First published at on January 22, 2010

Not long ago a friend approached me for relationship advice. He’s a white guy who was contemplating dating a black guy, and, as he put it, “I thought you could give me some insight since you’re in an interracial relationship.”

His query took me by surprise. To be honest, I had forgotten that I’m in an interracial relationship (though I’ve been in one for eight years and counting).

It’s not because I “don’t see color” or anything like that. Of course I see color. People who don’t see color in this society are blind to an important feature of others’ experience.

Maybe it’s because I frequently don’t see Mark’s color. That’s partially a function—for better or worse—of our intimacy. But I suspect it’s equally a function of the fact that Mark is Asian.

Like many Americans, I tend to think of color in terms of a black/white paradigm. Living in Detroit, as Mark and I do, tends to reinforce that paradigm. “Interracial” means “black and white.” I’m well aware that it’s a false paradigm, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t common and powerful.

It doesn’t follow that people don’t notice Asians, don’t stereotype Asians, or don’t discriminate against Asians. All of the negative stuff still applies (in varying degrees). The difference, I think, is that when we white people make efforts to be more sensitive to race issues, we sometimes forget that there are more than two races. It’s not so much that Asians are invisible; it’s that discrimination against them is overlooked.

The gay Filipino-American comedian Alec Mapa is currently touring with a show entitled “No Fats, Femmes, or Asians”—highlighting a phrase he sees commonly in personals ads.

Mapa retorts that he objects to the idea—I’m quoting from memory here—“that belonging to a certain class of people makes you inherently unfuckable.”

I missed the next ten minutes of Mapa’s routine as I pondered the moral implications of his analysis.

Put Fats and Fem(me)s aside for the moment, and let’s focus on the “No Asians.”

Having been with Mark for nearly a decade, I recognize that the sentiment is common. Growing up, Mark was painfully aware of the fact that there were (virtually) no Asians in the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog or other standard markers of our notions of beauty.

Before we started dating, lots of guys told him, “You’re cute, but I don’t date Asians.” For that matter, people have told *me* that “I’m not into Asians, but Mark’s cute—you’re lucky you found each other.” (Yes we are, thank you.)

On the one hand, I think personal tastes are just that. For example, I’m not into beefy, muscular guys. Give me a cute scrawny nerdy type over a football player any day. Other people have the opposite preference. To each his own.

What’s more, there are some guys who are really into Asian guys (the slang term is “rice queens”). More power to ‘em, I say.

I would add that people get enough grief about their sexual tastes—especially LGBT people—that the last thing I want to do is give them more. Sexuality is a gift to be enjoyed, not an occasion for affirmative-action programs. As I’ve sometimes explained, “I’m not into women sexually, but that doesn’t make me sexist.”

On the other hand, our notions of beauty don’t arise in a vacuum, and some of our preferences are premised on false—and morally troubling—stereotypes. They’re hurtful. And the social structures that lead to them are an appropriate subject for moral scrutiny.

So my advice to people contemplating—or consciously avoiding—an interracial relationship? Keep an open mind. Listen and learn. And wherever you find love, celebrate and enjoy it.

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First published at on January 18, 2010

The Gay Moralist is a philosophy professor by day, and today’s column is a logic lesson.

Consider the following two exchanges:

Jack: I can’t support gay marriage because it violates my religion.
Jill: Some people’s religions teach that interracial marriage is wrong.
Jack: So, you’re saying that opposing same-sex marriage is just like racism?!

Jill: I should be allowed to marry whomever I love.
Jack: What if you love your brother? Should you be allowed to marry him?
Jill: So, you’re saying that homosexuality is just like incest?!

Exchanges like these have become familiar—so familiar, in fact, that it would be handy to have a name for the fallacy they contain.

Take the first exchange: Jill never said that opposition to marriage equality is “just like” racism. Rather, she used the analogy to interracial marriage as a counterexample to the implied premise that “Whatever a religion teaches is right.” In other words, she seems to be saying that citing religion doesn’t exempt a view from moral scrutiny.

Similarly, in the second exchange, Jack never said that homosexuality is “just like” incest. Rather, he used the analogy as a counterexample to Jill’s premise that people should be allowed to marry anyone they love.

