Badpuppy Gay Today

Tuesday, 27 May 1997

"HETEROSEXUAL REPRODUCTION IS NOW OBSOLETE"

Gay Clones

By Christopher Rapp
Heterodoxy*


 

As they marched in front of New York's Sheridan Square, the ragtag protesters looked like they'd escaped from the time warp of the 60's. Amidst the signs and songs stood drag queen Sylvia Rivera, a veteran of the Stonewall Riot, as venerable gay rights advocate Bob Kohler watched from the sidelines. A few homeless people had been recruited to fill out the ranks. The Gay Liberation monument in the center of the square and the infamous Stonewall Inn across the street added to the sense of authenticity. But despite its retro feel the demonstration crackled with anticipation of things still to come. "I was only two years old during the moon landing, so I kinda missed out on that," explained one of the marchers, "I also missed out on the 60's, so its very exciting to be here now, alive and aware, on the brink of this major happening."

And while the demonstration borrowed scenery and personnel from the gay rights movement, what brought the protesters out into the muggy night air wasn't the right to "just be themselves," but rather the right to make copies of themselves. Three days earlier, New York state senator John Marchi had introduced a bill banning the cloning of human beings, and the protesters now gathered to register their opposition. One marcher carried a sign demanding, "KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY DNA." Others informed that "ANTI-CLONING ZEALOTRY=HOMOPHOBIA" and, more ominously that 'MALES ARE NO LONGER NECESSARY."

The march was held under the auspices of the Clone Rights United Front (CRUF) and was the brainchild of its founder, Randolfe Wicker, himself a significant figure in the early gay rights movement. "This is a movement about people's constitutional right to control their own reproduction," he explains. "The DNA is my personal property." His favorite poster at the march paid homage to the lamb "Dolly," cloned by researchers at the Roslin Institute in Scotland, by depicting a sheep kneeling on a cloud, footlegs outstretched, with the caption "THE DOLLY LAMA--OUR NEW SPIRITUAL LEADER." Wicker says that it was a tongue-in-cheek gesture, but it's clear that for him this issue is about more than humor and more even than civil liberties: "This is eternity!" he says. "This is the idea of the second me!"

Eternity may actually be right around the corner. The debate over Sen. Marchi's bill has made New York the first battleground over the issue of cloning, and despite his personal eccentricities, it looks as though Wicker has lined up on the winning side.

When Keith Campbell and Ian Wilmut of Scotland's Roslin Institute announced in late February that they had successfully cloned a female sheep, most people seemed to regard the revelation with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. President Clinton banned the use of federal funds for human cloning experiments and asked privately funded scientists to voluntarily refrain from such research until its implications could be debated. Wilmut himself told a Senate committee that he could think of no use of human cloning which he would consider "ethically acceptable," calling it "inhuman" and requesting "an international agreement of any kind to prohibit this work." The American public evidently agreed: a CNN/Time poll found that 69 percent were "scared" by the prospect of cloning humans, and 89 percent considered it "morally unacceptable," compared to just 7 percent who said they would clone themselves if presented with the opportunity.

For Randy Wicker, however, this news only confirms his status as a pioneer. "There is something very depressing about the human spirit that is afraid of any new frontier," he says in his rapid fire delivery. "It's just like when Columbus wanted to go to the New World, they were afraid they'd fall off the end of the earth." And besides, the almost empty glass could be interpreted as half full: he points out that the 7% who responded positively in the CNN poll amount to "15 to 20 million Americans today who want to be cloned. And take 7 percent of Japan and the affluent Far Eastern countries and you end up with a population of 100 or 200 million people in the world who want to be cloned and have the power and resources to do so....I can't believe I'm the only person in the world who wants to be cloned."

As a lonely only child, Wicker vowed to have a large family someday, and the emergence of his homosexuality did nothing to lessen this desire. At first he thought he might get married. ("You know, I'm a little bit bisexual," he teases.) Then he considered hiring a surrogate mother, an option which he ultimately found unsatisfactory. "If nothing else," says Wicker, now 59, "I'd get enough money and go somewhere like Mexico or some third world country and pay a woman to bear my child. But the problem with that is, half of the genes of the child are going to belong to this woman."

