Posts Tagged ‘Gay Rights’

Imagine this image: a human brain in a vat. The brain has been removed from a real, live person and painstakingly wired into a machine which keeps it alive, utterly duplicating the necessary processes of organic flesh. Sight, sound and smell are simulated by clever contraptions, emotional surges provoke the correct chemical and hormonal reactions. To all intents and purposes, the being Рthe brain Рis real, their sense of self intact: they are simply no longer housed in a body.

Which begs the question: do they still have a gender?

It’s an interesting problem. Socially, gender is assumed¬†through assessment of¬†a person’s physical body, their voice, mannerisms, clothes and so on: but strip away all these things – remove even their possibility – and what is left?¬†Is the brain (we’ll¬†call it¬†Sam, a neatly androgynous handle) gendered depending on the sex of its¬†original body? Is it possible for a ‘female’ brain to wind up¬†ensconced in male¬†flesh, or vice versa? If one accepts that homosexuality is¬†more often¬†an innate predeliction than a conscious choice (certainly, I believe, it can be both or either), what role does the physical wiring of our brain play? Is it the only factor?¬†Does nurture always prevail over nature in matters of sexuality,¬†or vice versa? Is it a mixture? If so, does the ratio vary from person to person? Why? And so on.

Let’s lay some cards on the table. When it comes to sexual orientation, my¬†two rules of¬†thumb are:¬†

(a) mutual, intelligent consent; and

(b) the prevention of harm to others.

In a nutshell:¬†all parties have to agree to what’s happening, and no bystanders can¬†be hurt or unwillingly drawn in. While this doesn’t rule out¬†BDSM (provided,¬†of course, it¬†keeps within the bounds of said rules), it definitively excludes rape and¬†paedophilia, which, really, is common sense.¬†Anything relating to homosexuality and transexuality,¬†however,¬†is fair game.

A few more points, in no particular order:

1. Life is often unfair.

2. Life is often weird.

3. Insofar as evidence is concerned, human beings are still shaky on the definitive origins of personhood (souls v. genes, or possibly a blend of both), but most people will agree that brains and gender play a more important role in this than, say, knees and elbows.

4. Original notions of gender roles developed in the context of reproduction and childrearing, but provided both these things still occur in sufficient numbers to ensure the survival of the species, there is little harm in broadening or questioning their parameters.

5. People have, or should have, a basic right to assert their identity. Reasonably, there must be some limits of credulity –¬†there was only ever one Napoleon,¬† mankind¬†are distinct from dolphins – but within the recognised sphere of human gender and sexual orientation, it seems¬†counter-intuitive that¬†appearance should dictate¬†black and white¬†rules for what is, quite evidently, an internal and subtle determination.

Witness, then, the idea of transgender couples, in which one partner may undergo a sex change without ending the relationship. Witness, then, the case of Aurora Lipscomb, born Zachary, who identified as a girl from the age of two and was removed from her parents when they refused to forcibly contradict her. These are just two examples that buck the trend of traditional gender ideas, and rather than making us squirm, they should make us think. When and why did certain socio-cultural ideas of gender develop, and how do they change? Consider, for instance, the well-documented and widespread instances of winkte, berdache and two-spirit people in Native American culture, compared to the deep-seated fear of these concepts in western traditions. Look at the long-standing tradition of male homosexuality in Japan, particularly among samurais, and the role of Sappho in ancient Greek lesbianism. Think of hermaphrodites.

Point being, there’s a wealth of diverse and fascinating history surrounding the ideas of gender, sexuality and male/female roles, to the extent that many legal restrictions now placed on non-heterosexual couples and individuals are faintly ridiculous. Throw in the question of child-rearing, and there’s a tendency to reach for the nearest pitchfork. Personally, I find¬†debating my views in this matter difficult, if only because debate is meaningless without a modicum of mutually accepted middleground, and where¬†my opponents object to homosexuality and transsexuality as an opening gambit, it’s well-nigh impossible to discuss the matter of non-heteros breeding, adopting and/or applying for surrogacy without both sides resorting to instant moral veto of the contrary position.

