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Response to Eugene's Post on Gay "Conversion":
I have a number of difficulties with Eugene's post on whether gays and lesbians are trying to "convert" people to homosexual behavior, but let me press on just one: If the question is what a person or group of persons is subjectively trying to do, then I don't see the relevance of what the person or group should want to do, might want to do, or what the likely effect of the group's action might be. If I understand Eugene's post correctly, his claim is the former but the arguments are about the latter.

   Specifically, if the claim is that "gays and lesbians are trying to convert others to homosexual behavior," then we need some kind of evidence of individual people or groups subjectively trying to bring about a sexual "conversion." It may be true that destigmatizing homosexuality has the effect of making someone on the fence more likely to engage in homosexual conduct. But even if that is right, I don't see how it is relevant to the question of whether gays and lesbians are "trying" to do something, much less specifically trying to "convert" someone to homosexuality .

  If I read his post correctly, Eugene tries to work around this problem by speculating about motive. If there is a clear link between stigma and conduct, he reasons, then it's likely that some of the activists who claim to be focused on the former are really trying to influence the latter. But this is mere speculation of intent, not proof of it. Plus, it seems rather far-fetched to me. Most people who encounter social disapproval for their conduct are probably more concerned about ending that stigma than about getting other people to be more like them.

  Anyway, that's my sense of things. As always, civil and respectful comments only.
Humble Law Student:
Orin wrote,

Most people who encounter social disapproval for their conduct are probably more concerned about ending that stigma than about getting other people to be more like them.


But isn't that a related point in support of Eugene? By getting others to be more like them, those facing the stigma increase their representation, become more "normal", and reduce the stigma attached to their behavior.
8.22.2005 8:36pm
Goober (mail):
Professor K---

Somewhat off-topic, but I recall roughly parallel debates about whether people in favor of abortion rights should be called "pro choice" or "pro abortion"; i.e., there's some dispute about what someone can be said to intend when what they want is for people to have the right to choose something, the thing chosen itself, or only the right to choose the thing. In the context of abortion, one could conclude that the right to abortion would result in more abortions, and therefore "pro abortion" is the proper tag; or one could reason that not abortion itself but merely the right to choose it being at issue, that there's nothing pro-abortion about being pro-choice.

Here, one could argue that encouraging homosexuality and encouraging the right to be a homosexual are separate sides of a single coin, that encouraging tolerance for homosexuality will result in greater practice of homosexuality, and therefore you could phrase either position in terms of the other.

Again, somewhat off-topic, and slightly specious. But just sayin'.
8.22.2005 8:57pm
Jeremy (mail):
The notion that no homosexuals actively work to recruit heterosexuals into homosexual relationships is absolutely ludicrous. As an example, during the Catholic priest sex scandal, it was reported that some Catholic priests plied younger boys (many of whom were of legal age) with homosexual pornography to get them to engage in consensual homosexual sex.

Many heterosexuals have tried to turn homosexuals too. Some of my friends are in that category.
8.22.2005 11:19pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I agree with Volokh that there are many "bisexuals" in the sense of individuals who have *some* degree of attraction to both sexes and I have long argued on my blogs that many who understand themselves as either "gay" or "straight" have *some* degree of attraction to both sexes.

HOWEVER (!) who are the "bisexuals" who have meaningful choices as "fence sitters"? I would submit it's only the Kinsey 3s (those perfectly and evenly attracted to both genders), who are relatively rare (whereas Kinsey 1s,2s,4s,&5s AS A GROUP are WAY more common). If one is fully attracted to one gender but only attracted to the other in a diminished sense, it's impossible, I submit, to make a long-term meaningful relationship with that gender to which one is not fully attracted. The full passion has got to be there to begin with in order to build a life with someone in the longrun.

I don't doubt that "gay American" Jim McGreevey is in some sense a bisexual (somewhere between a 4 and a 5) and was attracted to his wife in *some* way. He couldn't make it work in the long run though. Ditto with Leonard Bernstein, Anthony Perkins, etc. and all of the other gay men who marry women and sire children.
8.22.2005 11:42pm
Lee B (mail):
The tolerance literature seems to walk the line between being an objective claim-on-reality about the group "gays" and being a mission-statement for them.

Consider the statement:
"Christians don't murder."

From a claim-on-reality point of view, this is plainly false. But imagine this was in a speech given by the Pope. Suddenly the meaning is more of the mission-statement variety. It seems inapproriate to call it false in that case.

The reason gays cannot properly be made into generalizations with this same type of ambiguity is that gays are not an organized group. So statements about gays should be presumed to be claims-about-reality.

In trying to create tolerance this myth-expose intentionally walks this line. It employs the word "myth" to make itself sound objective, but then speaks as if it were the leadership of a group.

