Tuesday, April 26, 2011

College is a Tough Time To Be Straight

The Texas state house has passed a bill requiring all state universities with "alternative" sexuality centers to provide equal funding to "traditional values" sexuality centers.

I find this ... more than a little strange, and I think the problem is a series of bad analogies. This is a somewhat a theme in the field, as we found out when Robert George forgot there was a difference between holding gay rights positions and actually being gay.*

Here, I just don't know what parallel these het-friendly centers would serve. One college conservative who had pushed for the legislation (after admitting that his real hope was eliminating these centers altogether) complained that while folks can freely strut about campus saying homosexuality is okay, if he wears a t-shirt accusing it of being immoral, suddenly there is a whole big controversy. Double-standard! Except ... not -- if I walked around asserting that heterosexuality was immoral, would there not be quite a bit of outcry? If public reactions to brutally caricatured claims by radical feminists is any indication, the answer is a pretty emphatic yes. It's all in where you put the baseline -- and the ability to assume heterosexuality is so entrenched as to not even contemplate the possibility of a "to-the-bottom" critique of it is the linchpin of heterosexual privilege that proves the asymmetry between the two orientation's social standings.

More generally, the purpose these centers serve is to function as a secure place for a community which often experiences severe alienation and hostility on college campuses. Is there any sort of analogue for heterosexual students? The Texas Observer deservedly mocks the whole concept:
Imagine the plight of the heterosexual student stepping on to a college campus for the first time. How will he fit in? Should he tell his new roommate about his alternative hetero lifestyle? Will he be bullied, just like he was in high school, where he was mercilessly teased for being a sexual deviant? Where does a straight person turn?

There's no parallel straight sexuality centers because there is no analogous experience that they face. There is a political inequality, to be sure -- the position that LGBT individuals are equal human beings is getting official representation, and opponents of that view are not. But that doesn't track onto cognizable parallel between the life experiences of being gay versus straight.

There is one area where I think it does make sense to talk about a "straight sexuality" center, but I doubt it is what the Texas House has in mind. The broader moral commitment behind any center focusing on human sexuality is to encourage healthy, respectful sexual expression, and affirm the choices people make within those confines. That's something that's useful to people of all sexual proclivities, gay or straight, "traditional" or not. but I doubt the Texas House wants heterosexual students to feel comfortable expressing their sexuality in diverse ways either.

Now let's be clear: If someone wants to stay abstinent, they should feel perfectly comfortable doing so -- and if they don't feel comfortable, then they should be given the support they need to feel comfortable about it. But that's not separate from the commitment to supporting sexually active students; it's concurrent with it. They flow from the same principles. And I think any sexuality center worth its salt knows that.

* Side note: I picked out a Robert George article, The Concept of Public Morality, 45 Am. J. Jur. 17 (2000), to see whether, frankly, he was any good. After all, he has a pretty decent reputation as a jurisprudence guy, and while "What is Marriage" was utter tripe (the answer, apparently, is 90% naturalistic fallacy and 10% bad empirical claims), I thought that might not be his best work.

The article I read was decent, albeit not mind-blowing. In terms of philosophical approach we are radically separate, but I could appreciate his skill as an advocate on some of the more abstract questions (such as the trouble with the public/private distinction). In terms of specific applications, though, I think he's got very little going for him, and I was particularly distressed by what struck me as a marked authoritarian streak (I'm not the only one -- he quoted another writer making the same claim about him, one he said he hoped was at least partially tongue-in-cheek).

1 comment:

Nick said...

wait, do you actually expect any of the conservatives to agree with the asymmetry? like, ever?