A Good Cautionary Tale for All

Anyone paying the least bit of attention to the news of late knows that the university campus has become a red hot cauldron of over-reaction to insensitivity, real or imagined. This latest story is a good cautionary tale to all of us to keep our heads about us when we think we’ve been violated and wait ’til the facts are in. Let me lay out this story by it’s highlights:

  1. Tuesday afternoon, a bag of feces was found at the front door of Vanderbilt’s Black Cultural Center.
  2. This was the day after 200 students delivered a demand to the Chancellor for more inclusiveness and diversity on campus.
  3. The director of the Center cautioned against hasty conclusions and reactions. Let the police investigation play out, he said.
  4. Regardless, the student organization that delivered the demands deemed the action “deplorable” and “vile” and that it’s “these types of actions” which serve as exhibit #1 of the importance of their work.
  5. Police investigation concludes.
  6. Finding: A Vanderbilt junior visited the Center to work on a group project there. Her dog required cleaning up after and she did not see a trash can to deposit her poop pick-up bag. So she left it at the door of the Center, not wanting to take it in with her.
  7. Oh, our student is visually impaired; the beast is her faithful service dog. She explains her actions were exactly what service dog school instructs is proper in such situation.
  8. The egg-faced activist group apologizes for jumping the gun in their reactive accusations.
  9. The junior told the campus newspaper:  “The thing that bothered me and upset me was that [the group’s statement] was written very extreme, and what happened was they wrote it without any investigation.”

dog-cleaning-poopTakeaway: The director of the center had it right. Don’t automatically default to victimhood, keep a cool head and wait till the actual facts are gathered.

Each of us, of all political and ideological stripes, will do well to go to school on this learning opportunity.

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Seven Curses

Listening to music yesterday while getting some work done at my desk here, a wonderful song came up on my rotation, one that I know quite well and have loved for years. What’s remarkable about it is its human depth and searching pathos AND that it was written by a 22 year old kid from Hibbing Minnesota. His performance of it – the stirring soulfulness of it – is far beyond his years also. The song is “Seven Curses”, a ballad about a young woman who must find a way to free her father, a horse thief, from the gallows. She pays a deep price for his freedom to an evil judge, only to be terribly cheated. But she has the last word on the matter.

Here is a rare live performance of this artist performing the song in 1963 in New York City.

The lyrics to this wonderful song are here.

This song was inspired by an old folk tune – “The Maid Freed from the Gallows” – a story of a young maiden sentenced to die, waiting for someone to come pay her ransom. This classic version was performed by varied artists from Lead Belly to Led Zeppelin on III to Judy Collins. Here is the most classic performance by John Jacob Niles, one of the leaders of the folk revival in the middle of the previous century.



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Why Sexual Orientation (and Gender Identity) is Not Really “a Thing”

gender identityWhat does it actually mean when we refer to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity? The answers seem obvious to most, that is, until we actually have to land on an answer. This question takes on great importance when it involves consequential public policy as Houston citizens are presently facing.

You might recall, in 2014, Houston Mayor Annise Parker passed the smoothly titled Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) through her city council to much fanfare and then proceeded to demand her city’s pastors dutifully submit, as her diktat stated, “all speeches, presentations or sermons” related to HERO to her for approval. One appreciates confidence and boldness in their elected officials, but jeez.

The Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the ordinance must either be repealed by the City Council or put up for a vote by Houston’s citizens. So the law’s future goes before Houston voters November 3rd. The only language in Proposition 1 under debate is it inclusion of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Contrary to elite assumptions, compelling reasons do exist for rejecting the ordinance beyond those mouth-breathers’ refusal to join the “right side of history” and all that.

A major reason is that the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are terribly subjective, meaning very different things to reasonable people finding no common definition even within the LGBT community. Consequential public policy demands more precision.


  • What does “sexual orientation” actually include and exclude?
  • How is one’s “gender identity” determined and legally ascertained?

