10 August 2007

"I'm not a scientist."

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-New Mexico) has been receiving a lot of criticism for botching a question from Melissa Etheridge at Thursday's lgbt-themed Democratic forum. I would like to provide my views.

I haven't watched most of the forum. In the "botched" clip, Richardson is clearly exhausted and fumbling --- he later apologized, explaining that he just fly from New Hampshire. But the question seems like a setup, and should not have been included. Because debates and forums are like interviews: you shouldn't ask for a "right" answer or a "wrong" answer, you should ask substantive questions. What happened here was that Etheridge asked a question with only one correct answer, and Richardson, for all his fumbling and exhaustion, provided a substantive answer.

Etheridge asks "Do you think sexuality is a choice or biological." When Richardson answers "it's a choice...", she interrupts him to clarify her question. His answer, more or less: I don't know the science, and regardless of the science, "across the board I've always felt that every human being deserves the same rights."

If Richardson had been better briefed on LGBT issues, he would, of course, have answered with a canned and scripted "blah blah scientists blah biological". Instead, his answer was honest and, more importantly, got to the real heart of the matter.

First of all, a more nuanced answer to the question asked is in order. Then a response to the question she meant.

I choose who I sleep with. Certainly nature doesn't rape me, doesn't force me to sleep with people of a certain gender even though I don't want to. To a broad extent I choose how I behave, and I certainly choose what groups to identify with.

Ah, but what about attractions? Certainly I'm not sexually attracted to everyone of a given gender, and I doubt that you are too. Indeed, I find many people attractive, of multiple genders. And, moreover, given a reasonably attractive person, I can often talk myself into having a crush on them. Can't you? And I bet you have some amount of conscious control over even the behaviors and objects you fetishize.

Now, I'm not saying that everyone gets to choose whether to like pussy or cock. But absolutely folks have some control.

And whether they do or don't shouldn't affect the rights we give to them. Analogies are important:

Skin color shouldn't determine one's access to rights, and other than bleaching and tanning, it's basically biologically determined.

Gender shouldn't either --- indeed, the LGB activists would do well to remember their T friends, who have been working for a long time to convince the public that it's OK for someone to choose to change their biological gender.

Eyesight is also not something we have a lot of choice about. Those of us with poor eyesight can choose whether to wear glasses or not, but the government ought to (and does) require that we wear glasses if we are going to drive.

Religion, on the other hand, almost everyone agrees is not biologically determined. I've asked some of my very religious friends to explain where their faith in God comes from; some of them say they couldn't change it even if they wanted to. But the point, just like for the queers, is they don't want to, and we have a very strong tradition in this country of protecting from unequal treatment people who choose to worship different Gods in different ways. We should do the same with people who choose to sleep with different genders in different ways.

This, I believe, is the thrust of Richardson's argument. So, hey, queers, lay off, will you? And think a little more rather than being so quick to condemn someone who gets it about discrimination.