Small World: The new sexual politics


Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

It used to be that national elections were concerned with important issues like the nation’s security abroad and the prosperity and wellbeing of the home front. Or at least, looking back and trying to remember, that was what the campaigns seemed like. With the present national agenda — what every pundit feels obliged to write about — that has changed and the formerly important stuff has been downgraded to after thoughts of secondary importance.

Have you noticed? Nowadays and for several decades past, sex is the subject on the minds of political activists — those people who instruct us what to think. It started with abortion — or was it promiscuity or divorce — and moved on to gay rights and marriage. And now we see transgender men and women (or is it women and men?) crowding not only our bathrooms, but also our newspaper and magazine columns.

Growing up in distant, conservative times, I don’t believe I heard the word “homosexual” until I was practically out of college. “Transgender” entered the national vocabulary only yesterday, or so it seems. I’ve been reading history of late: From the Roman Empire to the 20th century there just doesn’t seem to have been this preoccupation with sex, normal or aberrant — leaving aside an Oscar Wilde from time to time. Why the different attitude now and who’s responsible?

In my opinion, the loudest noise seems to come from conservative voices: End abortions, they demand, prevent gay marriages, keep transgender people out of bathrooms. They would say they are reacting to the assertiveness of these “deviants” who would reply that they were only asserting the private rights that everyone else enjoys.

And aren’t conservatives, you might ask (if you have been asleep for three or four decades), aren’t they the people who want as little interference with their private lives as possible — particularly from governments but also from do-gooding outsiders? Why should true, old-school conservatives want the government to interfere with the private decision to have an abortion or marry a person of the same sex? I think it is fair to observe that pro-life people don’t normally turn out in great numbers to fund and nurture children born to unwelcoming parents. Abortion averted, let the poor woman fend for herself is the implicit message.

These conservatives have their guide to life and it doesn’t seem to include taking into account the consequences of the prohibitions they seek to impose on others. Do as I prescribe, they say (or shout), and then take care of yourself. My guidance, they urge us, is overriding; don’t dispute it or seek to deviate from my rules for a happy society. Evolution in societal norms is forbidden — despite the obvious lessons of history. I haven’t heard anyone demand a return of the Inquisition, but there is a flavor of the absolute certainty of medieval institutions issuing from the current debates.

There is also, I would suggest, a cynical interpretation of the new sexual politics which may help us understand the political fervor behind the movement: If you get enough people upset over the overturning of the norms they’ve grown up with — no abortions or rights for gays and transgenders — their votes might help swing an election toward conservatives who have an agenda designed to protect vested interests. Citizens who were persuaded that sexual politics were overriding might neglect to vote for candidates or issues that would be expected to benefit their wellbeing. Playing the anti-abortion card is a way of scaring voters just as we see done by those trumpeting concern about weakening the second amendment or other single-issue causes that drive some voters.

Meanwhile, there is relative silence and little or no debate on the truly big issues of our time, e.g., how to address too-big banks or income inequality or how to proceed in the Middle East. Voters are too distracted, too worried by the new sexual politics to think about the truly important matters.

When the warriors in the sexual wars talk of securing freedom, what they mean is the freedom to impose their own commandments on society.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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