DADT footnote key:  “C2-0004-02140211-44-80″





One Sunday afternoon in September 1986, I had a meatloaf dinner with one Roy Abraham Varghese, from the Campus Crusade for Christ, in a trendy restaurant on Cedar Springs in Dallas called the Bronx.  I don’t recall if the place is there now.

In the conversation, which remained impersonal, Varghese said that he saw homosexuality as an intrinsic evil.

Bear in mind, this was just after the worst panic of the AIDS crisis had roared through Dallas, resulting in some proposals for some very draconian anti-gay laws in Texas back in 1983.  I’ll come back to the details of those in a later post.  But I think the motivation for his comment had little to do with STD’s, for homophobia had been around a long time before.  It got me when I was in college (Jan. 10, 2014 posting here).

In fact, while “equal rights for gays” becomes achieved on the political stage with surprising speed in the US and western countries, the anti-gay backlash in some poorer countries has become shocking. In a few countries, including Russia, hunting down gays by vigilante gangs seems to be viewed as “sport”.

It’s easy to see that authoritarian leaders see gays as convenient political scapegoats for other economic failures.  In Russia, on the streets, it’s turned especially mean as the government has festered a common belief that male homosexuality is equivalent to pedophilia.  Perhaps it’s easy to jump to that conclusion if one sees male homosexuality as a purely narcissistic way to deal with gender development “failures”.

I come to this from the perspective of experiencing homophobia as something one is force to dive through.  But it’s not the real problem at the start, or at the end.  For me, the broader issue seemed to be that others objected to my speaking out and becoming visible if I didn’t take the same risks they did or have the same responsibility for other people (raising families, usually by having children) that they did.

Still, once one encounters anti-gay attitudes personally, it takes over and becomes the preoccupation.

So, back in 1961, I have to ask, what was the big deal?  Why was I, with my  apparent lack of reproductive drive,  seen as such a threat to others?   If we answer that question, we could make the uncertainty over immutability moot. After all, I would not create an unwanted pregnancy or become a rival for someone else’s wife or girlfriend (itself a sensitive issue if you have a job going door-to-door, as I once found out working for Census).  I was not aggressive.  I could never be a rape threat.  Anyone worried about “protecting” younger siblings had much more to worry about the safety of sisters (from heterosexuals gone wrong) than brothers (from gay men).

But, it isn’t long before answers come to mind.  Most societies (although this is less true of western culture now than ever before) depend on men to fight or work together in close quarters to protect the women and children – that is, they accept limits on their own individual lives for the future.  Male homosexuality has been viewed as a distraction in such situations, like the military or contact sports, not so much because of sex acts but because men would feel “scoped”.  We saw this issue debated in the “gays in the military” issue in terms of privacy (under forced intimacy) and then (with more subtlety) unit cohesion.  As “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, and pro sports are adopting non-discrimination policies, it’s apparent that with younger men (particularly higher income and better educated) this is not the issue that it seemed to be even twenty years ago.  Still, that welcome acceptance (beyond mere tolerance) in younger men may be a sign that many younger men do not regard traditional marital and family responsibility as shared with others in an extended family and community group, as previous generations (out of adaptive necessity) had.

I’m particularly curious when women (usually religious) express resentment of gay men, who would never take advantage of them individually, almost for ignoring them.  It’s also interesting that homophobic attitudes contain their own internal contradictions. Such attitudes admit personal vulnerability, which might be seen as simply part of living in an interdependent community that makes demands.  But these views also seem to betray a certain belief that homosexuality can appeal to almost anyone in some circumstances, whatever modern ideas of immutability.

But it’s useful to simply go the feelings and perceptions that I experienced, and the “feedback” that others gave me.  It was not always clear whether the concerns were about my being “different” and “drawing attention” (which is hardly a gay-specific issue) or about my sexual fantasies and intended lifestyle.  The two zones overlap but are not close to equivalent.  But in earlier times, homosexuality had become a proxy for “difference”, separation from the shared values of the group, which could demand variable self-sacrifice, not always by choice, for the long-term future or at least survival of the group.  It was also a proxy for rebellion against authority, which could become abusive (like Putin). The various details are illuminating, but it is hard to see what they add up to.

I remember “noticing” men as I was growing up, and my father would sometimes make derogatory comments about men, as on television, who looked too feminine.  Why, I wondered, was I being prodded to dote on women and spoil them?  Why were only women to be valued for “physical beauty”, the standards for which were somewhat artificial anyway?

