Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thoughts out of season

On April 6, 2009 a devastating earthquake struck the region of L’Aquila in the Abruzzo in central Italy. A subsequent reckoning indicates that some 110,000 buildings were damaged. Many of these were medieval and other historic structures, but modern buildings--including hospitals and university facilities--suffered as well.

What is the reason for this disaster? The short answer is that this is a part of the Italian peninsula that is prone to earthquakes.

I am surprised that we have not heard of another ascription of a type that was once common. In the sixth century the emperor Justinian asserted that toleration of sodomy provoked God’s wrath in the form of earthquakes. It is well known that, despite strictures from the Vatican, Italy has become more tolerant of homosexual behavior. L’Aquila is the place of burial of the German scholar K. H. Ulrichs, the father of all subsequent gay rights struggles. Italian gay-rights activists organize an annual pilgrimage to his grave.

Fantastic, one may say. Indeed. However, the idea that toleration of homosexual behavior leads to natural disasters is not yet extinct. Only a few years ago, several evangelical homophobes claimed that hurricanes were devastating Florida because Disneyworld had permitted a gay night.

Since this is the Christmas season, perhaps it is the place to recall another lugubrious medieval legend. This is the notion that on the first Christmas eve all the sodomites had to die, because Christ would not agree to incarnate in a world that was thus polluted. This notion is found in the “Golden Legend” of Jacobus of Voragine, about 1290. It is surely earlier.

Surely these old beliefs, so vicious in their intent, have long since disappeared. So one might observe. Yet as the example of Disneyworld suggests, they have not. I would not be surprised if these aspersions were to resurface again in the climate that surrounds the homophobic legislation of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi--a trend that seems to be spreading.

It is Third World countries of this type of course that are most voracious in their demands for lavish aid from the developed world--as seen most recently at Copenhagen. Such aid should be withheld as long as they are committed to their campaigns of homophobic persecution.


Monday, December 21, 2009

The left and the homophile movement

The intersections of socialism, Marxism, and the left in general, on the one hand, and the various movements for homosexual emancipation, on the other, have been complex. Sometimes these political tendencies have played a positive role as catalysts. In other instances, as in Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China, they have been repressive. A number of instances of this intersection are discussed in Gert Hekma, Harry Oosterhuis, and James Steakley, eds., Gay Men and the Sexual History of the Political Left (New York: Haworth, 1995). Despite this valuable collection of material, there has not been, as far as I know, any adequate synthesis of the whole question. Perhaps this lack reflects parti pris on the two sides--those who are sympathetic with the left and those who are not. It is hard to say.

In what follows I restrict myself to the American homophile movement that effectively began in 1948-50. (The early Chicago effort of 1924-25 was suppressed, and played no further direct role.) The pivotal figure in launching this movement, whose ultimate successes are undeniable, was Harry Hay of Los Angeles, a long-time activist in the Communist Party USA (CPUSA).

In 1948 Hay initiated a prefiguration called Bachelors for Wallace. Although it was widely denied at the time, Henry Wallace’s presidential campaign in that year was dominated by his CP advisers. Hay gave an account of his political background to the historian Jonathan Ned Katz; it can now be found at In short order, the Party forced Hay to resign, maintaining that his gay activism was incompatible with Party membership. Unlike others however, Hay never renounced his views. Even after the evidence became overwhelming that it was North Korea that had invaded South Korea, Hay clung to the myth that the opposite had occurred. Late in life, he and his partner John Burnside made a final political pilgrimage to the USSR, shortly before its dissolution.

It was the historian John D’Emilio who first sought to offer a “unified-field” theory of left involvement (specifically CP) in the origins of the American homophile movement. This he did in a series of periodical articles at the beginning of the 1980s. D’Emilio then reworked his findings in his Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983). In this book D’Emilio showed that not only Hay, but also some of his closest associates in starting Mattachine, including Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, and Dale Jenning, had CP backgrounds.

These experiences proved useful in organizational matters, and in fostering the idea that homosexuals constituted a minority, analogous to African Americans (a cause championed at that time by the American Communist Party). In fact, Mattachine’s structure combined CP and Masonic influences. For prudential reasons, secrecy, hierarchical structures, and "democratic centralism" were the order of the day. Following the example of Freemasonry, the founders created a pyramid of five "orders" of membership, with increasing levels of responsibility as one ascended the structure, and with each order having one or two representatives from a higher order of the organization. As the membership of the Mattachine Society grew, the orders were expected to subdivide into separate cells so that each layer of the pyramid could expand horizontally. Thus members of the same order but different cells would remain unknown to one another. A single fifth order consisting of the founders would provide the centralized leadership whose decisions would radiate downward through the lower orders.

