Marriage Equality and MONSTERS

A brilliant, provocative, and ground-breaking piece: being against marriage equality doesn’t make you a monster.

One reason the idea of gay marriage, or “marriage equality,” spread so fast is that it seems obvious once you think about it. It was a genuinely new idea when it first appeared in this publication in 1989. As was not the case with civil rights for African Americans, feminism, or for that matter gay rights themselves, there was no long history of opposition to be overcome. The challenge was simply getting people to think about it a bit.

So sure, there hasn’t been a long history of opposition to gay marriage explicitly, but unless he’s suggesting that the long history of opposition to gay rights themselves (which he acknowledges existed) has absolutely no spillover into the debate over gay marriage, this thesis doesn’t really work.

Not everyone was immediately persuaded. In March, Ben Carson appeared on Fox News’ “Hannity” show to talk about gay marriage. Carson is the latest Great Black Hope for the Republican Party, which is quickly running out of African American conservatives to make famous. But Carson’s appearance was not a success. He should have left bestiality out of it.

Exactly; he’s not a monster, he just should have left bestiality, “out of bit.” Just a minor faux pas, y’all.

And any reference to NAMBLA—the “North American Man / Boy Love Association”—is pretty good evidence that we have left the realm of rational discussion and entered radio talk-show territory. This alleged organization exists—if indeed it exists at all—for the sole purpose of being attacked by Republicans and conservatives on talk radio and television.

I think we left the realm of rational discussion around the first sentence of this article. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean these kinds of things aren’t important to address; clearly, they are acceptable enough to appear on relatively mainstream news shows.

Well, we all get our kicks in different ways, and if yours is watching someone being verbally flogged by Sean Hannity, I’m cool with that. Unwisely, though, Carson went on Andrea Mitchell’s MSNBC show three days later. There, he tried to clarify his position. He said: “If you ask me for an apple, and I give you an orange, you would say, ‘That’s not an orange.’ And then I say, ‘That’s a banana.’ And that’s not an apple, either. Or there’s a peach, that’s not an apple, either. But it doesn’t mean that I’m equating the banana and the orange and the peach.”

Wait, can someone draw me a fucking Venn diagram here?

Carson may qualify as a homophobe by today’s standards. But then they don’t make homophobes like they used to.

Yes they do.

Carson denies hating gay people, while your classic homophobe revels in it.

And creationists say we have no direct evidence of speciation: “Over here stands an example of the homo homophobus classicus. The course of the last few decades have seen homophobus classicus respond to selection pressures due to a slightly more hostile environment towards their easily-seen homophobic feathers, resulting in evolutionary changes including, as you can see, this new more camouflaged coloring in the homophobus imitatus.”

He has apologized publicly “if I offended anyone.”

That’s not an apology.

He supports civil unions that would include all or almost all of the legal rights of marriage.

Well, which is it. All, or almost all. Because pardon me if I’m not ever-so-grateful to be almost an equal citizen.

In other words, he has views on gay rights somewhat more progressive than those of the average Democratic senator ten years ago.

THIS IS THE GOLD STANDARD. Man, can you imagine being more progressive than the average Democractic senator from ten years ago? Holy smokes!

But as a devout Seventh Day Adventist, he just won’t give up the word “marriage.” And he has some kind of weird thing going on about fruit.

I’m still waiting for my Venn Diagram.

But none of this matters. All you need to know is that Carson opposes same-sex marriage. Case closed.

And lo! that was the end of the article, and there was great rejoicing.

Carson was supposed to be the graduation speaker at Johns Hopkins Medical School. There was a fuss, and Carson decided to withdraw as speaker. The obviously relieved dean nevertheless criticized Carson for being “hurtful.” His analysis of the situation was that “the fundamental principle of freedom of expression has been placed in conflict with our core values of diversity, inclusion and respect.” My analysis is that, at a crucial moment, the dean failed to defend a real core value of the university: tolerance.

Thank you ever so much for your analysis! I had utterly failed to see that! We cannot judge speakers at events for being bigots, then we are being intolerant! INVITE ALL THE NEONAZIS! (Yeah, I Godwinned this thing. No, I don’t care.)

The university’s response was wrong for a variety of reasons. First, Carson isn’t just another gasbag. He is director of pediatric neurosurgery at Hopkins. Pediatric neurosurgery! He fixes children’s brains. How terrible can a person be who does that for a living?

Good, so I don’t need to explain it to you!

