Archive for July, 2014

The Immoralist – Andre Gide

TISome of us were a little apprehensive before reading this book. However, everyone in our group agreed that it was worthwhile. One said that it all ‘came together in the last thirty pages.’ We all agreed that is was well-written.

His description of places is good – you know that he’s been there. I particularly liked the descriptions of Carthage and El Djem (with their magnificent amphitheatres) and note that, one hundred years later, the only train from Sousse still arrives 1.00 a.m. so you risk not finding an hotel for the night. The return train is more convenient though ours had stones thrown at it and none of the doors closed. You are better off using a louage (shared taxi)

Both he and his father had tuberculosis which is why description of coughing up blood is so vivid. His war on tuberculosis begins with the awakening of his senses to a total receptivity to life-giving elements. The taste of good food, the tingling sensation of cold water on hot skin, the feel and touch of a palm tree, the sun on his naked body by day, and the invigorating desert air by night become the new objects of his worship. His rejection of all other claims on his life–except those which make for the indulgence of his newly-discovered self–excludes Marceline whose presence he begins to find oppressive.

The Immoralist is based on Gide’s personal experience of discovering his homosexuality while travelling as a young man in North Africa.

It was conventional to get married back then but noteworthy that he first sex with his wife two months after their wedding. That something wasn’t quite right didn’t stop him having an extra-marital affair with another woman.

The character of Menalque in The Immoralist is based on Oscar Wilde. Ménalque’s philosophy on personal property relates possessiveness to stagnation and false security and calls it the primary concern of an establishment which fears change.

Undoubtedly Gide was deeply disturbed by Wilde, and not surpris­ingly since the remarks of Gide in his letters of that time suggest that Wilde was intent on undermining the younger man’s self-identity, rooted as it was in a Protestant ethic and high bourgeois moral rigour and repression which generated a kind of conformity which Wilde scorned. Wilde wanted to encourage Gide to transgress.

Richard Ellmann suggests that ‘in effect, Wilde spiritually seduced Gide’. For Ellmann, the most important document about the ‘psychic possession of Gide by Wilde’ is those missing pages from Gide’s journal….. He is taken by Wilde to a cafe: ‘in the half-open doorway, there suddenly appeared a marvellous youth. He stood there for a time, leaning with his raised elbow against the door-jamb, and outlined on the dark background of the night’. The youth joins them; his name is Mohammed; he is a musician, a flute player. Listening to that music ‘you forgot the time, and place, and who you were’. This is not the first time Gide has experienced this sensation of forgetting. Africa increasingly attracts him in this respect; there he feels (liberated and the burden of an oppressive sense of self is dissolved: ‘I aid aside anxieties, constraints, solicitudes, and as my will evaporated, felt myself becoming porous as a beehive’ Now, as they leave the cafe, Wilde turns to Gide and asks him if he desires the musician.) Gide writes: ‘how dark the alley was! I thought my heart would fail me; and what a dreadful effort of courage it needed to answer: “yes”, and with what a choking voice!’ ……earlier courage was needed for self-discipline—now it is the strength to transgress). Wilde arranges something with their guide, rejoins Gide and then begins laughing: ‘a resounding laugh, more of triumph than of pleasure, an interminable, uncontrollable, insolent laugh . . . it was the amusement of a child and a devil’ .Gide spends the night with Mohammed: ‘my joy was unbounded, and I cannot imagine it greater, even if love had been added’. Though not his first homosexual experi­ence (probably his second), it confirmed Gide’s sexual `nature’—what, he says, was ‘normal’ for him: ‘There was nothing constrained here, nothing precipitate, nothing doubtful; there is no taste of ashes in the memory I keep.’ Even more defiantly Gide declares that, although he had achieved ‘the summit of pleasure five times’ with Mohammed, ‘I revived my ecstasy many more times, and back in my hotel room I relived its echoes until morning’ (this passage was one of those omitted from early English editions).

