August 13, 2010

Daring to Speak Its Name

It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so the world does not understand (Oscar Wilde).

The world did not, and does not, understand. How curious that the man identified with bringing homosexuality into the public sphere in modern times had a specific intellectual agenda to broadcast with respect to love. The public attempts to reduce the man’s reputation to the level of the gutter were met with references to poetry, philosophy and spirituality - to eros. And to where, might we ask, has this intellectual quotient disappeared?

I begin this entry knowing that I will displease some, but I have repeatedly been asked to write upon it, and can shirk the responsibility no longer. I wish, at the very least, to get one thing straight: men have always sought sexual intimacy with other men, but only very recently has this had anything at all to do with identity. Nothing within the pages of Being Manly is exclusionary, precisely because I believe that being manly is within the purview of any man, regardless of his physical persuasions, if he gives the matter due attention.

People have become very confused in recent years about what homosexuality means. Literally, it defines a sexual preference and nothing more. Unfortunately, a great burden has been placed upon men who desire other men to conform to a cultural standard, which sweeps up their sexuality with a gender identity, namely being ‘gay’ or ‘queer’. I have seen this happen: the public emergence as homosexual seems to entail a wholesale transformation of lifestyle, manners, morals and speech (especially intonation). I confess to being bewildered by this.

There are, within this culture, realities that sit at odds with what I tentatively call common decency. Please don’t mistake this sentence as prudish, bigoted or hypocritical. To my mind, it is just as lax and impolite for a heterosexual person to behave with wanton abandon, marking notches on the bedpost and publicly announcing, even flaunting, his promiscuity. I refuse to associate with straight men like this for they show a complete disregard for those who place discretion as a cornerstone of propriety. Unfortunately, just as in the case of the justly maligned macho man, many gay men feel an expectation to behave in this way – it is something of a cultural standard – and it does a great discredit to the many men who are sober, faithful partners (or who at least would appreciate fidelity), and who believe in the qualitative value of relationships, the bonds of love, and all the signs of an upstanding man in modern society. Discretion is the better part of valour. All men would do well to remember this, regardless of with whom they care to sleep.

Therefore, let us talk of love, come one, come all; but let us talk no more of unclothed activities, for they are and should be matters of the private life.


  1. Grand Prairie GrantAugust 14, 2010 at 12:28 AM

    Who was that said "The love that dare not speak its name is, these days, the love that won't shut up"? Sad but true.

    We need a new word. 'Homosexual' still has the clinical aroma of the old 'personality disorder' it used to be considered, and in the larger culture--the one we still have to live in--'Gay' has come to mean a clever but bitchy guy with a leer and a lewd quip ready at all times. That probably just comes from TV, since TV is the root cause of so many others. My best gay friend says I need to relax and "embrace my identity" and I tell him I already have an identity and it has nothing to do has with Ru Paul, brunch, backless chaps or wanting to get in the pants of that stupid Levi what's-his-name. Gay or straight, stupid is always stupid and no the hell thanks and that includes the embarrassment that is the local Pride Parade.

    I'm all for "raising people's awareness" of gay men's contributions and honoring the cutural contributions of great men like Walt Whitman & Scott Joplin and Alan Turing and David Hockey and women like Emma Stebbins and Gertude Stein, but I don't see how we do that with parades that features straight sports stars, local politicians who will be in anything if it means votes, Dykes on Bikes and giant sychronized dancing penises. I'm sure Alan Turing would be thrilled to be so honored. If THAT's what it mans to be gay I don't want any part of it. Besides, Gertrude Stein wouldn't make it half a block in this heat and I'm sorry, but I'm not carrying her heavy butt to St. Cecilia's Hospital. It's not MY fault she hasn't taken care of herself.

    Besides, if sexual orientation is really not a choice and is therefore just as statistically meaningless as whether one has straight or curly hair, or blue or green eyes, then it doesn't require 'celebration' either, just acknowledgement. Celebrations are for when you ACHIEVE something: getting a degree, or pitching a no-hitter, or winning a Tony or buying your first house. Not for having naturally curly hair.

    And if, as they say whenever some homophobic bigot starts shouting crude comments at a gay speaker, what people choose to do in the privacy of their own bedrooms is really nobody's business but their own, then why don't they shut up about who they did last week, or who Ellen did last year or who Rock Hudson did fifty years ago? Who cares? If straight culture can extend from the wild (maybe pahthological) excesses of Wilt the Stilt to the opportunistic readiness of Slick Willie to the post-Quaker primness (at least, apparently, in the bedroom) of Tricky Dick, to the genuine innocence of John Ruskin (people like that don't ever get funny names) why is it that the other team--our team--all seems to cluster at the rowdy, crotch-tugging end of the bench? Certainly, not every gay man is promiscuous, so then, why is it so hard to come up with the names of normal gay people (now or in the past, and I'm talking well-known ones, not your next door neighbor who works at H-P) whose sexuality was openly acknowledged but whose sexual partners (assuming they had any) were of no more interest than the color of his hair? Where his sex life was his own, not ours-by-proxy. And John Singer Sargent doesn't count. I mean someone who was COMMONLY recognized as preferring men (even if the label 'gay' didn't then exist) but who didn't keep a running tally in his diary of his famous conquests and their various sexual fetishes, in order to provide bedtime titillation for us, his posthumous readers.

    Believe it or not, I just came across your blog today, four or five hours after having this very conversation with my best friend, who happens to be straight. Anyway, this is my first visit but it won't be my last.

  2. Dear GPG,
    Thanks for this response. I'm heartily cheered that it resonated with you, and you have encouraged me that there really might be a sympathetic audience out there. Feel free to forward the post.


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