Was it a sincere question?

Chris Stedman has a post at RNS replying to Peter Boghossian’s “why gay pride?” tweet. He is, you won’t be surprised to hear, much better at being even-tempered about it than I was.

Many atheists, such as LGBTQ atheist author Greta Christina, responded—but Boghossian dug in and continued to defend his statement, tweeting additional statements like “Questioning that one can be proud to be gay is a leftist blasphemy.”

As a queer atheist, I too am perplexed by both Boghossian’s question and his defensive reaction to criticism—especially from someone who lists “reason, rationality, critical thinking” in his Twitter bio.

Quite so – except that I, being so much less even-tempered, am not so much perplexed as irritated. Or, rather, both. I’m perplexed at Boghossian’s willingness or indeed eagerness to be so overtly…what…provocative-reactionary. I’m irritated by the same thing.

Perhaps he truly doesn’t understand why some LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) people feel proud to be LGBTQ. Rather than assume a more cynical motive, I’m going to treat his question as sincere. But when confronted by an LGBTQ-related question you don’t understand, the reasonable next step is to ask LGBTQ people. And it doesn’t take much investigating to find out why many LGBTQ people feel a sense of pride.

That’s where my smaller supply of even-temper comes right into play – I find it pretty much impossible to treat his question as sincere, because I don’t honestly see how it could be. He lives in the world; he’s not fresh from a desert island or a locked room where he was fed through a slit in the door. I don’t see how he could possibly be sincerely unaware of what gay pride is all about. I find it pretty much impossible to believe he need to investigate to find out why many LGBTQ people feel a sense of pride, when that’s been common knowledge for decades. He hasn’t been tucked away in a Quiverfull enclave all these years has he? He’s not the secret oldest son of Michelle and Jim-Bob Duggar?

Of course, not all LGBTQ would say that they are proud to be LGBTQ. They’re free to their own perspective. But why imply that it is not even remotely understandable that some would?

In a time when more and more atheists are encouraging their fellow nonbelievers to be “openly secular,” I wonder if Boghossian sees any parallels between the celebratory spirit of LGBTQ pride and the joy many atheists find in being honest about what they believe. It’s an imperfect parallel, but maybe he understands on some level what it’s like to feel proud to claim an identity that comes with consequences. 

I bet I know what Boghossian would say. He’d say atheism is something that one “works for” while being gay isn’t. Well, yes and no. It isn’t for everyone. For some people atheism just is. The idea of “god” just has no purchase. And then, being open about it is a separate issue, and there the parallels are quite close. Stigmatized identity is stigmatized identity.


  1. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    Why does he only pick on gay pride?

    Why not patriotic pride, pride in your sports team, pride in your culture. There are plenty of examples of people being proud about things they have not personally achieved. But Bogo only finds gay pride odd.

    Thats sort of a tell.

  2. Kevin Kehres says

    One has to “work for” one’s atheism? Funny. My niece and nephew — raised in an irreligious household — would disagree. For them, atheism was the default. No need to work at it at all.

    And for me — I didn’t really “work” at it, either. I came to an abrupt realization at about age 8 that the nice Sunday School teacher lady was telling me big fat fibs akin to the existence of Santa. How much “work” does it take to see through stories about gigantic floods and come to the conclusion that the rest of it is nonsense as well? Does that mean I’m not really an atheist?

    The obverse can also be claimed. Many of my gay friends told me stories of their early adolescent private anguish and their desire to be “normal”. And how they had to work like heck to come to grips with their own sexuality — their normal. And the reason they express pride in being gay was because they did “the work”.

    Earlier, I called Peter shallow. I think I’ve done shallow a severe injustice. The man is one-atom deep.

  3. says

    I suspect Boghossian is sincerely unaware of what gay pride is all about, but I agree it was not a sincere question. If it had been a sincere question, he would have learned what gay pride is all about. However, since it wasn’t, I suspect that he won’t. He’ll probably just stick to a strict and narrow definition of “pride” and ignore anything which doesn’t pertain to that definition.

  4. allosteric says

    Is PB “proud” to be an asshole? From his tweets and interviews, it certainly seems that way, though he maybe hasn’t said it explicitly. Is assholishness something he worked at, or was he just born that way? If he hasn’t had to work at it, or sacrificed for it, why be so proudly an asshole? He hasn’t earned the right!

  5. smhll says

    When Boghossian is done poking and letting the air out of people he feels shouldn’t be proud, is he going to start kicking the shins of people he thinks shouldn’t be happy?

    (What a useless use of the amazing powers of the internet. Sheesh.)

  6. says

    Kevin – right – that’s what I was saying. I didn’t go into it much though, so maybe I wasn’t clear. For some atheism is the default, and for some it’s an intellectual process (which takes a certain amount of work).

    Work isn’t really the issue, but it’s the word Bogo used in his first tweet, so that’s why I addressed it.

