“DO ASK, DO TELL IV”: MORAL REDUX, PART 6
APRIL 5, 2016 2 COMMENTS EDIT
Now I come back to a more personal part. Homosexuality. Frankly, for most of my life, “homosexuality” has been regarded as a rather unreliable proxy for a mishmash of other problems connected to socialization, whether a person fits into a community (starting with the family) as others expect.
Now, the earlier posts in this series suggest that “society” has some kind of “right” to expect the people whom it reared to “fit in” to its common good. While modern, wealthier societies like the West today generally sees morality in terms of personal responsibility following directly from personal choice, older societies, with lower standards of living, generally are more concerned about some common purpose for the entire group, demanding loyalty of all. I think we humans could compare ourselves to other social animals (like wolves or orcas) and see that we have moved away from distributed consciousness to individualism.
I again start by asking why homosexuality of others is such a big deal for some people (remains so in some religious and authoritarian societies, and was so for much of mainline western history until attitudes started a (at first, very) gradual change in the late 1950s, about ten years before Stonewall. Ask why, indeed. The homosexual is not a conventional threat to take another man’s wife or girlfriend, so why the big deal? It seems to come down to procreation. As an only child, this was particularly important for me. A family line dies with me, for all eternity, until the Sun billows out on Earth and mankind has to move to another solar system. In some perspectives, that is a bigger loss than conventional crime causes. This is not like abortion, because there are no children or beings who have rights because they don’t exist yet, so that is a bit of a relativistic paradox. But the family exists, and it dies with me. Ironically, as a conscious being, I have the “power outside” to affect eternity *by denying eternity my parents’ genes) by not having children just as I would by having a family.
What we document as the history of “gay rights” has changed focus over the decades, and younger gay people (especially young men, non-trans) often act unaware of what things were like in the 80s and previous decades. Today it’s put in terms of “marriage equality” (mostly) or opposing deceptively worded “religious liberty” bills in some socially conservative states (with some recent issue on transgender, which us quite different for people who experience it than the “usual” gay world.). Two decades ago (about the time I was seriously into writing DADT I) there was a huge focus on the military issue. Three decades ago, we were in the bulls eye of AIDS, which was like an approaching long-tracking tornado. Previously, centering around Stonewall, it had been about privacy and more conventionally disruptive discrimination.
The real issue for people seems to be socialization. Living as stable heterosexually married adults with children is scene as tying people to the needs of the family and community, in a way that hopefully minimizes government interference, and that also provides some sort of quasi-equality: we all know that raising a family is a difficult challenge, so if we want to be recognized as significant in the community, we should all take our turns dealing with these risks. At an individual level, such thinking seems to admit vulnerability, but it strengthens the resilience of the group as a whole. Sometimes (like Donald Trump’s protégé Troy McClain) one takes one for the team, and that is virtuous in the long run.
Socialization meets needs that change over time. In the most recent decades, life spans have lengthened, meaning that “our parents” may live longer than before and be disabled for a longer time, to be looked after by fewer adult children than in the past. Furthermore, more can be done about diseases which , from early childhood to adulthood, were in the past deadly or incapacitating. But this will be done only if the social support of the extended (and “natural”) family is around. This has an effect on others in the extended family, including those who did not “choose” to have their own children. Especially for children and younger adults, it is true that focused fundraising for specific needs is much more common and effective today (online) than it had been when I was growing up.
Social attitudes are certainly more “liberal” today than when I was growing up. But there is probably more pressure for people to “come together” as families or other groups to meet targeted needs than there was in the past. This seems like a paradox. In the past, the opportunities for people to bond together were logistically more limited, and so the bonds within in nuclear and extended families seemed more important to people for this to happen at all.
The experience of family socialization was seen as seamless. You developed the skills appropriate for your gender, which for men, included physical competence with tools and a certain physical combativeness in protecting others (women and children). That made it more likely you would find the experience of courtship, dating, marriage, and parenthood working and sustainable, even if deep in your psyche you knew you had desires elsewhere (which maybe could be experienced once in a while in special circumstances, like fraternal hazing). Then it was more likely you could participate in the broader needs of your community, centering around your family. It was difficult to meet real needs of other people without having your own domain, which in turn demanded certain kinds of conformity and practical, non-individualized skills. It became a chicken and egg problem. And some of the things young men were expected to do (like take hits when playing football) turned out not to be in their best individual interest later in life. I was “right” on the irrationality of what was asked of me as an individual, even if it seemed necessary that I share the common risks of the group, under the supervision of a gatekeeper, before I was noticed and recognized for what I could do myself.
Social development really got into the head when it came to sexuality. You were expected to remain interested and passionate about a marital partner for a lifetime, regardless of what misfortunes may detract from the partner’s physical appearance (which could include war or aggression by others or “victimhood”). You actually needed to function in a family bed to be able expand out into the community. Furthermore, if you really were less well off than others, then you still needed to be able to find a marital partner (particularly if you were a woman in the days before women could earn like men in the workplace). Any kind of distraction from the outside that kept you from this – even the sensation of being “scoped” – would be most unwelcome.
Surrounding the marriage was the larger family, where you learned to “love” people who weren’t always simply first on your list of personal choices. Being a married parent was supposed to give you “the power outside” to develop this capacity in your children. The marital bed worked because of the social context around it, a lot of which was eusocial, identifying with the common mind of a family group. So you resisted any public distraction from this “long process piece” of a whole adult life.
In any world where personal values are heavily shaped by personal context, personal motives are often influenced by the idea that everyone else “has to do it, too”. It may sound circular, and it certainly invites manipulation by gatekeepers, by those whose “job” it is to enforce the norms. But some experiences that involve some surrender of independence to others make sense precisely because everyone else must accept living under the same rules. The rules give the social experience and “sacrifice” new meaning, and then reinforce the meaning. So, again, dilution of the meaning meets resistance.
Modesty is a case of context. Cultures make rules about public exposure and nudity partly to make (marital) sexuality later more rewarding and satisfying. In fact, there is concern that pornography contributes to sexual dysfunction, especially for men, with real partners.
A particular notion of the past was that the experience of sexuality must be confined to heterosexual marriage when there is openness to having more children. The idea was supposed to be imposed on everyone. In the minds of some people, this made “a marriage” more important to have, and could feed jealousy. It also led to unrealistic expectations of “monopoly” of affection by marriage. Another idea is that “you” shouldn’t be heard from unless you have a family to support (or have had one). These sorts of ideas are seen as “equalizing” things for an otherwise “unfair” world. (Men who gained pleasure other than from physical complementarity were seen as somehow “cheating” others who “followed the rules”.) They emphasize the idea that people need to do things together, and that solidarity can become its own virtue, even if the outside purpose turns out to be wrong (example: West Bank settlements). Enforcing this kind of discipline on members of a group (particularly on gender matters) has been thought to make the group more resilient to outside threats, and this is a big deal for outliers like me. What I say and do indeed affects what others think their family lives “mean”.
There was a flip side, in this notion of “meaning”, in the way I perceived others in the gay world into which I emigrated. The idea of “standards” of “masculinity” was important to make this whole “process piece” of upward affiliation work. So I could understand, too, not liking to see other dilute the meaning of the experience I had. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” could have many contexts indeed.
(Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2016, at 10:30 PM EDT)