"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan
Q: Which lead to this boring question, but fans always want to know. Aiden, please discuss your sexual orientation. Are you in a relationship?
Aiden: I’m sorry if I disappoint anyone, but I’m straight. I have heard people in my hometown talk crap about me, saying things like there’s no way he can be straight and enjoy the sex. I like getting my G spot hit, but I save it for my fans here on the site. I was in a relationship, but it’s really hard to find someone that accepts me for doing porn.
Interview with gay porn star Aiden of Corbin Fisher (Warning: The link for the interview contains extremely explicit graphic material and nudity. Source.)
Who Owns the Label?
Admittedly, I haven’t really been paying very close attention to the recent controversy over the Health Promotion Board’s update on the section on homosexuality. There was a petition for its removal I understand, and then a counter petition to ignore the first petition and restore the old FAQ which contains links to LGBT friendly sites. I’m not quite sure of the actual details and quite frankly, I don’t really care one way or another.
What is however of interest is the contradictory responses to the update whereby some “gays” approve of it and other “gays” don’t. (The scarecrows will be explained in due course) There is a fierce contest between many various conflicting groups to own the “gay” label and to define what it means for all. But the fact of the matter is that “homosexuality”, as a phenomenon, is too ambiguous to be coherently defined and owned by any particular group.
I once posted on this blog a status which I copied from the “Gay SG Confessions” facebook page where a gay person was lamenting how exploitative and materialistic the “gay community” was, accompanied with my own commentary and argument as to why this should hardly be surprising. A person then protested my tarring the whole gay community based on certain general characteristics and stereotypes and that the gay community isn’t like how I argued it to be and that there were many gay persons who defy my characterisation. This was my reply to that argument:
You have cited certain individuals which do not behave in the manner which I describe the “gay community”, that’s fine. But then even as you accuse me of “arbitrarily” defining the gay community, you have taken it upon yourself to define it for them too. What if some gays celebrate the way they exercise the free flow of their desire for sexual experiences, exalting their freedom from oppressive “romantic norms” and declare proudly that their sexual activity and interest is purely Epicurean appreciation of new and exciting sensual experiences and proudly identify themselves as free loving gays? Who are you to say that they are “incorrect”? Who gave you authority over the gay community to define what is “correct” or “incorrect” gay behaviour or attitudes? And to ask a broader question, who is to decide whether these free loving gays “truly” belong to the gay community or are merely a false expression of homosexuality or at least a deviation or degeneration of the same as you seem to suggest? You may deplore this “materialistic” attitude, but there is nothing about the gay community or among those who self-consciously identify themselves as gays which would by definition or implication preclude this attitude. The gay community isn’t like the Catholic Church, there can be priests who may deny certain Catholic doctrines, but there is an authoritative center, i.e. the Vatican, who can pronounce on what Catholic “norm” is and who are the deviants or heretics against the Catholic community, there is no such “Vatican” in the gay community who gets to define what being a proper gay is and I am pretty sure that they haven’t elected you “Pope” of the gay community.
Thus, this wrangling over what “homosexuality” truly is in some coherent and unified sense is a monumental waste of time since no particular group, within or without the “gay community”, gets to define and decide what homosexuality means. (If you can call a contradictory gaggle of individuals united only by a common object of desire a “community”.)
Therefore instead of attempting to give a comprehensive and set definition of “homosexuality” itself, I wish instead to discuss the various particular phenomenon surrounding the concept of “homosexuality” and in so doing, raise some questions and issue with regards the cogency and coherence of this concept. Finally I hope to demonstrate that most of the contemporary conservative Christian response to these set of phenomenon err in the very first step in accepting the very concept of “sexual orientation” to begin with.
Will the Real Gay Please Stand Up?
There are two related phenomenon which renders the concept of “homosexuality” and “homosexual desire” problematic, first is the Gay-for-Pay phenomenon whereby straight porn actors engage in gay sex for pay, and can even seem to enjoy it, and yet still claim to be straight. The second phenomenon, which is of far greater interest for our discussion, is the phenomenon of straight porn made for gay viewers. The most convenient thing about drawing our observation from the pornographic world is that here is a realm which is supposedly the most free and uninhibited satiation of desire, free from political correctness or social policing or convention. But yet it is precisely in such a free environment whereby the actual practice of homosexuality defies the convenient categories and definitions imposed by “respectable” society, “gay” or “straight” or otherwise.
Therefore using this as my background, I shall be rehearsing and simplifying some of my previous arguments and thoughts on these phenomenon.
