Friday, March 15, 2013

What Makes a Homosexual Gay?

This post is meant to discuss a couple things. One is tied to the other. First of all, the post will briefly discuss the question of homosexuality's origin. That is, the "why are people gay?" question. It won't answer this question necessarily; it will just discuss it. From there, I will make the, perhaps more controversial, argument that homosexuality is a complex condition that carries with it certain traits that are unrelated to sexual attraction: some beneficial, some innocuous, and some harmful. I am certain that this argument (at least the tail end of it) is going to annoy some people. I will make some broad claims like "homosexuals usually have these traits in common" or "women usually have these traits in common," which are surely taboo. I also know there will be response like, "well, my cousin is gay, and he really likes football, so your theory doesn't work!" Etc. etc. I'll try to allay these concerns as best I can by noting that one, I am not making a hard-and-fast argument here; I am simply bringing up an issue and discussing it, two, I am well aware of the exceptions, and three, I am speaking solely from my personal (and perhaps specialized) experience. With that out of the way, onward.

First of all, it does not matter, morally speaking, why a particular person might be attracted to members of the same sex. I have discussed this at length at other places on the blog. Connected to this, though, I want to make it clear that I am not invested in any particular theory as to where homosexuality comes from. Now, there are a lot of reasons why I'd love to know, but if what I say here ultimately ends up being wrong, it would not break my heart and would have no bearing whatsoever on whether I engage in homosexual activity. If it were something that could be treated (because it is mostly biological or because it is mostly psychological or because it is mostly something else) I would change my behavior with respect to that (the post following this one will discuss how I feel about treating or "curing" homosexuality), but what I would do with my genitalia wouldn't change.

In a lot of ways, I think the question "why are people gay" often gets in the way of serious discussions about sexuality. It's, perhaps, a natural extension of the modern world's obsession with efficient cause. So many conversations I have about sexuality devolve into "born this way" stuff. But I get it. It's sort of the modern mystery. And I think it is so popular and mysterious because, deep down, homosexuality really confuses people. People think (even gay people when they're being a little more thoughtful driving alone in their cars on the highway), "Why would a man want to have sex with another man? How weird." It's sort of intuitively very strange, so there has to be some equally strange reason why it's there. (That they ask these questions is sort of irrelevant to them; in fact, many homosexuals will rightly agree that homosexuality is sort of strange, but nevertheless say that it's not wrong.) Furthermore, any person of sexual age knows that sexuality, sexual identity, and just the desire to find sexual release are a significant part of a human being, so there must be an equally important meaning behind it. It's not just (assuming eye color were a mystery) "Why do people have blue eyes!" In other words, it really matters because sex really matters. To all people. And that's just the way it is.

Anyway, on to the point. I've mentioned a few times that I have a feeling that an individual becomes (or at least acquires the things necessary to become) a homosexual (in the sense of having the stuff that makes a person gay) at the fetal development stage. This theory is relatively popular, but that's not necessarily why I (sort of) subscribe to it. First of all, I am often unconvinced by psychological theories. I used to be more sympathetic to them, but I think that's because I was more convinced by something like a soul-body split, where your body is just this sort of dead weight on your soul, which is what becomes infected by some sort of wrong or some sort of sin. Now I think that what likely happens is that during fetal development, the child's brain develops more like a member of the opposite sex. As a result of having a brain develop like a member of the opposite sex, the person becomes attracted to members of the same sex. Second of all, and this is sort of the point of this post, the reason I think it is actually physically related to the brain is because homosexuals act (or even think) in ways similar to members of the opposite sex. Further, it is my argument that this inability to act in a way similar to one's own sex counts as a sort of natural defect.

This immediately needs to be qualified, as anyone will say, at least for argument's sake, "what does it mean to act and think like a girl, and what's wrong, even assuming it exists, with a boy acting like a girl!" while feigning offense. I am well aware of the fact that the idea of traditional gender roles (even sometimes within the natural law traditional) are considered taboo. Most people will say that they are really, ultimately, social constructs and point to the fact that there are differences in other cultures, etc. But I find most arguments about social constructs often specious. They don't answer the real question: why these roles and not others? When the response is, "well, because environmental forces caused these gender roles to surface!" it misses the point completely. Why those genders and not other gender roles when those environmental forces exist? The answer should be obvious. Because there is something about masculinity that exists in men and femininity that exists in women, both of which come out when the human beings are put in situations where they need such things. If masculinity did not exist in men and femininity in women, it wouldn't present itself in any circumstance, and the individual humans would likely have trouble flourishing as the things they are. (I'm sure you could make an interesting argument that this pure relativism argument is sort of like looking at things in a materialist, obsessed-with-efficient-cause way. That is, saying "this happens because this acted on it" is not answering the question "why this and not this though?" But I digress.)

Put simply, I think there are something like male virtues and something like female virtues that allow human beings of the respective sexes to flourish. In a similar (but more complex) way that lions need strong claws to flourish in their natural environment, men need masculinity and women need femininity to flourish in their natural environment (as social, rational animals who create societies, rear their young, have families, etc.). I think this intuitively is what most people think anyway. Even in gay couples, the two usually take on traditional gender roles in order to raise children or to just get along in life. Human beings can't escape these roles. The more they try to escape them (women wearing pants and being construction workers or whatever) the more they make those roles more real. What is a woman seeking when she throws away her dresses? There's something real, some way of existing, that she is aiming at.

