Rand Among the 'Queers'
He is an honest young man. Though he does not attend church as regularly as he could, it is often because he is busy finishing homework or pursuing various extracurricular activities. In his last year of high school, he has dedicated himself to success, has received the highest marks in each class, and has already been accepted to several top universities to study mathematics. His father is equally proud of his son for being a star football player for his school, and pleased that the boy is quite popular with the female students. This young man has struggled to win, to prove himself. But in the late afternoon he sits alone in his room, or takes long walks, and wonders at the tightness in his stomach, and at why he feels so fundamentally wrong.
Most religions and the majority of cultures would have it that this young man is fundamentally flawed, that he has more Original Sin than most, and that in order to redeem himself he will have to deny and disown a fundamental part of who he is. Unlike the majority of individuals, he is homosexual.
Homosexuality is a favourite point of moralising for many people, leaving a significant minority of the human species despised, mistrusted, or condemned. Certainly this is most often packaged with religion, an institution Objectivists are quick to criticise. Yet many Objectivists have not been innocent of similar irrationality as regards homosexuality. In a lecture given at the Ford Hall Forum in 1971, Ayn Rand herself condemned homosexuality as "immoral" and "disgusting," claiming it is the result of "flaws, corruptions, errors, [and] unfortunate premises." With such vehement damnation, shall Objectivism thus share space with religion?
Homosexuality describes an orientation toward the same gender in sexual and romantic attraction. Just as a heterosexual has deep, basic feelings toward certain members of the opposite sex, so a homosexual has the same feelings toward those of his own gender. Whatever the causes of sexual orientation, it is clear that such a fundamental response is not a matter of choice. With genetic and physiological evidence now accumulating which points to sexual orientation being determined before birth or soon thereafter, it is quite doubtful that a person can significantly alter his orientation. If homosexuality as such is not a matter of choice, it cannot be a moral issue. One would hope Rand merely did not understand the issue, for the woman who proclaimed homosexuality "immoral" also pointed out that "a sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality" (Atlas Shrugged).
Thus, Objectivists should be at the forefront of condemning the condemnation of gays and lesbians as such, just as we speak out against racism and collectivism in general. Yet there is more that the Objectivist movement should address on this issue.
It becomes a simple choice, frightening in its starkness. Either the young man must dismiss his religion, which holds him to be not-quite-human, or he must deny a crucial part of himself. With courage and integrity, he decides that his self-esteem is ultimately important, and breaks away from his church and the community which would condemn him. He finds himself free. Yet without the morality of the church, he faces a vacuum, a frightening loss of meaning.
Most gays and lesbians face a severe dilemma when confronting their own identities. Very often, the structural support provided by family, religion, and culture does not allow for deviance from a heterosexual norm. When, in an act of moral heroism, a young gay person re-examines these assumptions and, with the courage to stand against powerful institutions, chooses not to evade a fundamental part of himself, he rightly rejects that part of his religion or culture which proclaims him less than human. However, more often than not, the rest of the moral framework is discarded as well after all, if such morality has no place for homosexuality, then perhaps morality itself has no place. Yet because each individual needs a standard by which to make choices and live effectively, this leaves a void and the lingering question of what will fill that void. Searching for validation and moral purpose, gays and lesbians often find themselves lured by the cultural and political left.
When, late into a night which is too cold, he tells his mother his secret, she trembles and weeps and will not look him in the eye. She tells her husband the next day, and he threatens to disown his son entirely if he does not leave the house immediately, returning only when he has fully repented. Wild with confusion and pain, the young man escapes to the city, where he finds an active community which does not condemn him. He discovers dance clubs and political rallies, a world in which being gay is the norm, and for a while feels, at last, accepted and safe. But when he searches for more than empty sex and superficial socialising, when he begins to question the subversive ideas he is told he must accept, he discovers he is caught in a new conformity, a "party line" as rigid and suffocating as the church he has left behind.
The gay writer Tony Kushner, author of the epic two-part play, Angels in America, is reported as saying that the term "gay Marxist" should be redundant. As a voice of the elite gay subculture, Kushner represents the same contingent which sees homosexuality as an act of subverting Western capitalist culture, advancing leftist agendas, and contributing to an orgy of post-modern irrationality and relativism. Indeed, the radical gay subculture, flowing from the gay ghettos of large cities and marked by ironic conformity to stereotypes, is fully entwined with leftist ideology.
