To the Editor:
E.L. Pattullo’s “Straight Talk About Gays” [December 1992] is anything but straight. Acknowledging that most people are by nature either heterosexual or homosexual, Mr. Pattullo hypothesizes that there are an indeterminate number of adults who might yet develop in either direction. He calls them “waverers” and suggests that they can be turned homosexual by “temptation.” He defends the perpetuation of “legal and social distinctions between straights and gays” by arguing that such distinctions serve to keep waverers’ temptations in check and to drive them firmly into the heterosexual camp, and thus serve society’s “interest both in reproducing itself and in strengthening the institution of the family” and parents’ “interest in reducing the risk that their children will become homosexual.” After all, he says, “In a wholly nondiscriminatory world, the advantages of heterosexuality would not be obvious.”
This argument is deeply and multiply flawed. First, to concede (as Mr. Pattullo does) that homosexuals have done nothing to deserve second-class status and then to defend the preservation of that status on any grounds strikes me as morally insupportable in a democratic society.
Second, the only objective reason why heterosexuality should be considered preferable to homosexuality is that heterosexuals are not the target of oppressive “legal and social distinctions.”
Third, it is absurd to suggest that society’s ability to “reproduc[e] itself” depends on coercing into marriage and parenthood people who, freed from legal and social constraints, would live in same-sex relationships.
Fourth, while it may well have an environmental component, sexual orientation is certainly fixed by early childhood, long before Mr. Pattullo’s “legal and social distinctions” could have the coercive effect he desires.
Fifth, Mr. Pattullo’s remarks on “temptation” defy logic. Sexual orientation is defined by urges, not actions: a man who is more tempted by homosexuality than heterosexuality is a homosexual. Even if there were a small number of people who remained sexually on the fence into adolescence or young adulthood, the present “legal and social distinctions” would not affect their ultimate orientation: such distinctions do not alter sexual urges, they only foster sexual neurosis.
Sixth, Mr. Pattullo defends his “waverer” category by pointing out that many adults have had sex with members of both sexes. This does not, however, mean that such people have “a capacity for becoming either straight or gay.” What it means is that (a) in certain situations—military school, prison, long naval voyages—heterosexuals deprived of opposite-sex contact resort temporarily to same-sex intercourse; (b) in an atmosphere of oppressive “legal and social distinctions,” many homosexuals deny or seek to change their homosexuality by engaging in heterosexual relationships; and (c) a small minority of people are genuinely bisexual. They are not waverers in Mr. Pattullo’s sense, because they are not potentially either straight or gay: they are and always will be attracted to both sexes in roughly equal measure, and would fare best psychologically in a society in which they could settle down with whomever they loved, male or female, without feeling socially or legally pressured in either direction.
To be sure, there is a borderland between the straightforwardly gay and the unequivocally straight with which we should be concerned. Homosexuals often encounter inhabitants of this borderland. Any reasonably attractive gay man knows what it is like to be stared at with anxious longing by a dubious young daddy pushing a pram, or to drop into a gay bar after work and find himself the object of lewd, desperate overtures by a weepy, bibulous middle-aged husband.
Are these men waverers? No; they are homosexuals who have been driven by “legal and social distinctions” into playing it straight. Is this a good thing, for them or anybody? No. They are living a lie, condemning themselves to remorse, frustration, and loneliness, and (in pathetic attempts to conform to legally and socially sanctioned notions of the “family”) creating households that are perched perpetually on the edge of disaster.
Some keep up the act forever. Many eventually crack under the pressure. Recently, after twenty years of marriage, a friend of mine with six sons was told by her husband that he’s gay, that he’d been struggling against this fact and keeping silent about it all his life, and that he could no longer endure the feelings of guilt and alienation he had brought upon himself through his deception. The only segment of society that profited from his prolonged suppression of his homosexuality has been the psychology profession: all eight family members are now in therapy.
It is in the lives of families like this, whose situation is far more common than most heterosexuals realize, that one can observe some of the effects of Mr. Pattullo’s “legal and social distinctions.” We can thank those distinctions, too, for the extremely high suicide rate among gay teenagers (of which I have been acutely aware since my first openly gay friend killed himself in the wake of a favorite teacher’s condemnation) and for the number of adolescent males from the South and Midwest who, rejected by their parents for being gay, nightly hawk their sexual services to married men down the block from my midtown Manhattan apartment.
It seems to me irresponsible, then, for any discussion of the inequities visited upon homosexuals to invoke the conjectural interests of the “institution of the family” while ignoring the circumstances of actual families. It seems cruel to defend those inequities by making unrealistic claims about their containment of homosexuality while disregarding the profound, often deadly, damage that those inequities cause in the lives of countless very real people. And it seems outrageous to reinforce the myth that parents can “reduce] the risk that their children will become homosexual.” Above all, what parents must be helped to understand is that they cannot reduce this “risk.” What they can reduce dramatically, however, by the simple act of raising their children not to draw oppressive distinctions between straight and gay, is the risk that those children, if they do discover themselves to be homosexual, will despise the idea so much as to be incapable of facing it honestly and living with it responsibly.
New York City
To the Editor:
I welcome the balanced tone of E.L. Pattullo’s contribution to the gay-rights debate even if, as a gay man and someone who considers himself conservative on many issues, I must respectfully disagree with most of his conclusions.
Mr. Pattullo argues that many people, among them children, waver in determining their sexual orientation. Over time, conscious and unconscious factors lead them to choose a straight or gay life as, in analogous fashion, they choose their adult characters. Society’s interest in reproducing itself and protecting the family justifies limited discrimination by organizations such as adoption agencies, schools, and scouting organizations clearly to signal waverers that heterosexuality is preferred.
It is inconceivable to me that the overwhelming majority of individuals, consciously or unconsciously, choose, in any understandable sense of that word, their sexual orientation. Far more convincing is the statement the author attributes to John Money of Johns Hopkins: that sexuality is most similar to right- or left-handedness, a behavioral patterning qualitatively different from any concept of choice.
Even assuming waverers did exist in large numbers, conservatives should not support laws and social attitudes that champion heterosexuality and inevitably taint gay people as socially less valuable. The sanctity of the individual is fundamental to conservatism, as is the recognition that each person realizing his or her fullest potential serves society’s greatest interest. Coming to terms with my own homosexuality as an undergraduate was an unalloyed personal blessing, freeing me for the adult task of becoming a responsible citizen. The vast majority of heterosexuals who bear children ensure physical reproduction. And a climate of full acceptance immeasurably strengthens the extended family by allowing all its members to contribute to our primary collective familial responsibility, the generational transmission of values.
Mr. Pattullo endorses blanket proscriptions against gay people as adopting parents and discrimination by schools and youth organizations that serve no valid societal purpose and cruelly incapacitate the many responsible homosexual men and women who seek to fulfill the deeply felt parental impulses we all share in exactly these ways. Surely the rational alternative, particularly for a conservative, is to handle these situations on the same case-by-case basis that Mr. Pattullo correctly proposes for other situations.
These are culturally confusing times in our beloved America for many conservatives and for many among the society at large. Mr. Pattullo’s greatest contribution is to continue the gay-rights debate among reasonable people. In this way conservatives, as well as the rest of the country, will some day reach consensus on this issue, currently so daunting to so many.