If women could be compared and objectified, so could men.  It was true that some things stayed out of sight.  But men could vary a lot, in terms of build and fitness, and (in a mostly white and largely sheltered, segregated society), body hair.  Men could be judged on external trappings that were occasionally visible and not talked about.  True, men could vary about more essential things, but, except maybe in the high school gym shower, you never knew or cared. Some practices, like face shaving and (even for non-Jews) circumcision were so common that they were meaningless.  On the other hand, body shaving, in the 1950s, outside of the muscle magazine circuit, was seen as girlish and feminine.  That could become significant for college hazing ceremonies (“tribunals”).  That was the gender-conformity expectation in the 50s world in which I grew up.

All of this was explained in a book “Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers” by Evelyn Ruth Duvall (Associated Press, 1956), in the family bookshelf, and the book mysteriously disappeared after William and Mary.  It worried my father that I got information from books and magazines rather than socially from people.

As I went through my teens, I began to eroticize these ideas about men, but I didn’t give it a lot of significance until my senior year of high school.  By summer, I noticed that sometimes I was sexually aroused in the presence of certain young men (without full nudity, which would ironically be a turnoff) – “less was more”).  The sexual excitement, which seemed like something that happened to me, came across as an experience that could take on existential importance.  Now, in mathematics, the converse of a statement doesn’t have to be true.  But here it seemed to be.  Someone who did not have “what it takes” could not become as important to me.

Therefore, I had rationalized, in my own mind,  that I could “love” men who were “better”, or at least in my own fantasy world, more “virtuous” or “worthy”.  In a closed environment like NIH in the fall of 1962 (Jan. 14, 2014 post), this could create social tension.  What seemed to come out of this, as my father once said, was that “I didn’t see people as people.”

Now, when fantasy is just that, and not acted on, is it someone else’s business?  Okay, sometimes, in the mental health world, authorities worry, that a person might have a propensity to commit a crime in the future.  This is a troubling aspect of the gun control debate right now, because it is so difficult to gauge reliability if someone is really likely to do something horrible to others.  Another concern is more subtle.  Even though fantasies – and future acts with consenting adults behind closed doors – are private, there is a certain expressiveness that becomes public.  There are fears that if some way of living, as largely through a lot of fantasy, in my case, becomes viewed as acceptable, other people who may feel marginal in some way will not try hard enough to do their part, and society will become fragmented, possibly unable to sustain itself.  This may be a more legitimate concern for older, tribal or poorer societies, and may be behind what some religious scripture says is sinful or even “evil”, undermining a future common good.  In the most extreme cases, a maladjusted and socially evasive person could become politically powerful, with horrific outcomes (like from Adolf Hitler)  — and even now, it is amazing that this could even have happened the way it did. When someone who seems to disdain intimacy from others because of their supposed lacking becomes known (either within a closed knit community or “on the outside” through self-broadcast media) the insularity and aloffness can come across as hostility.

There’s an inherent disconnect in all this, maybe like a Mobius strip that has to be cut – it’s more than simple circularity.  My capacity to get “pleasure” from connection with another man (the psychiatrists wrote about it) depended on my belief that he “measured up” in some scale of virtue, which wasn’t ready to recognize flexibility of “space-time”.  (I guess dark matter or dark energy costs too much.)  Someone was worthy only in a Nietzchean view.  So I sought freedom to “be myself” (whether immutable or not), but that self could only be experienced in the presence of fundamentalist ideas about virtue.  If that had been expected of me (it really hadn’t, but I imagined it had), shouldn’t it be of others?  But had we just fought a world war over this?  This sounded like “survival of the fittest” again. Or maybe just plain Calvinism.

At this point, it may be helpful to ponder the living arrangements in our Drogheda in Arlington VA.  We moved into “The House” in early October 1949.  Aunt Hazel on my father’s side came from Iowa to help us do this.  I even remember a walkthrough of the bedroom scaffolding when it was being built (by our next-door neighbor).  My bedroom, on the SW side of the house, was separated from my parents’ by a short hallway for the main bath.  The beds themselves were separated by about 40 feet.  Most of the time my bedroom door was open, partly because I had an air conditioning unit in the room to cool the west side of the house in summer.  I never really thought about my parents’ relations for all those years, which would have been twelve years before I went away to college.  I suppose they closed the door, but I don’t really recall.  I think mother slept on the side nearest me (south), but I’m not positive.  My father, years later, would tell me, I think, that they had relations maybe about three times a week.  My father would pass away at the beginning of 1986, so they had 36 years in that bedroom (and ten years in Buckingham apartments before then, including my conception, which was said to be planned).  My parents had experienced a continuity of very personal and performable intimacy – “in sickness and in health” – surviving time with aging, that I would never know, as I would stay on the high mountain perch of fantasy, looking down on ground that I didn’t realize was no longer frozen. Yet, I think, at least from my father’s point of view, his commitment to such intimacy was predicated on righteousness and on the idea that everyone else should live the same way.