Now, the reason gender roles are so tricky, I think, is because masculinity and femininity as virtues are relative in a certain way. That is, there's no clear rule that men should wear trousers and women dresses. In fact, there could be societies where it's the opposite. But, if it's a healthy society, the men are wearing what they're wearing for masculine reasons (protection of the family, a show of strength, whatever). This surface-level cultural relativism is what makes people throw their hands in the air and act like there is no such thing as masculinity and femininity, but to do so would be as ridiculous as saying that virtues don't exist or don't matter because they manifest in different ways in different cultures. But courage, like masculinity and femininity, is always a good, and it is always needed for the flourishing of the individual, however it might manifest itself. In a post-divine command society, though, the idea of saying that the virtue is objective and the manifestation is relative is just ludicrous. People want clear, exact rules. "What should I do?" instead of "What kind of character trait should I have?" What I'm adding to "What kind of character trait should I have" is "Assuming there are core cardinal virtues all human beings should have, what kind of traits should I have as a man or as a woman?"

So, what's this got to do with gay people? If it's not obvious, the argument I'm making is that there is something about homosexuals that is more broken than just their being attracted to members of the same sex. Their being attracted is at the core of the issue, but it's not everything. Homosexual males especially seem to have a deficiency when it comes to the masculine virtues. Or, the virtue of masculinity (if it can be called as such). And this makes perfect sense, I think. If their brains have developed like women, they are going to struggle being masculine. It is going to feel forced and difficult for them. I experience this every day, and I know, very well, that other gay men feel the exact same way. What do I mean? This is difficult to explain, and a fellow gay Catholic, Steve Gershom, over at his blog has done a better job at explaining this than I ever will. He writes, much better than I do, what it's like, and I encourage you to read through all his posts. When I read them for the first time, I realized I was exactly like him. This really weirded me out to be honest, but eventually it gave me relief in a certain way. He emphasizes the fact that he always has to force himself to be a man. He has to force himself to say yes to a card game with the guys, that he has to force himself into doing what men like to do, when in reality, he is absolutely terrified of such interactions with "real men." I thought I was the only one that was like this. This one story in particular really got to me. I'll paste it here for easy reference:
I’m making Friday night plans with my brother Caleb. He’s saying we could stay in and watch a movie, or go out and get some drinks. “Or,” he says, “if you want to — and if you don’t want to, that’s fine — some of the guys are getting together to play basketball. We could do that.” 
Do I like basketball? I’m not sure. It’s hard to tell whether you like something when the thought of it makes your stomach twist into knots. Some people would say that makes it easy to tell, right? But I make things complicated. Maybe, I think, it’s like someone who is allergic to peanuts, but actually loves peanuts, only he doesn’t realize it because every time he eats them, they make him wish he was dead. Maybe if I just eat enough peanuts, I’ll teach myself not to be allergic to them. 
But maybe tonight, dealing with panic is a little bit much, so I say, Let’s stay in. I hang up; but I start to think about it, and think about it, and think and think andthinkandthink until I call Caleb back on my way home from work. 
“Hey, so, um. I’m thinking, yeah, let’s go ahead and play basketball instead.” I’m trying not to hyperventilate. 
“…Really?” 
“Yeah, I want to,” I lie. 
“Because, you know, I really don’t care. I really don’t.” He doesn’t. 
“No,” I say, taking a deep breath. “I mean, I should. I’m a little terrified. But I want to because I’m a little terrified.” 
Caleb pauses, triangulating my neuroses. “You know,” he says, “you’re going to have plenty of chances in life to be terrified. You don’t really have to look for them.” 
“Hm,” I say. 
“So, Let’s stay in.” 
“Um,” I say. “Okay.” 
“You can eat here. We’re having enchiladas. Unless,” he says, “you’re terrified of enchiladas.”
I think this story absolutely represents what it's like for many gay men. Now, I think Steve has it a bit worse than most gay men (I think he has other difficult problems), but the general inability to be a man as most men are rings absolutely true for me and most other homosexuals I know. We hide it, but it's there. I, to this day, am terrified of most traditionally masculine things. And it's not just that I hype myself up into being scared of them. They just tie me up; I get so embarrassed that everyone can see how pathetically not-a-man I really am. Doing things like building fences around my brothers makes me so nervous. Even how I walk. Even with things I'm good at. For example, I was very fast in high school. In fact, I was sort of one of the stars of the track and field team. (Assume this song is about me.) Even though I was good at it, I was terrified of it. I never felt like I was part of the team, which was made up of men who liked masculine things. (Please don't read this as me saying that everything young men like or every manifestation of their masculinity is good; I'm simply identifying the place that their desires are coming from.) I didn't like what they liked. In fact, I didn't really care about track. I just faked it. Other runners even looked up to me, a big fake. My biggest fear was being called a girl, which happened, and happens, all the time, no matter my efforts. And this has to be emphasized too. A gay man is not a woman. A gay man rarely wants to be a woman. A gay man, like any man, wants masculine virtues, in one way or another. Usually when they go toward a feminine persona, it's often because they've given up. I absolutely understand the desire of gay men to embrace the idea that there's "nothing wrong with them" as it concerns how they act, how good they are at being men, etc. It's not just about who they want to have sex with. They just feel like complete failures as men, so they compensate by going in the opposite direction, something they are often a lot better at.