Analogies can be tricky. They compare two things that are similar in some relevant respect. That does not mean that the two things are similar in EVERY respect, or “just like” each other. In both examples above, the second party is misreading the first’s analogy to have far broader implications than intended. This is a fallacy, whether the misreading is deliberate or just careless.

Although people sometimes use the term “fallacy” to denote any false belief, philosophers reserve the term for faulty (but plausible-looking) patterns of reasoning. We give fallacies names to make it easier to spot and avoid these faulty patterns.

As far as I can tell, the specific fallacy described here doesn’t have a name. But it’s common enough to merit one. Some colleagues have suggested “Fallacy of Misreading,” which seems too broad, or “Fallacy of Being a Dumbass” which probably won’t catch on well.

I’d like to propose “Fallacy of Perverted Analogy.” The name captures the central problem: twisting an analogy to mean something broader than intended. In addition, “perverted” suggests something potentially non-consensual—which is appropriate here, since the fallacy is committed not by the originator of the analogy but by a second party. (Beyond that, I relish the thought of accusing certain marriage-equality opponents of perversion.)

It’s worth distinguishing this fallacy from others in the vicinity. This is not the fallacy of “false analogy,” which involves the analogy’s originator comparing two things that are NOT similar in the intended relevant respect.

It’s related to “Straw Man,” insofar as the person committing the fallacy now attacks the bad misreading (i.e. straw version) of the opponent’s argument rather than the actual argument. But it seems that “Perverted Analogy” occurs before “Straw Man.” Moreover, even if “Perverted Analogy” is a subspecies of “Straw Man” it’s specific enough to deserve its own name.

Same with “Red Herring,” which refers to an irrelevant point that throws one off the track of the main argument. That’s surely happening here, but in a precise way worth naming separately.

So, by definition, one commits the Fallacy of Perverted Analogy when one misreads an opponent’s analogy to make a far more sweeping comparison than the opponent needs or intends.

A nice example appeared at Mirror of Justice, a Catholic legal theory blog, last month. In a Christmas Eve post, Michael Perry observed that moral theology must take experiential evidence seriously, even though doing so is often difficult because of visceral reactions to the unfamiliar:

“I fully understand that for many of us this is hard to do–for some of us, impossibly hard: those whose socialization and psychology have bequeathed to them a profound aversion–I am inclined to say, an aesthetic aversion (though, of course, they do not experience it that way)–to unfamiliar modes of human sexuality. (Black bonding sexually with white? Yuk! Female bonding sexually with female? Or male with male? Yuk squared! ….)”

Perry was using aversion to interracial coupling as a familiar historical example of how visceral reactions make it difficult to appreciate the unfamiliar. But Robert George wasted no time in accusing Perry of tarring gay-rights opponents as “the equivalent of racists.” Only by perverting Perry’s analogy could one infer such an equivalence assertion.

There are, no doubt, many other examples of the fallacy—on both sides of the debate. Because I’m eager to name and fight the fallacy, it would be useful to collect these. Readers can post links to their favorite examples in the comments section.

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First published at on January 8, 2010

The column that follows is about anal sex.

Some friends have urged me against writing it, not because readers find frank discussions of anal sex “icky,” but because the offending comments’ source—Peter LaBarbera—is unworthy of serious attention.

In one sense these friends are quite right. But for reasons I hope to make clear, LaBarbera’s most recent ugliness needs answering.

LaBarbera is the president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH), one of the nastier anti-gay groups. In a recent letter at his website, he discusses how Matt Barber at Liberty Counsel (a right-wing legal group) is threatening to boycott the Conservative Political Action Conference unless CPAC drops the gay conservative group GOProud as a co-sponsor.

LaBarbera writes,

“It boils down to this: there is nothing ‘conservative’ about — as Barber inimitably puts it — ‘one man violently cramming his penis into another man’s lower intestine and calling it love’.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

LaBarbera’s post led Liberty Counsel to deny that Barber had ever said such a nasty thing, prompting a sharp rebuttal from LaBarbera, followed by Barber’s admission that he had indeed made the comment privately years ago (and had given LaBarbera permission to quote it). This back-and-forth was interspersed with some barbs between LaBarbera and Randy Thomas, executive VP of the ex-gay group Exodus International, at Thomas’s Exodus blog. (Thanks to Pam’s House Blend for exposing the imbroglio.)