Neither of these are objective, measurable personal characteristics like race, sex, color, ethnicity, pregnancy, disability, etc but they are assumed as such in laws like this. There’s great trouble when we assume we are all taking about the same thing here but in fact are not. Let’s see how this is precisely case we have today.

Gender Identity

Gender theorists confidently explain what gender is with this clever ditty: “Sex is what’s between your legs. Gender is what’s between your ears.” I think, therefore I am. He’s a man purely because he understands himself as such, regardless of what his original physical factory settings may indicate. She is a woman for the very same reasons. And no one can say otherwise. Does a better example of subjectivity exist? But this understanding is far from settled among leading scholars.

Gender as something distinct from sex is a relatively new idea that originates, not from any scientific discovery, but pure ideology. As J. Richard Udry explained in a celebrated presidential address to the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, sex and gender have long meant the same thing, with gender generally used grammatically when one needed to distinguish physiology from coitus. But today, he explains, “In our urge to be politically correct… we use gender to indicate endorsement of a theory of gender as a human social invention.” But Udry was writing before the trans question became center stage. And this creates a fiery head-on collision between two fundamental dogmas of gender studies.

My maleness, your femaleness – the way we understand ourselves, the way we believe we are – is merely an artificial “social construct”. Unless you’re trans. Then the male or female you believe yourself to be is natural, absolute and beyond dispute. They don’t have a good answer for this conflict.

Back to gender as distinct from sex. David Haig, a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard, conducted an intriguing study on how the terms “sex” and “gender” have been contrastingly used over the decades in the social and biological sciences by examining the titles of some thirty million academic articles. He found that prior to 1960, the use of gender was extremely rare in both the hard and soft sciences. In the following years, the term slowly grew in the social science and humanities literature, but was rarely used in the biological literature. Today, the harder sciences employ gender more frequently than 20 years ago, but for interesting reasons. Haig explains,

Among the reasons that working [natural] scientists have given me for choosing gender rather than sex in biological contexts are desires to signal sympathies with feminist goals, to use a more academic term, or to avoid the connotation of copulation.

He continues, “The major increase in the use of gender, and the associated decline of sex, occurred in the 1980s, after the adoption of gender as a technical term in feminist discourse.” It was not because any new scientific finding demanded such a distinction.

Now, to how gender is related to identity. Bruce Jenner is a woman and always has been. Disagree at your own peril. But when was it that Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn? At birth? When he came to terms with it himself? When he first announced his news to the world? When he legally changed his name? When he appeared on the cover of Vogue?

Bruce is the only one that can tell us for sure. And this true for every trans individual Even that could change from day to day and we have to honor each new telling. People ask honest and sincere questions, wanting to truly understand what’s going on here: Can Caitlyn really be Caitlyn if she still has Bruce’s penis?  Would Caitlyn be Cait if she chose to kept a beard? What if she retained a total outer appearance suitable for the cover of GQ? Of course she would because her gender, as with all other transgender folks, exists solely in what’s between her ears, her own understanding of herself, regardless of how she chooses to display it to the world. It is her business, but we all have to honor it.

Another less famous real-world example of this reality was dumped in the lap of an unsuspecting Michigan woman at her local Planet Fitness gym. She entered the woman’s locker room and was confronted by a man doing his business sporting a woman’s wig and some poorly applied facial rogue. Mortified, she alerted the management and was told she would have to live with it because their corporate policy states that “members and guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity.”

“Sincere” and “self-reported”. Is that not a can of worms? At least Planet Fitness as some sort of criteria. The Houston Ordinance offers no definition, language or guidelines whatsoever as to what does or does not constitute “gender identity”. Laws backed by substantial fines and penalties, not to mention the potential for public shaming of violators, requires some form of objective clarity.

