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Tribal traitors

In February I talked about the odd concerns you hear every once in a while over “low birth rates.” I noted that they’re always about the birth rate of one country, ethnic group, religious group or even race, relative to another. It’s an ancient tribal feeling, and this article by Israeli tribalist Moshe Arav about the Jewish State’s “demographic targets” is unusually blunt, even for the genre.

If you think about it evolutionarily, there’s a certain sense to this tribalism. If most people look after the tribe, and even show a lack of concern for people from other tribes, then the chances that any member of the tribe will survive are greater than if everyone just looked after themselves of their nuclear families or treated everyone in the world equally. On that basis, a concern with the tribe’s birth rate is understandable.

But tribal impulses like these don’t work well when they’re applied to a nation or an empire. Caesar Augustus worried a lot about low Roman birth rates, but it was much more effective to allow Italians and other non-Romans to take on a Roman identity than to promote rigid morality and existing bloodlines.

Birth rate obsession may not be effective for nations and empires, but that’s not to say that it isn’t dangerous. In fact, it’s one of the main historical reasons why transgender actions and homosexual desire have been condemned and even criminalized, and why women and others have been oppressed. As Philip Longman detailed in 2006, it’s the prime motivation for patriarchy.

Around the world and throughout history, some cultures have tolerated or even valued homosexual and transgender actions, while others have condemned them. Many of the explanations people give for condemnation are based on tradition, which doesn’t tell us much, but when they do go beyond tradition it usually comes down to reproduction.

If you’re simplistically focused on the birth rate of your tribe or nation, anything that distracts from making babies is a problem. That includes celibacy, birth control, masturbation and women’s education, among other things. Gay sex is a problem for this worldview, but boy howdy is same-sex love a bigger problem for it. If two guys fall in love, what incentive are they going to have to conceive children?

Trans people are just as much of a problem for people who worry about birth rates. Anyone who eliminates their reproductive capability through hormones or surgery is eliminating their ability to contribute to the birth rate. Trans women who don’t modify their bodies can’t conceive by having sex with men or with other trans women, so for birth rate purposes they might as well be gay men. Trans men who are still fertile but don’t have sex with men might as well be lesbians.

Beyond our own fertility, we threaten the birth rate by attracting others. A MTF trans person can’t be impregnated, so she’s wasting the time and energy of any man she attracts, and similarly with FTMs and women. Worse, we are often seen as deceivers who turn honest straight people away from the right gender, where they can be seduced by anybody. A significant part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show is devoted to mocking this fear of “decadence.”

Of course, many trans people can and do have kids, without repressing themselves: I’m in a happy marriage with one offspring. And it has been argued that LGBT people and a general tolerance for diversity increase the life expectancy of the children who are born, and their overall quality of life and character, by providing additional adults to nurture and provide for these children. But this kind of subtle reasoning is lost on the tribalists. All that matters to them is quantity, not quality, and a simple job: making babies.

People like to condemn “homophobia” and “transphobia,” online and in person. They’re right to condemn it. It kills people, and ruins other people’s lives. But it’s not enough just to condemn it. We need to understand where it comes from, how it functions, and what feeds it. A lot of what feeds it is this kind of tribalism: they see us as traitors to the tribe. Remember that the next time you hear someone moaning about low birth rates.

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