5: Telling With Pride and Fending for Yourself, 1997.

To see text visit http://www.doaskdotell.com/content/xchap5.htm

Email   Jboushka@aol.com

 

Chapter summary

 

            Coming off the psychological mountaintop of the battle over the military gay ban, I return to “mundane” civilian life in the year that I published the book. By this point a major thesis is developing: if I want to be comfortable with myself as a gay man, and to claim my freedom to private choice and publication of that choice,  then I won’t just have to be responsible for myself, I may wind up fending for myself. Okay.

            This chapter is the most “dissertation-like” in the opus, containing  206 footnotes and, compared to the previous chapters, relatively little autobiography.  But I’ll run through it now.

            In fact, by the early 1990s I had affiliated myself with Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (http://www.gayliberty.org/), a group of generally professional men (mostly) who subscribed to the individual rights way of arguing for “gay rights” (sic) rather than the idea of minority status. Pretty soon, I started getting published in GLIL’s newsletters (The Quill) and then in some other gay papers, particularly Colorado’s Ground Zero News (Ground Zero for Amendment II and Romer v. Evans). By 1995, I would also edit The Quill.  In the 90s, free community papers were becoming an effective way of getting out unconventional messages, in the years just before the World Wide Web would explode and allow anyone to make himself a celebrity.  In more recent years, some retail chains have in fact stopped allowing free papers to distribute on their properties. So now it’s the Net. GLIL would become well known in 1999 for its amicus brief supporting the first amendment “expressive association” rights of the Boy Scouts

            But the other major personal content of this chapter was my own “skirmishing” with corporate America.  In my first job (RCA) in 1970, I was appalled to find that the company paid married employees more per diem when traveling than singles (whether spouses traveled or not). I would change jobs, and always feel behind the eight-ball in my technical experience in information systems, since my career had started in defense and migrated away partly over fears about security clearances. At NBC, Bradford Medicaid, Blue Cross Medicare, and Chilton Credit Reporting (to go up to 1988), I would find myself left alone as far as my private life, even during the era of AIDS, even in Dallas, Texas. However an interesting wrinkle would develop.  As Chilton was effectively threatened by hostile takeover, the mood would become very tense, with employees forced to prove themselves indispensable. I would hear rumors (that turned out to be untrue) that we would be taken over by another credit company hostile to gays and reportedly involved in denying claims of gay victims of the Delta plane crash in Dallas in 1985.  I would feel that I had stretched my luck and, even as I was offered a promotion, I would quit and move back East.  I had found other employers in Texas now rather hostile to considering a never married middle-aged man for fear he could be a health insurance risk. I would sell my condo at a loss on simple assumption, and then have to assist the homeowner in the 1990s when she defaulted, to honor my own commitment (I was eventually fully repaid, which is unusual in these cases).  In the 1990’s I would also out myself again in a civil deposition, as a witness in a racial discrimination claim against an employer.    

            ***

            A theme of the whole DADT book had been the development of political philosophy (e.g., libertarianism) based on the idea of inflexibly holding every person totally accountable for himself. This idea can have harsh consequences when carried to the root.  But it was a good way to bootstrap a general discussion of morality when viewed from the individual’s perspective.  A moral individual demonstrates honor (as described by Joe Steffen[1][1]), integrity[2][2], and a sense of earning what he has in a fair-handed way.  So a moral individual answers for his actions, and this accountability arguably includes being able to take care of others.  I have sometimes called this formulation “morality’s third normal form,” based on the normalization concepts of relational database design.

            Government is right in prosecuting those who directly harm others, and in holding people to contracts.  But about the more communal, collective idea of morality, that of social standards and “family values.”  I argue the libertarian position that government should not settle these cultural questions, but that in a free market people will tend to settle them through a process of spontaneous order.

            But the cultural questions are extremely important, and for the rest of the chapter I cover them as if they were seminar topics.

