Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Al-Qaeda´s opinion about the closure of Guantanamo Bay

Al-Qaeda has apparently been releasing a lot of anti-Obama propaganda in the wake of his election victory. While the linked article concerns itself with what it means for al-Qaeda that Bush is no longer President and Obama is, I was struck by a minor point on Page 2:
Friday, a new al-Qaeda salvo attempted to embarrass Obama, a day after the new president announced his plans for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Appearing on the videotaped message were two men who enlisted in al-Qaeda after being freed from that detention center.
"By Allah, imprisonment only increased our persistence in our principles for which we went out, did jihad for and were imprisoned for," said Abu Sufyan al-Azdi al-Shahri, who described himself as a deputy commander for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

It does not escape my notice that al-Qaeda is trying to scare people into believing that releasing prisoners - even prisoners who were not originally jihadists when they were originally imprisoned - from Guantanamo Bay will greatly increase the risk of terrorist attack. This is the same argument made by domestic opponents of the closure: that the people imprisoned there are too dangerous to release, even into the regular American prison system.

I conclude from this unity of arguments that al-Qaeda doesn´t want Guantanamo Bay to close. Why would they? The propaganda value that its continued existence has for them is immense. I conclude also that they are intentionally trying to feed the fear that local opponents are instilling about the possible release of Guantanamo Bay detainees in an intentional effort to prevent the facility´s closure. Local opponents of the closure of Guantanamo Bay might want to think about that.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Homosexuality and shame: how shame turns us against ourselves

Some basic research that I did at university has led me to believe that one of the most important things in defining gay people on both an individual and social level is the emotion of shame.

Shame is what so many of us carry as a silent burden when we are closeted. Heck, it's the very reason for the existence of the closet. It's a common refrain from our opponents when we appear in public in, say, Pride marches: "Shame on you!" "You should be ashamed of yourself!". The very existence of gay Pride was once described to me as "a natural reaction to undeserved shame".

Shame is intimately bound up with social activity. A social theorist named Barbalet(1998, p104) whose writings I encountered in my studies described the social mechanism of shame as the "supposition of another's regard for self, of taking the view of another". It is a means of social control, more subtle and more effective than brute force or even peer pressure: make a person feel that others will judge them negatively for the "shameful" thing and also make them believe that this judgement is correct. The person, through their own feeling of shame, punishes themself more effectively than through any further external means that could be applied.

The struggle against undeserved shame is the struggle to believe that the judgements of others is wrong. Even after you may have spent a very long time believing that they were right.

Our society has long treated homosexuality as a shameful thing on the basis that homosexuality was seen as something that could be prevented or altered: making it shameful would therefore prevent people from engaging in it and encourage those who had engaged in it to stop. The emotional coercion of shame was preferred over attempts at rational persuasion perhaps because of the view of homosexuality as "depravity", "mental illness", and many other labels, all signifying the belief that a homosexual must have taken leave of their senses and could not be reasoned with.

It is my suspicion that true liberation from the corrosive personal and social effects of this shame has not yet been achieved among the GLBT community.

I suspect that one of the understandable but unfortunate results of individuals' efforts to throw off this shame is overcompensation and oversensitivity. Having struggled so hard and for so long, often from the very start of adolescence, against external attempts to, through the pressure to feel shame, over-ride feelings and emotions as fundamental to our being as those concerning sexual orientation, it makes sense to me that many such individuals would be very sensitive to even so much as the possibility of other people attempting to pressure them emotionally. Oversensitive, even. To the point that a gay person will absolutely not let other people's opinions and desires affect their behaviour in any way. Do gay people tend to be more selfish and egotistical than straight people? On average, perhaps, yes. If so, our battle against the shame we have been taught to feel is the reason why.

In some cases this overcompensating defense against the imposition of shame may cause a gay person to start attacking first in self-defense, so to speak. The sense of threat, so pressing for so long, leads to a sort of bunker mentality. Every social engagement with another is seen as a potential danger. The sense of threat from others is exaggerated, and the person counterattacks even before they know for sure whether or not an attack is coming. And the usual form of attack? The one they are most familiar with: an attempt to shame a person. Hence the reputation of gay people as "bitchy".

Occasionally a gay person notes that gay people are quite good at oppressing ourselves without any outside help, which I think isn't quite true: we do oppress ourselves, but we do it as a result of our struggles with the shame which we have been taught to feel about ourselves.