Not all the early founders had Marxist leanings. We now know that Hay was strongly influenced by his partner, the fashion designer Rudi Gernreich. Gernreich, who had escaped the Holocaust in Austria, remained wary of specific political commitments. Another founder, W. Dorr Legg (William Lambert), was a Republican (though not I think a “conservative” Republican, as has been recently stated). Legg, who had his own organization, the Knights of the Clock, had moved to Los Angeles because he could live more freely there with his African American partner Merton Bird. No doubt Legg was influenced by the recollection, still vivid in those days, that the party of Lincoln had freed the slaves. Later, Dorr became a stalwart of the Log Cabin Republicans.

It is important to remember that Katz and D’Emilio formed their ideas in the context of the 1970s upsurge of Marxist and leftist ideas in the wake of opposition to the Vietnam War. In my judgment, this commitment on the part of the two historians has led to some distortions, procured in the service of a kind of entitlement myth. If only, we are led to believe, it had not been for the machinations of McCarthyism and rabid anti-Communism in general, the homophile movement would have developed "organically," with an unwavering progressive bent.

As Warren Johansson remarked in his article in the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, “The political background of Hay and the other founders, while it gave them the skills needed to build a movement in the midst of an intensely hostile society, also compromised them in the eyes of other Americans.” An attack on the Mattachine Society by a Los Angeles newspaper columnist named Paul Coates in March 1953 sought to link “sexual deviates" with "security risks" who were banding together to wield "tremendous political power." (If only that had been the case.)

“To quiet the furor, [Johansson continues] the fifth order called a two-day convention in Los Angeles in April 1953 in order to restructure the Mattachine Society as an above-ground organization. The founders pleaded with the Mattachine members to defend everyone's First Amendment rights, regardless of political affiliations, since they might easily find themselves under questioning by the dreaded House Un-American Activities Committee. Kenneth Burns, Marilyn Rieger, and Hal Call formed an alliance against the leftist leadership that was successful at a second session held in May to complete work on the society's constitution. The results of the meeting were paradoxical in that the views of the founders prevailed on every issue, yet the anti-Communist mood of the country had so peaked that the fifth-order members agreed among themselves not to seek office in the newly structured organization, and their opponents were elected instead.”

The new leadership rejected the notion of a "homosexual minority." They took the opposite view, holding that "the sex variant is no different from anyone else except in the object of his sexual expression." They were wary of the ideas of a homosexual culture and a homosexual ethic. Viewed in retrospect, their program was “assimilationist.” Instead of militant, collective action, they preferred collaboration with the professionals - "established and recognized scientists, clinics, research organizations and institutions" - the sources of authority in American society. The discussion groups were downplayed. In effect the homosexual cause was to be defended by proxy, since an organization of "upstart gays . . . would have been shattered and ridiculed."

The Mattachine Society, it seems, had been hijacked by the reactionaries. Such, at any rate, has been the view promoted by Katz and D’Emilio (who were close friends), and endorsed by others, including (to some degree) the very learned Warren Johansson.

In reality, the tenor of the 1953 meeting was more complex and nuanced than this account would suggest. It was not a simple conflict between the forces of light (the leftists) and the forces of darkness (the reactionary “assimilationists"). This more nuanced approach has been set forth in an important article by Martin Meeker, “Behind the Mask of Respectability: Reconsidering the Mattachine Society and Male Homophile Practice, 1950s and 1960s,” Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 10, No. 1 (January, 2001), pp. 78-116.

It is unlikely that the left-leaning ideas of the founders could have prevailed in the long-run. That is shown, e.g., by the more mainstream approach of the San Francisco branch of Mattachine, led by Hal Call. [See the monograph of James T. Sears, Behind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation (New York: Haworth Press, 2006)]. And of course the notion of operating in secret was overthrown, in a very salutary way in the years following Stonewall (1969) by the new insistence on transparency: "out and proud."