And of course there's a spectrum here, and I would never deny it. Some gay guys are pretty masculine, and they really just like sex with men. Some are much further the other way, and they attempt to become completely feminine, to fill a role contrary to what they are: men. And then there are the absolutely enigmas that are bisexuals. All I'm trying to point out is that there's a way that many gay men are that really inhibits their ability to flourish as men. I think, genuinely, that this part of homosexuality is always, always ignored. It's joked about (gay men make the best interior designers!), but it's never really talked about. It's never addressed as an actual problem, a sort of social disability. And it's difficult, even for me, labeling it that. There are certain parts about myself that stem from my condition that are absolutely advantageous to my life. I'm incredibly empathetic, I can read people very well, and I'm sensitive almost to a fault. The popular guys in school (totally unaware of the fact that I was in love with them) used to confide in me because I was so good at listening and giving advice about women. I have no difficulty understanding women. A great deal of the time I think like them, and I am driven by the same things as them. I understand, quite well, the intolerable pain of a meaningless social slight. In other words, I am sometimes able to exhibit and have slight successes with the feminine virtues. Now, they are mostly short-lived and shallow, because I am a man, but they're there. And some things, of course, aren't necessarily a positive or a negative. The fact that I've seen and enjoyed almost every episode of Dawson's Creek, Gilmore Girls, Degrassi (even the old original stuff from the 80's), and countless other television shows that teen girls like hasn't really caused any major problems in my life. At least directly. The fact that I get emotionally attached to fictional characters in general probably has, but nothing out of control.

Now, I don't think there's necessarily a solution to this problem, and people on both sides of this want to make it too simple. For the conservative, it's just about the sexual attraction. "A homosexual is just a man who doesn't want to have sex with women; big deal." But it's not that simple. There's a lot more going on here. For the liberal, it's about identity. "Homosexuality is the whole person; to deny him his sexuality is to deny him his being." But this is too simplistic in a different way. Namely, a homosexual can only be understood in reference to his being a human being, particularly a male or female. This split is what makes conservatives seem cold and out of touch and homosexual liberals seem "obsessed with sex" to the point where "homosexual" is somehow higher on the ladder than "male." But a man is still a man. And he would be healthy and happiest (in the Aristotelian sense) if he possessed masculinity. He would flourish as a man. He wouldn't have to fake it through life. He wouldn't have to adopt roles that run counter to his being.

This issue is very complex, and a lot of it overlaps with theories of the mind. At what point is a man a man if his brain is just like (and doesn't just exhibit some similarities) a woman's? But a lot of those things are above of my pay grade. I'm just trying to point out that homosexuality runs a lot deeper in the person than just his sexual attraction. It is my argument that his brain is disabled in such a serious way that it inhibits his ability to flourish as his sex, which inhibits his ability to flourish a human being in general. In many cases, his having a homosexual brain doesn't matter, it doesn't harm him; it's like having brown eyes instead of blue. In other cases, though, it is positively crippling. And many gay men suffer silently with it. Anyway, the next substantive post will discuss what it would mean to cure these problems and whether I personally would choose such a cure, especially considering the fact that the way I think and feel, even if it is feminine, feels like a pretty significant part of who I am.

26 comments:

  1. Interesting post. I have a few questions.

    First, how do we differentiate between essential masculine traits and culturally relative masculine traits? For example, in America, being a "tough guy" with no emotions is seen as masculine, but this is neither universal nor a particularly Christian vision. If men are supposed to be "manly", then where do we get virtues like humility, which Aristotle counted as a vice? And whence came "blessed are the meek"? Empathy, honest emotion (not emotionalism or false stoicism), patience, meekness and suchlike are the cores of Christian behavior for both men and women. Can these be reconciled into an "essence of masculinity", which we achieve happiness by following?

    Second, don't women engage in camaraderie? If Steve's fear of playing a game of basketball with "the guys" is the result of his femininity, then are women who do such things deficient? Are they merely trying to be men, when they would more properly be engaging in some other activity? If a woman decides to learn martial arts, for example, is she fundamentally acting against her nature qua meekness? And, if it's proper to the essence of masculinity to learn martial arts, then why is Christianity's most fundamental notion that of martyrdom? Isn't martyrdom the ultimate sign of rejecting the worldly power games that define most conceptions of masculinity? Isn't it the most passive--the most "womanly"--of all acts?

    I apologize if any of the above comes off as aggressive. I just want to see if your argument can handle a stress test.

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    1. I think you're reading more into this than is there. That is, I think you're stereotyping or strawmanning a little bit. The same things you say here could be applied to any of the well-accepted virtues. "In America, being courageous means getting into fights when someone insults your girl." It could be just that America (and everywhere) gets the virtues (and masculinity) a little bit wrong. Or, perhaps more accurately, I think in America (and everywhere) we often label a vice a virtue, because the underlying motivation is similar.

      But more directly to your questions. I'm not sure why you're saying "manly," especially in quotes. My guess is that you're carrying certain things into this that I never said. I'm not defending some ridiculous machismo here. There's nothing particularly unmasculine about having humility, at least to a certain point. There is for men in Certain situations (like at war or something), but in general, a little humility will go a long way. Of course, if he's so humble as to be weak, it would be a problem. But this is how any virtue works, always a balance between two extremes.

