Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Getting Onboard with 'the Gay Agenda'", or "Getting Slimed by Association"

Last night, my partner and I jumped a little deeper into the political action pool.  Last year around this time, we attended Equality Maryland's Legislative Day rally, which featured Gene Robinson, the openly Gay Episcopal bishop of good or ill repute (depending on your source).  Afterward, most of the attendants broke up into smaller groups and visited their own representatives.  J and I, I think, felt just a little too overwhelmed to do anything more than get our feet wet by attending the rally.

This year, however, we were eager to sign up and talk to our legislators:

Maryland House
Maryland Senate
Now, I'm not going to name any names, or point the finger to isolate either party, but there were a few moments where I literally felt like I was sitting in the presence of sleaze.  I detest talking to used car salesmen, but you know, you do what you have to do to get the job done.

We have several bills that are up for Committee discussion in this current session, so we tried our best to field our legislators' positions on these important issues (which include marriage equality, and protections afforded to transgendered people in the workplace, among several other things).  

For the most part, it seems that our legislators are on our side, with the exception of marriage equality.  One legislator (can you guess who?) is firmly against it.  And I had to ask him the question 3 times before he would firmly admit so much.  Now, the fact that Ron George - our only Republican delegate - is against marriage equality is not surprising at all.  What shocked me was his reason for being against it!  He stated that it was neuroscience which led him to this conclusion.  He bolstered his view by proclaiming his strong background in clinical psychology.

I sat silent for a few moments while he droned on about other things.  But being a psychopharmacologist, I couldn't let it go.  I returned to the subject, and asked if he could expound.  In summary, he stated that the brains of men and women are different, and that there is something unique and special about the complementarity of them.  I suggested to him that gay brains might be different, and would provide him evidence to support that point, which he quickly poo-pooed - again sounding out his strong background and review of the neuroscientific evidence - and circumvented the topic once again.

I left without pushing the issue further, but J and I do plan on sending him an email and discussing neuroscience further.  (The email is below.  Tell me what you think about it!)  I do look forward to hearing back from him.  From my vantage point, this simply seems like a reworking of the "Adam and Steve" argument, except instead of arguing complementarity of parts (penises and vaginas), he's arguing complementarity of brains ("penis brains" and "vagina brains"??)  Honestly, I am - in a word - nonplussed.  I do hope that he has some better reasoning than meets the eye.  I'll post a reply if he supplies one - which, I'm pretty sure I'll insist that he does.  If he does not respond, I'll be sure to supply counter evidence to more receptive delegates, to ensure that balanced testimony is heard during the hearings.

Coincidentally, you may be wondering why I'd bother to wrangle with someone who has such a strong background in neuroscience.  Well, it turns out that his "strong" background is actually in acting and jewelry making.  He does happen to have an MS in clinical psychology, which he attained from a Catholic institute in Virginia.  Now, I don't bring this up to diminish the quality of his education.  For all I know, the Institute of Psychological Sciences is a reputable program (though, admittedly, in my professional experience, I've never heard of the place - and it's not far from here).  And maybe they do a good job of putting an unbiased slant on neuroscience - rather than a conservative, Catholic one (though admittedly, the school's programs do not appear to be accredited by the American Psychological Association - or any psychological body, for that matter - so I'd have to grant them a rather magnanimous benefit of the doubt on that one).  But what I find interesting is that Delegate George's resume does NOT include any relevant psychology work - either in research or in clinical psychology.  So his very "strong" background in neuroscience seems dubious to me, at best.  I guess we'll see . . .
Dear Delegate George,

Thank you for making the time to meet with Equality Maryland this evening. My partner, [J], and I (we were sitting directly on your right) are new residents in Annapolis, and we think it is important to have a relationship with our elected representatives, particularly as we prepare for the elections this November. We appreciated the chance to get to know you a bit.

We are sorry that you do not support full marriage equality for gay and lesbian Marylanders. We appreciate your psychological perspective, but for us, this can never be merely an academic issue. Our experience as gay people makes this a full-spectrum issue, touching all areas of our lives and persons. For us, marriage equality is intensely practical, affecting our lives every time we sign a contract, file our taxes, or consider any one of myriad issues of family life.