There is hope. The younger generation are growing up in a society where the social pressures of shaming have been weakened, or even in some cases have vanished completely. It's somewhat gratifying to occasionally read one of the younger generation say that they don't understand the point of gay pride. And for them, having never been taught to be ashamed of being gay, there is nothing to be gained from a conscious display of pride. It's for those who have still been taught that homosexuality is a shameful thing. It's a way of dealing with that shame. I don't know if it's the best way to deal with it - my Buddhist tendencies lead me to see the opposite of shame as not pride but as, well, the absence of shame - but it's one way of dealing with it.

I believe that our failure to deal with our shame effectively makes us often far too quick to take offense, even (or perhaps especially) to take offense at each other, and far too quick to give it, even (or perhaps especially) to each other. That is corrosive to us, and it is corrosive to our community. While there have been many positive steps to prevent the future generations from experiencing that shame, I think we need to become more aware of how our battle with our existing feelings of shame impacts us and the people around us, so that we can better ameliorate its effects.

Barbalet, J.M., 1998. Emotion, social theory, and social structure: a macrosociological approach, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge NY,

Friday, January 02, 2009

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters: Footnote 67, promiscuity and fidelity

From page 10 of the anti-gay pamphlet "21 Reasons Why Gender Matters":

Indeed, high rates of multiple partnering in the homosexual community continues to be the norm. As one recent report notes, “The majority of the 2006 respondents had engaged in sex with between one and 10 partners in the six months prior to the survey [over 63 per cent], while almost 20% of the men reported having had sex with more than 10 partners.”67

I do wish the Fatherhood Foundation would be more accurate in their referencing. Footnote 67 lists the quoted text as coming from the "Gay Community Periodic Survey. Sydney: National Centre in HIV Social Research, 2007, pp. 14-15", by Iryna Zablotska, et. al. Close, but not quite: the NCHSR conducts multiple surveys in multiple cities around Australia, and they all specify the city in the title. There is no single "Gay Community Periodic Survey".

There is, among others, a "Gay Community Periodic Survey: Canberra 2006". This marks the second time that the pamphlet garbled the title of the work they referenced, and the error is more severe this time. It took me quite a while to locate the one they were talking about. I suppose I should be thankful they gave me page numbers, and that they were the right ones: many of the references in anti-gay literature in general and in this pamphlet in particular fail to go that far.

Despite the inaccurate referencing of the title, the text of the quote is accurate. Whether it supports the conclusion that the authors are trying to suggest - that homosexual relationships are all fundamentally unfaithful and unstable - is less clear. The pamphlet's authors could have mentioned that this survey was not limited to gay men in regular relationships: on page 6 the survey notes that "about 60% of the men in the sample were in a regular sexual relationship with a man at the time of completing the survey". So 40% of the men were, how shall we say, "swinging singles", "footloose and fancy free"? Gee, you think that should be taken into account when reporting the findings about number of sex partners? Or is it more convenient for the pamphlet's authors to just let readers leap to the wrong conclusion that this says something about "infidelity" in gay relationships?

Perhaps more suited to the pamphlet authors' purposes are the figures on men who are both in a "regular sexual relationship" and have "regular casual sexual relations" as well. They comprised 29.1% of the 2006 respondents according to the Table on page 6 of the survey, which sounds like a lot. Yet it is still less than the number of respondents who reported having sex only with a regular partner: 31.6%. Furthermore, despite the stereotype of all gay men being horribly oversexed, 14.5% of the 2006 survey respondents reported having no sexual contact over the 6 month period at all.

I feel strangely sorry for that 14.5%. Here everyone is saying how much sex gay men have and this lot isn't getting any. Or then again, maybe they prefer it that way. It's impossible to tell just by looking at the numbers.

Of course, the survey was only asking about behaviour during a six month period, so it's entirely possible that the "monagamous" and "no sexual partners" entries for that particular period were in part due to circumstance rather than choice. Some clarification is available on page 21. Figure 28 provides a breakdown of "Agreements with regular male partners about sex outside the relationship". The figure is about split 3 different ways: 30.4% "Anal intercourse is permitted only with a condom", 33.3% "no sexual contact with casual partners is permitted", 26.7% "no spoken agreement about sex" (remaining percentages are 5.2% "no anal intercourse with casual partners is permitted" and 4.4% "anal intercourse without a condom is permitted"). I would say that the figures for monogamous and non-monogamous relationship arrangements seem about equal, but that large chunk who report no agreement makes such estimates impossible. It is not possible to say which is more common. It is possible to say that (a) monogamous male-male relationships exist, and (b) the number is far from miniscule, if we view the results of this survey as representative of relationships.