I’ll focus here on LaBarbera, since he was the one who saw fit recently to post Barber’s words and to defend them repeatedly, calling them “a brutally honest and necessarily accurate description of homosexual sodomy.” He also challenged Thomas to “cite chapter and verse in the Bible” explaining why their use of these words is wrong.

Chapter and verse? Let me try.

Exodus 20:16: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (Hint: it’s one of the Ten Commandments, and it boils down simply to “Don’t lie.”)

Look, Peter—and I know you’re reading this—NOBODY calls it love when a man “violently cram[s] his penis into another man’s lower intestine.” Nobody.

We sane people call that rape.

Indeed, the “violent cramming” of a penis into any bodily orifice, male or female, is rape. Not love. The description is not merely uncharitable (about which we could both cite many verses), it’s a blatant falsehood.

Frankly, I’m not surprised you missed this simple, obvious point, because when it comes to homosexuality, you wouldn’t know truth if it violently crammed itself into your—oh, never mind.

Now one might argue that we shouldn’t bother with LaBarbera. Indeed, a Christian friend of mine told me just that, stating that LaBarbera’s comments are “no more worth writing about than the graffiti on men’s room walls.”

And I wish I could ignore them. I really, really do. If only the sentiments underlying them weren’t so pervasive and harmful.

I’ve been defending gays and lesbians against heterosexist distortions for two decades. And one of the things that has saddened and angered me most is our opponents’ continued tendency to reduce our lives, our commitments, and our intimacy to bare mechanical descriptions—and false ones at that.

Why do they do this? Perhaps it’s because of a fundamental lack of empathy (a trait that forms the core of The Golden Rule, another biblical principle).

Or perhaps it’s because they know that dehumanizing us in this way is an extremely effective tactic. As LaBarbera himself writes at the Exodus blog, his and Barber’s “colorful and dismissive” language are precisely geared to “re-stigmatize shameful homosexual behavior.”

Stigmatize, it surely does.

By spreading their lies about “violent cramming” and such, LaBarbera, Barber and their ilk have visited needless suffering upon countless LGBT people, particularly LGBT youth.

Among the unspoken casualties of such stigmatization is that it makes it harder for us to have frank conversations about the relative risks of various sexual practices, for fear of feeding such nastiness. The upshot is more silence, and shame, and—paradoxically—risk.

All of which LaBarbera and Barber can answer to their Maker for, when and if Judgment Day should come. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

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First published at on December 18, 2009

Allow me to share a favorite holiday story.

It was late-November 1989, a year after I first came out. I had been dating a guy named Michael for over a month, which made him (in my mind, at least) my first “real” boyfriend. I was twenty and he was turning twenty-two, and we decided to drive into the city to celebrate his birthday.

“The city” was Manhattan. I was living with my parents on Long Island while going to college; Michael lived nearby. Together with his cousin and his cousin’s boyfriend, we piled into my 1985 Camry and made the trek west along the Long Island Expressway, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge into the Big Apple.

Dinner, then drinks, then dancing—or more accurately, sitting in the corner flirting while other people danced. It was the kind of young love (lust?) that makes one largely oblivious to one’s surroundings.

So perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised, upon exiting the club, to discover that it had been snowing for several hours—hard. No one had predicted a blizzard that night, and it wasn’t as if we could check the weather on our iPhones. (Remember, it was 1989.)

We rushed back to the car and headed slowly home. About a third of the way across the Williamsburg Bridge, traffic stopped.

We waited a minute, then five, then ten—and still no movement. The snow around us was blinding. Meanwhile, the cousin and his boyfriend were soundly asleep in the back seat.

So Michael and I did what any two young lovebirds would do in such a situation: we started making out in the car.

We kissed; we caressed; we cuddled. It felt like we were there for an hour, though again, we were largely oblivious to time and space. It was joyous.

Eventually the traffic flow resumed and we made it home okay.

