Thu | Sep 20, 2018

Michael Abrahams | Shirley Richards’ anal stance

Published:Monday | August 20, 2018 | 12:58 AM

On Monday, August 6, 2018, The Gleaner published my article ‘Gay pride? What the hell is that?’ To summarise, the piece described my journey from viewing gay pride as being ridiculous, to now understanding the struggles members of the LGBT community face. 

Like a great white shark detecting a drop of blood a mile away, Shirley Richards was quick to respond with an article of her own, ‘Gay advocacy’s dangerous plunge’. However, she missed the point of my column, which was about empathy, and embarked on an unsuccessful mission to refute me. 

I found her opening sentence to be misleading when she said that I attempted to “advocate for the LGBT lifestyle as normal and even commendable” and wondered if the oxygen supply in her sanctimonious bubble became contaminated with high-grade ganja smoke.

First, the term ‘LGBT lifestyle’ is fraught with ignorance. There is no such thing, really.

There are LGBT people in stable monogamous unions, some who are polygamous, some celibate, and there have been some who went to their graves as virgins. The lifestyles of persons in the LGBT community vary significantly. As for me attempting to advocate for the “lifestyle to be normal nor even commendable”, she is just plain wrong. In all my years of being an ally of the LGBT community, I have never said or tried to convince anyone that being queer is normal, natural, good, moral or right. I make no judgement. My advocacy is rooted firmly in empathy for members of the community.

She quoted me as saying: "Many people insist that queer folk choose to be the way they are, when research will tell you otherwise. They will insist that 'nobody is born gay' when they really do not know." She then went on to say that I referred to research but failed to “cite same”. I did not find it necessary to present research findings at the time, as I did not wish to make my article too verbose and clinical. But the research does exist, and if Ms Richards is genuinely interested, she can check out Dean Hamer’s findings, published in Science in 1993, which suggests the possibility of sex-linked transmission of homosexual traits in a portion of the population. 

She is also free to read J. Michael Bailey’s findings in Physiological Medicine in 2015 which support those of Hamer. And if that is not enough to arouse her cognitive dissonance, she can also check out Cross-Cultural Evidence for the Genetics of Homosexuality by Debra W. Soch, published in Scientific American on April 25, 2017.

These studies suggest that there is evidence for a genetic influence on sexual orientation, at least in some men. This does not prove that all gay folk are born that way. On the other hand, it is arrogant and disingenuous to confidently state that “nobody is born gay”, because we cannot say that with certainty. Science has neither proven nor disproven that people are born gay. Human sexuality is complex, and orientation may be influenced by different factors in different people. 

It is also disingenuous to insist that queer folk choose to be the way they are. There is no study that has unequivocally shown this to be true. Experts will tell you that orientation, what you are attracted to, is generally not a choice. However, whether you decide to act on your attraction, and engage in sexual intimacy, is a choice. 

Ms Richards quoted studies that refute the idea of orientation being fixed or immutable.

Again, nowhere in my article did I state that it was. I know people whose orientations have changed without conscious effort, as well as some who valiantly tried to change, and failed in their attempts.

Ms Richards then speaks about “rights” and seems to have an issue with rights for LGBT folks. My position is clear. I do not believe that LGBT persons should be given any special rights or privileges. I just believe that they should be treated equally and fairly. I spoke about former prime minister Bruce Golding stating that he would not have gays in his Cabinet. That statement legitimised job discrimination based on sexual orientation. I reject that. If Ms Richards believes that it is okay to discriminate based solely on that, I have little respect for her or her opinions. 

She went on to say: “On what basis is the entry of the penis to the anus being claimed as a right? How do we differentiate between desires and rights? Are outcomes of the LGBT lifestyle relevant to the debate?”

Here we go again. Ms Richards, like many others, fails to understand LBGT issues, and any discussion on the topic inevitably plunges into the anal canal. Why? Does she not realise that anal sex does not belong to LGBT people? Does she not realise that LGBT does not only refer to gay men? Does she realise that there are some heterosexual women who love anal sex and some gay men who do not?

She also refers to the “outcomes of the LGBT lifestyle”, whatever that means. I suppose, like many of her colleagues, she is obsessed with the penis-in-anus thing which, as I said, gay men do not own. I assume, by her remarks, that she is heterosexual. If she is and is sexually active, she ought to be cognisant of the fact that her risk of contracting HIV is higher than it is for lesbians, and that sexually active lesbians are probably experiencing more satisfying orgasms than she is. Yes, there is research to back up those statements.

She continued: “Further, the 'right' being proposed by Dr Abrahams poses a threat to fundamental human rights of freedom of conscience, expression and religious liberty on which we all rely in a free and democratic society.” 

The language used, “threat to fundamental human rights” and “evil”, is commonly used by zealots like Richards as tools in their demagoguery. These terms incite fear and concern among like-minded folks, and only serve to increase negative attitudes toward the LGBT community.

My article was directed at displaying empathy for a community that has been scorned and marginalised. My desire is merely for these people to not be stigmatised, maligned and discriminated against. Is that too much to ask? 

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.