And that is the final problem with the way the pamphlet uses the survey, what is it really measuring? Seems to me that it's a measure of sexual behaviour of a specific subsegment of GLBT individuals, not an overall examination of the quality of our emotional partnerships.

"Regular sexual partner" as used in the survey could include everything from "man of my dreams" to "fuckbuddy", the survey doesn't care about such distinctions. The recruiting strategy of the survey described on pages 1-2 also seems biased in favour of gay men who identify strongly with the existing gay community, under-representing those gay men who might not identify with mainstream gay culture and its urban liberal sexual morality.

And of course, as in each and every one of these anti-gay statistics, we only ever hear the scary stories about the alleged sexual proclivities of gay men. Where are women in all this? I begin to understand why some lesbians view the lesbian experience and more problematic than that of gay men: their very existence is totally disregarded in so many fundamental ways.

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters: Footnote 66 is another mistake

The pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" can be found online here.

Footnote 66 is the alleged source of these statistics on the length of male same-sex relationships:
a study of the Melbourne homosexual community showed that 40 per cent of men had changed partners in the past 6 months; 9.8 per cent had been in a relationship for only six months to a year; 18.8 per cent for 1-2 years; 15.3 per cent had lasted for 3-5 years; and only 15.7 per cent were in a relationship of more than five years – meaning 84 per cent had broken down after five years.

They supposedly come from the "Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey, 2000" by Clive Aspin et al, published by the National Centre in HIV Social Research.

The survey results are available online. It is simply impossible for the statistics attributed to it to have come from there. The Periodic Survey only measures whether the regular relationships of those surveyed have lasted for "less than 1 year" or for "at least one year" (see Table 9 on page 12 of the Periodic Survey). Even the most statistically illiterate person around would have trouble getting the Fatherhood Foundation's alleged statistics from the data actually in the Periodic Survey: in 2000, 31.8% of those in a regular relationship had been in it for less than a year, while 68.1% had been in it for a year or more.

The website of the Australian Christianist group the Saltshakers includes a statistics page on relationships which quotes the same numbers but gives a different source, although it's easy to get confused (which the Fatherhood Foundation apparently did. Again). Their source for the numbers is "Men and Sexual Health", by the National Centre in HIV Social Research, 1997. There doesn't appear to be any kind of study with this name. Are they referring to the longitudinal cohort study called "Sydney Men and Sexual Health" (SMASH)? It's hard to say, as the main report that I can find on that study is a book called "Methods and sample in a study of homosexually active men in Sydney, Australia" that was, er, published in 1995. The book is accessible to me, once university libraries end their holiday closing period next week.

So the Fatherhood Foundation has, for the third time that I've now found, supplied a reference in their pamphlet "21 Reasons Why Gender Matters" that is verifiably wrong. I hope people keep that in mind when anti-gay activists rabbit on about how "well-referenced" this little smear pamphlet supposedly is. And the only alternative source given for the quote - from another anti-gay organisation - does not appear to be correct either. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to find the true source next week, but we'll see.

By the by, the reason that anti-gay groups continue to get away with telling these lies is because nobody effectively challenges them. That's one of the reasons I continue to hunt these misquotes down despite the obstacles and frustrations that their inaccurate referencing throw up. I hope it proves useful to somebody someday.

Statistical skullduggery from the Fatherhood Foundation: "proving" gay relationships shorter

On page 10 of the anti-gay pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" there is a piece of statistical deception that is very popular among anti-gay circles. It is one that needs no examination of references to spot.

The text is as follows:
Heterosexual married couples have a far lower rate of relationship breakdown than homosexual couples. As an Australian Government report stated, “According to a 1995 study, ten per cent of marriages failed within six years, 20 per cent within ten years, 30 per cent by twenty years, and 40 per cent by thirty years.”65 In comparison, a study of the Melbourne homosexual community showed that 40 per cent of men had changed partners in the past 6 months; 9.8 per cent had been in a relationship for only six months to a year; 18.8 per cent for 1-2 years; 15.3 per cent had lasted for 3-5 years; and only 15.7 per cent were in a relationship of more than five years – meaning 84 per cent had broken down after five years.