The advent of "Dolly" offered Wicker the solution he had been waiting for--reproduction without compromise. But Marchi's bill, filed in late February, threatened to take that possibility away, making human cloning a Class D felony punishable by up to seven years in prison, with conspiracy to clone warranting up to three years. Wicker had been an activist all his life, in Fair Play for Cuba (a cause he gave up when Castro began jailing gays), the Sex Freedom League, and the Mattachine Society (an old-line gay militant organization). As a Vietnam War protester he sold more than 2 million antiwar buttons from his shop in New York, and he has been active for years in efforts to legalize marijuana.

In 1962, he became one of the first open homosexuals to speak on radio, and in 1964 he was arguably the first to appear on television. The anti-cloning bill seemed like another call to action, and in late February Wicker founded the Clone Rights United Front from the Manhattan antique shop he's owned for twenty years, and subsequently held the demonstration at Sheridan Square on March 1.

If some aspects of his quest seem like a subplot from Les Cages aux Folles , Wicker is quite serious in his belief that human cloning should appeal to the gay community. And in fact, the Internet magazine GayToday has been instrumental in promoting the CRUF, and its literally non-stop coverage led to the group's first national coverage, a story on the front page of USA Today's "Life" section, which in turn landed Wicker guest spots on the conservative Bob Grant and Ray Buchanan talk shows, in addition to New York-area TV coverage. "It's a gay issue," explained Wicker in an article in GayToday, "because heterosexuality as a route to reproduction is now historically obsolete."

But in the fractious world of minority rights, Wicker's attempt to get a gay patent on this issue has had some resistance. Ann Northrop, a columnist for the New York gay newspaper LGNY and a supporter of Wicker, caused a stir when USA Today quoted her belief that because cloning gives "complete control over reproduction"--everything used to clone Dolly was taken from ewes--it could, "carried to its logical extreme, eliminate men altogether." Though Northrop insists she didn't mean to be taken literally, she does think cloning has a feminist aspect. "While women might go so far as to refuse to replicate men at all, which would be an interesting concept, at the very least it would change the balance of power somewhat," she told Heterodoxy. (In other words, men would have to treat women with more respect, because if they didn't women wouldn't reproduce with them.) "I get along wonderfully with men, and I'm not looking to immediately eliminate men from the earth," says Northrop, who discussed cloning on a recent issue of The Montel Williams Show. "On the other hand, I don't like a lot of the things men do, like create war and poverty and violence and all sorts of other things, and I think it wouldn't hurt to reexamine some of that."

Further complicating matters for Wicker, thus far the gay mainstream has hesitated to embrace the CRUF's cause. Both The Advocate and OUT magazine reported the March 1 demonstration, as did regional publications like Baltimore Alternative and South Florida's Metro, but coverage was neutral at best, with The Advocate's at times bordering on mockery. An Advocate poll found that only 10 percent of the magazine's readers felt that it was important for the gay community to support human cloning; 38 percent said cloning was "immoral and impractical." Felicia Park-Rogers, director of Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, an international organization headquartered in San Francisco, is equally skeptical. "It's a very dangerous precedent to start reproducing ourselves and calling that 'family,' "she says. "Our society tends to be so individualistic, narcissistic, and egocentric already, and to predetermine who you will love based on it being a duplicate of yourself just furthers that trend."

This reaction doesn't faze the indefatigable Wicker. "I think a lot of people in the gay community don't really think it through. It's also a yearning for respectability. They don't want to be tainted."

Some people, however, are beginning to see the light. Chandler Burr, the author of A Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origin of Sexual Orientation, had written in The Advocate that cloning offered homosexuals nothing more than did the "good old- fashioned turkey-baster method," and was not terribly significant. But while discussing the CRUF in an interview for this article, Burr changed his mind. "I hadn't thought about this before," he said, "but theoretically, if I had a husband and we obtained an egg, removed the woman's genes and inserted half of mine and half of my husband's...theoretically, he and I could produce a kid that had both our genes. And it would be even easier for lesbians."