Sexual Orientation

Our culture uses the term “sexual orientation” with absolute confidence in its definition that to even raise the question would peg one as embarrassingly dull-witted. But this, even among LGBT leaders, is not clear at all. Professor Randall Sell, one of the leading scholars researching the nature of sexual orientation, observes,

At present it is clear that researchers are confused as to what they are studying when they assess sexual orientation in their research. …Today’s preferred terms and the term “sexual orientation” itself have a wide variety of definitions in the literature…

The serious student of this topic need only enter “definition of sexual orientation” into a search engine to prove the fact. For instance, the most authoritative organizations on the subject offer these definitions:

Human Rights Campaign: “An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people.”

American Psychological Association: “An enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes. …[O]ne’s sexual orientation defines the group of people in which one is likely to find the satisfying and fulfilling romantic relationships that are an essential component of personal identity for many people.”

Psychology Today: “Sexual orientation is a term used to describe our patterns of emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction—and our sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions. A person’s sexual orientation is not a black or white matter; sexual orientation exists along a continuum.”

WebMD; Sexual orientation is a term used to refer to a person’s emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to individuals of a particular gender (male or female).

PFLAG: “Emotional, romantic, or sexual feelings toward other people…. One’s sexual activity does not define who one is with regard to one’s sexual orientation; it is the attraction that helps determine orientation.”

GLAAD: “Simply put: sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to and fall in love with; Sexual orientation describes a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person.”

The words “emotional”, “romantic” and “sexual” in relation to “attraction” and “feelings” seem to be the common characteristics in these various definitions. But these constancies do little to answer the question any attentive person should ask:

Precisely what kinds of “emotional, romantic and sexual attractions” denote what a “sexual orientation” actually is and isn’t?

Many, but not all, assumptively confine it to being gay, straight or bisexual. But others in the LGBT community and elsewhere contend that these are given only because they are the main players on the current stage of sexual diversity. They contend there are more “sexual orientations” still. A stark example demonstrates the problem.

Salon recently published a provocative piece by a man who introduces himself this way:

I’ve been stuck with the most unfortunate of sexual orientations, a preference for a group of people who are legally, morally and psychologically unable to reciprocate my feelings and desires.  It’s a curse of the first order, a completely unworkable sexuality, and it’s mine.  Who am I? …I’m a pedophile.

Now we can imagine a sea of eyes roll at the supposed ridiculousness of his claim that his deal is an orientation. But under what criteria should it be excluded?

Certainly not because this sexual attraction is repulsive. No current definition makes that qualification. If one’s emotional, romantic and sexual attraction has to be socially approved in order to be a bona fide sexual orientation than when did bi- or homosexuality hit that critical tipping point in its public acceptance? Has it presently? The subjectivity in all this is obvious with just the slightest bit of thought.

Many will say an actual orientation must be something embedded within the individual, natural to what and who they are. Our pedophile understands this and says his sexual attraction to children – which he himself judges as horrific and claims he has intentionally never acted on and hopes he never does – is an orientation because it’s how he has always been. He mimics the language of those (see pg. 2 under first heading) who explain the nature and origins of same-sex attraction:

Some researchers surmise that pedophilia can be traced back to genetics.  Others believe the cause is congenital, and still others that it’s environmental. Personally, I think the ultimate cause is likely some combination of those, and that it varies from person to person.

Again, by what criteria would we prove him wrong? Those who follow this topic very closely will remind us that the newest version of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-V) holds the answer, as it originally listed pedophilia as an orientation. But a press release was circulated by the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the DSM, stating that the designation should not be an orientation, but a “sexual interest.” But it’s not that simple.

Just as there was significant political pressure on the American Psychiatric Association decades ago to take homosexuality off the list of psychological illnesses, similar pressure was applied here as well. A professor in the school of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins, writing in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, explains that the APA removed the “orientation” designation “in the face of significant criticism” and not because of a misprint. This professor explains that for important clinical reasons “removing the term in response to public criticism would be a mistake.” He contends that “experiencing ongoing sexual attractions to prepubescent children is, in essence, a form of sexual orientation…” and that an important distinction for clinicians is to distinguish between the psychiatric and criminal aspects of this orientation, attraction as distinct from behavior.