The lie is glaringly obvious to anyone within even a slight understanding of statistics: the Fatherhood Foundation is comparing every single homosexual relationship to only those heterosexual relationships that are called "marriage". They've deliberately and dishonestly weighted the heterosexual side of the comparison by excluding all unmarried opposite-sex couples, and then used that false data to try and paint homosexual couples as inherently inferior across the board. Unmarried opposite-sex couples, and not married opposite-sex couples, would be the real equivalent of unmarried same-sex male couples such as those allegedly studied in Melbourne. But making a comparison that's actually valid wouldn't give the Fatherhood Foundation the opportunity to smear the gay community with their misinformation now, would it?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Homosexuality and Tolerance in the Netherlands: The Real Story

Significantly, the study sampled residents of the Netherlands, where social acceptance of same-sex behavior is high. This would call into question the assumption that the high rate of psychiatric problems is primarily due to social or internalized homophobia.

This is what the "pro-treatment of homosexuality" group NARTH recently said about the study "Same-Sex Sexual Behavior and Psychiatric Disorders: Findings from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study (NEMESIS)" published in Archives of General Psychiatry 2001, vol 58(1), pp 85-91. While NARTH may chauvinistically choose to view the entirety of a Western European country like the Netherlands as some sort of gay mecca where no anti-gay sentiment ever exists in any form at all, the truth is that anti-gay sentiment does exist there, and it causes serious problems for gay people. Perhaps NARTH should engage in an honest assessment of the Dutch attitudes towards homosexuality instead of misleadingly trying to handwave past it.

The Dutch study itself actually references three works that assess attitudes towards homosexuality in the Netherlands. I have traced one of them: a study called "Attitudes towards nonmarital sex in 24 countries" by E D WIlmer, J Treas, and R Newcomb, published in Journal of Sex Research 1998, vol 35, pp349-358. Its measurement of sexual attitudes in the 24 countries included a question on whether respondents believed that homosexual sex was wrong. With 65% of Dutch respondents saying that it was "not wrong at all", it is true that tolerance in the Netherlands for homosexual sex is relatively high, especially compared to the USA where fully 70%said it was "always wrong". But the fact remains that 19% of Dutch respondents believed that homosexual sex was "always wrong". Intolerance for homosexuality still exists in the Netherlands, and it is reasonable to believe that this will be reflected in an increased toll on the mental health of people who engage in homosexual behaviour. (To round out the percentages, 4% of Dutch respondents believed that homosexual sex was wrong "almost always", while a further 12% believed it was wrong "only sometimes". I will not speculate at this time on why those people answered the question like that.)

And the attitudes of people who do find fault with homosexuality would seem to be especially virulent. A study on anti-gay violence by the University of Amsterdam called "As long as they keep away from me" (an English translation of the summary is available at the bottom of the page) noted that "gays fall victim to violence in Amsterdam on a regular basis. In 2007, 201 cases were recorded, of which 67 were of physical violence", 17 of robbery and 38 of serious threat". Yet anti-gay groups like NARTH would have you believe that gay people in the Netherlands experience no kind of discrimination that would tax their mental health whatsoever.

Further, and disturbingly, a person who might claim homosexual sex is not wrong can still be a gaybasher. As the Dutch study on anti-gay violence discovered, the "tolerance" expressed towards homosexuality among some Dutch youth can be highly conditional:
The major cause of the aversion to homosexuality felt by perpetrators of anti-gay violence lies in their views and emotions regarding masculinity and sexuality. Four aspects of homosexuality that particularly appear to arouse annoyance, disapproval and loathing are anal sex, feminine behaviour, the visibility of homosexuality, and the fear of being hit on by a gay.
It is remarkable that the perpetrators do not reject homosexuality on all fronts. Indeed, in many cases the perpetrators declare not to hate gays at all and realise that homosexuality is a part of Dutch society. They reject homosexuality, however, on express conditions: gays should not openly show the four aspects of the behaviour mentioned above. The perpetrators tend to copy the prevailing gay-tolerant rhetoric of Dutch society, but do not refrain from all sorts of violence as soon as homosexuality comes close to them or if gay men do not fulfil their supposed obligations[emphasis added].

It may be premature for me to accuse NARTH on capitalising on the anti-European bigotry prevalent among their usual audience of Christianist fanatics, who tend to inaccurately view Amsterdam as a modern-day Sodom where homosexuality is not just tolerated, but glorified. But I would hope that this examination of the actual evidence will help to correct the misinformation propagated by anti-gay activists that increased mental health problems among homosexual men and women in the Netherlands cannot be the result of discrimination against gay people. Overt anti-gay bigotry does exist in the Netherlands, and even some Dutch youth who might call themselves "tolerant" of homosexuality can show an especially violent side if the conditions put on providing that "tolerance" aren't perceived as being met.