And while it could be years before the technology becomes readily available, human cloning already has important symbolic implications. "It takes us another degree further from the idea that babies are produced only by two heterosexual people having heterosexual intercourse," Burr explains. "And in our society, possibility becomes normative."

Straights needn't feel left out, Wicker says, as cloning will take the uncertainty out of procreation and offer couples an unprecedented level of choice. "I don't think people are going to settle anymore for this random collision of random sperm and random egg," he is quoted in a GayToday interview. "If you're going to spend twenty-one to twenty-five years or whatever and you're going to give it a college education, do you really want to just settle for what pops out of the womb?" When asked to clarify, Wicker explains that he doesn't think cloning "is ever going to in any way compete with the old nasty-nasty in-out technique," but will enable discriminating parents the opportunity to get "exactly what they want."

"We have an obligation, the way this society is structured now, that if you bring a child into the world, you're supposed to provide for it and house it and educate it and help it along in life and protect it, and we all know people who have had kids that were real, pardon the term, f...ups and losers...This is (parents') reproductive right," says Wicker.

Indeed, cloning could one day become the only acceptable way to reproduce. GayToday editor Jack Nichols, a friend of Wicker's since the early 60's and the author of The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists, envisions a time when massive overpopulation would necessitate forced sterilization. Each generation would be produced primarily through cloning to ensure the best traits were passed along, while keeping population levels low. "Cloning of humans, as with plants or animals, could give us some very good strains of bright and capable human beings, while simple random collisions of sperm and egg do not," he explains. "Just as China has had to say 'don't have more than one child,' we may conceivably have a situation where, when we cut a person's umbilical word or perform a circumcision, we have to operate on them so they can't reproduce."

But according to Wicker and Nichols, cloning's greatest impact may be spiritual. "A new religion is going to grow from this," says Wicker. "Remember the right-wingers who taunt gays, by saying 'it was Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, not Adam and Steve'? Well now it could Eve and Yvette in the garden of Eden." Furthermore, Wicker tells a story of a Catholic woman who remarked that with this new technology, "nuns could clone little girls in the convent and give birth and still be virgins. This is how it throws everything, including traditional religious belief, upside-down."

Nichols thinks this challenge to eternal verities is of particular interest to the homosexual community. "From the gay angle, one of the most important things is the devaluing, through Dolly, of the entire concept of virginity. Dolly is the actual result of a virgin birth that is actually on record, unlike the Virgin Mary. Dolly also was born not of a man, the product of same-sex reproduction, and that's very significant from a gay standpoint."

In case the gay community, not to mention the populace as a whole, does not find blasphemy compelling, most of CRUF's public positions are much less controversial, focusing on the possible scientific and medical benefits of human cloning. "Suppose they found someone whose blood cures AIDS or stops cancer or immunizes against Alzheimer's," says Wicker. "Who's to say something like that is never going to happen? Who's to say we shouldn't clone more of those people and cure these epidemics that are besetting the world?"

It's a sentiment echoed by witnesses from the science and bioethics fields who spoke at a mid-March hearing held by the New York State Senate Investigations Committee and suggested that a ban would be contrary to scientific freedom and difficult to enforce, particularly as cloning technology is just being developed. (Wicker was permitted to testify after the CRUF held a protest outside the building.) "At our hearing, issues were raised by a wide variety of very learned people," commented Rachael Gordon, chief counsel to the committee, "and while they may have disagreed on a wide variety of things, all agreed that the issue needs further study, that it's not something you should have a knee-jerk reaction to." Marchi's bill received a similarly chilly reception at an Assembly hearing in April.

In the bill's defense, supporters point out that it specifically exempts medical research from the ban, as long as it does not result in the cloning of a human being, and that Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Australia and Spain already have human cloning bans on their books. "This has been the law in England since 1990, and it didn't stop Wilmut--he produced Dolly in the UK," reminded David Jaffe, counsel to Sen. Marchi. "I don't see bioethicists and scientists screaming that Great Britain is second rate in terms of science."

"Senator Marchi's position," explained press secretary Gerald McLaughlin, "is that human cloning ought to be prohibited, at least for now, until the scientific, religious, ethical, political, and moral communities define what the appropriate uses and limits are."