My father never did tell me definitively whether he had ever engaged in premarital sexual intercourse.  My guess, since he married at age 37, is that he probably had, but sparingly.  Families then just didn’t talk about this.  My father has looked at heterosexual attraction as driven by “automaticity”, that is “one day blue eyes will confuse you.”  (Racist?)  Just like the William and Mary roommate said, after showing clandestine pictures of naked women, “You should be hard as a brick.”  My non-reaction or apathy alone was disturbing enough.

Of course, here we get to immutability. But the context is that of duty and expectations.  My father probably would have thought that he had sacrificed some freedom to have 45 years of monogamous marriage (and I’m pretty sure he didn’t cheat after marriage).  I was the only child.  My mother had a hysterectomy in the 1950s, but my parents said they had briefly considered adopting a younger sister when I was nine, but then never mentioned the idea again.  So I guess I was supposed to “get” the idea that carrying on the family into the infinite future was on my shoulders.  But I never thought about it, not even when prodded at NIH.  By then, my life was to be my own.

As long as I lived in a separate world as an adult, things were OK.  I did my job, I was left alone.   (In a separate world, like New York City below 14th Street in the 1970;’s, i could explore interpersonal creativity and “polarity“.) Things would change in the 1990s with the Internet.  I would become more public.  I could be effective on the world without being quite in it.  I could be on the other side of the fence, but it if was found to have become Mobius, I would eventually become connected, or (as Clive Barker would write) reconciled.  For indeed I could prove the case for relativity, that merely watching something at a hand’s length, I could affect it.

After 9/11, I would return “home” to Drogheda, as a kind of prodigal son, to look after Mother, who wouldn’t need me at first but would in a few years.  Furthermore, I would find that, once I was public on the web, I was constantly being challenged to prove that I really could take care of other people, let them depend on me.  This got particularly challenging, also, in the substitute teaching area.  Suddenly, relational capacities were expected from me when they are normally acquired by the process of raising children in a permanent, active marriage.  Or is this a chicken and egg problem?

Back up a moment.  I was not very good at doing guy-related things as a youngster, but I was taught that doing so was a moral imperative. So I came to resist the idea that letting anyone with a “weakness” depend on me to complement that “weakness” in an emotional bond could mean anything.  Therefore, I could not feel any passion where people usually feel it.  I turned it upside down, inverted it.  I could make my own life, but  as long as a “stood alone” and eschewed  relationships built on complementarity (more than just “polarity”), I could find myself “watching my back” because others could feel one way or another I had cheated them.  After all, “they” have their own particular challenges and sacrifices, so I should have mine.  Oh, I know., there is no “they”.

There seems to be a troposphere above homophobia with regards to gay men, to the extent that homosexuality used to be associated with “sissy” behavior and a perception of physical laziness or malingering.  These ideas are understandable in tribal or closed knit communities with lower standards of living, authoritarian government, and real enemies to compete for the resources for the group.  In that environment, anyone who does not carry his weight because of mild “disability” could undermine the survival of the group.  So anti-gay culture was a way to force all men to “perform” in sharing the risks and burdens (military style) of defending the group.  This line of thinking comported more with the “unit cohesion” idea in the “gays in the military” debate in the 1990s, and maps to society as a whole.  Once the public began to realize that the “sissy syndrome” (like in that notorious book “Growing Up Straight” by Wyden)  was the metaphorical “tip of the iceberg”, and that most gay men performed “normally” physically, people tended to retreat to a “don’t ask don’t tell” idea, and become concerned with the “distraction” and “scoping” issues when most “real men” still had to raise families, sometimes even when they didn’t have their own kids.

There is an opposite concept that has emerged from anti-gay legislation in Nigeria and Uganda, that homosexuality involves an “ick” factor that has become “disgusting” to the public in less affluent countries, as western countries gradually offer recognition to gay relations.  I can remember the feeling of intense attraction or arousal (as explained in the NIH posting Jan. 14, without any idea of where this could go physically;  in the early 1960s, the notion of “what homosexuals do” was a topic of great informal ridicule.

I had become the ultimate meta-journalist, the space master and observer, the frame of reference for other people’s real lives.  I could not give up my role, even though it depended on a very permissive idea of free speech and especially distribution or broadcast of speech, which other people would necessarily abuse, at great peril to parents with “real” responsibilities.  (This would have economic – the discretionary income problem – and emotional – where the real risk-taking happens – ramifications.)  As long as I had depended on individualized sacrifices of others,  I could be challenged to dismount my high horse, and confine my sense of value to immediate family and community.     But I was already still bound to staying in one neighborhood, on one side of my “Mobius” space.  I dared not make the complete journey.   I would have to face why sending the elevator down and lifting someone up would not be a worthy objective, even if it was coerced out of me.  I needed to finish my “work” first.  I wanted everyone to understand the big picture before agreeing to anything like that.

DADT footnote key “DADT3-C2-0003-20140210-44-80”