A half-century ago, when blacks were commonly seen as inferior to whites, and millions of whites demanded to live separately from them, satirist Lenny Bruce efficiently skewered racists:
"Say you are white. You have the choice of spending fifteen years married to a woman, a black woman or a white woman. Fifteen years kissing and hugging and sleeping real close on hot nights. The white woman is Kate Smith. And the black woman is Lena Horne. So you're not concerned with black or white anymore, are you? You are concerned with how pretty. Then let's really get basic and persecute ugly people!"
Let's update this.
Say you're a soldier in Afghanistan. You're on patrol in a hostile village. Suddenly you hear yelling in a language you don't understand, and there's a small explosion ahead, then a second one just 100 yards away. The two guys you're with--do you want them small and straight, afraid of loud noises; or big and gay, one who's been working out since high school, and the other a hunter who happens to speak Pashtun?
If you answer that question wrongly, you are too dumb to protect this country (or your own life) no matter what your sexual orientation is. And if you're straight and terrified of some gay person coming on to you, you really ought to work through your fantasies about homosexuality. Dig up pastor Ted Haggard, senator Larry Craig, state attorney general Troy King and a few other people, and form a support group.
The repeal of DADT certifies that being gay is not just about sex, any more than being straight is just about sex. That may be the most important effect of this decision--the normalization of being gay. In that respect, those who say this is a triumph of the Gay Agenda are absolutely right: it's another step toward ignoring the gayness of gay people, and seeing them as actual human beings.
The whole idea of gay soldiers fighting and dying to create integrity abroad while being prevented from exercising it in our own military is just too bizarre for words. You might as well have cigarette companies funding a truth-in-advertising campaign.
On the Senate floor, ancient war hero John McCain called this "a sad day for America." Ignoring the advice of our own generals now in uniform, he talked of 'elites' and 'liberals' who have no military experience. I'm one of them. But I don't need military experience to have both common sense and a sense of decency. So Senator, when you were caged in that Vietnam hellhole, if a flaming drag queen swooped in with some artillery and a butch lesbian choppered you out of there, would you have objected? No?
That's proof that when someone's shooting at your ass, you don't care if the guy next to you is looking at yours--as long as he saves it.
Since today is Christmas Day, our subject is sexuality and religion. Specifically, what do the world's three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, & Judaism) say about sex? Of course, it depends on whom you ask. Each religion's adherents form a wide spectrum of observance, from the orthodox/fundamentalist to the "I like the holiday food."
That said, here are some of the common ideas about sex featured in the mainstream traditions of one or more of the three religions:
* no sex during menstruation
* no birth control
* no abortion
* no same-gender sex
* no anal sex
* no oral sex
* no sexual fantasy
* no masturbation
* no non-monogamy
* no sex before marriage
* no marrying outside the religion
* no sex outside marriage
Let's remember that these rules were formulated and distributed primarily between 1,200 B.C.E. and 800 C.E. To put this in context, the people involved:
* lived primarily as nomads or shepherds, or (later) on farms or in villages;
* had tremendously high rates of infant & child mortality, as well as women dying in childbirth;
* expected to live, if things went well, to about age 40;
* had almost no privacy;
* had no electricity, and virtually no light after dark;
* had very little non-family mixed-gender interaction;
* had no indoor plumbing, and rarely bathed;
* with few exceptions, never went anyplace more than 50 miles from their birthplace.
As a result, large, hierarchical families were crucial for both individual economic survival and community political survival. Families formed clans and tribes to regulate marriage, economic transactions, and political conflict.
The idea that we in the 21st century would live according to rules set up by people living in such extraordinarily different circumstances is bizarre. How many modern people want to be limited to the medical, agricultural, or industrial knowledge of a thousand or two thousand years ago? Do we want their blood feuds, their beliefs in witchcraft, their lack of hygiene, their dependence on nature, their frequent illiteracy, and their complete lack of social mobility?
No? Then why do three billion men and women today limit their sexual expression to the behaviors, beliefs, superstitions, and fear of those people?
Note that I am not talking about "cultural" ideas about sexuality. Different locales, in different centuries, have or have had contrasting norms: the Victorian English (little intercourse in middle-class marriage), 1950s Americans (very little cunnilingus), today's rural Irish (sex without fully undressing), India for centuries (arranged marriages), some 20th-century Arabs (clitoridectomy). The Nazi encouragement of non-marital sex and the ancient Greek habit of upper-class heterosexual men with boys are other examples.
None of these customs was dictated by religion; God's will wasn't or isn't invoked as the reason.
But today, in the 21st century, educated people actually believe that God cares about which orifice, which time of the month, which sperm, which embryo, which partner. If you believe in God, I propose that God has more important things to worry about--global warming, a nuclear North Korea, the HIV epidemic orphaning millions of African children, how to feed China & India, and the Red Sox's desperate need for a dependable relief pitcher.
And if you believe in God, if you believe that sexuality is a divine gift, I suggest that you simply have sex in a godly fashion. Following the rules of religion is no guarantee that your sex will be godly (ask the battered wives who have monogamous intercourse); just as importantly, many people who break those rules have sex at which God would smile.
Christmas is a good time to remember that when it comes to sex, religion and spirituality, religion and godliness, religion and "love thy neighbor," are two different things.