John V.N. Philip
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . E.L. Pattullo offers a series of quasi-scientific assertions most of which are unsubstantiated by medical or psychological research, and all of which are qualified by disclaimers which indemnify him from accusations of scientific disingenuousness. The result: an article that is long on subtly-propounded homophobia and short on those objective and scientific data which might support his theses.
As a physician, I must question his scientific integrity; as an American, I must question his (and your) motives in offering us this article; as a homosexual, I must protest your having published an article in which politico-social bias masquerades as science.
Peter John Kirsch, M.D.
To the Editor:
I found E.L. Pattullo’s article an honest and sincere attempt to find a position which eschews intolerance toward gay people without condoning homosexuality. However, his argument that government neutrality . . . would foster “moral equivalence” which, subsequently, could lead wavering youth into homosexuality, simply does not hold up. Neutrality, in fact, is exactly the position the government of a democracy should take regarding private sexual conduct between consenting adults.
Should the government actively engage in discouraging homosexuality, the results could only perpetuate the bigotry and violence Mr. Pattullo condemns. Moreover, . . when schoolteachers are fired or blackmailed because of their private lives, it only strengthens the argument that homosexuals need legal protection as a class—an outcome certainly far more undesirable, from Mr. Pattullo’s point of view, than simple neutrality.
But it is really the heart of Mr. Pattullo’s argument that needs to be scrutinized: that pressure and stigma should be applied to steer wavering youth into heterosexuality. Alas, there are too many sad cases documenting futile attempts to overcome homosexuality through marriage. And it is these very men who wind up causing the greatest social harm, for it is they who can be found hanging out in men’s rooms or other disreputable locales, hunting for furtive sex and then scurrying home to their wives in the suburbs. Is this truly better for society?
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . E.L. Pattullo agrees that some of us are straight and some of us are gay (or, presumably, lesbian). But some of us are in between. The Kinsey scale is a method for describing this. According to this scale, 0 represents those of us who are exclusive heterosexuals, 6 represents exclusive homosexuals, and 3 represents true bisexuals. A 1 is a heterosexual with some slight homosexual interest and/or experience; a 5 is a homosexual with some slight heterosexual interest or experience; and 2’s and 4’s represent more than slight interest or experience.
This scale has some problems: it is difficult to obtain accurate scientific data on experience; it is almost impossible to obtain reliable scientific data on feelings, dreams, fantasies, or other similar interests. Nevertheless, it gives us a way to discuss the problem.
Mr. Pattullo suggests that those growing children (and, for that matter, some older, even married, adults) who find themselves somewhere between 0 and 6 are waverers (his term) and thus susceptible of being “pushed” (some would say “recruited”) by either camp. He further suggests that firm but gentle anti-gay discrimination would prevent this push into the gay camp.
Mr. Pattullo admits this is speculation. While it seems reasonable to suppose that someone might waver between being, for instance, a 2 and a 3, there is absolutely no scientific data to support the concept that someone might waver between 0 and 6. Has Mr. Pattullo ever spoken to such a person? I have spoken to dozens of gay men and lesbian women; I have never met such a person.
I have spoken to many people who were unsure of their own sexuality, even well into their adult years. None of them was pushed into being gay by the permissiveness of friends, parents, or society. Many, as Mr. Pattullo writes, accepted their sexual orientation despite the hatred and discrimination of society.
But even if the waverers, as Mr. Pattullo speculates, did exist, what evidence does he have that giving children “clear, repeated signals as to society’s preference” would have any influence on their final sexual orientation? I gave my son such “clear, repeated signals.” All this accomplished was delaying his sharing his sexual orientation with us. Fortunately, his counsel was more valuable than all my years of medical training, and of reading COMMENTARY, in overcoming my own homophobia.
I belong to P-FLAG, a national organization of parents, family, and friends of lesbian, gay, and bisexual children. This includes some (straight) children of gays. None of us “pushed” our children into being gay. . . . Happily, most of us matured. Some of us are even now “coming out of the closet.”
Mr. Pattullo suggests that his approach would do no harm, and that we should not “risk” abandoning some form of anti-gay discrimination. I disagree. What about the 30 percent (at least) of teenage suicides thought to be gay-related? At least half of these are believed to be related to rejection by family or peers. Encouraging “family values,” as suggested by the former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Louis Sullivan, is worthless; I think Mr. Pattullo would agree to that.
Let me make a positive suggestion. Instead of creating more hate-filled homophobic heterosexuals, let us seek to teach our children the meaning of love. To paraphrase Bishop Melvin Wheately, love that is self-centered, selfish, exploitative, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is to be deplored. And love that is unselfish, caring, mutual, and respectful, whether between straights or gays, is desirable. If we teach that to our children, we all win.
I thank Mr. Pattullo for bringing this discussion to the pages of COMMENTARY. And I thank him for the kind things he said about those of us who are loving, supportive parents of gay children. . . . There are conservative Jewish (former) Republicans who have gay children. Some of us are your readers.
If you choose to publish all or part of my letter, please do not use my name. I do not fear recrimination against me, but against my son. There are hateful people out there. Please just sign me:
To the Editor:
. . . In his demeaning and unsubstantiated article, E.L. Pattullo has developed an entire theory without any practical experience or evidence. The fact that he has some belief or fear does not make it a reality. In an era when homosexuality was a deep dark secret, his theory of forced heterosexual conversion to homosexuality had many adherents. Today it sounds silly. . . .
I am not a homosexual nor am I an investigative reporter. However, as Bob Dylan says, you don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows. Clearly there is something wrong with Mr. Pattullo’s continual references to his homosexual friend. Doesn’t he have more confirmation than this? More importantly, doesn’t he have an obligation to defend his opinion with something more substantial than his own beliefs or the fact that others may have the same opinion?
It should be noted that there is practical evidence which invalidates the belief system presented in Mr. Pattullo’s article. Recently on television, there was a discussion to the effect that even with the best intentions and psychological help, homosexuals really cannot switch their identity. There are numerous programs on cable TV dedicated to homosexuals and lesbians. All state that they have experienced their sexuality since childhood. None speaks of forced conversion. The bottom line is that you really cannot make people into something they are not inclined to be. The forced-conversion idea is more myth than reality. . . .
In Salem, Massachusetts, they burned witches. Today, hopefully, we do not have to act on our fears. If you expand the freedom of one group, you expand everyone’s freedom. Why don’t we just do it? If there are actual problems upon the granting of freedom to gays, then the actual majority of people can make actual legislative adjustments to address all real concerns.
James B. Heft
New York City
To the Editor:
Concerning E.L. Pattullo’s assertion that society should promote heterosexuality over homosexuality—imagine a world which promoted homosexuality over heterosexuality. A world where television sitcoms were about gay people, where gays could get married but not straights, where the church or temple would bless only gay unions, not marriages between people of the (ugh) opposite sex. According to Mr. Pattullo, a young person growing up in this world would assuredly become homosexual.
But of course the real world is exactly the opposite. I was raised by two heterosexuals in a world where heterosexuality was presented as the only option. Even though I was aware, from the age of twelve, that I was gay, I was so convinced of the superiority of heterosexuality that I dutifully dated throughout high school and college and finally married a woman and later had two wonderful children.
But at age thirty-five, even though I had applied virtually all my energies toward being heterosexual since reaching puberty 23 years earlier, I realized that I was gay and that all that energy and all of society’s promotion had not changed my sexual orientation one bit. Nor would it. Only since (reluctantly) leaving the marriage has my life blossomed because I am living as I was created. (And, I would add, as I think God has created me.)