I imagine it thinks of it's readers as either:

(1) Dumb homophobes who will be happy to read the convenient "fact" that gays don't convert.

or

(2) People who think about gays in a more nuanced way (as a non-missioned group) and recognize that this "fact" is a little to strong to stand up to reality but who will be too polite and sympathetic to point it out.

The authors presume you are either "with 'em or against 'em." They never dreamed academic-types would come across their literature from some oblique, analytic angle and discuss objectivity and subjective intention.
8.23.2005 12:14am
Bill Quick (mail) (www):
Most people who encounter social disapproval for their conduct are probably more concerned about ending that stigma than about getting other people to be more like them.
Of course. Those who think otherwise are espousing a postion that runs something like this:
I am being hit in the head with a hammer. The solution, therefore, is to convince others to permit people to hit them in the head with a hammer.
8.23.2005 12:58am
Shawn:
I would have posted this in the prior thread but the signal to noise ratio had gotten terrible.

My take on the issue is more in line with Orin's. And as I have direct experience here it may have some value.

The current message you hear comming out of the gay community is that we're not "sick" and that whatever causes homosexuality is not something you can change. The current anti-homosexual message you hear comming out of many churches is that homosexuals are sick people that need to be cured. (heavily simplified)

To counter the claims that we are innately homosexual, the churches parade a variety of "ex-gays" around as proof that their conversion therapy works.

Bisexual men who *think* they are gay can be "converted" to heterosexuality. A little social pressure plus some good old-fashioned fear of God and viola! Personally, I'd rather the bisexual start out knowing he was bisexual and staying that way. It muddies the waters less and gives less ammo to the enemy. (Lee B has it right, and generalizing bisexuals is just as bad, but isn't life easier when things are simple?)

Gay men who are in the process of comming out often try to mitigate the disaster they're facing by saying "I'm really just bisexual" which is a last-ditch effort to hang on to their identity as heterosexual and normal. (And here I use "normal" as both "in the norm" and "socially acceptable".) As a gay man I went through this phase. It's the emotional equivalent of hanging onto the edge of the cliff by one hand and trying to convince yourself it'll all be okay. It passes. However, for those that have gone through this and gone beyond, it's tedious to watch, uncomfortable to re-experience, and you know there is almost nothing you can do to comfort them. And often times the outward reaction is disdain. "Oh, get over it!" There is stigma attached to it. (wrongly, I think, but having tried to help someone through it myself, I've sworn off as well.)

In my experience, gay men as a group don't try to "convert" anyone to being gay because bisexuals who think they're gay do political damage and because the comming out process is an emotional nightmare and who in their right mind would want to participate in that (again)?

And as another poster put it, as social acceptence rises, more gay men will live openly.
8.23.2005 11:17am
Katherine:
Yeah, his post is pretty ridiculous. Especially since there's a rather obvious alternative explanation for the subjective motivation of reducing stigma, which is: they would prefer not to be fired, beaten up, denied rights others take for granted, made presumptive criminals, etc. etc. for having sex or having a sexual relationship.

I'm converting to Judaism this year. One of the things I like about Judaism is that it's a non-proselytizing religion. According to Eugene's logic, though, since many Jews actively oppose anti-semitism and want to end any stigma for being Jewish, therefore making it less risky and more acceptable for others to become Jews, well then it's a proseltyzing religion after all. Nuh uh.
8.23.2005 11:28am
Roaring Tiger (mail) (www):
"if the claim is that "gays and lesbians are trying to convert others to homosexual behavior," then we need some kind of evidence of individual people or groups subjectively trying to bring about a sexual "conversion."

What constitutes "acting to convert?" Is it giving people permission to be true to themselves? Is it noting when they aren't true?

Are there gays that might abuse that notion? Sure. Are there straights that do the same to whatever they're sexual flavor is (for example, say S&M, threesomes, etc)? Absolutely. As a lesbian, I've had men who knew I was gay come on to me. Would you consider that an attempt to convert me to heterosexuality or an invitation? Bottom line...Any use of force or cohersion by anyone is wrong.

The conversion issue is laughable and, in reality, there is far more pressure on gays to convert to straights than the other way around. Any attempts are laughable anyway since sexuality is an orientation and not a choice. (And folks, contrary to the famous Ellen coming out episode, gays don't get toasters when they "convert someone.")

Call me crazy, but what is so hard in letting people be who they are?
8.23.2005 11:42am
Greg (www):
This seems to be a classic equivocation. "Gays converting straights to homosexuality" has a specific, negative connotation that does NOT include making a tolerant society.

Loving was not about converting people to date interracially!
8.23.2005 4:09pm