Friday, April 18, 2014


The book of Matthew is fond of the editing theory of how to have a good life.  Eliminate trouble by eliminating the "bad."  The advice of excision shows up in several places.  Here’s one version.  Matthew 5:29  And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.   This is social disciplinary metaphor, not realistic.  The medical advice of amputation or surgical removal is very close to torture methods.  Quarantine is defensible medical practice while shunning or excommunication is often a disciplinary method in churches.  I mean, this idea of plucking and casting is right on the edge between effective and evil.  It's bad enough as a social theory (eliminate all Jews, blacks, gays) but as a way to manage a family it really sucks.  (As those kids thrown into the street would put it.)

Maybe it’s the Scots outlander in me that considers banishment kind of attractive.  I almost court it.  But I have not wanted to be identified as a person who writes about Indians (who I am not) nor gays (who I am not) nor persons with HIV-AIDS (who I am not).  Maybe I’m just liberal or progressive or ornery or naturally inclined to stick up for the underdog, no matter what the justification for exclusion.  But it is clear to me that to pluck out an offending eye (maybe it’s really painful or malignant in situ) is different than draining out blood because it is diseased, though that was medical practice until surprisingly recently.  (It's how Robin Hood was killed, right?)

We construct categories, then stigmatize them, then assign people to them in ways that are not even accurate.  As long as HIV-AIDS was still considered to be directly caused by anal intercourse, then maybe it made sense to wall off everyone who did that, esp. if it was thought that only gay men did it.  But then it turned out that HIV is a blood disease.  And then it turned out that a lot more people, both male and female, straight and kinky, were having anal intercourse.  When mainstream magazine articles begin to discuss better orgasms through rear entry, it’s clear that the category is useless as an indicator of perversion.

HIV-AIDS is a blood disease.  We cannot expect people to go around with no blood.  It has to be treated as though it were any other infection of the body.  But that’s not all I want to talk about.  The category of “gay men” has also been pretty much destroyed by increased knowledge.  It is not a medical or anatomical category (though it may be genetic or epigenetic).  The single defining criterion is men who desire sexual relations with other men.  Desire is a reflex response located in the autonomic nervous system, all THREE branches.  (Until recently no one knew about the third "enteric" (guts) branch, which is sometimes called a "second brain.")  You can't see it on any instrument we have, just the response to it.  Like a slightly swollen upper lip and dilated eyes.

Medical categories are based on appearance and function.  A man might have a penis the size of a thimble.  I’m realizing that decades ago when that woman called animal control to complain about her husband who would only have sex with the family cat, it may not have been so unlikely as we thought.  Scott O’Hara, who won size contests, was eloquent on the subject of how-you-use-it being more important that what-you’ve-got.  But some people have tabs, some people have slots, and some people have both, or neither, or some modification or mixture of the two.  I'm saying "gay" is about desire, not equipment.  And desire is only one aspect of a person's identity.

Fourth grade is a turning point year for kids in our school systems.  Usually classes begin to go from one teacher to another because presumably they’ve got the basics down and are ready for specialization, which means teachers with special training.  Most kids are about eight, which in medieval and frontier times would have been old enough to begin working for a living, because all you needed then were the basics.  How much math do you need to clean a chimney?  How much literature do you need to string an industrial loom?

When I was in the fourth grade, we still believed in the humanities, so one of the special classes was art.  I remember quite clearly that when the teacher was out of the room, two boys explained that anyone who wore yellow on Thursday was “gay.”  This, like the disloyalty of not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, meant you were entitled to pinch them, hit them, and slander them.  No one quite realized that it was connected to sexual preference because we hadn’t hit puberty yet.  Only a few of us understood heterosexual practices or that some people had three orifices down there -- counting the boys’ all-important pipi.  It was something about being a sissy, which is why girls couldn’t be gay even if they wore yellow on Thursday because girls can’t be sissies because that would be redundant.

Only recently has it occurred to me that the two dignified and graceful women across the street who were good friends of my family -- let alone my several high school teachers who lived with same-sex partners (all women) -- could be considered lesbian.  Not that they went around waving dildos -- they were all at least sixty.  Nor did it occur to me that my closest friend’s elegant “bachelor” uncle who took us to the ballet would be recognized as “gay” today.

In college I was in theatre and it was -- now it turns out -- to be an exceptionally gay-friendly theatre department.  I’m not sure that even the gay guys were conscious of it.  We were all wrestling with issues like finding the spine of a character, summoning up the sensory world of Cleopatra and Caesar, or surviving period underwear.  In some ways we were slow maturing, even with “Tea and Sympathy” as the “Brokeback Mountain” of our time.  One friend called me “Deborah Kerr” and that role stuck with me.  There’s not that much difference between coming out as a Gay and coming out as a proud "half-breed" Indian or consorting with a grandpa.  Defying stigma rules.

Once in seminary I was asked to identify a key primal “script” for my life.  To the professor’s dismay, I chose “The Princess and the Goblin,” a Tolkien-lite story about a little girl who lived in a chateau on top of a mountain but was close friends with a boy miner who understood the catacombs and labyrinths within the mountain.  She also was given a ring by her many-times-great grandmother who lived in the top of the highest tower of the chateau and was on good terms with the Holy Spirit in the form of doves.  This ring was attached to a filament or thread that the girl could use as a guide for the right direction for her life to take.  Just what was needed for going with Curdie (that was the miner boy’s name -- was it short for Courage?) through the lightless passages to keep the goblins (trolls?) under control.  (One stamped on their tender feet.)  

The filament, an "Ariadne's thread, named for the legend of Ariadne, is the solving of a problem with multiple apparent means of proceeding - such as a physical maze, a logic puzzle or an ethical dilemma."  If you try to go backwards it disappears.  In the myth it is provided by an inspired woman to an heroic man who must fight the Minotaur, the half-bull.  My professor, who earlier had sighed over my characterization of the universe as a copper scouring pad that wears you down to your core, was not impressed.  He liked the former physics professor in the previous class who talked about the distortion of the gravity plenum being like a ball-bearing on a rubber sheet.  I didn’t see the diff.

The point is that in my world the goal is not bigger and better orgasms or high status relationships.  It is a metaphysical justice problem with the goal being survival.  It has no concern for genital variation, genomic interweaving, or gender culture roles.  It’s about what will get you through the maze and slay the minotaur, which I take to be violence, war, plague, famine, and so on.  

Not that I’m against using force.  But I don’t see why a gay guy can’t be an excellent swordsman.  It occurs to me that “Arya” in “Game of Thrones” is probably named for Ariadne.  George R.R. Martin messes around with the stuff all the time.  But he’s nothing like the Reverend George MacDonald, who was a Universalist (“God will save everyone.”)  clergyman with too many kids and an attitude far too inclusive to suit his superiors.  He was more of the spirit than the blood.   Institutional Christianity is blood-centered.  They think they are in charge of blood.  At some points of their history they have demanded the blood of others be spilled.  Then there's Communion.  But maybe Christianity as a concept, a category, is also disintegrating.  Certainly, the Universalist aspect of it seems to be neglected.  This is the url of a "saving remnant" in Washington, D.C.  Good location for building an ark!

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