I’m new here, so I don’t know anything about the politics of the RECORD, or Kelly Hartline’s. Nor, for that matter, do I know much about my own politics. I do, however, know I’m gay. It’s hard for me to communicate this, and it’s odd that I feel compelled to. But the burden of proof in the cultural courtroom falls my way, and so be it.
There are few topics that could have caused more huffing and puffing among gay activist types than the one chosen by Hartline in her article “Coming out of Homosexuality.” That’s because it’s hard to say anything concrete in response. How do I convince people that J-Lo really doesn’t turn me on, let alone that that fact isn’t something to be “struggled with”? I suppose it’s good that Exodus uses words like “struggle” and “compassionate” — it used to be the liberals who thought we could change while conservatives just wanted to get rid of us. But the presumption is still that there’s something wrong with homosexuality. For Exodus folk, the leaps from compassion to frustration to rage are more than speculative.
The ex-gay movement is full of self-loathing saps trying to drown their homosexuality in Bible verses, marriage, family and their own new subcultural niche. John Paulk is Hartline’s shining example of an Exodus grad. Is she serious? I’m sure she could have come up with one example of an ex-gay movement founder who hadn’t wandered into his old favorite D.C. leather bar “looking for the bathroom.” I ran into Dr. Spitzer last year in New York. He, for one, is “horrified” at the use to which the religious right has put his study. It was a telephone survey of 200 people referred to him by Christian ex-gay ministries! People who have actually left the movement testify that the vast majority of Exodus alums are sexually celibate but still obsessed with homosexuality.
Michael Bussee, like Paulk a very early member of the movement, says, “The desires never go away. The confrontations begin and the guilt gets worse and worse.” Bussee recalls that some people who went through the Exodus program had breakdowns or committed suicide. “One man slashed his genitals with a razor.” Another man impulsively underwent an incomplete illegal sex-change operation because he believed his sexual desires might receive divine approval were he biologically a woman. Exodus certainly doesn’t smile upon that sort of thing, but if I believed I was going to burn forever because I wasn’t into Ms. Lopez’ padding, I might freak out a bit myself. God doesn’t want that.
Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. The only place in the Bible in which I’m convinced it’s mentioned is Leviticus (“a man shall not lie with another man”) — right next to the parts about how you should throw blood around the altar and stone your wife. Lest you forget, Hartline, you, too, are “merely a sinner like everyone else.” Christianity is about justification through faith, about leaving behind the labyrinthine injunctions of Leviticus and doing good works out of love. Sins are not redeemed (what a sad statement you’ve made!); people are.
Regardless of whether or not the public buys Hartline’s theological basis for her marginalization of gays, columns like hers undoubtedly weaken their social acceptability and make it harder for people to accept their homosexuality. I realize that’s just fine with her, but perhaps she should have rethought the timing. I’m quite sure that Planned Parenthood wouldn’t poster on National Right to Life day, nor do atheists picket Christmas. National Coming Out Day is an important occasion for us to tell people that we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re … normal. To tell people not to beat themselves up about it, just to come out and move on. The article did real harm to that goal.
Finally, I will leave to readers Hartline’s claim that almost 70 percent of gays have suffered sexual molestation as children. I trust that on a campus like ours, you can all take a second and do a little discovery. In the end, that’s all I’m asking anyone tempted to believe Hartline to do — especially people making their way out of the closet. Come talk to me, or Lindsay, or Lambda or anyone you know who’s out. Exodus isn’t about compassion; it’s about repression. And, of course, it’s about politics. Christian conservative politico Janet Folger famously told The New York Times that she wanted to “strike at the assumption that homosexuality is an immutable trait and that gay people therefore need protection under anti-discrimination laws.”How’s that for compassion?
In defense of Hartline
Kudos to Kelly Hartline for having the courage to challenge the regnant dogma regarding homosexuality. By way of solidarity and in response to the animadversions that will surely follow her column, I would like to make a few points on the subject myself: First, whether homosexuality can be “chosen” or not has no bearing on its moral status. Many people (indeed, all) suffer from irresistible immoral inclinations. Some cannot help but desire to steal, others to lie, still others to kill. We do not, however, believe that we deprive them of their very identities when we discourage them from indulging their inclinations. On the contrary, we regard such inclinations as pathologies which keep those who suffer from them from realizing their truest and most flourishing selves.