      Of course women engage in camaraderie. They just rarely engage in it by showing off their physical skill or strength through competition. They usually do it by talking. And usually about people. They bond over similar views about others and how those others interact within the social network. This is how I am more comfortable bonding as well. Competition scares me. It makes me feel weak. I get intimidated by shows of strength. I have to work up a lot of courage to show that I am not weak. As do many women. This is why they tend to avoid them. This is why I tend to avoid them.

      I think a lot of cowardice and weakness is labeled "Christian virtue," and it's a bit frustrating. There is nothing good about being weak, especially to the point of allowing falsehoods to reign true or evil to overrun good. There is nothing un-Christian about being masculine. I don't think there is anything good, for example, about a Christian who practices the virtues in a way so as to lead to some sort of pacifism---something many Christian men do. This is just a misunderstanding of a Christianity, an especially modern one. But more directly, I think a good Christian man is one who practices the masculine virtues, but realizes that he must Also be humble in consideration of God. That is, he has power as a man, but then he chooses Not to exercise that power When It Is Inappropriate because he realizes there is an even Greater power or authority above him. There's nothing in Christianity that says that he shouldn't cultivate the power in himself or rely on that power when necessary in the first place.

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    2. Thanks for responding, Joe. I'll get out of your hair momentarily, but I just wanted to say a few more things.

      A virtue is something that objectively leads to flourishing as a human--we are both agreed here. Now, you say that my comment about mistaken virtues in America could apply to all virtues, but I don't really agree. We can see the debilitating effects of drug or sexual abuse; and we can see the freeing effects of humility and temperance. But, in the cases of specifically masculine and feminine virtues, we lack this obvious boundary. A man who cultivates feminine empathy or meekness will possess something that is objectively good for his nature; and a woman who trains her body with a sport will be disciplined and physically fit, which are both objectively good for human nature. So, the question is: how can a masculine or feminine virtue be sectioned off, when they are objectively desirable traits for both sexes?

      As for humility, Aquinas acknowledges twelve "degrees" of it in the ST:

      The first is to be "humble not only in heart, but also to show it in one's very person, one's eyes fixed on the ground"; the second is "to speak few and sensible words, and not to be loud of voice"; the third is "not to be easily moved, and disposed to laughter"; the fourth is "to maintain silence until one is asked"; the fifth is "to do nothing but to what one is exhorted by the common rule of the monastery"; the sixth is "to believe and acknowledge oneself viler than all"; the seventh is "to think oneself worthless and unprofitable for all purposes"; the eighth is "to confess one's sin"; the ninth is "to embrace patience by obeying under difficult and contrary circumstances"; the tenth is "to subject oneself to a superior"; the eleventh is "not to delight in fulfilling one's own desires"; the twelfth is "to fear God and to be always mindful of everything that God has commanded."

      In this respect, Aquinas follows a very long tradition of thought on the virtues. The question is: can this be reconciled with any account of masculinity being by nature a matter of power, self-assertion and nobility? If anything, masculine virtues seem to be vices in light of this understanding--not advantages to be embraced, but roadblocks to be set aside. Aquinas also says that everyone should subject themselves to all men (ST IIb q161 a3), even political superiors to inferiors.

      As for female camaraderie, you seem to forget the large number of women in sports and other activities. Obviously, they do not often do this out of a competitive machismo (which is a vice, anyway), but out of a sense of community. There is nothing wrong with being intimidated by competitive displays of strength, because any such display that is not inherently directed toward the betterment of your neighbor or the glory of God is pure pride. (Obviously, there is also a line between improving your body and being prideful.)

      Finally, I too am disturbed by equating cowardice and weakness and pacifism with Christianity. But the alternatives to cowardice and weakness and pacifism are not pride and power and aggression. Martyrdom, again, is the ultimate Christian act: it requires incredible strength of will, total humility and the ability to set aside both pacifism and aggression. In this respect, martyrdom is superior even to bravery in war. But, again, martyrdom is also the most passive act possible, in the sense that it lacks all of the self-assertion that is generally tied to masculinity. As such, how can we say that cultivating masculinity is men's road to happiness? If anything, cultivating what are traditionally known as feminine traits--stuff like empathy, patience, obedience and self-denial--is dictated by natural law. If that's the case, then I can't see how there are separate virtues for men and women.

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    3. But, again, martyrdom is also the most passive act possible

      That absolutely does not seem to be the case, especially when considering that martyrdom - at least the relevant kind - is in large part connected to conscious commitment to action. Maximilian Kolbe was not passive.

      If anything, masculine virtues seem to be vices in light of this understanding

      What are, in your view and description, the masculine virtues?

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    4. Crude,

      When I said "passive", I didn't mean that it required no strength of will. I merely meant that it was not self-assertive; that it was total submission to God, in defiance of the temptation to fight evil using evil's own methods. It subverts the ideas of competition, power, pride and nobility that define "great men"--Aristotle's megalopsychos--in favor of absolute humility, fortitude, charity and obedience. These have traditionally been considered womanly traits. As such, I'm having trouble seeing where Christianity can draw the line between masculine and feminine virtues. Joe used the examples of competition and shows of strength as masculine virtues, but these would be considered virtuous only if we were trying to become the megalopsychos. Likewise, he cited empathy as a feminine virtue, but this is something that every Christian is supposed to develop.

