Sunday, June 6, 2010

Temper gay-bashing with facts, and tolerance

Sunday Nation 06 June 2010

A few days ago, an editor at the Nation, decided to bare her soul and express her revulsion at having to work on a story about homosexuals in Nairobi.

Dorothy Kweyu’s commentary was titled ‘‘Homosexuality an abomination in the sight of God and man’’ and, at some point in the write-up, she stated: ‘‘It occurred to me that, as a mother and a Christian, I would be failing in my responsibilities, albeit as a lay person, if I did not express the utter horror and revulsion that was mine at reading such brazen affirmation of an evil.’’

While it is in order for one to hold personal views about a subject as personal as homosexuality, it goes beyond the bounds of decency to hit out at individuals who are just going about their lives without posing a threat to anyone else.

Despite the author’s denigration of the so-called ‘‘tolerance ethos’’, it cannot be overstated that without tolerance for those we do not understand or even like, society, as we know it, would have a very ugly face.

Dismissing homosexuality as an ‘‘evil’’ raises questions such as who is harmed by the practice of homosexual relationships, and how this ‘‘evil’’ may be attacked and eliminated from our midst.

Sadly, both questions are often met with irrational circumlocutions often involving the use of mental health specialists to deal with an issue that has nothing to do with mental illness.

As we teach in most medical fields, anything that does not cause distress to the individual or significant social or occupational dysfunction is not the business of a health professional.

As long as an individual’s ‘‘condition’’ poses no risk to himself or to others, doctors have no business roping them in and forcing them to undergo ‘‘treatment’’ whose outcomes cannot be clearly measured.

This is in fact the reasoning that led to the removal in 1973 of ‘‘homosexuality’’ from the manual of mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.

A seminal paper produced to examine the subject concluded that “for a mental or psychiatric condition to be considered a psychiatric disorder, it must either regularly cause subjective distress, or regularly be associated with some generalised impairment in social effectiveness or functioning”.

Homosexuality per se does not even approach this standard set three decades ago and is, therefore, classified as one form of normal sexuality among humans.

There are three different ways in which homosexuality is expressed — as a form of overt behaviour, as sexual orientation or preference, and as a form of personal or social identity.

Almost all commentators who express their revulsion towards homosexuals and homosexuality focus solely on the sexual behaviour.

They spend a lot of time imagining what happens between two homosexuals (usually men) and the sort of effects this may have on the participants, and then form an opinion based on their emotional reaction to this scenario.

In doing this, they forget that there are many female homosexuals (also known as lesbians) who enjoy sexual relationships with other women.

In scientific terms, normal sexuality is described as sexual behaviour that is devoid of inappropriate feelings of guilt or anxiety and is not compulsive.

For these conditions to be met, it follows therefore that sexual contact between two individuals must be consensual and non-coercive in order to be considered normal.

It is, therefore, unfair for writers such as Kweyu to compare some forms of normal sexual activity to ‘‘petty thieves and ... pickpockets’’. It is even worse to put homosexuals in the same category as paedophiles, rapists and murderers as others have done in the past.

The difference between homosexuals engaging in normal sexuality and the paedophiles, rapists and murderers hinges on the concepts of consent and free choice.

Sexual activity between two consenting adults in the privacy of their homes should not exercise the minds of so many in a society that claims to be as progressive and peace-loving as ours.

Whether the sex is heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual, the absence of consent and the presence of coercion are among the hallmarks of abnormal sexuality, and are often criminalised in modern societies.

Finally, Kweyu’s bold statement that homosexuality is “one of the main drivers of HIV and Aids — because anal sex poses the greatest risk of acquiring the deadly virus” — must not be left to go unchallenged.

In Kenya, as in most African countries, the greatest driver for HIV/Aids has always been unprotected heterosexual intercourse.

Clearly, then, those of us who are firmly heterosexual pose the greatest risk to the existence of the human race!

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.

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