Agree with him or not, but his article – as well as the journal’s editorial board’s decision to publish it – demonstrates it’s not just pervs seeking legitimacy who contend it’s an orientation. How exactly would Houston’s ordinance, or any other, legally exclude Mr. Pedophile?

But pedophilia is not the only romantic, emotional and sexual attraction confounding our assumed sureness of what an orientation is. The polys claim their place under the banner too.

Polyamorists (and non-polys) assert that desiring “many loves” simultaneously is an orientation. They take themselves and this understanding of their own romantic, emotional and sexual attractions very seriously, even hosting their own annual conference. Loving More®, the largest poly-support organization in the U.S., answers the question “Is polyamory an innate orientation?” this way:

For some it seems to be, for others not. Some people…are indeed polyamorous by nature. Despite good hearts and good intentions they repeatedly fail at monogamy, or live miserable lives if they do manage to stay romantically exclusive. …The evidence seems to be that some people are just not wired for monogamy and need more than one love to feel complete as a person.

This, of course, would also be true of polygamists. If you hold that polys and polygs are mistaken in this, prove it by the definitions above or any that you can find. You’ll be frustrated. But like our pedophile, it’s not just the self-interested poly activists making the case for inclusion. Respected law professors working for LGBT causes make the case as well.

The most prominent, Columbia Law School’s Elizabeth Emens, contends with all seriousness that as our national debate over same-sex marriage expands our understanding of intimate relationships, it is her hope “the everyone will take this opportunity to question monogamy” as a preference over non-monogamy. She holds that one’s predilection for polyamory should legally be accepted as a sexual orientation because many polys report this is simply who they are. One person she features explains,

I’ve been Bi and Poly since around the age of 13, and always had more than one relationship going on as a teenager. . . . [M]onogamy is just not my nature.

Another, named Eddie, explains that those in his poly “family” have relative levels of “intrinsic polyness” leading to what he understands as a “grey scale” among his partners. He says he was polyamorous as a child, while Amber was not. She struggles with jealousy while Mike has learned to suppress his jealousy. He explains, “I think Adam came hard-wired [as poly] even more so than me.”

Emens concludes that “knowledge of one’s own ‘sexual orientation’ as we typically use the term” also “encompasses self-knowledge about one’s sexual identity with regards to monogamy.” In her paper, Emens properly spends a good deal of energy addressing the essentialist/constructivist question on the nature of sexuality, which of course brings its own distinct understanding of whether “orientation” even describes anything that actually exists. Consider the voices asserting that monogamy itself is not an orientation but an unnatural and unsustainable social construct, while being gay, lesbian or bi- is just as natural as having blue eyes or brown skin. As our parents told us, if you’re going to start adjusting the truth, you better have a good memory. This advice would save gender theorists from these embarrassing contradictions.

The second scholar contending polyamory is an orientation is Ann Tweedy, a professor at Hamline University School of Law. In an article, crisply titled “Polyamory as a Sexual Orientation”, she also argues for polyamory being recognized as a legal category in employment discrimination statutes because it is an orientation and such people deserve the protections everyone else has. Tweedy notes, and enlists the voices of other scholars who agree with her, that the current usage of the term sexual orientation is “somewhat arbitrary”, “inherently unstable” and “artificially limited.”

She holds that “nothing in the definition of ‘sexual’ or ‘orientation’ suggests that the term ‘sexual orientation’ should be limited to identifying the sex of the people to whom one is attracted.” Number of lovers should be included. She continues with logical consistency,

Rather, based on the ordinary meanings of its two constitutive words, the term ‘sexual orientation’ should refer to any type of settled sense of direction or relationship or choice or adjustment of associations, connections, or dispositions that relate to libidinal gratification.

The Inherent Difference in Male and Female Sexuality

Like Emens does with the constructivist theory, Tweedy introduces a major debilitating wrinkle into this issue by directing our attention to the differences in male and female sexuality. We cannot really speak of human sexuality generally, but male and female sexuality as they are very different animals. Research consistently reveals that male sexuality is more fixed while female sexuality is more flexible. Women are substantially more likely to report being bi-sexual and it is not uncommon for self-identified lesbians to behave bi-sexually regardless of their actual identity or self-described orientation.

