09/26/2013 07:25 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Gay Love vs. Magnets: Why We Are Missing the Point


The recent publication by a Nigerian news website of an article about a postgraduate student who claims that magnets prove the unnatural character of gay relationships has caused quite a stir. The so-called scientific proof goes like this:

[W]hen you bring two bar magnets and you bring the North Pole together you find that the two North Poles will not attract. They will repel, that is, they will push away themselves showing that a man should not attract a man.

As you might expect, women behave like the south poles of the magnets (or at least they should). The scientific logic of this claim is unquestionably faulty, and its conclusion laughable. And indeed, we've had quite a good laugh over this, collectively speaking. The gay media didn't spare their contempt, sarcasm, and outrage. And without a doubt, the author of this article and the postgraduate student whom the article profiles deserved it all.

That being said, I believe that we are missing an important point: Although the article in question might be irremediably flawed with regard to its scientific logic, it might also be incredibly revealing with regard to its symbolic logic.

First, Chibuihem Amalaha, the young postgraduate student of Lagos University who was interviewed by the journalist of This Daily Live, does not only use magnets and the laws of physics to make his point. Amalaha presents other "irrefutable" evidence inspired by other scientific disciplines. Considering chemistry, the two "proofs" that he uses are 1) the fact that a base neutralizes an acid, resulting in the production of a salt and water, whereas two acids or two bases won't react with each other, and 2) the fact that, during electrolysis, positively and negatively charged ions are attracted to the electrode with the opposite charge (and only that one). So far so good; I'm nearly convinced. Regarding biology, unfortunately, the scope of Amalaha's science appears to be even more seriously limited. The cock only copulates with the hen, and the lion with the lioness, he asserts. Let us ignore the myriad exceptions to this rule for now. However, regarding the last "proof," his mathematical demonstration, I must confess that it so completely escapes me that I can't even give you a sense of what he might have meant.

What Amalaha is trying to prove to us thanks to his pseudoscientific reasoning is that homosexual love defies the fundamental laws that rule the universe. But despite its obvious limitations and inaccuracies, we should not underestimate the historical legitimacy and power of Amalaha's way of thinking. His thinking is by no means random. Nor should we simply brush it off as being a mere fantasy. In fact, his way of thinking has a particular design. Amalaha's worldview is based on the grand principle of the complementarity of polar opposites. Gender polarities, such as the masculine and the feminine in the Judeo-Christian West and Indian philosophy, or the yin-yang pair in Chinese culture, have constituted the pillars of nearly all worldviews in the Old World since late antiquity. Eventually the European colonizations made the gender polarity a quasi-planetary standard.

It is not that previous civilizations didn't include some notion of gender (quite the opposite, actually) but that they did so in a very fluid manner. More specifically, what emerged in late antiquity was the belief that wholeness and harmony can only arise through the delicate balance between the masculine/yang and the feminine/yin "energies." This belief is still profoundly engrained in our collective psyche, even if only at a subliminal level. Most people in Western culture -- and possibly in all cultures -- hold that the most perfect union is that of the male and the female, the masculine and the feminine, and by extension the plus and the minus, the north and the south, and so forth.

In fact, the concept is so pervasive that I suggest that you carefully examine your own belief system before you assume that it's completely uncontaminated by some version of this reductive gender dualism. As far as I can tell, nearly all teachings of a philosophical or spiritual nature today are based on this rigid genderized vision of the universe. This involves your local priest, minister, or rabbi, obviously, but also your Kabbalah expert and your yoga teacher. I have yet to meet a bona fide teaching that truly gives equal spiritual value to the union of the masculine with the masculine, or of the feminine with the feminine, as we give to the union of the masculine with the feminine. Even science in its search for the "gay gene" presumes as a starting point that when nature has it together, animals are heterosexual, and that homosexuality is a mutation (read "impairment") of the normal heterosexual function.

And I won't even discuss here how much a strict division between masculine and feminine is biologically, psychologically, and culturally obsolete.

As postmoderns love to remind us, cultures are oppressive. Yet this is true only when cultures don't reflect as accurately as possible the knowledge that we have of ourselves. As you can see, we are due for a serious update. Our increasingly tolerant global culture has yet a lot to accomplish in order to escape the weight of a 2-millennia-old symbolic framework that reduces nearly everything to gender dualism.

To read more about these issues see The Missing Myth: A New Vision of Same-Sex Love, from SelectBooks.