Note to straight males: queers increase your freedom

Miriam English

While women have been becoming more free (with still a fair way to go), men seem to be becoming less so. Men appear to hold all society's power, but their actions are more circumscribed than they were a short time ago. For a while it was becoming almost unremarkable for males to have long hair and wear makeup back in the 1970s and 1980s. Remember David Bowie, Mark Bolan/T-Rex, Sweet, and others?

Sadly, those reforms were cut short by the appearance of AIDS and the religious conservatives' unscrupulous use of propaganda to vilify gays (even though, worldwide, AIDS is predominantly a disease of religious straight people). As a result, a lot of those earlier, tentative freedoms have since been lost, and I wonder if the alarmingly high rate of youth suicide among males in developed nations nowadays is related to their burden of increased expectations while being bound into absurdly inflexible masculine roles.

A person who doesn't have physical chains, yet is bound tightly by senseless and arbitrary social constraints is still not free. This is made even worse when they are deceived into thinking that they love those bonds, as is sadly so with many males.

I've heard it said that dissent is proof that you are free, but I think it's more subtle than that. I think it actually makes everybody free, because the existence and acknowledgement of a broad range of options is what gives you freedom. Freedom can't exist without choice.

If we consider queer rights and issues of dress, gender, and sexuality then the conclusions are a little startling: straight people gain their freedom through us. Straight people are made more free if they allow gay, bisexual, trans, and other "queer" behaviors. The moment they curtail them by force or social disapproval then they themselves are no longer free. And I'm not just talking about some abstract concept here. I'm talking about concrete, everyday freedoms. Straight men can have long hair and fingernails, have a far wider range of dress options available to them, can be nurturing and gentle, slender, graceful and beautiful, and enjoy touch — all things which are largely denied them in today's straight society. They need not necessarily adopt the extremes, but would be able to be comfortable occupying a far wider range of positions in the landscape of possibilities. Currently males are expected to fit a very restricted and rigid mold — a perverse caricature of masculinity. Any deviation from expectations is flagged as suspicious and opens people to ridicule, condemnation, or even violence. Integration of queers into society would remove much of this restriction on straights, and the enormous stress that accompanies it. It would make straights freer, happier, and less fearful as well as allowing queers to be more productive members of society. Everybody would benefit.

I've been focusing particularly on men because the greater freedom for women has already been of great benefit to us all. Straight women can now wear jeans, cut their hair short, and spurn makeup with little social downside. They now succeed in school in areas that were the sole province of males (while males are now doing badly). I think the relative acceptance of lesbians has helped. I can easily name perhaps a dozen or more lesbian celebrities off the top of my head, but have difficulty thinking of more than a few gay males in the public spotlight. Males need more help from people who can redefine their boundaries, free them up, and re-balance society.

And there are some commercial and intellectual benefits of diversity too:

Richard Florida is an economist who noticed that the economy benefits much more from gays and "bohemians" than from tax concessions and sports stadiums. His book "The Creative Class" is, in part, about this.

James Surowieki, in his book "The Wisdom of Crowds", shows how diversity makes crowds smarter — often smarter than the most intelligent person in that crowd. Uniformity makes crowds stupid and crazy, and is what powers lynch mobs and witchhunts. Adding to human variety makes our society smarter, more sane, and more capable.

This idiotic hostility to those who are different is dangerous and restricts everybody's freedom. Whereas allowing diversity adds freedom, enhances culture, makes good economic sense, and improves our society.