Warning: This is a very cynical article. On the off-chance that you are favourably impressed by it, your first act after reading will probably be to go to an orphanage and announce that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
In a Creative Writing class that I attended yesterday, the professor revealed that one of the students had written a story about a man who feels he’s actually a woman. A woman, trapped in a man’s body. A cross-dresser. (A transgender? I’m not sure if this falls under the technical definition of a transgender.)
Anyway, quite predictably, there followed a debate on LGBT rights. Or rather, a discussion – no one actually felt that members of the LGBT community should be denied any basic rights. But how far is it our responsibility to treat them “normally”? Even if gay rights and marriage are secured, would they be able to have a regular social life, with a sizeable circle of friends from outside the LGBT community (since they form a majority)? Most pressingly of all, does society owe them a special effort to ensure that they have a normal social life, given that they’ve flouted some major social conventions?
In any discussion on this topic that almost everyone seems to love having their say on, there’s usually a great deal of moralizing – “How can people be so heartless, gay people have feelings too!” “What’s so different about them, why can’t we just live together in peace?”
And these arguments do make sense – but only on the grounds of compassion. I couldn’t help thinking (not because I’m homophobic, but because I like to think critically) – “There are social outcasts of all shapes and sizes and varieties. Why should we make a special effort for people who defy social expectations in one particular way?”
As I was walking back from the class to my room, I saw the thing that inspired me to write this article – a dead scorpion on the side of the road, in all probability run over by a cycle.
I’m a bit of a wildlife buff. I get excited when I see an animal that isn’t commonplace, and almost all the scorpions I’ve seen have all been dead ones. That makes me angry. “Why couldn’t the rider have made an effort to see that he was about to run over a scorpion?”, I thought.
At first blush that sounds like a patently ridiculous question. How on earth are we going to take so much care? It’s highly impractical. But isn’t it a life that you’re extinguishing? Doesn’t that bother you at least a little, make you squirm in your seat a tad?
No, of course it doesn’t! Because you’ve been living that way all your life and one paragraph of text you read on the internet won’t change that. But the point I’m trying to make here is – are we really in a position to make arguments on moral grounds? We’ve been mercilessly exploiting the earth and most other forms of life on it for furthering our purposes, without pausing for thought about their suffering or feelings. Even if they don’t have feelings in the human sense, they certainly do feel pain, and that doesn’t bother us in the slightest.
So here’s what I suggest – in the LGBT debate, at least for the time being, let’s put all ideas of morality and fairness aside.
How did the concept of a human society start? How did we, as the species Homo Sapiens, go from barely more than apes to the sophisticated creatures we are today, living in relative comfort and security (albeit constrained by a complicated set of rules)?
It probably started this way. At some point, our ancestors discovered that if they got together and agreed to do certain things and not do certain other things, all of them, without exception, would be better served. With collective effort and an appropriate division of responsibilities, everyone would have better protection from predators and easier access to food and shelter.
And as we focused on improving the quality of our lives, we kept tweaking the rules to make that possible. That’s a loose account of how we got here.
Animal societies work the same way. In rare cases, we even observe co-operation between species when it benefits both – symbiosis.
So, from such a perspective, the only question we need to ask ourselves is – do we have anything to gain by integrating the LGBT community into mainstream society?
Well, I don’t want to bore you with statistics, but surveys have been conducted to determine the percentage of gay or bisexual people in various countries – with the results turning up anywhere between 5% and 15%. (If you want a source, it’s Wikipedia.) And when you factor in the reasonable assumption that some of the participants of the survey would have been hesitant to declare their true orientation if it wasn’t hetero, this is only a lower bound.
Statistically, this is huge. To alienate such a significant percentage of people and let them languish, or turn them to sex work (which happens a lot in India, one of the features of my classmate’s story) would be utter folly.
Alan Turing, one of the pioneers of the computer science field and an undisputed genius, happened to be gay. He committed suicide at the age of 41 because he was found guilty of gross indecency after admitting to a homosexual relationship – it was a crime in Britain in those days. What have we missed out on, by treating him so shabbily?
Giving gay people a sense of security and acceptance is more than worth it – they’re just as intellectually developed as the straight ones. It is almost a statistical certainty that if, say, the world’s energy crisis is resolved by a large team of elite scientists, a few of them will be gay. (As opposed to the chances of one of them being a scorpion.)
In my opinion, this is the line of reasoning that a lawmaker should use. And this is something that simply cannot be argued with – while notions of morality can be debated until the cows come home.
Now, you might want to ask – does that mean we have no reason to care for people who are highly unlikely to contribute to our development, like the mentally challenged?
The short answer to that question is yes. I’m sorry if it upsets you, but that would be a logical conclusion to draw.
But remember that I have only demonstrated how foolish it would be to exclude the LGBT community and deny them resources, because both parties would stand to lose in that case. We do not have to shed our capacity for compassion altogether – we can still take emotional decisions that have little grounding in self-interest.
When you think about it, the code of ethics and values that we live by is very arbitrary. It was mostly set up to help society function smoothly, with the key aim of society being common benefit. Considering such a code as fundamental and irrefutable leads to many contradictions – like how we don’t give the proverbial rodent’s hindquarters about killing animals for luxury products, but take human rights violations very seriously.
I’m going to end here, on this rather somber note. I’d like to believe I’ve left you with a lot of food for thought. Have a nice day!