Posted on Sunday, October 5th, 2008 at 8:14 am
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Renee Martin
One of the most wonderful things about humanity is that we are social beings. Interaction with each other is absolutely essential to us. In a desire to avoid isolation we spend our lives building relationships with those that we have shared commonalities with.
Many a poet has written beautiful words regarding the value of friendship, and many a philosopher or wise sage has critiqued both its value and necessity. Friendship or non-sexual pair bonding has been in existence since the dawn of humanity. It has survived the rise and fall of great civilizations. Very few ideals have the kind of global and historical endurance as friendship.
What does it say about us that we now take friendship, a relation that we clearly socially value and cheapen it to uphold bigotry, intolerance, and hatred?
This trend of using friendship as a weapon is daily employed by not only our leaders but by those that seek to lead:
Sarah Palin is staunchly anti gay marriage and, in my opinion, homophobic. She has made this abundantly clear in various public interviews and stump speeches. Yet Palin views her so-called relationship with a lesbian as providing her with permission to make homophobic commentary, as well as promote social injustice.
In the recent vice presidential debate, when asked her position on granting same sex benefits to couples, Palin answered,
“But I will tell Americans straight up that I don’t support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think through nuances we can go round and round about what that actually means..But I’m being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non- support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage.”
What is tradition but that which society has come to normalize? Falling back on tradition is dishonest because it implies a stasis to human interaction. The idea of marriage for the purposes of romantic love is historically speaking a new concept, and it is further more not something that is practiced universally. Defining marriage as between a man and a woman not only excludes those that are gay, it further excludes those that do not subscribe to gender binaries. This is a policy of exclusion.
Palin’s ability to be as direct in her response exists because of the rampant homophobia in America. Though Palin continually qualifies her commentary by claiming this is not real bigotry because she does love people that are gay, it is possible to love one member of an “outgroup” and still dismiss and marginalize all other members. In fact it is because of this supposed love that she feels justified in pointing out the errors of homosexuality.
Palin does not claim membership in a particular church, however one that she has frequented in Wasilla advocates “conversion therapy” for gays and lesbians. If one completely accepts the sexuality of another, there would be no desire to attempt to change it. Clearly homosexuality in this case is seen as something that is deviant or even diseased because it requires a “cure.” Though Palin stated in her interview with Katie Couric, “I am not going to judge Americans and the decisions they make in their adult personal relationships.”
Is one not already judging my participating in an organization that views homosexuality as something that requires prayer? Palin’s statement prefaced by the following commentary,
“But what you’re talking about, I think, value here, what my position is on homosexuality and you can pray it away, because I think that was the title that was listed on that bulletin. And you know, I don’t know what prayers are worthy of being prayed. I don’t know what’s prayers are going to be asked and answered.”
The positive power of prayer no doubt appeals to the right wing Christian Fundamentalist that form the foundation of the Republican Party, but when it is used as a tactic to reaffirm difference it is ‘othering’. This is not a case of political expediency on the part of Palin, as her framing of homosexuality as a choice reifies the homo/hetero binary.
Nowhere in Palin’s ideology is there consideration that homosexuality exists without choice, in the same way that heterosexuality exists without choice. Does a heterosexual person wake up one day and decide to be straight? If one is born heterosexual then one is born homosexual, the difference only appears in how we choose to understand the two.
But Palin understands it all because she has the foresight and “tolerance” to have a gay friend. Yes tolerance, the word in of itself is another term that implies difference. We should be striving to embrace all forms of sexuality occurring between two consenting adults as a good and natural expression of self. Why does love exist if not to elevate us beyond our narcissistic tendency to place self-interest above the needs of the community, though we are clearly communal beings?
“I have one of my absolute best friends for the last 30 years happens to be gay, and I love her dearly. And she is not my “gay friend,” she is one of my best friends, who happens to have made a choice that isn’t a choice that I have made. But I am not going to judge people.”
The “I have a gay friend card” is employed by Palin in her interview with Couric to act as a form legitimization for her bigotry. Nowhere are we given evidence that this person exists, nor are we given any information on how this person feels about having their sexuality used in this way. The fact that Palin feels that she can leverage a friendship to promote her agenda is an example of heterosexual privilege.
A gay person cannot leverage a friendship in this way because heterosexuality is understood as good and naturally occurring; thus gayness becomes the albatross that must be withstood to make the friendship possible. This form of relationship is not a meeting of equals; rather it is a micro example of the hierarchy of sexualities.
Aristotle theorizes that,
“Genuine friendship must be based on goodness; what rests on pleasantness (as with the young), or on utility (as with the old), is only to be recognized conventionally as friendship. In perfection it cannot subsist without perfect mutual knowledge, and only between the good; hence it is not possible for anyone to have many real friends. Of the conventional forms, that which is born of intellectual sympathy is more enduring than what springs from sexual attraction; while what comes of utility is quite accidental. The former may develop into genuine friendship if there be virtue in both parties. Companionship is a necessary condition, in any case.”
The value of the relationship to both parties is significantly reduced when we begin to bifurcate between binary understandings of sexuality and our actual need to interact with each other socially. Palin’s “gay best friend” is not a real friend; instead this is a predatory relationship, if it even exists.
Pointing to an individual as a signification of tolerance infers that their value is solely based on their ability to be discursively or politically useful.
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