Mr. Pattullo’s presuppositions are based more on cultural bias than on common sense, as if a society which affirmed gays would become gay. That is absurd. Everything we know of sexual orientation, of whatever variety, tells us that it is deeply rooted, intractable, and that whether or not society promotes one over the other, people will be what they will be. Mr. Pattullo can relax: as history down through the millennia shows, society remains mostly heterosexual. . . .
To the Editor:
E.L. Pattullo reiterates many of the longstanding prejudices against lovers of their own sex . . . with a more modern rationale. . . . That the young will “succumb to the temptations of homosexuality in a social climate that [is] entirely evenhanded in its treatment of the two orientations” has as much plausibility as the belief voiced well into the last century that some Christians might succumb to the temptations of Judaism in a social climate that was entirely evenhanded in its treatment of the two religions.
If the death penalty—reinforced by merciless ostracism of the offender and his family—did not prevent individuals from becoming homosexual in past centuries, how can mere exclusion from the Boy Scouts accomplish that purpose? If a relentless censorship that withheld from the young every trace of the existence of lovers of their own sex—even in histories of Greece and Rome—did not preclude the enlightened from learning that some of the most famous men and women of all time were homosexual or bisexual, how then can refusal of a high school to allow a gay student organization keep its charges ignorant of their sexual feelings and isolated from one another? Such precautions can have no more real effect than personal acts of rudeness and ostracism which self-respecting “queer nationals” take in stride every day of their lives.
So, far from being an unqualified misfortune, a homosexual orientation is a burden, a stimulus, and a challenge to those who discover it within themselves. It entails a radical reorientation of one’s private life, though not necessarily of one’s public career. If it closes certain potential paths, it opens others—which may just as easily lead to success. No sexual orientation is a bed of roses, and the sooner Western society learns this fact and resolves to diminish the problems and obstacles that every one of its members encounters in search of sexual satisfaction, the better it will be for us all.
Gay Academic Union
New York City
William A. Percy
University of Massachusetts
To the Editor:
. . . I am unpersuaded by E.L. Pattullo’s arguments. Now, he seems not an unkind person; in his article he even tests his position with counterarguments, and his tone generally is sympathetic. He is not unlettered, either, as his former directorship of Harvard’s Center for Behavioral Sciences attests. But his stance is based on no logic that I can descry. Underlying his contentions, I fear, are just his personal prejudices and petitio principii. He takes much too much for granted.
Why, for instance—if we can be objective about it—must we all wring our hands over society’s reproductive capacity and the persistence of the family as now constituted? Reproduction is at base a neutral biological propensity as common to cockroaches and slime mold as to human beings. Similarly, the family, far from possessing some glowing innate majesty, is often the locus of some of the most exploitative behavior we ever inflict on one another. If Mr. Pattullo wishes to glamorize these and append to them a moral imperative, he is certainly free to do so. But must everyone?
Reason, which he several times invokes, tells me that the human race is nowhere near extinction. . . . Can the presence of fully enfranchised homosexuals, however non-procreative and “tempting” (Mr. Pattullo’s recurrent formulation) their life-style, truly imperil the survival of the species and the social fabric—more than plague, inquisition, war, and revolution? Do homosexuals really have the power to undermine the institution of the family more than our technological excesses, academic effeteness, and sorry appetite for material aggrandizement?
Certainly a community will have its vested interests. Curiously, however, what the author’s heterosexual community aims most strenuously to deny homosexuals is the right to take part in and thus perpetuate the very traditions it deems essential to the general welfare: a legally and socially sanctioned marriage to a solemnly pledged partner (which self-contradicting society never denies heterosexual couples who cannot or will not reproduce); the raising of children (whether their biological offspring or adopted); secure, fulfilling employment; service in the armed forces; and full acceptance in their chosen religious organizations.
Does extending the embrace of a tradition to outsiders necessarily weaken, rather than embellish and validate, the tradition? Well, perhaps Mr. Pattullo suspects homosexuals of a saboteur’s insincerity, of mischievous motives, of a plot to desecrate and destroy all things holy. He assuredly does appear to believe those holy things mighty fragile—as fragile as the connection his waverers have to their heterosexuality, which he views as so susceptible to homosexual short-circuiting. Of this susceptibility he offers no evidence, no clear illustration, not even . . . a statistic, as he offers none for his other assertions. Their cogency we must accept on faith.
A faith recumbent on preconceived notions, inadmissive of proof, has little to do with the “reasonable discussion” Mr. Pattullo wishes to encourage. It has more to do with intellectual ambiguity, presumption, personal preference, in-groups, and out-groups. It has everything to do with what his title promises: “straight talk” . . . talk that represents the straight majority’s particular and partial interpretation of reality; that is, heterosexual subjectivity, hardly a speck more.
Nowhere does the author demonstrate that homosexuality—regardless of how his community reacts to it—is not in itself inherently good. I would venture further that homosexuality can possess as much goodness, beauty, and sanctity as heterosexuality can, and that this is worth fighting for and, if necessary in this unfair world, suffering for.
The recognition of this by statute and society is not to be prorogued by circumlocution, recourse to questionable logic, and frettings over some dreaded adverse effect on human breeding potentials and the happy home. Humanity is more than that.
Albany, New York
To the Editor:
The assertion by E.L. Pattullo that discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans is “best handled by allowing individuals and institutions to act as they will—within the civil-rights [sic] boundaries that currently protect everyone, gay and straight alike,” reflects a misunderstanding of the lack of civil-rights protection currently enjoyed by lesbian and gay Americans.
As a member of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the nation’s largest lesbian and gay political group, I would like to inform Mr. Pattullo that our courts have consistently ruled that lesbian and gay people do not enjoy the right to file suit on the grounds of discrimination in jurisdictions that have no lesbian and gay civil-rights laws on the books. Currently, only seven states make it illegal to discriminate against lesbian and gay people in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Thus, most lesbian and gay people who lose their homes, their jobs, their insurance, or their medical care because of discrimination—events that occur on a daily basis in the United States—are unable to assert that their basic civil rights have been denied them.
Moreover, given the pervasive climate of anti-gay bigotry in many sections of the country, lesbian and gay Americans who have experienced discrimination or have been the victims of hate crimes are unwilling to call public attention to their plight. Having been discriminated against once, they fear the danger of being discriminated against again by calling attention to themselves. We are deluding ourselves if we believe that current law offers these individuals any sense of security or protection. That is why most Americans, if polls are to be believed, support laws to protect all people, including lesbians and gay men, from unfair acts of discrimination.
Mr. Pattullo admits to “ambivalence about the appropriate role for gays in a straight society.” Might I suggest that one way to begin dealing with this issue is to admit that we do not live in a “straight” society any more than we live in a “white” society or a “Protestant” society. While certainly the majority of people in American society are heterosexual, we share our communities and our lives with many people who are not. As a gay man with 35 nieces and nephews, my concern is that we build a society that values all of their lives, whether they are heterosexual, homosexual, or waverers, as Mr. Pattullo inelegantly defines them. In the long run, we will be better off when we begin to understand our diversity as a source of strength rather than as a problem that utilizes discrimination as a cure.
Gregory J. King
To the Editor:
E.L. Pattullo makes too facile a connection between a fixed code of sexual morals and opposition to the “gay life-style.” Rock and rap lyrics, which owe no allegiance to religious scruples, are nonetheless infamous for their homophobia. On the other hand, the Catholic bishops of Oregon campaigned against Measure 9, which sought to proclaim homosexuality “unnatural” and “perverse.” As the case of Woody Allen shows, what society may tolerate in actual sexual conduct is not necessarily what it accepts in theory. . . .
