Michele Wales, Unsplash.com

Editorial: Good intentions gone bad, again

  • June 23, 2023

The culture wars have kicked up yet another reductio ad absurdum ruckus with the revelation that a pro-diversity website at Johns Hopkins University defined lesbians as non-men attracted to other non-men.

The very preposterousness of the claim, however, might be cause for a pause to think about and articulate its implications. Helen Kennedy, executive director of the sexual diversity lobby group, EGALE Canada, deserves credit on that score. In her media comments, Kennedy charitably stressed the need to assume good intentions on the part of the egghead individuals responsible for the online “glossary” where the head-scratching definition was posted.

“Their hearts may be in the right place,” Kennedy said in calling for nuance while disentangling what the gone-horribly-wrong communication was trying to express.

It’s a reminder we all should take far more to heart far more often. Unfortunately, albeit entirely predictably, journalists robotically emphasized her expression of concern that the kerfuffle might  simply feed the furies of those seeking to spread hate and harm.

Devoid of any context Kennedy possibly provided, the media rote evocation of “hate” as motivator and “harm” as intention, undermines the very process of distinction Kennedy rightly encouraged. It leads us back around the ever-diminishing circles of Hell where tort begets retort and nuance is always dismissed as: “Nonsense!”

In fact, the definition of lesbians as “non-men” isn’t just problematic because it makes no sense. It contradicts more than 50 years of the equality-seeking that gave rise to racial and gendered scrutiny in the first place. The feminist movement moved toward gendered analysis in the late 1960s because women moving into professions once considered “male” refused to accept that work must be considered a matter of biological sex.

Feminists first and foremost rejected the very idea that they could be discriminated against as women on the basis of their “non-maleness.” Similar rejection fueled the U.S. civil rights movement as Blacks refused to maintain the identity of being merely “non-white” Americans. Both groups insisted they were having “non” of it any longer, and rightly so.

In the immortal words of Lisa Simpson, “something that is the something of something is the nothing of anything.” If it were possible to be more nothing than nothing, being identified by what you aren’t surely qualifies. Indeed, the very heart of the pro-life stand is that unborn children cannot be deemed “non-human” just because they are still in the womb. Cursory reflection on history reminds us of the dangerous confusion that non-recognition of inherent humanity can create. Jews, to pick a particularly pointed historical example, are not just non-Christians or, for that matter, non-Germans.

Yet here we have intelligent people with access to a website at a top American university literally defining humanity into constituent parts of men/non-men — and applying it to women who are lesbian. Of course, we cannot fairly chastise the whole sexual diversity movement for such thinking. Yet it is thinking that comes from somewhere even accepting, as EGALE’s Helen Kennedy says, from good intentions gone awry.

Here also we as Catholics, that is as citizens of faith, should in all charity ask our fellow citizens in the diversity movement to pause and think about where such thinking leads. Perhaps it could provoke a re-thinking of the assumption that all who question diversity are motivated by hate and seek to do harm. For as the lesbians as non-men example shows, in a culture war, as in any non-peaceful engagement, the greater harm always risks coming from within. 

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