Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.
Virginia is currently debating a state equal-protection bill that includes a sexual orientation non-discrimination clause . (The state currently has no non-discrimination law. There is a traditional non-discrimination order issued by each incoming governor, but it is up to the will of each governor in turn. The previous governor, Mark Warner, added sexual orientation as a protected category, and the current governor Kaine, renewed it; now they are trying to finally write the order into law.) There is also a non-discrimination clause appended to the state budget bill. Democrats are hoping that Republicans who voted for the state’s anti-gay-marriage amendment will support the anti-discrimination bills as a way to reduce their Bigotry Quotient just a bit.
Good enough, as it goes. But superloon state Delegate Mark Cole is opposed, on this unique ground:
“Sexual orientation is a broad term,” said Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Fredericksburg), who has proposed amending the budget. “There are eight different sexual orientations, including pedophilia and bestiality. I think we’d be opening up Pandora’s box and allowing judges to interpret what that means.”
(The article notes the bill explicitly exempts “orientations” defined as “deviant” by the DSM.)
OK, skipping right over the human rights angle, let’s get to the juicy stuff: eight sexual orientations, “including pedophilia and bestiality”? Huh?
Try as I might, I can’t figure this out, or even find out where it comes from.
It harkens back to an old game of trying to define sexual categories – a practice we are increasingly finding is a forlorn hope. People’s desires seem to elide seamlessly from one focus to another – a little bit more of this, less of that – and encompass a broad range of sexual outlets, not all of them involving sex play with human partners. (In this, the likes of Mark Cole and Rick Santorum are correct, though not in a good way.)
“Sexual orientation” seems more a convenient shorthand than anything. In fact, we find here another parallel between sex-identity discrimination and racial discrimination: both depend upon membership in categories which it is impossible to define scientifically, but which have real social meaning. Being “gay” or “straight” tells us little about a person, and in fact is not necessarily a predictor of who they commonly, or ever, have sex with. Similarly, race is notoriously difficult to define other than as a set of broad genetic patterns. But in both cases society pins group-membership labels on individuals, and individuals themselves embrace or reject the labels as seems best to them. That the labels are vague demarcators, and surely not behaviorally dispositive, does not mean they cannot impose compelling identity boundaries – ones that are not necessarily limiting or unwelcome, but which also can be the basis of real – and in no way vague – discrimination.
So the hunt for a finite number of clearly demarcated sexual categories is a waste of time – but also a pursuit that has been indulged in by many, often with good intent. It’s probably time to put that aside, and if it isn’t, Mark Cole’s mean-spirited and ignorant stupidity has surely pushed us closer to that day when “gay”, “straight”, and “bisexual” will sound as quaint as “octaroon”, “quadroon”, and “mulatto”.
Even so, I still want to know what his eight categories are! If two of them involve children and animals, that leaves six others . . . . Perhaps male and female categories for each of “gay”, “straight”, and “bisexual”? But we don’t usually think of the male and female “versions” of those categories as different sexual identities, just different sexual practices. Perhaps, instead, we can assign one category to fetishism, and three more to the usual triumvirate. That gives us a total of six categories accounted for (of which half do not involve an adult human partner) – and two more remaining which are, presumably, even more exotic than bestiality or fetishism. (Maybe I’ve misjudged Mr. Cole – he’s a pretty swingin’ dude!) Incestiality? (Or, perhaps, “insectiality”? Do the “beasts” of bestiality have to be mammals?) Onaniality? (That would suggest that most people have at least two sexual identities, however, since they rarely give up this one after initiation into another.) I just don’t know.
C’mon, Mr. Cole – don’t keep us waiting! What are the “other” categories? We could throw a hell of a party in your honor if you’d only come clean!
UPDATE: I have sent the following e-mail to Delegate Cole’s office. I’ll let you know what response I get.
Date: Mon, 6 Feb 2006 15:47:55 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Delegate Cole’s Anthropological Discovery
From: “Kevin T. Keith”
Dear Delegate Cole:
You are quoted by the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/05/AR2006020500943.html), in the context of pending bills to provide non-discrimination protection to Virginia citizens under state law, making this remarkable statement:
“‘Sexual orientation is a broad term,’ said Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Fredericksburg), who has proposed amending the budget. ‘There are eight different sexual orientations, including pedophilia and bestiality.’”
Could you please identify the eight categories and provide some sort of instructions for the more exotic ones?
- Kevin T. Keith
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