Michel’s puritan disdain for any signs of weakness which caused him to hide the seriousness of his condition from Marceline

He becomes indignant that he should be at the brink of death while others take life and health for granted. For the first time life becomes a precious possession whose value is only recognized when its essence is about to be snatched away. In a flash of emotional intensity Michel experiences the mystery of life and his passivity changes into an active and zealous will to live. So he breaks away from his former routine. Eager to cultivate his own immediate desires he becomes alert to those in others which are as yet unrestrained by the shackles of society’s rules. Hence Motkir’s theft of Marceline’s scissors stimulates more than idle curiosity in Michel, and is the first of many incidents where aberrant behaviour is the object of his intense fascination.

The biblical warning of Christ’s words to Peter (that young people have freedom whereas elderly people depend on others for their mobility) sound the first alarm as Michel becomes vaguely aware that absolute freedom of action is an illusion, that he is subject to the ravages of time.

Possessions become the bars of his cell in his deliberate attempt to imprison his latent restlessness and rebellion against conformity. In this context Gide inserts an observation on farm life which, on the surface, has nothing to do with Michel, but which becomes an image of Michel’s imprisonment and his attempt to foil his natural longings. At “La Morinière” Bocage, the bailiff, has enclosed the ducks at the onset of autumn winds. Human intervention and constraint frustrate natural instinct, and the ducks must comply with their northern cage. Gradually, Michel himself will grow restive in the self-made prison of his Paris apartment, and the lure of the south will become stronger.

Among the symbols of Michel’s feeling of stagnation verses spontaneity are the description of the irrigation system in Biskra and in the taming of the wild colt at “La Morinière.” The beautiful animal had been declared useless and unmanageable by his servants. Michel calls on Charles for help, and Charles tames him through quiet and gentle authority, wise restraint, and a deep respect for the animal. The once wild and useless colt becomes tame and docile:

The process of emptying the pond is another symbol: for the pond to remain useful its old contents had to be brought to the surface, its murky waters drained, and the leak repaired. Michel’s mind, like the pond, is blocked by old repressions and obstacles to his future productivity. To arrive at the bottom of his consciousness he has to bring everything to the surface and thereby heal the slow seepage which deprives him of the inner resources he needs to cope with life. Michel is so preoccupied with his liberation from restrictions outside himself that he fails to recognize the inhibiting forces within him.

Michel’s provisional moral code is comparable to the land he lets lie in disuse at “La Morinière.” He fails to recognize that his entire property is slowly deteriorating. The land and the mind which lie fallow are soon invaded by thistles and weeds and gradually lose their value. That Michel takes these neglected fields away from the farmers in order to cultivate them would indicate the possibility of regeneration, but Michel’s plans do not materialize, and his failure in meeting his responsibilities toward his land foreshadows his failure in meeting his responsibilities toward Marceline and ultimately toward himself. The gift of life cannot be wasted. Michel’s dream of absolute leisure is based on his reaction against the bondage of poverty:

Gide compared his book to the fruit of the colocynths which grow in the desert and are not without beauty, though they present only greater thirst to the one who seeks to drink their juice. The experience of life creates the desire for more life, and an unquenchable thirst is the essence of yearning. Michel’s dwelling stands in a garden which is girded by a wall. Within the enclosure stand three stunted pomegranate trees. The pomegranate, like the colocynth, does not appease thirst but creates a fiercer, deeper craving for its fruit. The fact that these trees are retarded in their growth and most likely barren illustrates symbolically that Michel’s adventure ends in sterility. Begun when he first tasted the forbidden fruit of consciousness in the gardens of Biskra, his quest has exhausted itself in the pitiful garden at Sidi–which is not the paradise he had thought to regain.

One of our members asked whether his wife might also be a symbol of Gide, of a split psyche between respectability and immorality, between the imprisoned and the free.

