Saturday, May 8, 2010

On the Other Hand

I've been thinking recently about the way society has traditionally treated left-handedness.  For centuries, favoring the left hand has been considered by many cultures to be evil or unclean.  As a result, left-handed children were often forced by their parents and teachers to use their right hand. Britain's future King George VI was forced by his strict father to use his right hand. The younger George developed a severe stammer which plagued him all his life.  Baseball players Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were also forced to use their right hands in childhood. Although they wrote right-handed, their natural southpaw tendencies came out when they hit or threw a baseball.

There are several Biblical passages that are unfavorable of the left hand, and these passages were influential in perpetuating the practice of forcing lefties to go right.  To this day, science does not understand what causes left-handedness.  It is not hereditary, although there may be a genetic component.  The hormonal environment in the womb is another possible cause (high prenatal testosterone levels seem to result in more left-handed children, and older mothers are more likely to have left-handed children). Ultrasound studies show that we seem to develop our lateral orientation in the womb (fetuses favor sucking one thumb or the other, which corresponds to their dominant hand after birth).

Lefties seem to have an advantage in combat sports, probably because they are accustomed to competing against righties, but righties find lefties to be novel and challenging.  Despite this, the percentage of true lefties in the population seems to be stable. Various studies estimate it at anywhere from 5% to 15%. 

Most Americans nowadays believe that left-handedness is an accident of birth, a minor inconvenience (considering all the modern tools that are designed for righties) that should be simply accepted, and not inherently evil or sinful.  Left-handed children can be trained to use their right hands, but they will not excel at it, and their self esteem is likely to suffer.  Therefore, most parents and teachers no longer force children to go against their nature, at least with regards to lateral orientation.

Our society is gradually coming around to the idea that sexual orientation is also an accident of birth. Gay youngsters can be forced to behave like straight people, but they do not excel at it. There are still plenty of Bible-thumpers who cite Leviticus as a reason to send their gay children to a deprogramming camp (while they themselves eat bacon-wrapped shrimp, enjoy interest-bearing bank accounts and argue about politics with their own parents), but the Haggard and Rekers scandals are undermining the belief that homosexuality is a choice that can be willed away by faith in God. 

If these men, who are in the public eye proclaiming against homosexual behavior and claiming that gay people can be "cured" by faith, are unable to suppress their nature, how can anyone be expected to do so?  These men had sex with prostitutes, risking their own health and that of their poor, unwitting wives.  It is within the segments of society that are most homophobic that gay men seem to engage in the most risky sex.  In the African-American community, the term "on the down-low" was coined for gay men who pretend to be straight but engage in discreet casual sex with other men.  I am reminded of the bumper sticker "If Guns Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns."

There are still many who persist in believing that sexual orientation is a choice (as if anyone would choose to be ostracized by society).  Younger Americans are more likely to believe that sexual orientation is inborn.  That is why there is such a wide gap in attitudes toward gay rights between older and younger conservatives. The politics of division that are practiced by some on the right are actually painting them into a corner.  In the short term, they will gain votes (since older people vote in much larger numbers), but in the long-term, their electorate will die off faster than it can be replaced.


Deekaman said...

If you are a Left-Handedvbig league pitcher, the world is your Left-handed oyster.

Ordinary Jill said...

I didn't know oysters had hands ;-)