      My point here is that Joe is being too hard on himself. There's nothing defective about disliking competition or rejecting what is usually termed "masculinity". I think that, ideally, every man would do the same. Even if masculinity and femininity are essential traits--and they might be--, I don't think virtue ethics can handle being split into two categories. There is simply too much overlap between so-called feminine virtues and the virtues that all people are expected to cultivate. Likewise, the "masculine virtues" (as we conceive them now, and as the pagans conceived them) look a whole lot like manifestations of pride, rather than the radical humility and universal submissiveness that men are called to by Christianity. In all honesty, I think that Joe is ahead of the game in terms of achieving happiness: he doesn't have to overcome masculinity.

      (And I'd never heard of Kolbe, but, after looking up his story, I'm absolutely blown away. Thank you for telling me about him.)

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    5. I merely meant that it was not self-assertive; that it was total submission to God, in defiance of the temptation to fight evil using evil's own methods. It subverts the ideas of competition, power, pride and nobility that define "great men"--Aristotle's megalopsychos--in favor of absolute humility, fortitude, charity and obedience.

      And here I disagree: martyrdom can be and often is self-assertive, and it certainly can be a display of power, competition and nobility. Power by force of will, competition against a dominant foe, and certainly nobility should be evident itself.

      On the flipside, I don't see how martyrdom requires absolute humility or charity. Obedience to God? Certainly. But both this kind of obedience and fortitude have not been 'traditionally considered womanly traits' as far as I've ever seen.

      Joe used the examples of competition and shows of strength as masculine virtues, but these would be considered virtuous only if we were trying to become the megalopsychos.

      Again, I disagree. Part of the problem is that strength and competition can be viewed and pursued in multiple ways, and physical conditioning is intimately tied with mental discipline.

      There is simply too much overlap between so-called feminine virtues and the virtues that all people are expected to cultivate. Likewise, the "masculine virtues" (as we conceive them now, and as the pagans conceived them) look a whole lot like manifestations of pride, rather than the radical humility and universal submissiveness that men are called to by Christianity.

      And (hey, I'm on a roll here I guess) I disagree again. I certainly disagree that masculine virtues are 'manifestations of pride'. But before I comment further here, I'd have to ask again: what are these feminine virtues? What are these masculine virtues? As you see them. The 4 and 4 summary you gave I think is defective, for some of the reasons stated.

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    6. And here I disagree: martyrdom can be and often is self-assertive, and it certainly can be a display of power, competition and nobility. Power by force of will, competition against a dominant foe, and certainly nobility should be evident itself.

      On the flipside, I don't see how martyrdom requires absolute humility or charity.


      If this is really what you believe, then we aren't going to get anywhere by arguing about it. Suffice it to say that I think you're tremendously misled on these points, and that such views have corrosive theological consequences that I don't think you understand.

      Anyway, we've drifted pretty far afield. My point in all of this was to tell Joe that things aren't quite as rough as he seems to think. Masculinity and femininity are, at most, sets of particular strengths and weaknesses that both help and hinder us in our attempts to follow natural law. I do not believe that they can be described as natures with which we must live in accordance: they're just identities that influence the ways in which we seek the (same set of) virtues proper to humanity. Joe's empathy and dislike of competition aren't in any sense disordered, just as a female athlete could not be described as disordered. This is merely difference. Not all difference can be reduced to calculations of order and disorder.

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    7. If this is really what you believe, then we aren't going to get anywhere by arguing about it.

      I disagree, and not just because it's funny to say that right now.

      I asked you about what these masculine and feminine virtues are. Why not ask me questions about power, competition, nobility, force of will, humility and charity? Part of the problem here is I think you have an understanding of these things that is necessarily and incorrectly negative (on what you think are 'masculine' virtues), and necessarily and incorrectly positive on what you think are feminine virtues.

      Not all difference can be reduced to calculations of order and disorder.

      I agree. And I'm still wondering what to think of Joe's take on masculinity/femininity. On the other hand, I can easily see a dislike of competition being a disorder. I especially am skeptical when you say "There's nothing defective about disliking competition or rejecting what is usually termed "masculinity". I think there are some popular ideas of 'masculinity' that are nonsense. But popular ideas aren't all we have to work with.

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    8. Rank, I feel like I either explained myself poorly or you're intentionally missing my point. I never said that meekness (something you are characterizing as definitely feminine for some reason) is bad In All Cases for men to possess. It's clearly not. (Similarly, I Never said that a woman possessing masculine virtues is categorically a bad thing.) I'm simply saying that if a man is so feminine so as to inhibit his ability to Be Masculine, there is something wrong with him.

      This is obviously the case for any another animal in the animal kingdom. If a particular pack of animals relies on a specific type of bonding between the males, and one male is unable to bond in that way because he is more like the females of the species, he would be a Defective example of that particular species of animal. He would create problems both for himself And for the whole pack. Now, in the case of humans it's a lot more complex (and I never denied this), but the principle still holds. And the point of the post, of course, is that this issue Does create problems; it's having a condition that makes it a struggle to develop the appropriate traits necessary to flourish. The individual actor is wholly unhappy, and the relationships he develops are strained. It has even larger effects on society as a whole that I don't want to go into.

      And it bugs me that you brought up girls playing sports. I specifically identified and recognized exceptions to the general rule (and they ARE exceptions; how many girls do you see start pick up football games after Thanksgiving dinner?) But even with exceptions, my point was not that men have to do certain things and women other things without exception, but merely that if a man is UNABLE to do purely masculine things BECAUSE he is so feminine, he would be defective. The same goes for women the other way.