He no longer fancies Charles when he grows whiskers and wears a bowler hat. This confirms the difference between a pederast and a homosexual: I do not recognize the children, but the children recognize me. They have heard of my arrival and come running to meet me. Can it really be they? What a shock! What has happened? They have grown out of all knowledge — hideously. In barely two years ! It seems impossible … What fatigues, what vices, what sloth have put their ugly mark on faces that were once so bright with youth? What vile labours can so soon have stunted those beautiful young limbs? What a bankruptcy of hope! … I ask a few questions. Bachir is scullion in a café; Ashour is laboriously earning a few pennies by breaking stones on the roads; Ham­matar has lost an eye. And who would believe it? Sadek has settled down! He helps an elder brother sell loaves in the market; he looks idiotic. Agib has set up as a butcher with his father; he is getting fat; he is ugly; he is rich; he refuses to speak to his low-class compan­ions … How stupid honourable careers make people! What! Am I going to find here the same things I hated so at home? Boubakir? Married. He is not fifteen yet. It is grotesque. Not altogether though. When I see him that evening he explains that his marriage is a mere farce. He is, I expect, an utter waster; he has taken to drink and lost his looks . .. So that is all that remains, is it? That is what life has made of them? My intolerable depression makes me feel it was largely to see them that I came here. Menalque was right. Memory is an accursed invention. And Moktir? Ah Moktir has just come out of prison. He is lying low. The others will have nothing to do with him. I want to see him. He used to be the handsomest of them all. Is he to be a disappointment too? … Someone finds him out and brings him to me. No; Moktir has not failed. Even my memory had not painted him as superb as he now is. His strength, his beauty are flawless …

One can’t help but agree to: ‘I have a horror of honest folk. I may have nothing to fear from them, but I have nothing to learn either. And besides, they have nothing to say . . . Honest Swiss nation! What does their health do for them? They have neither crimes, nor history, not literature, nor arts … a hardy rose-tree, without thorns or flowers.’

I had to look up ‘Caryatid’ p. 36 = a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head.

There’s an irritating, unnecessary apostrophe ion ‘Thursday’s’ p. 97

During World War I, Gide worked for the Red Cross, then in a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, and later offered shelter to war refugees. During the 1920s, he became an advocate for the oppressed peoples of colonized regions, as well as for women’s rights and the humane treatment of criminals. In 1947 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Gide died in Paris on 19 February 1951, at the age of eighty-one. Six years later, his entire works were entered in the Roman Catholic Index of Forbidden Books.

return to the home page

Advertisements

Leave a Comment

Thinking Straight – Robin Reardon

TS(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This is like Erzen’s study of ex-gay ministries ‘Straight to Jesus’ in story form. Indeed, the very name of the institution described is the same. The ‘treatment’ is accurate – no pop music, no fashionable clothes, no internet access etc.

However, it is a bit ‘preachy’ and I doubt that a teenage boy could deconstruct bible texts in the way Taylor does.

Each chapter begins with a biblical text, used the way a self-affirming person would read it, not the way fundamentalists rip things out of context.

One Jewish girl insightfully remarks that fundamentalists project their wrathful god on to Judaism by claiming that the Old Testament God is more vengeful. Their understanding of the New Testament contains far more vengeance and not much, if any, love.

Indeed, one of the ‘counsellors’ talks of the behaviour necessary ‘to be worthy of God’s grace’. Grace, by definition, does not need to be earned.

One reviewer thought this was a Roman Catholic setup. True, Taylor uses the term ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph’ and, later, ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God’ but the institution seems very protestant/fundamentalist in its use of Bible texts. Indeed, Charles says that Roman Catholics are heretics. Maybe the author doesn’t know about denominations.

It’s a cross between a gulag and a Trappist monastery, where they seek to break your will, where you can’t discern who is friend and who is foe, using solitary confinement and group spying. It gets a bit unrealistic towards the end when it becomes a sort of ‘Escape from Sobibor.’