There is no necessary connection. As a character says in Mel Brooks’s movie The Producers: “der Führer vas a terrific dancer.” But Carson didn’t murder millions of people.

Exactly. If he had, then he should be imprisoned, not merely criticized and maybe lose some speaking gigs.

All he did was say on television that he opposes same-sex marriage—an idea that even its biggest current supporters had never even heard of a couple of decades ago. Does that automatically make you a homophobe and cast you into the outer darkness? It shouldn’t. But in some American subcultures—Hollywood, academia, Democratic politics—it apparently does. You may favor raising taxes on the rich, increasing support for the poor, nurturing the planet, and repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, but if you don’t support gay marriage, you’re out of the club.

And how dare they reject him from the club — after all, he didn’t kill millions of people! Here, I’ll break it down for you: opposing gay marriage does make you a homophobe, it does not cast you into outer darkness, and it is absolutely a legitimate reason for people to reject you from their club.

Hopkins, as a private institution, may not have been constitutionally required to let Carson speak. But it was wrong for the university, once the invitation had been extended, to make Carson feel unwanted to the point of withdrawing. (In fact, it was wrong of Carson to let Hopkins off the hook in this way.) Behind the First Amendment is the notion that good ideas have a natural buoyancy that bad ideas do not.

No; behind the first amendment is the idea that the government should not decide which ideas its citizens can or cannot express. Any additional philosophical notions here are your own additions. And what better buoyancy good ideas have that bad ideas don’t (if any) is due to the fact that people can rationally criticize bad ideas to the point where those holding them no longer feel comfortable doing so. Which is kind of the moral of this whole fucking story.

In fact, the very short (as these things go) debate about marriage equality demonstrates this. Denying Carson the right to speak was not just unprincipled. It was unnecessary. The proponents of marriage equality have not just won. They have routed the opposition.

Intellectually, sure. But the majority of states still do not have marriage protection among a slew of other (perhaps sometimes more important) rights. So, no. We haven’t won.

It’s a moment to be gracious, not vindictive.

It isn’t vindictive to point out that what Carson says was homophobic, nor to accept his withdrawal as speaker.

There are those who would have you think that gays and liberals are conducting some sort of jihad against organized Christianity and that gay marriage is one of the battlefields. That is a tremendous exaggeration.

Well that’s a relief.

But it’s not a complete fantasy.

Hahaha never mind you really have lost it.

And for every mouth that opens, a dozen stay clamped shut. In the state of Washington, a florist refused to do the wedding of a long-time customer “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.” Note that “long-time customer.” This woman had been happily selling flowers to the groom. She just didn’t want to be associated with the wedding. Now she is being sued by the state attorney general.

So she broke the law, and now is facing the consequences. This is a problem because…..?

DC Comics dropped writer Orson Scott Card’s planned Superman book when thousands signed a petition demanding it because of his many homophobic remarks.


Thought experiment: If you were up for tenure at a top university, or up for a starring role in a big movie, or running for office in large swaths of the country, would it hurt your chances more to announce that you are gay or to announce that you’ve become head of an anti-gay organization? The answer seems obvious. So the good guys have won.

Yes, the good guys have won. Hence why we have no employment protection in the majority of states, no marriage equality in the majority states, why 10% of American youth are LGBTQ and 20-40% of homeless American youth are…….

Why do they now want to become the bad guys?

The decision of gay leaders to concentrate on the right to marry was brilliant. This wasn’t an inevitable choice. They might have chosen some other strategy, such as getting sexual preference under the protection of the civil rights laws, along with race, gender, and so on. Choosing marriage totally undercut the argument of opponents that gay men and women were demanding “special” rights. All they wanted, supporters could say truthfully, was a right (to marry someone you love) that every other American already enjoys. But the focus of gay rights on marriage is a historical accident, and to make support for marriage equality the test of right thinking on gay issues is absurd. In fact, the very idea of a “test of right thinking on gay issues” or any other kind of issues, is absurd. Gays, who know a thing or two about repression, ought to be the last people to want to destroy someone’s career because they disagree.

[a] “gay” is an adjective, not a noun

[b] it isn’t about him disagreeing with us; it’s about him comparing us to pedophiles and bestiality-ites (whatever the word is)

[c] did anyone actually call for his career to be destroyed? People criticized him, using our words, and he withdrew as a speaker.

In their moment of triumph, why can’t they laugh off nutty comments like Carson’s, rather than sending in the drones to take him out?

Criticizing someone for publicly-made comments is absolutely identical to assassination by drones. WHY ARE YOU SENDING DRONES AFTER LGBT PEOPLE WHO WERE CRITICIZING CARSON?

