Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Suzanna Walters: "The Tolerance Trap": a sweeping history of views of gay (in)equality

Author: Suzanna Danuta Walters

Title: “The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions Are Sabotaging Gay Equality
Publication: 2014, New York University Press, ISBN 978-0-8147-7057-3, 330 pages, hardcover, indexed, 4 parts, 11 chapters
Amazon link is here.   I reviewed the book from a free sample.
Remember how New Gingrich, back in the 1990s, used to talk about the “distinction” between “tolerating” something and fully “accepting” it.  And that something was homosexuality.
In fact, I can recall that in 1995, Gingrich wanted to go back to “asking” in the military, producing an outcry about “forced outings” from ex-servicemembers like Keith Meinhold – I recall that in my AOL inbox.  That was shot down, in a time when Bill Clinton’s feeble “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” was seen as an advance.  Shortly thereafter, in fact, Clinton would issue an executive order protecting gays in civilian jobs requiring high clearances, like at the CIA.   Walters covers the debate over gays in the military retrospectively in Chapter 7, called “Homeland Insecurities”, opening Part 3, “Citizen Gay” (and there’s no Rosebud as for “Citizen Kane”).

Maybe I’m off topic here, but I like to give my own recollections and reactions to a book like this.  I started my own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in the mid 1990s, during the critical period when DADT had started, and SLDN (now called Outserve) was coming into prominence.

The other parts of the book (rather like parts of the Elizabethean theater) tell you how it is set up: Part 1 is “The End of Coming Out?”, Part 2 is “Do these Genes Make Me Look Gay?” and Part 4 is “Escape from the Tolerance Trap”.

In fact, I came out twice.  The first time, in 1961, doing so got me thrown out of William and Mary as a freshman.  I would go to college at home, then graduate school in Kansas, take the draft physical three times, and actually get myself drafted in 1968, and “serve without serving”, or without the physical sacrifice in Vietnam of others.  I would start working, and experience my “second coming” in early 1973, just in time, before my 30th birthday.

So, what is there to “tolerate”?  Walters says, on p. 205, “the real lavender threat, perhaps symbolized by marriage but certainly not subsumed by it, is that gay kinship, gay sexual frontiers, gay intimacies will disrupt the norms of heterosexual family life.”  There you have it.  Gays will provide a distraction (or detraction) for marginal heterosexuals, making them less inclined to maintain the sacrifice that decades of familial intimacy (and the family bed) requires. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t work unless everybody else has to do it, too (reminds me of the old military draft).  In Russia, Vladimir Putin hardly minces words: he fears that homosexual “propaganda” will convince marginal “waverers” not to give the motherland the new babies it needs. I always thought that homophobia had a lot to do with the apparent “refusal” or reproductive duty.  But, after all, I’m an only child. 

But in fact the author had a baby and said she always wanted a child, even as a lesbian single mom.  I’ll leave the moralizing about the welfare of kids here to others.

Walters does a good job of analyzing the flaws of the “immutability” argument.  Not the least of these liabilities was mentioned by GOP Texas governor Rick Perry recently when he made the inevitable metaphor with a genetic inclination toward alcoholism or drug addiction (which is medically true).  She also provides a historical perspective on the marriage equality arguments, which have blossomed rather suddenly.  In my own day, I just wanted my own life, to be left alone, to live in a slightly separated, if reconciled, dominion – a big city.  I didn’t need to have the government of society support a personal relationship;  just leave it alone and ratification would come from within.

She mentions the “upward affiliation” issue (actually, that’s a term invented by George Gilder in the 1980s with “Men and Marriage”);  she discusses the “reparative therapy” claims of Joseph Nicolosi (one of whose missives is reviewed here Jan. 23, 2009), “So the male homosexual is trying to find his unfulfilled masculinity” (p. 114).  So, the logical question of Nicolosi is, “So what? Why is it somebody else’s business?”  We know how Putin would answer this.  Isn’t admitting psychological “contagion” or temptation just a sign of moral weakness of others?  There’s something interesting about her mention of Michael Lindenberger, who confronts us with the idea that we don’t get to choose the personal burdens we will carry in life (that others don’t).  Life was never fair. 

Her writing style is a lot like mine, particularly the wrote a lot of abstract arguments (regarding gays in the military, workplace fairness and family values as well as my proposed "constitutional amendment" in my first DADT book in 1997)/ 
She mentions Chandler Burr, whose book “A Separate Creation” created a big stir in the 1990s.  Burr has said that he is an assimilationist, but he criticisms of him go beyond that.  I have a review of Burr’s novel here September 1, 2010; see also his LCR booklet June 15, 2009.   

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