As indication of this, and typical of irrational philosophies, language, a realm of precision and meaning, is attacked. The epithet "queer" is adopted as a label of solidarity, supposedly to defuse the word, but in reality it is used as part of broader tactics of shock and subversion. The gay subculture celebrates "gay pride," thus redefining "pride" not as positive regard for one's accomplishments, but instead as based on an attribute over which one has no control. This leads to the belief that "if it is gay, it is good" regardless of any other standards - and that anyone who criticises the revealed truth of the subculture party line, including other gays, is stricken with homophobia. Such collectivist "groupthink" is a hallmark of today's left. Even gays and lesbians outside of this "radical" minority tend to be actively supportive of leftist policies such as affirmative action or environmental regulation.
And why not? When, as most people do, a gay person sees his political choices as divided into two camps, and one of them is filled with vociferous religious bigots openly declaring homosexuals a scourge, the left is a default choice. Of course, it helps that the left actively courts gays and lesbians as part of its larger rhetoric of egalitarianism and "tolerance." Thus many gays start as "single issue" leftists, and soon are cheering radical environmental groups, multiculturalism, and New Age charlatans as if this were a natural extension of being gay. The moral vacuum remaining once religion is rejected is easily filled by default with the "package deal" of leftist post-modernism.
Must this be the case? Shall the provision of visibility and morality for homosexuals be left to nihilistic statists? A pathetic situation this would be, considering there is a robust, rational philosophy which, properly applied, would reject the condemnation of persons based on sexual orientation. Further, it is a philosophy which explicitly defends the virtues involved in "coming out" as gay namely, honesty, integrity, courage, and pride. It is a philosophy celebrating the individual, one who challenges stale social convention, rejecting the irrationality of religion and bigotry. And it is a philosophy which affirms the sanctity of sexuality and profound romance based on shared values. The philosophy which should be poised to reach gays and lesbians is Objectivism.
Already among some gay intellectuals there is a movement toward rationality and a growing criticism of the gay left. These individuals recognise that the leftist gay subculture is a vocal minority within a minority, and that its ideology should not dominate by default. Thinkers such as Jonathan Rauch, Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic, and David Boaz of the Cato Institute, have rejected the notion that being gay means accepting a leftist agenda, and have offered libertarian alternatives. Beyond Queer: Challenging the Gay Left Orthodoxy, edited by Bruce Bawer, is a collection of such dissent, and the number and quality of the included essays is an encouraging indication that many gays seek a more reasonable, "grown-up" philosophy.
But the best of such philosophies, Objectivism, is still in its youth, and has not fully cleansed itself of non-essential prejudices stemming from Ayn Rand's personal opinions. Despite a significant number of openly gay Objectivists, and a larger number of Objectivists who rightly regard homosexuality as outside moral judgement, the philosophy as a cultural milieu barely acknowledges the subject. Rand herself virtually ignored the topic, and when she did comment on it, it was with a moralising ignorance. Certain "orthodox" followers of Rand express similar attitudes. Here is a premise which must be examined, lest we keep the contradictions of judging only what is volitional and condemning homosexuality; or valuing romantic love so long as it is heterosexual.
As Rand's ideas continue to ascend in visibility, gays and lesbians will be increasingly aware of her philosophy as an alternative to dusty religions and shop-worn socialism. But in the chorus of voices clamouring for ideological adherents, will Objectivism appear as alienating as the religious right, leaving the left another victory by default? Or shall Objectivists recognise an entire segment of the population for whom a philosophy of reason and individual liberty would have great appeal? As individuals who uphold sexuality and romantic fulfilment as of great value, Objectivists should not shy from acknowledging the rich spectrum of sexual orientation among human beings. More than making broad statements about the irrationality of racism and bigotry, Objectivists should state clearly that sexual orientation has no bearing on the merit of an individual, and that condemnation of gays and lesbians has no place in a rational philosophy.
Again, the young man is caught questioning a culture from which he is painfully alienated. He seeks direction, and those around him claim that morality consists of sexual self-indulgence. He seeks achievement, but is told that this is a prejudice of Western oppression. He seeks profound romantic connection, yet those around him are more concerned with wearing the right outfit than defining and pursuing values. The subculture which seemed to give him identity gives him nothing now, and he begins the difficult process of defining himself as an individual. As a foundation, he keeps as sacred the notion that happiness is possible to him, that it is he alone who can achieve it, and that he is worthy of attaining it.
It is not the statist left which is the natural ally of gays and lesbians but a philosophy which celebrates individuality, achievement, and joy. Given the chance, the philosophy chosen by this young man and countless others like him will be: Objectivism.
Let us welcome him.
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