The Claims of Nature: The "Can Gays Change" Debate Is Muddling the Main Issues

By Postrel, Virginia | Reason, October 1998 | Go to article overview

The Claims of Nature: The "Can Gays Change" Debate Is Muddling the Main Issues


Postrel, Virginia, Reason


In 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association took homosexuality off its list of mental disorders, this summer's controversy over whether gays can change would have been hard to imagine. Although there were always people understood to be spinsters and "confirmed bachelors" for reasons other than independence or social ineptitude, few heterosexuals knew any out-of-the-closet gays. Samesex dates certainly weren't likely to show up at family gatherings or business dinner parties - much less White House functions or the Academy Awards. To be openly gay was to stand outside normal society. Bourgeois mores, it was thought, depended on pretending that homosexuality did not exist.

That has changed. Thanks to the simple but radical concept of persuading people to stop living double lives, the social equilibrium has shifted - more in some places, to be sure, than in others, but throughout American culture. Especially among younger people, it is no longer socially normal for homosexuals to pretend to be heterosexual. And it turns out that the old slogan was right: Gays are indeed "everywhere," a small percentage of the population but sprinkled throughout society. Like heterosexuals, gay individuals turn out not to be reducible to the single fact of sexual orientation. They are a diverse lot and, much to the chagrin of both radical gays and traditionalist conservatives, many are bourgeois and conventional.

That human beings have many aspects to their personalities shouldn't come as a big shock. But when the subject is sex, many commentators take leave of their senses and forget everything they know about people. The only other subjects that make for dumber political discussions are religion and statistics and, at a much more subtle level, nature. This summer's debate dumped all these sense-impairing topics into one big mess.

It all started when Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, pressed by conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams, condemned homosexual activity as a "sin." Having thus satisfied the persistent demands of both grassroots fundamentalists and intellectual neoconservatives, Lott immediately tried to soften the message by grasping the language of addiction and disease: "My father has a problem, as I said, with alcoholism. Other people have sex addiction. Other people, you know, are kleptomaniacs. I mean, there are all kinds of problems and addictions and difficulties and experiences of things that you - that are wrong but you should try to, you know, work with that person to learn to control that problem."

Not surprisingly, gays didn't like having a powerful politician cast them as the morally diseased equivalent of thieves and out-of-control drinkers. Collectively and individually, they protested. Lott's conservative fans fought back, mingling two different messages. First, they portrayed themselves as victims. They embraced the argument of the speech-code police that criticizing other people's views is unacceptable - "anti-Christian," in this case. Usually this claim took the form of decrying "name-calling" and demanding "tolerance" for anti-gay views, treating disagreement as the equivalent of censorship. In a ceremony at Lott's office, an obscure conservative group called Public Advocate of the U.S. took the argument to its absurd conclusion, delivering 50,000 petitions asking Congress to "designate the public practice and promotion of 'homosexuality' as a federal 'hate crime.'" So much for tolerance and free speech.

Second, and far more successfully, conservative groups produced stories, featured in full-page newspaper ads, of homosexuals who had adopted heterosexual lifestyles for religious reasons. Janet Folger of the Center for Reclaiming America, who coordinated the $200,000 campaign, told National Public Radio that the ads' message "shatters the foundation of the homosexual movement. That foundation of all of their arguments is based on the myth that homosexuals are born that way and change is impossible. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Claims of Nature: The "Can Gays Change" Debate Is Muddling the Main Issues
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.