Further, Mr. Pattullo’s use of “gay” as synonymous with “homosexual” in the title of his article reflects the same dangerous ambiguity as President Clinton’s distinction between “preference” and “action” in deciding whether homosexuals should serve in the armed forces. The British experience with the Wolfenden formula legalizing “private actions between consenting adults” illustrates the need for precision in this matter. . . . “Private” ruled out “importuning,” the behavior here known as “cruising,” and “adult” meant over twenty-one, which resulted in a tripling of the conviction rate of homosexuals. Despite the attempts of homosexuals to amend these points, the very legislation which sought to reform an unsatisfactory legal system remained in many ways unsatisfactory to homosexuals.
Instead of the majority worrying about waverers becoming trapped into a minority, the recent referendum in Colorado, where the legislation passed in a few areas was, in effect, repealed by making it conform to the norms of the entire state, suggests that the minority should be concerned about the majority wavering in its tolerance because it had never thought through precisely what it was prepared to tolerate.
[Reverend] Donald Hendricks
Yonkers, New York
To the Editor:
. . . Apart from a brief reference to the need for the human species to procreate (notwithstanding the population explosion) and the need to “strengthen the institution of the family,” nowhere does E.L. Pattullo tell us why heterosexuality is to be preferred to homosexuality. Does he have an answer other than societal “preference”? . . .
Mr. Pattullo mentions society’s interest in maintaining the institution of the family in such a way that it is apparent that he means a family with a heterosexual couple at its core. Why? I know many families which would not meet that definition and yet I know them to be families in the truest sense of the word: a community closely bound by love, caring, and support. Some are straight, some are gay; some have children, some do not or cannot; some are single-parent families. Should society be less interested in these families because they do not fit a heterosexual mold? . . .
“Children,” he writes, “are cruel, and just as short or unathletic or homely boys and girls suffer for their state, so would those who differ in sexual preference”—which is precisely the value of education: to teach our children the harm done by such prejudices, many of which, I am convinced, are taught rather than instinctual. . . .
The most alarming statement Mr. Pattullo makes comes at the end of his article. Referring to sexual development, he writes, “. . . we dare not risk failing to give children clear, repeated signals as to society’s preference” (emphasis added). What a thoroughly dangerous idea! It is painfully obvious to me as a Jew that much of the world has, for millennia, deemed Jews to be marginal. Indeed, it has told us that society prefers that we not be Jews . . . or not be at all. Should I, therefore, teach my three-year-old son that he should not live his life as a Jew because Western society prefers Christians and Christianity?
A society ruled by intolerance should no more dictate that decision than it should attempt to convince a waverer that a heterosexual orientation is to be preferred to a homosexual one. If my son grows up and detaches himself from our Jewish tradition I will be profoundly disappointed because I feel he will lose all of the richness I associate with the Jewish tradition. If, in his development, he discovers himself to be gay, I will be disappointed only because I know that the society in which he is growing up is not yet the society which can set aside its fears and prejudices to allow homosexuals simply to be who they know themselves to be.
I do not regard Mr. Pattullo as a homophobe or a bigot, but I do find his thesis chilling and I do wonder what is really bothering him. Perhaps it is the discomfort all of us feel when we see societal mores in transition. He would concretize the prejudice of the past and accept it as something innately human. I prefer a conception rooted in Jewish tradition which suggests that each of us is created in God’s image and, as a consequence, we must work hard to get past our prejudices to discover the God-like in each person.
[Rabbi] Elias J. Lieberman
Falmouth Jewish Congregation
East Falmouth, Massachusetts
To the Editor:
COMMENTARY readers, particularly Jewish readers, should find much that is disturbing in the logic and assumptions underlying E.L. Pattullo’s article in defense of discrimination against homosexuals. . . .
The frightening ramifications of Mr. Pattullo’s argument become readily apparent if one makes the analogy to being Jewish in a predominantly non-Jewish culture. Jews have throughout history faced similar sorts of difficulties for being different from the norm, and it has often been (and, in some areas, may still be) desirable to change one’s religious beliefs in order to fit into the predominant culture. If the predominant culture considers Judaism to be a cultural disadvantage, does this justify discrimination against Jews as a means for society to dissuade children from growing up to be Jewish? Should Jewish parents so dissuade their children as a means of making their futures less of a burden? Having survived the Holocaust, Jews, perhaps more than most, should realize the dangerous ramifications of these sorts of attitudes. . . .
Mr. Pattullo also flippantly conflates and/or dismisses a number of important concepts. He asserts that sexual orientation, being possibly shaped by postnatal environmental forces, is thus not deserving of civil-rights protection. Following this reasoning, one’s religious beliefs, which similarly develop postnatally, should likewise be a justifiable basis for discrimination.
Mr. Pattullo also claims that even if society in general were to become more tolerant of gay people, children, being innately cruel to those who are different, will nonetheless continue to mistreat gay and lesbian children; he considers this a justification for not even bothering to attempt to create a more tolerant societal environment. Does he also suggest that teachers and parents should likewise ignore racist, sexist, or anti-Jewish comments made by children just because attending to them might be futile? Social tolerance is fostered during all stages in life, and indeed lessons learned in childhood help shape ideas held as an adult; homophobia should not be tolerated in children any more than other forms of bigotry.
It thus becomes quite apparent that behind a façade of supposed objectivity, Mr. Pattullo’s arguments are no more than a rehashing of hackneyed and debunked theories about homosexuality as a simple learned behavior. His line of reasoning, however, becomes truly frightening when considered in the light of the historical experiences of other marginalized populations, such as Jews. Indeed, the lessons of the Holocaust should teach us all the dire ramifications of fostering intolerance and discrimination as a means of societal engineering. Thoughtful readers should thus recognize the dangers inherent in Mr. Pattullo’s argument, and come to understand the need to counter, rather than foster, the intolerance and discrimination that gay and lesbian people face in today’s society.
Paul A. Siskind
To the Editor:
. . . E.L. Pattullo’s “Straight Talk About Gays” . . . only reinforces prejudice and intolerance. . . .
We do not even know for certain whether sexual orientation is caused by a combination of prenatal and postnatal factors or by prenatal factors alone. Mr. Pattullo says analogies to race and sex are inapposite because race and sex are determined purely by prenatal factors.
Personal religious beliefs depend both on prenatal and postnatal influences. Children born to Jewish parents are predisposed to be Jewish, although they retain a certain degree of autonomy with regard to their ultimate religious orientation. Perhaps we should, as a society, promote distinctions between Christians and Jews. We need only discriminate against Jews in certain ways, so that individuals unsure of their religious orientation will tend to gravitate toward Christianity. After all, as a nation we have a vested interest in promoting a homogeneous society. Additionally, we must not run the risk of having our society tainted by the impurity of Jewish beliefs.
Perhaps my analogy produces a more visceral response than Mr. Pattullo’s article. When put in a more identifiable form, the odious nature of Mr. Pattullo’s views becomes readily apparent.
Mark Adam Schnurman
To the Editor:
E.L. Pattullo calls for a variety of second-class treatment of lesbians and gay men on the grounds that “explicit evidence of society’s bias against homosexuality is an important element in the process by which many children become straight adults.” Social bias against gay people is not any such thing, however, and Mr. Pattullo does not even try to submit any supportive evidence. A person’s sexual orientation is, in fact, fixed no later than infancy. No amount of speculation about waverers or reliance on the twin myths of choice and seduction can justify special pleading on behalf of anti-gay bigotry.
