The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, November 23, 2007

Potatoes and unintentional bigotry

Had a great Thanksgiving last night. My sister Joyce and her husband Mits came over. Nicki is in Cleveland, Joyce’s kids are elsewhere, so it was just the five of us (me and T and Jason) and we definitely had much to be thankful for.

During later conversations, I referred to myself as a “Potato”, a term that rather naturally confused Joyce. I coined the term, and what it means is someone who is solid—not in the sense of being strong or “right” but being consistent. I often tell my students that when I teach the real lesson isn’t the informational content of what I’m saying, but the fact that everything I say (in my mind) relates to everything else. I have a consistent world view. It’s “turtles all the way down” from spirituality to psychology to sociology to physiology and chemistry and physics. In that sense, I see myself as getting simpler and simpler and simpler. A lot of folks patch their personalities together from a hundred different sources (which we all do, initially) but then never “digest” it and make it theirs. Really graft those opinions to their bones and marrow. I think that’s essential in becoming an adult.
Another concept that is starting to jell in my mind is something I call “bare wiring.” Looking at the lower chakras (survival) it’s pretty clear to me that when you can move a physical or intellectual concept to the most basic levels of your personality, it is easiest to use it at the level of Unconscious Competence. This is not something I’m ready to explain clearly, but I’m blathering about it a bit anyway. On Rory Miller’s blog, he’s been talking about the difference between the amateur and the professional, particularly in the domain of martial arts. Interesting discussions.

I remember a quote: “the confidence of amateurs is the envy of professionals.” I’ve seen this in writing, and other arenas. Until you are using a skill for survival, or to put food on your family’s table, one can engage in all the theories one wants. I remember an Emergency Room doctor friend of mine completely disinterested in speculating on future medicine. He needed to know what would work TODAY, under high stress, in a state of exhaustion, to save a life. Period. Everything else, to him, was bullshit.

Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t amateurs in every arena who can out-perform many or most professionals. But it does mean that when you use a skill to actually provide basic survival needs, it ties in at a deeper level. Ego has little to do with it (during performance. Ego surfaces again the instant performance ends, however. Boo hoo.) And listening to the people who have been and done sounds quantitatively different from listening to those who speak or study out of theory.
1) Those who have never raised kids often have crystal-clear theories about how to raise them.
2) Those who aren’t in relationships often give such great advice about how to get and keep them.
3) Fans in every sport can see how damned easy it should be to win. “Just keep your hands up! Damn, he’s too stupid to keep his hands up!” Right.
4) The untried soldier has a different view of war from the veteran. Very different.

This stuff is everywhere. It doesn’t mean the professional is always right. Or the amateur can’t exceed the professional. But it is interesting to note the difference, separate from context or ego.
Josh has been kind and honest enough to give us feedback on language and attitude regarding gays. Thank you, Josh. He posted this paragraph I found valuable regarding the assumption that gay men would have a problem with erections in locker rooms:

“That's where the unintentional bigotry comes in. Queer people get this all the time. Straight people with prejudices claim that we do something that makes them uncomfortable, or is wrong, or something, and we don't actually do it. We don't, as a rule, get erections in showers. We don't recruit. We don't have an 'agenda'. We're not interested in forcing our lifestyle on anyone and so on.”

I would argue with a bit of this, but not much, and the only arguments have to do with what I see as universals, NOT as “gays are different from straights.” For instance: what is the line between recruiting and seduction? I’ve had bunches of guys try to seduce me (as I understand the word, and as I’ve applied it to my own actions.) But “recruit” as in talk underage men into sex? I see no evidence for this. No “agenda”? Other than wishing to change the culture so that it is fair and accepting of their humanity, something I am behind 100%. Gay marriage? Sure. Adoption? Hell, I helped David Gerrold adopt his son. Live in my neighborhood? Please. Protected at workplaces? Absolutely. Scout leaders…probably. I run into a tiny shred of my own crap here. I guess I would feel the same way about a gay man leading Boy Scouts that I would a Straight man leading Girl Scouts. In most cases, just fine. But my gut twists just a little bit there…

I’d bet that if an openly gay man wanted to lead my son’s Boy Scout troop, I’d be more interested in meeting him than if I didn’t know he was gay. But I’d also bet that it wouldn’t take much to put my mind at rest. I don’t know the statistics, but I’d bet that there’s not much to worry about.
As animals engage in homosexual behavior, it’s clear to me that the wiring is there: both for pleasure, and for hierarchical “ranking.” In human societies, it is valuable to pass on both memes and genes. So you don’t have to biologically reproduce to still enhance the survival potential of your group. And, of course, plenty of gay men have kids…although I’d bet that, on average, they have fewer. Just a guess.

But there’s one situation where homosexuality could well be a survival trait. Take a tribal situation where powerful Alpha males have multiple wives. That means that, in a zero sum game, there are fewer females to go around for the Betas. Young men can either recruit or steal women from other tribes (triggering wars), go to prostitutes, practice Onanism (Ah, Onan the Barbarian and his mighty sword…) be celibate, sneak around with another man’s wife, or… be sexual with other men. Am I missing another option? In such a situation, if there aren’t enough women around, the ability to take sexual and emotional pleasure from other men would be pretty natural, and a force to stabilize the society. Now, that makes sense. Both nature and nurture.

But…then where do the rather hysterical prohibitions against gay sex spring from? I think that you go to core survival first. On the level of tribal survival, clearly reproductive sex is held up as the greatest good. Oral, anal, digital or whatever is never as approved of…because it doesn’t make babies.

But that also doesn’t explain the hysteria. I think that it comes from the hierarchical needs of Alpha males. The nastiest arguments I’ve ever heard in my life were from a gay couple discussing who was going to be “bottom” that night. Wow. Never heard anything like it. I suspect that in a LOT of cultures, being “serviced” is still “male” while doing the “servicing” is female. In baboon troops as well as prisons, offering the hindquarters for sex is a way of deflecting aggression and designating oneself as a beta. And certainly in prisons rape of another man is a way of proving oneself an alpha.

So we have a raving heterosexual insecurity about one’s own status. Combine this with very real and almost universal bisexual urges, and we can see a ton of confusion, manifesting in a compulsive need to deny, point fingers, demonize, etc…all this about projecting our own discomfort onto others.

Love is love, and however adults find it with each other, I am grateful and humble to be in its presence. The people I've seen with the greatest objections to gay marriage looked to me to have terrible, loveless relationships. It is a shame that our own wounds (and I still carry insecurity from my childhood…a real sense of “what am I? Who am I? Will women ever find me attractive?) combined with early programming (my mother had a real horror of gays, especially the thought of oral sex), means I still have some residual discomforts.

There’s probably other stuff in there to. Good Lord willing and the river don’t rise, I’ll clean it all out before I go in the ground.

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