Michael dumped me a few weeks later (Merry Christmas, indeed) and what remained of our relationship was more disastrous than that night’s weather. But two decades and numerous boyfriends later, I still count that bridge experience as one of the magical moments of my life.

It wasn’t just because it was new and exciting, or because of the Frank Capra setting (Snow on a bridge? Seriously?).

It was because, at a time in my life when I still struggled to make sense of being “different,” the experience sent a powerful, visceral message: Gay is good.

The message didn’t arrive by means of a philosophical argument or someone else’s testimony. It came through direct experience. Those once-scary feelings were suddenly a font of great beauty, and intimacy, and comfort. I had previously figured it out in my head. Finally, I knew it in my heart.

In this column I have often extolled the virtues of long-term relationships. I believe in those virtues—and am ever grateful for my eight-year partnership with Mark, the love of my life.

But I don’t believe that homosexuality has moral value ONLY in the context of long-term relationships—any more than heterosexuality does. That quick flirtatious glance across a crowded room; that awkward kiss with the cute stranger at the party—such moments make life joyful, and there is great moral value in joy.

And so, this holiday, I wish my readers joy.

It has been an incredible, fast-paced year on the gay-rights front. We gained marriage equality in several states only to lose it again in Maine; we had ballot victories in Washington State and Kalamazoo, MI; we elected a lesbian mayor in Houston and a gay City-Council President in Detroit.

There are reasons to be hopeful, and there is much work left to be done. We will keep fighting the good fight.

Yet let us also step back and enjoy the simple yet profound joy that is part and parcel of why we’re fighting. Kiss someone under the mistletoe, and remember that life is good.

Wishing you all the best in 2010.

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First published at Between the Lines News on December 17, 2009

Today I heard two bits of news that reminded me of how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.

First, Bruce Springsteen has come out in favor of marriage equality in New Jersey. Yes, THAT Bruce Springsteen, or as many of us know him, “the Boss.”

I grew up in New York and New Jersey, and I remember in seventh grade a debate between two male classmates about who was cooler: Bruce Springsteen or Rick Springfield. I voted for Springfield, because I thought he was cute. (To this day I couldn’t name one of Springfield’s songs without Googling, which turned up “Jessie’s Girl.”)

Incidentally, I also thought the two classmates having the debate were cute—not that I ever would have admitted it at the time. My awareness of my sexuality, such as it was, was entirely pre-articulate. Still, my attractions were real, and quite obvious to me, despite my unwillingness to name them.

Back then, mainstream rock stars generally didn’t come out in favor of gay rights or marriage equality, much less come out of the closet. Elton John was still officially bisexual; a year later he married a woman. Sure, there was Freddie Mercury and the Village People, but they were never mentioned in my middle-class Italian-American home. Springsteen was, though.

Now, as New Jersey legislators consider marriage equality, Springsteen has this post at the top of his website:

“Like many of you who live in New Jersey, I’ve been following the progress of the marriage-equality legislation currently being considered in Trenton. I’ve long believed in and have always spoken out for the rights of same sex couples and fully agree with Governor Corzine when he writes that, ‘The marriage-equality issue should be recognized for what it truly is—a civil rights issue that must be approved to assure that every citizen is treated equally under the law.’ I couldn’t agree more with that statement and urge those who support equal treatment for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to let their voices be heard now.”

Somewhere, some seventh-grade boy with a pre-articulate crush on a male classmate is reading those words and feeling a little bit more comfortable with himself.

Maybe he doesn’t listen to Springsteen’s music, but his parents (or grandparents) surely do. And the words make a difference.

Thank you, Bruce. I am totally retracting my vote for that other guy, whathisname.

Speaking of voting and rockstars, how ‘bout that Adam Lambert?

An attention seeker? Sure. But also undeniably talented. Which makes the following story doubly offensive.

Lambert, the American Idol runner-up, was targeted in a recent column by Mitch Albom. Albom is the author of Tuesdays with Morrie and other inspirational confections; he’s also a fellow Detroiter and a syndicated columnist.

In his latest piece he bemoans the culture of fame that gave us the Octomom, the Balloon-Boy family, and other media whores. No argument there. But then he writes,

“And we can’t begin to list all the pseudo, wannabe and semi-celebrities who shamelessly threw themselves into the limelight, from the Gosselins to the endless stream of Michael Jackson mourners to the gyrating, guy-kissing Adam Lambert, who seems to grow in stature with each show that cancels him.”

