November 03, 2003
Sodomite Like Me?
When I was a kid, I was quite moved by reading John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me -- a true story of a white man who had paid doctors to turn his skin black so he could write about his experiences as a black man in the Jim Crow South. Many questioned the author's sanity, saying things like "Imagine anyone putting himself in such a position!"
I was reminded of Black Like Me by a post over at Right Wing News about a new reality show setting up men to compete for a date with a preoperative transsexual:
Only at the end of the show did they learn the truth - that Miriam was a pre-operative transsexual. The men were said to be "horrified" by the discovery."What neither the post nor the comments discussed in any detail was the (perhaps obvious) reason why the men "would have been humiliated and mocked by their friends & co-workers" in the first place: the clear imputation of homosexuality.
While it is a twisted and vicious prank to play on them, I feel compelled to engage in a little perverse logic here.
Is it worse for heterosexual men to be "humiliated and mocked" for suspicion of homosexuality than it is for homosexuals themselves? If so, why?
I am not trying to be facetious here, but I think it is fair to denounce both forms of prejudice. This is not to advocate sleazy reality shows like this in any way, but I don't see why the anger should be limited solely to the producers of the show. Suppose a Christian man on a reality show were falsely portrayed as a Muslim, and this caused him to be humiliated and mocked by friends and co-workers. It might have been sleazy to make such a false claim, but wouldn't the bigotry be at least as sleazy? What crucial distinction am I missing here?
Let's find something worse. Would I fear being labeled, say, as a lover of bestiality? As a child molester? I think that most people would agree that being accused of the latter is worse than being accused of homosexuality, and I read recently that one of the leading bloggers was falsely accused of precisely that. If people deceive others into thinking you are something you are not, and then they do not accept your denials, well, you should have a right to sue your accuser for damages, but it doesn't say much about your "friends."
The problem with even that example is that child molesting is properly considered something which should be stigmatized, and severely punishable by law. Homosexuality (or whatever you might call falling in love with a preoperative transsexual) is not a crime, and many people argue that it should not be stigmatized.
As to the tortious nature of the conduct, I am not at all sure of the current status of defamation law, and there are public policy considerations underlying what is legally actionable and what is not. If, for example, rumors are spread that a white man is black, he cannot prevail under a defamation theory, because legally, it ought not be defamation to say that someone is black. Or Muslim. Whether the imputation of homosexuality is defamatory these days is open to question, at least in some places.
Should it be?
If the imputation of homosexuality is defamation, then is that not itself an outright admission by the tort system that there is something so dreadful about homosexuality that we will allow you to sue others if they accuse you of it?
Here's one analysis of the subject:
The existence of homosexuality as a cause for defamation lawsuits acts as a sort of barometer of the public perception of gays. So long as it remains a basis for lawsuits, it will be clear that homosexuality is treated in a discriminatory way. When it ceases to be defamatory, as have the accusations of being black or of having been raped, then it will mark an important stage in society's acceptance of gays.Deliberately subjecting people to bigotry and ridicule is a terrible thing to do to them.
That does not excuse the bigotry, though.
posted by Eric on 11.03.03 at 05:29 PM
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