The Bad Faith of Michele Bachmann's Gay Rights Inquisitors
Michele Bachmann followed up on her Iowa straw poll victory with two Sunday interviews, in both of which she was given ridiculous questions about homosexuality. The gay card seems to be the feint of choice for Democrats and their proxies.
On Meet the Press, David Gregory played back audio from an education conference held about seven years ago, in which Bachmann referred to the gay lifestyle as "personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement." He then asked Michele Bachmann if she could clarify. She answered, "I'm running for the presidency of the United States; I am not running to be anyone's judge."
Gregory asked her if she would ever appoint a gay or lesbian subordinate. Michele Bachmann answered that she would simply hire whoever was qualified. (The same answer she gave earlier about hiring atheists.)
Then Gregory asked her, "Can a gay couple who adopt children in your mind be considered a family?" At last Bachmann put the brakes on Gregory: "You know, all these questions aren't about what people are really concerned about right now."
Though less obnoxious, a similar series of questions surfaced in Bachmann's interview with Jake Tapper. Her answers in both interviews were succinct and professional. CNN's Anderson Cooper led a program examining her views on homosexuality.
Michele Bachmann's statements are perfectly defensible. You have to have a great deal of inside information about the gay and lesbian community to read what she has said correctly. I'll do my best to offer an alternative reading.
My queer street cred
I was raised by two women in the 1970s and 1980s. When my mother died in 1990, a battle for our house ensued between my biological father and my mother's dear friend, which resulted in six children being traumatized and scattered. Alienated from everyone in the family, I ran away and ended up with nowhere to stay in New York City.
I am proud to say I never had to use food stamps or go on welfare. But to get by, I did some things that I wish never happened.
You see, I had grown up around the gay and lesbian underground community for the better part of two decades and knew the "codes." There was an ad from someone in the Bronx who had a room to rent, and I would need only $350 to move in. I could tell from certain things about the ad (and the fact it was in the Village Voice) that it was probably a gay man who would only rent to other gays. I "gayed it up" with my hand gestures and voice when I went to meet the fellow; he gave me the room and I moved in July 1991, grateful not to sleep on friend's couches or pass the occasional daybreak in Central Park anymore.
I had moved in with an erratic Latin-American drag queen who knew a lot of other drag queens. I cannot speak about them with anything but gratitude, for they got me on my feet, helped me find work, and rallied together the cash that sent me back to college. Their incredible generosity was partly related to their desire to be charitable in the otherwise selfish and morally decrepit world of David Dinkins' New York. Most of them died of AIDs before 2000. I spent the better part of ten years in their world.
The problem with David Gregory's questions
David Gregory asks the standard questions fed to him by "Gay, Inc." which is a nickname for the hyper-professionalized gay lobby. Gay Inc. is the fashionable world of Kathy Griffin and Dan Savage: the invitees to galas with congressmen and are the people after whom WASPish narratives like Michael Cunningham's The Hours are patterned. If there is one thing Gay Inc. depends on, it is an ironclad storyline. And that storyline goes like this:
Gay people are just like straight people, except that they were born with an unchangeable attraction to the same sex. They will be happy and prosperous as soon as they accept who they are, announce themselves as gay to the world with pride, and give up any hopes of being with the opposite sex. They can have children the way straight people do, by adoption or surrogacy, and they should never be judged. The best way for them to experience this happiness is for them to know as early in life as possible that they are gay so they waste no time getting entangled in dishonest, unfulfilling relationships with the opposite sex. Therefore children in school should know what homosexuality is and have a sensible way of recognizing it in themselves. They should be encouraged to embrace this as part of who they are and share it with pride.
This narrative delights guilt-ridden liberals. Yet the story above is a fairy tale that falls apart once it comes into contact with a few uncomfortable facts.
First, anyone who has spent time in the gay community can tell you that sexuality is not unchangeable. There are countless cases of people who come out as gay then change their minds, just as there are people in heterosexual marriages who get divorced and "go gay." There is nothing inevitable or necessary about being part of gay life; people enter such a life if it fits their personal beliefs and life goals.