In the meantime there was a movement to build. The later progress of the Los Angeles groups as they struggled to meet the daily challenges of keeping afloat, has been ably limned by C. Todd White, Pre-Gay LA (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009).

What are we to conclude from this history? The short answer is that, at certain points, the left played an important catalytic role. However, the left--and socialism--has never really taken root in the United States. In order to survive and flourish, the homophile movement had to outgrow its origins--to become broader, more supple, and more inclusive.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Typology of long-term sexual relationships

Over the years there have been a number of attempts at a typology of human sexual behavior. Some account of them emerges from the appendix, an article that I wrote some twenty years ago with Stephen Donaldson for the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality.

In rhe remarks that follow I set forth a particular typology, one which governs long-term sexual arrangements between and among human beings. This typology (perhaps suprisingly) encompasses the whole range of human sexual arrangements in a mere thirteen categories. I have been thinking of such distinctions and linkages for some time. I believe that the result is valid cross-culturally and transhistorically, world-wide.

Here goes:


1) Age-differentiated. Historically, this category, involving a relationship between an older man and a youth, has been termed pederasty. Although it is now widely disparaged, pederasty was the dominant form of male-male relationships in ancient Greece, medieval Islam, and pre-Meiji Japan.

2) Gender-differentiated. In this caregory one of the two male partners assumes some features of dress, deportment, and work role associated with women. This pattern has deep roots in Paleo-Siberian an Amerindian cultures. Today it is common in Thailand, Indonesia, and many parts of Latin America. It enjoys some currency in modern Western societies under the rubric of “transgender.”

3) Egalitarian. Historically, this type (involving two partners who are relatively equal in age or status) is less common than the other two. However, it characterizes. the earliest known examples of same sex pairs, which are from the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt: the pair bonds of the two hairdressers known as the “two brothers” and Pepy II and his general Sasinet. The type is now the dominant form of same-sex pairing in advanced industrial societies.


4) Asymmetrical. In its classic form, the older woman is a preceptor, conveying her wisdom to the younger partner, whom she guides and protects. The emblematic instance is the Greek poet Sappho, with her retinue of younger women. A different form of asymmetry is found in the modern butch-fem subtype.

5) Egalitarian. This type, similar to that found among gay men, is common in modern industrial societies


6-10) The forms of bisexuality show a similar range, mutatis mutandis, to the gay-male and lesbian types shown above.


11) Patriarchal-polygamous. In this type, dominant males, usually of the upper strata of the class hierarchy, have several wives. Familiar to us from Abraham and other patriarchs of the Hebrew bible, this type is very common in tribal and other traditional societies. Closer to home, is also characteristic of some versions of Mormonism.

12) Patriarchal-monogamous. In this type, there is one man and one woman, with the man dominant. It is characteristic of ancient Rome, as well as the European medeval and early modern eras.

13) Egalitarian. This type begins is ascent with the “companionate marriages” of eighteenth cenrury Europe. It is now dominant among the educated in advanced industrial societies.

As I have noted this enumeration is surprisingly comprehensive. There may be a few hybrid variants, the result of special circumstances. For example, some prisons show a kind of “lesbian family,” in which a single older authority figure presides over a group of less experienced female prisoners--a lesbian version of polygamy, in other words.

Clearly there is some influence from socioeconomic factors. For example, in all the orientations egalitarianism rises to the fore as societies become wealthier and better educated.

That being said, it is surprising that the enumeration is so parsimonious--only thirteen basic templates for stable sexual relationships. Contrast this finding with the fact that there are now some 6000 languages, and there were once countless numbers of others that have perished. It is as if one went into one bookshop and found thousands of books to chose from, while another bookshop carried only thirteen titles. (I believe that there are actually Scientology bookshops of the latter type.)

Why is there such a lavish profusion of variation among languages and so little when it comes to sexual relationships? The answer seems to be along these lines. Setting aside certain linguistic fundamentals discerned by Chomsky and others, when it comes to languages CULTURE RULES, not nature. By contrast, what one might term a kind of dreary monotony prevails regarding sexual relationships. Here NATURE RULES.

This finding suggests that the current notion of an almost infinite variation in sexual (“gender”) relationships is misleading--in fact highly so. The fashion is buttressed by continuing recital of some version of the following comparison--nature:sex::culture:gender.