It is not uncommon for women to change their identity/orientation from heterosexual to lesbian and vice versa while men are extremely more likely to report being “100 percent homosexual” or “100 percent heterosexual” as the American Sociological Association explains. Thus, to speak of human sexuality as consistent and sexual orientation as an objective fixed human phenomenon is challenged by these facts. Given this, Tweedy logically contends that if we are going to speak accurately about what sexual orientation is and is not, then “individuals should be able to define their own sexual orientation” as they do their gender identity. No small number of LGBT theorists wholly agree, contending that there are as many gender identities and sexual orientations are there are people as each of us lives these out a tad differently than others. No one fully fits into any specific box, but we each create our own.

Under such constructs, we are socially (and legally) compelled to honor and respect each person’s self-determined orientation and self-expressed gender identity. Of course, this inherent subjectivity raises profound practical and legal concerns for adherence to and enforcement of laws like Houston’s equal rights ordinance. The subjectivity makes it ripe for an explosion of unanticipated lawsuits from people who refuse to play along with the “well we all know what it means” misbelief. Of course, the implications here stretch far beyond Houston. Consider this statement from this summer’s Supreme Court’s Majority Opinion in Obergefell,

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. (p. 13)

Whatever their sexual orientation…

Posted in lgbt, Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor, politics, Sexuality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Creating Provocative First Lines of Your Imaginary Novel

Leonid Pasternak's Throes of Creation

Leonid Pasternak’s Throes of Creation

I don’t know how many other folks do this, but I sometimes spend my free brain time thinking up creative and enticing first lines for short stories or novels.

Here are some that have come to mind in the past few days.

Sitting here in the dentist chair, his hands all up in my mouth, wondering how the kids talked me into such a mess.

This particular morning was colder than any I can remember. But remember that I don’t remember so well ever since the incident.

The grocery clerk was checking me out with obvious intention. And I don’t mean scanning my packages.

The man was droning on about the stomach problems he’d suffered on his recent vacation, which made me miss my father’s call. Dad died unexpectedly later that evening.

The teacher scratched her chalk across the board as if she’d both gone to bed and woke up on its wrong side. Perhaps she had.

He was running for public office, the kind of man hard pressed to get his mother to cast a vote his way. Perhaps that was his most attractive quality.

Sometimes I get scared.  This time was not one of them.

The apples were just coming in. But not in the way she expected.

It’s fun. Give it a shot and share some of your own…

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The Fall of Man and It’s Four Deaths

Wanted to share an important, short article Focus on the Family has at our website for The Family Project. This article gives a greater picture of how the Fall of humanity, as it happened in the garden, brought four different and devastating deaths upon humanity and each of us as sons and daughters of our original parents. It draws fuller picture of how the Fall diminished our humanity and our most important relationships in four different ways.


The art attached to the article is entitled The Entombment by Peter Paul Rubens. It is one of  my favorite paintings because of how it conveys the real, deep, human drama of our Savior’s death for the sins of the world and how a real mother on a real day had to experience the terrible death of her boy.

Look at her eyes, eyes of pain and dramatic mourning. Rubens has them deep, painfully red and swollen from her travail. She is not heroic as in Michelangelo’s Pieta. She is us, how any of us would be at the death of our child. But she also knows the bigger picture of who her boy is and why he had to die. That is why her eyes are directed to the Father, as if to ask “why” but also seeking comfort and assurance.

It is a powerful image.

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How So Many Got it Wrong About Fiorina Getting Planned Parenthood Wrong

fiorina gop debate

One the biggest moments in this second GOP debate was Carly Fiorina deftly taking control of the exchange and pointing it toward the macabre group of folks Planned Parenthood are and how the two top leaders of the Democratic party are quite content to defend and let them go about their grisly business. She said, with great seriousness and passion,

I dare Hillary Clinton [and] Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully-formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ This is about the character of our nation.

