If there’s one thing that everyone seems to agree on, it’s that it is horribly, terribly wrong to bully homosexuals, where “bullying” doesn’t just mean “beating the crap out of”, but can also mean teasing, insulting, shunning, and the like. Bullying itself is thought to be an evil thing no matter who it’s directed at (unless, of course, it’s directed at “fascists”, “homophobes”, “Islamophobes”, or other reactionaries who aren’t getting with the program fast enough). This belief is false. While cruelty is always wrong, some forms of bullying serve an important social function. Ironically, it has fallen on me–who was once a small, socially awkward and deeply unpopular kid whose two great passions were physics and Star Trek–to defend it.
Every society rests on a vast concensus about meanings and roles. We all agree on what various words mean, and that’s what allows us to communicate. We all agree on what constitutes polite behavior, and so we know how to avoid giving offense. We all agree to regard the dollar as valid currency, and so we are able to buy and sell. Individualists always condemn conformity and concensus, but no decent human life could exist without it.
Concensus on social roles is crucial. For example, there is an expectation that parents don’t have sex with their children. This understanding ensures that physical affection between parents and children is properly understood. Our understanding of sex comes from seeing it as something a husband and wife do that makes babies. Sex does indeed have other meanings–it symbolize self-donation and unites husband and wife, making them a family, a one-flesh “we”–but only because the nature of the act is to embody this “we” into a new person requiring a mother and a father. Take away the procreative telos, and the association of sex with love is arbitrary.
Someone who publicly defies social expectations is a menace to the social order. If conterfeiters are too successful, money loses its value. If incest gets a high profile, fathers will be afraid to hug their daughters. If sodomites become publicly visible and accepted, sex loses its old baby-derived meanings. Male friends or female friends avoid physical contact, afraid it will be taken “the wrong way”. Out of politeness to lesbians, fathers are regarded as dispensible to the family.
This cannot be allowed to stand. Against the deviants, society must reaffirm its concensus. The individualist will ask “why?” Why can’t individuals who disapprove of the deviants just express their private disaproval, and then live and let live? Why must the community punish? After all, no one is keeping the rest of them from conforming. The reason is that it is general expectation and concensus, not just majority adherance, that allows social roles to function as they do.
Suppose there were a man, call him “Bob”, who lived in your neighborhood and worked in your office and who was an open adulterer. He proudly tells people about all the women he’s cheated with. None of your business, do you say? Live and let live? Suppose everyone at work and at home were to try this. Everyone decides to act like Bob is absolutely okay. This will come at a price. Nobody can ever say or imply the moral truth that adultery is wrong without logically implying that Bob is wrong, and we can’t have that. Commitment to marital fidelity becomes a proscribed thought, something two people can only whisper in secret. In your effort to accomodate Bob, he has become the true master of the community and you the outsider, you the one “in the closet”.
What needs to be done? The community must assert itself. Somebody has to call Bob a two-timing bastard and then punch him in his goddamn face. Then the universe will be once again set to rights.
Why to straight kids pick on queers? Because public homosexuality threatens to rob them of the masculine and feminine roles that inform and dignify their lives. Are they unnecessarily cruel and violent? Often they are. This is what always happens when private citizens take over a job that the government should be doing. Vigilante justice is always more vicious than lawful justice. When an adolescent boy decides he’s sexually “confused” and starts acting in a deviant way, it should be his parents and teachers that settle his confusion, telling him gently but firmly to stop acting like a fairy and be a real man.