At one time I subscribed to this simplistic formula. Further reflection, though, has led me to conclude that it must be abandoned. Contrary to the views of relativists, it is nature, not culture, that rules in sexual arrangements.

APPENDIX (an article from the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, 1990).


A valuable conceptual tool in seeking to understand a wide-ranging phenomenon or related group of phenomena which show both commonality and diversity, typology is the arrangement or classification of the elements under study so as to highlight both points of similarity and points of difference. Typology traces its roots back to the biologist's taxonomy, or classification of species, a practice which stems ultimately from Aristotle and his school.
In 1922 the great sociologist Max Weber applied the notion of "ideal types" to social behavior. These types were characterized as hypothetical constructs made up of the salient features or elements of a social phenomenon, or generalized concept, in order to facilitate comparison and classification of what is found in operation. Psychology, linguistics, anthropology, the history of science, comparative religion, and other disciplines have since made considerable use of such tools, often called "models" or "paradigms."
Once a typology has been constructed, it becomes an aid in the interpre­tation of a variety of concrete phenomena, but it can be misused to distort reality, as the features selected to compose them may acquire a distorted importance or concreteness, leading to the neglect of other factors. Hence typologies must be continually subjected to reexamination as new data become available, and revised as the understanding of the phenomena becomes more sophisticated.
Typologies are most helpful in preventing the ascription of traits in one subgroup of the phenomena under study to other subgroups where they may not belong, and in underlining points of commonality which may disclose historical influences or causal factors that otherwise might not have suggested themselves to the investigator.
In natural science, the term "paradigm" has been used since Thomas S. Kuhn's widely read book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) to designate the prevailing system of understanding phenomena which guides scientific theorization and experimentation, and which is held to be the most useful way of explaining the universe, or a part of it, until that paradigm is eventually overthrown by new data and replaced by a newer paradigm. As Kuhn has pointed out, paradigms may function without the con­scious adhesion of those who employ them, and in the broadest sense they often form part of the unvoiced inner structure of human existence.

Popular Paradigms and Homosexuality. A somewhat different use of typologies may refer to the models or conceptual schemes held up to groups of people or the public at large in order to assimilate difficult or strange phenomena. When these models substantially guide the concepts and behaviors of the people most involved with them, they take on a normative reality which goes far beyond the theoretical utility of the academic model. Thus, it is one thing for the anthropologist to ascribe monogamous marriage to tribe A and polygamous marriage to tribe B; it is another if the only model of marriage known to the members of tribe B is the polygamous one, so that they react in horror to any suggestion of monogamy.
In the field of homosexuality, such popularly adopted typologies or paradigms have become extraordinarily powerful, though seldom of universal application. One of the great issues remaining in the study of homosexuality is how such popular paradigms are adopted by a culture and how they are lost or overthrown. A puzzling historical example is the paradigm shift in England and other industrializing Western countries which occurred from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, such that male homosexual relations came to be seen as usually involving two adults rather than an adult and a boy. A current example is the emergence in countries like Japan and Thailand and in much of Latin America of a new paradigm (mutual androphilia or relationships between two adults, both male-identified) to compete with traditional paradigms such as pederasty and the model of "normal" males pairing with effeminate surrogate females.

