Homosexuality: a meta (or non) normative take

This post started as a comment to Sakshi’s post for the ongoing blogathon (which I heard about, thanks to Sakshi) on the subject of homosexuality. It’s a well written post, in the sense that it expressed the right sentiments — people’s sexual inclination should be none of anyone’s business. And in that sense, society needs to accept, if not respect, the choices and move on. Yes choices.

However, after making a claim about homosexuality being a challenge to the normative, rather than being abnormal, Sakshi makes a stronger appeal:

Normative needs to include all forms of sexualities.

This got me thinking. [It’s been a while since I’m writing a real non-fiction post, so bear with me if I’m not coherent]

One of the claims Sakshi makes is that Homosexuality is not a choice, and it is probably genetic. Now, Homosexuality might well be genetic and/or circumstantial. But a “genetic” argument is a two edged one. What if, tomorrow, pedophilia turns out to be genetic? What if there is a pedophilic gene, so to say (if there already isn’t)? Does it become normative, just because it is genetic? No, right? So basically something being genetic is normatively irrelevant (violence might be in our genes, but it’s not included in normative). Normative is decided by what a society/ideology/religion values. Normative is about what should be, not what is. And what should be is by definition what is of value to the society.

Different societies, or even subsets of a society have different concepts of the normative. Some societies might think eating non-veg is sin/vice and may treat meat eaters (or pork eater, or beef-eaters …) as abominable/vile. The real question is not whether homosexuality should be included in the normative (why?), but whether anyone should be persecuted for being out of the normative. Sakshi is arguing for former, but just as one does not like society to decide one’s choices (of beliefs or whatever), one has to give society the freedom to decide what is normative: i.e. what it considers a “standard” or encourage-able practice, and what it does not approve. What Sakshi is asking is equivalent to saying that “beef eating/ pork eating / drinking/ smoking/ pre-marital sex” must be included in the normative. What one can reasonably demand of society is the “freedom” to be out of this normative band, and yet not be persecuted/discriminated against. What we can demand reasonably of the legal system, is that laws must protect people against such discrimination (being denied fair opportunities, being threatened/beaten/harassed/booed), instead of punishing people for falling out of the normative. In my opinion, that is the real change we need.

Another related example I would like to give is of adultery. In lot of societies it used to be a crime (still is?). Now, surely adultery is in our genes ;-). Many of our ancestors (I’m hinting more at pre-human ones, but …) have exhibited adultery. Adultery is consensual. Now, should it be included in the normative? A reason why adultery will probably never be normative in most societies is because it is seen as destroying the normatively sanctioned relationship between two adults of different sex (or even minors! phew) — marriage (which in turn is blessed, one can conjecture, because it is supposed to be for procreation and child-rearing). Should all religions/societal norms that are against adultery be changed just because adultery is genetic or normal?

In that sense, homosexuality has to be treated on par with pre-marital sex, incest (not leading to childbirth), orgiastic sex (between consenting adults), non-exploitative paid sex, and so on. It needs to be decriminalized, and even legalized (just as beef/pork eating and cow-slaughter should be legalized). Societies should be more tolerant and less judgmental (how could you do that) of those choices (and anything that’s not part of the normative, but is not stepping on anyone’s shoes) – which is different from saying they have to be part of the normative. A stronger case is needed to change the normative. Someone will have to project the benefits of homosexuality to the society, for that to happen. Normative, I reiterate is about value — and for a societal norm it means of value to the society. Liberalism, and acceptance of varied life choices of others, as a long-term value is easier to argue for, still that strictly does not require including everything in the normative.

How homosexuality is different from the others on the above list is that the others are not considered “abnormal”, just unacceptable (at least pre-marital sex and paid-sex). In case of homosexuality, this “abnormal” term is typically used not in normative (value) sense, but rather as a pathological/psychopathological sense (as pedophilia is considered, I’m sure?). By taking the discussion on a normative level, we ignore the issue. A strong and independent case can be (and is being) made for normalization of homosexuality on psychopathological grounds. The message has to be loud and clear: that homosexuality might be statistically deviant, but is not abnormal in psychopathological sense. This will be much more useful in changing people’s prejudices in the longer term. The perception of homosexuality as a disease of some sort has to change first, and fast.

To sum it up, I’ll categorize the “no” rules into three categories (below). Note that it’s not a hard categorization, and will again change from country to country or society to society…

A. Normative and legislative: no killing/raping/destroying property/stealing/cheating/exploiting …
B. Normative but not legislative: no coveting someone else’s wife/no premarital sex/no public display of affection/no drinking/eating something or the other/smoking, no marrying outside community …
C. Legislative but not normative: no breaking traffic signals, no evasion of taxes, no active discrimination (w.r.t. cast/religion/gender/…), no hate-speech, no gender discrimination

Currently “no homosexual love” falls into A, as far as I am aware (those draconian and old laws against homosexuality). That’s absolutely ridiculous. It must move to B. Also we need to enhance C to include homosexuality into the “no active discrimination” list (as many western states have). Asking that it must not even be in B, will (IMHO) just polarize the discussion and be counter-intuitive.

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