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Natural Means Nothing: In Defense Of Queerdom

Francesca Bessey |
June 3, 2013 | 8:16 p.m. PDT

Senior Opinion Editor

For queer Angelenos and their allies, another L.A. PRIDE is on the horizon.

The human nature argument seems a convenient excuse for being ignorant, close-minded and downright cruel. (Imamon, Creative Commons)
The human nature argument seems a convenient excuse for being ignorant, close-minded and downright cruel. (Imamon, Creative Commons)

But 43 years after the first LGBT pride marches were organized in cities across the country, America still has a big fat problem with queer.

We’re still insisting on the illegality of same-sex marriage. We’re still bullying LGBT youth into suicide. We’re still disrespecting, denying jobs to and declaring unattractive people who do not conform to arbitrary gender identities, despite how much these identities have changed throughout time.

And the argument I hear again and again for why we’re doing this? Queer just “isn’t natural.” Same-sex is not a “natural” form of partnership. Stay-at-home dads are not “natural” parents. Women “naturally” shouldn’t have hair on their face or legs (seeing as it biologically grows there, I’m not sure how we worked that one out.)

It seems to me that we’re using the natural argument as a convenient excuse for being ignorant, close-minded and downright cruel.

Perhaps it’s so easy to do this because none of us are sure what natural even means in the first place. The Oxford English Dictionary defines natural as follows:

1 existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind

This definition, like most definitions of the word, is effectively useless. If human beings are part of nature, then why aren’t the things they cause and create part of nature too? Why is a beaver dam natural, but a house isn’t? Why do we consider the song of a nightingale “natural” music, but not “Gimme Shelter”?

And why, if human-made structures and music cannot be considered natural, should we consider some forms of human partnership or gender construction natural, but others not?

So we don’t actually know what “natural” is, but let’s pretend that we do. Since when is “unnatural” bad? Aren’t there all kinds of “unnatural” products and processes that are unarguably beneficial to humankind?

I ask you, what exactly is “natural” about the breadth of human technological, medicinal, artistic or architectural achievement thus far? What exactly is “natural” about central heating—an artificial recreation of the fires used by prehistoric peoples to keep warm, about airplanes—an imitation of animals who were “naturally” created (by God, if you’re religious) with wings, or about vaccinations—the (completely counter-intuitive) insertion of a disease into your bloodstream in order to make you stronger?

What is “natural” about roller coaster parks, brass instruments, radiation therapy or the centuries of genetic modification that made corn edible? What is natural about the televisions and blog platforms from which anti-gay politicians and pastors broadcast their messages of intolerance? What is natural about marriage, for that matter, be it between members of the same or opposite sex?

Enough about what isn’t natural. What about all of the incontestably horrible things that have been justified as natural over the years?

When Hitler, for example, attempted to apply Darwinian evolutionary theory—an explanation for phenomena in the natural world—to society, he came up with the Holocaust.

Meanwhile, at the time when many of the texts that define homosexuality as a grave moral error were being written, it was also generally accepted—and therefore, “natural”—to beat your wife, to stone petty thieves to death and to take conquered peoples as slaves.

And, if we really want to get primal, we can talk for a minute about how business is done in the natural (animal) world. It goes something like this:

You have something. I want it. I hit you over the head with a stick and I take it. If necessary, I get my friends to help. Granted, this is an unrealistic scenario since I am a woman and, in this world, probably wouldn’t be allowed to have sticks. Or friends.

But anyway, if we’re going to apply the logic of that world to the politics of this one, as so many opponents of queer rights insist that we do, I don’t see any reason why I can’t send some of my male friends off to steal Rick Santorum’s car and beat him to a pulp while they’re at it.

It sounds absurd, but if I had a dollar for every time someone attempted to apply this line of reasoning as a means of oppressing queers, I’d have enough money to have Santorum killed in a much more elegant manner.

Just for kicks, I visited the website of TFP Student Action, a project of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property that “defends traditional moral values on college campuses” nationwide. In an article published on their website, titled “10 Reasons Why Homosexual ‘Marriage’ is Harmful and Must be Opposed,” the term “natural” appears 17 times.

Seventeen times?! That’s almost twice the number of reasons! It would appear that their position against homosexual marriage is riding pretty hard on the “it’s unnatural” argument. Which, as we have seen here, is about as useful as the definition of natural was earlier.

I’m always up for a good political debate, but only if someone has a rational argument in response to mine. Given that “natural” seems to be a grand euphemism for “because I/a higher authority/a book says so,” I’m going to be filing the “it’s just not natural” argument in the please apply elsewhere pile.

I am tired of people telling me what a person can and can’t “naturally” do or what two people can and can’t “naturally” do together, when these same people who are telling me this probably couldn’t “naturally” live past the age of 25.

I am “naturally” a woman, but my sex cannot possibly encompass the complexity of my being.

I am a writer and ardent advocate for human rights. I have a passion for performance, for people, for staying busy. I love hiking, swimming, running, yoga, and spontaneous dance. I appreciate both men and women’s bodies and I hope one day to have kids and a career I’m passionate about. I can’t stand hypocrisy and I’m not really one for waiting in line.

And I can assure you: none of these traits are taking orders from my (natural) genitalia.


Reach Senior Opinion Editor Francesca Bessey here; follow her here.



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