            ***

            “Family Values.”  That sounds like a TM mantra perhaps. In barest terms, it means the willingness, even eagerness, of married adults to put raising children (and perhaps caring for other family members) above all other ambitions and motives, material or individually pleasurable.  The term also refers to the propensity of a “grownup” to remain sexually interested in just one (opposite sex) adult for the rest of one’s life, even as that partner grows less “attractive” in “conventional” visual measures. And the complaint is that in today’s world adults, since they have different options, are less willing to demo that.

            And I’ll state right here, that I resent it when politicians talk glibly about taking care of “families” as if individuals like me outside of conventional families did not exist.

            There is “cultural pollution”—movie and Internet pornography, televised violence, heavy metal music, rampant materialism—all of these things place a big distraction upon parents raising children.  There is the subtle message in the media and the culture that the young and beautiful matter, and that the old, fat and ugly do not and would not be missed if they just went away.  

            There is economic pressure—of one-earner families competing with two-earner families and with singles (and with homosexuals).  And there is the new idea that it is more important to take care of and then express yourself as an adult than it is to raise a family.

            Hence the call of cultural conservatives to strengthen families—to make public policy even more family friendly (and this especially means ending the “marriage penalty”), with additional tax credits for children and perhaps elderly dependent adults, to restore the “family wage,” to restrict pornography, bring religion back into schools and public life.  Conservatives are certainly correct when they maintain that strong families provide a safety net for weaker adults with less government intervention, so the family becomes the basic granularity of personal freedom.

            Gays, then, are put in the position of looking like effete singletons with no one to be responsible for but themselves.  But some gays do raise children and do form lifelong commitments. No wonder, then, that gays would seek the benefits of marriage (even if some of these benefits may be “overrated”) under the law.  They would litigate in Hawaii and then in Vermont get something close to marriage in a legal civil union. Slowly progressive companies, especially in high-tech fields, would offer domestic partnership benefits, even though these were post-tax.  Marriage law, the military ban, and in a few states, the bar on gays having custody of or adopting children—all of these somewhat based at least psychologically on sodomy laws that gave gays the status of unapprehended felons—showed that government itself was the biggest source on anti-gay discrimination.  Libertarians would float proposals that marriage should be reduced to a private civil contract, available to any consenting adults.[3][3]

            Some people in the conventional straight world would recoil in horror.  They would ignore that gays were claiming that they were capable of “equal responsibility” for others.  Perhaps they would gawk at disbelief that younger gay men, in particular, with their obsession with their own physical attractiveness (something very vulnerable on the battlefield or in other “manly” pursuits) would pretend they were capable of lifelong monogamous “marriages,” and would propose raising children without female spouses in the home.  But their main problem was a refusal to extend their own rational thoughts as far as I would, but rather to accept the limits imposed by religious faith and “general welfare”—and the particular belief in a sacred social institution—marriage—with all of its myths (including wedding night consummation) that pull men of rather average abilities together when they are unable to fend for themselves.

            ***

            Gays have tended to accept a certain ceiling in their dealings with government and to turn, instead, to government to practical protection from runaway private interests—protection from private as well as government employment and housing discrimination, as well as hate crimes laws.  

            But one immediate reaction to proposals like ENDA is to say that far too many other changes are going on in the workplace these days for ENDA to make a lot of practical difference. Instead, to improve the lot of gays and non-gays alike, one should study the rapid changes in the workplace and try to make sense of them.  What one finds is a lot of seemingly incongruent threads, but ultimately success in the workplace and career depends on individual responsibility and initiative, not government protection.

            While liberals have worked mainly on discrimination and benefits issues, Wall Street has pressured industry to treat employees as an expense that must be justified, and as a result employees have to keep moving around—especially so around the time of the Bush presidency (the first one) when so many middle class managers were cast down by corporate downsizings and mergers—to today where the booming economy mainly helps those with the hottest technical skills.  

            There has always been pressure on workers in any economic change, going back to the industrial revolution and before.  Whatever the progress of anti-discrimination laws, many people find themselves pressured to make career changes, freelance, do without benefits, work unpaid overtime, retool at their own expense. The entrepreneur may be an individual carrying out a dream or just someone forced to “buy” his own job.  

