Sunday, May 14, 2006

Disaster-bringing [II, 19]

Many cultures have feared deadly danger from “radioactive” persons. These must be cast out or neutralized. Familiar examples are the Prophet Jonah of the Hebrew Bible, who was cast overboard by his shipmates, and Oedipus, King of Thebes, who had to blind himself in order to end the miasma that afflicted his people owing to his incestuous relationship with his mother.

Jonah and Oedipus are individual examples. These aversive projections can extend to entire sections of society. For centuries the Untouchables were despised and feared in India. Even to have the shadow of an Untouchable fall upon one was pollution. In Japan the Eta formed a similar underclass. While discrimination against such groups is now against the law in those countries, the deleterious effects of past treatment persist. Notoriously, the Nazis employed such tactics when they labeled the Jews “our misfortune,” with lethal results.

Sometimes homosexuals have been stigmatized in this manner. The dangers posed by some groups are best avoided by taking preventive measures. It is too risky to tolerate homosexuality, because all may be punished for the misbehavior of a few. Some religionists hold that he Bible offers conclusive documentation of this problem, one not without its contemporary analogues.

In its antihomosexual version, this aversive view goes back to the story of the destruction of the city of Sodom by fire and brimstone, as described in the book of Genesis. A little-known apocryphal work, The Testament of Naphthali (ca.100 BCE) sets forth a veritable cornucopia of unrighteousness, embracing the themes of idolatry, resistance to the divine will, defiance of the cosmic order, and the sin of Sodom. The notion continued to resonate. In a law of 539 CE the Christian emperor Justinian castigated homosexuality as a danger to the body politic. "Because of such crimes famines, earthquakes, and pestilences occur, wherefore we admonish men to abstain from the aforesaid unwonted acts, that they may not lose their souls." By the seventeenth century learned prejudice and folk credulity had combined to aseemble a roster of no fewer than six Sodom-like catastrophes: earthquakes, famine, plague, Saracen incursions, large field mice, and floods. How powerful gay people must have become to be able to unleash such a passel of troubles!

The antigay crusader Anita Bryant seemed almost modest when she blamed a 1976 California drought on the toleration of homosexuals in San Francisco. Had she waited a few years longer, she would have been able to adduce the more traditional earthquakes.

One-time presidential candidate and evangelist Pat Robertson has just divine retribution to account for hurricanes, raising questions about how he would have operated the Department of the Interior and the Federal Emergency Management Association. A few years ago, Robertson claimed that the observance of Gay Day at Disney World in Florida would provoke God to send a hurricane or some other natural disaster. In reality, if there is a divine hand in these matters it is to be seen in the concentration of hurricanes and tornadoes in parts of the United States inhabited by evangelical Christians. Perhaps God is telling them to mend their ways.

During the course of the nineteenth century the notion that homosexuals were degenerates, defective biological specimens, came to the fore. In order to avoid the possibility that they might pass on their “bad genes,” castration was urged-and sometimes carried out.

In the recent past, clinical intervention with homosexuals has been justified by the claim that they are a danger to themselves: their “escapades” are self-damaging or self-destructive.

Gay men have long been regarded as particularly prone to spread sexually transmitted diseases. Statistically there may be some truth in this claim, but were gays to disappear tomorrow, there would still be sexually transmitted diseases.

Fortunately, society has been able to avoid an extreme response to the AIDS/HIV crisis. This more reasonable attitude is seen in the preferred terms. The media stopped speaking of those suffering from AIDS, preferring expressions like “people with AIDS.” (PWA) or “people living with AIDS. Negatives are those not infected, positives are those who are. Sometimes the short form poz is used. Barebacking is unprotected anal sex, which may lead to infection.

The AIDS terrorist is someone who knowingly spreads the disease, expressing his resentment for his condition by spreading it to others. Those who knowingly pass on the disease to others are sometimes ironically termed gift-givers. By contrast, bug-chasers are those who seek to acquire the disease-—surely a form of abjection. They indicate their status, first by a minus (-), before acquiring the condition, transforming this into a plus (+), after they have become infected. This self-destructive tendency was found occasionally in the 1990s and now seems to have ebbed

These matters involve specific diseases. More subtle, but elusive and hard to analyze, is the complaint that the presence of gays erodes social solidarity. It is said that gay men and lesbians may not serve openly in the US military as that would undermine “unit cohesion.” More generally, the notion has surfaced in the current gay marriage debate, where opponents allege that this step would destabilize the institution of marriage.


Post a Comment

<< Home