Friday, February 6, 2009

In The Wider Scheme Of Things, Incest Is Relatively Boring

Oh yes, we're going to talk about incest. If you think you can handle it, (and have forgiven me for my horrible titular punnage), jump on inside.

Oh, and Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, as far as I can tell, aren't incestuous siblings. Even if he is channeling "Redneck sister-lover" in that outfit, they've got their arms around one another in a way that's loving and possessive, and her face looks apologetic but proud to be open about their love and he looks slightly ready for a fight should anybody say an unkind word. Even if Gyllencest would be really, really hot.

But enough blathering. I'm not actually here to talk about the sexual appeal of taboo love (maybe later). This blog's a bit more straightforward than that.

Last night I watched BBC America's airing of Brothers and Sisters In Love, and was incredibly fascinated by the stories- and heartbroken over some. The documentary followed several incestuous couples and a near-couple (most brother-sister but one mother-son couple), all who were separated while young or never even knew one another, and then met later in life and either began relationships only to find they are related, or knew of their relation but found themselves struggling with an attraction. It also introduced me to the concept of GSA, or "genetic sexual attraction", a widely acknowledged but as of yet not scientifically studied phenomenon wherein reunited relations who have never met before begin to develop obsessions over one another, often but not always romantic or sexual in nature.

And yes, it might gross you out. In fact, outside of the big three gross-outs (necrophilia, zoophilia, and pedophlia), I'm not quite sure there is anything that inspires more instant revulsion and the absence of any sort of rational response (unless of course it is sexually attractive female twins wanting to share a man, in which case, it can help you sell beer). I don't think I'd ever given it more than a shudder before I watched the documentary (because everybody, possibly excepting those orphaned after every living relative was killed, instantly thinks of their own family). But when you remove it from your personal life and the idea of gettin' down with your blood relatives, the resulting picture is one of love, pure and simple, in a world full that greets it with hatred and hostility.

The most heartbreaking story was of Patrick and Susan. Patrick was given up for adoption as a child and reconnected with his biological family at the age of 23, and soon after fell in love with his sister Susan. They've become quite famous, given that they've challenged Germany's anti-incest laws, which took away their four children and imprisoned Patrick for a two-year sentence. Watching them get harangued by their neighbor and burst into tears at being told their daughter would be taken away, my heart was literally breaking. I simply cannot understand the need to interfere in the lives of consenting adults, in what is truly a victimless "crime".

Ah, but is it? So many people immediately turn to the question of the children of incestuous couples in order to produce a victim. We are a nation grown up on shocking images of what the product of incest look like: "The People Under The Stairs" offered up its gruesome namesakes, and the murderous villains of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "Wrong Turn", and "The Hills Have Eyes" are all explicitly or implicitly portrayed as incest-borne offspring. Real classy, isn't it? Top it all off with a heavy dose of stereotypical backwoods hillbilly incest (I can almost hear the banjos now . . .), and you have a widely distorted view of what children of incest look like. Congenital birth defects and recessive diseases have morphed into psychosis and subhuman monstrosity.

In reality, yes, there are complications from producing children with a relative. In the case of close (i.e. immediate) blood relations, there is as much as a 50% (but usually 6.25% to 25%) chance that the child will be born with some sort of problem. At first glance, it seems like the perfect factoid to forever banish incestuous reproduction to the law books. And yet the same statistic is true for others: somebody who carries the Huntington’s Disease gene also has a 50% chance of passing that gene on to his or her children. There is no call, however, to stop such individuals from marrying and procreating. Or, for that matter, women over 40 or anybody else with a high chance of producing less-than-perfectly-healthy children. Can we say "double standard"? And moreover, the entire argument assumes that incestuous couples will want to have children in the first place, an assumption that is often erroneous.

But the people who speak out against consensual adult incest are not concerned with double standards, myths, stereotypes, or unfair laws. No politician in his/her right mind would endorse changing incest laws- it would be career suicide and, if he has any living relatives, more than likely fodder for every late night comedian.

It's rather ironic to me, actually, to watch how other movements for tolerance, understanding, and a live-and-let-live policy tend to trample on incest when it's convenient. For as long as gay marriage- or even homosexuality- has been an public issue, there have been opponents who use the "slippery slope" argument: if we accept homosexuality/allow gay marriage, then what comes next? Must we do the same for polygamy, incest, bestiality? Gay rights activists have understandably been outraged, and have called it out as what it is: a distraction, and a muddling of the issues. Homosexuality is not the same as any of those, and to lump them altogether is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty. I most certainly agree. And yet, all our protests against such statements tend to devalue incest. Instead of merely calling out the ploy, the message that gets sent instead is "How dare you compare gay love- beautiful, sacred, and normal- to the sick perversion known as incest?". It's self-preservation, I suppose, since anybody who championed the rights of both gay and incestuous folks would become "proof" of insidious plans to doom America, and probably be demonized by the gay rights movement for rolling back all the progress that has been made by throwing other persecuted sexual minorities under the bus.

Not that the pro-incest community is all that much better. Even the documentary drew a sharp divide between those dealing with genetic sexual attraction and those who form romantic/sexual relationships with siblings/parents with whom they grew up and were raised. Sufferers of GSA almost sound a little bit like the gay apologists of today who rant about the gay gene. Just as "I was born this way!" implies a justification and therefore some sort of wrongdoing, many incestuous couples resulting from GSA are quick to paint themselves as the helpless victims of a scientific force. "Don't blame me." They seem to be saying. "Incest is horrible, disgusting, wrong, dirty, and vile, but I didn't choose this, it just happened to me! So please, even though I would never be this way if I could help it, accept me and my horrid relationship." No wonder incest hasn't made much progress. And inevitably, we reach the bottom of the heap- the non-GSA incestuous couples who offer up no justification, no rationalization- just their forlorn pleas of "But we love each other."

I'm just so tired of hypocrisy and seeing the victims of one sort of misunderstood love- be it interracial, inter-generational, between different socioeconomic classes, same-sex, or even incestuous- perpetuating hate towards another. It might sound cheesy to say it- heck, it feels cheesy to say it- but there's so little love in the world. If the two people who find it happen to be related, I couldn't be any happier for them. The law is meant to protect people, not hurt them. So why is it keeping consenting adults in love from one another?


Michael said...

i think the main reason it's remained so marginalised is numbers:

1. incestuous couples are a minority much smaller than other minorities, they're isolated and not a community

2. any civil rights movements requires members of the general public to take up the banner -- and this just hasn't happened. i think even a lot of people who agree on principle would simply say "it's not worth fighting for" -- and with so many other human rights issues affecting many more people, i'm not sure i disagree.

on the other hand, there are probably a lot more incestuous couples than we think, they just don't know about each other. like the roman law of keeping slaves dressed the same as commoners so they wouldn't identify each other in public (and realise how numerous they were)

Tuesday's Child said...

"any civil rights movements requires members of the general public to take up the banner"

Not always... All it takes is one champion who can argue the case in a way that is reasonable and makes all challenges to it seem intellectually bankrupt.

You also mentioned polygamy which is actually less 'harmful' than incest. A well balanced polygamous relationship can produce any number of children with the same probability of birth defects as any other relationship in the general public.

How about a polygamous incestuous relationaship though :)

btw. The vast majority of known human civilisations have been multiple partner arrangements, usually one male to multiple females, but not always.

Longjetty7 said...

2 years ago I asked this question on Yahoo Answers and you responded with a link to this blog entry. At the time I would have been appalled at the content of this post, but now I really understand where you're coming from. I totally agree with your position on this, and I do support gay, incestuous, and polygamous marriage!