Speaking frankly about sex and sexuality, John Corvino kept the crowd laughing at Rackham Amphitheatre last night during his lecture called “What Makes Gay Life Worth Living?”
Corvino, a philosophy professor at Wayne State University, struck a balance between humor and solemnity while discussing the theme semester, “What Makes Life Worth Living?” through the lens of the LGBT community. The lecture was sponsored by the University’s Spectrum Center, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and several other campus groups.
“I’d never done a talk on this subject before,” Corvino said during his speech, “and so I did what any serious philosophical researcher would do — I put (the question) on my Facebook status.”
But Corvino, who is openly gay, ultimately found a focus for his talk, saying in an interview before the lecture that the aim of it was to influence the way people think about the agency they have over their own lives.
“As a philosophy professor, I want to challenge people to think about their fundamental assumptions and presuppositions,” he said. “This provides me an opportunity to do that in a way that makes a real difference in people’s lives.”
Much of Corvino’s speech focused on responding to the argument that being gay is unnatural. Corvino — a frequent speaker on LGBT issues and columnist for 365gay.com — explained the New Natural-Law view to the audience, touted by prominent academics like Robert George of Princeton University and John Finnis of Oxford University. This perspective decries gay sex for not being a marital or procreative act.
“The implications of this view are not just implications about gay sex,” Corvino said.
He explained that this opinion also includes heterosexual sex that involves anal or oral intercourse or the use of contraceptives. In regard to the argument against homosexual sex that “the parts don’t fit,” Corvino responded simply by saying: “Yes they do.”
The New Natural-Law stance calls non-heterosexual, non-procreative sex an “illusion based on gratification,” Corvino explained. He pointed out the false dilemma set up by the viewpoint that sex either achieves a biological, marital good or no good at all.
“This seems wrong,” he said. “It seems to me that sex actually can achieve a number of important goods.”
Corvino enumerated the benefits of sex that this argument ignores, including the expression of affection and mutual intimacy between two people.
“Essentially what (these theorists are) saying here is that either you buy into this natural-law view of what sex is supposed to be like or you might as well be sheep-fucking,” he said.
The last part of Corvino’s lecture focused on the concept of choice. He emphasized that while no one can choose his or her romantic or sexual interests, one does have the power to decide how to live his or her life.
“Being gay in some sense is more than just having romantic feelings or urges,” he said. “It’s about what you do with those.”
Speaking about the recent spate of gay suicides across the country, Corvino highlighted the “It Gets Better” initiative, a series of YouTube videos with the message that life improves. Corvino said that in college LGBT students are able to avoid some of the prejudice and bullying that they face on a daily basis in middle school and high school because people have more control over who they spend their time with.
“The reason it gets better is that they get to make it better,” he said.
Corvino closed his lecture by returning to the theme semester question.
“What makes your life worth living? The answer is you,” he said. “It’s about the choices you make.”
LSA freshman MacKenzie Ramos said she thought Corvino’s lecture provided some valuable insight.
“I am from a country town where I have friends that are gay, and they are basically disowned by the town,” she said. “It needs to be an issue that’s put out there."