2 min

Why be good?

Director Alfonso Cuarón’s excellent new movie Children Of Men is set in the year 2027. Humans are no longer able to procreate, and so while away the days until their extinction by treating each other and the planet with violent contempt. In a time-limited civilization, it seems nobody worries about the toxic effluent running into rivers or how refugees feel about being locked inside cages.

The movie suggests that it is only our hope in future generations that makes humans play nice.

(Living in 2007 we don’t need a movie to tell us that belief in God is not a dependable motivator for ethical and responsible behaviour. The Christian right in the US, prioritizing the size of their SUVs over the stewardship of the planet, have been the most vehement deniers of global climate change — and let’s not even go into the role of religion in war and oppression.)

But queers prove you can be childless and still make the world a better place. While Children Of Men doesn’t explain why procreation had stopped, we can be sure it’s not because, as the religious right has always worried, everybody’s turned gay. I am confident that a planet of childless homosexuals would refrain from bombing, shooting, rioting and polluting, in favour of fucking, dancing, gossiping and quilt-making — all very sustainable developments.

Gay and lesbian people have made recent advances in parenting (check out Mom & Mom & Dad and Family Ties), but we’re not known for our propensity to breed. This has earned us a reputation for hedonism but certainly not civic irresponsibility. Stereotypes like our interest in social justice and our overrepresentation in the helping professions (nursing, counselling, seniors care) are obviously fired by something other than making the world a better place for our children, since many of us won’t have any.

Even in the realms of pleasure and fun, we manage to inject good works: in the queer world, it’s hard to grab a pint or take in a drag show without being asked to donate to that or buy tickets for this fundraiser. No straight nightclubber faces the same reminders: support others.

(By the way, Canadians as a whole are less generous than you’d think. A 2000 Statistics Canada study shows that the average annual donations by households earning up to $79,000 maxed out at a paltry $233. Donations increased according to income, but not proportionately — the average donations given by someone with a household income of $100,000 or more was just $529. There was little difference between the sexes (men gave an average of $260, women $259) and, unfortunately for my purposes, no breakdown according to sexual orientation.)

Some of our ethical behaviour emerges from our personal histories. Many of us were picked on as kids, and we want to prevent others from getting picked on. The AIDS crisis taught us the importance of caring for each other because the government and much of the rest of mainstream society didn’t seem to care at all. When families, schools, churches, community centres and corporations failed to recognize our lives, we created our own institutions, rather than falling into despair.

I worry that as increasing social acceptance makes our lives easier, this kind of socially conditioned ethical behaviour will die out. Already, one of my saddest realizations is that people who have been oppressed don’t automatically show respect for other oppressed people. Many gay and lesbian people are no more compassionate toward trans people, no more immune to racism, than their straight counterparts. Will our altruism fade if it’s not part of some kind of personal healing?

I don’t think so. As more homos have children, more of us will be concerned with creating a better world for the kids.

But more than that, childless homos will, as they have always done, focus their caring and nurturing skills elsewhere: the environment, the downtrodden and the neglected. Right next door or on the other side of the world, it’s all personal.