All Worked Up About Choices


Two roads converged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

Here in the United States, we’re fascinated by the concept of rebels. The notion of one person or one small group of people bucking “the system” and going their own way is deeply rooted in our culture and in our collective mythology. Of course, this country was founded by a ragtag bunch of anti-establishment traitors who, after defeating the British Empire, became patriots. More than one hundred and forty years after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, residents of states south of the Mason-Dixon line take great pride in being called rebels, so much so that some of them take great and almost confrontational pride in displaying the flag of the Confederate States of America. On a more individual basis, some of our most popular historical figures qualify as being rebels even when their activities were actually crimes. Consider how people like Billy The Kid, Jesse James, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and John Gotti achieved celebrity status in their respective days.

On our favorite television shows and movies, the heroes are inevitably anti-establishment loners. How many TV and movie cops, secret agents, cowboys, soldiers and athletes are portrayed as lone wolves bucking the system and swimming against the tide, seeking their own brand of justice, playing by their own rules and living their lives to the fullest as they see fit? Rooster Cogburn, Shane, Huckleberry Finn, the Corleones, Rambo, and any role portrayed by Chuck Norris, Mel Gibson, or Vin Diesel. We in the United States practically worship those who, as Mr. Frost put it, took the road less traveled by. Most of them, anyway. See, all of the examples I provided above have one thing in common besides being considered rebels. They’re all straight. That makes their acts of rebellion okay.

Gay people have been in the news a lot lately, with all the criticism and vicious rhetoric that seems to come with the territory. For example, former NBA player John Amaechi just published a book in which he admitted he’s gay. This prompted another former NBA player, Tim Hardaway, to come out of his own closet and admit he’s a bigoted, homophobic asshole.

On WAXY-AM in Miami, Florida, Hardaway said to Dan Le Batard about what he thought of possibly having a gay teammate. “You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known,” Hardaway said. “I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.”

When Hardaway was asked how he’d react if a teammate came out while both he and Hardaway were still active in the league, Hardaway said, “First of all, I wouldn’t want him on my team. And second of all, if he was on my team, I would, you know, really distance myself from him because, uh, I don’t think that’s right. And you know I don’t think he should be in the locker room while we’re in the locker room. I wouldn’t even be a part of that.”

Hardaway was justifiably crucified in the media for his comments, and one of the more popular forms of criticism was to say, “Take Hardaway’s rant and substitute the word ‘black’ for the word ‘gay’ and you see how hateful his opinions are.”

However, Hardaway had his defenders, too, and many of them relied on the old myth that homophobia is different than racism. Whereas people have no say in whether they’re born black or white or yellow, homosexuals “decide” to be gay. You see, if somebody’s born a certain way it’s really not fair to be prejudiced against him or her for it. However, if someone makes a lifestyle choice to be a certain way, being a hateful bigot towards him or her is perfectly acceptable.

Sorry, I don’t buy it. Take John Amaechi, for example. Does anybody really think he chose to subject himself to the kind of bile Tim Hardaway’s been spewing forth? That Amaechi weighed the plusses and minuses and said, “You know what? I’m going to try being gay for a while?”

Now, the evidence is pretty clear that homosexuality is no more a choice for most people than is eye color or an allergy to peanuts. I won’t bore you with an analysis of what’s called the “gay gene” or the genetics of homosexuality, since I don’t understand most of it myself, anyway. (I was a liberal arts major). Suffice it to say, most of the scientific community is convinced that people have no control over which gender they are sexually attracted to.

Of course, homophobes don’t need science or common sense. They just need an excuse to hate, and by claiming gays choose to be gay, it’s their own fault when they get humiliated, persecuted, and beaten. But then again, the “choice” excuse is also a great way to wiggle out from under an uncomfortable stigma. You remember Ted Haggard, of course? He’s the high-profile former pastor for Colorado’s New Life Church who had to resign in disgrace when it came out he’d been having a long-term affair with a gay male prostitute. Well, it turns out all that gayness was just a passing phase! After only three weeks at an Arizona treatment center with four fellow Evangelical pastors, it was announced that Rev. Haggard is completely heterosexual. I kid you not. Of course, the Holy Terrors have been claiming for years that gays can be cured of their homosexuality, but this is revolutionary! Who knew it could be as simple as spending three weeks in the Arizona desert with four other men?

I’m not saying I doubt that Reverend Haggard was cured-okay, maybe I am. Think about it. If someone said that after only three weeks of therapy, he was cured of alcoholism or depression (or a fondness for crystal meth), would you believe him?

As I said before, I don’t buy the whole “lifestyle choice” bunkum. But let’s, for the sake of argument, say that people can choose to be gay.

So what?

America loves people who go against the grain. Who live the lives they choose, and who are willing to bear the consequences, even if those choices take them down the road less traveled. As long as they’re not hurting anyone else, let them be gay, right? They’re free agents, they’re capable of rational thought and knowing for themselves what’s best. Let them choose and live with those choices, and it ain’t nobody’s business but their own.

After all, we make lifestyle choices every day. We choose to wear the red tie or the yellow tie. We choose between thongs and granny panties. Take the bus or fight traffic? Paper or plastic? CSI or Scrubs?” Condoms or diaphragms? Whips and velvet-lined cuffs or the silk ropes and the paddle?

People even choose which faith to live by, which religious leader to follow, which god to whom they pray. If we were to offer blanket condemnations to people for the religious decisions they made, to justify prejudice and bigotry and persecution because someone chose to live by a certain religious creed, even a creed we might disagree with, well’that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

Instead of substituting the word “black” for the word gay” in Tim Hardaway’s rant, let’s substitute a real lifestyle choice. In place of the word, “gay,” let’s substitute words like, “Jew,” “Muslim,” or “Catholic.”

Is that kind of hatred still considered acceptable?

J.T. Benjamin
March 2007

“All Worked Up” © 2007 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

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