There are only a couple more paragraphs, but I can’t do it anymore. ;alsjfdiwoeqaiahewoi;jfsd;lk

Medicare Reviews Policy Regarding Transgender Patients

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are currently reviewing and updating their policy regarding surgical needs and coverage of transgender patients. The 30-day public comment period started yesterday. Please consider submitting your comments via the form at the review webpage.

The scientific literature is still relatively sparse (for the simple reason that the trans* population is relatively sparse), but for those who are interested and not already aware of these, here are some links to studies on the outcomes and effects of sexual reassignment surgery:

Transsexuals’ life satisfaction after gender transformation operations

The outcome of sex reassignment surgery in Belgrade: 32 patients of both sexes

Factors Associated with Satisfaction or Regret Following Male-to-Female Sex Reassignment Surgery

And on the note of physiology and transsexuality, there have also been many studies indicating physiological connections between binary-identified trans* people and the gender or sex with which they identify, for example:

Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus

A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality

Phantom Penises in Transexuals

A Response to Alito

Justice Alito made an error similar to Justice Scalia’s during oral arguments regarding Prop 8:

Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years. Same-sex marriage is very new. I think it was first adopted in the Netherlands in 2000. So there isn’t a lot of data about its effect. And it may turn out to be a — a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing, as the supporters of Proposition 8 apparently believe. But you want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet?

Once again, he is saying that it may be a good thing or a bad thing, neglecting to acknowledge to possibility that it may just be a thing, with neither positive nor negative effects on society as a whole. Again, this skews the probabilities.

But there are some other issues with this argument. In the first place, this is an argument against trying anything new, ever. It could have been used — indeed, probably was — to argue against extending voting rights of women, or to African Americans. It could have been used to argue against experimenting with democracy in Europe (thousands of years of traditional monarchy, after all!) Lots of advances in civil rights are made without substantial data on their effects: indeed, almost by definition, there must at some point be a country which makes said advances first, with literally no concrete data on effect.

Moreover, as Alito notes, straight marriage has been around for thousands of years, long enough that we don’t have access to any relevant control society without straight marriage to compare against. Thus, there is basically as little data regarding the beneficial, negative, or other effects of state-sanctioned straight marriage on our society as there is gay marriage.

A Response to Scalia

During the arguments for the Prop 8 case, Scalia said the following:

JUSTICE SCALIA: Mr. Cooper, let me — let me give you one — one concrete thing. I don’t know why you don’t mention some concrete things. If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must — you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there’s – there’s considerable disagreement among — among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a — in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not. Some States do not — do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason.

It’s obvious to anyone familiar with the scientific literature that Scalia is either ignorant or lying: to pick just one of many, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a statement:

A great deal of scientific research documents there is no cause-and-effect relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and children’s well-being, according to the AAP policy. In fact, many studies attest to the normal development of children of same-gender couples when the child is wanted, the parents have a commitment to shared parenting, and the parents have strong social and economic support. Critical factors that affect the normal development and mental health of children are parental stress, economic and social stability, community resources, discrimination, and children’s exposure to toxic stressors at home or in their communities — not the sexual orientation of their parents.

According to the policy statement, the AAP “supports pediatricians advocating for public policies that help all children and their parents, regardless of sexual orientation, build and maintain strong, stable, and healthy families that are able to meet the needs of their children.”

But what if Scalia were correct? What if there actually was sufficient debate among experts and a sufficiently contradictory evidence so that we could not draw any scientific conclusions regarding the effect of gay parents on children? Then, in the absence of any evidence to sway the probabilities in any single direction, we’d be left with three equally likely possibilities (on average): negative effect, no effect, or positive effect. In which case it is more likely that there is either no effect or a positive effect than that there is a negative effect.

So even if Scalia were correct, even if we ignore all the scientific evidence (which would weight the probabilities further against “negative effect”), still we find that it is less likely for gay parenting to have a negative effect, on average, than not. Of course, he doesn’t acknowledge this, bundling two cases (positive effect or no effect) into one, and with masterful sleight of hand implying that the probabilities are equal, thus implicitly attempting to grant a stronger probability to the case of negative effect. Unfortunately for him, math just doesn’t work that way.

Must Read Machiavelli Series

There’s an absolutely must-read series on Machiavelli currently being posted at Ex Urbe. This is history at its most exciting and fascinating. The first is all politics and history, the second is all about philosophy, and more are coming. Well-written, fast-paced, and an entirely new perspective on the man and his era (at least, if you aren’t a specialist in Renaissance history!)

