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February 9, 2005

Recidivism and Structure Without Foundation

The sentence that I've emphasized in the following paragraph stuck out when I took a moment to trace the author's rhetorical construction:

Why should one part of this university be safer than another? Why do some students feel that they must lie about their sexual identity in order to secure their status as an athlete or fraternity brother? Why has the library's basement bathroom become a meeting place for fearful, closet homosexuals? Why should some professors still feel that they must hide their sexual identity for the sake of their careers?

What had interested me in University of Rhode Island student Anthony Maselli's letter to the editor was the way in which he took the ostentatious "tolerance" of one professor as reason to argue that the campus as a whole mightn't be safe — that perhaps homosexuals "should think twice before [they] walk out [their] front door[s] in the morning." Consequently, although the new allocation of the library's basement bathroom seemed a curious necessity at a university that I know to be as liberal as any, I didn't look into it.

Well, the Good 5¢ Cigar (the student paper) has since provided details:

"It's a very sensitive topic," Interim Dean of the University Library Chris Wessells said. "We are still considering what all of our options are."

The situation was brought to his attention, he said, when the female janitor in charge of cleaning the basement level of the library found an excessive amount of blood and semen in the stalls of one of the men's bathrooms.

"To have to deal with stuff like this... it's awful," Wessells said. "And it's been reoccurring. It's been going on for awhile." ...

Wessells said that vandalism is also a problem. Holes are being drilled into the walls between the stalls, he said, to be used for sex. These holes are commonly referred to as "gloryholes."

The claim that pathology among homosexuals is largely attributable to society's vilification and oppression of them is common enough that I shouldn't have to dig up a specific quotation as evidence. Yet, here — in a community in which a majority hadn't yet reached puberty when the Hawaiian judiciary first declared there to be no reason that homosexual relationships oughtn't be equated with heterosexual marriages — the nature of the incidents raises questions, at the very least, about the likelihood that same-sex marriage will transform gay culture away from such deviant behavior. (Or, to minimize the claim further still, it ought to raise worries that gay culture will not change swiftly enough to avoid bringing some of this character into marital culture.)

There's no doubt that this is an uncomfortable discussion to have in the current climate, but the importance of marriage to our society requires that we question the foundation on which marital structure could be placed among homosexuals. In an email exchange, emphasizing intellectual inquisitiveness, with "GayPatriotWest," I highlighted his use of a cliché that is essentially void of meaning in this context:

So, monogamy is possible for gay men. Yes, we may have to overcome our masculine "instinct" to "spread our seed." Yet, it is in that struggle to be faithful to the man we love that we come to value our feelings for that man, the intimacy of the relationship and the sacredness of the sexual act. And I believe, that gay men who do face that struggle and choose monogamy will find their relationships more fulfilling and find as well that such relationships can better sustain them over the long run.

Even some among the readers of Dust in the Light have given me reason to agree that monogamy is possible among gay men, but possibility isn't a hopeful gauge of likelihood. For the individual, such a personal thing as monogamy needn't be rooted in any particular principle or logic; it just feels right. But marriage is something different. Marriage is useless unless it sustains commitment and fidelity during those times when monogamy might not feel right, and an intrinsic quality that helps it to do so is the literal applicability of the "spread our seed" cliché.

To be sure, contraception erases some of the distinction, but I'd be astonished if many people truly believed that heterosexual's understanding of their sexual behavior isn't built around knowledge of its first-principle of procreation. That heterosexuals can pervert their principles is of limited significance in a discussion about marriage, anyway, because it means that bolstering is required, not further subversion. If marriage is a way to encourage monogamy and commitments that outlast the drive to sire a diverse array of children, then it should incorporate increased aversion to too-prolific "seed spreading."

Isn't that less plausible when the sexual relationship bears only refracted resemblance to the biological standard? Whatever the numbers, behavior that subverts a marriage-based culture will surely be more difficult to curtail among a group for whom the cultural reasoning applies only abstractly and by force of will.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 9, 2005 1:35 AM
Marriage & Family
Comments

If lesbian reslationships also bear "only refracted" relationship to the biological standard but have much higher rates of monogomy and fidelity than heterosexuality, does that mean they also shouldn't be allowed into the marriage-based culture. On a theoretical, the high levels of infidelity among heterosexuals--before and after marriage--are a bigger threat to marriage then the highly monogomous nature of lesbian relationships.

Posted by: mike at February 9, 2005 9:37 AM

Yet, here — in a community in which a majority hadn't yet reached puberty when the Hawaiian judiciary first declared there to be no reason that homosexual relationships oughtn't be equated with heterosexual marriages — the nature of the incidents raises questions, at the very least, about the likelihood that same-sex marriage will transform gay culture away from such deviant behavior.