A host of media outlets, as well as Planned Parenthood, went to great lengths to explain that Mrs. Fiorina was deeply mistaken.

Planned Parenthood quickly released a memo claiming she’s  a liar:

The images show nothing like what Carly Fiorina said they do, and they have nothing to do with Planned Parenthood. The video footage that she claims exists — and that she ‘dared’ people to watch — does not exist. We have a word for that: It’s a lie.

Politico’s Rachana Pradhan was quick on the draw to “fact-check” Carly’s statement, also concluding she was wrong,

The videos that have stirred up so much trouble for Planned Parenthood don’t show what Fiorina claims. …In one video, a former employee of the fetal tissue procurement company StemExpress…alleges that she saw an aborted fetus’ heart beat after a clinician tapped its heart. That video relies solely on the interview and does not include footage to support her claims. [But]…at no point do they include footage of an entire aborted fetus.

Huffington Post joined in of course (See #6), bluntly claiming,

That footage doesn’t exist. …[T]here is no moment where Planned Parenthood discusses procuring fetal tissue for profit, nor is there the scene that Fiorina describes.

A writer at Vox claims Carly was just making things up, explaining they know this because they watched every inch of the tapes,

Fiorina is wrong: Nobody watching the Planned Parenthood tapes would see those things. I know, because I recently watched all 12 hours of the footage. …[T]he things Fiorina describes — the legs kicking, the intact “fully formed fetus,” the heart beating, the remarks about having to “harvest its brain” — are pure fiction.

George Stephenopoulos interviewing Fiorina on ABC News the next day said that “analysts who watched all 12+ hours said the harrowing scene you describe isn’t actually in those tapes” and then asks her if she misspoke.

Mrs. Fiorina certainly did not misspeak. Each of the above sources are the ones who got it exactly wrong. Everything she described in the debate is all plainly here in the video. You can see it starting at 5:37. (WARNING: It is graphic and upsetting.)

Here is where each point she made is found. You be the judge as to who got it right.

  1. Watch a fully-formed fetus on the table” (see 5:59)
  2. “…its heart beating, its legs kicking” (see 5:37 – 6:10)
  3. “…while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’” (see 6:07 – 6:49)

At the end of this video, you hear an employee – Holly O’Donnell – explain why she quit her job. She was asked to cut this baby boy’s face through the middle, from its tiny chin up beyond its forehead in order to “procure” the brain which was to go immediately to market. That was the work she was in.

Reflecting on that day, she says she held that little boy, surprised at how big he was, how heavy, how substantive his body was, holding him in her hands while everyone else was busy about their business. She was the only one who humanized the baby boy, saying:

It’s just really hard knowing you are the only person who’s ever going to hold  that baby. I held it and thought, this could have grown up to …be a lawyer, a firefighter, this could be the next president. …Getting pregnant can be an accident, but its not a mistake.

That baby was real. The people who killed it that day in the clinic are real. And the footage of its last seconds of life are real, regardless of how badly some want to deny it.

Carly was right.

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Little Trip to Mexico

In San Diego to speak at a conference this week and had some free time, so decided to go somewhere I’d never been before: Mexico. Drove down, right through the border check without a line, no waiting nor any stop and check. Just drove right through and easy to understand when you consider how honest I look.

I wanted to go down to Ensenda, a nice little coastal town, where my nephew was born. I took the back way through the country side. I really loved it. It was remarkable to me how definitively the “feel” changes immediately when you cross the border. The US and Mexico are very distinct, but I thought the two “feels” would transition slowly – blend – as you drove from one into the other. But that fence separates is indeed a significant divide. Two very different worlds, and all really based on two different ideas about economics and political policy. Ideas matter for how real people live and their well-being.

Here are some pics from the quick trip. (I usually take pictures of buildings and people, rather than “views” and touristy things. I find them much more interesting.)



Big ‘Ol 75-foot tall Jesus near Rosarita

011021019 024

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