Second, ridicule of anyone who argues that homosexuality is “unnatural” is misplaced, and, moreover, disingenuous. Even the most hidebound advocates of tolerance for homosexuality regard some sexual practices as actually perverse and unhealthy, even when conducted between consenting adults who just happen to love each other. Although I resist providing examples for fear of inflaming the reader’s passions, I trust that his or her id is sufficiently imaginative to come up with the some on its own. The reason that these kinds of practices are immoral is not that they do any direct harm to anyone, but that they are indeed unnatural, or, to be more accurate, they are contrary to our very meaning of being human. It is precisely the “Yuk!” reaction that everyone has to them that indicates that they are wrong. (None of this is to say, however, that Harvard professors could not reeducate their students so as to unlearn these reactions as well.)
Third, the maladroitly named condition known “homophobia” is not irrational. If there is one thing that radical queer theorists and defenders of traditional Judeo-Christian morality can agree upon, it is, as Michael Bronski puts it, that homosexuality “strikes at the heart of the organization of Western culture and societies” because it “posits a sexuality that is justified by pleasure alone.” In other words, the question of whether homosexuality is immoral or not comes down to whether we are mere animals that can do no better than use others for the immediate gratification of desire, or whether we have a nobler purpose, capable of infusing sexuality with religious significance, genuine intimacy, obligation to others and even romance. I urge all those who opt for the latter to consider relearning the “Yuk!” reaction that they once may have felt not only to homosexuality, but to masturbation, oral and anal sex, and all other manners of purely self-serving sexual behavior.
Kelly Hartline argued in last week’s RECORD that gays should liberate themselves from homosexuality by joining gay-conversion programs like Exodus. As examples of this supposed Tiresian metamorphosis, she offers us Anne and John Paulk, the poster couple for a 1998 Newsweek story on the ‘ex-gay’ phenomenon. If the Paulks are the best Hartline can come up with, though, her argument is weak. John Paulk was disciplined by the Exodus board of directors last year after he was found cruising in a Washington, D.C., gay bar. Anne Paulk, on the other hand, may not have been much of a lesbian to begin with: Time Magazine was unable to identify a single former girlfriend, and Paulk admit
ted to Time that her previous relationships with women, all but one during college, were “more emotional than sexual.”
Even more telling are the names Hartline neglected to mention. Jeremy Marks, the head of an Exodus affiliate in the U.K., left the program after trying for 14 years to be straight. His renunciation was categorical: “None of the people we’ve counseled have converted, no matter how much effort and prayer they’ve put into it.” Jeffry Ford quit his position as the director of Outpost, a similar gay-conversion organization, saying, “In the five years I was directly involved with the change movement, I do not believe that I saw one genuine change or shift in sexual orientation.” Most impressively, the founders of Exodus International, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, eventually admitted the uselessness of their own therapy, divorced their wives and lived as gay partners until Cooper’s death in 1991.
Still, Hartline’s misguided religiosity isn’t entirely surprising. As long as the pro-gay movement continues to preach the gospel that science has proven homosexuality to be biologically determined at birth, it leaves itself open to easy attack. There is surely some link between biology and sexuality. But the range of human sexual experience across cultures and through history, from classical Athenian pederasty to modern-day drag shows, leaves little doubt that sexuality is shaped culturally and through our personal experiences as well. The biological argument is a dangerous one. In effect, gays are apologizing: “We can’t help it! We were born this way.”
No excuses should be offered; the right to private consensual sexual behavior should be asserted absolutely. Whatever reasons motivate a person to choose homosexuality and insofar as we’re talking about behavior, it is a choice a religion that imposes guilt and demands behavior modification should be summarily rejected.
Winickoff needs work
Winickoff’s recent commentary on the LSC elections was an enlightening demonstration of how not to write editorial. Winickoff launched a series of clumsy sallies at the posters of the 1L candidates, harshly deriding them for various faults including grammar and personal appearance. In the opinion of this writer, his shots grossly misfired, exposing him as a needlessly cruel and hopelessly unfunny human being. The whole piece showed a lack of judgment and an abundance of poor taste. Winickoff appears to have plenty of time to gape at posters of well meaning women law students — time that would be better spent honing his writing skills.
The weak-minded and morally-impoverished, like the poor, are always with us. So I didn’t exactly find the existence of views such as those expressed by Kelly Hartline to be shocking. But I was pretty disappointed with the RECORD’s decision to publish these views, a decision which, while defensible on free speech grounds and all that, showed a decided lack of judgment. Hate speech masquerading as charitable concern is hate speech. I can only guess that in allowing on your pages a declaration that homosexuality is caused by sexual molestation during childhood you were attempting to provoke. Well, congratulations, you succeeded with at least one.