Alfred Kinsey developed a scale for the American male in the late 1940s; he found that 10% of the population had varying levels of attraction to the same sex, which is where the "1 in 10" figure you may have heard comes from. But that 10% mostly consisted of bisexuals. People who are strictly, purely gay consistently manifest as less than 2% of the adult population in most sociological studies.
Bisexuality is the thorn in Gay, Inc.'s side because bisexuals can choose whether to date men or women. Even worse, they often end up choosing the opposite sex simply because it's easier, for instance, for a bisexual man to find a partner from the 49% of adults who are women attracted to men than from the roughly 1.8% of adults who are men attracted to men.
As a practical matter, the bisexual man who sticks with women will likely avoid AIDS, while the bisexual man who has sex with men runs a high risk of seroconversion. Men who have sex with men make up less than 2% of the population but they constitute about 55% of people who get HIV every year -- an overrepresentation of 2,750%.
Consider Wayne Besen, the gay spokesperson tied to a group dedicated to debunking the claims of "ex-gays." Gays like Wayne Besen and Dan Savage are especially hostile to people who were once gay and now live a straight lifestyle. Gay, Inc.'s sentinels are determined to reveal ex-gays as paid stooges of misguided religious persecutors. But if we accept that most people who go from being in gay relationships to being in straight relationships are probably "bisexual" -- a simple explanation that takes all of ten seconds to proffer -- then the gay crusade against the ex-gays starts to look, well, idiotic.
So David Gregory asks, "Is this your view of gay Americans?" What are gay Americans? Who does he think they are?
It seems he is envisioning men and women who have little to no history of heterosexual involvement, who decided very early in life that they were exclusively drawn to the same sex, who make an identity of their sexual urges, and who are primarily interested in countering negative stereotypes about gay people. That's a tiny percentage of people who cross paths in the gay world.
David Gregory asks about a gay couple that has adopted a child. Stop for a moment and consider what he assumes in such a question. His image of gay people comes from Gay, Inc.'s italicized narrative above, which is based on the small percentage of people who are exclusive and lifelong homosexuals, are monogamously coupled, have the financial means to adopt a child, and are otherwise indistinguishable from upper-middle-class heterosexuals. In this ideal, almost utopian world, children appear seamlessly through adoption.
In the real world, it is far messier. Most gay parents have kids because they were with someone of the opposite sex at some point. Most gay dads in such a situation do not have custody of their children because, like most men, they lose custody to the children's mothers. Most lesbians in such a situation have custody of their children but have to deal with the nightmarish entanglements of alimony and child support payments from fathers who, like so many men in our degenerate culture, vanish into the background, perhaps with the added self-justification of feeling duped by an ex-wife who was really gay all along.
Are you noticing a trend here? Most "gays and lesbians" are entangled in other issues far more important than their sexual orientation and do not read politics as "gays and lesbians," but rather as people living complicated lives. So it is naïve to ask someone, "How do you think gays and lesbians feel about this?"
No matter how gay couples manage to have children, it is by default a messy situation. Either a third party is a biological parent but has no custody (as happened in my childhood case) or the gay couple went out of their way to get a child, perhaps with ethically fraught financial deals. No matter how the "gay couple with a child" materialized, there was a decision by the gay couple to create an arrangement with potential discomfort and stress wrought on a child who wouldn't experience such discomfort and stress in a traditional heterosexual household.
Adoptions are controversial even for straight couples, as I learned at a recent conference for the National Association of Asian American Studies in New Orleans. Many Asian-American activists, including transracial adoptees, are increasingly critical of international adoption and cite worries about baby-farming, infant-trafficking, and reproductive rights abuses tied to adoption in Asia. South Korea views its history of exporting orphaned babies with some shame, and other Asian countries may start scaling back their involvement in adoption arrangements. If heterosexual couples are going to be critically examined for their role in the international "baby business," why should we hold back from interrogating the role of gay couples? If 2% of the population enters into gay relationships knowing that the only route to children involves adoption, an enormous number of babies must be added to this already controversial traffic. Two percent of the United States population, for instance, is six million people.