Radfems, Transphobia, Etc.

I don’t have much time, but I wanted to comment on this post by Heather on Zinnia Jones’ channel: “In a radical feminist world, there is no transphobia.” Because I have no time, we will do this in bullets:

  1. It isn’t a No True Scotsmen fallacy: Heather does explicitly acknowledge that there are transphobic radfems. She argues, rather, that transphobia is not a logical result of basic radical feminist ideas. Just thought I’d clear that one up at the start.
  2. I think the idea of a radical feminist world is a little bit self-contradictory. Once a society adopts radical feminist ideas, they are by definition no longer radical.
  3. Like so many radfems, Heather seems to accept unquestioningly that a world entirely without gender roles is possible. But there’s really no evidence that this would be possible, and plenty of evidence to the contrary. Gender roles can change, they can be reduced, maybe, or made less damaging, but human beings are induction machines. I don’t see us ever reaching a point where we can say “Gender roles are gone entirely! Congrats, everyone!”
  4. Heather claims that that trans women, “don’t question themselves, apologize for themselves, or wait for their turn to speak quite as often as cis women are taught to do from birth.” There is no possible way that she could know this with any certainty — there simply aren’t any reputable studies — and as my own anecdotal experience contradicts hers, I really feel nothing wrong with dismissing this.
  5. The above is also, incidentally, a trope so often used by radfems to deny trans experiences, to deny trans women’s existence, that I’m a bit disappointed to see it proposed without acknowledging the complete lack of evidence for it by someone writing against transphobia in radfem communities.***
  6. Otherwise, fine. I would be the last person to say that radical feminism is necessarily transphobic: I know plenty of radical feminists who aren’t, and I agree with Heather than transphobia is not logically derived from basic radical feminist assumptions.
  7. However, I am skeptical of the idea that a radical feminist world is necessarily a world where radical feminist principles are developed logically in order to avoid transphobia. I think a radical feminist world could as easily be transphobic if such a world were shaped by the many transphobic radical feminists. Here’s where I think No True Scotsman shows up a bit: you simply cannot say that a world created from the ideas of transphobic radfems would not be a radical feminist world. It would be a bad world, and an illogical world, and a world not justified by basic radical feminist principles, but nonetheles…..I’m not convinced that it wouldn’t be correct to call that a radical feminist world. In which case, a more appropriate title would be that in a radical feminist world, transphobia would be illogical, or in a radical feminist world, transphobia would not be necessary. Because I think there are things rightly referred to as radical feminist worlds which would be transphobic.

***I should note that she explicitly points out that even so, this is not a reason to deny trans people’s gender identity or existence or any of that, and she does qualify by saying that *sometimes*, not always, childhood socialization is apparent. But, honestly, why even propose this as a true statement in the first place?

You Can Prove Negatives

A quick note: someone whipped out this old bit of folk-logic that “you can’t prove a negative” at me earlier today. This statement shows up an awful lot in all sorts of debates, but despite its folklore position as some sort of rule of elementary logic, no logician ever has actually proposed it.

And that’s because it is pretty clearly not true, after all, it contains within itself its own handy refutation:  “you can’t prove a negative” is itself a negative statement, so if you can’t prove a negative, you can’t prove that “you can’t prove a negative.”

But of course there are plenty of examples of negative statements that people can prove. One of the real elementary laws of logic is that any proposition P is identical to the negation of its negation, that is, to not-not-P. So if you can prove a positive statement, then you also prove a negative statement which is equivalent to it. (If Descartes could prove that he existed with cogito, ergo sum, he could also thus prove that he wasn’t nonexistent.)

“Legitimate Rape” Now A Thing

According to Representative Akin of Missouri,

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

He’s quite clearly wrong, of course (see here for the history behind his claim) — RAINN estimates 3,204 pregnancies resulting from rape in 2004-2005 alone (a rate of 5%.)

But I think there’s one pressing question here for Akin and those who agree with him: if the female body is so good at knowing when a rape is occurring, why do we, as a culture, not axiomatically trust women when they say they’ve been raped? And if Akin’s answer, or your answer (for those of you who agree with him on abortion and rape), is that sometimes women lie and that false rape accusations, despite being truly extremely rare, should nonetheless be taken seriously, well, I think you’ve kind of answered your own goddamn question.

