The New Sexual Orientation Blindness: Michael Hannon Says It’s Time To Stop Seeing Individuals As “Heterosexual” Or “Homosexual”

In the latest volley between right and left over gay equality and civil rights, watch for this idea to catch fire among religious conservatives: sexual orientation blindness. That’s my phrase for the position of Michael Hannon. Writing in the Catholic magazine, First Thingshe proposes that Christians rediscover the idea of sodomy in the Book of Leviticus and flat out refuse to even recognize homosexuality as a concept at all:

The Bible never called homosexuality an abomination. Nor could it have, for as we have seen, Leviticus predates any conception of sexual orientation by a couple of millennia at least. What the Scriptures condemn is sodomy, regardless of who commits it or why.

In other words, gay or straight, if you have anal or oral sex–or pull out of a vagina before you cum–whether in marriage or outside marriage–your proper identifier should be abominable or sodomite, as in, Call me abominable and I am a sodomite.

And you can hardly have an equality movement for abominable marriage or sodomite marriage, can you? Here’s Hannon again: 

[I]n our own day homosexuality deserves the abominable label, and heterosexuality does too.

Put a different way, sex is for business (making babies), not pleasure; you should not identify who you are (a human being in the image of God) with your contingent sexual desires, however persistent:

Rather than struggling to articulate how to live as a “homosexual Christian”—or, for that matter, the even more problematic question of how to live as a “heterosexual Christian”—we should be teaching our Christian brethren, especially those in their most formative adolescent years, that these categories are not worth employing.

In other words, straight or gay, there should be no non-procreative or procreative sex outside of marriage, and in marriage there should only be procreative sex. Period. Here’s more Hannon:

Our Christian forebears would be shocked at our complacency with sexual orientation. The only reason that this whole program fails to alarm us as it would them is that we have been systematically indoctrinated into it from childhood, especially the young adults among us. […]

They [heterosexuality and homosexuality] are recent inventions that are utterly foreign to our faith, inadequate for justifying sexual norms, and antithetical to true philosophical anthropology. The time has come for us to eradicate sexual orientation from our worldview as systemically as we can manage—with all due prudence as to complicated particular cases, of course.

Hannon’s position recalls that of many conservative whites on race. After blacks won civil rights in the courts and legislatures, conservative leaders started deploying the concept of “color blindness” in law, not necessarily out of sincerity, but in order to maintain certain patterns of inequality in society. It was all they had left. They took to pretending that race didn’t exist for them at all–and so the old racial patterns could go on existing exactly as they did before, with society making no actual attempts at remedying injustices.

So if Michael Hannon’s proposal gains momentum among conservatives, I think it really does deserve the moniker, “the new sexual orientation blindness.”

But you can’t render a group of people invisible by simply pretending they don’t exist; by becoming blind to them. That’s true of African Americans and it’s true of gay people. And the fact that the priests who wrote the Book of Leviticus 2700 years ago didn’t recognize gay people’s existence doesn’t mean that the rest of us, in the 21st century, shouldn’t.

And science has something to say here. It has been weighing in for years now on correlations between sexual identity and birth order; sexual identity and genetics (via twin studies); and sexual identity and the size of certain brain areas. Converging lines of evidence point to homosexuality having a biological basis. This fact cannot be wished away by selective appeals to the Bible, natural law theology, or postmodern theorizing against essentialism (Hannon deploys all of these against homosexual identity in his article).

Science is telling us that homosexuals are not hallucinating their identity, and so Michael Hannon’s strained proposal for sexual orientation blindness cannot mask reality: contemporary religious conservatives are running out of sensible chess moves against gay and lesbian recognition and rights. Hannon’s article also illustrates that if homosexuals are recognized as a group at all, then, in a democratic society, disregard and discrimination must ultimately stop against them, and they must be tolerated (as one tolerates in the public square people of different races, different religious and political views, and different cultural practices from your own).

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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13 Responses to The New Sexual Orientation Blindness: Michael Hannon Says It’s Time To Stop Seeing Individuals As “Heterosexual” Or “Homosexual”

  1. So again, everyone in the world is being asked to define and limit their lives to words written in a book by men. Great. How would Hannon feel if I told him to start living his life by another book — say the Quran, or, oh hell — why not, the Kama Sutra?