Two states show just how far legislators and police will go to use categories like "sex offender" and "obscene" to ruin someone's life. Of course, throw in "protecting the children" for maximum effect.
James Smith--a minor--forced, through physical threats, another minor X to ride with him to collect a drug debt from X's friend. There is no allegation that the coercion involved anything sexual. Smith was arrested and convicted. But despite the fact that no sexual activity took place, Smith must now register as a sex offender because he committed a crime "comparable to a sex offense" ("false imprisonment of a minor"). The state supreme court recently upheld the sentence.
That's right, in Wisconsin the sex offender registry is used to punish non-sex offenders.
Imagine if a state allowed you to be punished as a drunk driver not because you had driven drunk, but because you had committed a "comparable" crime (say, auto theft). Imagine if you could be punished as a murderer even if the state admitted you hadn't murdered anyone.
Why bother with the sex offender registry? Just cut off a criminal's hands, or cut out his tongue. It makes exactly as much sense, and it's exactly as civilized.
This is another case showing how the sex offender registry is not about protecting the public--it's about maintaining the social consensus of fear and anger about sexuality. And it shows how law enforcement is invested in keeping the registry as dark, mysterious, scary, and large as possible. "Sex offender" is no longer a description of behavior. It's a demonization, a label that someone is no longer human. And it's a convenient way to prove that sex is dangerous.
In Florida, it's a felony--"obscene"--to depict a minor engaged in any act or conduct that is harmful to minors.
"Depict." That means words or drawings. In Florida, just using words can be considered "obscene," which can send you to jail.
And that's where Colorado resident Philip Greaves now sits. Because a Florida county sheriff ordered a self-published book from Greaves ("The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover's Code of Conduct") and then ordered him extradited to stand trial. The publicity-hungry sheriff says "there's a limit" to what people should be allowed to say. And, of course, that children must be protected at all costs.
Notice that Greaves is not being prosecuted for having sex with children. No one is accusing him of watching or recording actual adult-child sex. No, he's "depicting" it in two stories. The government is telling him what he can't say.
Isn't there a law somewhere that guarantees our right to say stuff, no matter how stupid or evil?
Notice that the sheriff isn't demanding that Adolph Hitler's book Mein Kampf be removed from Amazon.com. It advocates mass murder--but it isn't about sex.
If the Florida legislature wants to criminalize depictions of minors engaged in activity that's harmful to minors, do they plan to go after the rulebook for high school football?
The related topics of monogamy, affairs, and infidelity account for a large percentage of every sex therapist's caseload.
One common assumption--of both therapists and media alike--is that people are either behaving monogamously or not, and if they're not, they're being "unfaithful," and the details aren't especially relevant. That's terribly disrespectful to sex; when people discuss other kinds of behavior, they gladly use lots of categories. Think, for example, of situations in which a person or couple:
• Doesn't have children;
• Doesn't have a job;
• travels abroad;
• loses weight;
• manages joint finances
In all of these situations, we accept that different people get there in different ways, experience it differently, and understand or explain it differently.
To help remedy this incomplete vision of non-monogamy, there's a wonderful full-page diagram that illustrates its many, many different varieties. With credit to Franklin Veaux at www.xeromag.com, it's here.
While we're on the subject, here's an article on what Dr. Ken Haslam calls American society's "compulsory monogamy." It's good reading for therapists, sex educators, and for civilians trying to understand their own choices, and society's resistance to what non-monogamy's practitioners consider private behavior--but that society doesn't.
Ken, by the way, (who calls himself a "polyamorous geezer") is one of the country's experts on non-monogamy; his papers have just been collected and archived by the Kinsey Institute. Ken's the one who says 'Nature loves diversity, society hates it.'
Finally, a reminder about the Big Picture. Most Americans are not strictly monogamous:
* Almost everyone has at least one partner before marriage;
* Most people do not marry the first person they have sex with;
* Most married people masturbate, often without their partner's knowledge;
* Depending on your statistics, in up to half of all couples, one or both partners has some sexual experience outside the couple;
* There are apparently at least a million couples who "swing" or participate in a non-monogamous lifestyle;
* Of course, half of married couples divorce, and three-quarters of divorced people remarry.
* And people in long-term, cohabiting non-married couples behave similarly to their married cousins regarding the above behaviors.
Let's remember that "monogamy"--life-long sexual exclusivity, with the expectation of continued, enjoyable sexual intimacy through middle- and old-age--is a relatively recent, very radical social experiment. The data on how it's going? Mmm, not so well. Oddly enough, it's still the gold standard of sexual relating for most people and clinical professionals, even though it's actually pretty unusual--and no one seems to have a dependable formula for how to create and enjoy it.
My friend Dr. Ellyn Bader is offering a wonderful training opportunity for psychotherapists across the U.S. & internationally. The subject is "The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy: Integrating Attachment, Differentiation, and Neuroscience."
I especially recommend this training for therapists who want to work more effectively with high-conflict couples--you know, the couples who yell at each other right in the office as if we're not there, the couples who look as if they can't possibly reconcile--but don't really want to separate.
The course takes place every month in your home (you receive written material twice each month) and via monthly conference calls. It's less than $100 a month, and it's 100% guaranteed that you'll love it, or you get a refund.
Ellyn has been a psychologist for over 25 years. She and her husband, Dr. Peter Pearson, founded The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, CA in 1984. They're terrific people, in a terrific couple.
For more information, just click here.