Arguments like this may not be enough to save the bill, which observers say is unlikely to pass the Assembly. Indeed despite the caution urged by Clinton, Wilmut and others (six other states are considering restrictions), it looks as though scientists--and Wicker--have won this round of the cultural debate. In the coming months, Wicker hopes to build alliances with NOW, the ACLU, and the Sierra Club (cloning could conceivably be used to rescue endangered species), and all in all it's not surprising he feels he's on the verge of something special. "One of the signs we carried said, 'CLONE ME ETERNALLY," he says. "And as founder of the movement, I would hope they would consider that."

________________________________________________________________________________ * The above article by Christopher Rapp, appears in the April/May issue of Heterodoxy, which contains "Articles and Animadversions on Political Correctness and Other Follies," published by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, P.O. Box 67398, Los Angeles, California 90067. Subscribe: 1-800-752-6562 Web Address: www.cspc.org ________________________________________________________________________________

 

TO HETERODOXY MAGAZINE:

Randolfe Wicker, Evaluates Christopher Rapp's Article and Re-Phrases Himself, Saying: "Cloning Renders Heterosexuality's Monopoly on Reproduction Obsolete"

Christopher Rapp
Heterodoxy Magazine

Dear Chris:

As a former writer I know how frequently we wonder what peoples' reactions and thoughts are regarding our so often thankless and underpaid labors.

So, for what it's worth I'll give you my evaluation regarding your piece--as a combination "thank you"--and as an insurance policy on whatever small mistakes I might point out being carried over into other writings on the subject in Heterodoxy or other publications.

Time is short. I'm not going to double check every spelling, etc. You are free to excerpt any of this to compose a "letter to the editor"--just correct it for me.

Overall, Heterodoxy's "Gay Clones" report by Christopher Rapp was by far the most comprehensive and accurate description of the new Cloning Rights movement to appear in any publication to date.

Perhaps my main objection to the article was its overemphasis on the "gay" aspect. The Cloning Rights movement, even though its founder and early activists have mainly come from the gay and lesbian community is REALLY about everyone's right (the great majority of whom are heterosexual) to exercise what Rapp has so astutely categorized as "reproduction without compromise."

We have decided that: "CLONING-Reproduction Without Compromise" will be our first serious slogan button.

Personally, I have felt from the beginning that too much attention has been paid to my personal reasons for founding this movement but it seems to be a subject of interest to nearly all journalists and Mr. Rapp certainly captured those reasons factually, accurately and well.

Indeed, for some reason, personalities have played a disproportionate role in all the media coverage of the cloning rights movement. Ann Northrop's declaration that males were no longer necessary and that cloning gave women the ultimate power over reproduction has overshadowed the more important issues involved in this debate as well.

I might point out, however, from the standpoint I'm rarely known to assume--that of being (ugh) politically correct--that your artwork showed four cloned pairs of males and not one female. Didn't Martina or Ellen even come to mind? Is this what gay women mean when they complain about lesbian invisibility?

Also I felt the quote from Ann Northrop that she was "not looking to immediately eliminate men from the earth" was (because of the word "immediately") arguably a chauvinistic journalist jab by a male journalist at someone he perceived (I believe falsely) to be jingoistically against his sex.

Mr. Rapp's perceptive analysis of the division within the gay community on the cloning rights movement and the uneven coverage it has received in the gfay (I'm going to leave that typo--it's just so funny) press was right on target. However, in reporting that only 10% of the gay community supported the idea that cloning was an important gay rights issue while 38% said cloning was "immoral and impractical" he failed to note that 52% were unsure but felt it wasn't necessarily a gay issue. Compare these figures with polls of the general public which finds 87% or 89% feeling human cloning is "immoral" and only 6% or 7% being really positive. Frankly, we were surprised the figures were as good as they were and they indicate, so far as I am concerned, that the gay community--despite its reservations--is light years ahead of the general public in understanding and supporting this movement.