The “guy-kissing” Adam Lambert? As if a man’s kissing a guy puts him in the same category as the Gosselins?

Unlike the others on that list, Lambert is famous in no small part because he’s talented. If you want to criticize him for theatrical excess, fine. If you want to question his taste and judgment, go ahead. But to slam him explicitly for “guy-kissing” is homophobic, plain and simple.

Of course, it’s not Lambert’s feelings I’m concerned about here. He’s doing remarkably well for a so-called “pseudo, wannabe…semi-celebrit[y].”

But somewhere, some seventh-grade boy with a pre-articulate crush on a male classmate is reading Albom’s column and thinking that there’s something shameful about “guy-kissing.” Shameful enough that it merits being mentioned alongside the Balloon-Boy family.

Shame on you, Mitch. You should know as well as anyone that words matter.

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First published at on December 4, 2009

“We all know what bigotry is,” a friend said to me recently. But do we?

I mean, most of us have experienced it, and we can point to clear historical examples. But can we define it, articulating what those examples all have in common? Or is it more like Justice Potter Stewart’s grasp of pornography: “I know it when I see it”?

As is often the case with controversial terms, the dictionary is of limited help here. The American Heritage Dictionary defines bigotry as “characteristic of a bigot,” which it in turn defines as “one who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.” Webster’s definition of “bigot” is similar: “a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.”

Now there must be a difference between merely disagreeing with those who differ and being “intolerant” of them. By definition, everyone disagrees with “those who differ”—that’s just what it means to “differ.” And everyone is “devoted” to at least some of his opinions. That’s the whole point of having convictions.

So it’s not bigotry merely to disagree with someone: one must also exhibit “intolerance.” But what does that mean? That one wishes to silence them? Surely it’s possible to be a bigot even while respecting free-speech rights. Thus, for example, those who believe that the races should be separated are bigots even if they believe that those who disagree should be permitted publicly to say so.

It seems, rather, that to call someone a bigot is in part to express a moral judgment. It is to suggest that the bigot’s views are not merely wrong, but somehow beyond the pale. So the dictionary definition only gets half of the picture: it’s not merely that the bigot doesn’t tolerate those who differ, it is also that we ought not tolerate him. In a free society we shouldn’t silence him, but we should certainly shun him.

In other words, to call someone a bigot is not just to say something about the bigot’s views, it’s to also to say something about our own. It is to distance our views from his in the strongest possible terms. It is also to suggest that the bigot suffers from a kind of systematic irrationality, a logical blind spot that feeds the moral one.

I have long advocated using the term “bigot” sparingly when referring to gay-rights opponents. It’s not that I don’t think bigotry is a serious problem. On the contrary, it’s vital to identify bigotry for what it is and to expose its tragic effects.

It’s also important to learn the lessons of history, including the ways in which bigotry can hide behind religion, concern for children’s welfare, and other seemingly benign motives.

But there’s a difference between identifying bigotry, on the one hand, and labeling any and all people who disagree with us as bigots, on the other. Such labeling tends to function as a conversation-stopper, cutting us off from the “moveable middle” and ultimately harming our progress.

It’s also unfair to the many decent people who genuinely strive to understand us even where, for sincere and complex reasons, they cannot accept our position.

There’s a familiar religious saying which teaches “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” Applied to homosexuality, the sentiment is mostly nonsense. For one thing, there’s nothing “sinful” or wrong about gay relationships per se. Moreover, the distinction draws a sharp line between who we are and what we do, whereas here these things are intimately connected.

But the “love the sinner/hate the sin” distinction still has its uses, and our approach to our opponents may be among them.

Many of our opponents are fundamentally decent people. For both principled and pragmatic reasons, we don’t want to saddle them with an identity that suggests their being beyond redemption. In other words, we don’t want to label them “bigots” prematurely.

At the same time, we don’t want to shrink from identifying the evil of anti-gay bigotry, wherever and whenever it occurs.