  7. tecolata says

    I “made my decision for atheism” at 13. The idea of a god just did not make sense and could not be proven. It was not a hard decision, it was not a decision at all, really. It was just logic.

    It was another 3 years before I realized the name for my “difference” was gay.

    My parents accepted my atheism with equanimity. When I said I’m gay they said it was impossible because I was raised normal. They threatened to pull me out of college – which they could do since I was still a minor – and warned me to stay away from gay people so it would not become “too late”. (It was pretty late.) My so called best friend never spoke to me again.

    So yeah, being an out lesbian was more work than being an out atheist.

  8. Blanche Quizno says

    @4 Kevin: “And for me — I didn’t really “work” at it, either. I came to an abrupt realization at about age 8”

    For me, it was at age 11 – right after I outgrew Santa Claus, I outgrew God and Jesus. But here’s the thing. I’d been intensively indoctrinated into Evangelical Christianity. My mother was a violent, brutal narcissist – the most dangerous thing we kids could ever do was to embarrass her in front of her fancy church friends. I had never been allowed to have any friends who weren’t first “vetted” by my mother to determine whether they were adequately Christian or not. Everyone in my family and extended family was Christian; our only social circle was people from church. It was VERY clear to me that the only acceptable option for Who To Be was “Christian”. I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t Christian.

    This was before the internet. I didn’t dare check out a book on atheism from the library, even if I had been able to find one. I didn’t know the word “atheist” yet.

    You don’t think it’s work to try to hide who you are because you have no freedom, no power, no agency, and are at the mercy of adults (my dad was often gone on business and, when he was there, always sided with my mother) who have, for your entire lifetime, demonstrated that they are *quite* willing to hurt you, who you are terrified of? There was no Child Protection Agency back then; no one would stand up for an abused child, any more than they’d stand up for an abused wife. When you were small for your age already, very thin, and certainly in no position to defend yourself, to say nothing of fighting back? To be already living in a state of high anxiety when you make that realization – do you have *any* idea how much that added to the difficulties of heading into new schools and adolescence???

    The “work” was surviving long enough reach age 18, when I could move out. Suicide was always calling.

    I’m glad things were so easy for you. I really am. The less suffering there is in the world, the better off we all are. I only wish those who had an easy time of it had some way to understand how difficult it was for some of the rest of us – we are all limited by our own experience, I’m afraid. It’s often too much to ask someone who has only experienced one thing (like white male cis-gender privilege like our friend Boggy) to try and understand even one of the other, DIFFERENT experiences that exist in our reality – they don’t really care, because they’ve got theirs. The way the current system is has worked out *quite* nicely for them, thankyouverymuch, so just take your complaining elsewhere. You’re tiresome and boring.

  9. says

    @Phillip Hallam-Baker #1:

    Why not patriotic pride, pride in your sports team, pride in your culture. There are plenty of examples of people being proud about things they have not personally achieved. But Bogo only finds gay pride odd.

    He even said in that screed that “that’s not how that word is used in virtually any other context.” I countered with the first thing that came to my mind: “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud,” but your list of examples shows precisely how disingenuous and stupid the whole topic was.

    Boghossian’s been called out by a lot of the people who’d usually be going right along with this kind of JAQing off, and I wonder how much of it has to do with DJ Grothe arguing against him on Twitter about it.

  10. anbheal says

    Yeah, @#1, slow clap. I cannot tell you how many privileged trust-fund drop-out coke-fiends I have come across on Cape Cod or Newport or trendy Boston eateries or the leafy lanes of the north and south shores, and plenty more in Manhattan, who will bore you to contemplating suicide with their family trees, and which great great was related to Monroe or Madison and which great great came over on the Mayflower and which great great is on the name of a dormitory and which great great invented the carrot peeler…..and quite naturally, nobody has worked in generations, though perhaps Gumpsy bought Dadsy a seat on a mercantile exchange and Dadsy showed up for a few hours per week between yachting and golfing. And you can bet your sweet ass that every single one of these twits is a Libertarian racist asshole, who goes on and on about lazy Mexicans working so hard they’re stealing our jobs (cognitive dissonance much?) and paying all their taxes to support crackheads on welfare — and they’ll pause to catch their breath, while they hoover up a line on their private beach or the deck of their yacht, before they launch in again as to how proud they are to be among the rich idle class of folks whose ancestors once did something. They all harbor a cringe-worthy over-weaning pride in simply existing, in a world of Hummers and speedboats and cocaine and horses, and work is the last thing any of their families have done since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

    It’s a bullshit parsing of the word “Pride”, he knows it is, and it’s his class of shitbag who are more guilty of the supposed sin than any other in history.

  11. Kevin Kehres says

    @12 Blanche Quizno

    Never meant to imply that for some (many? most?), there is plenty of “work” involved. Although I think Peter would frame “work” in terms of the intellectual process of coming to the realization that there are no gods, rather than the harrowing process of escaping from the situation you were in. Which sounds dreadful and I’m sorry you went through it.

