from "Brideshead Revisited"
This is a continuation of the just previous post about needing institutions to be trustworthy and about media as capitalist ventures dependent on trust. I want to separate the issue of whether gay people (just gays not lesbian, bi-, fluid or whatever, not even celibate which is my category) are stable enough to be successful in media. Clearly they are, since so many famous writers, actors, celebrity news readers, and so on are gay.
I’ve been reading about gays and reading writing by gays (including what is billed as porn) and scientific inquiry about why people are gay, and I get one thing for sure. Gay is just one small dimension of desire, which is the physiologically-based turn-on for men by men. (I and a lot of other women get turned on by men, but that’s different.) The gay dimension of desire has been pinned onto a specific point in gestation when something genetic or epigenetic is binary, goes one way or the other independently of hormones and genitalia. It seems to be as arbitrary as whatever it is that makes one bird fall in love with another: plumage or song or nest-building.
Gay is specific to the person, but radically shaped by the culture and also by the rest of the person. That is, a gay man comes in all the varieties of men in general (passionate or indifferent, smart or dumb, handsome or ugly) and then whatever he is takes on a shape from the culture pressing on him. That is, being gay sometimes doesn’t matter and sometimes is crucial, but is always part of the whole person. On top of the gay “orientation” are random events, dangers and advantages. But to the person, if gayness is made a prime force, all these other contingencies might seem due to the gayness. Otherwise, for the occasional person who is gay but low libido, preoccupied with other matters, the best response is a shrug.
What this comes down to is that there are as many kinds of gay men as there are kinds of straight men: hundreds and thousands. Each may try to justify himself in a different way, be regarded by others in a different way, or seek coalitions of different kinds for different ends, some stable and some dynamic. Because they are all men, their ability to inseminate, their drive to do that act even if there is no ovum present, their possibly superior strength and size, will create new circumstances. For instance, children. Or the desire to protect and nurture children even if they aren’t related to them — not by nursing them, but by guarding them.
Force comes into the picture. Rape, violent fights, war, extreme sports and explorations, have all been identified with being male. Those cannot be attached to or detached from the dimension of gayness. Gay men can be just as tough and extreme as straights.
But there is always an impulse to get men rounded up and standardized, maybe in the military, maybe in Hugh-Hefner-style posh little corners of sexy gentrification, maybe the theatre. (I was amused by Damian Lewis’ fantasy that high status Brit film actors tend to become “slightly fruity” wizards when they age. I suppose he means Olivier and Gielgud mostly.) The media (that venture capital operating system) tries to standardize what a gay person is — Robin Williams with a feather boa? Or the characters of some BBC nostalgia piece, like “Brideshead Revisited”?
HIV-AIDS threw all that out the window. Now the “venture capital” of what people want to know becomes medical, politically aggressive, and no longer just a matter of limp wrists. Totally unsuspected gayness has now occasionally turned into ghastly death. The profit in depictions seems impossible to predict. Who could know “Angels in America” would be a hit and a classic?
The next loop was economic and demographic displacement that stressed families to the point of throwing out their teenaged — and younger — boys. This has always been the case: Irish street boys, frontier wandering boys, ship cabin boys. Some of them were gay (which was a good excuse for throwing them out), then all were pressed to survive however they could, even through sexwork. They became HIV-AIDS vectors, particularly when they going in and out of American mass incarceration, since prisons are fermenting vats for diseases transmitted sexually. The culture picked up interest in anal sex assumed to be rampant in prisons, demonstrated it, explored it, made it a kind of standard for all sexes.
Simmering wars with Islamic cultures and the need to control such determined and macho warriors, led to the development of taboo violation as a form of punishment. Torture was easy when it was only a matter of nudity or contact with menstrual blood or pariah dogs. Of course, beatings, amputations, electric shock — they all persist.
But then comes sexual kink that focusses on torture and taboo. The hunger for stimulation, surprise, uniqueness, have become characteristic of Western Society. Even gay kink, a source of spice instead of sin.
But there’s another countervailing school of thought that comes to the conclusion that human sexuality is so various, so full of potential, so controlled by random factors, that the construct of “homosexual” is not really a physical, physiological, demonstrable category at all, but just a social grouping. Some feel that busily putting labels on everyone is a fool’s errand. They would rather accept what has been called “fluid sexuality.” Mostly it’s been described as characteristic of females, an ability to love without permanent categories.
But maybe that could fit under an umbrella called “queer.” That is, in the sense of peculiar, unique, even surprising — through not so strange as dogs who adopt ducks and the like. The sexuality is more focused on care-giving than intercourse, therefore more female. (Maybe the Lord can love a duck in the sense of sexual union, but dogs can not.) There is no term for microdick men who find smaller mammals agreeable, though we met them at animal control. (Micropenis — less than three inches — occurs in about 0.6% of males.) I suppose they could be listed as “sodomy”, sub-category cross-species. Is there a name for the people who buy sex dolls? (Besides wealthy?)
Sometimes terms change because of research, so that the term MSM (men who have sex with men) had to be devised to mean that the men in question have families and regularly sleep with women, but also with men. No one formally knew that until after research confirmed what people already suspected, which was to some degree admitting that not everyone does what “white, het, straight, European” men do. They are in no sense a norm except for past assumptions.
The challenge then is to compose and abide by standards that fit all human male moral situations, something like “do no damage.” This would also cover pedophilia, but would mean a lot higher understanding of how much damage is done to children. To be a good person is not easy, since it demands a mixture of effort and restraint plus the skill of empathy, or feeling-with others. People find ways. When they are seen as a group, they acquire labels. But individuals and groups are both processes. Labels can become outdated and useless. So far, “gay” still works as a category but it’s ragged around the edges. Listen to the comedians and watch those “slightly fruity aging wizards.” Check in with Howard Stern.