To hear the right wing tell it, gays and lesbians have taken over. They push their political "agenda" -- "forcing" children to learn about it in schools, "forcing" states to sanctify their relationships as legitimate marriages, and "forcing" heterosexuals to see them flaunt their "gay lifestyle" by publicly acting... well, gay.
If the right wing can't beat 'em, maybe I'll join 'em. I think I'll become gay.
You might think that sexual orientation is a bit more intractable than simply making a choice, like deciding whether to wear black shoes or brown shoes with my new suit. (See, if I were gay, I'd have better taste and already know the answer!) But perhaps you'd be wrong.
And like an answer to my prayers, there's presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. As you know, Bachmann's husband, Marcus, operates a Christian-based therapy center, Bachmann and Associates, in Lake Elmo, MN, that does "reparative therapy," enabling homosexual clients to become straight. (By the way, although the center is owned and operated by Marcus, she is listed as an owner; this is the "business" Bachmann points to as her business experience as a 'job creator." The clinic receives both state and federal funds -- $137,000 in Medicaid payments alone since 2005 -- that is, reparative therapy is taxpayer-funded.)
Contrary to that great contemporary gender theorist, Lady Gaga, who argues that gay people are "born this way," the Bachmanns argue that homosexuality is a choice. The wrong choice, to be sure, but a choice nonetheless.
So, in the great debate about the origins of our sexual orientations, Marcus Bachmann utterly denies a biological, genetic, or heritable component in favor of what we in the social science biz call "social constructionism" -- that "gay" and "straight" are themselves social inventions, and that sexuality is far more fluid that such fixed categories might suggest. To Bachmann, social constructionism seems to mean that you can become gay because of your experiences, social context, or that you can somehow you learn it in school.
The good citizen of Lake Elmo's World believes, contrary to all medical and psychiatric opinion, that homosexuality is a treatable neurosis. More than that, he argues that gays are "barbarians" who "need to be educated" and "disciplined."
Here's the transcript from his appearance on Point of View a Christian talk radio show.
In an expose in The Nation, a teenager, was sent to the clinic to be cured of his homosexuality. His therapist urged him to pray, pointed to Bible passages that cast homosexuality as an abomination, and offered to "cure" him.
"God has designed our eyes to be attracted to a woman's body... to be attracted to her breasts" one of the Bachmann therapists told John Becker, a member of Truth Wins Out, a gay activist organization, who went undercover for five sessions at the clinic and secretly recorded his sessions. (His therapist also told him to build up his masculinity, and find a straight man to be a sort of Big Brother-like mentor into the world of heterosexuality. Sort of like a wing man.)
Becker's therapist suspected that Becker's homosexuality began when, as a child, he saw a man "with his shirt off." Parents take note: children can become gay if they go to the beach and see men with no shirts. They are that susceptible!
Apparently, the Bachmanns believe that homosexuality is contagious, something like measles, and that even hearing about it in school is likely to turn some kids gay. Sort of like hearing about free pizza at a restaurant will cause some kids to stop by and have a slice.
In 2004, Michele explained exactly how you can catch homosexuality:
You have a teacher talking about his gayness. (The elementary school student) goes home then and says "Mom! What's gayness? We had a teacher talking about this today." The mother says "Well, that's when a man likes other men, and they don't like girls." The boy's eight. He's thinking, "Hmm. I don't like girls. I like boys. Maybe I'm gay." And you think, "Oh, that's, that's way out there. The kid isn't gonna think that." Are you kidding? That happens all the time. You don't think that this is intentional, the message that's being given to these kids? That's child abuse.
So, okay. I figure, if sexuality is that fungible, that flexible, perhaps they can help me go the other way. I'm a neurotic heterosexual -- surely that counts for something! Do you think they could turn me gay?
Maybe a combination of reparative therapy and a visit from the Fab Five would do the trick?
As a social scientist, I'm thrilled to see the hysterical right-wing coming over to the dark side of social constructionism. Our sexualities are infinitely complex, a combination of biological predispositions, social experiences, contexts, and cultural values and assumptions. Sexual desire is reducible neither to biological drives nor rational choice. Yet, like psychiatrists who utterly disavow reparative therapy as both unscientific and immoral, we social scientists are likely to believe that efforts to change one's sexuality are likely to do far more harm than good -- exacerbating feelings of shame about one's feelings and desires.
I remember a bit of graffiti during the early years of gay liberation. Someone wrote "My mother made me a homosexual," obviously parroting the then-Freudian notion that male homosexuality was caused by over-dominant mothers and absent fathers. Underneath, someone else wrote, "If I buy her the wool, will she make me one too."
Maybe Michele Bachmann could teach her to knit.