Homosexuality is a popular topic. Everybody has an opinion on it. We seem to have exhausted all the arguments. For some, it is unnatural and un-reproductive, and that makes it wrong. For others it is a natural expression of love, with a genuine intention between consenting adults, which brings no harm to anyone, and that makes it right. The final verdict seems to be in the hands of science if it definitively finds out that homosexuals are somewhat “born that way.”
We find ourselves in this dialectical cul-de-sac simply because there are no right answers to wrong questions. And the issue of homosexuality seems to be the paramount example of the wrong question of our age.
Ethical issues do not depend solely on the nobility of the intentions or the harm caused to others. Indeed, the intention to find a cure for cancer should not justify using humans as guinea pigs; and a murderous intent is immoral and criminal even if it does not harm anyone. Even the “born that way” argument is as futile as defending that stealing would be ethically right if kleptomania was an inborn decease.
The true question about ethical matters should lie on whether the voluntary act in question harms or helps the person’s own dignity, even if it does not hurt anyone or is done with the best of intentions. So, when it comes to discussing the morality of sexual acts, we may easily find ourselves barking up the wrong tree. So what is the right tree to bark up?
The Enlightenment proposed a dualistic understanding of the human person that has uncritically permeated our culture. According to this dualism, humans are minds using bodies, very much like we use cars or computers to accomplish our intended purposes. In short, we commonly think that we have bodies; but we are not our bodies. Our bodies are something we use, not something we are.
If this is the case, sexuality, being a dimension of the body, is only something instrumental that the mind can use to achieve a specific purpose, and its morality would depend solely on that “purpose”. In the same vein, using a knife is morally neutral, but cooking or murdering with it is ethically relevant. A case in question would be that “oral or anal sex” is ethical if used to express permanent commitment and genuine love, just as the coitus is; while it could be wrong if it is just a lustful act, just as the coitus is. It all depends on the meaning the mind assigns to it.
But what if our bodies are not something we have, but something we are? What if touching the intimacy of the body amounts to touching the intimacy of the person? In fact, common sense knows that rape is not a mere “physical violation” of the body, but a deep violation of the person, precisely because the genitals represents the intimacy of the person. Persons are not “minds trapped in bodies”; persons are bodies as much as they are minds.
If the human body is integral to the person, then the intimacy of the body, namely, the genital dimension, is the intimacy of the person and tampering with it amounts to tampering with the dignity of the persons themselves.
In fact, the human body has its own language with its own semantics that our minds cannot change. Smiles means contentment, hugs mean acceptance, slaps mean rejection… our minds can choose to lie with them or to assign them new meanings foreign to the “original” semantics of the body.
Two individuals could convene that, between themselves, a slap on the face would mean tender care and undivided attention. It would be extremely strange or even ridiculous, but not necessarily unethical precisely because they are just tampering with a non-intimate dimension of the body. It would be an entirely different scenario if what they choose to do is tampering with the intimacy of the body; and this is what oral, anal sex or any other utilizing of the genitals do.
It is beyond the scope of these lines to explain how this happens. Our only objective is to point out that the dialogue about homosexuality is simply orbiting around the wrong centre. It insists in focusing on the intentions and the psychological condition of the homosexuals while the ethical issue at stake is whether coitus and other genital acts have the same ethical stand.
The dialogue on homosexuality keeps running the wrong course. The right question should be what has really changed in our culture for this issue to be on the table of most heated debates. The answer we hear is that this is one more case of failing to give “homosexual persons” equal rights. But perhaps the truth of the matter is simply that the parameters of the ethical and bodily perceptions have been changed by the back door and we don’t even talk about it.
The debate about homosexuality will not be clarified until we dare to question the fundamental issues on which it leans. If sex is something we may use, homosexual acts are morally neutral. But if we have never asked ourselves whether our bodies are something we have or something we are, we cannot even know if we do disagree in the first place.