Home > Gay Rights > James Bowman Can Read My Mind

James Bowman Can Read My Mind

You can probably guess how I feel about supposedly secular or (cough) ‘unbigoted’ arguments against gay marriage – in short, they tend to be bullshit. Just recently I came across a similar argument (fully secular and, supposedly, without a whiff of bigotry anywhere) against repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, penned by James Bowman. I won’t go through the main thrust of the argument itself, which is slightly…esoteric, shall we say, but I will comment on a few aspects of it. The full thing can be found here, if you want to follow along at home.

Perhaps even critics of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” have an uneasy sense that they cannot simultaneously say–as much of the commentary about the film Brokeback Mountain seemed to suggest–that the homosexual relationship is simply friendship carried to a higher power and, as the advocates for gay marriage imply, that it is exactly the same as the erotic love between men and women. Those who are not homosexuals have always resisted any simple equivalence between sexual love and friendship, not out of bigotry but at least partly because to grant it would be an abdication of their own right to love. Characteristically, the robust heterosexual, if told that close friendship with another man is only a degree away from homosexual relations with him, will back off the friendship. He knows, or believes, what it seems the homosexual cannot know or believe, or doesn’t want to know or believe, namely that the two sorts of love are different in kind and not just in degree.

Might I suggest that when you start a point by invoking Brokeback Mountain, things will almost inevitably go downhill swiftly?

I really have no idea what Bowman is getting at here. Who says that ‘the homosexual relationship is simply friendship carried to a higher power’? This is the first I’ve ever heard of it, and I’ve been following the national embarrassment that is opposition to gay marriage and openly gay servicepeople for quite some time now. The idea that gay men (it’s all about gay men) view their relationships as some sort of friendship with benefits pervades the article and is taken as a given – Bowman seems to be assuming that his readers will automatically know what he’s talking about, but I haven’t the faintest idea. I certainly don’t view friendship as only quantitatively different from romantic love or sexual desire, and I’m genuinely perplexed at his casual assumption that I should.

This is also the first time I’ve ever seen both heterosexual men and homosexual men characterized poorly in one fell sweep. Heterosexuals, we are told, are (or want to be) real men, manly men, men who are aggressive in their love of all things heterosexual and who would end a friendship at the suggestion that it might contain in it something similar to romantic love. I’m not sure what kind of masculine image Bowman was trying to depict here, but I’m guessing it wasn’t ‘macho homophobe’. Homosexual men, on the other hand, are apparently in the grip of eros, the same corrupting force behind incest. (But homosexuality isn’t analogous to incest, Bowman is quick to point out. He doesn’t say why, given the rather overt comparison in the second last paragraph, so I’ll just take his word for it.)

In another part of the article, Bowman suggests that gay people should be willing to ‘be publicly reticent about their sexual behavior’ if they really want the right to serve their country, in the process suggesting (oh so subtly) that the effort to get DADT repealed is some sort of political demonstration rather than a genuine push for equal rights. Of course, any gay reader will instantly notice his mistake – like so many heterosexual commentators, and that includes both sides of the debate, Bowman is here treating homosexuality as if it begins and ends with ‘sexual behavior’. However, one can be discharged from the military for identifying as gay even if one is not currently engaging in sex with another man (again keeping the focus on men here, as per our target for the evening). Being gay is not just about engaging in certain types of sex acts. It’s far more than that, and I’m willing to bet that even a vow of chastity on the part of gay soldiers wouldn’t be enough to satisfy proponents of DADT.

I merely ask those who wish to do away with the prohibition of open homosexuality in the armed services to consider that the more than 1,100 flag and general officers who recently declared their support for the existing law were motivated, as they claim, by genuine concern for national security and not by bigotry. Wouldn’t any refusal to do so be tantamount to -bigotry itself?

Gasp. I have never come across this argument before, Mr. Bowman, you have blown my mind.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Ignoring the incredibly moronic attempt at being profound, (‘Are not you who fight bigotry also engaging in bigotry? And are not you who fight discrimination not also engaging in discrimination? And can we please put an end to this pathetic rhetorical trick once and for all?’) I’m interested in finding out how Bowman knows that the 1,100 officers he mentions here were motivated only by national security. That’s a lot of people, after all, and I’d be honestly amazed if none of them had less pure intentions than the safety of their fellow citizens when they decided to support DADT.

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Categories: Gay Rights
  1. October 6, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Perhaps Bowman’s reason for citing Brokeback Mountain is because he’s a film critic, not a psychologist. Of course someone who’s not a psychologist can have an opinion, but it would be helpful to have at least a rudimentary understanding of psychology–something Bowman obviously lacks–before making sweeping statements regarding gender. As you point out, he manages to characterize “both heterosexual men and homosexual men…poorly in one fell sweep”. Perhaps Bowman himself, who I assume is heterosexual, wants to be a “manly” man, which would explain why he’s in the ultra-masculine profession of film critic.

    • October 6, 2009 at 2:59 pm

      Seriously, he’s a film critic? That would explain the references to Saving Private Ryan, although I’m not sure I’d describe film criticism as being ‘ultra-masculine’…

      I wonder what Bowman would think of Wilfred Owen, or any of the other WWI poets who aren’t at all reticent about characterizing the military in extremely homoerotic terms? Presumably the existence of relationships which were ‘friendship carried to a higher power’ (if that’s what they were; unlike Bowman, I cannot divine a person’s true feelings from a distance) didn’t destroy the British military’s ability to fight.

  1. April 18, 2012 at 12:50 pm

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