Wednesday, July 06, 2005

On Calling a Nut a Nut

I have been told that yesterday Regina Griggs, President of PFOX, complained on a radio show about my reference on this blog to Peter Sprigg as a "nut." I am only too happy to explain my use of that word.

What is a "nut?" In common usage, the word "nut" is reserved for people who are mentally unbalanced, but do not meet the criteria of mental illness. For instance, a person who is obsessed with a topic is referred to as a nut -- we talk about model-airplane nuts, health nuts, computer nuts, etc., because they are obsessed with something to a degree that other people do not share, but they do not seem to be neurotic or psychotic. There are religious nuts who have strong convictions that are not shared by others, political nuts who hold strong and idiosyncratic political opinions, conspiracy-theory nuts are a favorite category of nuts, being people who connect the dots in a different way from the rest of us.

Some nuts are lovable, some are scary. The really scary ones end up getting a more serious label, something from the DSM, and I don't think really crazy people are usually referred to as nuts. Well, maybe you could say, "He used to be a nice guy, but he went nuts." But, "He's the nut who killed eighteen people with a rusty machete?" No, that's not a nut, that's a maniac. The guy who pays his mortgage in pennies: a nut -- see how that works?

One of the characteristics of a nut is that they express their nuttiness openly and frequently. A person who thinks that the President is a communist, for instance, is not a nut if he harbors this belief privately, if he just sits in front of the TV in his Laz-E-Boy, thinking, I'll bet the President is a communist. He is a nut, though, if he stands on street-corners with a sign saying "The President is a communist," and organizes anti-communist-President marches.

Look -- could you do what Peter Sprigg does? Could you write a 176-page book called Outrage: How Gay Activists and Liberal Judges Are Trashing Democracy to Redefine Marriage? Could you fill a whole book with stuff about gay people, and call it Getting it Straight: What the Research Shows about Homosexuality? The other question: would you? Would you want to go to work every morning to talk with people all day about how bad gay people are, to write about gay people and how terrible they are, to go out and give speeches about how bad it is that there are gay people? Would you go around telling everybody that SpongeBob SquarePants was promoting homosexuality? Do you have a desire to go on TV and on the radio and talk to reporters, telling everybody about gay people and the evil they bring to this world?

Is there something about the word "nut" that doesn't fit?

I have said before, in discussing the sexual orientation section of the MCPS sex-ed curriculum, that life is not about gay people. Statistically they make up a small proportion of the population, the exact proportion depends on your definition. Nobody seems to really know why somebody turns out gay, but it happens. And there really isn't any good reason to hold that against a person, that they turned out to be gay. There's no way that gay people falling in love with each other really threatens anybody else's family. And if gay people have problems, that seems to me to be evidence that they might need a little help, not more proof that they are bad people. It just happens that some people are gay, and though we don't know the exact numbers, everybody's estimates -- even Peter Sprigg's -- give a greater than fifty percent chance that there is a gay kid in any classroom of thirty students. So it's statistically rare, but not that rare, not so rare you can pretend it doesn't exist.

I understand that a lot of straight people are uncomfortable with gay people. Can't imagine doing it, don't like to think about it. It would be nice if those people would lighten up and get over it, but you can't hold it against them, it is really only in the last decade or two that gay people could be open about it in public. People who find it unupleasant are not necessarily nuts, people who believe it's immoral are mostly just repeating what they've been told, and never gave it a thought, and most of them don't intend to.

But here and there are people who find gay people to be the most ... interesting ... thing in the world. They hate them, but they just can't seem to stop thinking about them.

Do we need a special theory of psychology, or a special diagnostic category, to explain that? Naw, I don't think so. There are all kinds of nuts in this crazy world. And sometimes you gotta call them what they are.


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