Still, it’s always worth trying, and the whole issue fascinates me. Socially, I marvel at where the next hundred years could take us, and cringe at how far we might also fall. But in the interim, I return to the question of brains in vats, and how, within the parameters of such a hypothetical, gender is determined. Is it innate, biological, genetic, spiritual, chosen consciously, chosen unconsciously, socially conditioned, random, nurtured, culturally selected; or can the glorious gamut of human existence countenance the possibility that these options simultaneouly coexist as true, contributing on an individual¬†basis, in individual ratios? Or is that too confronting a thought?

Gay marriage is now legal in California.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a long overdue development. The claim that marriage is just for men and women has always rung hollow, not in the least because no religion or culture ‘owns’ the concept. Marriage wasn’t exported to the rest of the world by a particular group: rather, the idea has flourished with variety in almost every human culture. The Christian argument that gay marriage is invalid because God dislikes homosexuality is, ultimately, hypocritical: people are already married under the auspices of different, scripturally untenable traditions, religious or otherwise, but nobody is protesting those. Unless the dissenters start taking placards to Hindu ceremonies, they’ve already acknowledged that the state has a right to legalise marriage in a non-Christian context. Protesting homosexuality is, in this sense, mere semantics.

 

Whether the church must preside over gay weddings is a different issue ‚Äď one, methinks, which is best left to a case-by-case basis. Or would be, if not for the uneasy truce between discrimination law and religious tradition. This, perhaps, is the legalistic nub of the problem: if the church were to be treated like any other organisation, then any refusal to ‘serve’ couples on the basis of sexual orientation would count as discrimination, with all the liabilities that entails. Going back a few decades, it’s the equivalent of hanging a ‘no blacks’ sign in a shop window. It’s a no-brainer to say that political uproar would follow any instance of the state trying to force a church to marry a gay couple against its will ‚Äď and yet, a similar uproar would result if shari’a law were allowed to trump that of the state.

 

Socially, we’re at a turning point. Overseas as well as at home, western nations have begun the institution of universal human rights: protection from racial, religious or sexual discrimination, women’s rights, the rights of the child. In many cases, this has involved colliding head-on with previous religious or cultural mores: the idea of rape inside marriage, for instance, remains non-existent in many countries; in others, the marriage of girls as young as ten or thirteen is still common practice. But more and more, we are reaching a point at which, if we are to remain faithful to the idea of innate, universal rights, we must actively contradict religious doctrine ‚Äď our own, as well as that of others.

 

Due to a combination of religious, historical and socio-cultural factors, many such rights are already part of western law, while still allowing for difference between individual nations. In many instances, Christian practice has already changed to accommodate these rights: the investiture of women bishops, the availability of contraception, the right of divorce and, in some cases, the legalisation of abortion are all examples of this. But with the exception of women in the church, the scriptural arguments against these things tend to be contextually extrapolated, rather than explicitly forbidden. Even divorce, while frowned upon, is ultimately permissible in a number of instances.

 

Homosexuality, however, is expressly called a sin. The most doctrinal leeway to be found is in forgiving it, as one might forgive theft or murder. With this in mind, it is almost miraculous to consider how much the gay rights movement has achieved. But still, the church has not been required to alter its own position. This is the wall foreign aid workers have run up against time and again: the idea that an injustice, if backed by religion, cannot be assailed in the usual fashion. At some level, total change is always circumscribed by ‚Äď ironically ‚Äď the universal right to freedom of religion, the worst incarnation of which, as with freedom of speech, is the freedom to be purposefully bigoted.

 

Sooner or later, the system needs must bend. There are three potential outcomes, only one of which seems even vagely palatable. But until that day comes, I’ll be content with such progress as comes my way. California now allows gay marriage – and I say, good on ’em.