            So all of this can be very hard on some families, and some heads of households.  Social conservatives sometimes complain that singles and gays actually come out ahead in such a turbulent market, since they can often work “cheaper.”[4][4]  And singles will complain that they are paid less for the same work, and often expected to pick up the slack (often without overtime pay) when their colleagues with families have to take more time off (especially in companies that offer more “family friendly” benefits). [5][5]  Complicating all of this are nuances in labor laws regarding overtime, comp time, on-call duties—as well as traditions of “professionalism” in fields ranging from medicine to information systems-- some of which often force exempt or salaried people to work considerable overtime with no compensation at all, or order to be fair to hourly workers and contractors.

            One natural reaction to the unstable job markets is entrepreneurial:  if you have a vision for what you really want to do, go for it.  Prepare a second future for yourself even while you are still working in a relatively “normal” job.  Ideas for new businesses range from the silly or trivial to the profound, especially the possibility of revolutionary software packages [or web hosting services] or other intellectual property that surprises the world (and often can only be developed by individuals working on their own).  This sounded like great advice some years ago, but today this sometimes brings up the possibility of conflict of interest or at least unprofessionalism.

            Another factor is professional “agility.” The downsizing mania of the early 90’s encouraged a lot of outsourcing and short-term problem solving. Then the Internet developed: the new job opportunities, especially for younger people, that tended to replace those being lost in the mainframe through data center and application consolidations, and an approach to corporate consolidation that emphasized unity at the presentation layer and interface with the external customer on a 24 x 7 basis. The result is that the pace in today’s workplace is very fast, and the ability to solve unfamiliar problems in the short term is more critical, and the methodology is not always as thorough as in the past.  All of this bears on the welfare of older workers, who some feel are too inflexible to learn the new stuff. Yet the outsourcing mania is catching up with companies, who now sometimes find that senior workers bring a valuable balance and deeper judgment to the workplace.   

            And one more factor is that in the United States, compared perhaps to western Europe and even Canada, there is a large lower working class which, especially when not represented by unions, tends make several times less salary than today’s professionals and which is sometimes constrained by involuntary overtime and by non-compete and no-moonlighting rules (as in personal service work) . This is a legitimate “complaint” by the political left. Corporate America has tended to use this fact to pressure “professionals” to work even harder to “belong to the club.” Management has sometimes been able to exploit the appearance that an older “professional” is not worth what he makes in terms of his short term, hands on problem-solving skills, or even contingent job fitness and endurance.    

            All of this, in my mind at least, dwarfs the conventional concerns about employment discrimination, for anything (age, gender, health status, as well as sexual orientation).  For racial and gender discrimination, we are already dealing with the controversy over affirmative action (or, perhaps, affirmative access), and are divided on whether there should be reparative preferences for race and gender to counterbalance the drag-weight of past discrimination.  The simplest view would be to apply this kind of “suspect class” thinking for gays (batted around in Romer) when really the issue should be, when does a person’s private life affect his ability to do his job.   Blatant anti-gay discrimination (even blackballing) in most professional areas began to wane right after Stonewall.  But even today there are some infamous cases. The most egregious of all may be DeMuth v. Miller (1990), in which a small accounting firm went after an employee that it had fired for violating a non-compete clause.  There was also Cracker Barrel restaurants—I’ve eaten in one just once to “spy” and found the juvenile family environment uncomfortable.   

            GLIL has sometimes become notorious for actively opposing ENDA, on the grounds that it violates legitimate property rights and indirectly threatens freedom for everyone including gays (such as to have queer-safe spaces).  To some extent, this view treats persons and institutions as equivalent in matters like property, contract and accountability.  My take is that ENDA (as would be hate crimes laws) is more like non-prescription “patent medicine” symptomatic relief, that hides and delays solving the real problem, which is discrimination by government itself.