. . . Who should know more about the danger of restricting minority rights in the name of “society” than Jews? Encouraging social bias against gay men and women will not turn gay youth into heterosexuals, but it will encourage those who fire gay people from their jobs and those who assault, maim, and kill them. Stop it, COMMENTARY; just stop it.
To the Editor:
As E.L. Pattullo tells us, “There is much we do not know about human sexuality, especially on the all-important issue of how sexual orientation is determined.” We also do not know how prevalent homosexuality is, or how it is related to other—nonsexual—aspects of human behavior.
Some time ago, I noted that a great many obituaries (articles, not death notices) in the New York Times listed AIDS as a cause of death. I decided to keep a record and did so from June 30 through October 11, 1992. There were 697 obituaries during that period, 47 of which explicitly mentioned AIDS as the cause of death. One of the AIDS victims was a female; one case was the result of a transfusion. Most of the rest, presumably, were male homosexuals.
These figures, of course, prove nothing. There are no explicit criteria for meriting an obituary in the Times. Nor do we know what percentage of gay men die of AIDS. Nevertheless, a percentage of roughly 6.5 AIDS deaths in the total population seems higher than chance. Is there a link between homosexuality and productivity? Perhaps this is a question worth investigating.
College of Staten Island
Staten Island, New York
To the Editor:
. . . It is not possible to address the bulk of E.L. Pattullo’s article, which deals with the question of why some people become gay—it is much too muddled. . . . [But] at the end, the article emerges from a muddle to become a cop-out because the author does not tell us just what “distinctions” or “signals” we should retain in order to provide an effective deterrent to the choice of homosexuality or bisexuality. He seems to be against society’s “irrational hatred of homosexuals” as well as “gay-baiting and gay-bashing.” If we are looking for “clear, repeated signals” as deterrents, what could be more to the point? What about job discrimination? Housing discrimination? Admission to university? Indeed, what about castration? If there were a Nobel Prize awarded for creating unmistakable “distinctions” and emitting “clear, repeated signals,” surely John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer have to be leading candidates.
It seems to me that this article is neither here nor there . . . because it will not or cannot tell us what the author thinks are appropriate measures to deter waverers from making undesirable choices. After all, one might feel one way if the article recommended the rack or burning at the stake; and quite another way if it recommended taking away a child’s marbles or forbidding the use of his Nintendo. What does Mr. Pattullo have in mind? . . .
To the Editor:
The greatest interest in E.L. Pattullo’s poorly reasoned article is the fact that it appeared in COMMENTARY. Mr. Pattullo seems only dimly aware of what is at stake in the conflict over homosexuality. Is homosexuality a vice which is harmful to individuals and which undermines society, or is it a harmless life-style like, say, being a vegetarian? If homosexuality is a perfectly legitimate life-style, then those who discriminate against homosexuals are bigots and they should be educated and, if necessary, coerced to behave tolerantly. If homosexuality is a vice, on the contrary, society has an obligation to reprove and suppress this behavior.
Mr. Pattullo does not address the morality of “gay rights” which apparently he considers self-evident. The “few pockets of resistance” to the campaign for gay rights, he writes, stem “almost entirely from religious considerations,” and, he continues, “Protestant evangelicals were behind the extremist move to proclaim homosexuality ‘abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse’ ” in an Oregon initiative which, he adds, “was rightly defeated.”
That may be the way it looks in Cambridge or in the editorial board room of the New York Times, but I think it is safe to say that there are substantial numbers of people, of both religious and secular outlooks, who consider homosexuality a vice. And if it is a vice, how else to characterize it than as “abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse.” . . .
Mr. Pattullo does not address the issue of the morality of homosexual behavior. But when he enjoins us to “rid society of irrational prejudice against gays,” he is clearly expressing his opinion that homosexual behavior is perfectly legitimate. He reveals his moral opinions in the typical universalist jargon of modern liberalism, for which preferred imperatives flow directly from reason, and from which it follows that those who disagree are “irrational.”
But here Mr. Pattullo’s article makes a curious digression. He raises the question as to whether homosexuality is innate . . . and concludes that in the case of humans we cannot really be certain. Therefore, “. . . it is a good bet that substantial numbers of children have the capacity to grow in either direction.” From this modest speculation Mr. Pattullo draws the major conclusions of his article, . . . which, because they are presumably “conservative,” explain why it appeared in COMMENTARY rather than in the New Republic. The problem is that none of Mr. Pattullo’s conclusions follows from his premises.
We may dismiss the argument that society’s “interest in reproducing itself” could justify discrimination against homosexuals. First, because homosexuals can reproduce and second, because, in Mr. Pattullo’s words, “. . . if overpopulation continues to threaten the planet, gay adults might become more socially valuable than straight ones.” (This statement is particularly puzzling since it asserts that overpopulation is threatening the planet, from which it would seem to follow that gays are already more socially valuable than straights.)
All the other conclusions drawn by Mr. Pattullo are unwarranted if one assumes, as he does, that there is nothing illegitimate in homosexual behavior. Thus, society would have no justification for “strengthening the institution of the [monogamous, heterosexual] family” unless this institution were superior to alternative sexual arrangements. The gay-rights movement is perfectly correct in asserting that if homosexuality is legitimate, there is no reason why a family consisting of bonded homosexuals should be disadvantaged.
Similarly, unless there is something wrong with homosexuality, policies which take into account parents’ “interest in reducing the risk that their children will become homosexual” or which “ensure that all children clearly understand the desirability of growing up to be heterosexual adults” would be nothing other than pandering to the “irrational prejudice” which Mr. Pattullo assures us he wishes to expunge. . . .
Further, Mr. Pattullo’s explicit premise, that we cannot be sure whether homosexuality is innate, is irrelevant. Even in the unlikely event that a “queer” gene were to be discovered, the issue of the morality or immorality of homosexual behavior would not be resolved. . . . If an “anti-Semitic” gene were discovered, would we then alter our public-school curriculum to teach six-year-olds to respect anti-Semites?
Irrespective of any biological, psychological, or sociological accounts of human sexuality, societal discrimination against homosexuals is justified if and only if homosexuality is a vice. That is the question. Despite his promise to “promote the kind of reasoned discussion that has been conspicuously absent to date,” Mr. Pattullo does not even address this issue, let alone give a convincing answer.
To the Editor:
In “Straight Talk About Gays,” E.L. Pattullo cites England’s immediate past chief rabbi, Sir Immanuel Jakobovits, to the effect that “All the authentic sources of Judaism condemn homosexual relations as a heinous offense.” Paul and other equally authentic sources of Christianity are no less emphatic in condemning homosexuality. This is also true of the natural-law tradition, the tradition of unassisted reason, a tradition in large measure common to both Judaism and Christianity. . . .
Mr. Pattullo’s article, taken as a whole, is a well-meaning but fruitless attempt to find a middle ground between disapproval and approval of homosexuality. One is reminded of Lincoln’s warning against “groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man.” It is not extremist or irrational to agree with the tradition of both reason and revelation that holds homosexuality to be unnatural. What is at stake here is not the standing of homosexuality alone, but of all morality, as something grounded in more than mere subjective preference. . . .