Update #1: What is unsurprising but nonetheless depressing is that Todd “the female body prevents pregnancy in cases of rape” Akin is on the House Science and Technology Committee. Here’s a petition to call for his removal from that committee.

Proof by Contradiction: a Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was an evil king. He had all he could desire: a huge castle, servants, riches, and more power than he could shake a stick at. But as time wore on, even these could not comfort him, nor could they solve his one problem (and this wasn’t his usual problem, which was that he was so powerful even he had to obey himself.) No, this problem ran much deeper. Even with everything he had, there was one thing he couldn’t have: friends. He would try to become friends with people — but he could never have a true friend, because eventually friends disagree, and he was an evil king, and you don’t disagree with evil kings. So he became lonely. And lonelier. And as he became lonelier and lonelier, he became bitterer and bitterer and bittererer.

Finally, he became so enraged at everyone who had friends, that he began to devise an evil plan. He would hold an enormous feast, and after the feast, all the guests would be lined up. “And then,” he said aloud, in his evil planning voice, “I will begin to draw numbers from a hat, and with each number drawn, one guest shall die! Moreover, as I have no friends, each guest will die when the number of friends they have at the feast is called!” His plan completed, the King began to put it in motion. Until he hit a fatal snag.

He spent weeks and weeks trying to devise a guest list, but as you’ll recall, he was so powerful he had to obey his own commands, and he had said that with each number called, one guest would die. But try as he might, he could not figure out a guest list (even with his evil party planner) that would invite guests where each guest had a unique number of friends at the feast. Finally, the king sent for his evil royal mathematician, the evilest mathematician there was. “O King,” said the mathematician, “how my I serve your Royal Evilness.”

“Help me with my guest-list, and I shall reward you beyond your wildest imagination,” the king responded, detailing his dastardly plan.

Cowering in sudden fear, the mathematician spoke, her voice trembling. “Your Majesty, it — it is not possible.”

“Explain yourself,” the king roared.

“Well, Your Evilness,” she spoke again, “suppose you invite k guests. Since you aren’t counting guests being friends with themselves, for each guest there are k-1 other guests to be friends with. So the most friends any guest can have is k-1. The least number of friends any guest can have, clearly, is 0. Which means that for any guest there are k possible numbers of friends: 0, 1, 2 ,3, …, or k-1. But now, you see, you have k guests and k numbers-of-friends you need to pair. If you want each guest to have a unique number of friends, you must therefore pair some guest with each of the k numbers-of-friends. Thus one guest, Xanthia, will have 0 friends, and also another guest, Bartholomew, will have k-1 friends. But since Bartholomew has k-1 friends and there are k people counting him, he must be friends with Xanthia. But then Xanthia and he are friends, which makes no sense, since Xanthia has no friends and thus Bartholomew and Xanthia aren’t friends. This is clearly impossible, and so each guest cannot have a unique number of friends, and so therefore there must always, no matter who you invite, be two guests with the same number of friends.”

And with that, the king suddenly ceased to exist. For, you see, his existence had become the battleground of two great Necessities: the Necessity of his power said the feast must exist, and the Necessity of the Laws of Mathematics said the feast must not exist. Thus, his existence was a contradiction, and therefore, he did not exist.

And so, children, the kingdom was saved from the evilest, powerfulest, loneliest King in the world.

Well This Is Depressing

Apparently Kristen Stewart is no longer going to be a part of the Snow White and the Huntsman franchise. The link pretty much covers the truly depressing part of this, so I’m going to shut up about that and talk about why this is the death of that franchise.

Honestly, here’s the thing: she and Theron made that movie. And Theron is out, unless they do some ultra-stupid rejuvenation thing (this is Hollywood, after all.) Who gives a fuck about watching the further adventures of the huntsman? I mean, sure, he was good, but terse and stoic white male action heroes aren’t exactly hard to find.

The movie’s success hinged on giving agency and depth to two character tropes (fairytale princess and evil queenwitch) usually deprived of both. It wasn’t perfect, but it did a pretty good job, and that’s what made it not just a fun action-fantasy movie but rather something even more engaging and meaningful. Which is why The Further Aventures of the Huntsman: Frown Harder, even if a well-done movie, isn’t going to be, on any really meaningful level, a Snow White and the Huntsman followup.

Maybe they’ll prove me wrong and bring in a new strong female lead for the next movie. But it’ll still, at least from they are saying, be centered around the Huntsman.

‘Cause we’ve never seen that movie before.

ADDENDUM: I will note that it only took about half a screen of comments on Salon to find some  truly disturbing ones. Do not venture there.