There is a lot of suicide but that is regarded as a better option for someone that returning to homosexuality.

I had to look up ‘luau’. Apparently it’s ‘a traditional Hawaiian party or feast that is usually accompanied by entertainment.’

The verdict might be the words of Taylor, that ex-gay means, literally, no longer happy. (So don’t try to pray away the gay.)

return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Tale of Two Summers – B. Sloan

TOTS(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

When asked ‘How did you come to write Tale of Two Summers?’, the author replied: I’d always wanted to write an epistolary novel, or book of letters. When I was informed by some students in Maryland that no one wrote letters anymore, it was suggested I do a book of blogs. Then I started thinking about the unique bond between me and my best friend from high school. Even though we’re total opposites, we’ve been friends for 20-odd years now. So I took this topic, added two first-time romances, one gay and one straight, and (as Henri might say) voila…I had my second novel,

He says of himself: I’m a writer, director and producer based in NYC. I’ve made feature films, shorts, and worked as a producer on other films/TV shows as well as web content. Also, I’ve written novels and short stories.

Two teenagers have been best friends for a very long time. One is gay. The other is straight and is away at a summer school so they write to one another almost every day and this book charts their lives, loves and feelings.

Some of the teenage slang made me feel elderly! As in:

“Re the party, that’s a big black hole of suckdom”
“Again, I’m sorry for harshing on you like that.”
“It’s been a crummy first day of you not being here in crappy old Wheaton, Maryland. If there is any place more boring on earth to spend a sweltering summer by my goddamn self, I can’t think of one . . . the sheer deadliness of our little ‘burb is really starting to bug me out.”

“On his suggestion, we headed across Veirs Mill Road into the heart of downtown Wheaton. Yes, that’s right-Wheaton! (Cue horror-movie music.) . . . Sure, downtown Bethesda’s cool and Silver Spring is even manageable, with that new minimall and movie megaplex . . . but crappy ass, nowhere-central Wheaton? I think not.”

How precocious is this?:

“… rediscover your lifelong process of channeling your flinty temper into your acting…”
“… later I got to meet Henri’s storied mother…”
“… but not in the way you construed it.”
“… I think she just says stuff like that when it fits her skewed worldview.”

Arguing in print?:

“I have to say , that is the most pathetic story I’ve ever heard.”
“Jeeeeezzzzzz – testy, testy. Give me a break and a half, okay?”
“It’s really not cute to call me a romantic dope during the biggest emotional panic of my whole entire life!”

“(remember all those birthday parties we went to there?)”
“(OK – I think I just mixed about five metaphors with that rant!)”
“(OMG – I’m starting to sound like a parent too!)”

There’s too much drugs in this book.

I am surprised that a 16-year-old doesn’t have his own house key.

And fear of commitment must be a good thing from someone so young.

Ultimately, I wish that people who get boy/girlfriends/married wouldn’t drop their best friends. You never know when you’re going to need them. Which is ‘like totally’ the moral of this book.

The author is a bit of a tease at the end, when he hints at the possibility of a sequel, which has not appeared.

 return to the home page

Leave a Comment

If it Die – Andre Gide

IID(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Gide has no time for notion that children are innocent. He talks about the bad things he did under the table with another boy. He is almost an apologist for the doctrine of original sin.

He loved his kaleidoscope and laments that children no longer have them. I did, much later on.

His childhood was lonely except for his mother’s governess, Anna, who always welcomed him and treated him as a humans being rather than a nuisance.

Like me, he wasn’t allowed to go to his own father’s funeral.

He asks his mother what an ‘atheist’ is and gets the reply ‘horrid and foolish’.

He observes that the French need to take sides, to belong to a particular party.

He is derided for getting full marks in school – this is often assumed to be a modern thing but, clearly, it isn’t.

Someone speaks of ‘domicilliary visits’. I have only ever heard that term once before, in 1978, from someone very pompous.

We get several boring pages about philosophy, art and poetry.