Well to think that it will transform gay culture away from deviant behaviour overnight would be naive. I don't think that it's a case of eliminating deviant culture but helping to legitimize homosexuality such that this doesn't need to happen.

Assuming for a moment that all sex is created equal (and I know you don't agree with that but bare with me) this behaviour is no more deviant than two co-eds hooking up at a frat party, ie random, meaningless extra-marital sex. What makes it particularly deviant is in its details, in its true anonymity, and the reason for that is that the guys giving head are usually self-esteem-less, self-hating, confused young men and the guys getting it are more often than not doing it without the knowledge of their girlfriends or pastors.

The difference between anonymous sex in a bathroom and anonymous sex from a hookup at a frat party is that the latter is generally more acceptable than the former. I think that this is primarily a problem of young people (gay and straight) exploring their sexuality in an uncontrolled environment, which should be addressed as a separate issue. Believe me, closeted gay men do not want to be having anonymous hook-ups. And even out gay men have the mutual reinforcement of what their predecessors did (closeted anonymous bathroom sex), mainly because there is little alternative.

Will same-sex marriage transform this deviant behaviour overnight? No, the only thing that will transform this behaviour is our ability, as a society, to foster positive images of gays such that young men and women, when they find themselves attracted to the "wrong" sex, come to the realization sooner than later that they're lives are not going to revolve around kneeling on a dirty bathroom floor. Same-sex marriage will help.

Posted by: Michael at February 9, 2005 10:10 AM

Using the term "monogamy" with reference to homosexual men really says a lot, no?

"Same-sex marriage will help." You actually have no freaking clue what it would help or harm. Even assuming that such a thing could exist. Which it couldn't.

Readily available contraception and easy divorce was going to make marriage and childhood, O so much better for everybody.

The "logic" seems to be "We haven't screwed things up enough yet, so let's try some more."

Such hopes, even if they were genuine, ought to have been cruelly dashed by now. I'm having trouble figuring out why we shouldn't have learned our lesson as a society from the miserably failed social experimentations that began three and four decades ago.

Posted by: ELC at February 9, 2005 12:48 PM

Somehow, those last two paragraphs got reversed. :-)

Posted by: ELC at February 9, 2005 12:49 PM

"No, the only thing that will transform this behaviour is our ability, as a society, to foster positive images of gays such that young men and women, when they find themselves attracted to the "wrong" sex, come to the realization sooner than later that they're lives are not going to revolve around kneeling on a dirty bathroom floor. Same-sex marriage will help."

And what or who would be giving them the notion that there lives revolve around kneeling on a dirty bathroom floor to begin with? Better yet, 'heteros' do the same thing without the stigma of being attracted to the wrong gender. If this behavior were dependent on orientation, it would be unheard of among them. Fear of being ostracized isn't what is driving this type of behavior.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 9, 2005 12:57 PM

should have been "their lives" instead of "there lives"...

Posted by: smmtheory at February 9, 2005 1:11 PM

And what or who would be giving them the notion that there lives revolve around kneeling on a dirty bathroom floor to begin with? Better yet, 'heteros' do the same thing without the stigma of being attracted to the wrong gender.

Am I talking to wall? No, really, am I talking to wall? You've either just disproven what I assumed was Justin's point or you don't bother to read entire posts.

I simply stated that the differences in the deviant behaviour of heterosexuals and homosexuals is where it takes place. There is a lot more anonymous bathroom sex happening among gays than straights. *That* is the pathology that vilification of gays causes, not extramarital sex, especially in colleges.

So I maintain that if gays could marry, adultery among straights will be no different than when they couldn't marry. This particular deviance of anonymity will, however, lessen.

If this behavior were dependent on orientation, it would be unheard of among them. Fear of being ostracized isn't what is driving this type of behavior.

You can't say that it's not based on orientation and then assume that ostracization is not driving anonymous bathroom sex. That's a false analogy. Their orientation may not make them any more likely to want to have anonymous bathroom sex but the ostracization is what makes that choice more palitable. SSM would put gays and straights on the same bar for the taboo of such a behaviour.

Posted by: Michael at February 9, 2005 1:35 PM
SSM would put gays and straights on the same bar for the taboo of such a behaviour.

Why?

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 9, 2005 1:57 PM

mike,

If lesbian reslationships also bear "only refracted" relationship to the biological standard but have much higher rates of monogomy and fidelity than heterosexuality, does that mean they also shouldn't be allowed into the marriage-based culture.

I periodically see this claim about lesbians having higher rates of monogamy and fidelity, but I'm extremely skeptical of it. They may have higher rates than gay men, but I seriously doubt they have higher rates than heterosexual unions.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 9, 2005 2:10 PM

Michael, I want to congratulate you on your posts in this thread. They seem very sincere. I don’t agree with what you’re saying, of course, but the writing is good.

