CRANSTON: I detect a certain weirdness about the annual “gay pride” parades in our city.
TURNER: These celebrations seem appropriate to me, at this turning point, after centuries of branding homosexuality as abnormal.
CRANSTON: If we extend the concept of “normality” too far, the meaning becomes hopelessly diluted. The result is that hardly anything is abnormal any more.
TURNER: Recent studies have shown that homosexuality is related to physiological causes, possibly hormonal interactions. Some of the research on identical twins separated at birth indicates that homosexuality may be traced to genetic causes. Of course, the layperson needs some time to catch up with the scientific findings.
CRANSTON: None of the studies I have seen are conclusive, and some of them have been conducted by homosexuals, who may understandably have difficulty in being completely objective about the normality of homosexuality.
TURNER: I doubt that a homosexual scientist would risk his or her reputation with fraudulent procedures or data. Even with the most painstaking objectivity, nothing in science is ever absolutely conclusive. But in lieu of certainty, one could speak of a high probability. The preponderance of the evidence, as far as I can see, points in the direction of a physical cause for homosexuality.
CRANSTON: I have doubts about any scientist’s ability to isolate true homosexuality. We know for a fact that many “homosexuals” are really bisexual. Some homosexual men, for example, marry and have children, and then eventually leave their family when they decide they would have more sexual pleasure with males than females. You would have a hard time convincing me that this sort of coming-out is anything other than an old-fashioned perversion.
TURNER: Bisexuality is an ambiguous case. Possibly the bisexuals should just watch the gay pride parade from the sidewalk! But according to current estimates, 1-2 percent of the population in the United States are true homosexuals, with no physical attraction to the opposite sex. If these true homosexuals become conscious of their identity, and celebrate that, who can object?
CRANSTON: As you say, we have only probability, not certainty, with regard to the question of physical causes for homosexuality. I will grant, for the sake of argument, that homosexuality may be physically caused, or (more likely) caused psychologically by some deep-rooted unconscious syndromes. If some such etiology could be substantiated, I would find homosexuals’ use of the phrase, “gay pride” even more incomprehensible.
TURNER: Why? You seem proud enough that you are not one of them.
CRANSTON: For one thing, they have purloined a perfectly good adjective in the English language, “gay,” which used to have a much broader connotation.
TURNER: “Gay” was a pejorative label first applied by homophobes.
CRANSTON: Which makes their acceptance of the term even more bizarre. In the present situation, we are not able even to refer to “gay colors,” a “gay party,” or a “gay disposition,” or what-not, without being misunderstood.
TURNER: I would like to think that you are starting with the little stuff—linguistic fashions or trends—and working up to the important issues. However, you do seem to be serious about this. If so, what can I say, except that words are not proprietary? Look what Generation X has done to some of our words: “Cool” used to have to do with temperature, now kids use it for value-assessment; “bad” used to be the opposite of good, the last I heard, teens were using it to mean “great!”, or “fantastic!”, or even “good!”, causing much confusion for the older generation. “Far out!” used to refer to distance.
CRANSTON: But you can still use those words in the original sense, and people will understand you. You can no longer use “gay” except in the context of homosexuality. Homosexuals have appropriated a good, meaningful English word bereft of sexual connotations. It may still be listed in the dictionary as a usable adjective, but we are inhibited from using it any more in its primary meanings.
TURNER: So perhaps our generation has been witnessing a complete changeover in the contemporary Anglo-American usage of “gay.” I find it difficult to get worked up over it. Need I remind you? We have a good stock of synonyms to use instead of “gay.” How about “merry,” “vivacious,” “light-hearted,” “colorful,” “ebullient,” and so forth? You are quite a literate person, and should be able to find synonyms with little effort.
CRANSTON: I fail to see why I should be forced by social pressures to do that, to avoid misunderstanding or ridicule.
TURNER: I think something more is at stake here than linguistic liberty. I have been watching you as you use the word, “gay,” and noticed that your speech is tinged with emotion. I can only conclude that the emotion is directed not at the word, but at what it currently stands for.
CRANSTON: I don’t deny that I feel disgust and repulsion at the idea of homosexual acts, and I have a lot of company in this. But so what? I’m not a stoic; I’m not in the business of hiding my emotions. If you observed anything, it is a purely aesthetic reaction over something which I have no control. It is as natural to me as, allegedly, same-sex orientation is to pure homosexuals. But I do not extrapolate this involuntary feeling of repulsion into a negative ethical judgment or follow through with discriminatory or intolerant acts.
TURNER: Well, then, a solution suggests itself: If “homosexual pride” was substituted for “gay pride,” would this be more acceptable? It’s a more cumbersome phrase, but for the sake of public relations it might be preferred by all parties.
CRANSTON: The usage of “gay” is not my only linguistic objection. I also find the reference to “pride” inappropriate. Pride is warranted when one has done something or accomplished something worthwhile. If, as has been suggested, true homosexuality is something inborn and natural, or at least not a matter of conscious choice, I see nothing to be either proud or, for that matter, ashamed, of. Pride is simply out of place and out of its proper context.
TURNER: On the same reasoning you would have to indict movements or celebrations promoting black pride, Italian pride, or what-not. Such movements seem innocuous and are probably quite beneficial.
CRANSTON: I have not been claiming that such movements are noxious, but just that they are nonsensical. If, for example, heterosexuals were to band together and have a “heterosexual pride” (or “‘straight’ pride”) parade, it would be recognized immediately as dumb and ridiculous.
TURNER: I suppose by the same token you would find beauty pageants “weird.” And how about Mensa, that organization of high I.Q. people? They don’t have parades, but I presume the purpose of Mensa is just to get together to demonstrate pride in their native intelligence and admire one another for this gift of nature.
CRANSTON: A person can do things to maintain or restore his or her health and beauty, and I presume that constant exercise of the mind may have something to do with high I.Q. scores.
TURNER: I take it that if homosexuals had a parade celebrating the accomplishments of fellow homosexuals—the inventions, the discoveries, the social and political contributions—you would have no objection.
CRANSTON: Not in the least—as long as they refrain from using that “g” adjective again, and as long as they don’t attribute homosexual orientation with little validity and on the basis of gossip, to renowned figures in history.
TURNER: Numerous articles or books have appeared on the subject: “Was _____ really gay?” And you can fill in the blanks with quite a few people. But this sort of information fulfills a useful function. Without it, it would be difficult for homosexuals to identify with role-models from the past.
CRANSTON: Pseudo-history is rampant on this subject, since the trend of coming-out from “the closet” is something quite recent. But I don’t see how such information, even if valid, is useful or relevant. Since when does a suitable role model have to be of the same sexual orientation, or even of the same sex?
TURNER: You are opening up the possibility that a lesbian could be a good role model.
CRANSTON: Of course. She may have qualified for the Olympics, or discovered a new vaccine. But her same-sex attraction is irrelevant. And a heterosexual, as well, who may have some things to be proud of, can be a good role model. But because of what he or she does, not because of normal sexual attraction.
Editor’s note: This dialogue by Dr. Kainz first appeared in his 1999 book, Politically Incorrect Dialogues: Topics not Discussed in Polite Circles published by Rodopi and is reprinted with permission.