bit more hope in the world now, though, since Congress has finally repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” bringing us a little closer to the enlightenment level of the many other countries in which gay soldiers serve openly. (Their militaries haven’t fallen apart, and ours won’t either.) This was one of the few pieces of good news to come out of our sorry political system in quite a while. My cheery feelings were tempered, though, when I saw a video clip of John McCain’s diatribe in response to the repeal vote. The senator, you may remember, had doggedly stuck with DADT despite the contrary opinions of the Secretary of Defense and the bulk of the military leadership. McCain was practically shaking with rage when he gave this speech. And I was livid myself when he justified his stance by pointing out that we have soldiers in hospitals who have been maimed and lost limbs, implying that by some obscure mechanism this had been caused by the presence of their gay colleagues! Apparently the idea was that you couldn’t trust a gay soldier in combat, not the way you could rely on a straight one, so you were more likely to take a hit from the enemy. There was no perceptible shred of logic in his presentation.
As Jon Stewart pointed out, some of those hospitalized amputees are, guess what, gay themselves, and they might like to be able to have a visit from their significant other without having to pass him off as an old college buddy or something.
Here’s what I had written earlier:
A while back, a close friend gave some opinions and pronouncements that felt incredibly wrong to me and did not seem to be in line with her usual way of thinking. She insisted that these ideas were what her Sources tell her, and since she is in touch with truly higher Sources, I am uncomfortable about arguing. However, I need to bring up these issues. She’ll probably read this, so I want to emphasize that I am writing with love and compassion.
What my friend said was that people who want to change their gender are not acting in accordance with natural law (please correct me if I’ve gotten this wrong).
She also had some harsh things to say about homosexual people, which gave me a thorough shock as it was so uncharacteristic of her. She was talking about Those People as if they were some completely separate breed. I pointed out that I was as much part of Those People as I was of her kind of people! She insisted that for me to be bisexual is only a matter of being able to love in an unlimited way, whereas gay people are somehow a completely different matter.
Wait a second. For good or ill, all you “monosexuals” out there, gay and straight, are pretty incomprehensible to me, and seem strangely limited. But I understand that you were born that way and there’s nothing you can do about it. And nothing you need to do about it. You’re just fine the way you are.
My friend was saying that gay people are not just fine; what she said sounded perilously close to the so-called Christian view that God hates them and sees them as sinful. Again, I know that my friend is not that kind of person at all. I put in a lot of time trying to understand where she was coming from and how on earth she could say such hurtful things.
At the heart of this is a question about how much choice we have about who we are. For the sake of argument, I will start with the point of view that says God made us who we are, and that His/Her creation is inherently good. I will start there because this is how religious people generally seem to see the matter, and pretty much what my friend seems to believe as well. I think there is an immediate logical conflict if we take this point of view and then say that people who have a particular gender identity or sexual orientation are somehow not in accordance with God and nature. If God made us a certain way, how can that be wrong? We would be acting against God’s wishes by trying to be something we are not, trying to fit in with someone’s false expectations of us.
We could also leave religion and spirituality out of this entirely, and simply look at what biology tells us. There is evidence that gender identity has observable, biological correlations. A person who has an internal sense of being female has a different biochemistry from one who has a sense of being male. The outer form of the body doesn’t necessarily correspond to that internal sense. That’s just how things are.
You may have heard of the “2D/4D ratio.” This is an indirect measure of a person’s exposure to testosterone in utero. Most men’s 4th fingers are longer than most women’s in relation to their 2nd fingers. It can be shown that among a group of athletes, the one with the longest 4th finger is likely to win any type of sports competition. It happens that I have quite long 4th fingers for a female, but sadly, they do not allow me to run faster, jump higher, or throw a ball faster than the next girl. Far from it! They do affect me quite a bit as an instrumentalist, however, and I’m very glad to have them, because my pinkies are teensy little things that can’t reach very far. My 4th fingers can make up for that somewhat. Does my 2D/4D ratio have anything to do with my sexual orientation? Maybe*, but I know for sure that the relative lengths of my fingers, and whatever hormonal influences underlie that characteristic, are built in, and there’s nothing that can change them.
Should a person whose internal identity doesn’t match his or her body shape take medical or surgical steps to change into a more congruent physical form? It’s not for me to say. All I know is that by the time a person gets to the point of finding such drastic measures necessary, he or she has already suffered a lot and come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to live with that original outward form. I haven’t experienced that, and I can’t judge a person who has.
One thing is certain– people who buck the norms of society are often punished for it. Very often.
While mulling all this over, I finally got around to seeing the movie Boys Don’t Cry, the one about Teena Brandon, a girl who insisted she was a boy. Her brutal murder was not entirely a matter of some idiot’s rage at her crossing of the gender line, but that had a great deal to do with it. Teena (or rather Brandon, as she preferred to be called) paid the ultimate price for presenting herself as a member of the opposite sex. Was she pretending to be something she wasn’t, or was she expressing what she truly was?
Personally, what I’d rather see is for all of us to realize that gender isn’t black and white, and that there are more than two. Gender and gender identity (like sexual orientation) are fluid, and each person’s spot on the continuum can change to some extent. Somebody please tell me why that has to be a problem!
I think there is an underlying difficulty with all of this: seeing the world as polarized in terms of gender. I have noticed both gay and straight people doing that. In fact, I’ve noticed gay people doing it more than straight people, perhaps because the way our society is constructed, they can’t afford to forget about gender issues for a moment.
There are real differences between the sexes, but the differences between individuals are greater than those between these two halves of humanity. Diversity drives evolution. Enjoy it.
*http://www.unl.edu/rhames/courses/readings/homofinger/homo_finger.html Apparently both homosexual women and homosexual men show evidence of having been exposed to a greater level of androgens before birth– both are hypermasculinized. Not what you expected, huh? Me neither, since it doesn’t seem to fit the way many gay men see themselves or the way others see them. On, uh, the other hand, this source points out that the gender difference in fingers is relatively small: http://www.human-nature.com/nibbs/02/manning.html.
For current news on Proposition 8 and the fight for marriage equality in other states, check http://stop8.org.
March 2012: I just came across this article, which is notable for giving a small child’s perspective on her transgendered nanny, who she always “knew” was really a boy, even before she changed: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rhiana-maidenberg/transgender-nanny_b_1304328.html?ncid=webmail20
Here’s another eye-opening piece, about the challenges faced by transgender folk in Indonesia, one of whom was little Barry Obama’s nanny: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/05/evie-obamas-transgender-nanny-indonesia_n_1320927.html?ncid=wsc-huffpost-cards-headline