Being gay is only 150 years old?

Gay conservative writer, David Benkof, in a Daily Caller post, reviews a couple sociological studies and comes to this seemingly absurd conclusion. How can being gay be an exclusively Western phenomenon only 150 years old? There is evidence of even mainstream homosexual activity dating back to the ancient Greeks. Benkof’s point is that while sexual activity has always run the gamut since probably the beginning of the human species, the existence of a concrete minority community composed of individuals who identify as homosexual (or otherwise) is relatively new. It’s an interesting point, but it is also fraught with peril in both its motives and consequences.

It is no accident that equal rights for LGBT persons have been restored at an accelerated pace as more and more individuals come out and openly identify as something other than heterosexual. A plurality of poll respondents who come to support same-sex marriage say they changed their mind based on an LGBT acquaintance. It can be implied then that if Benkof’s argument were taken to its logical conclusion and people stopped identifying as LGBT, progress toward those rights would probably slow at best and possibly even reverse in some places, at least on issues that haven’t yet reached the federal court level.

Indeed there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Benkof himself wouldn’t be opposed to this erosion. In January 2013, Benkof joined two other gay conservatives to file a brief with the Supreme Court supporting California’s Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage, just the latest of many past equal rights transgressions. When you hold anti-gay positions and purport to write scholarly about what could on its surface be called “gay denial”, you shouldn’t get upset if your motives are questioned.

And gay denial is just what may come of this. As we know, people tend to skim and just read the headlines. And what would a nation of skimmers digest from a headline saying “Nobody is ‘born that way,’ gay historians say“? Well, if gay historians say it, it must be true! And if it’s true, then I can stop feeling sorry for teh gheys! A generalization to be sure, and hopefully not enough people will read it to matter.

Back to the piece itself, there is an argument to be made that if non-heterosexual activity were completely disconnected from minority identity, it could become more normalized and less stigmatized. And if it were just an activity and not an identity marker, equal rights wouldn’t be an issue. In a nation birthed with the DNA of puritanism and local theocracy, I won’t hold my breath. But it can be argued. And if that were Benkof’s argument, he would have a much more receptive audience among the LGBT community. But given his other beliefs and recent actions, this piece should be treated as the latent bigotry Trojan horse that it surely is.

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2 thoughts on “Being gay is only 150 years old?

  1. Hey thanks for your comments. I always like hearing what readers think, and I felt your responses were particularly thoughtful. A few points:

    1) I didn’t cite any sociological studies, just historical and anthropological ones.

    2) In my case, you’ve got cause and effect backwards. I didn’t publicize the facts about gay history because I don’t support the gay agenda. I don’t support the gay agenda because of what I’ve learned about gay history. I used to be heavily involved in gay activism, working for the Human Rights Campaign Fund in Washington, DC and then later all over the country, especially California. I was a major figure in the LGBT media, owning the largest provider of content in the gay press, Q Syndicate. But the more gay history I read, the more I realized that the basic LGBT arguments in the public sphere, and especially in my faith community (I’m Jewish) were utterly unpersuasive because being gay is so recent. I’m not saying there aren’t good arguments for more liberal policies on homosexuality, but the timelessness, ubiquity, and innateness of being gay just isn’t one of them.

    3) You’re absolutely right about people just reading the headlines. I’ve been surveying people’s reactions to my piece (that’s how I found you) and I’d say 40% of the commenters didn’t read the essay and said a version of “See? I told you it was a choice!” Another 40% of the commenters didn’t read the essay and said a version of “What nonsense – everyone knows there have always been gays. The Greeks, for example.” Most of the other 20% have been friendly and even enthusiastic, and they’re the ones who read past the headline.

    4) I’m conflicted on the issue, which many of my friends have pointed out, regarding “If you keep saying these things, people will use your ideas to hurt people.” (My current Daily Caller essay is “All the gay parenting studies are flawed,” for example.) But I’m allergic to bad arguments (on both sides) and I’m most interested in clarity and healthy debate. So I think I have something to contribute, and I don’t know that I’m responsible for the ways people choose to abuse my writings and my ideas (although I don’t rule it out). Your further thoughts would be welcome.

    -David

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