            ***

            I do feel quite troubled by my own “moral” situation, which is that of someone who has not learned to take care of anyone but myself. To some extent my circumstances, if a but exaggerated, represent the “progress” gays have made since the days of my horrible William and Mary expulsion. That is, gays will be left alone to lead their private lives, gays will be tolerated and in some areas (like the arts) be absolutely venerated, but they still must not have full equality in performing essential civilizing functions, such as in marrying (same-sex partners), raising families, and participation in the defense of the country. This leaves gays open to being charged as excessively “selfish” or “superficial.”  

            In earlier generations, those who were not “the marrying kind,” especially spinsters, tended to stay home and take care of their aging parents.  Given the growing eldercare crisis (with respect to available custodial care as well as Medicare and Social Security issues) the pressure on gays to do more of this could come back.

            It would be entirely logical to propose that we need a cultural initiative (preferably one permitted but not mandated by law) in which every adult, whether traditionally married with children or not, is expected to demonstrate that he/she can take care of  someone else besides the self. Volunteerism could fit into this, and at various points along one’s life, not just for young adults. It could become an expectation for “better” corporate jobs. It would fit into the expanded paradigm of personal accountability mentioned earlier (and sometimes oddly quoted by George W. Bush in his campaign). But if we were to do this, then we should recognize committed same-sex relationships. And we should in a reasonable fashion allow gays to serve in the military and in similar occupations. And we should then “expect” it.

            For what we have now, is a system in which an individual adult is effectively penalized for not having an intimate sexual relationship with a member of the opposite sex.  The government is effectively expecting those who do not perform opposite-gendered sexual intercourse to subsidize those who do, Some conservative forces want to go further down this pike.  And that’s unacceptable.  Many people with antigay attitudes or indifference may not be very intellectually in touch with their own perceptions.  Some, perhaps, would insist that “gays” (men, especially) have willfully entered “chosen” narcissistic behaviors and values that, besides maybe threatening public health, confound the means by which children are raised and by which the elderly are care for, and therefore should be excluded, even by the legal system, from real responsibility even though no longer hunted down and persecuted. Yet, this “reasoning,” if confronted, shows the “weakness” of the heterosexual male’s position too, if viewed in an individualistic manner.    

            Even so, the solution that I suggest here has potentially unpleasant consequences.  It would be up to the individual to develop those interpersonal commitments that will provide him a support network as he grows older or if he gets sick (whether because of “behavior” or not). There would be some moral cultural pressure to do this, but it might be more difficult for some people in a world that, in the middle class, values the trappings of success and attractiveness more than it used to.  The end result still can be that some people get left out in the cold.  And this helps drive the ideological debates over issues like Social Security.

            All of this tends to get obscured by conventional politics, where the rhetoric tends to be “what’s in it for me and my family?”  Historical social injustices based on race, religion, ethnicity and gender, and indeed sexual orientation, have always existed, and these have begun to shrink on their own in a technological, individualistic society where diversity actually makes good economic sense. The availability of information on the plight of minorities has indeed contributed to a cultural change where, in the workplace for example, it is no longer acceptable to make fun of  different” people as it was when I was growing up.  Even so, there is enormous political pressure to solve remaining indirect discrimination problems by dealing with people in groups and voting blocks.  These “group oriented” solutions, however compelling the problems (and I’m listening to an Al Gore speech as I write this!) tend to obscure the moral and ethical dilemmas when viewed from the individual’s point of view, particularly the way the individual sets and executes his own private choices and personal priorities.     

                
ÓCopyright 2000  by Bill Boushka and High Productivity Publishing, subject to fair use
  

             
                     

 


[6][6]

 

 



[1][1] Steffan, Joseph, op. cit. (as in notes to Chapter 4).

[2][2] Stephen Carter, “The Insufficiency of Honesty,” Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 1966, pp 74-76.

[3][3] Cisewski, Gene. “License Expired,” The Quill, Sept. 1995 and the paper Gays, Lesbians and the State (1996),

[4][4] Hewlett, Ann and West, Cornel: The War on Parents: What We Can Do for America’s Beleaguered Moms and Dads.  New York: Houghton/Mifflin: 2000.

[5][5] Burkett, Elinor. The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly Cheats the Childless.  New York: The Free Press, 2000.