Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sexual Labels

With the recent media-storm surrounding former Democratic Congressman Massa's sexual misbehavior with his male subordinates, I thought it would be interesting to continue my discussion of labels today. What does creeper-Massa have to do with the unfair labeling of people/sexual preference/personality? A lot actually.

First, I'd like to make my position clear. Aside from wondering how differently sexual misconduct with female subordinates might have been spun in the media - I do not believe that his resignation (and resulting downward spiral)  is some unfair Democratic crusade against an innocent (as per my arch-nemisis, Glenn Beck). I think that, not unlike many people who abuse positions of power, Massa is a creep. Though his behavior was obviously homoerotic, the question on everyone's mind is now: "Is Massa Gay?"

Having discussed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' with many people, I am fully aware of the stereotypical label applied to homosexuals in the military. Many conservatives believe homosexuals are sexual deviants. You know, the kind of people who (once let out of the massive army-closet) will suddenly indulge themselves in inappropriate sexual behavior with everyone. The same idea has now been applied to Massa. 

He must be gay - because that would explain his behavior much more easily to the greater population. He can't just be a man who likes to emasculate those around him, especially other men (aka. his equals), because he has deep-seeded issues with power positions. You're right. No normal (and that's using the term broadly), military, manly-man would ever struggle with homoerotic issues (you mean there's not widespread homophobia in the military?) or an underlying problem with authority. 

I'm not quite sure, though asking a perfectly legitmate question, Larry King understood how he may have just helped propogate one of the many myths surrounding homosexuals. I'm also not sure if Glenn Beck understood just how far down the rabbit hole he'd gone, by allowing a man like Massa to stand on a soap box. For an entire hour.

Allow me pause to switch gears, slightly ...
Most of you know that I've applied for the Peace Corps and hope to work with AIDS education in Africa. Why? Because AIDS is a very close cause to my heart, having lost an uncle to it. When I tell people this very personal and important piece of information about myself, the common reaction goes something like this:
"Oh. Was he gay?"

Usually my answer is a very straight forward, 'yes,' but not because that explains his death. My answer is 'yes' because he was gay. What I'd really like to say is, "Yeah. Are you gonna ask me if he was black, too?"

It's as if, defining his sexual orientation makes his death more acceptable. Because it doesn't matter that, as well as being gay, he was an amazingly talented, beautiful person. It doesn't matter that AIDS is a horrible epidemic that needs to be addressed (in much broader terms than gay, black, or any other generalized stereotype). What matters is that you know why he died. And according to most people, it wasn't pneumonia. It was because he was a fag.

By labeling a deeply disturbed creeper like Massa as stereotypically homosexual, the seriousness of his behavior is lessened. By labeling AIDS as the 'Fag Killer' or 'Africa's problem,' the seriousness of the disease is lessened. Yes. Sometimes labels are necessary. Yes. Labels aren't always negative.

And yet, in defining the world in such limited terms, we relieve ourselves of the responsibility to fix the problems we see. We make it someone else's problem. We propogate the myths that, while making our world so easy to swallow, hurt our progress in the long run. Today, the big debate (if we're to continue the line of conversation), lies in defining and labeling marriage. While we once defined it by class-status and color, we now define love by gender. Interestingly enough, we define friendships in the same limited capacity, thus limiting our own potential.  

In just the past week I have been reminded dozens of times of how archaic (and stereotypical) labeling is. It's sad to me that, in the twenty-first century, we still don't find it necessary to conduct ourselves differently; to perhaps admit that our ancestors were wrong and judgemental. Because admitting to ourselves that we can do better, and that our children deserve better, is the first step to change. I say it's about time - don't you?