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."

It just boggles the mind that they created a real live "The Crying Game" and wanted to put it in front of their viewers. Not only was it dangerous for Miriam & the staff who were shooting the show (think back to the guy on the Jenny Jones show who shot a man for having a "gay crush" on him), it's an unbelievably twisted and vicious prank to play on the contestants.

Had that show gone on the air, those men would have been humiliated & mocked by their friends & co-workers. It's not even remotely comparable to something like Joe Schmo where the person involved comes across as likable & walks away with $100,000 and "guest appearances on various TV talk shows".

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.

The question of defamation can also serve as a personal barometer: if you were accused of being gay, how would you react? If you would be outraged, does that suggest that you harbor negative feelings about gays? Perhaps not - sodomy is still a crime in 13 states, and as with Tom Cruise, the accusation could imply adultery. Both are fair reasons to at least be uncomfortable with the claim.

On the other hand, if you aren't gay and really don't care if you are accused of being gay, does that indicate genuine acceptance of homosexuality on your part? Perhaps - or perhaps it indicates ignorance of the social and legal ramifications.

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


That book "Black Like Me" proves that being black is a _choice_ -- therefore a sin! God's Word says: "And this is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." -John 3:19 Therefore, it is a sin to have a dark skin or to marry or lust for someone with a dark skin. Black is the color of night, of Halloween, of Satan. We are not prejudiced or bigoted when we condemn this sin -- and it is anti-Christian bigotry and prejudice to say that we are bigots! We hate the sin, but we love the sinner.
When the Supreme Court struck down our segregation laws in Brown vs. Board of Education, and especially when they legalized interracial marriage, they violated States' Rights. Soon, it will be legal to marry across State lines! Imagine a young man from Nebraska marrying a young woman from Nevada -- soon, he will start gambling! Sin! Sin! I can't find the commandment "thou shalt not gamble" or "thou shalt not wager thy wages" anywhere in the Bible, but I know it must be in there somewhere because Protestant preachers keep preaching that it's a sin, just like drinking is (can't find the commandment against that either), and everybody knows that we Protestants go by Scripture as their sole authority, unlike those Papists. Just ask Jack T. Chick.
Speaking of the One and Only Christian Apostolic Church of the Infallible Vicar of Our Lord in Rome, as a priest I must remind you that you are committing a heresy if you argue that marriage or sexual relations are moral, acceptable, or should be legal if they are between consenting adults. This is an evil doctrine. They must not be consenting and they must not be adults. There is no salvation outside the Church. Stop reading those filthy Chick tracts and pornography and instead read Father Furniss's holy descriptions of boys and girls burning forever in the fires of Hell. It is evil to suggest that Father Furniss was a sadist. He hated sin but loved the sinners.

Steven Malcolm Anderson   ·  November 4, 2003 8:11 AM

I had never heard of Father Furniss, but your post made me curious. The man wrote things like this, for children's books:

A little child is in this red-hot oven. Hear how it screams to come out!
See how it turns and twists itself about in the fire!
It beats its head against the roof of the oven.
It stamps it little feet on the floor.
You can see on the face of the little child what you see on the faces of all in hell - despair, desperate, and horrible.
Then there's this actual tape recording of the sounds of Hell, which you can click to play:

Good children go to Hell too! Read this:

Eric Scheie   ·  November 4, 2003 11:18 AM

On the more anticlimactic subject of defamation, a candidate somewhere a few years back sued his opponent for calling him a "liberal". Which reminds me of the incident I read about taking place in the beginning of the 1950's when a man was arrested for using "fighting words" -- calling his opponents "conservatives".

Steven Malcolm Anderson   ·  November 5, 2003 8:10 AM

All the handwringing over this story hinges on one fallacious (or is that phallacious?) assumption: preop tranny = man.

Not true. Were she a guy, she wouldn't have gone to this much trouble to identify with, and ultimately to remold herself to resemble, the girls; we're not dealing with a mere crossdresser here.

CGHill   ·  November 8, 2003 7:22 AM

Quite true, Chaz, but popular prejudices are not logical, and the people who think this way are not thinking. They would be unable to distinguish between a preop, a post op, a heterosexual cross dresser, or a gay drag queen. (In fact, most people don't know the difference between "transvestite" and "transsexual.")

Eric Scheie   ·  November 8, 2003 8:17 AM

There was some discussion of this on Usenet, and after chasing down some photos, it seems to me that the young lady in question is actually better-looking than the picture in the Sun indicates - to the extent that she might be really difficult to resist, regardless of her, um, hardware configuration.

And I think of the poor fellow stuck in the closet, for whom she might be the best of all possible beards, at least for a while.

CGHill   ·  November 8, 2003 7:12 PM

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