At the same time, I do find it meaningful to pursue academic concerns, as they become the basis for legislative action for many people.  What I did not mention in our meeting (because I didn't want to sound pretentious) is that I am a psychopharmacologist.  So naturally, my interest was piqued when you stated that your concerns about gay rights were rooted in neuroscience.  I would really appreciate it if you could expound a bit more about your neuroscientific background, and what you feel neuroscience says about civil protections for gay people.  I would also appreciate some scholarly references which back up your claims.  (No need to bother with supplying articles, citations will do, as my employment at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy gives me access to endless primary, secondary, and tertiary resources.)

It would be especially helpful if you could describe your argument (in as much detail as you feel comfortable) in a format that is more or less as follows:

1.) What you think the vast neurological and neuroscientific evidence says about sexuality
2.) What you think this evidence says about heterosexuality specifically
3.) What you think this evidence says about homosexuality specifically, and whether or not it seems to be - in your opinion - a disordered version of what you describe in 2 above, or whether it seems to be a variant across humankind and/or mammalian species
4.) Given 1-3 above, how should this evidence dictate our determination of civil rights (specifically gay rights)?

I ask in this way, because my current understanding of your argument is that you are of the opinion that there is a such thing as a "male brain," and it's complement (the "female brain").  Thus, marriage should be based on this complementarity of brains.  From my vantage point, this seems like a reworking of the indefensible (and now defunct) "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" argument (i.e., marriage is based upon the complementarity of the physical parts, specifically genitalia).  I'm sure I don't need to bore you with the philosophical complications of such an argument, and why it really has no place in determining civil marriage protections.  Yet, it seems as though you've simply made a similar argument, but instead of positing penises and vaginas, you've posited "male brains" and "female brains."  How exactly do you feel that your neuroscientific argument is superior to the "Adam and Steve" argument? 
Furthermore, if there is a sort of harmony between "male brains" and "female brains," what do you make of gay people? If your supposition is that gay men still have (heterosexual) "male brains," then you are really saying that gay people CHOOSE to be gay, and thus should not be allowed to marry other men.  However, if gay men do not choose to be gay, then you must conclude that the "gay male brain" is somehow different.  And if so, should there not be some suitable provisions in the law allowing for the union of "gay male brains"?  (The same, of course, could be asked of lesbians and "lesbian female brains.")

Finally, please be aware that I am a blogger, so if there is something that you would not want me to share publicly, please indicate that.  I will certainly respect your wishes.
Once again, we do sincerely appreciate your time yesterday evening, and your willingness to speak with us. We look forward to hearing from you soon, and we hope that we can come to a better understanding of ourselves and each other in the process.

DF and JC
[address hidden]


Pomoprophet said...

Hi penis brain,

Kudos to you for being politically involved. You just did one of the best forms of activism possible! Much better than just attending some rally that doesn't change any hearts or minds. Argh. I just see the futility of it all. Maybe thats because i'm in CA where the legislature is firmly on our side. So is the courts. But 52% of the population isn't. So the job here is much more nebulous. Although all LGBT people are in the PR business if they're wanting to get anything done.

Your penis brain friend,

Derrick said...

Hey buddy,
Looks like your letter was very appropriate and if he answers your questions, you will have a strong grasp on what he believes and he will probably hang himself because it will take a lot of outside sources for him to answer that. I am thinking he will get someone else to write it for him though

Joe Moderate said...

so I read this post on my phone at work today and almost busted out laughing when I read "penis brains and vagina brains" ROFL. *amazing* That has got to be one of the penultimate achievements of anti-gay quackery. I can't think of a better qualified guy to expose his ridiculous thinking, either :-)

Well done, my friend. Hey, I'm curious if, when you signed the email, if you put all your degree initials after your name just to kick ass even more ;-)

D.J. Free! said...

LOL! Thanks for the laugh, my penis-brained friend, Pomo! Hey, don't lose hope for Cali. You guys are BOUND to have a majority vote (and thus a NEW Constitution!) in your favor in no time! :)

Derrick, I'd be more than happy for him to get some outsider to answer for him. I'm just hoping that someone - ANYONE - can make this make more sense to me than what it seems on the surface. Because let's face it, the surface is pretty cruddy!


No, I didn't put my credentials. I don't want to scare him TOO much ;)