      And incidentally, I find it a little condescending, your implying that these issues I (and many other gay people) have aren't really a problem. Now, you may not have meant anything by it, but these things are a problem. I struggle every day with getting enough courage to be a normal guy. Other guys are skeptical of me. They don't understand me. They can't relate to me, and I can't relate to them. If you honestly don't think this is an objectively problematic thing (even if you aren't willing to call it a "defect" because you appear to think it's Better for men to have more femininity than masculinity, or whatever the reason), then I don't know what to tell you. It is important for human males to bond, for various reasons. It is important for human males to have certain traits that allow them to grow, provide for, and protect their families. I am deficient in Both of those categories. And I am deficient Because of the way I think and feel, which is more often feminine.

      I am aware and honest enough to recognize this. I am aware and honest enough to see that my sensitivity and desire to nest gets in the way of male friendships. We recognize it all the time, the battle of the sexes, that men and women approach things in such different ways as to create conflict. I am not being "hard" on myself. It does not help me, or any other person, to say to them, "Nah, you're fine, don't worry!" when they clearly aren't able to interact and live like other human beings. It's fine to be encouraging, or whatever, and to tell the person that social interactions are only a Part of human life, and that the person has other strengths, etc. But don't make the weakness a strength. It's perverse.

      Furthermore, as I think Crude pointed out, your classification of male virtues as "prideful" is really absurd to me. I don't know if it's because the culture has been so feminized (to the detriment of men and society as a whole) that any strain of masculinity is seen as bad or what, but I wholeheartedly disagree with your classifications here. I think it's even worse to drag Christianity out to do the work.

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    9. If that's how you feel about it, then, like I said to Crude, I don't think arguing about it is going to change anything. I still say that it's incoherent to propose separate virtues for men and women, for a variety of reasons that I've already mentioned. And I didn't mean to insinuate that you hated yourself: I just don't think that you should blame yourself for the difficulties that you experience when trying to connect in a "masculine" way. I would blame the collapse of male humility, the rise of neo-paganism, the cultural pressure to act hyper-masculine--a million things. I would blame the broken conservative notion of what it means to be a man, which owes more to Nietzsche than it does to Christianity. Also, it's a conservative myth that the culture has been feminized. If anything, women (through feminism) have been masculinized, in reaction to the rampant, power-based masculinization that we've seen as the morals of Christianity have fallen out of fashion.

      If you honestly believe that, if it came down to it, you would not be able to protect someone due to your own fear--then, yeah, that's a problem. That's something to worry about and fix. But it's not a character flaw to dislike competition, power games and rivalry. If you have trouble connecting because you dislike these things, then the problem is to be located in the culture itself. It is not unique to gays to be intimidated by male culture: many straight men likewise find it oppressive. Gays, though, can talk about it, since their "straight licenses" have already been revoked. Straight men have to put on an act or be ostracized as nerds, losers or, you guessed it, gays. (You seem to have had ample experience with this phenomenon.) Unless one pretends to be "normal", one doesn't fit in. It wouldn't be that much of a stretch to call this the modern male condition. Is it wrong that these men aren't "masculine"? Well, sure--if you endorse the current conservative idea of what counts as being proper to men, which has nothing to do with natural law or with Christianity.

      Anyway, I'll leave you alone now. I apologize if I came off as condescending, aggressive or something like that--it wasn't my intention. I'm sorry if I offended you. I just think that, in this post, you've blended modern politics and cultural intuitions with natural law in a way that is damaging. I think that it ultimately justifies neo-pagan virtues and gender roles, rather than Christian ones. But I get the feeling that I've already tested your patience enough lately, so I won't push the point any further. Again, I'm sorry if I offended you.

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  2. I'm just trying to point out that homosexuality runs a lot deeper in the person than just his sexual attraction.

    It's interesting to hear you say that. One thing I repeatedly encounter in discussions about gays, etc, is, "A gay man just is sexually attracted to other men, period. Any other 'trait' you have in mind is a stereotype and wrong!" But on the other hand, I still remember that Scott Thompson Kids in the Hall interview where he was responding to people criticizing him for his Buddy Cole persona, and saying 'If you don't believe there are quite a number of gay men like this, you've never been to a gay bar.'

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    1. Actually, reflecting on this for a moment, I can't help but wonder if this problem is actually more difficult in some ways than the sexual questions.

      You seem to be suggesting that it's a mistake to think of 'a gay man' as 'a completely average and otherwise ordinary male who just so happens to prefer men to women sexually, and otherwise is indistinguishable from the average heterosexual male.' Would you say that, in your view, there are tendencies (whatever their ultimate source) in gay men that have nothing to do with sexuality, yet are still 'disordered'?

      Naturally the average heterosexual male has disorders of their own, stemming from various other sources.

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    2. Grr, my response just got deleted. I'll start again. I absolutely think there are tendencies in gay men that have nothing (or little) to do with their sexuality that could still count as disorders. I think it's the most often ignored aspect of homosexuality and sexuality in general. Everyone gets so obsessed with the pipes that people think that they're only things that matter. Conservatives either deny that the condition has much meat to it, and liberals have totally bought into the "We're All Okay!" mindset. Both, I think, are wrong, and the issue (gender, sexuality, everything) is a lot more complex.

