2 min

Switching teams

A lady's entitled to change her mind

The barbs hurled at party-jumping Belinda Stronach this week contained a very particular kind of insult, over and above all the sexism. Any way you cut it – she’s fickle. She jilted not only the Conservative Party, but boyfriend Peter MacKay, too. She’ll probably jilt the Liberals later. As one bitter constituent of Stronach told a newspaper: “I just believe you either know what you are or you don’t. Make up your mind, Belinda.”

But when we learn new things, when old truths fall apart, aren’t we obliged to change our minds? Stronach joined a newly forming political party in 2004, hoping her fiscally conservative, socially progressive leanings would help shape it. It’s obvious to any Canadian who has watched the Conservatives unsuccessfully try to bury the Reform-Alliance brand – it just didn’t happen. As the months went by, Stronach must have gathered evidence that her hopes were misplaced and finally acted on it. Sure, it was fortunate that Prime Minister Paul Martin had a cabinet position to offer her, but this has always been a world where some people (specifically the rich and the beautiful) have all the luck.

Life would be so much simpler if people’s behaviours were fixed. If someone was nice to you once, you could be sure they’d always be nice to you. If someone was attracted to you once, you could be sure they’d always be attracted to you. But it’s not so.

Considering that the starting place for being gay or lesbian is being unexpectedly different, it’s strange that so much of queer life is based on demanding that people are fixed, unchangeable. You like men or women. You’re a top or a bottom. You’re monogamous or you’re a slut. Rather than escaping the constraints of heterosexuality, we’ve merely added a second option. Disliking Coke, we pick Pepsi. And then we’re married to Pepsi, as if all the other drinks in the world didn’t exist.

You hear guys complain that an Internet hookup declared in his personal ad that he was a top, but turned out to be a bottom. Mr Hookup is accused of being dishonest, a threat to the natural order of things. But wouldn’t it be more flattering to suggest that Mr Hookup was so overwhelmed by your own topness, that he threw his legs up in the air in a rare gesture of submission? We’d rather declare him a liar than admit that context can be everything.

Earlier this month, there was that widely publicized Swedish study that claimed that gay men’s brains were different than straight men’s because of the way they process scent. A straight man’s brain gets active when exposed to an estrogen-like compound in women’s urine. The brains of straight women and gay men got more excited when they smelled testosterone extracted from male sweat. Therefore, gay men must be fundamentally different, genetically unchangeable.

I don’t buy it. As far as I can tell all the study really says for sure is that gay men are attracted to men. Starting from an initial interest, you can learn to get aroused by anything. I can’t imagine that, upon realizing their homosexuality, many men immediately had fantasies of licking other men’s asses. But give them a few years of gay life and there they are, lapping like cats. It’s amazing what culture can do to us.

It’s not just humans. Amongst marmoset monkeys, only the alpha females have offspring, while the low-status females help out. Their perceived social status switches off the reproductive cycle of the low-status females; they actually stop ovulating. Perhaps rightwingers are suffering from some brain shut-down caused by under-exposure to lesbian and gay people. You thought their nastiness was genetic; I think it can be cured.

When you look at how much environment shapes our behaviour, it’s a wonder Stronach is still a same-sex marriage supporter after a few months with Stephen Harper and his minions. She escaped rightwing brain rot. Good for her.