The person who had this copy before me pencilled in all sorts of ridiculous comments that made this book seem even more pompous. Some of his remarks are in French and some show that he knows little about Gide. For example, when Gide writes that he loathes virtue, the frantic scribbler adds a question mark.

Compared with other stuff that I’ve read by Gide, I found this somewhat boring.

Perhaps this comment says it all: Memoirs are never more than half sincere, however great one’s desire for truth; everything is-always more complicated than one makes out. Possibly even one gets nearer to truth in the novel

“In the name of what God or what ideal, do you forbid me to live according to my nature?…But I gradually came to wonder whether God really exacted such constraints, whether it was not impious to be in continual rebellion, whether such rebellion was not against Him.”

“but when Ali – that was my little guide’s name – led me up among the sandhills, in spite of the fatigue of walking in the sand, I followed him; we soon reached a kind of funnel or crater, the rim of which was just high enough to command the surrounding country”…”As soon as we got there, Ali flung the coat and rug down on the sloping sand; he flung himself down too, and stretched on his back”…”I was not such a simpleton as to misunderstand his invitation”…”I seized the hand he held out to me and tumbled him on to the ground.”

“I should say that if Wilde had begun to discover the secrets of his life to me, he knew nothing as yet of mine; I had taken care to give him no hint of them, either by deed or word.”…”No doubt, since my adventure at Sousse, there was not much left for the Adversary to do to complete his victory over me; but Wilde did not know this, nor that I was vanquished beforehand or, if you will”…”that I had already triumphed in my imagination and my thoughts over all my scruples.”

return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Rainbow Boys – Alex Sanchez

RB(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

It’s the same old coming out story that has been told several times over, though there is up to date information at the back about help groups. It has the stereotypes, the jock, the goofy and the effeminate. The speed at which these teenagers come to terms with things is unrealistic. There’s some misinformation- that it is ‘safe’ for two HIV+ to have sex, given that there are different strands which can lead to cross infection. It’s also unrealistic that a doctor in an STI clinic would moralise.

It’s good that schools, even church schools, tend to have compulsory homophobic policies these days, so some of the stuff to which a blind eye is turned should no longer be happening.

That being said, it was a nice way to pass the time so I might get the sequel.

return to the home page

Leave a Comment

The Vast Fields of Ordinary – Nick Burd

tvfoo(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This is his first novel so we sort of assume that there is an element of autobiography in it. One interview has him saying: I’m gay and I grew up in Iowa, but it’s not really that autobiographical. My parents are very different than Dade’s parents. And there’s not really anything about his personality that is like mine. ….I grew up in a religious environment. The things in the library weren’t gay or lesbian oriented. My sexuality was forming in my mind in sixth, seventh, eighth grade, and I couldn’t find any young adults geared towards gay kids. When I found adult themed gay books that was kind of a big deal.

As for the ‘religious environment’, this is well described in the book as ‘crazy church.’ (Where ….:mid-hymn and twitched with the spirit. He said that it never ceased to terrify him, that he didn’t understand why anyone would want to voluntarily lose themselves in something when it seemed like life was all about trying to find yourself.)

It won the Stonewall Book Award It’s a classic coming of age novel but there have been many before. What might make this book different is that is more up to date, though the stupidly-named pop group ‘Vas Deferens’ doesn’t exist (nor does the Breathless Faggots), nor it is funny. Johnny Morgan does exist but I cannot work out why anyone would want a shrine to him in their bedroom. It deals with the awkward summer between high school and college, as do most others. The hero falls for the high school jock (who blanks him when he is with his sporty mates) but people like Patricia Nell Warren have dealt with this much better and more sexily.

I note that the hero’s mother shops before he goes to uni. and buys him five pares of jeans? That many? Is he going to bring his washing home every vacation? She also buys him a microwave and a fried. This Americanism seeks to have taken hold in the UK where students, after graduating, through all this stuff out saying ‘It was for uni.’ despite it being still perfectly serviceable.