And so, we can distinguish. We can point out the sin of bigotry forcefully while using the epithet of “bigot” sparingly (though that epithet, too, has its uses).

Because, in the end, we do know it when we see it.

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First published at on November 22, 2009

This morning, I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. I wasn’t sick; just tired. But I had a full workday scheduled.

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared unto me and said, “Behold, today is a sacred day, and you must not work.” Sweet!

Okay, maybe I was dreaming. But as the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes pointed out, there’s no useful distinction between “I dreamed that God appeared to me” and “God appeared to me in a dream”—and if the latter is good enough for Biblical prophets, it’s good enough for me.

Before you render judgment, note that the angel added that my readers—this means you!—should take the day off too. Indeed, he presented me with platinum tablets (gold is so old-school) commanding that the day on which this column appears is sacred and must be honored with a Sabbath.

I’ve since lost the tablets, but trust me: that’s what they said.

Now, suppose you believe all of this, and suppose you phone your employer and tell him that you’re not coming in. He might try to fire you. But (assuming that other employees get accommodations for religious holidays) that’s religious discrimination! Tell him so.

He might counter that Corvinianism, as my followers like to call it, is not a valid religion. But why not? Because it’s new? All religions were new at one point. Mormonism is less than two centuries old. I have knickknacks that are older than that.

Moreover, if religious accommodation should vary according to the age of the religion, then many forms of paganism should get more deference than Christianity. Forget Christmas break. I want the Feast of the Unconquered Sun. (Oh wait—they’re the same. Bad example.)

I’m joking here to make a serious point: religious accommodation is a slippery part of the law. And those who cite it in the gay-rights debate need to start acknowledging that.

Let me be clear: I believe that a free society should make broad accommodation for religious practice. And religious practice is largely based on “faith,” which includes revelation—in other words, doctrines that cannot be defended by reason alone. Here in the United States, we allow people to preach and worship as they see fit (or not at all), and we are better for it.

But the gay-rights debate concerning religious accommodation is not about worship. No serious participant argues that the government should force religions to perform gay weddings (or ordinations or baptisms or other religious functions) against their will. That would violate the First Amendment, and beyond that, it would be foolish and wrong.

Rather, the debate is about the not-strictly-religious things that religious organizations often do: renting out banquet space, for example, or hiring employees for secular tasks. It’s also about religious individuals who for reasons of conscience wish to discriminate in secular settings.

To use a concrete example: should a Massachusetts Catholic court clerk who objects to same-sex marriage be allowed not to process a marriage license for a gay couple (perhaps passing the couple along to another clerk who will do the job)?

There are at least two slippery-slopes to worry about when answering this question. First, if we make accommodations for, say, Catholicism, must we make accommodations for any religion? Some religions are pretty screwy (although I think Corvinianism is pretty cool).

And what about atheists? Why should conscience exemptions only apply to the religious?

Second, if we make accommodation for objections to same-sex marriage, why not other religious and moral convictions? Suppose the clerk’s religion prohibits divorce and re-marriage, or interfaith marriage, or marriages not performed by the One True Church. Should she be allowed to decline to issue licenses in those cases as well?

I am not suggesting that these accommodations would all be equally valid. The point is, rather, that deciding which are and which aren’t is thorny legal and moral territory.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting religious inconsistency on these questions. One never hears about clerks refusing to grant marriage licenses to divorcees, despite the Bible’s clear condemnation of divorce—the same Bible frequently cited in the gay-rights debate.

Which makes it difficult to shake the suspicion that, for some of these people—not all, but some—what’s cast as a “principled religious objection” boils down to simple gut feeling.

Kind of like my not wanting to go to work this morning.

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First published at on November 19, 2010

This column will be my last for a while. I’m taking a break—maybe for a month, maybe longer—to recharge my batteries and focus on some other projects. So I wanted to take an opportunity to say “thank you” to my regular readers and to let you know what to expect in the meantime.

I’ve been a columnist for eight years. I started with occasional contributions to Between the Lines (, Michigan’s LGBT weekly. Those turned into a bi-weekly column there, which occasionally was picked up by other regional papers, as well as the Independent Gay Forum (

The early columns manifested both my training as an academic—I’m a philosophy professor by day—and my lack of training as a journalist. The paragraphs were excruciatingly long, and you could tell I was just itching to throw in footnotes. (I still have a habit of too many parenthetical asides, like this one.)

