Wow, I’ve had a lot to say this week, haven’t I? I’ll tell you the truth – I’m procrastinating on other writing I should be doing.
There are three loosely connected things bouncing around my head right now, and that loose connection is the fundamental misunderstanding of terms when it comes to how one side of the issue (“liberal,” or, in these particular cases, “normal, rational human beings”) understand the terminology in use by the other side (“conservative,” or, in these particular cases, “crazypants.”)*
1. How come it’s okay with alleged “social conservatives” that Newt Gingrich has two ex-wives and had long-term affairs while married to at least two of them? (I mean, for all we know, he’s also cheating on Callista, but he told Marianne that Callista would be accepting of that, right?) This question comes up because social conservatives are allegedly for marriage, and therefore, they must not be in favor of adultery, right?
Well, to the extent that “social conservative” can be conflated with “strong believer in the Ten Commandments”, I suppose, but I think that conflation is not necessarily accurate. Social conservatives are in favor of protecting the status quo, and the status quo – since approximately the Industrial Revolution – is that marriage (for rich people) is an institution in which a woman fulfills a man’s needs in the home while he goes out into the world to make money and amass power. And the more power he has, the more shit he can get away with. So Newt’s done exactly that. What’s the issue?
Furthermore, apparently conservatives just hate women, as we’ll see in . . .
2. How come alleged “family values” guys are trying to make domestic violence harder to prosecute in New Hampshire? Haven’t heard of this yet? Here it is. Now, I try really hard to see both sides (or all sides) of a given issue. I might still strongly disagree with one side or another, but I try to understand why a rational human being might believe in the side I disagree with. And most of the time, I can get there. I can understand; I can even sympathize. Like, for instance, I’m pro-choice. But I really do get that if you honestly believe that life begins at conception, then yeah, abortion is murder. Of course it is. Yes, even in cases of rape. Because the fetus didn’t rape you. (On the other hand, I have no patience for arguments that don’t allow for abortion even when there is a threat to the mother’s life. Because you are allowed to kill those who are threatening your life.) Now, I think that the question of whether life begins at conception is too nebulous and philosophical to be legislated, and on a practical level, I know that abortion being illegal is dangerous for women for many, many reasons, so I still disagree with the pro-life platform, at least insofar as they are focused on legislating against abortion, but I get the position and I even have sympathy for it. And yeah, I know, a lot of the pro-life (or anti-choice) movement sounds purely like they’re invested in punishing women for having sex, and I don’t have any sympathy with that, but I know that’s not the entire story.
I can’t figure out what the entire story is with these New Hampshire bills. I just can’t imagine the other side. Let’s review. I get the abortion thing. “I’m pro-choice because when abortion is illegal, women suffer.” “Well, I’m pro-life because a fetus is a life and you can’t murder it.” Right. Both valid points.
But here we have, “I’m in favor of comprehensive protections for people who are being abused by their partners.”
“Well, I’m in favor of-” What? What’s the other side? “I’m in favor of rights for abusers?”
I just don’t see how there isn’t here a basic hatred for women.
But I don’t think that’s antithetical to what “they” really mean when they say “family values.” “Family values” may sound warm and fuzzy, but it really means a support for the rights of families to run their own affairs without government interference. And by “families,” I obviously mean, “Dad.” Dad can decide who gets what kind of education, what happens to the money he earns, and how he “disciplines” members of his family, without government interference.
(Because you and I may know that men can be abused, too, but I assure you that the authors of this legislation do not. And if you told them it happened, they’d call any man being abused by a woman a faggot.)
Another word that doesn’t mean what liberals think it means? “Choice.”
3. When the Christian right talks about how it’s a “choice” to be gay, they don’t mean it’s a choice to be attracted to members of your own sex; they mean it’s a choice of whether or not you act on it. And even us liberals or progressives or normal, rational human beings can acknowledge the basic truth of that. Your thoughts and feelings, your attractions and identity, they come from inside. How you behave is your choice.
“Homosexuality is not a choice! It’s not it’s not it’s not!”
Again, I know that being attracted to members of your own gender, and wanting sexual and/or romantic relationships with members of your own gender, is not a choice. But acting on that attraction is a choice.
Let’s give an example with which we can all agree. I’m straight. That means I am attracted to men. I’m also married. So I’ve chosen one particular man with whom to have an exclusive romantic and sexual relationship. I can’t help it if I feel attracted to another man. But I can help acting on that attraction. And I should stop myself from acting on that attraction, because I’m married, and it would be hurtful and wrong for me not to stop myself.
Now, I don’t think that acting on attractions to members of the same gender as you is wrong. So I don’t think people who are attracted to members of their own gender should choose not to act on their attractions.
But the people who talk about homosexuality being a choice do think it’s wrong, just as adultery is wrong, and for the same reason – it says so in the Bible. They’re not saying (to the extent that “they” are a monolith and that all of “them” have coherent thoughts about it) that you can choose not to be attracted. But they are saying you can choose not to act.
The difference between us and them is that we don’t think they should choose not to act and they do.
Now, it’s a hypocrisy when the same people who claim that it’s wrong to act on homosexual feelings support known adulterers like Newt for president. And it’s hypocrisy that people who claim that it’s wrong to act on homosexual feelings are adulterers, like Newt.
But it’s still important to understand what they mean by “choice,” as it is important to understand what all the terms of a debate mean to the people using them, so that our arguments do not continue to devolve into both sides shouting slogans at each other that are only comprehensible to their own side.
And a codicil –
“Open marriage” is what happens when two people who are married decide that, although they are each other’s main squeeze, they do not want to or cannot be sexually and/or romantically exclusive with each other, so they work out an agreement wherein they can have sexual and/or romantic relationships with others. Sometimes one person may take more advantage of that than the other; sometimes they decide to keep each other informed and sometimes not; sometimes the two of them develop a sexual and/or romantic relationship with a third party together, as a unit and sometimes that never happens. But the key is, they both are getting what they need in terms of sex, romance, and exclusivity (or at least they’re trying for that); it’s an arrangement that is negotiated beforehand and agreed upon by all parties for the benefit of all parties.
What Newt Gingrich demanded of his second wife was not an “open marriage.” He just wanted to be able to keep a mistress without her getting all up in his grill about it. I know she used that term but she’s an old lady and probably, um, not very cosmopolitan in her awareness of non-traditional relationships. But the journalists who keep using the term wrong know better, or should.
*No, I don’t think “conservative” is always synonymous with “crazypants”! But in these three cases, the connection seems to be there.