To Mr. Rapp's credit, he did go out and find some verbally sharp, even vicious, anti-cloning spokespeople. However, when Felicia Park-Rogers charges that those who want to clone "are predetermining who they will love based on the child being a duplicate of themselves and thereby indulging in narcissism and ego centrism, she is really hitting below the belt. Many people will choose not to clone themselves but to clone a relative, friend or role model who embodies what they would like their child to be like--musically gifted, mathematically brilliant, physically healthy and beautiful or ________ (you fill in the blanks).

Indeed, Chandler Burr's "seeing the light" and publicly changing his position after a little more serious and deeper thought than he had previously given to the subject is a perfect example of what will be happening on an individual and mass scale in both the heterosexual and homosexual communities in the months and years ahead.

There are certainly many diverse and individual opinions within our movement. We all sometimes stick our feet in our mouths. Our enemies take advantage of every mistake, and of every rhetorical excess.

In the middle of the night, being interviewed by an old friend, perhaps slightly impaired by alcohol, I confess to becoming so enamored with my verbal abilities (i.e. so carried away with hearing myself talk cleverly) that I gave in to the urge for rhetorical excess and did in fact say: "Heterosexuality as a route to reproduction is now historically obsolete."

Factually, it is a stupid and inaccurate statement which has haunted me ever since. Heterosexuality will never become "historically obsolete" and will doubtlessly be the predominant mode of reproduction as long as the majority of men and women seethe with sexual desire for one another.

Given the opportunity, I've restated the essential and important idea buried under that inflammatory rhetoric. "Cloning renders heterosexuality's historic monopoly on reproduction obsolete."

Ann Northrop's comments on men were also seized upon by the mass media. Right under a huge story about Ellen's coming out on television, the New York Post ran a news story about Ann being "the Clone Ranger" whose anti-male statements had established "a new low" in the annals of American Feminism.

Finally, I'd like to point out that Jack Nichols' speculations on some future time when massive overpopulation would necessitate forced sterilization at birth, followed by massive selective cloning as the major means of reproduction, is the kind of overdone science fiction nightmare, the likes of which has fueled the public's current misunderstanding and hysteria about this issue. I would personally choose to allow starvation, war and natural selection, survival of the fittest, etc. to determine humanity's surviving gene pool before I would ever submit to such a gruesome mass sterilization and cloning tyranny!

Likewise, Jack speaks strictly for himself about "devaluing through Dolly of the entire concept of virginity." Frankly, like many of the things he says in his book, Men's Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity (Penguin Books, 1975) I miss his point.

I discovered for the first time upon reading Mr. Rapp's report that Senator Marchi's bill in the New York Senate is given little chance of passage by those most intimately involved. This is certainly welcome news.

No one will be more delighted than me if his analysis that scientists and the Clone Rights movement are winning this first round in the cultural debate. Even if this is so, we have many more rounds to go.

I'm not sure which parts of their interview with me The New York Times Magazine will publish in their May 25th edition, but my predication was: "I think it's inevitable that human cloning will be outlawed because public opinion is so strongly against it and politicians are so spineless." I hope, this time, I am wrong.

In the statement that the Clone Rights United Front submitted to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission we duly noted:

Someday soon, (Dr. Ian Wilmut predicts within the next two years), the world's most famous child will be born--the first human being conceived through cloning.

The Flat Earth Society didn't keep Columbus from discovering the New World. The Luddites couldn't stop the industrial revolution. The Clone Rights United Front rejoices in knowing that nothing can abort or prevent the promising age of human cloning from dawning!

While its nice to feel that the tidal forces of history are so much on your side, when one sees publications like The New Republic devote their entire cover and TEN FULL PAGES to an anti-cloning "sermon" entitled "The Wisdom of Repugnance", (June 2, 1997) you can't help feeling that this country hasn't really come very far since William Jennings Bryan succeeded in convicting Mr. Scopes of "the crime" of teaching evolution in the public schools.

I only wonder if the first trial and conviction of someone for "the crime" of cloning themselves or another human being will be the last notorious trial of the 20th century or one of the first ones in the 21st.

