Friday, February 10, 2006

Defending 'Truth' By Telling Lies, Part 3

One of the most interesting (and telling) aspects of this debate is how conservative Christians are always very quick to pick up and endlessly repeat any negative statistic or stereotype they can find and use as a weapon against openly gay individuals. Once introduced, these notions take on a life of their own and persist long after they've been thoroughly debunked and exposed as falsehoods.

And even if you manage to get through to someone who's been spreading such a falsehood, you're not likely to get any more of an acknowledgment than "Well, it doesn't matter. Homosexuality is a sin, and sin is sin even if it seems like a good thing." Which would be an acceptable answer, quite frankly, since it would be consistent with the speaker's belief system. But it only begs the question: If you have the truth on your side, why would you ever feel the need to bolster your case with shoddy research and discredited theories? Do you really think that people are going to be impressed by your interpretation of God's will for their lives once they realize you've lied to them?

As I've said before, I think that individuals at the lay level are primarily guilty of putting too much faith in their human leaders. The average person doesn't have the time or resources to carefully research complex issues like this one, not that they're completely off the hook for their failure to even consider that there might be other valid perspectives out there.

Their leaders, on the other hand, have no excuse. The pastor or author or televangelist who fails to verify whether the 'statistics' he's repeating about life expectancy or pedophilia or whatever else are actually valid is guilty of leading others into error and untruth. There was a time when there was little information available to counter these myths, but that time is long past.

Having said that, it's time to lay to rest another of the popular myths that the religious right likes to repeat again and again, namely the notion that all gay men are wildly promiscuous. It would be hard to find a Christian who's not familiar with the "fact" that gay men have an average of 500 sexual partners (or some equally high number).

This oft-cited statistic has two primary sources: Alan Bell and Martin Weinberg's book Homosexualities, and The Gay Report, written by Karla Jay and Allen Young.

The Bell and Weinberg study was a survey of gay men in San Francisco. Conducted in the late 1970s, it was never intended to be taken as a scientific study, and ultimately it is only reflective of the narrow population group its numbers were derived from. As documented here and here, survey responses were taken from volunteers recruited from local bath houses, gay bars, public parks, personal referrals and gay-oriented mailing lists. Respondents were not randomly selected, nor was any effort made to find participants outside of the visible gay scene in a single city (San Francisco). Furthermore, the survey is nearly 30 years old and pre-dates the AIDS crisis. To cite such a study as "fact" and to generalize it to populations not represented in the original survey is both irresponsible and disingenuous.

Jay and Young's survey, conducted during roughly the same time period, is no less flawed. Jim Burroway has already done an in-depth analysis of this study, but here are a few highlights:
-Nearly half of the respondents were subscribers to Blueboy, a gay 'adult' magazine. Surveying such a group is the equivalent of polling Penthouse subscribers and extrapolating the results to the broader heterosexual population.
-The vast majority (95%+) of the "hundreds of thousands" sent surveys did not respond. By making no effort to ensure a truly random sampling of the broader gay population, the results were skewed toward that group of individuals most naturally inclined to divulge the details about their sex lives - i.e. those predisposed toward a promiscuous lifestyle.
-The authors themselves admit that they "do not claim to have a scientific or representative sample of lesbians and gay men."

Anecdotally speaking, it's not a stretch to recognize that there's a lot of dysfunction within the gay community. Obviously these surveys got their numbers from somewhere, and the continued existence of bath houses and other hook-up venues belies the fact that some individuals are very promiscuous. But anecdotally speaking, it's also true that many of the men who frequent these places are closeted, and quite a few of them are married to women. Low self-esteem plays a large role in fueling sexually addictive behavior, and the church has done more than its share to instill feelings of shame and worthlessness in its same-sex-attracted members.

And there's a far larger population of gay men and women (funny how lesbians almost always get overlooked in these debates) who aren't interested in having anything to do with the seedier aspects of the "gay scene," individuals who live quiet, ordinary lives either as singles or in stable relationships. This silent majority doesn't even exist, according to many Christian activists.

And all of that doesn't even begin to touch on the issue of heterosexual promiscuity, which is ultimately just as widespread. The professional research that has been done on this issue suggests that a similar percentage of heterosexuals and homosexuals engage in highly promiscuous behavior. The gay men on that end of the spectrum tend to have more sexual partners than their straight counterparts, but that would seem to be more a byproduct of the availability of willing partners than it is a sign of restraint on the part of promiscuous heterosexual men.

When all is said and done, it's a shame that more hasn't been done to conduct usable research on this subject. Of course, if such data contradicted the dismal picture of the gay community that Christian advocacy groups have painted, those groups would most likely try to dismiss it as politically motivated while simultaneously denying their own political motives, but in the long run the truth will speak for itself.


grace said...

You are so right about this. It's really a shame. You probably don't know me from a hole in the wall but while I don't believe homosexuality to be part of God's design, I absolutely do not agree with using lies, skewed statistics, and general hatefulness to relay ANY message, let alone THIS one. I also agree with your argument that if one is indeed arguing their case against homosexuality based on God's design/Christian values....then they should be held accountable to high standards for truth, love, and kindness in their dealings with all concerned.
These are the reasons I don't get involved in any of the political sort of baggage that goes along with the ex-gay movement.

JJ said...

As always... bravo!

disputed mutability said...

I agree E, it's really lame. I'm not sure it's lying, as I think a lot of these people really believe what they're saying, but it's still annoying.

I think I know how you feel about trying to get through to people. I've been in some really frustrating conversations with people about stereotypes, studies, and statistics.

Unfortunately, I don't think things will really change until impeccably everstraight leaders with flawlessly conservative theology and politics start labelling the falsehoods as falsehoods and decrying them. I've noticed personally that some people will discount any positive or insufficiently negative thing I have to say about gays, apparently because I used to identify as gay, so therefore my perspective must be distorted in favor of gays and their "lifestyle".

(Which is rather ironic. You'd think it'd give us more credibility, not less--that it would mean that we knew a little bit more about what we were talking about than they did.)