Category Archives: Sexuality and gender

Tystiolaeth a barn

Pam mae pobl yn meddwl bod tynnu barn allan o’u tîn yn gywerth â cheisio deall tystiolaeth gwyddonol?

A pham mae pobl yn dyfalbarhau i feddwl bod yr hawl i fynegi barn yn meddwl yr hawl i fynegi barn heb gael eich herio ynglŷn â’r barn hwnnw? Weithiau mae rhywun fel Galileo yn sefyll fyny ac yn herio’r consensws, ac yn cael eu camdrin—er mai nhw sy’n gywir, nid y consensws. Ond yn amlach, y pobl sy’n darlunio’u hunain fel hereticiaid sydd yn anghywir. Sut y gallwn ni wahaniaethu rhyngddynt? Y rhai sy’n talu mwy o sylw i dystiolaeth ac yn gwybod sut i’w deall yw’r rhai i ddilyn. Weithiau maen nhw’n gwneud camgymeriadau, ond mae’r rhai sy’n anwybyddu’r tystiolaeth yn gwneud llawer mwy.

Ond mae pawb yn gwneud camgymeriad weithiau. Ac mae’n well i’r pobl sydd o blaid y consensws beidio â gweiddi “heretic” yn rhy groch chwaith…

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That marriage in Cuba

I meant to talk about the marriage in Cuba between a gay man and a transgendered woman a little sooner (after all, it’s been almost two weeks).

I think there are good things and bad things about this story. First, I’m very glad for the couple, and I hope their marriage is happy and successful. Second, it is of course a good thing that the country has liberalised its attitudes to trans people. The problem is that this was reported in all sorts of places as a “gay marriage”, albeit within scare quotes. But it’s not. Marriage between two people of the same sex is illegal in Cuba. This marriage was between a man and a woman; it just happens that the woman has an X and a Y chromosome.

There are two problems with referring to it as a gay marriage. First, it implies that, while her birth certificate now states she is a woman, Wendy Iriepa is “really” a man. Second, I can’t help worrying that this will encourage a dangerous attitude towards homosexuality. In Iran, for example, homosexual activity can be punished by corporal or capital punishment. Sex-change surgery, however, is permitted, and some clerics have apparently encouraged this as a good option for gay people. This approach, obviously, is rather an unhealthy and dangerous one. Homosexuality and transgenderism are not the same thing at all, and confusing the two—as has been done by people calling the Cuban marriage a gay one—helps no one.

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On grammar and transphobia (with an idea for an experiment)

Many people take a dislike to the word they or their being used to refer to a single individual (as in “You say you met a rather interesting individual today? Could you tell me more about them?”) or with antecedents that normally take singular agreement (as in “Could everyone raise their hand, please?”).

This usage tends to be referred to as “singular they” and it has a most venerable history (it was used by Shakespeare and the translators of the King James Bible, among many others, and continues to be used by respected writers and speakers). It is also clearly useful: by using “they” in such circumstances, we don’t have to use a word like he or she that implies a particular gender. Some people prefer not to employ it, and are welcome to their preferences. To accuse those who do of “grammatical incorrectness”, however, betrays either a failure to understand what grammar is or an ignorance of English.

Whatever their origin, the relevant assumptions seem to be, first, that any noun or pronoun in English must belong exclusively to one of two categories (singular and plural), and, second, that a pronoun in one category must not be used to refer to an antecedent in the other.

Now, these assumptions look rather a lot like some assumptions that occur elsewhere: specifically, that every human being must belong exclusively to one or two categories (male and female). There’s a further, closely related, assumption that any person with two x chromosomes should be referred to as “she”, while a person with an x and a y chromosome should be referred to as “he” (even if this contradicts their wishes, or their own sense of identity).

Which leads me to think we should expect a very high correlation between transphobia and opposition to singular they. Not only does singular they itself violate the exclusive-category assumption noted above, but it also allows a speaker to avoid assigning human beings to the male or the female category. I think there’s a clever experiment waiting to be devised.


Note:
Some readers may point out that this usage leads to “they” being ambiguous, since it will not be clear whether it is being used to refer to one individual or several. This is true, but not a very good argument against employing the usage (and no argument at all for calling it “ungrammatical”): cases of genuine ambiguity are rather rare, and there are fairly straightforward ways of avoiding them when they arise.

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Filed under Language, Sexuality and gender, Thoughts and rants

What the Pope might mean

So the Pope said something like this:

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a [male?] prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

And people think this is an endorsement of condom use to help stop the spread of HIV. But that just seems a bad interpretation. It seems to me that what he said is rather like saying the following about cheating on your partner:

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when your partner has sex with his secretary, where this can be a first step in the direction of an understanding, a first assumption of recognition, on the way toward recovering an awareness that your relationship isn’t working and that you can’t go on like this. But it is not really the way to deal with problems in your relationship. That can really lie only in a humanization of relations.

In other words, all I think he’s saying is that if someone uses a condom, that’s still a bad thing, but sometimes people do bad things for good reasons. But maybe I’m missing something. And no, I don’t really know what that last sentence means either.

