We have a debate due in my archaeology class. The topic is supposed to be interesting and controversial, so, inspired by some pottery I'd seen at a museum (which I don't recommend googling unless you're fairly desensitized), I suggested homosexuality in ancient Greece. Narrowing down the debate to two clear sides, we decided on debating whether same sex relationships in ancient Greece were an expression of freedom or of deviancy, since many such relationships involved young boys with older men.
Obviously, this is fairly controversial and should make for a fun debate. But it's also important to recognize that the way we go about framing this debate-- or any controversial topic common to speech classes, like abortion, same sex adoption, or affirmative action-- has real life consequences. It could reinforce my classmates' potentially harmful preconceptions about non-heteronormativity, if we're not careful to argue for deviancy in a conscious way.
We've barely started writing up our points, but I've already learned quite a bit about how to debate on a controversial topic without using damaging or hateful arguments. My debate partner and I, who are arguing on the side of deviancy, talked about maybe reframing our title to be less negatively charged, since homosexuality is already still viewed as a deviant act. We also decided that our argument shouldn't demonize same sex relationships, even if it's just for the sake of a debate. Instead, we're doing a little more research and finding ways to argue that such socially acceptable relationships in Greece were not freedom, but an institution of male dominance, since women weren't necessarily given the same privileges in that regard. We're also looking into ideas of consent and maturity, since those are also key to our topic.
Interestingly, it also turns out that the ancient Greeks didn't identify as homosexual. They allegedly didn't even have a word for it, since it was just an accepted part of life. So with that in mind, I suggested to my group members that we frame our arguments in such a way so that we're not making assumptions about how the ancient Greeks identified, or imposing our modern western conceptions of sexuality onto another culture.
Typically, I shy away from debating topics like these because for many people, they're not just debates. While the debate teams could use whatever rhetoric they liked or "play the devil's advocate", go home, and forget about these issues, the people those issues impact can't just forget about it. But I think it's good that we're finding ways around perpetuating that problem with debates.