Suppose we accept the prima facie definition that to possess a homosexual desire/orientation means to be simply “attracted” to a bodily form of their own sex and/or desire a person of their own gender. Suppose now we ask, what does it mean to say that they are “attracted” or that they desire such and such a bodily form or person? Do they just want to admire the beauty of their physique and stare at their bodies? Or intercourse? The answer is however not as obvious as might seem which I shall illustrate with an example.
A friend of mine once said that someone was gay if he wanted to have sex with a person of the same gender, and thus, not just take pleasure or enjoy the image of the person’s physique. Then I ask what does it mean to want to have sex with the person of the same gender, is it to desire to have anal sex, oral sex, or simply masturbate in the presence of another person of the same gender? While understandably grossed out by the question, my friend just answered yes to all of them. Then I asked a further question, if a person masturbated in front of a mirror naked, being aroused by this image of his own body, would that mean a person had a gay “sexual orientation”? To which he then answered yes.
The problem with this answer is that postulates that it is sufficient to be “gay” or to have a “homosexual orientation” just to be aroused by the physique of one’s own gender, to take sexual pleasure in the image of bodily form and physique, but without the actual desire for bodily engagement or “intercourse” with the other person. Thus, in a very strange and odd sense, to be gay just means to take pleasure or appreciate for the bodily form or physique of one’s own gender, to the point of ejaculation.
However, the more interesting question is whether or not one could “consummate” such a desire even in a heterosexual relationship. After all, remember, on this conception, it is not the intercourse which constitutes the gay desire, it is merely the pleasure and appreciation for the bodily form or physique. One could simply consummate one’s pleasure and desire for one’s own bodily form in the opposite sex’s desire and “worship” for his own body.
Let us now turn to the class of gay pornography which consists exclusively of heterosexual sex, but catered for a gay audience. Thus the videos mostly focus upon the guy instead of the girl in these types of pornography and are recorded for the pleasure of gay audiences. But herein is the curious thing, according to my friend definition, if being gay means to want or desire to have sexual intercourse with a person of one’s own gender and/or to take sexual pleasure in it, then technically, there can be no such pornography. That is, technically it is impossible for there to be “Straight Guys for Gay Eyes” because by definition no gay will ever want to watch a guy have straight sex. But that there does exists such porn would force this either-or:
(1) Having a “gay” sexual orientation is compatible with desiring, appreciating and even taking pleasure in a straight sexual intercourse and relationship. Therefore “sexual orientation” merely defines the bodily form which one appreciates or takes pleasure in, but does not by itself define the sort of sexual relationship one desires.
(2) Homosexuality by definition must be restricted and confined to those who desire gay relationships and gay intercourse, not merely take sexual pleasure or appreciation for the bodily form or physique of one’s own sex. Thus, there cannot possibly be such a thing as gays who want to watch guys have heterosexual sex! Those people are not gay!
I am not interested one way or another in wrangling over the meaning of the word “gay” or “homosexuality”. The point is simply to note that the category and concept of “sexual orientation”, especially in relation to “sexual desire”, is in fact more ambiguous then we think, denoting more of a range of attitudes and mindset rather than a “fixed” course or “desire”, and might actually be more fluid than we imagine it to be. (You can read an extended exposition of these considerations here.)
If the consideration of straight porn for gays demonstrates that “homosexual desires” are much more complicated than we think and are in fact perfectly compatible with desiring heterosexual intercourse and even relations, then the existence of Gay-for-Pay goes a step further and demonstrates that even being able to enjoy gay sexual intercourse and take pleasure in it does not by itself constitute a gay sexual orientation. In the former case, you can be “gay” and yet still like heterosexual sex and relationships, in the former you can like homosexual sex and still be “straight”.
Sexual Orientation as a Unified Concept
I think these particular considerations goes to show that the concept of “sexual orientation” is highly ambiguous and which we might suspect is largely an arbitrary construct. It is important for me to emphasise that I do not deny that people do experience “homosexual desires” and do take pleasure in gay sex. But these, as I trust has been sufficiently demonstrated, do not go far enough to constitute “being gay” as a “sexual orientation”. I believe the reason is not far to seek. “Sexual Orientation” or being “gay” (not just possessing homosexual desires or taking pleasure in homosexual sex) is actually a concept which clumsily glues a couple of vaguely related phenomenon together. As I’ve noted in another post raising the question of the construct of “sexual orientation”:
We have to remember that even in classical cultures, where homosexuality and pederasty were openly practised, did not box up sexual behaviour and desire or “love” into our convenient and narrow categories of “sexual orientation”. The famous “gay” lovers of classical Greek literature, Achilles and Patroclus, no matter how intense was their bond and love for each other, still sleep with their concubines in the privacy of their own huts. In Plato’s Symposium which contains a praise and explanation of homosexual love, still did not think that such love required expression or fulfilment in marriage, but in fact spoke of how such “gays” would still enter into a customary heterosexual marriage, etc. The idea that sexual behaviour, sexual desire/experience, and social/public union in marriage, is somehow all miraculously tied together and governed by a “sexual orientation” as a whole package, and which determines rigidly one entire sexual and romantic life as a totality, would be pretty much a modern invention. (For a further discussion on the nature of intense “love” between man and how the demise of male frienship leads to our current concepts of homosexuality, you can read this classical scholar’s post. For a discussion on unashamed male physical intimacy and friendships in the past which we today consider to be “gay”, along with photos, you can see here and here).
