"Do Ask Do Tell, Let's Talk" (by Brad Hambrick, no connection to my series, book review)

New guide for evangelical Christians with “gay friends”, an odd use of the phrase “Do Ask, Do Tell”

Author: Brad Hambrick

Title, Subtitle: “Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk“

publication date: 2016/3

ISBN: 978-1-941114-11-7

Publication: Cruciform Press, 124 pages, paper

“I don’t notice men’s bods.” A young coworker, whom I had usually beaten in lunchtime blitz chess games, said to me one morning back in 1972, before my own “Second Coming (out)”.  He, although engaged to marry “traditionally”, was already becoming a plump butterball.

You don’t hear men deny they feel same-sex attraction, or “SSA”, today as much as they did then.  But denial or recognition of SSA (not the Social Security Administration) is a cornerstone idea of this curious little book “Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends”, by Brad Hambrick.

The title uses the same wordmark that I use for my own book series (now three), which had originally been motivated by the history of the (now repealed) “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military. I’ve never thought that a politically charged word moniker like this should be monopolized commercially (like the name “Trump”, perhaps).  But this work is written to sell to a narrow niche audience – evangelical Christians, and is laid out as a handbook, with spaces to enter notes. Curiously, it ends with a sketch of a dialogue for a Christian’s responding to a gay friend’s asking him to come to the friend’s future same-sex wedding.  That could make a “ten minute play” (a concept in some small towns, like a summer festival in Chestertown, MD) or a short film.

I’ve seen niche “handbooks” for gay rights before.  In the 1990s,, there was a pair of books, with red “Do Ask, Do Tell” buttons on the cover (but not part of the title) by Bob Powers and Allan Ellis, two guides on sexual orientation for managers, and then family.  I don’t personally write this way, because it seems to pander “baby talk”, but maybe my own saying that sounds a little contemptuous of meeting “real need”.

First, let me credit the author for some political libertarianism.  He says that some behaviors that religion regards as immoral according to scripture should not be legislated as crimes (and indeed Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 made sodomy laws unconstitutional). He also gives a short biography of Alan Turing, recognizing Turing’s accomplishment (probably saving western civilization from Nazism) and laments how the British government subsequently treated his homosexuality in 1952, with chemical castration, leading to Turing’s suicide.  He seems to understand that Turing had his own unusual kind of personal charisma. S I hope he is contemplating voting for Johnson-Weld in 2016.

He also volunteers the disclaimer at opposing an association with homosexuals is not his own personal “hill to die on”, to use a (Vietnam-era) military metaphor. One wonders why anyone would expect this of him.

For the rest of this review, I would like to play the role of that “friend” in his book, somewhere between what he would call “Christian” and “non-Christian”.  As I indicated in a review of Bass’s “Grounded” on Sept. 4, I don’t experience Christianity in a personalized, emotional way of many evangelicals, but match it up with physics and cosmology.

Hambrick views men with SSA (and probably lesbians and transgender) as “suffering” because of the “fall”.  He also spends a lot of space in the middle of the book analyzing some scriptures.  Most pastors know that even within denominations, various churches or synods interpret specific scriptures differently.  The Baptist denomination exists largely over the interpretation of adult v. child baptism, and with the denomination in the US there has always been major divisions over political questions (beginning with slavery and race). Within Christianity, there are many ways of viewing homosexuality that mainstream scholars view as academically defendable.

I can understand that people want to find guides for behavior and attitudes in specific scriptures. One way to comprehend this is to realize that with secular intellect alone, one can rationalize almost any social or political system according to what one otherwise fantasizes he wants to do.  One can even, with secular thinking, rationalize fascist values, which brings up the question of the actions and caring needed from all of us to support the value of all human life in the future – although life that does not yet “exist” (not yet conceived, as with far future generations or lineage) does raise a philosophical question of its own.  On the other hand (as we see with radical Islam) authoritarian religious dogma can be handed down in such a way as to justify horrible behaviors, too.

But my own SSA does not unfold as “suffering” but as an enticing, self-completing world of fantasy or alternate reality.  The “suffering” came from the ostracism and discrimination early in my adulthood – being thrown out of William and Mary as a freshman in November 1961 for telling the Dean of Men that I am gay, and then undergoing “therapy” at NIH in 1962 while the Cuban Missile Crisis raged “on the outside”.

Evangelical Christians have been concerned with scriptural admonitions about the expression of sexuality, but I can provide a perspective on “what people want” from a practical perspective.