I see your argument as analogous to the old ‘clean needles’ idea: Stigmatizing drug use makes drug addicts suffer needlessly, especially when they spread diseases to each other by sharing needles. So rather than treat these poor people as criminals, we should buy them clean needles so that they can inject safely and disease-free.

The same logic applies to many areas: We can’t stop people from living on the streets, so we should make them more comfortable rather than encourage them to stop their drug abuse or seek treatment for their mental illnesses. We can’t stop men from philandering, so instead we should give them easy divorces and abortion on demand to help them manage the consequences of their promiscuity. It too hard to educate children, so instead we should make them feel better about their ignorance and call it self-esteem. We can’t stop unmarried women from producing babies, so instead we should make single motherhood more comfortable with welfare payments.

As a general pattern, this worldview sees destructive human behavior as essentially unalterable and concludes that we should soften the consequences rather than try to change the behavior itself.

As Justin says, no doubt some hard core of people truly cannot change their behavior, and this kind of thinking provides them comfort in their misery. But other people have a choice. They can choose to be otherwise, and will do so given the right incentives. So comforting the hard core carries the cost of pushing more of those who can choose into making the wrong choice.

No doubt many would object to me characterizing homosexuality as a wrong choice. Most in the SSM movement see sex merely as a source of pleasure, which means that all forms of sex are essentially equivalent (except for the kinds of sex that SSM supporters think are gross). But Michael is approaching this from within essentially conservative premises: Pity the poor young man who is so unhappy and confused that he kneels on dirty bathroom floors.

I do pity him, Michael. But I would rather try for a deeper solution than simply giving him a cleaner floor to kneel on. I would rather encourage him to see his sexual urges as something larger and more significant than scratching an itch. I would rather encourage him to think of himself as deserving to live on in the next generation, as someone who values himself enough to want to extend his existence beyond that of his own body.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 9, 2005 2:56 PM
I periodically see this claim about lesbians having higher rates of monogamy and fidelity, but I'm extremely skeptical of it. They may have higher rates than gay men, but I seriously doubt they have higher rates than heterosexual unions.

It's not heteroseuxality that dictates monogomy in marriage, it's the presence of women. Thus, relationships with two women are likely to be more monogomous then a relationship between a man and a woman. In most cases of marital infidelity, it is the man who has the affair.

Posted by: Dan at February 9, 2005 3:19 PM

Ben, but why can't he value himself enough to be happy with his orientation and express it in positive ways. Can one only "value" onself by having children? Are infertile people unable to "value" themselves? Are men who have many children out of wedlock "valuing" themselves more?

If one believe that orientation is fixed, isn't it better to allow people to live in that orientation then force them into unhappy and unnatural relationships with people of the opposite sex.

Would you want you daughter to marry such a man, a man who isn't sexually attracted to her, is uninterested in expressing "love" to her, is not even drawn to her on an emotional level, but married her nonetheless so they could appear "normal" and be "valued" by having children?

Posted by: Mike at February 9, 2005 3:27 PM

Why can't gay men and gay women marry each other and live happily (or miserably) ever after? Sure beats glory holing...

Posted by: Marty at February 9, 2005 5:38 PM

Mike: “Ben, but why can't he value himself enough to be happy with his orientation and express it in positive ways.”

You’re assuming a subjective measure of value: whether he feels good about himself. I’m proposing an objective measure: whether his actions perpetuate him into the future, in some sense.

His feelings don’t particularly interest me. I ask: Is he creating, building, or sustaining anything of lasting value? I don’t see anything constructive in homosexual acts, no more than looking at porn or going to a strip club. Those people may do something constructive at some other time and in some other place. But not then and there.

Michael compared gay versus straight promiscuity on campus, saying that the only significant difference was that one was more socially acceptable than the other. What he misses is the potential for procreation. That procreation may not happen at any given moment, of course. It’s best delayed until the couple can marry and find financial stability. But anything that moves boys and girls closer together implies eventual procreation.

In a more civilized age, young people went to dances, where they paired off and held each other close. The point was procreation—though certainly not at the dance. The point was to bridge the divide between the sexes and form a relationship between a boy and a girl that would not only bring those two happiness and security, but would also produce some more citizens and taxpayers raised under favorable circumstances.

The same potential simply isn’t there with a same-sex relationship. Maybe you think that gay sex builds a deep and valuable friendship between those involved, and that friendship is as wonderful as any boy-girl relationship. I doubt it, but it’s irrelevant. A hundred years from now, no one will particularly care how happy Jane made Wanda in bed, or what Tom and Joe did in some bathroom stall.

What will matter is what John and Suzie did together. Their actions will reverberate for decades. They have the potential to create someone who will still be alive long after all of us are dead. They have the potential to create a wailing crack-addicted infant who will never see its father and suffer for a lifetime. They also have the potential to create a strong, healthy man or woman who could push back the frontiers of science or create some great work of art.

