Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ideologues and Gay Freedom

To follow up on yesterday's post ... I think I based much of what I argued on three insufficiently answered questions ... leastwise unanswered in the current thread. I think I address subjects like this a lot since they represent core questions in the core ideas that I think about.

1. Why is gay liberation about sex first?

Homo-association is common in all societies. Armies, the workplace, sports, play, the church. Erotic male association occurs in all societies, too, but it often is either unnamed or misnamed. The difference between two guys hanging out and two guys living together as a married couple is that the latter two guys have sex. It is the sex that matters.

The virulent homophobia of the present day is the invention of monotheistic religions. In the case of christianity, the homophobia derived from a struggle in the early church which the sexual liberationist party lost. But the real repression only started in the 11th century, and it relates to the rise in the state side of the church/state dialectic. It is important always to keep that in mind ... both church and state attack homosexuals when it is useful to them ... in this sense, as I have argued before, gays are more like Jews in Western history than we are like women or Blacks. In the case of islam, its founder was a homophobe, and death is the punishment. Like everything in their holy book, there are contradictions and ways of reading different things from different passages ... holy books are like that, as they must be if they are to be holy. State and religious persecution of gays was also sporadic during the muslim centuries, but the key repressive feature was in the "protestant", flat, and family-centric society. It is true that muslim societies have generally tolerated old guys screwing pre-pubescent guys, but it is the tolerance of looking the other way. Their loathing of gay sex among equals parallels the christian world.

Gay people living together in the past might have drawn attention to them, but they were punished for having sex, or for being imagined to have sex. Repression against gay people has always been sporadic and selective. The key to understanding the repression of gay people, though, is to understand the silence. The love that dare no t speak its name. Virtually every lie told about us relies on the fact that we have been silenced for two millennia.

2. What was the impact of 70s feminism's hostility to gay liberation?

I believe that the key impact of feminism's hostility to gay liberation came to fruition only once the AIDS crisis forced feminism to back off ... or more to the point, to join up and garner a cut of the fruits, as it were .. the funding and recognition that started to flow towards AIDS-oriented organizations and the political clubs in the early 80s. (Parenthetically, I note again that I always distinguish between the social movement of women for freedom and equality as against the ideological superstructure built around it. The former I prefer to call women's liberation”; the latter "feminism.")

That impact was to undercut the primacy of the sex question. Feminism sought to domesticate gay liberation, to deprive it of the creativity and radicalism that challenged notions of prudery, dominant mores, monogamy, and centrally regulated morality. The notion that "gay is good" cannot be separated from a notion that sex is good ... that sex is the most profound creative force in human life, and that liberating from domination by religion and the state would lead to free people immune from lies and ideology. Feminism has, with only a very few exceptions, viewed free male sexuality as threat. Andrea Dworkin was vastly more iconic than Gayle Rubin.

Those kooky gay guys with our Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, our predilection for cruising, our hyper-masculine affectations ... the so-called "clones" ... and our fierce determination to defend the right for people to love whomever and however they damned well pleased ... well, it just did not make for tight control. Feminism was and is prescriptive ... it is ideological, starting not from life but from first principles. A band of heroic lovers was not susceptible to the control of a committee of school marms. They didn't like us and we didn't like them. We didn't trust them. But things changed as they are wont to do.

When those feminists who had boycotted the movement in the 70s finally showed up, they brought with them a loathing of what one of them once called, spitting the words in my face at a conference at UCLA in 1981, "your penis politics." That conference was a crazy attempt to build a national gay organization on the left and was like some uranium isotope with a half life of a half a weekend. One of my best friends at the time did manage to find a boyfriend ... in a bathroom ... so it wasn't a total loss. The most hilarious moment was when a women dressed head to tow in expensive Western wear ... you know, the boots, the hat, the shirt, the chaps, the whole nine yards ... rose to vehemently attack drag queens for mocking women.

So with those furious days as precursor, the impact of feminism on the gay movement has been to de-sex it. And that has given pride of place to those who make ludicrous distinctions between gay sex and gay relationships.

3. What is wrong with the notion of the invention of [the discourse of] homosexuality?


The notion of the invention of homosexuality relies upon positing the first outspoken gays of the late 19th century as saying something new. No. They were saying aloud what could not be said. No doubt, saying it aloud changed it. But it did not invent it. Saying it aloud made it available for others to modify it, attack us, redefine us, be repelled by us. Finally all their allegations against us made without naming us were open for examination. Of course, it took century for us to rise to our own defense, and in that time they slaughtered us and jailed us and beat us up and drove us from our homes in numbers that the bigots of earlier centuries could only have dreamed about. But that is true of all repression in the 20th century. The means at hand allowed for industrial slaughter. You cannot blame that on us for breaking the silence. You cannot blame that on the Enlightenment. You cannot blame that on people fighting for their rights. You have to blame the slaughter on the slaughterers.

Homosexuality is often blamed on foreigners ... it always something imposed on an innocent population by the evil other. I enjoyed Tim Blanning's recounting in his The Pursuit of Glory of the attitude of the 17th-century Dutch:

In the Dutch Republic, it was asserted that sodomy had been completely unknown until introduced by the Spanish and French envoys attending the negotiations that led to the Peace of Utrecht in 1713. Henceforth it was known as the 'Catholic vice', part of the great conspiracy by the Antichrist whose headquarters at Rome was also 'catamitorum mater'.

Catamitorum mater would be mother of all catamites.

Dr. Massad might take a lesson from all this. He should blame the political stagnation of Arab societies not on European gays but on the rulers of Arab societies, and on the strange lassitude of their subject populations in developing some different approach, notwithstanding the amply models available just for the watching.

The wholesome working class guys whom Massad apparently favors and who are screwing their pre-pubescent cousins and nephews ... they are gay, Massad. So are the allegedly Euro-influenced middle class guys who screw each other. The job of freedom loving people is to defend their right to do what consenting people want to do, and to oppose the bigots and authoritarians who want to kill them irrespective of what a ideologue on foreign shores thinks of their allegiances.

Massad, like the church, like the prophet, like the high-feminist ideologues, supports the silence. Silence kills. Freedom shouts.

I have illustrated this post again with the work of Fred Holle. Check him out. I saw his paintings at an exhibition at American Conservatory Theater, and they impressed me with his mastery of the simultaneity of madness and the quotidian. His web site says that one can use his images for non-commercial purposes ... and gawd noze I ain't making a nickel off my scribblings.

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