I would not normally comment on such things, but the recent Irish referendum on instituting same-sex marriage has brought out an ugliness of language that fairly compels any person of conscience to speak out. Indeed, the great irony of our time is that what was once the most liberal of causes has become a locus for the most illiberal of behaviours: Western society’s current obsession with human sexuality has, over the course of a very short period, mutated into a litmus test for social orthodoxy, and in so doing, become a stick by which those who fail the test are beaten.
I do not believe in conspiracies, which is why I detest phrases like ‘gay agenda’, as if homosexual people secretly gather someplace to plot the overthrow of society. As far as I know, the gay people I am privileged to call friends tend to want to get on with their lives, working out their salvation like anyone else while enjoying the same rights and responsibilities, and expecting to be treated with the dignity they deserve simply because they are human beings. In fact, I don’t even feel comfortable talking in terms of ‘they’, because ‘they’ are actually ‘us’, and ‘we’ are merely people.
At the same, and for exactly the same reason, I loathe those ‘Stonewall’ ads I have seen around the UK with the tag line, ‘Some people are gay. Get over it.’ While I agree unreservedly with the sentiment, I cannot help but wonder who it is they are addressing. Is it the ‘homophobes’—that is, those who are, as implied by the word, afraid of homosexuals? Because frankly, while I know they exist (for I have met a few), the word is simply overused, and for the most part, mis-applied. Compared to those who simply don’t feel comfortable, for any number of reasons, with the idea of publicly affirming homosexuality, I think that true homophobes are few and far between. And are not the former group allowed to exist? For if they are not, then the freedom we as a society enjoy – to think and practice what we will short of outright hatred – is being selectively applied; and yet, recalling Neuhaus, where we treat freedom as optional, it will soon become proscribed.
I remember the newspaper stories of my youth reporting on the beatings or deaths of gay men in the district of my city they were known to frequent. This was an appalling fact of life for far too long, and there are simply no grounds on which such despicable brutality can ever be countenanced. Thankfully, however, while such crimes continue to happen, they tend to be met with appropriate common outrage wherever they occur. I think, though, that when words like ‘homophobia’ get bandied about now, rather than being directed toward those who actually fear and hate people whose sexual preference is different to theirs, they are applied to anyone who might so much as raise a question about human behaviour, whether motivated by religion, psychology, or anthropology.
That the situation has changed so radically in the last ten or fifteen years was driven home to me just recently when I passed by the Senedd (the Welsh National Assembly) in Cardiff Bay. There, flying at full mast outside the legislative centre of this ancient country, was the banner of the European Union, the jack of the United Kingdom, the dragon of Wales, and the rainbow of gay pride. And while I know that the latter was raised, ostensibly, in recognition of LGBT history month, that it remained up two months after the fact conveys the impression that the importance of its message far exceeds what anyone is admitting to.
But what, exactly, is its message?
In my adult lifetime, the authentic, good, and just aspirations of gay people to be treated with the dignity they deserve as children of God have been hijacked by some who would have us question what it is to be human itself. Whoever ‘they’ are, they have managed to change in a decade or two a question that philosophers and theologians have wrestled with for millennia. Suddenly, identity has been attached to an incidental: I am no longer a man; I am a heterosexual man (whatever that means). So-and-so is no longer an actor; he is a gay actor. So-and-so is no longer a doctor; she is a lesbian doctor. People have become what they do.
In this confusion of activity with identity, ontology has suffered to such an extent that its substance is now seen as dispensable. That is, our maleness and our femaleness – clearly so much the basis of our very nature – has itself become superfluous. A human being objectively born a man can now, by technological means, subjectively identify as a woman, and expect to be acclaimed as such without challenge or question. Indeed, to desist from calling Bruce Jenner ‘Caitlyn’ is to be ostracised and potentially rejected from polite society. This, in spite of the fact that the best Bruce can ever hope to be is a technologically-determined caricature of woman, as if all womanhood is comprised of is make-up, heels, and a high voice. Feminists should be outraged that the nature for which they have rightly demanded respect can so easily be appropriated by men. At the same time, homosexual men and women should be incensed that their legitimate desire to be recognised as human beings no different to anyone else is now lumped together with the demands of those who would embody the notion that sex is an illusion, and that all it takes to effect change is chemical alteration, surgery, and slight behavioural modification. In light of the proliferation of ideas around gender identity and fluidity, it seems that every liberation movement of the last century has been brought to one, great, incoherent reckoning.
Is it any wonder, then, that in a society gone down the road of applauding as ‘brave’ the decision of one American man to alter his body so that he might be seen as a woman, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Rachel Dolezal should have thought she could get away with reinventing herself as black? Of course not. In a world that equates a group’s sexual preferences with the dreams of a nation by raising the rainbow alongside the dragon; in a world where, for all the suffering being experienced by countless people in the Middle East and in Ukraine, the media turns our attention to a broken man in California who declares he wants to be a woman, and we hail him as a hero, there should be no mystery at all behind such a demonstration of flexible identity. We have been reduced to what we do with our bodies. Whether we tan and curl our hair in a bid to change our race, or whether we wear different clothes and have surgery in a bid to change our sex, it all represents a despair for human identity, and the triumph of technology.
Ireland’s vote in favour of a new definition of marriage is of little consequence in the midst of this brave new world. Humans are losing, the machines are winning, and the cost is true liberality: our very freedom itself.