Two boys in a bathroom stall exist only in the present. But a boy and a girl together cast their shadows farther into the future than any of us can see. How could anyone who sees beyond the present confuse the two?

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 9, 2005 7:53 PM

Dan,

It's not heteroseuxality that dictates monogomy in marriage, it's the presence of women. Thus, relationships with two women are likely to be more monogomous then a relationship between a man and a woman. In most cases of marital infidelity, it is the man who has the affair.

Why does the presence of women dictate monogamy in marriage? Because men (statistically) have a greater inbuilt urge to have sex with multiple partners than women do, and women (statistically) have a greater inbuilt urge to provide resources for themselves and their offspring. When men stray from a marriage, they risk producing extramarital children. They also take resources (time, attention, money) away from the marriage. But the same considerations don't apply to female-only unions (or to male-only ones). Like I said, it seems plausible that lesbian couples will have higher rates of fidelity and/or length of relationships than gay men, but it does not follow that they will have higher rates than heterosexual couples.

Most of the cultural expectations around marriage are linked to the particular biological characteristics of men and women, and their compementarity in a marriage. It is foolish, purely from a biological standpoint, to expect that the same expectations will work in the same ways on same-sex couplings.

In any case, any increased stability in lesbian couples is offset by decreased stability (again, speaking statistically) in gay couples. I don't think anybody is arguing that it is possible to allow SSM for women but not for men.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 10, 2005 1:49 PM

Of course, monogamy and fidelity are not a legal requirement for marriage in the U.S. If they were, people who have had affairs would not be able to remarry and any affair would immediately result in an instant revocation of the marriage certificate. No one has to swear before a judge that they are going to be monogomous to receive a wedding certificate.

That is not an argument for non-fidelity. It is an argument that "stability" is not currently a requrement for marriage, so why should it be in the case of gay men, assuming we accept your thesis.

Posted by: Dan at February 10, 2005 3:39 PM
It is an argument that "stability" is not currently a requrement for marriage, so why should it be in the case of gay men, assuming we accept your thesis.

Well, this gets into Stanley Kurtz's argument that same-sex marriage "locks in" a destructive view of marriage. The reasoning used to make same-sex marriage seem like a right, or even just a matter of fairness, often builds on points of weakness in the institution, thus reinforcing those points and seeking to write the principles into the law.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 3:56 PM

But aren't the arguments to bar same-sex marriages built on an idealistic view of marriage that doesn't exist either. You've "locked in" a fantasy view of marriage that corresponds to neither history or the way it is currently constructed.

Posted by: Dan at February 10, 2005 5:04 PM

Not true. At most, I'm trying to "lock out" changes that rule out reform.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 5:07 PM

"No one has to swear before a judge that they are going to be monogomous to receive a wedding certificate."

What percentage of marriages are made before a judge, and what percentage before a religious figure? Most marriage vows contain some variation on the "to have and to hold, forsaking all others" theme. This is another example where SSM proponents try to reduce marriage to a simple legal contract, and nothing more. In fact, it is still the case that married people are expected to remain monogamous in most of our culture. (And changes to the contrary are quite recent.) If SSM is enacted, it is virtually certain that there will be gay couples obtaining marriage licenses with no expectation of monagamy. Certainly there are such 'open' marriages now among heterosexuals, but they are not the norm and are generally looked down upon. Will allowing SSM make it more likely that the expectation of monogamy would be weakened? I can't say for sure, but it seems like a reasonable assumption.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 10, 2005 6:14 PM

Dan: "But aren't the arguments to bar same-sex marriages built on an idealistic view of marriage that doesn't exist either[?] You've "locked in" a fantasy view of marriage that corresponds to neither history or the way it is currently constructed."

The law currently contains a "fantasy ideal" that people shouldn't murder each other. Yet that fantasy does not exist and has never existed. Should we eliminate laws against murder?

Morality is always about fantasies, usually unattainable ones. Why would anyone invent a moral or legal rule that everyone already complies with?

"Any human being that is not a carbon-based life form shall be fined $2000."

Or maybe: "Speed Limit 1,000 mph"

We don't write laws like that, nor do we come up with moral rules like that. Legal and moral standards are only meaningful if some people don't meet them, because the point of such a standard it to affect behavior. The point is to discourage people above the standard from dropping below it, and to encourage those below it to rise above it.

History shows that the vast majority of people are quite capable of conforming their behavior to these fantasies---if only their society will present the fantasy as a moral ideal. We've spent the last half-century destroying moral and legal rules on sex, only to discover what should have been obvious: Without moral fantasies, men are simply animals, and will act accordingly.

Which shows more selective mating behavior: wolves or college freshmen? People once acted like children of God because they believed that they were children of God. Now Americans believe that they're merely primates, and they act accordingly. Dan, I'll take Justin's fantasy over your reality any day.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 10, 2005 6:23 PM