Morality comes to sight as the mutual obligations, first of all, of husband and wife, then of parents and children, brothers and sisters. From this it expands to include the extended family, the clan, tribe, city, country, and, at last, mankind. We find the moral law condensed in the injunction that we should do to others—that is to say, others who share our nature—what we would have them do to us. Mankind as a whole is recognized by its generations, like a river which is one and the same, while the ever-renewed cycles of birth and death flow on. But the generations are constituted—and can only be constituted—by the acts of generation arising from the conjunction of male and female. The distinction between a man and a woman is not only in itself according to nature, but is the very distinction by which nature itself is constituted. Lincoln once said that if slavery is not unjust, nothing is unjust. On the same premises, if sodomy is not unnatural, nothing is unnatural.
Mr. Pattullo observes “that there is a bit of the waverer in . . . many of us” and that “straights” often feel threatened “not because gays are so different, but because they are so similar.” But most human beings at one time or another detect tendencies in themselves to cheating, stealing, homicide, adultery, and other wrongful actions. If we are well brought up, we condemn such actions in ourselves or others, not because of innate tendencies, but because we understand that they are wrong, and that we as human beings are responsible for what we do.
As individuals, our natures differ, within the bounds of our common nature. As Aristotle notes, some are born fearful, and others bold. But the fearful one can become a brave man and a hero; and the bold one turn out a poltroon. Character is not determined by innate tendencies. Moral education consists in habituating ourselves to the actions of the virtues and overcoming our tendencies to the actions of the vices. But there can be no moral education where there is no clear understanding of the ground in reason and nature for the distinction between virtue and vice. Tolerance does not require of us that we cease to call things by their right names.
Harry V. Jaffa
Center for the Study of the Natural Law
The Claremont Institute
To the Editor:
Though I agree with E.L. Pattullo’s conclusions, I think his article suffers from a major disease of neoconservatism: the absence of firm principles. . . . Very often conservative authors, Mr. Pattullo included, . . . implicitly accept the liberal ground rules and then try to argue a conservative cause lost from the beginning. Mr. Pattullo rejects “religious dicta” in relation to homosexuality, but then tries to make a case for some moderate discrimination against homosexuals as educators of young people, either as adoptive parents or leaders of Boy Scouts, because their influence on “the character and psyche of growing children” may affect their sexual orientation.
But what difference does it make? Nowhere in this article do we find an explanation of why it is better to grow up straight, and why we should, if possible, try to prevent children from becoming gay. Nowhere do we find the opinion that, in the heterosexual realm as well, not all behavior is acceptable, but that sex should be practiced within the framework of love, marriage, and family. . . .
If we try to formulate the original axioms for our moral judgment on homosexuality, two alternatives should be considered. One is that sex is given by God (my apologies to any enlightened secular person whose eye falls on this) for purposes of reproduction, and that homosexuality is an abnormality, an error, because it does not serve this goal. . . . The second, and opposite, view, explicitly expressed in the sexual revolution, transforms sex into just another kind of entertainment, something like going to movies or nightclubs. High-tech contraceptives have made it even easier to break completely not just from any connection with reproduction, but from family obligations and the whole complex set of moral and cultural limitations which have been imposed on sex throughout the history of Western and other civilizations.
Only if one accepts the first axiom, without fear of being accused of religious fundamentalism, can a convincing argument be made for limiting the rights of homosexuals. Only then is it obvious that being straight is better, because it is normal. Until we learn the real causes of homosexuality and can offer a cure to those gays and lesbians who want it, we should assume that homosexuality, albeit a defect, is a natural one, and we should treat homosexuals with tolerance and decency. This means no discrimination in hiring for most jobs and outright rejection of violence and insults against them. But gays should be considered inherently unfit to be parents and educators, just as people without good voices are unfit to sing in the Metropolitan Opera. . . .
Berkeley Heights, New Jersey
To the Editor:
E.L. Pattullo displays both wisdom and courage in writing “Straight Talk About Gays.” . . . He is deeply and correctly concerned that the homosexual movement has gone beyond securing civil-rights protection against persecution and is now demanding that all societal distinctions between heterosexuals and homosexuals be completely abolished. . . .
As a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and as a researcher in the field of sexual deviation, I continue to be troubled by the social and scientific consequences of the American Psychiatric Association’s decision, in 1975, to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for sociopolitical reasons. . . . The motive force for this decision was the wish to protect homosexuals against injustices and persecution, an aim which could have been achieved by a simple demand for equal rights. . . . Instead, the false step of removing homosexuality from the manual was substituted, which amounted to the approval of homosexuality and encouragement to aberrancy by those who should have known better—both in the scientific sense and in the sense of the social consequences of such removal.
The devastating clinical consequences of this decision have since followed. Those who wish to retain homosexuality as a valid diagnosis have been practically silenced by lectures, meetings, and publications both originating within our association and from other sources. . . .
In essence, this movement within the psychiatric establishment has accomplished what every other society, with rare exceptions, would have trembled to tamper with, a revision of a basic code and concept of life and biology: that men and women normally mate with the opposite sex and not with the same sex. . . .
This psychiatric nonsense and social recklessness bring with it many individual tragedies, as men and women who no longer care for their appropriate sexual roles create confusion in the very young for generations to come. Gender-identity disturbance is bound to increase and more true homosexual deviations result as parents distort the maleness or femaleness of their infants and children. . . .
Homosexuals who are in therapy have developed tremendous resistance, which retards their progress, while others are dissuaded from seeking appropriate help. Other medical specialists such as pediatricians and internists are baffled by psychiatry’s folly. . . . Residents in psychiatry have very little interest in going into an area of psychiatric research where they will be attacked, belittled, and demeaned, and their knowledge of sexual development will cease to grow. Above all, however, it is the individual homosexual wishing to change who suffers the most.
Young men and women with relatively minor sexual fears are led with equanimity by some psychiatrists and nonmedical counselors into a self-despising pattern and life-style. Adolescents, nearly all of whom experience some degree of uncertainty as to sexual identity, are discouraged from assuming that one form of gender identity is preferable to another. Those persons who already have a homosexual problem are discouraged from finding their way out of self-destructive fantasy—discouraged from learning to accept themselves as male or female, discouraged from all those often painful but necessary courses that allow us to function as reasonable and participating individuals in a cooperating society.
After all, homosexuality cannot make a society or keep one going for very long. It operates against the cohesive elements of society. It drives the sexes in opposite directions, and no society can long endure when either the child is neglected or when the sexes war with each other. Those who reinforce the disintegrating elements in our society will get no thanks from future generations. . . .
Charles W. Socarides, M.D.
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
New York City
To the Editor:
“Straight Talk About Gays” offers some good reasons for continued caution about homosexual demands. There are still other reasons, most of them concerned with the need to inhibit behavior which is risky for both gays and straights. An example which comes quickly to mind is promiscuity, a community health hazard as well as a lifestyle choice. . . .
A more significant example is the demand increasingly being heard from politicized female homosexuals for “sexual and reproductive freedom.” This translates into the increasingly tolerated practice of deliberate illegitimacy. . . .
During the 80’s so many gay women acquired children through artificial insemination—and also by ad hoc heterosexual intercourse and adoption—that insiders referred to the trend as the “lesbian baby boom.” The actual numbers remain speculative, but a March 1990 Newsweek article estimated that one-third of all lesbians were mothers and that seven million children had gay parents. . . .