Why Michele Bachmann's view is perfectly defensible
During my years immersed in the gay community, I saw firsthand that "coming out" is encouraged by the gay community, but changing your mind about being gay makes you the target of backlash. Alfred Kinsey found much more homosexual behavior in American males in the 1940s than we find today. This is probably because, with so much discussion of sexual orientation, young people are afraid to experiment. Once other people know they have had one same-sex encounter, they may be trapped in the gay lifestyle for good. The gay community's tendency to gossip is as much a cause as is straight homophobia.
Try coming out as gay -- and then tell everyone you changed your mind, and now you want to date the opposite sex again. Gays will despise you. Even worse, they may sabotage your heterosexual relationships. The opposite sex will avoid you like the plague. Yet consider how eagerly the gay community cheers youths out of the closet. It is very easy to get tricked in a sense; you come out under pressure from people whose "gaydars" have convinced them (and you) that you're gay, then you find that the gay life is not for you, but you have no way to get out.
What I am describing here is not a freak or outlier scenario. This happens often, because (1) bisexuality is still dimly understood by people, and (2) gay activists have placed a premium on people coming out of the closet without having made the gay community a supportive place yet.
The dark secret Gay, Inc. likes to hide is that the gay world is a cold and heartless place for many people. Some like the lifestyle, but there are abundant people who are miserable being gay -- especially after coming out of the closet, which contradicts the oft-repeated claim by Gay, Inc. that "silence equals death" and openness is the cure for all ills.
Since gay life often blossoms in artsy urban neighborhoods, there is an air of transience and mutual indifference that permeates the scene. Gay male subculture is insufferably superficial and designed to make people insecure. If you gain fifteen pounds, your social life rapidly deteriorates. Once you turn thirty you're old, if you are uncoupled by forty, you are officially a dinosaur. Gay men are easily distracted by the whirlwind nature of social life in such milieus, which explains why only one gay male friend mailed me a single letter when I was on active duty in the Army. My Southern Baptist congregation sent me bundles of letters each day, written all across the Los Angeles evangelical community.
There are thousands of gay people who have labored to make the gay community a more supportive place. Go to any town's GLBT community centers, sometimes housed in a YMCA or other public building, and you will see the fine work of people who want to make a difference in gay people's lives the right way -- by making the community a warm place to dwell. Unfortunately, however, these efforts cannot compete with the gay movement's more cosmopolitan side. The famous quote from Los Angeles' gay world: "We're a bunch of tens looking for that special eleven."
When Michele Bachmann spoke of the gay lifestyle being personal bondage and personal despair, she was speaking to a group of educators. I doubt she was glossing "despair" in the secular, pragmatic way as I am glossing it here, but even if by coincidence, her remarks strike closer to the truth than David Gregory's. If there is any place where it would make sense to speak so bluntly, it is among educators.
Gay, Inc. has not been shy about trying to influence high school curricula. The "It Gets Better" campaign begun by Dan Savage involves marketing the adult gay lifestyle to teens whose parents might oppose it. Savage's project has been endorsed by members of Congress and the Harvard School of Education. Gay, Inc. has convinced countless people that the only problem facing gay youth is homophobia from straight peers. The fact that the gay community is often unsupportive and shallow might be a more pertinent factor in the high rate of gay teen suicides, but Gay, Inc. will not let us speak of such things. So the efforts, instead, become focused on convincing teenagers that being gay is fabulous. These efforts constrain and confine young people, because young people are encouraged to identify themselves publicly in ways that may erode their happiness and will not be easily reversed.
Personal bondage, personal despair, personal enslavement. Harsh words, but wouldn't you rather see educators take the downsides of promoting the gay lifestyle to teenagers seriously before they tell kids, "Come out! It gets better!"?