Begging to differ on outing issue
A reader who writes me occasionally on e-mail to express views on my columns sent these words this week: “The first thing I saw on this sorry Monday was Mr. Fang's ugly commentary [on page 4 of The China Post], and ... I wonder if Father Dan can gently take issue with ... [these] remarks, but in a polite, gentlemanly way that won't get you fired from the op-ed page. But his words cannot go unanswered ...
I am grateful to this reader for the push, but I need to clear the air a bit before leaping into this heated, if no longer boiling controversy.
First, my colleague William Fang wrote with good intentions about Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen in “Tsai should answer questions clearly” (CP 4-18-11, p. 4). I do not want him or anyone to take my reaction as a personal attack. The term “personal attack” is however an apt description of this muddy, unwarranted, indefensible, media-driven debate on the personal life of a prominent political leader.
Secondly, neither my e-mail-writing reader nor I could have predicted that Mr. Fang's words would be followed within 48 hours by a second editorial in this newspaper on the Tsai controversy (“We shouldn't be too critical of Shih Ming-teh's comments” [CP 4-20-11, p. 4]). (The first, “The role of sexuality in politics,” appeared on page 4 on April 17.) With so much worthy of commentary, what accounts for these fine-tuned, carefully aimed outbreaks of hyperventilation over what people are generally inclined to see as private matters between oneself and one's conscience?
Those editorials, and Mr. Fang's column, reflect views that I do not share. I feel particularly strongly, for example, that a political leader's sexual orientation need not automatically be a matter of public knowledge and, presumably, evaluation.
A point of clarification on my status in this space on Sundays is in order. In fact, I owe a great deal to The China Post. This newspaper has been immeasurably kind to me for nearly 16 years, and I am grateful. Over a spate of some 670 weekly columns, I've been allowed to express views here on topics that some religious publications might have found unacceptable. My e-mail writing reader is worried that I'll be “fired” from The China Post. It is impossible to fire someone, however, who was never hired. I am a freelance writer. I choose my topics, express my views, and from time to time shoot myself in the foot, all by myself. If my opinions differ from those of The China Post, it is to the credit of this newspaper that they appear here.
Facile comparisons of different countries in terms of social norms and expectations of politicians may be easy to splash out on paper, but such comparisons often lack accuracy or relevancy.
To Mr. Fang, dear friend, I'd like to say that sex in the lives of politicians in the United States remains, despite appearances, a rather taboo topic. In fact, it is not normal for politicians in the USA or elsewhere to volunteer information about their sexual selves, including their “orientation.” When sex and politics as a twosome do hit the news, it almost always happens in the mantle of shock and scandal. Someone appears to have betrayed spiritual promises made in public (marriage vows) or to have broken the law. Now, that makes news, unsavory news, but news nonetheless. Nothing of that sort has occurred in the case of Ms. Tsai.
Also, it is inaccurate to suggest homosexuality is accepted in most parts of the United States as simply an alternative lifestyle. If that were so, millions of gays and lesbians would not suffer from discrimination in the ways that they do.
Whether they realize it or not, those who call for the “outing” of gays and lesbians are not calling on leaders to be honest with themselves. Calls for people to declare their sexual orientation are a form of personal attack because such calls invade personal privacy and offend human dignity.
Such calls appeal to the worst in us, not the best. They appeal to our biases, anxieties, and insecurities as human beings.
Father Daniel J. Bauer SVD is a priest and associate professor in the English Department at Fu Jen Catholic University.
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