But the numbers . . . are less significant than their supportive ideology, which must attack what one advocate called the “hegemonic paradigm,” the principle of legitimacy itself, which requires for each child a father and a mother bound in marriage. Some ideologues thus see themselves as vanguard revolutionaries against the two-parent heterosexual norm, which is as old as memory and as wide as human society itself. One counselor of prospective lesbian mothers wrote: “We are challenging the traditional heterosexual nuclear family. We are saying we can do it differently and make it work. . . .”
Another emphasized that success required devaluing the father’s role. “We must make the courts realize,” she wrote, “that concern over the absence of a male model is a bogus issue.” . . .
Such concepts have now worked their way, as the Murphy Brown episode revealed, into liberal ideology, a process which has nudged public policy in general toward a diminished fatherhood, making the male the “disposable” parent. Thus, tolerance of just one newly-asserted “gay right” compromises our effort to restore stability to a father/mother family whose health affects all of us, gay or straight.
Frank S. Zepezauer
To the Editor:
The article by E.L. Pattullo wisely points up the question of socially acceptable parameters of the gay-rights movement. Begun in 1969 with a vengeance at the Stonewall bar in New York City, when a group of gays fought back for the first time in the course of a police raid, the movement has employed political and judicial tactics to get rid of discriminatory practices on the basis of sexual orientation in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations. In recent years it has added to its agenda such items as employee fringe benefits to same-sex couples, the legal sanction of gay marriages, etc.
In my view, Stonewall took a pernicious turn when it hinged its crusade on the issue of sexual orientation instead of on single (marital) status. If it had focused on the latter, single straights as well as almost all gays—who are virtually all single—would be covered by nondiscriminatory legislation. Marriage is the culmination of heterosexual orientation, and the single state, a minority group, is the culmination of a sexual orientation—straight, gay, bi-, or none-of-the-above—the amorphous nature of which should be protected from discrimination.
What Stonewall did was to open up a Pandora’s box of sexuality, and if it has liberated anything, it has been the Freudian id instead of the Freudian superego.
To the Editor:
Masters and Johnson, who researched human sexuality for a quarter of a century, concluded from their research that no one is born homosexual; it is not genetic, but learned through experience.
Their conclusion appears to be based on their research into homosexual dysfunction. Another result of this research: about two-thirds of those who had a reason and a desire to change their sexual orientation were successful.
I find their conclusion most credible because they do not take a stand on homosexual behavior. Unfortunately, because this is not a politically-correct opinion, the media have been conspicuously silent about it; but those who attempt to find evidence that homosexuals are born get a great deal of media attention.
Many who believe they are homosexual, especially the young, think themselves to be some sort of freak. . . . They need to know that they are normal human beings who were exposed to this sexual orientation and that there is at least a possibility of change. . . .
I agree with E.L. Pattullo that attitudes and actions need to be changed, but at the same time society must ensure that all children clearly understand the desirability of growing up to be heterosexual adults.
To the Editor:
E.L. Pattullo suggests that only if some measure of choice is involved in becoming gay could there be any reason to find it in any degree objectionable, so that society might not be entirely indifferent to sexual orientation. This seems to be a mistake, since one can certainly find something objectionable about conditions that could not be subject to choice. That some people are born deaf or retarded does not mean that there is nothing wrong with being deaf or retarded. Of course, there could be nothing blameworthy about such conditions, but that is a different matter. . . .
There is an interesting issue not touched upon by Mr. Pattullo related to the military’s policy of excluding gays from its ranks, which President Clinton is now in the process of reversing. So long as sexual segregation is considered a sound policy for the military (or any other institution involving the grouping of members of a given sex in circumstances that make privacy impossible), it is arguable that giving gays access to others of their sex defeats the purpose of sexual segregation. If, for example, men should not shower with women, presumably so that men and women should not gain visual access to one another without consent, then gays should not have visual access either to other gays or straights so that this element of consent is not violated.
This does not imply anything unusual about the sexual appetites of gays. All it means is that having gays in intimate visual contact with those in whom they may have a sexual interest is an imposition on those who are unaware of what they are being exposed to. Indeed, in the case of gays having access to other gays or straights, the situation is more complicated than straights of one sex having access to straights of another. In the former case there is no evident presumption of sexual interest, so people would more likely have their guard down about having to share their privacy with those who may have a sexual interest in them.
Tibor R. Machan
Visiting Professor of Philosophy
United States Military Academy
West Point, New York
To the Editor:
. . . For our society to be healthy, it is necessary that we use all reasonable means to suppress homosexuality. Late in the 1960’s, this society essentially surrendered in the fight against homosexuality and we are now reaping the fruit of this policy change.
Perhaps the most disastrous result of the toleration of homosexuality is AIDS. This year around 51,000 people in this country will die of AIDS. Ninety-five percent of these victims will be either homosexual and/or drug users. The rest will be those who caught the disease from homosexuals and/or drug users, either through contaminated blood products, contaminated transfusions, intercourse with infected individuals, or infection in utero.
The disaster of AIDS was totally preventable. Had the homosexual life-style not been tolerated, there would be no epidemic. In the 1950’s the laws against homosexuality were, to a large extent, enforced. By the 1970’s, this was no longer the case, and in the 1990’s tens of thousands are dying. . . .
To abolish all discrimination against homosexuals . . . we must discriminate against heterosexuals. Health insurance is a perfect example of this problem. As a sexually inactive heterosexual female, my odds of catching AIDS are lower than the odds of my being hit by lightning. But if I purchase health insurance I am compelled to pay the astronomical health bills associated with the treatment of AIDS. I would be willing to purchase health insurance which specifially excluded payment for AIDS, but that is prohibited by anti-discrimination laws. . . .
The problem with homosexuality is not whether it is volitional. Those persons who are homosexual have not chosen to be this way. The problem with homosexuality, at least on the male side, is that it is more than just a desire for sex with other men. It is a fundamental personality disorder which manifests itself in a compulsive sexuality that leads to no good ends. . . .
A fourteen-year-old boy who is not sexually experienced may be lured into the homosexual lifestyle if he encounters a predatory adult homosexual. The same boy at age nineteen may be immune to the allure of homosexuality. In the age of AIDS this problem is not academic. We must continue to fight homosexuality to protect that fourteen-year-old boy. If we can delay his exposure to homosexuality for five years we may be able to save his life.
One final point: although homosexuality is a severe personality disorder, . . . homosexuals are not evil persons and must be treated with respect. Physical assaults on homosexuals and the pathological hatred of homosexuals known as homophobia are themselves evil and should not be tolerated. We must love the sinner, but hate the sin.
To the Editor:
I very much enjoyed E.L. Pattullo’s article. It provided a note of moderation in an avalanche of extreme talk about a most sensitive subject. . . .
As a retired Coast Guard captain, with a total of 35 years in the military, 29 of them as a commissioned officer, I have made a number of observations over the years on the subject of gays in the military.
In general, most of the homosexual offenses I became aware of were committed by outwardly heterosexual men, usually married, some with children, even one grandfather. Separate some men from their families and away from women for a period of time and they act poorly.
President Clinton most assuredly is correct when he states that the issue is conduct, and I believe that eliminating the ban on homosexuals in the military should be done slowly and carefully and be accompanied by service indoctrination. To be blunt about it, I fear outbreaks of violence in the service as a result of the new policy. . . .
Maxwell S. Charleston
To the Editor:
. . . I agree with many of the conclusions reached by E.L. Pattullo, but with an administration determined to protect and enforce politically-correct views, the subject of gays is no longer academic.