The hero’s mum is going through a difficult phase of her life and he rightly recognises the sort of ‘crappy in self-help books’.

The invented small town of ‘Cedarville’ conjures up endless boredom. Maybe that’s why the hero ate two dinners one evening.

The best bit is the intro by e. e. cummings: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”

How’s this for a cliché?: we were kissing again, slow and deliberate like ice melting on a countertop.

Being an American book, I had to look up ‘kabobs’ = kebabs! I had to look up ‘muy caliente’. It means “very hot”’.

return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault – Jonathan Dollimore

SD(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

This is by no means an easy read (like any book that uses ‘problematic’ as a noun) but it looks at the way literature helps people to understand and define themselves. It traces the term “perverse” back to its etymological origins in Latin and its epistemological origins in Augustine. A second theoretical section places Freud and Foucault in dialogue on the subject of perversion, followed by a section on homophobia.

The book is topped and tailed by considerations of Oscar Wilde and Andrew Gide, which was mainly why I read it.

There are some who believe that we have progressed since the Renaissance but others think that we have regressed. This is literally a matter of life and death – some think that gay people are freer now yet there I probably more gay bashing and murder than before and research into AIDS has suffered setbacks owing to stigmatisation.

The essentialist, such as Gide, sees sexual orientation as part of one’s nature so one has to be ‘true to oneself’. Others see gays as going against human nature, a perversion, something to be tamed.

The gay scene has been a haven for many, a place of acceptance in a rejecting world. Yet for others, it reinforces a sense of self-alienation in revulsion against drag queens and camp men.

If someone engages in ‘sodomy’ it’s something that can be contained, repressed or transcended. It’s deviant behaviour. But if someone sees themselves as a gay person, rather than someone who does gay things, they are seen to threaten society because they lead, or are part of, a sub culture.

Are events like Pride a liberation or a tolerated and contained act?: First there is the anthropological version which sees allegedly trans­gressive practices like carnival as not at all disturbing of dominant values but rather their guarantor—a licensed release of social tension, a kind of safety-valve effect which, far from undermining the existing order, actually contributes to its survival. Second are the psychological versions to the effect that (1) true faith paradoxically lies in honest doubt; (z) it is the sacrilegious who, most knowing the true value of the sacred, are thereby most beholden unto it, even as they seek to destroy it; (3) there is nothing so bourgeois as the desire to scandalize the bourgeoisie. A further version of this argument is Richard Sennett’s theory of ‘disobedient dependence’. Transgression, says Sennett, is perhaps the most forceful element in disobedient dependence, since it involves a defiance based on depend­ence, a rebellion not against authority but within it: ‘the transgressor disobeys but authority relates the terms’.

On the other hand: times it involves a conceptual confusion: subversion, and transgression, necessarily presuppose the law, but they do not necessarily ratify the law.

Many assumed that by showing gays to be somehow ill, this would get sympathy instead of oppression. Not so. In the Nazi period, gays become a symptom of the sickness of society which needed rooting out. For others, it needed curing.

Those who pointed to gays as a third sex or some other sort of extra category, who otherwise functioned ‘normally’ led to some saying that gays were some sort of dangerous enemy within.

If being gay isn’t nature but nurture, the result of choices, then those choices can be unmade.

The ineptitude of the Church when Oscar Wilde was in prison: Wilde’s encounters with prison chaplains make dismal, farcical reading. One chaplain suggested that Wilde ended up in prison because he had omitted to conduct morning prayers in his household; another, suspecting Wilde of masturbation, wrote to the authorities that ‘perverse sexual practices are again getting the mastery over him’; to a third Wilde complained that he could not see the sky from his cell window. The chaplain replied that his mind should not ‘dwell on the clouds, but on Him who is above the clouds’. Wilde called him a damned fool and threw him out of the cell .