Slowly, thanks to practice and the critical commentary of several friends, I found my journalistic “voice.”

In 2007 Jennifer “Jay” Vanasco showed me great confidence by inviting me to become a regular opinion writer for Soon thereafter the column (which by then had adopted the title “The Gay Moralist”) went from bi-weekly to weekly, a schedule I find both invigorating and daunting.

I still work full-time as a philosophy professor, teaching every Monday and Wednesday at Wayne State University in Detroit, as well as speaking on gay rights at about two dozen other campuses annually. Increasingly, I find myself writing columns on planes (this one is being completed while en route to the Skepticon convention in Missouri), my elbows pressed against my seatmates while I type. I’m also working on a book project, and I should be working on a (now overdue) encyclopedia entry on homosexuality and ethics.

I don’t offer any of this as a complaint. Quite the contrary: I get paid to think and speak and write about stuff that excites me, and that’s about as cool a job as one can have. But the schedule (especially the travel) has been draining me lately, which makes it harder to produce good work.

My fatigue also turns me into Cranky McCrankmeister, as my very patient partner Mark can attest. It seems like a good time for a hiatus.

Here’s the exciting news: while I’m gone, this space will be taken over by Chase Whiteside, the 22-year-old journalist best known for his “New Left Media” interviews at Tea Party rallies, Sarah Palin booksignings, and similar events. (Watch them at

I’ve met Chase on a few occasions, and I can tell you he’s smart, charming, incisive, and wise beyond his years. His videos, created with Wright State classmate Erick Stoll, have been viewed by millions on YouTube, and he is fast developing a reputation as a journalist to watch.

You can watch—or rather, read—him here, on Fridays at beginning December 3.

Meanwhile, I want to say thanks. Thanks to Chase for taking over and lending his fresh perspective to these pages. Thanks to Jay Vanasco for her ongoing faith in me.

Most of all, thanks to you, my readers, who have inspired me to do this for so long. The relationship between writers and readers is a strange one: I’m speaking to you, but I don’t know you; you may feel you know me, but you’ve (typically) never met me. I’m the tired-looking stranger in the airplane seat, putting his laptop away.

But I’ll be back soon.

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First published at on November 13, 2009

It’s November, which means bookstores have next year’s calendars on display.

When I was a teenager, this annual occurrence unnerved me. The “male interest” calendars”—think “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model of the Month”—held no appeal for me. Instead, I would nervously reach for a Chippendales calendar, hiding it behind something innocuously themed (race cars, puppies, whatever) so that I could stare admiringly at half-naked men. As soon as I noticed anyone approaching, I would throw both calendars back on the shelf and dart out of the store.

I laugh now at the thought that I could ever find the overly pumped and coiffed 1980’s Chippendales dancers appealing. But when I see these calendars on the shelves today, I still feel a residual emotional tug. Like the underwear models in the J.C. Penney catalog (and so many other ordinary features of American life), the calendars were a painful signal: you are not like other boys.

I noticed a calendar display in a bookstore the other day just shortly after receiving an e-mail from a reader complaining that I waste too much time trying to win over straight society’s approval. “When are you going to stop seeking other people’s acceptance?” he asks.

My answer? I’ll stop seeking it once we get it.

The calendars reminded me of why. It’s not because I’m still scared that other people will know my “secret.” Today, I can walk into a bookstore and look at whatever I want. Indeed, I sometimes make a point of picking up the “female interest” calendars just to remind myself—and anyone else watching—that I can. It’s my way of saying: No, I am not like (most) other boys, and I’m okay with that. Honestly, I really don’t give a flying fig whether you give me a dirty look when I do it.

But there are plenty of boys and girls growing up who are not there yet. They still get unnerved when they see the calendars, or the catalogs, or countless other possible triggers. They still feel that nauseous shame and isolation. They have yet to learn that the feelings they dread can eventually be a source of great joy, and beauty, and comfort.

Social approval can make a huge difference in the lives of these kids, not to mention those who come after them.