    I don’t think his views make it obvious that discrimination “must ultimately stop” — I think it fuels the fire that discrimination based upon religion is a special to-be-tolerated sort. I find it even more horrifying that the less “thought through” varieties of justification.

  2. keithnoback says:

    Call me Abominable, I Am a Sodomite. Can I get in on the T-shirt sales? I even know which phrase goes on the back. Graphics may be problematic, though.
    Unfortunately, people are quite serious when it comes to technical remediation (for things which prove problematic for them). Many times I’ve heard earnest conservatives (white folk) claim that racism has been legislated away.

  3. Staffan says:

    “And science has something to say here. It has been weighing in for years now on correlations between sexual identity and birth order; sexual identity and genetics (via twin studies); and sexual identity and the size of certain brain areas. Converging lines of evidence point to homosexuality having a biological basis.”

    Current studies have heritabilites around 0.2-0.4. Then you have the problem that concordant twins may be more interested in participating than discordant which would inflate the heritability. So science doesn’t support the born-this-way. More likely, given that at least male homosexuality can be noted at an early age, it is some pathogen – a gay bug, not a gene.

    This also makes sense in view of the fact that the aversion towards homosexuality – which has a higher heritability – is also the strongest in countries with lots of infectious disease, suggesting it is a part of our behavioral immune system.

    Sources:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2292426/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biology_and_sexual_orientation#Twin_studies
    http://www.mygenes.co.nz/whitehead_twinjhs.pdf

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Genetics plays a small role, hormones in the mother’s womb appears to play a role (birth order evidence), and what you mention may also play a role. Put together, orientation has a large biologic component; it has triggers that may work in combination or be sufficient in some people to act singularly upon them. In any case, once one discovers his or her orientation, there doesn’t seem to be many who, later in life, change their mind about it. (I know there are women who call themselves “hasbians.” But I think that’s much rarer in males.)

      • Staffan says:

        Sure, if a pathogen changes your brain and thereby your orientation, then it’s biological in origin and the result of an infection. The same goes for deafness – and some people don’t want to be cured from that either because that’s part of their identity. And I’m not saying we should force them or force gay people in any way.

        It’s a tricky issue. What I’m saying is that we should be open about the facts and what the science is telling us. “Born this way” has a distinctly different ring to it than “born this way due to a pathogen.” If this theory is correct, and there is a lot to suggest that it is, then we could in the future eliminate homosexuality simply by making sure the unborn child and the mother are as healthy as possible.

        I’m not opposed to homosexuality (although I’m opposed to gay adoption) and I’m inclined to suspect that gay people may add something positive to our culture too, but it seems unreasonable to insist that a part of the population be infected to become gay just for the sake of that.

        About “hasbians”, it seems the environmental influence on lesbianism is different than from male homosexuality (more shared environment) which might explain the lesbian skepticism against the “born this way” position.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Female sexuality may be more diffuse and polymorphous in any event. Women, regardless of orientation, may be capable of swinging both ways more comfortably than men (having female lovers at one stage of life; male lovers at another).

        But regardless, your claim that pathogens (or a pathogen) may influence orientation is the first I’ve heard of this, yet (for me) doesn’t change the basic argument. If someone declares themselves homosexual in orientation, biology is at work to a degree that it is sensible to conclude that one is not going to change it. Therefore, make equal room for gay people at the community table.

        If genetics plays a significant role in orientation, or hormones in the womb, it’s possible that heterosexuals a hundred years from now will, in producing designer babies, opt not to have homosexual kids by tinkering with these factors. I would hope that most heterosexuals wouldn’t make such choices, but it’s possible. I suppose it’s also possible that gay couples might decide they want a designer baby that is gay, and tinker in the opposite directions to get that outcome.

        We’re entering over the next century a world where people will have to think through such issues.

