Check out the counter opinion to this article here.
By Jamie Maas
The past couple of days have been somewhat turbulent among the students and faculty of Boise State, with a professor publishing this controversial article followed by this call out and this petition in favor of his resignation due to the impacts of said article. With less than a week before school, many students and community members remain divided on what exactly the response to Yenor’s article should be; with some agreeing with him, some disagreeing but defending his right to say it, and others who disagree with him and call for immediate action.
This article is a rebuttal of sorts to the throngs of people on Facebook, the intellectual community and those around the Boise area who don’t believe Yenor should be held accountable for his decision to publish and push anti-queer agendas. Here, I will attempt to convince you of two things: firstly, Yenor is just wrong, and second that this isn’t a violation of free speech.
Yenor is in the wrong
While many people disagree about about the method of calling Yenor out, many of the Facebook comments that were written defending him have generally agreed that the contents of Yenor’s writing is morally reprehensible. Most users went to great efforts to distance themselves from the article itself which should be really telling about how bad the article actually is and how it understandably made a lot of queer folk on campus upset. From implying parents who support a child’s gender transformation are abusive, blaming feminism for undermining families to stating outright that “not all means of sexual satisfaction are equal,” the article speaks to a deeply troubling and homophobic mentality that quite literally finds some types of sexual and gender expression as inferior, unequal and “threatening [to]society.”
This type of discourse is dangerous because it sets the foundational premises through which violence against queerness is both justified, and necessary to maintain the sanctity of “civilization itself.” The idea that transgender folk, queer folk and women are not equal and yet at the same time threatening are not really facts, but premises of a larger argument that must be true for the final conclusion to be true. People didn’t just justify the 16 murders of trans folk this year “just because”. The logic follows as such:
The family is the basis for all societal contracts and sets the foundation for civilized society.
The family is upheld through traditional gender roles and heterosexual sex.
Queerness cannot conform to traditional gender roles and heterosexual sex.
If queerness cannot conform to traditional gender roles and heterosexual sex, it cannot sustain the family.
If queerness cannot sustain families, it cannot sustain civilization.
Something that cannot sustain civilization is a threat.
If queerness cannot sustain civilization, it must be a threat.
Threats should be eliminated.
If queerness is a threat, it must be eliminated.
Therefore: Queerness should be eliminated.
The bolded line of the algorithm above are the basic truth statements that Yenor’s article defends as true, and the un-bolded premises represent the logical train of thought that has to be true in order to prove the conclusion true. While I would argue that the 8th premise is in fact defended in Yenor’s article, assuming that would be a stretch with just one additional truth statement in the proof above I was still able to reach a reasonable conclusion that justifies violence against queerness. That kind of step is what convinces many people to bash, beat, and bruise every queer body they see. And don’t take my word on that, take the FBI’s word when they tell you that “LGBT people are more likely to be targets of hate crimes than any other group.” The violence I am talking about aren’t just isolated incidents, but real events that occur in places like the ground we will attend class Monday afternoon.
This is more of an opinionated grievance, but Yenor’s article is honestly just one link in a long chain of abuse. A larger justification we had for writing the articles and petitions in favor of canning Yenor wasn’t just to get him fired, but to raise awareness for queer Boise State students to stay away from his classes. I, personally have witnessed numerous unprofessional and questionable events, like the time he slut-shamed a fictional character in a book we were reading, calling one of the protagonists “gross” and “unfit for marriage.” I’ve heard him shut down arguments with female students in the class with condescending “sweeties” among other things. Women, survivors, and queer folk shouldn’t have to learn constitutional law from a slut-shaming trans-phobe who isn’t even in favor of gay marriage. This article clearly shows queer students he disregards and deems our identities as threats, and that isn’t exactly conducive to a safe learning environment. As a gay man, it’s always an uneasy feeling being around people you know are homophobic.
The “First Amendment” defense
While people who face disagreements in the first realm of argumentation might think that Yenor’s opinions are good, many people in this category will disagree with Yenor on ethical principles but will defend his right to a University backed opinion on the grounds of the first amendment. However, I would argue that this not only displays a proudly uneducated understanding of how the first amendment works, but also a poor example of how ideological purity is able to could our sense of judgement and human compassion. I call this free speech fundamentalism.
Free speech fundamentalism misses the mark about how the First Amendment is applied to political situations. A lot of the arguments presented in these kinds of debates often adhere to the ideological dogma of free speech that prevents people from using good ‘ole fashioned common sense. The reason the constitution protected the freedom of speech was to allow private citizens to question the government. The founding fathers really wanted to make sure that the government wasn’t able to prevent private citizens from holding it accountable. So, while Yenor can’t be thrown in jail for being terrible, the constitution does not protect individuals from facing the social punishments that arise from their speech whether it be termination or public disgrace.
Free speech fundamentalism is also not the paragon of positive discourse and education a lot of people think it is. Many of the people spouting this argument firmly believe the petition prevents the ability for people to discuss and debate important issues that affect our society. And while I would defend that positive discourse is good, I think this is limited and the nebulous right to speech shouldn’t infringe on queer folk and women’s access to safety on campus. Ignoring the fact that oppressive discussions like this make it difficult for queer voices to engage in discussions at all, it has an adverse effect on the underlying assumptions and political ideologies that shape the way issues like queerness are discussed in the first place. Should people be able to debate either side of things like the economy, foreign policy, environmental policy or favorite movies? Definitely. Should there be room for people who want to argue that “certain subjects are less than human and should be eradicated or at least separated for the security of society?” Probably not. The fact that whether queerness is threatening, or non-existent is up for debate just upholds those ideas as potentially true, and gives credence to the violent de-legitimization of queerness in the status quo. Honestly, people would not be making these arguments if the article was written about how interracial marriage was a threat to the American family. Violence against queerness is so normalized in society that straight and cis people are able to openly have “civilized conversations” about whether or not it should exist at all.