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Filed under Humanism, Religion, Atheism etc., Sexuality and gender

Gay views

So there’s been a “definite change” in Tories’ gay views according to Nick Herbert. Yeah, but he admits their views are still gay.

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Filed under Language, Sexuality and gender, Silliness

Daily Mail piece about Stephen Gately is both predictable and bizarre

I find this piece from the Daily Mail about Stephen Gately’s death both predictable and bizarre. It’s predictable because I would never expect a Daily Mail columnist to do other than suggest being gay is a bad thing. It’s bizarre because it’s really unclear what they’re implying here.

Take the following quotes:

Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one…

And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.

After a night of clubbing, Cowles and Gately took a young Bulgarian man back to their apartment…

Cowles and Dochev went to the bedroom together while Stephen remained alone in the living room.

I don’t get it. Is leaving him alone supposed to have killed him…?

How about this:

A post-mortem revealed Stephen died from acute pulmonary oedema, a build-up of fluid on his lungs.

Gately’s family have always maintained that drugs were not involved in the singer’s death, but it has just been revealed that he at least smoked cannabis on the night he died.

So does cannabis cause pulmonary oedema? Is that what they’re implying?

But wait. Forget the cannabis. It’s getting married to a man that killed him:

Another real sadness about Gately’s death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships.

Huh? Well yes. Inasmuch as death strikes a blow in general to the happy-ever-after myth of all relationships.

Read on:

Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately’s last night raise troubling questions about what happened.

And then that’s it! The piece ends! What on earth are they trying to imply? What is the connection between civil partnerships and death? I just don’t get it.

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Sexuality and choice

This evening, for the first time, I watched the first two episodes of Richard Dawkins’ series The Root of All Evil. You may be surprised that I hadn’t seen them before, but I was busy when they were on TV. I rarely watch much television—not out of any principled stance; just because I got out of the habit.

But this entry is not going to be about my TV habits. It’s not even going to be about Richard Dawkins, his programme, or religion. Rather, it’s going to be based on something Richard Harries, then Bishop of Oxford, said in an interview in the second episode. The bishop was of the view that, although there are several prohibitions of homosexual behaviour in the Bible, modern Christians should take a more tolerant stance. His main reason for this is that the Bible was written in a time when people did not understand homosexuality and saw it as something people choose to do. Now, however, science has shown that some people are simply attracted to the same sex and cannot change. Homosexuality, in other words, is not a choice.

This view is extremely common. All over the internet, while religious fundamentalists (and even some fairly unfundamentalist types) scream that homosexuality is a choice and a sinful and dangerous one at that, others scream back that this is rubbish and that gay people are born that way.

This fundamentally misses the point. If homosexual behaviour is wrong, it shouldn’t matter whether or not people are born with an inclination to it. If some people are born with an inclination to do sexual things to children, it doesn’t make it justifiable to do so. To put it another way, if people chose their skin colour, would racism be a reasonable response to some people’s choice of black?

Well, that’s two of the standard extreme comparisons covered. I’ll mention the Nazis some other time. The point is that the question of why some men like kissing other men is irrelevant to the question of whether or not they should. To look on, not really approving, and say, ‘Ah well, they can’t help it…’ is simply patronising. It’s patronising even if you do approve! Just because I really want to do something doesn’t mean I can. I have a natural inclination to punch people in the face when they say things like, ‘Don’t worry: it may never happen!’ or ‘Come one! Let’s see that smile!’ In the latter case, one punch doesn’t seem quite enough. This inclination may or may not be something I was born with. Either way, I keep my hands to myself.

The same is not true of my sexuality. In fact I’ve had several boyfriends. And I’m not even gay—I’ve had several girlfriends too! So in some sense, this was something I could help. I have no memory of not being attracted to both men and women, but my acceptance of that fact and decision to act on it has been partly a matter of choice. Of course, for exclusively gay people, the choice is between sexual fulfilment with the same sex, an unhappy relationship with a member of the opposite sex, or chastity. It may well be that two of those choices propel them willy nilly into the first—if you’ll pardon the expression. For me, however, it was a choice between waiting for a woman to come along or taking, if you’ll pardon the religious reference, the man before me.

So why, on several occasions, have I chosen the latter? Why am I currently in a relationship with a man [or was when I wrote this] when I could wait to find a woman I’d feel sexually fulfilled with? Well, mainly because I don’t think homosexual behaviour is wrong, or immoral, or harmful, or bad, or negative, or anything like that. I don’t believe in God because I see no evidence that such a being exists; in the same way, I don’t exclude the possibility of loving a man because I see no sensible reason why I should.

Nor, as far as I can tell, do a lot of even the most vicious homophobes. I have yet to hear a reason why homosexuality is wrong that is not either based on a holy book or what looks like a post hoc rationalisation of some prejudice. Where does this prejudice even come from? Maybe people are just born prejudiced. That, however, doesn’t make it OK.

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