  4. Peter Smith says:

    Why is the anal sex practiced by roughly 4% of the population deserving of so much attention when we live in a society permeated by suffering? Society has many issues but the biggest issues with most damaging effects should dominate our attention. As Christians we are bound to extend love, tolerance and forgiveness to all. As a society we should be vigorously addressing the vast social and economic injustices that trap a large segment of our society in poverty and suffering. I know, from personal experience, that the little parish of the Mater Dei, where I worship, does just this, in its own little way.

    It is time that the rest of the world sat up and moved their focus of attention from their groin to the real sufferings of others.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Perhaps part of this has to do with the fact that fixing a law is a lot easier than fixing an intractable problem like systemic poverty. Gay equality and dignity seems doable; if you devote some energy to it, it looks like there will be a payoff. The goal line is clear. It can appear in a newspaper headline as something that gets checked off the “to do” list: “Citing 14th Amendment, Supreme Court overturns anti-gay statutes in all fifty states.”

      Working with the local poor, at a homeless shelter, say, and bringing in canned goods every week, etc. is difficult. It requires imagination to see an end to the difficulty being confronted; it seems bottomless. But you’re right that there are many problems in the world, and that one’s attention to one thing crowds out attention on another.

      • Peter Smith says:

        fixing a law is a lot easier than fixing an intractable problem like systemic poverty
        Yes, that is quite true.

        Working with the local poor, at a homeless shelter, say, and bringing in canned goods every week, etc. is difficult.
        Yes, indeed. It is also discouraging. But every now and then there are moments of pure joy when we can make a real difference. Three weeks ago we managed to raise enough money to send 31 top students to university. These were the best students from our poorest shanty townships. Here is a short video of them them saying thanks.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Well, that’s extremely life affirming and inspiring. I may make a separate post of that video (and with the information you provided). Is that okay with you?

        I, by the way, am friends with a local Catholic priest in Southern California who I think of as a local Gandhi.

        He has lived his life committed to nonviolence, and he lives a very bare bones existence. His mission in life–every nickel above his sustenance goes to this–is to raise tuition funds for very specific college age students he supports in his home country, the Philippines.

        He thinks that raising levels of education in the world is key to reducing global violence, and he focuses on the handful of students he solely and directly supports and corresponds with. He’s doing something, in other words, very like what your church is engaged in. Very good and hopeful stuff.

      • Peter Smith says:

        Is that okay with you?
        Yes, for sure.

        He has lived his life committed to nonviolence, and he lives a very bare bones existence.
        The Church needs to return to this ideal. Pope Francis is making a start.

        He thinks that raising levels of education in the world is key to reducing global violence
        It is the key. The great transformation of the world started with the spread of printing presses.

  5. C. Say says:

    I’m not sure I understand your analogy to racial “color-blindness.” Key to the civil rights movement was that certain things must be color-blind (e.g. seating on buses, acceptance into public schools, water fountains, etc.). It was precisely the fact that blacks were so easily recognized that they could be so horrifically otherized and discriminated against as a class. Additionally, the recognition of biological bases for race gave white supremacists more–not less–reason to discriminate. Blacks could be thought of as subhuman precisely because they could be recognized as different and precisely because this difference could theoretically be chalked up to natural, biological differences. The Civil Rights movement pointed out that these differences pale in comparison to our common humanity, and it is thus our common humanity that should dictate how we ought to be treated. Hannon seems to be making exactly this point. Homosexuals aren’t some separate class of persons to be treated differently than everyone else. Having same-sex attractions is just as silly a reason for discrimination as having a different skin color. If there is a right to marry whomever one chooses, then that right holds regardless of who you are sexually attracted to. Similarly, if sex outside of marriage and reproductive-type acts is immoral, as Hannon holds, then it is immoral for everyone regardless of sexual attractions. People with same-sex attractions should not be singled out as particularly prone to sin anymore than the rest of us.

    To sum up, I’m unsure of how you are drawing a connection from color-blindness and oppressive regimes of discrimination. On the contrary, it seems that oppressive regimes of discrimination are particularly prone to make distinctions based on color. The Jim Crow South was decidedly not color-blind, while equal opportunity college admissions are, at the very least, need-blind.

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