Earlier Attempts to Create Scientific Paradigms of Homosexual Behavior and Relationships. In classical antiquity a major division was drawn emphasizing an active-passive contrast in sexual behavior, with the active (penetrating) partners considered "manly" and the passive (penetrated) role reserved for boys, slaves, foreigners, those vanquished in battle, and so forth. Beyond this simple dichotomy, little thought was given to typology.
Those, like K. H. Ulrichs and K. M. Kertbeny, who initiated serious comparative scholarship on homosexuality in the nineteenth century tended to view all homosexual behavior in essentially monolithic terms. They were largely unaware of the degree to which same-sex activity in other times and climes differed from that with which they were familiar. This tendency to assimilate all homosexual conduct to a single model has survived into the present day in what is sometimes called "naive essentialism," evident in the tendency to speak of ancient personalities such as Plato and Alexander the Great, or even mythical figures such as Hylas and Ganymede, as "gay," thus (in this instance] obscuring the difference between ancient pederasty and modern mutual androphilia.
An advance occurred with the more detailed research published by many scholars in the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen (1899-1923) under the editorship of Magnus Hirscbield. In his own comprehensive work Die Homosexualitat des Mannes und des Weibes (1914), Hirschfeld outlined a typology based on the age of the love object of the homosexual subject: pedophiles, who are attracted to pre-pubic children; ephebophiles, whose love object is from 14 to 21 (in current usage, from 17 to 21); androphiles, who prefer those from maturity to the begin­ning of old age; and gerontophiles, who like older people. Equivalent terms for lesbian relationships given by Hirschfeld were korophile, parthenophile, gynecophile, and graophile.
In addition to these schemes, which reflect object choice, Hirschfeld drew up a typology of homosexual acts which distinguished four major catego­ries: manual, oral, intracrural, and anal.
Hirschfeld's older contemporary Richard von Krafft-Ebing advanced a typo­logy based on the time of life of homosexual activity, thereby emphasizing adolescent experimentation, "temporary" (situational) homosexuality, and late-blooming homosexuality-- this latter concept relates to the notion of "latent homosexuality."
In 1913 Hans Blüher, who was influenced by Sigmund Freud, distinguished three basic types: the "heroic-male" form, characterized by individuals who are markedly masculine and not outwardly distinguishable from heterosexuals (and may in fact be bisexual); the type of the effeminate invert; and latent inversion, in which the longing for one's own sex is unconscious, rising to the surface only on particular occasions or not at all.
In the 1940s, Alfred Kinsey and his associates developed a sevenfold scale of sexual orientation, but this was not a true typology since there were no clear criteria dividing, say, those in group II from those in group III. In fact, Kinsey viewed this fluidity as an advantage since he opposed what he regarded as overrigid classifications.

Toward a Contemporary Typology. None of these writers sought to develop a more global typology which might encompass the full range of cultures and time periods, in part because they had no access to or were not inclined to deal with ethnological and other data regarding societies apart from their own. As gay studies began to expand horizons, however, the need for more comprehensive typologies which included a wider range of popular paradigms became evident.
One of the major flaws of earlier typologies was their tendency to concen­trate on a single linear axis, producing two-dimensional structures. Inevitably, these schemes left out major lines of differentiation and similarity. More sophisticated new typologies might be drawn on three or even more axes, making them difficult to state simply in words (though sometimes more easily in diagrams), but probably more realistic. One must, of course, stop somewhere, or one ends up with the 687,375 types posited by the Dutch writer L.S. A.M. von Römer in 1904. (Most of these are theoretical, von Römer admitted, with only a tenth of them really viable. But even restricting oneself to male homosexuality as such, one would have more than 11,000 types.)
For their part, anthropologists have ascertained, during the first half of the twentieth century, that there are some 3,000 living cultures. The rapid progress of acculturation will probably prevent anthropologists from learning the native organization of homosexuality in the majority of them. Records of the past, however, permit one to add data from many cultures that are now dead, but are sufficiently known for their systems of sexual organization to be catalogued. If there truly were 11,000 same-sex types available for distribution, each culture could have one of its very own - a conclusion no doubt pleasing to the social constructionists, who believe that cultural differentiation inevitably produces differentiation of the forms of homosexual behavior. John J. Winkler has claimed that "almost any imaginable configuration of pleasure can be institutionalized as conventional and perceived by its participants as natural." Empirical research has not borne out this universal-polymorphous hypothesis, for there are only a handful of basic types. The conclusion is inescapable: since cultures are legion but sexual arrangements are few, there can be no one-to-one correlation of culture and sexual-orientation typing.
As Stephen O. Murray notes, "There is diversity, intraculturally as well as cross-culturally, but there is not unlimited variation in social organization and categorization of sexuality. Despite pervasive intracultural variability which is highlighted by [the] anthropological tradition of seeking exotic variance, relatively few of the imaginable mappings of cognitive space are recurrently used by diverse cultures." [Social Theory, Homosexual Reahties, New York, 1984, p. 45).
Why such a limited repertory of types? Although progress in this realm is probably linked to the still-unsolved riddle of the biological and constitutional underpinnings of homosexual behavior, some conclusions may be offered.