And, at long last, most finally, congratulations to Heterodoxy magazine and Christopher Rapp for being the first to recognize the importance of and to report on the birth of the Clone Rights movement in such detail. You even beat The New York Times to the story.

Cordially yours,
Randy Wicker

________________________________________________________________________________

 

GAYTODAY'S EDITOR TO HETERODOXY & RANDOLFE WICKER:

On the Sad State of Antique Shops Today: No Victorian-Era Computers?

By Jack Nichols

A word first, please, to Director Felicia Park-Rogers, at San Francisco's international organization, Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere. In the well-meaning Ms. Park-Rogers' quoted remarks in Heterodoxy, she says, "It is a very dangerous precedent to start reproducing ourselves and calling that 'family.' " Dear Ms. Park-Rogers, must we now join the fundamentalists by giving out "the only true definition" of family? First they told us no gays allowed in their defintion of family. Now a major gay organization is saying no clones allowed in our defintion? Each immigrant group arriving in America scorned the groups that came afterwards. Is there a parallel here? Or am I free-associating again?

Christopher Rapp's engaging article in Heterodoxy has, to date, best captured the pioneering energies, colorful characters, funny stories and well-researched facts that have emerged with Randolfe Wicker's founding of the Clone Rights movement.

The spontaneous speculations I indulged were about a growing problem, overpopulation, that "conceivably"could result in some burdened future and in forced sterilizations. This thought finds Randy Wicker, my old friend and gay movement comrade-in-arms freaking. But he need not. He and I represent simply two specific directions from which to approach cloning. Wicker's is based on his desire to play Twin-Brother-Pop and he's a libertarian, while my approach is, in fact, concerned with ecology, with a possible need for a future social policy, especially since currently there are 1 billion people who--each night--go to bed hungry.This fact alone, it seems to me, calls into question the ethics of conventional reproduction as viewed by either Randy Wicker or the aforementioned Felicia Park-Rogers.

By speculating on such matters I don't mean to suggest enforcement of sterilization at birth, but only to suggest that future overpopulation--which I see as one of two or three major issues facing humanity--may have its awful price. Why not, therefore, draw attention to this high "populating" price --in strong and shocking terms-- each time an occasion arises?

I've been Randy Wicker's tweaky friend since 1963, both of us having been peers as pioneers of gay liberation.Though we've worked for the gay movement together on many occasions--including slogan button sales, writing and editing--our viewpoints have always been--in some very significant ways-- divergent. Such differences, however, have never affected our laughing-always friendship. In fact they've added to it. It's like the old joke about God, who, tiring of perpetually hearing "Yes" said to all his ideas, bellowed, "For Christ's sake, say 'No' just once, so I can be sure there's two of us."

I have no interest in reproducing my own physical aparatus. To me, the best kind of reproduction is that of certain attitudes-- survival-values--leading to a more affectionate world community. If there is such a thing as "eternity" mentioned in the Heterodoxy article, that eternity will be much improved by values, not bodies.

Wicker also says he fails to get my point about the importance of devaluing virginity. To make this clear, let it be noted that most post-adolescents--male and female-- are no longer able to call themselves virgins. Are they less valuable? Does it damage the cause of cloning to devalue virginity? Doesn't making virginity a divine body-state also promote an anti-sexual culture? In my 1975 book, Men's Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity, cited by Wicker, I tell the story of a virgin-obsessed husband who slit his new wife's throat when finding, on their honeymoon, that she had made the mistake of entering into marriage with him without herself being "pure".

Finally, because I know how like a sieve is my good friend's memory, he says that Heterodoxy has been the first magazine to recognize the importance of and to report on the Clone Rights movement in detail. Alas, already it seems, he's almost forgotten GayToday, though Christopher Rapp and Heterodoxy, fortunately have not. In fairness, however, Wicker's comments about this "first to report" business are true if seen as a critique of print media. He can be forgiven such forgetfullness because, unfortunately, he has no access to the Net in his Manhattan antique shop.

And one last word to Heterodoxy's Christopher Rapp. Can you be absolutely certain this whole thing isn't just a sub plot to Les Cages Aux Folles? Somehow, just somehow, I think, if you only really knew.......

1998 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
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