    My point was that he seems to think that one can only come to atheism via such intellectual “work”, while being gay is “work-free”. Which is wrong in both directions. In fact, it occurs to me that the idea of “work” is in and of itself something of a red herring.

    Someone … apologist somebody … a little while back claimed that you couldn’t really be an atheist unless you had read and rejected various apologists. The trick, of course, is that you can never escape the demand that you continue to “work” for your atheism by reading yet another apologist screed. And another, and another. The only way to escape the demand that you “work” at your atheism is actually to convert. Or to raise one’s middle finger at the rudeness of the demand.

    Interesting game. The only way to win is not to play.

  12. Crimson Clupeidae says

    I hear so many stories (like Blanche’s above) and it just breaks my heart to know how many other people are raised in a similar setting, and probably that that is the more common way that kids grow up seeing the world.

    I thought my parent(s) were bad because they were mostly absent, but in retrospect, growing up feral (:) ) means that at least I wasn’t indoctrinated, and I am pretty independent as an adult. I have to work harder at empathy, and I do, but all of you who seem to have come from strict religious backgrounds really have my sympathy.

  13. johnthedrunkard says

    Consider examples of ‘pride’ and the question looks a bit less stupid. If every body is ‘proud’ of being their special snowflake selves, then pride has no meaning.

    BUT. For those with histories of degradation and exclusion, ‘pride’ is a kind of leveling UP. So ‘pride’ at being gay, or black, or jewish, is not of the same class as ‘pride’ at being catholic, or german, or Mayflower.

    Ideally, the wonder of being a person would be part of normal life. ‘Fearfully and wonderfully made’ and all that. But coming UP out of shame and exclusion is a movement in the direction of pride and, at least for now, ‘pride’ is the best word we seem to have for the feeling.

    If Bogghosian was going to spend the energy to ask the question (which I haven’t seen in context) he has no excuse for not answering it himself by the thoughts that it should trigger.

    And the reflexive doubling down on dumbth is inexcusable.

  14. dshetty says

    @Trav Mamone
    I like Chris Stedman, but he can be a little too nice sometimes. Homophobes just aren’t interested in civil dialogue.
    But its still a useful response to have. People cannot pretend they are ignoring responses because of rude words and tone or witch hunts or whatever.
    It used to be the same thing with evolution/Accommodation – Dawkins tuns off people from evolution because of harsh words! (But the creationist could read any garden variety textbook which makes the same points without the harsh words and the creationist still doesn’t change , implies?)

  15. timberwoof says

    Peter Boghossian is 48 years old, for crying out loud. He was an adult when people in Colorado and Oregon tried to pass anti-gay legislation, and in subsequent years when states all around the country passed anti-gay-marriage laws, and McCain yelled at senators and generals who suggested it was time to overturn DADT. He’s had a long time to “honestly” research the issues. The nongay people on this blog who “get it” are existence proofs that that can be done. (You know who you are. Thank you.) So he has no excuse for his ignorance.

    But he also tweeted something about finding yet another group of people to enrage. His intent is clearly not an honest question about the origins of gay pride. He’s just stirring up shit. Being an adult means you will up someone else’s shit if you have to. Peter is proudly still in some earlier stage of social and mental development.

    When a fifteen-year-old asks a dumb question, do we treat him like an adult who has made a profound statement? No, we treat him like a fifteen-year-old who needs some background information so he can reformulate or even answer the question. Peter, pay attention now.

  16. Scientismist says

    “Why gay pride?” — I didn’t know that question was still seriously asked anywhere outside the KKK and Neo-Nazi communities. And maybe at the meetings where they write State Republican Party Platforms.

    My dad asked essentially the same question of me 36 years ago. He said he always knew there were people who “did that sort of thing,” but why did they have to talk about it? I explained to him that the alternative was silence, and that silence is death. Literally. And then I told him a bit of the history of the Pink Triangle, and why I absolutely had to join the fight against the Briggs Initiative in California. I think he got it — he was a good man, and capable of learning. At least he never again questioned my right to stand up and speak out for myself as a human being.

    My Dad’s ignorance could be forgiven — the idea that gay people might object to being silenced, beaten, jailed, even killed, and might be willing to stand up and fight for their human rights, was not widely understood in 1978*. But what’s Peter Boghossian’s excuse? “Questioning that one can be proud to be gay is a leftist blasphemy.” No, it’s not a leftist blasphemy; now, in the 21st century, it just reveals that we are hearing from a person suffering from either an inexcusable determination to remain ignorant, or a shocking lack of humanity.

    And this is a philosophy professor specializing in “critical thinking, philosophy of education, and moral reasoning”?

    * (timberwoof: That would have been when Boghossian was 12. That’s still no excuse.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *