Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Born That Way

Lindsay Miller, a lesbian who calls herself a queer woman, logged 'Queer by Choice, Not by Chance' over at the Atlantic. The general thrust of her argument is that she is erotically attracted to both men and women, but she chooses women. She likes the equality of a same sex relationship and the fact that there is no male privilege to dismantle when both partners are women. She likes basing her relationship on the abilities and attributes of the two partners, instead of falling into social expectations regarding what's appropriate for men and women.

She rejects the notion that gays are 'born this way' as condescending, the poor dears just can't help themselves, so we should tolerate them because they are incapable of being anything other than what they are. I agree with her. The 'born this way' argument makes not a jot of political sense. People are born with Down's Syndrome, but that doesn't mean they're allowed to join the military. Being born that way is an argument for eugenics: test them in utero and abort the undesirables. That is indeed what is happening to children with Down's Syndrome. If LGBT people are indeed 'born this way', then clearly, we ought to figure out how to test for it so that they too can be aborted. Society will be better off without the burden of their abnormality.

There are activists on behalf of people with Down's Syndrome who are deeply dismayed by the large numbers of parents who are choosing to abort Down's Syndrome babies. This is a complicated moral dilemma that depends on what we define as a 'life worth living' and who gets to decide. I have a son with autism, and although I don't know if he will ever be able to live independently, he's a wonderful young man and his life is definitely worth living, even if it may not be the life I would have chosen for him, had I the power to choose.

Actually, I did have the power to choose. My partner and I (I was married at the time), knew there was a possibility of him being born different, both because of the genetic heritage and because before his mother even knew she was pregnant, she was negligently X-rayed, and we had to go for genetic counseling in order to find out exactly how many rads the less than three week old fetus had received, and what sort of risk that posed to the infant. We discussed the risk, discussed what a 'meaningful life', and chose to carry the pregnancy to term. Our doctor told us most people do not make the choice we made. Faced with the risk of possibility bringing a less than perfect child into the world, they abort.

The risk in our son's case was not great; the amount of rads he had received showed no greater risk than the naturally occurring background risk. Therefore, we believed our baby would be all right, but we knew he might not be. We underwent further testing. We decided that if our child had no capability for independent adulthood, we would abort, but testing was normal. Medicine gave us as much reassurance as it could, and yet, our son was born autistic.

Now that he is a young adult, I know that he might not ever achieve a fully independent adulthood, but I also know now that the ability to become a corporate drone is not the measure of a fulfilling life, a meaningful life, a life worth living. My son loves dogs and cats, and the mutual joy of him and a new dog is definitely worth seeing. He is good and kind to others, funny, and works well within his knowledge. Recently he completed a job training program where he was working in housekeeping. He didn't like it, but he won praise from his supervisor for working well and cheerfully. His supervisor didn't even know he didn't like the work he was doing.

How many wonderful LGBT people might be aborted if indeed we are 'born this way?' I'm guessing most of them. If parents aren't willing to have a child with Down's Syndrome or autism or any of a myriad of other 'defects', if they can't see value to a life that is different from the norm, if they think abortion is the appropriate response to difference, why on earth would they carry a child to term who is at risk of growing up Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender? Whatever other argument you might make, it must be easier to parent a straight child than a gay child.

When my son was young and it was very difficult to be a single parent (we had divorced), an Amish man who was the father of a child with a severe congenital illness said something I have never forgotten, "These are the children that teach us the meaning of love."

A bigoted parent who cannot love a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender child, a parent who perceives their child as defective, damaged, damaging, and unworthy of equality, affection, and dignity, does not know the meaning of love. As parents it is our duty to love unconditionally, and although we have a responsibility to teach our children how to live, we also have a duty to learn the lessons that our children teach us: the lessons of love, laughter, and faith that we are the people God wants us to be.

These are lessons that can be learned by anyone. You don't have to be born with a special gift to have compassion, you don't have to be born with a special intelligence or ability to care about the welfare of a child to want that child to grow up happy and healthy as the person that they are. You don't need to be born a certain way to respect your child's right to become the person they think they ought to be, to choose their own religion, creed, politics, and yes, love.

The First Amendment protects our right to live according to our conscience. Christian demagogues, you were not born that way. You can change your religion if you choose. Although your religion is a choice, the Constitution protects it. You weren't born Republican or Democrat, but the Constitution protects your right to political expression. You weren't born with a creed, but that, too, is protected.

I do think I was born this way, but because I don't believe biology is destiny, I fully believe that I have the right to choose the life my conscience requires me to live. Our Founding Fathers understood the right to conscience as the fundamental motivator to secure the right to freedom of religion, freedom of creed, freedom of politics, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.

Every single one of these freedoms is the right of LGBT people, not because we were born queer, but because we were born human. I choose to believe that God created me and that to hate myself is to hate God's handiwork. I do not belong to an organized religion, but I have a deep and persevering faith in the rightness of God's creation, and that includes me. I choose to assemble with other queer people and I choose to publish articles like this one because I have freedom of the press to promulgate my views, no matter who disagrees with them or dislikes me. I choose to vote Democrat because I believe, that for all their faults, they are the party most likely to do the most good for the most people. I have the right to vote Democrat because even though I was raised Republican (I worked the 1972 and 1976 campaigns as a Republican youth volunteer), the Constitution protects my right to change my mind in matters of conscience; I am not compelled to vote as my parents voted.

So I say to the demagogues: you too have the right to choose. You can choose love, freedom, and dignity for all people, or you can put up with me exercising my Constitutional right to be publicly queer, and to insist upon the goodness and equality of all God's children, whether they were born this way or not.

These are the children that teach us the meaning of love.

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