I was at a party recently and stumbled into a conversation where someone was stating their opposition to gay marriage rights. I have to admit, this doesn't happen to me often; I live in a big city, and the overwhelming majority of people with whom I personally associate take the desirability of gay rights for granted. So I pulled out all the arguments that I usually save for the proverbial choir, and asked this fellow why he opposes gay marriage. To be fair, neither of us were sober for this debate, but he didn't claim to have any rational arguments, and he didn't cite religion.
All of his arguments came down to re-wording, "Being gay is wrong because anal sex is gross. Ewww."
Which he said with taken-for-granted conviction, like he assumed that just because I'm a straight woman I've never fucked a man's ass before. Actually, I highly recommend it. I've also watched every episode of Queer as Folk, which I mostly find melodramatic, except that its man-on-man sex scenes are some of the hottest soft-core porn scenes ever to air on television. And I'm not the first straight woman to say so. So I can answer that particular homophobia with enthusiastic conviction: "You don't know what you're missing." To which he gaped incredulously and repeated, "Ewww." Which is hard to debate, really, because what makes people horny is always individualistic and irrational. And then I realized: This fellow's opinions on anal sex may be a lot like my opinions on eating pickles.
I don't mean to take the metaphor very far, because I realize that it's a flippant one, and I don't mean to make light of the struggle for gay equality. Of course I understand that a taste for pickles is not vital to a person's identity the way that sexual orientation is. But personally, I can't stand pickles, and I never have. Every once in a while, I bite one by mistake, not realizing that they've been snuck onto a sandwich, and I immediately spit it out and start gagging. They just taste rancid to me. It's a bizarre and unfortunate thing to do to a perfectly good cucumber. Whenever I get a pickle spear on a plate with a sandwich, I offer it to anyone sitting near me, and often they'll take it happily and say something like, "Awesome! I love pickles!" and tell me all about their favorite variety of pickle. Pickles still repulse me. They probably always will.
However, it would be pretty absurd and reprehensible of me to sign petitions or vote on referendums to block other people from eating pickles. And it's socially unacceptable in most circumstances for me to even tell anyone just how much I hate pickles, not because the First Amendment doesn't protect my right to disparage pickles, but because it would be obnoxious and negative and pointless. My visceral nausea does not make eating pickles wrong. I accept that people will occasionally eat pickles right in front of me. I can still walk through Jewish delis and grocery stores with whole shelves of pickles in glass jars. I still periodically get free pickles on my plate with sandwiches. I ignore all of this and go on with my life. What I do about my disgust is: I don't eat the pickles. I promise, it really is that easy.
And even then, it saddens me that I will never feel the joy that someone who likes pickles feels when they bite into a good pickle. Other people genuinely enjoy pickles, and my own loathing for them is ultimately my own loss.
So I pulled out that argument too, and I still don't think that I got anywhere with that particular drunk homophobe. You can't really argue with a reaction as irrational and visceral as, "Eww." What still infuriates and baffles me is how anyone makes the illogical leap from "Eww" to a grandiose political posture.