A Triaxial Typology. Keeping in mind the wealth of data now available, and the necessity for clear and simple principles governing the definition of ideal types or paradigms, can one construct a useful typology of transcultural and transhistorical homosexual relationships?
Yes, but only along multiple axes. One of these needs to acknowledge that there is more than one gender, and moreover that homosexuality does not always exist in strict isolation from heterosexuality. At one end of the "gender axis" both partners are exclusively male homosexual. Moving toward the middle, at least one of the males also relates heterosexually, then both also relate heterosexually. At the other end of the gender axis one finds two exclusively homosexual/lesbian females, with intervening positions for one or both of the females also to relate heterosexually. In the middle, so to speak, one could place an exclusively heterosexual relationship, but with that position one is no longer concerned. 
A second dimension, the "role axis," can account for the major division between relationships which are role-oriented (generally along active-passive, penetrator-penetratee lines of sexual activity) and those which are significantly sexually reciprocal (with the partners exchanging sexual roles frequently if not customarily). The role axis would have gender-differentiated relationships at one end, followed by age-graded relationships; at the other (reciprocal) end is mutual androphilia. In between but still on the role-oriented side are to be found most forms of situational homosexuality; near the middle and tending to straddle the line are adolescent sexual experimentation (which can be mutual or one-sided) and ephebophilia (which shows many role characteristics but can be sexually reciprocal).
A third dimension, the "time axis," needs to be added to show the major division between those homosexual relationships which are necessarily temporary, or time-limited, and those which have at least the potential for relative permanence. On this axis one finds gender-differentiated and androphile relationships at the "permanent" end; situational and adolescent experimentation at the "temporary" end (some might add one-night stands and anonymous encounters here), with ephebophilia and age-differen­tiated relationships also on the "temporary" side.

[graph omitted]

Features of the Types Noted. Some basic features of these paradigms merit notice, bearing in mind that variations of a relatively minor nature can easily be found.
In the age-differentiated type, as seen in ancient Greek and in Islamic pederasty, Spartan korophilia, pedophilia, Japanese Samurai, the apprentices of the Middle Ages, and perhaps the initiatory homosexuality of tribal Melanesia, the older partner has something, namely adulthood and the knowledge that goes with it, that the younger is seeking to acquire. Accordingly, there is a sense of passage of power from the one to the other, aptly symbolized by the fact that the older is the penetrator and the younger the re­ceiver. This state of inferiority that the protege finds himself in is, however, only temporary, since he will pass to adulthood and penetrator status. The modern term "irttergenerational sex" is misleading, since in many societies only a difference of a half or a third of a generation is typically found. The adult in this relationship may often relate to opposite-sex adults or children as well.
The gender-differentiated type is seen among the berdache of the North American Indians, the shamans of Siberia, the mahu of the South Pacific, the butch-fem lesbian pair, the Indian hijra, the homosexual transvestite, the Thai katoey, the kadesh sacred prostitutes, the argr of medieval Scandinavia, and the "straight trade" who goes with "queens," and can be found in many Mediterranean-derived cultures today. In these cultures the pene­trated partner in male relationships relin­quishes his male identity and the prerogatives of manhood for various compensations, which range from relative freedom of dress and manners to the magical pow­ers of shamans. It is not necessary that the passive partner be reclassified as a full woman, though this sometimes occurs; he may be termed "not man" or some ap­proximation to "third sex." What is important is that he is not considered to be of the same gender as his partner. Berdachehood means lifelong commitment to the role; it is not a career stage, as occurs in the age-differentiated type. The other, penetrating partner is in the gender-differentiated model considered to be a normal or typical male who might as easily bond with a female. Female counterparts found in the Amazon type relinquish feminine identity and sometimes become warriors, perhaps marrying a "true" female. The "masculine" partner in a male relationship or "fern" partner in a lesbian one will usually relate to the opposite sex also, though the "changed gender" partner does not, leaving two spaces open on the gender axis.
In both of the above models, the gender- and age-differentiated, two distinct roles are assumed, with virtually no overlap or reciprocity; the two partners are also viewed as distinctly unequal, if complementarity so.
Mutual androphilia, the third major type, is relatively recent, found as a widespread model only in the industrialized societies of Western Europe and North America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (though it was probably a marginal practice in many earlier complex societies). In mutual androphilia both partners are adults and neither relinquishes his manhood or her womanhood. Sexual reciprocation and sexual role reversal are generally honored if not universally practiced, and in theory the partners are equal. However, the relationship is only relatively egalitarian, since other differentials, such as those of race or class, may play a part.
Adolescent sexual experimentation usually does not lead to an adult homosexual relationship. It may be either reciprocal, especially in the form of mutual masturbation, or it may be role-oriented, depending on the power relationship pre­existing between the youths concerned; generally the horny adolescent male seems to prefer to maintain a dominant role but may accept reciprocation if he is unable to persuade or coerce his partner into a submissive role. The teenage girl, however, seems more willing to recipro­cate in experimental play.
Ephebophilia shows characteristics that relate it in some respects to age-differentiated relationships, such as age difference itself, social role differences, and transfer of knowledge, while in other respects it reveals marked contrasts. The ephebe concerned, rather than being penetrated, may take the "male" role as "trade," considering his older partner to be "less than male," or there may be reciprocity as in androphilia.
Perhaps the most amorphous type in this schema is situational, a category which frequently shows some overlap with the gender-differentiated because the heterosexually identified participants apply the heterosexual paradigm known to them to the previously unfamiliar homosexual experience. In situations such as prison life, this is particularly marked. Because situational homosexuality usually takes place where access to the opposite sex is denied (on shipboard, in army camps and barracks, harems, and boarding schools), there may be no actualized relationship to the opposite sex, though heterosexual feelings are often expressed. Male slaves and prisoners of war as well as victims of rape and those subjected to sexual forms of enforcing dominance find the role orientation to be emphasized; these victims commonly relate to the opposite sex as much as their penetrators. Still other instances of situational homosexuality involve initiations and rituals, usually emphasizing both role and transience.
Male prostitution should not be seen as a unitary phenomenon, but it is occasionally situational (in which cases it is usually role-oriented and highly transient), and in the case of transvestites is clearly gender-differentiated. Most commonly it seems to follow the ephebophilic model.

