The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Are the concepts of "straight" and "gay" meaningful?

There is a lot of discussion, on this and other blogs, and outside the blogosphere, in which we use the words "straight" and "gay" as if it were a meaningful dichotomy. And yet, the more I think about such things, the more it seems to me that the whole concept is meaningless.

Suppose there to be a room full of people, 50% male and 50% female, and you were to test some person by asking him to rate the attractiveness of everyone in the room to him (and, since I have to use some pronoun to describe this person being tested and have already used "him," let us suppose that he were male — if the testee were female, just reverse the roles of the genders in what follows!). If the testee were to rate as attractive to him all of the females and none of the males, he'd certainly be classified as "straight." But so would he be if he were to rate as attractive to him any fraction at all of the females as long as there were none of the males, by our definition. (And this would be more realistic, since I cannot imagine anyone being attracted to every female in a large enough group.) We can also, by the same method, define what it would be for the testee to be "gay" — just reverse the terms "males" and "females" in the previous two sentences.

How, though, would you classify somone who would you classify someone who would select as attractive 60% of the females and 40% of the males? Certainly bisexual, but would you need to add "more straight than gay"? I think so, if you want to be accurate. And then, we would still have a problem distinguishing this person from someone who would select as attractive 70% of the females and 30% of the males (and, for that matter, these percentages do not have to add to 100% — we could find someone who would select as attractive 70% of the females and 60% of the males, couldn't we?) Similarly, we could find bisexuals who were more gay than straight, and even those who were relatively balanced.

Now I suspect that it would be next to impossible to test anyone in this way and get an honest answer. Our society has decided to treat straight attractions as different from gay ones. So a self-described "straight" person would feel a subtle pressure not to include any of the same-gender people in those he reported as "attractive." And a self-described "gay" person would feel a subtle pressure not to include any of the opposite-gender ones! Yet I suspect that nearly all people, no matter how they describe themselves, would, if they were totally honest, be somewhat bisexual, and neither the percentage of males nor that of females would be precisely zero for most testees if they were truly honest.

For any person we might choose to test, there are traits that one might consider physically atractive, or even erotic. But they are not the same even for people who might self-identify in the same "straight"/"gay" category. Gay men may go for "bears" (hairy guys) or "twinks" (relatively hairless ones). Some straight men might find a woman to be a turn-off if she's taller than they are — but my father married a woman considerably taller than himself! Of course, some of the traits that attract a person might be "conventionally masculine" and others "conventionally feminine." But just because one is attracted to people with a particular "masculine" attribute does not make one gay (if one is male). And of course, someone might like some things that are considered "conventionally masculine" and others "conventionally feminine."

What I am driving at is that the terms "straight" and "gay" are not really meaningful. There may be a person who identifies as "gay" who has no need for gay marriage to be legalized, because he has found one woman he loves enough to overcome those percentages. And some anti-gay activists have trumpeted successes in "converting" gay people who probably were never 100% gay to begin with. There are men who, because of their religious background, insist that they are not gay, and even may be reasonably happy dating women, until they meet one man who really turns them on. (Might this account for Ken Mehlman "discovering" he was gay at age 43?) It would really make more sense to consider everyone as bisexual to some extent — where both of those percentages in the test I described could be anywhere from 0 to 100%! And if someone finds, and falls in love with, someone, and wants to establish the kind of relationship that has traditionally been described as a "marriage" with that person, why should the law care whether they are of the same or opposite genders?

And what is the reason that people "defending traditional marriage" have any problem there? How does the fact that John wants to marry Jim, or Mary wants to marry Ann, make it any more difficult for Ed and Joan to have a "traditional" marriage?

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