Two areas of immediate interest are gays in the rabbinate and gays in the military. The author quotes Sir Immanuel Jakobovits, when he was chief rabbi of England, as condemning homosexual relations, the traditional view of Judaism. . . . Reform Judaism, however, the most liberal of the Jewish groups, approves gay rabbis, part of the rationale being that whether we accept gay rabbis or not we have them anyway. A practical, not a religious reason. . . .
As for gays in the military, . . . as we have recently seen, all top military officials have stated that homosexuality is incompatible with military service and that the presence of homosexuals impedes good order and morale. General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that the presence of homosexuals would interfere with the right to privacy of heterosexual troops, though many countries, including Australia and Canada, do permit gays to serve. Here the issue would appear to be not one of human rights, but the efficiency of the military. . . .
In any case, the time for feinting is past; we must face the issue of gays and their status in our institutions directly. Otherwise, like so many other social issues, it will be determined by politicians anxious to fulfill campaign promises or wishing to pander to voting blocs or liberal do-gooders. I am pleased that the issue of gays is now openly discussed and citizens with opinions openly express their views and are concerned with policy results.
Robert J. Rosenthal
To the Editor:
It seems incredible that we—homo sapiens—have deviated so far in our thinking and in our natural functioning that we should even be considering homosexuality as “just another life-style” instead of the aberration it really is.
As far as we know at this moment in time, the earth came into existence four-and-one-half billion years ago. One billion years later, the earth was covered with unicellular creatures. Around two billion years after that, multicellular creatures had developed, and some time during the ensuing millennia, sexual differentiation occurred. This fact of nature is irrefragable and irrevocable. The real question is: why do we seem to be in a continual state of denial about our natural functioning instead of facing up to the truth about it? If we could only face this truth, everything else would fall into place and homosexuals might get the help they really need instead of the false acceptance that is so damaging to them and to society in general.
E.L. Pattullo writes:
One of the issues raised, implicitly or explicitly, by several of my critics is whether or not it is legitimate to speculate about a matter of public policy when there is a paucity of fact. A predictable result of doing so, of course, is that one assertion is simply countered by another. In a famous exchange, James Thurber dubbed this the myass school of argument. A says to B, “Dizzy Dean is the greatest pitcher of all time,” prompting B to respond, “Dizzy Dean is the greatest pitcher of all time, myass!”
Though it fails to improve the argument, there is no help for this problem. More often than not, public policy must proceed in the absence of sure knowledge and some of the controversy it arouses must get bogged down in the Thurber school. Any who doubt this might consider the question of what to do about the economy at any given time. For every expert opinion there exist several others, equally expert, urging a quite different course of action.
Aware of the absence of knowledge concerning the genesis of homosexual attraction, I was careful to qualify most of my assertions about fact as probabilities, and to point them out for readers. Several of my critics are less careful and seem to assert sure knowledge about things for which there is, as yet, little scientific evidence. Bruce Bawer, for instance, says, “sexual orientation is certainly fixed by early childhood.” James B. Heft, John V.N. Philip, Samuel Schaal, and others make similar assertions with equal confidence. Yet though many gays attest that they never experienced doubt as to their sexual preference, many others, gay and straight, report different memories. I can only repeat that no reputable student of the subject pretends to know precisely how or when sexual orientation is fixed.
All of us who venture opinions on this difficult subject need to be aware of the tendency to overinterpret our own experience. Our sexuality is ever present and so central to our being that it is hard to resist the temptation to project onto others that which we have felt and know to be of great importance in our own lives.
Kent Gordis, David Shur, and Harry V. Jaffa take me to task for failing to make a judgment on the morality of homosexuality one way or the other. On the other side, Ray Bono, Bruce Bawer, Gregory J. King, and Rabbi Elias J. Lieberman argue that there is no objective moral reason for preferring straight to gay. I do not deny the existence of the moral dimension, and recognize the power it brings to any argument. But that power is dependent upon acceptance of the moral system invoked, and there are many competing ones. It is my purpose to try to persuade readers not that a wholly value-free (objective) case can be made, but that given straights’ bias in favor of heterosexuality there is a purely pragmatic justification both for tolerance of homosexuals and for continuing to discriminate against them in certain areas. Though that bias can be confirmed or rebutted only within the framework of a moral code, it is a datum that forms a legitimate base for a reasoned argument.
Another explicit theme in several of the letters is a denial of the idea that there can be a middle ground between total acceptance and total rejection of those who live the gay life. Their authors clearly think me insincere in suggesting the possibility. This is odd when, in recent years, we have seen so many people abandon the fear and dislike with which they once viewed homosexuality, moving to occupy that middle ground. In wide areas of the United States it is apparent that a majority now sees no reason to dislike or scorn gays and, indeed, actively opposes those who would bait or bully them. The very rash of anti-discrimination laws and rules—which I deplore—demonstrates a rising tolerance—which I applaud. Consider, too, the attitudes prevailing in our leading colleges and universities. And in most large cities, gay men and women need no longer fear the ostracism that once would have followed upon their orientation becoming known. In other places, we all know, there is still much work to be done.
Yet it remains true that among those newly tolerant are many who, by moral conviction—religious or other—still regard homosexual acts as wrong. Many others remain firm in the belief that an inability to form a traditional family is a grave misfortune. And almost all parents hope their children—whom they will continue to love in any event—will grow up straight.
The changes already accomplished, thanks to the efforts of gay activists, amply demonstrate that gays can find a secure place in society without forcing that same society to pretend that it places no greater value on the straight life than on the gay one.
Yet having made long strides toward persuading straight society to be tolerant of differing sexual orientations, gay political leaders remain discontented. They now wish to use the law to force public and private institutions to treat gays exactly as they treat straights. The model is the anti-discrimination statutes that seek equal treatment regardless of gender, race, or religion. That effort offends not only those who condemn homosexual acts as immoral, but also those who think the straight life vastly preferable and believe it likely (as do I) that socialization plays a role in determining sexual orientation.
If the last belief is correct, there is good reason to insist that gays rest content when society as a whole becomes genuinely tolerant of those of their sexual orientation. To require that the majority act as if it believes the two life-styles to be equally desirable, by forbidding any kind of discrimination whatsoever between the two, is to demand too much. Race, gender, religion, and—now—physical handicap are each a different story.
Paul A. Siskind, Bert Thompson, and Mark Adam Schnurman invoke an analogy substituting Christians and Jews for straights and gays. Why, they suggest, should a predominantly Christian society not use my reasoning to justify differential treatment of Jews? But analogies mislead as often as not. Religious belief is not the same kind of phenomenon as sexual orientation, and to forbid discrimination in one area does not imply that it must be forbidden every place.
Finally, it is clear that many of my critics are concerned exclusively with the welfare of those who define themselves as gay, dismissing those I have chosen to call waverers as self-deceiving. Only Charles W. Socarides, clinical professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and a long-time student of homosexuality, speaks compassionately of those who reject their gay inclinations, and Eileen O’Brien and Patricia Meyerowitz touch on the same point. No one else expresses much sympathy (let alone empathy) for persons who could be straight but may become predominantly gay in an environment that refuses to distinguish between the two. Several, of course, deny this possibility and several others clearly think one orientation is as good as the other. But for those of us who still believe the straight life is preferable, the spectacle of a child growing up gay when he might have been straight is little short of tragic.