Cranmer’s confession, that ‘we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep’ has consequences for the way people thought – the: neutral notion of ‘wandering’ can be charged with a terrifying negativity, and its representation includes a long and violent history; in bur own time it has been most violently active in the way the Christian legend of the forever wandering Jew was reactivated in Nazi anti-Semitism, figuring notoriously in the film Der ewige Jude, which, in the words of the film’s commentary, compares ‘the Jewish wanderings through history’ with ‘the mass migrations of an equally restless animal, the rat’…In the sixteenth century, population growth and the commercialization of agriculture had helped to produce a redundant population of landless men and women. There was real alarm at the growth in unemployment, poverty, and crime. Vagrancy, A. L. Beier shows, became one of the most pressing social problems of the age; governments were terrified of it, reacted vigorously to suppress it, initiating major new developments in state control in the process. The masterless, without a fixed place, identity, or occupation, were perceived as a threat to the state and to social order. Social and economic dislocation was often refigured as the evil of aberrant movement. Beier remarks that it is difficult for us today to recover the meaning which attached to the masterless; today’s equi­valents ‘might be anarchist, terrorist, or (in some western societies) com­munist’. Supplementing actual legislation was what William Hunt has called ‘a culture of discipline’—in effect a wider strategy of social and ideological control conceived in ethical and religious terms.

I learned some new stuff about Freud: in Three Essays, first published in 1905. He says: ‘the abandonment of the reproductive function is the common feature of all perversions. We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure as an aim independent of it…… city life is constantly becoming more sophisticated and more restless. The exhausted nerves seek recuperation in increased stimulation and in highly-spiced pleasures, only to become more exhausted than before.’. On this account, especially since arrival of the post-modern, we are presumably all perverts now, actual or aspiring.

For those who base their whole self-understanding on one ancient myth: At the heart of the Oedipus myth as inherited from Greek mythology is a homosexual encounter. That Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother is well known. Less so is the fact that the tragic sequence is initiated because Oedipus’ father, Laius, loved a beautiful youth, Chrysippus. Hera, the guardian of marriage, is angered by this and punishes the Thebans for not preventing that love. So the very myth which psychoanalysts appropriate to normalize heterosexuality already has homosexuality inscribed at its centre; that which normatively sanctions heterosexuality is rooted in what it would contain. Mythologically, the perverse dynamic was always already there.

John Rechy’s sexual outlaw: : ‘promiscuity, like the priesthood, requires total commitment and sacrifice’ …..’In the sex-moments pressurized into high intensity by life-crushing strictures challenged, the sexual outlaw experiences to the utmost the rush of soul, blood, cum through every channel of his being 1 into the physical and psychical discharge of the fully awakened, living, defiant body’ …….Rechy rages against oppression, and attributes extraordinary political potential to transgressive sexuality: Promiscuous homosexuals (outlaws with dual identities . . . ) are the shock troops of the sexual revolution. The streets are the battleground, the revolution is the sexhunt, a radical statement is made each time a man has sex with another on a street. . . .Cum instead of blood. Satisfied bodies instead of dead ones. Death versus orgasm. Would they bust everyone? With cum-smeared tanks would they crush all? … Rechy celebrates actually perpetuates an alienation between gay people… the supposed shock troops of the sexual revolution, will ‘tomorrow . . . go to offices and athletic fields, classrooms and construc­tion sites’ (Sexual Outlaw, 299). The perverse dynamic also suggests that the anthropologist’s boundary between the lawful and the illicit is not so much a dividing line as the visible manifestation of an overlap. Something like this is true of Rechy’s gay cruising grounds—derelict land, parks, parking lots, beaches—all public spaces and places where straight and gay both go without mixing or meeting, and where for the most part one of these groups is unaware of the other’s presence.