      And please don't take this, or this post, the wrong way. I'm sure it could be read as like an example of my "self-hating." I don't hate myself. I think I actually have a much more positive view of myself than the average guy has of himself. I'm simply aware of my faults; I'm aware of the things that get in the way of my being good. And when I work on these things, my life and other people's lives are genuinely (and not just emotionally) better. And I think this is because, or so I argue, sexuality and gender are so important.

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  3. I think part of the disagreement you 3 are having comes from the fact that you're talking about masculinity in isolation, instead of in reference to femininity. For instance, we say that strength is a masculine trait. But compared to what? Certainly not compared to an elephant, gorilla, etc. Men are strong COMPARED TO women. And any similar discussion has to start there.

    So what are the features that distinguish men from women? Their greater size, their greater strength, their self-assertion during sex instead of receiving during sex, etc. There will inevitably be some situations (manual labor, melee combat, etc.) that call upon these traits.

    But these situations are rare in everyday life. What matters more for everyday life is that society builds upon these biological traits and exaggerates them. Why, do you ask?

    First, because of specialization: even if a woman is capable of doing a certain act of difficult manual labor, it's more efficient to let the man do it and for the woman to do something else. This efficient specialization leads to certain tasks being designated as "manly" and others as "womanly" even if either gender can technically perform them.

    Second, because romance/sexual attraction further exaggerates these things. A man is sexually interested in a woman BECAUSE she is a woman, even though of course he also likes her as a person more generally. This sexual attraction leads him to place value in her social features that mentally reinforce her femininity, even those unrelated to sex: long hair, wearing dresses, knowing how to cook, etc. And vice versa, of course.

    Third, and most relevant to this discussion of virtues, specialization is going to cause men to be put in certain situations more often. And certain situations cultivate certain virtues. Because men are better at physical combat, and because physical combat cultivates physical courage, we think of physical courage as a "manly" trait even though women are also occasionally called to manifest it.

    And you can't lose sight of specialization's role in all this. It's not that it's bad for a woman to have physical courage or bad for a man to nurture his children. But if both need to be done and each person must pick a task, it's best to let each gender do what they are biologically suited to do. And since virtues are what make a person MORE FULLY HUMAN, and masculine virtues make a man more fully human in the particular way that he's called to manifest it as a man, I think you could fairly call masculine virtues genuine virtues.

    In summary: masculine virtues, and masculinity more generally, make no sense if you forget about gender specialization. If you insist on thinking about people only as generic persons, and the particular virtues that a particular person might be called to manifest, the idea of masculine virtues will make no sense because we can always think of times when a man might need to be nurturing, a woman might need physical courage, etc.

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    1. I don't mean to continue this argument, but I was just studying JPII's work and I stumbled across a passage relevant to your comment here:

      This is a matter of justice but also of necessity. Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of the serious problems of the future: leisure time, the quality of life, migration, social services, euthanasia, drugs, health care, the ecology, etc. In all these areas a greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable, for it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favours the processes of humanization which mark the 'civilization of love'.

      Any thoughts?

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    2. To me, it sounds like JPII is starting with the same underlying premise I'm starting with in this post, that the sexes each have particular traits that help with human flourishing. It sounds like, basically, he's saying that the traits women have can be used to temper the traits that men have in order to produce a better society. This is, it seems, why he says women should have a "greater presence" in society, not a "complete and total presence." Because their traits are only part of the stuff necessary for human flourishing.

      In the same way that a family is made up of a woman and a man, not a woman and a woman. Because the traits women have are by themselves insufficient for raising healthy children. Something our current Pope has mentioned. Or, to put it within my argument, a family is made up of a woman (who perfects femininity) and a man (who perfects masculinity). A deficiency of these characteristic traits in either parent would count as bad and could prove harmful to the rearing of the child. This is why, as I've argued, homosexuals might be further disordered than just being sexually attracted to the same sex, as they seem to possess traits of the opposite sex in such a way as to inhibit their perfection of their own sex's traits.

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    3. John,

      If you don't think you can compare human male's strength to a gorilla's, you've obviously never seen me do squats. Kidding; I'm actually terrible at working out. But anyway, thank you; your points are well-taken.

      I think a lot of the disagreement is over my use of the phrase "masculine virtues," which I think can be taken a couple of different ways. That is, it could mean something like "the virtues that are masculine." Like, saying that courage is a masculine virtue and charity is a feminine virtue. Or it can be taken to mean something like the virtue(s) of masculinity. That is, masculinity as a trait or a group of traits that are especially good for a man's flourishing. (Defining "masculinity" and "femininity" is an even more difficult task, but yeah.)

      I think Rank doesn't like the first because a virtue like courage is supposed to be good for all people, regardless of sex, so it doesn't make sense to say that men should have x virtues and women should have y virtues. I don't actually disagree with this, and I think part of the conflict lays there, as I think he thinks I mean it this way. I don't really. I mean mostly the second way. And I think the second way is a lot more complex. I might even go as far as to say that masculinity is how a male would exhibit the virtues that are good for all people and femininity is how a woman would exhibit the virtues that are good for all people. That is, men are better at being courageous in some ways, while women are better at being courageous in other ways. Courage is still the virtue; how it manifests is the difference I'm focusing on. Or trying to. I think you pointed this out a little in what you were saying.