I think that Hambrick is right, that male homosexuality can be a mixture of biological influences and imprinting of cultural values.  It’s more common for second sons to be gay, and this could happen because of epigenetic womb influences (but not because of Original Sin).  In some cases the younger son is actually physically stronger than the straight older son.  But I am an only child, so that doesn’t apply to me.  I was frail and fell behind my peers physically.  So I tended to equate the combination of both smarts and physical presence and various secondary sexual characteristics as equivalent to “virtue”.  Again, this is rationalism for its own sake.  But that “imprinting” led to my awareness of sexual arousal in the presence of a small subset of young men.

So what did people really want from me?  Well, for one thing, my being an only child highlights one aspect of my circumstances: I was likely never going to experience sexual intercourse with a female and give my parents a lineage.  The family would die with me, for all eternity.

What we call “homophobia” is a sliding phenomenon, rather like referred pain or vague nausea in neurology.  It’s a combination of concerns about the welfare of the family, tribe or herd, considered as a whole, not about the individual.  “Tribal” cultures facing external threats indeed are more likely to follow authoritarian leaders, religious teachings, and impose invasive rules on the behaviors of their members, “for the good of everyone.”  As societies get richer, the need for mediating individual tastes and behaviors becomes less. But societies can lose sustainability  and particularly resilience.

At its heart, objection to homosexuality has a lot to do with a perceived threat to procreation for the group.  There is a fear that less secure males will decide that it is not important to have children, if homosexuality is acceptable.  That seems to be driving the anti-homosexual propaganda law in Russia (that has a dwindling population problem).  There is also a fear that women will get the idea they do not need to receptive to men.  When I was a young adult in 1972 and had already tried some passionless heterosexual dating, I was aware of the desire to “have” a family life, but I did not recognize an inherent personal value in fathering and raising my own children — in fact, I may have harbored some “reverse eugenics” in my own thinking. I had no grasp of the intimacy that could be required to tend to an expectant spouse, and remain erotically interested in her (for a lifetime) despite constant physical appearance changes.

The “demographic winter” argument has been articulated in the US among some socially conservative circles, such as by Philip Longman in his 2004 book “The Empty Cradle“, who has even written that childless adults (probably LG often) are “too preoccupied with themselves” to want or need their own children, but then it becomes harder to become socially relevant to others in times of real need.

There is also a fear that, in a smaller group, homosexual males will “scope” other men and make other men conscious of themselves.  This was a concern (along with unit cohesion) in the early days of the debate over gays in the military (a mix or privacy and unit cohesion concerns), but over time it tended to fade, partly because soldiers are better educated and society as a whole is “richer”.

The idea that everyone should be expected to confine their personal experience of sexuality to traditional marriage (“until death do us part”, with openness to procreation, the traditional Vatican idea), could be viewed as an “equalizer” of sorts, even if this idea seems to be a paradox. Society might be viewed as more stable and meaningful to the otherwise disadvantaged if everyone is exposed to some of the same risks of responsibility for others. But that mediates the meaning of marriage, as much more about the community than just the couple itself.

Conservative writer George Gilder had expressed some of these ideas in a couple of now forgotten books, “Sexual Suicide” (1973) and “Men and Marriage” (1986).  Gilder regarded (young) men as largely fungible (fodder for conscription) outside of marriage with kids, and presented women as inherently “sexually superior” to men because they don’t have to prove themselves by “performing”.  It’s pretty heavy stuff.  But he dismissed homosexuality with a phrase “the perils of androgyny” as if transgender did not exist. Gilder coined a term that describes my own psychological strategy, “upward affiliation“.  That is, it is a “fatal flaw” in me that I don’t find emotional value in bonding with people who need me for adaptive purposes.

Gilder’s writing also suggests a certain herd effect in the supposed self-discipline and “opportunity cost” involved in men’s restricting sexuality to procreative marriage. If everyone else can be counted on to honor the the same rules, then the committed, life-long marital experience has more psychic value.  But that also suggests the “Pharisee” problem:  preoccupation with rules and order for their own sake, as a source of meaning and sometimes a sense of superiority to others in a social hierarchy.

The “herd effect” and public health concerns (about gay men) leveraged by the far right in the 1980s when AIDS exploded have been largely forgotten.  But I’ve documented all of this in a few specific postings from a “McCarthyism” label on my “Do Ask So Tell Notes” blog:  1, 2, 3.

(review originally posted: June 2016)