Ultimately, there seem to be four options:

i. Someone like Gide seeks to partake in the dominant term rather than the inferior one (‘we’re natural too’); this involves a struggle for inclusion within the very concepts which exclude the subordin­ate, a struggle which is simultaneously an appropriation and transformation of those concepts.

ii. In Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness the strategy is to transvalue the negative identity through (e.g.) assimilation with other more positive ones, medical, cultural, religious, and literary.

In Rubyfruit Jungle the effect is to reverse the respective dominant subordinate locations within the binary (‘we’re natural/superior; you’re unnatural/inferior’).

A different strategy is to destabilize, subvert, and displace the binary through inversion, or a turning back upon, a transgressive reinscription within, the dominant, to destroy at base the categor­ies responsible for one’s exclusion—as in Wilde’s transgressive aesthetic.

Those who advocate same-sex marriage seem to be in camp i. Those of us who oppose it, partly informed by feminist principles, would be in camp iv.

What causes homophobia: whereas once it was the homosexual who was viewed as sick, now it might be the heterosexual who is charged with pathology: ‘Whereas once the homosexual was identified by a long series of character traits, it is now possible to identify the traits of the homophobe: authoritarian, cognitively restricted, with gender anxieties’. Most provocatively, those gender anxieties are found to harbour a repressed homosexuality.

Britain fears the enemy within: In the UK in 1983 there was a by-election in Bermondsey, London. Its run-up included a homophobic attack on one of the candidates, Peter Tatchell, whose political ‘extremism’ was regarded as inseparable from his sexual ‘deviance’. It was largely mobilized by sections of the press, to a degree then unprecedented, but which heralded the onset of the intensified homophobia which has characterized that country ever since……there have been numerous similar press-provoked scandals in which the homosexual has kept turning up where he or she should not, especially at the ‘respectable’ centre of things: in MI5, the Houses of Parliament, as parliamentary candidate, school­teacher, council employee, prison chaplain, vicar, guard to the Queen Mother, film star, circuit judge, to cite only some (and some whose lives have been destroyed by homophobic media harassment). The same press represents homosexuals as the corrupters of public morals, of children, the family, and even the armed forces….

These enemies are seen as subversive: Himmler launched his attack on homosexuals on the basis that they, like the Jews, were involved in a conspiracy to undermine the German race. Such associations of sexual deviance and political threat a long history sedimented into our language and culture. The term ‘, for example, derives from the religious as well as sexual nonconformi­ty of an eleventh-century Bulgarian sect which practised the Manichaean heresy and refused to propagate the species; the OED tells is that it was later applied to other heretics, to whom abominable practices were also ascribed.

Are gays fearful of the other? Wilde’s anecdote about Narcissus and the river as related by Gide: When Narcissus died, the flowers of the field asked the river for some drops of water to weep for him. ‘Oh!’ answered the river, ‘if all my drops of water were tears, I should not have enough to weep for Narcissus myself. I loved him!’ ‘Oh!’ replied the flowers of the field, ‘how could you not have loved Narcissus? He was beautiful’. ‘Was he beautiful?’ said the river. ‘And who could know better than you? Each day, leaning over your bank, he beheld his beauty in your water . .Wilde paused for a moment . . .’If I loved him’, replied the river, ‘it was because, when he leaned over my water, I saw the reflection of my waters in his eyes.’

Cross-dressing gets some comment. I liked especially that man who fears than if a boy dresses as a girl this might bring out his (the viewer’s) latent homosexuality.

The cover is a photograph by Nigerian born Rotimi Fani-Kayode. It is entitled ‘Station of the Cross’ and I assume it is the one where ‘Jesus meets his mother’ since it depicts a young, probably gay, man and a nun (Holy Mother church?). The artist wrote: “My identity has been constructed from my own sense of otherness, whether cultural, racial or sexual. The three aspects are not separate within me. Photography is the tool by which I feel most confident in expressing myself. It is photography therefore — Black, African, homosexual photography — which I must use not just as an instrument, but as a weapon if I am to resist attacks on my integrity and, indeed, my existence on my own terms.”

return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Older Posts »