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On the Gay Taboo


   A recent Philadelphia Inquirer article (2/3/08) headlined “The Grandparents are out” featured two families to show that “gays and lesbians who married decades ago and had children now enjoy grandkids who know their story.”  These grandparents had heterosexual marriages because they came of age in a pre-liberation era when a still strong gay taboo discouraged openness.

     The three grandchildren of one of the families are, of course, “cool” with their grandmother’s lesbianism and indeed proud of her and her pioneering cohort.  The granddaughter of the male couple is still an infant but the proud grandfather remarks: “I think she’ll grow up with us as the norm. I want to convey the idea that it’s better to be extraordinary than normal, and to follow your bliss.”

    Given that everyone feels so good about this, I suppose it is impolitic to point out that, were it not for the gay taboo, the now properly cool grandchildren would not exist.  And had the gentleman “followed his bliss” from the get-go, i.e. if there had been no taboo in his youth, there would not be, in his words, this “supremely adorable, talented, wonderful” granddaughter to whom he could one day give his advice, to say nothing of his own two children.

     There was no mention of this irony in the article.  So universally derided is the taboo by enlightened moderns, it is unthinkable that anyone could grant it, even meekly, its best intentions. We are not meant to read an article such as this and credit the taboo for seven people (three children and four grandchildren, presumably all adorable); rather we are meant to feel good that these seven people who would not otherwise exist are correctly nonchalant in their views about homosexuality.  Yet if the gays in the article, who understandably reviled the taboo in their youth, now in their old age claim to treasure its consequences, it is hard to see how this does not redeem in some measure the taboo’s purposes.

     I understand I am leaving out the bad side of the taboo: the forced secrecy and shame, the bigotry, the miserable marriages.  I don’t wish to excuse oppression or underestimate misery.  I wish to point out, as this article unintentionally demonstrates, that while we are all very aware of the insensitivities of the former order, we are commensurately blind to its more benign logic. The taboo was always meant to help society by procreation, and to help individuals by steering them to the epiphany of parenthood.  Going by this article alone, we have seven human beings we would not otherwise have, and two old homosexual parents who take great joy in their progeny.  Say what you will, this is not altogether a total loss.  Compare this to the scorekeeping of the modern liberationist scenario in which case you get, well, two old homosexuals.  One can hope they take great joy in themselves, but I suggest that even if they do, it is not, absent the other seven people, quite the same sort of joy.

     What is interesting about this particular cohort of gay grandparents is the extent to which they seem oblivious to the implications of the lifestyle they pioneered. The gay grandfather in the article goes so far as to say: “I was predestined to be a grandfather.”   Well, no.  This is not only disingenuous but, according to gay orthodoxy, sacrilege.  In the liberationist view, he is, by being homosexual, predestined not to be a grandfather. The only thing that predestined him to paternity of any kind was to have been born in an era that discouraged open homosexuality.

     I would not have the courage to ask of these people in the article how hypothetically they might choose between their “bliss” and their children, but I think that it is in some sense a fair question.  Happily, it didn’t come up in real life because like everyone else, they lived their life chronologically and not in retrospect.  Burdened by untenable marriages, they found themselves in an era that suddenly allowed them sexual honesty and they embraced it, no doubt viewing their children as lone joys amidst an otherwise miserable situation.

     By virtue of their place on liberation’s time line, this is the one generation of gays who will have lived it both ways.  No wonder they claim to be happy.  But for that same reason, gays of that generation make dubious champions of gay life. They cannot, while taking joy and consolation in their grandchildren, convincingly extol the satisfactions of a lifestyle that, absent extraordinary measures, precludes the same joy and consolation in younger gay generations.

     It is no wonder they celebrate modern self-determination, but it is a wonder, after having experienced parenthood, that they are not more troubled, or at least saddened, by the intrinsic sterility of homosexuality and yes, more honest in their assessment of the transformation of parenthood.  Perhaps it is not something to be discussed in mixed company, but so many gay parents can dismiss the importance of progeny for the younger gay generation that I wonder if they have honestly factored the sources of their elderly contentment. 

     Finally, I have been using the exotic word “taboo” here as a shorthand for “social preference”.  Unfortunately, over centuries, this rational, if psychologically simplistic, social preference gave rise to all sorts of bigotries and oppressions.  Modern liberal societies have, to their credit, removed most of these evils.  In doing so, however, they have also removed, without reflection, the rational and ultimately benign foundations of the original preference, namely, that society has a definitional interest in procreation and will always prefer it to sterility; and secondly, the benefits of procreation are not only social but individual, which is to say that procreation, in and of itself, tends to make people happy.  The Inquirer article bears out both of these truths, though they are nowhere explicitly mentioned.  Such ideas are now considered taboo.

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