I read James Howard Kunstler’s blog regularly, but being busy in real life this week, I haven’t taken the time to engage with the comments section. So I don’t know what the tenor of responses to Jim’s pensées about gay and transgender people, the acceptance of gay marriage, et cetera has been. But I just did a quick text search and the word “vomit” only matched once, in the text of his post, but no responses. So no one appears to have taken up what to me was the singular point that I took away from reading him this week.
In brief, Jim Kunstler holds gay and trans people to be the human equivalent of plastic vomit. Regarding transgender people in particular, he offers the following options: “a psychological disturbance, a developmental problem, an extreme fashion statement, or a fantasy.” Why any of these should render trans people fit targets for discrimination or disqualify them from the full protection of the laws isn’t spelled out. It seems that, since they’re a parody of humanity (“plastic vomit”), not actual humans (Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass), the notion of them enjoying equal status with the rest of us just rubs him the wrong way.
Regarding homosexuality as distinct from transgender, Jim’s attitude toward “that behavior” is likewise dismissive, implicitly attempting to define or demean it out of existence. When I first read A History of the Future (I have my copy here), I was struck early on that the character Andrew Pendergast is introduced as a ‘reformed’ homosexual who has basically wised up and gotten real. In Kunstler’s depiction, if not in reality, the discipline required to survive in the new times just doesn’t leave space for such fripperies and affectations. Likewise in this week’s posting, Jim denounces “state approbation of homosexual behavior” (the Windsor decision) as motivated by “feelings” and thus illegitimate. One might note in response that in the past, and to a great extent in the present, homosexuals have faced relentless social pressure and the most extreme legal sanctions. In Europe they were burned at the stake; in Britain within living memory, Alan Turing, one of the great geniuses of the twentieth century, was forced to take hormones in an attempt to ‘cure’ him; today in Saudi Arabia, gay people face fines, years in prison, and hundreds of lashes with a bullwhip. Yet despite all this, gay people have continued to be gay and to act like it.
Whether the phenomenon of people who don’t fit the gender binary corresponds to any of Jim’s characterizations or not, one thing they clearly are is part of the spectrum of humanity, whether or not we deign to recognize “actually a real sexual category”. That gay people continue to be who they are in the face of everything straight people, backed by the power of the state, can throw at them ‘feels’ to me like an authentic expression of their humanity as they live it — their “pursuit of happiness” — not an affectation. Might this not constitute a rejoinder to Kunstler’s dismissiveness?
Jim’s final point is about the elimination of boundaries. In his view, the DOJ apparently has overstepped itself and “antagoniz[ed] large numbers of males and females by coercing them to consort with transgender people”. Consort! As if transgender people haven’t been here all along, urinating and defecating like all us humans do. (Land sakes, they’ll be using the drinking fountains next.) Which bathrooms trans people happened to use hadn’t been an issue until bigots in state legislatures decided to make it one. Then the federal government stepped up and reminded everyone that it has laws of its own, and won’t neglect to enforce them. The effrontery.
It’s true that when you push people’s boundaries, they push back. That makes for trouble and ruckus, and sometimes controversies that people feel passionate about really can destabilize societies. That’s not a trivial issue. But some boundaries deserve to be pushed, and pushed hard — especially the kind of boundaries that accord people on one side full humanity, and others not. Mr. Kunstler may imagine that he’s being generous in extending the olive branch of civil unions, but the question of “separate but equal” was settled in the courts decades ago: it’s not fit for a free society.
It’s not “extreme relativism” to insist that America live out the meaning of its creed and accord equal treatment to all under the law. It’s the exact opposite. I hope Mr. Kunstler will consider the truth of that statement.