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A Tool for Living: The Relevance of Ayn Rand's Ideas to Gay People
The quest to understand the world and cope with problems and obstacles in life is exactly what young people seek. This usually leads one in one’s late teens and early 20s to seek the answers to what philosophers recognize as uniquely philosophical questions–What is the nature of reality and can I know it? What is the nature of human knowledge and can I ever claim certainty? What is the nature of morality, and how do I evaluate my actions as right or wrong?
There is a group of people who—by and large–have an early impetus to investigate these questions. Earlier in life than others, they find the “popular” or “traditional” answers to the question of morality in particular wanting and unhelpful. This group is gay people. Though there are those who do not realize that they’re gay until their early 20s or even later, the most common experience is an early, pre-teen realization—even if not fully conscious—that they are “different”. This difference is usually not understood until puberty. While their peers begin to express, in whatever fumbling and halting ways, an attraction to and interest in those of the opposite sex, the gay person feels that same attraction—no less intense, no less confusing—to the same sex. It does not seem to matter whether the gay person is in a co-ed school or not, whether the child is an athlete or “bookish,” whether or not there is even another gay person in his or her life, the experience is the same: being drawn to—intrigued by—aroused by—those of the same gender.
This fundamental difference results in a host of consequences for the young person. The first decision to be made is what Objectivists would recognize as a choice between the primacy of existence or the primacy of consciousness. Those choosing the first acknowledge the new feelings to themselves and determine to understand and explore them further, even if only by introspection. Many choose the second option. They decide that maybe if they don’t acknowledge it, it will go away. Perhaps those feelings for the same gender will somehow transform or be supplanted by feelings for the opposite gender—that is, “Maybe it’s just a phase.” The truth is that reality asserts itself regardless of a person’s wishes. Though suppression and in some cases even repression can be achieved, eventually people realize that the feelings do not go away. They realize that no matter what their actions are, the intensity of the sexual experience with those of the opposite gender will never be what could be achieved with the same gender. (Some choose to “make do with” the less intense feeling, usually for moral reasons—a demonstration of Rand’s assertion that a person will do what he thinks is right no matter what the consequences.) Once one accepts reality—i.e, the fact of his or her sexual attraction—the next decision is what to think about what one knows, that is, “Is what I’m experiencing right or wrong?” Is it a result of “temptation” by some supernatural being, which must be resisted, is it a result of psychological depravity, or is it something which is simply part of one’s nature and is neither right nor wrong? The answers to these questions will bring the answer to the question of what one should do about these feelings. If one is being tempted, one should resist and perhaps seek spiritual help. If one is psychologically depraved (or simply psychologically ‘sick’) one should seek psychological help. If the feelings are natural, then they should be acted upon, where appropriate.
Those who have accepted the Judao-Christian morality will have surely been taught by this time that homosexuality is a vice and a sin and will be thrown into confusion and consternation. Ayn Rand offered an alternative to this moral framework, with an ethics based on the nature of human beings. Since her ethics takes into account humans as they are—rational animals—the question of whether or not to accept as natural one’s sexual feelings is not a question at all. One knows that one is attracted to those of the same gender and is not attracted sexually to those of the opposite gender; one knows that there is no firm evidence to suggest that homosexuality is a psychological disease; so, one can accept one’s feelings. (It does not matter in this case whether homosexuality is caused by “nature or nurture” or both. One must act within the context of the available knowledge at any given time.) From a biological standpoint, a human being is a sexual being and sex is a proper activity. From a psychological standpoint the act of sex allows one to experience oneself as a sexual being. Any morality that insists that one reject sexual activity altogether must itself be rejected.
Most gay people who have reached this point in their lives and their understanding of themselves decide that the next step is to come out to their family and friends. The prospect of total rejection makes many put off this step indefinitely. It also makes the anticipation a terrifying experience for most. Here Rand’s ideas play a major role: a rational person knows that all human relationships are a matter of choice. If a relationship, even a familial one, brings more pain and suffering than value and happiness, then that relationship has no place in one’s life. This perspective of family also helps those who realize their homosexuality before being of an age to leave home. While the Judeo-Christian ethic presents one with sets of proscriptions such as “Do not lie,” Objectivism cautions one to keep the full context of a situation when making ethical decisions. One has no obligation to be honest about a fact that may leave one stranded on the street, unable to support oneself. (Yet those understanding why independence is necessary will not take the charity of one’s parent’s—in effect by fraud—by hiding their homosexuality when they come of age).
When a young gay person finally comes out fully (i.e., lives his life as a gay person and makes no special attempt to hide the fact), he is sure to encounter some homophobia from the culture at large. Whether from family, so-called friends, teachers, school-mates, employers, or random bigots, each experience can leave one feeling confused, uncertain in the decision to come out, or even afraid of “the world out there.” Ayn Rand taught integrity and honesty—i.e., loyalty to oneself and one’s values and an unwillingness to fake reality for others. She demonstrated that any attempt to fake reality for someone was giving that person a blank check on one’s life, the power to direct one’s actions and decisions in order to maintain the pretense. Engaging in this type of fraud neither helps the dishonest one nor the one being duped. One does not create an identity by aborting it in the very process. And one does not show compassion by allowing loved ones to experience the primacy of consciousness in action-“If I don’t want to believe it, it’s not true.” Yet in advocating context in any given decision, Rand reinforced that one’s life is the standard of morality and the foundation upon which morality is built. So, just as a young person not yet of age need feel no guilt about lying to his parents about whom he is dating, an “out” gay person need feel no guilt about lying through his teeth if making his homosexuality known in a given situation may put him in physical danger.
Unfortunately a gay person may initially, even after coming out, still feel that his feeling of being “different” applies no less in the presence of other gay people than it did when he was among mostly straight people. Others may seem more comfortable with their sexuality, more able to approach people in social situations, and may seem to have an easier time living life in general as a gay person. Still others may seem to use their sexuality as a weapon, being intentionally and unauthentically feminine or masculine, either from a need to “fit in” or a need to offend others. By teaching the selection of one’s own identity and values (as opposed to adopting the identity and values of others) and emphasizing the importance of understanding oneself explicitly, Rand gave the solution to these feelings of alienation—be yourself and focus on those values that give you joy; and seek out others who share those same values. By proving that integrity and honesty (to oneself and others) are objectively necessary for happiness, she gave the solution to the pressure to be artificial—as long as one is being rational, then be oneself, come what may, and damn those who wish you to be otherwise.
For gay people who have decided to live their lives and pursue their own happiness, the consequences of political decisions are inescapable. For those afraid of the consequences of a rule by majority, and who feel pressure to align themselves with any group that will promise them “tolerance” instead of condemnation, Ayn Rand offers a political theory that protects the smallest minority possible: the individual. She held respect for individual rights as the single sacrosanct political principle, and the only one from which civilization could proceed. As long as one’s actions do not violate another’s individual right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it does not matter whom one’s actions—sexual or otherwise—offend; the individual is protected.
As a philosophy for human beings living on this Earth, Objectivism applies to every human being. However, owing to the unique obstacles and challenges facing gay people, Ayn Rand’s ideas are particularly well suited to this group in coping with life and achieving happiness. In a perfect world all people would choose to exercise their reason and many of these challenges would be non-issues. Rand’s ideas teach one the methods to achieve perfection in one's own life, in spite of whatever state in which the world may find itself.
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