      I think there's also disagreement over what sort of traits a good Christian is supposed to exhibit. Rank, I think, is arguing that traits that are traditionally labeled masculine get in the way of being a good Christian. I disagree with this, and I think it's misrepresenting masculinity. And I think Crude does too, but I don't mean to speak for him (or Rank really). But I actually think it's a little beside the point. I also don't like how Rank seems to be disregarding or denying a relevant difference between the sexes while simultaneously implying that feminine traits are more Christian and masculine traits are less Christian. This comes off as a little like having your cake and eating it too. Now, he may deny that he thinks the traits Are actually "feminine" but are really just good traits that are often Called feminine, but I feel like this misses the point or maybe even begs the question in a certain way.

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    4. The whole "traditionally feminine virtues are more Christian than traditionally masculine virtues" thing is pretty common.

      I remember reading this study where they showed a bunch of churchgoers 2 lists of traits and asked them which list was more "Christian." An overwhelming majority picked List #2. The researchers then revealed that the lists were cut-and-pasted from the gender traits lists in "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus." All the people had picked the list of generically feminine traits.

      I think it's more about channeling the drives than eliminating them. For instance, modern Catholicism is pretty peace-oriented, which meshes more naturally with female sensibilities. But you'll also notice that most philosophers/theologians/apologists/evangelists/etc. are men. It's just intellectual confrontation instead of physical confrontation.

      I remember reading this book on raising boys a few months ago, and the author (a secular guy) was talking about how most people misinterpret masculinity. And he gave his definition, which was "masculinity is using your strength in the service of others." I think that's pretty spot-on and quite Christian. It reminds me of Jesus' "Greater love has no man than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."

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    5. On an unrelated note, you should look into lifting weights. There's a lot less pressure than with team sports, progress tends to be quick and measurable, and there are big payoffs in looks/self-confidence. I used to be really skinny when I was younger and lifting weights has helped me a lot.

      I've always found this quote very interesting. Henry Rollins, the writer, talks about "The Iron" as if it were God--truthful, objective, faithful, omniscient, a light in the darkness:

      "The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you're a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds."

      http://www.oldtimestrongman.com/strength-articles/iron-henry-rollins

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    6. I actually intend to do a post on why I don't like working out that much. I'm not too fat or too skinny or super out of shape or anything (I have a pretty traditional runner's body), but, basically, I think a lot of what keeps me from working out more (besides busyness and laziness) is that working out, for me, is often associated with how attractive (and especially "sexy") I look.

      I'm often checking my results in the mirror, etc. (as anyone naturally does), and muscles, especially as a gay person, are associated with sex; and I think to myself, "Who, exactly, am I trying to be sexy for?" This is a bit frustrating, I think, because I use a lot of energy trying to avoid sex stuff in whatever way. But don't worry, I stay in shape. If there's one thing I got, it's ego; it keeps me in shape.

      It's sort of interesting in a certain way, one's own self-image and sexuality. For heterosexuals, your evaluation of your attractiveness (by looking in the mirror shirtless or something) is based on your imagining what the Opposite sex thinks of you. It's opposite or other-oriented. For me, it's not really like that at all. I really see myself as sexually attractive or not, based on my Own sexual interests. I can really ask the question while looking in the mirror: "Is that guy hot?" And really be able to answer it in a sort of sexual way, on a level, I Think, that heterosexuals don't.

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    7. I think you just blew my mind with that whole checking out yourself thing. That's crazy lol.

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    8. Sexuality is a strange thing indeed!

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  4. "What Makes a Homosexual Gay?"

    Politics. The term 'gay' is intended to be all about leftist identity politics.

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  5. "Now I think that what likely happens is that during fetal development, the child's brain develops more like a member of the opposite sex. As a result of having a brain develop like a member of the opposite sex, the person becomes attracted to members of the same sex."

    Actually, science would disagree with you on this point. Male and female traits are determined by the hormonal balance inside the womb. This is what determines sex and sex related traits. In reality there is no distinguishable difference in the brain structure between a homosexual man and a so called "straight" man.

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    1. I think that's what I meant, that the hormonal balance in the womb is a bit off for the homosexual, resulting in a defect in the child. That's all I meant by "fetal development." Further, I'm not sure science has developed enough for someone to say that there is no distinguishable difference in the brain structure between the two groups of people. That is, I wouldn't be surprised if in my lifetime they find some relevant difference, or at least some part of a relevant difference. Now, someone might say, "Scientific inquiry has so far not led to a discovery of a distinguishable difference," which certainly is important, but it's hardly definitive one way or the other. I wouldn't feel comfortable putting all my eggs in either basket. I mean, this is a scientific question we're discussing here, not a philosophical one, so it's not a matter of logical truth, but is merely a matter of possible observation. What that observation might Mean is of course a philosophical question.

      Now, the brain in general is an enormously difficult topic (both scientifically and philosophically); I just mean that I think there is something somewhere (whether it's the brain or something way more complex) in me that makes me get aroused when I see a naked man---something really primordial, something that is also in women. If that thing weren't there, it wouldn't happen. The next post (as soon as I get to it; I have been So Busy) will discuss this a little bit more.

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  6. Hi Joe,

    Thought you might appreciate this:

    http://www.artofmanliness.com/2010/05/16/what-is-manliness/

    Best,
    John

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