Therefore there is a constellation of various phenomenon related to “homosexuality”, e.g. experiencing sexual pleasure with the bodily form of one’s own sex, experiencing and desiring sexual intercourse with one’s own sex, pleasure in the homosexual intercourse itself, and romantic and substantive relationship, etc. The problem therefore is that they are not all “joined together” nor do they all come as a whole package. To possess one is not necessarily the same as possessing the others, and it is merely the illusion of the concept of “sexual orientation” which makes them all equivalent or entailed by one another.
Conclusion: The Christian Mistake in Concretising “Sexual Orientation”
Given the great ambiguities which accompanies the notion of “sexual orientation”, it is strange how quickly the Roman Church has capitulated in simply accept prima facie the conclusion that this phenomenon constitutes an absolute unity. They, rightly, are agnostic about its “psychological genesis”, but are oddly confident that there is something sufficient coherent for it to even have a genesis in the first place. So confident are they that this phenomenon constitutes an essential unity that the Roman Church outright instructs, or condemns, those who have so identified themselves with this vague phenomenon to a life of singleness and celibacy as we can see here:
Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained…
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial…
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
What is remarkable however is that this pastoral instruction has no precedent whatsoever in either Scripture or even tradition. St Paul commands those who experience sexual passion to marry rather than burn. Nowhere in the Scriptures or in the Church Fathers are those with “homosexual inclinations” (whatever that even means) to remain celibate and be condemned to singleness. But as a friend of mine told me what a Lutheran pastor has said with regards to this
you can be gay as long as you are celibate. This is the first step on the path to where the ELCA [a liberal Lutheran denomination] is today. It begins with distinguishing homosexual feelings from acts (Again try doing that with heterosexual lust and adultery; Jesus says you can’t in Matthew 5:28.). Step two is accepting celibate homosexuality. Step three is to accept homosexual acts. The reasoning that leads to this is as follows. We deny celibacy is a command from God in regard to heterosexuals, so how can say it is in the case of homosexuals? This in turn leads to the necessity of Step Four the acceptance of gay marriage. That’s the only acceptable way for homosexuals not to have to live a life of enforced celibacy.
Thus this extremely odd pastoral instruction, which completely arbitrarily instructs heterosexual burning with passion to marry while forbidding homosexuals from the same, cannot help but appear to be hypocritical, inconsistent, but most importantly, grounded neither in Scripture or the tradition of the Church. By accepting the very terms of the discussion and the very premise of “sexual orientation” which determines the entirety of one’s sexual life from pleasure to desire to intercourse to relationship, one has already lost the debate and no amount of distinction between “orientations” and “actions” will save one’s position. It is simply astounding how entrenched the idea of the unity of the phenomenon of “sexual orientation” is in the minds of even the most conservative of Christians. The minute they hear, “homosexual orientation”, the immediate inference is, therefore can only want/enjoy gay sex and have gay relationship and should therefore deny these and cannot engage in any other form of sexual life.
But contrary to most “conservative” response which is to “change” orientations, I’m not saying that we must change someone’s “sexual orientation” before they can marry. First, this assumes that “sexual orientation” is a unified phenomenon which rigidly determines a single course or direction which course we “have to change”, an assumption I have demonstrated to be groundless. Secondly, I think that it assumes a likewise absurdly idealistic conception of one’s inner life, to need to get one’s inner life perfectly in a row before we get them to marry. We don’t after all expect straight people to never lust after anyone else but their spouses before asking them to marry. I don’t see why should gays be treated any differently and why it is necessary for them to eliminate completely every “homosexual experience” they feel before asking them to enter into a heterosexual marriage. For more on Christian engagement with the homosexual experience, see here.)
Naturally there are very legitimate questions as to how those who possess homosexual experiences be able to enter into a heterosexual marriage and why are the reasons for doing so. But this is another topic upon which I have already discussed here.