This is one significant way in which LGBT people differ from most other minority groups. Whereas black children generally have black parents, Jewish children generally have Jewish parents, and so on, LGBT people can have any sort of parents—and most often have straight ones. Far from being able to take for granted our parents’ understanding of the discrimination we face, we often have to struggle for their acceptance, too.

So while their parents’ opinion on homosexuality may not directly matter to me, you can be damn sure it matters to them.

I don’t mean that they can’t go on to have happy, fulfilling, successful lives even if their parents ultimately reject them. I just mean that doing so will be harder—needlessly, sometimes tragically so.

Moreover, it’s not as if I have no stake at all in their parents’ opinion. As we’ve seen over and over, their opinion affects how they vote. And their votes make a difference to our legal rights, whether we like it or not.

Of course it isn’t fair. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

So I’ll stop seeking their approval when we get it, and not a moment sooner. Because their approval helps make our political struggle easier. Because it’s crucial to the lives of their kids, some of whom are LGBT. And because it’s the right thing.

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First published at on November 9, 2009

When I was a “fag” on the junior high playground, getting punched hurt even when I saw it coming. So too with Maine this past week.

Like many, I was dispirited but not surprised when we lost. The rights of minorities (gays especially) generally don’t do well when put to a popular vote. And the opposition’s central message—that gays want to influence schoolchildren—remains as effective as it is sinister.

The message conjures up the image of gays as child molesters—a myth debunked but never fully extinguished.

A slightly less sinister (but still false) version portrays us as anti-family and anti-morality. Still another falsehood is that we’re trying to “recruit.”

Then there’s the underlying truth that sustains the myth as plausible. Yes, of course marriage equality will affect what children are taught in schools, because if same-sex marriage is legal, they will naturally be taught that it’s legal. That it’s an option for consenting adults who want it. That women sometimes fall in love with women, and men with men, and live happily ever after.

We should not shrink from saying these things, but we do. No doubt, the ugliness of the sinister versions—not to mention our opponents’ penchant for quoting us out of context—makes us nervous about discussing the truthful version. And that’s surely one lesson of this loss: the closet is still powerful, and our opponents use it to their advantage.

But we will not go back in the closet again.

We will keep telling our stories. We will keep showing our faces. We will keep getting married, even if—for now—Maine doesn’t legally recognize our relationships. We will not go back in the closet again.

And though we’ve lost this particular battle, we will continue to win the war.

On the same day that Maine voters took away marriage equality, Detroit (where I live) elected an openly gay City Council President. This, in a city that’s 84% African-American and where churches exert considerable political influence. The rest of the country hardly noticed, but Detroit defied several stereotypes on Tuesday.

His name is Charles Pugh. A popular newscaster before running for City Council, Pugh was actually endorsed by both the Council of Baptist Pastors and the AME Ministerial Alliance. They knew he was gay and they endorsed him anyway.

One could argue that Pugh was endorsed—and won—because of name recognition. Detroit elects all nine councilmembers at-large, and the top vote getter automatically becomes council president. It’s a dumb system in several ways, and in the past it has resulted in famous but incompetent councilmembers—Martha Reeves, of Martha and the Vandellas, leaps to mind. (Incidentally, in this year’s primary Reeves was voted out, and in the general election voters overwhelming approved a referendum for council-by-district.)

But even if Pugh’s landslide can be attributed to sheer popularity, it sends an encouraging message about the way the world is changing. Being openly gay is no longer an absolute bar to getting public support. And even those who regularly oppose us will sometimes let other factors trump whatever makes us scary otherwise.

Meanwhile, the more they know us, the less scary we become.

It’s unfair and unfortunate that we need to work harder than our opponents to win. They win by exploiting fear, which is easy to do when you’re in the majority. We win by building relationships—by letting voters know who we really are. That takes time.

So our opponents have a soundbite edge, but we have a long-term advantage. The closet is crumbling.

In the wake of the Maine loss, we will catch our breath and press on. We will continue to live our lives; we will keep speaking our truth. We will stand up in the firm conviction that our love is real, and valuable, and worthy of equal treatment under the law.

Because whatever legal roadblocks they may put in our way, we will never go back in the closet again.

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