Saturday, August 22, 2009

Curing the variant

Periodically, a story pops up in the news about a child near death from a treatable disease, because her family doesn't believe in antibiotics, or other forms of modern medicine. I have no doubt that the parents in these cases genuinely love their children, but they earnestly interpret their Bible as preventing them from using modern interventions. "It's God's will", they say. "Who are we to go against it?"

Most of us in our modern society tut-tut when we hear this, dismayed over this clear mis-use of religion in a way that results in unnecessary pain, grave harm or even death to a child. We simply don't understand how the parents can be so willfully anti-modern, especially where their child is concerned. After all, what is more precious than a child? Wouldn't any parent do anything to save their child? How can they resist modern knowledge and understanding, knowing that their child will die? What they see as "normal" and "natural", the vast majority of us see as abuse.

So this led me to the broader question of how we define "normal" and when we pathologize it. For example, most of us consider left-handedness "normal" and unremarkable, a minor human variant that doesn't affect the predominant right-handed culture. Most hearing people consider congenital deafness a defect to be treated (e.g., by cochlear implants); however, Deaf people often resent their deafness being pathologized, and many forcibly resist being absorbed into a dominant hearing culture. Or consider cleft palate: this is a "naturally occurring" birth defect that we do our best to treat surgically and heal. All of these conditions are "normal", all of them are "natural". So how do we decided what to pathologize as a defect to be treated, as opposed to a variant to be accepted?

Our example of the child denied antibiotics gives one clue. Some people turn to their Bible to determine what is normal, natural, and acceptable to their concept of God. But for them to say they do this outside of the context of modern knowledge is disingenuous. For centuries, left-handedness was pathologized on religious grounds (and still is in some cultures); the efforts to "convert" the left handed led to serious psychological trauma in some cases. We know better now.

Or do we?

Let's consider our GLBT brothers and sisters. Western medicine and science accepts homosexuality as a natural variant, not a pathology, that occurs across cultures and ethnic groups at a fairly consistent rate. Some people are closer to viewing the GLBT community as the Deaf community: one that rejects being identified as a pathology that is imposed upon it by a dominant culture. And, finally, there are those who, as the parents using the Bible to reject antibiotics, similarly use the Bible to reject their gay children in the face of knowledge and science. I argue that there is a distinct parallel between the parents who point to a few texts in the Bible about promiscuous sex, and those who point to the Bible to justify killing their child by withholding treatment. We reject the one. We should reject both.

Finally, I want to draw your attention to a particularly "nasty" form of "treatment" directed at lesbian women in particular: the concept of "curative rape". This has hit the press and the internet numerous times recently.
  • Item: In South Africa, men are encouraged to rape women to cure them of their lesbianism. Some of their victims are brutally murdered.

  • Item: A woman in Utah , devoutly Mormon, hires a man to rape her lesbian daughter, reasoning that the only reason her daughter is gay is that she hasn't "known" a man.

  • Item: A lesbian woman is raped in Richmond CA as the perpetrators use sexually derogatory terms.
We all know (I hope) that rape isn't about sex. It's about violence. And rape directed at lesbian women is violence that treats homosexuality as a pathology, rather than a variant. How dare these lesbians reject men! It is the flip side of a "gay panic" defense: she needs to know a "real" man. It's sick, disgusting, and frightening.

And it comes from treating a variant as a pathology: something to be rejected, feared and "cured". It's why many GLBT people view Christians as people intent on harming them. Rather like denying a treatment to a dying child.

H/T Madpriest for the Utah story. Cross posted at Friends of Jake. and Daily Kos WGLB Friday


James said...

Well said, IT. I really enjoy this blog.

IT said...

Thank you James. You are my most faithful reader!