Conclusion. The triaxial schema presented above seeks to accommodate the current state of knowledge, but doubtless it will be subject to criticism - no typology being able to account for the great diversity of human sexuality -- and, as knowledge deepens, will eventually be revised. Nevertheless, it should be helpful in making clear not only the diversity of paradigms encountered in any comprehensive study of homosexuality, but also the limited number of lines or axes of difference which serve as the main features delimiting one model from another.

Stephen Donaldson and Wayne R. Dynes (1990)


Friday, December 18, 2009

Addressing the sex/gender conundrum

The unspoken premise that lurks behind many of the arguments advanced by transgender advocates is that statistically there is a significant, possibly vast realm that lies between the polarities of male and female.

According to the postmodernist thinking associated with Jacques Derrida and others, “binaries” are bad per se. End of argument--unless you reject Derrida, as an increasing number of observers, including some former acolytes, are beginning to do.

Still, there is also a common-sense objection to any overrigid and categorical contrast between the sexes. That is the fact there are plenty of confident heterosexual males and females who have some characteristics and preferences that seem to transgress the accepted binary norms. One of my friends, for example, is a man who is as butch and het as anyone could expect, but who likes to bring the tapestry that he is currently working on to social gatherings. He says that the patient effort of threading calms him. Historically, of course, both men and women have served as textile workers, so that my friend is simply reviving a venerable tradition that had fallen into disuse.

In the professions, we have seen women “invade"--in a most salutary fashion--professions formerly thought to be the preserve of men. This is true of aviation, medicine, the law, and politics, to name just four major walks of life.

Confronted with such an array of “exceptional” behavior, it seems to me that the best solution is enlarge the categories, which have tended to be artificially constrained. Accepted notions of “what is appropriate” for men and women have been narrow, unduly so. By enlarging the boundaries, we help human beings to be truer to themselves, while retaining the biologically-based contrast between male and female

Uh, oh. “Biologically-based,” that sounds scary! Don’t we all know about the fundamental distinction between sex and gender? There may be (mostly) only two sexes, but there is an almost limitless repertoire of genders. So at least, we are told. I confess that I have come to question the cogency of the sex/gender distinction, which is of relatively recent origin. In fact, cross-cultural studies indicate that there are a limited number of role-sets that can be erected on the foundation of biological sex. Of course, Margaret Mead famously argued the opposite, but her standing does not seem very high now.

So I tend to use the terms “sex” and “gender” synonymously. This practice is not as much a heresy as it may seem at first sight. There is a growing tendency to disregard the dichotomy, and this neglect is not just the product of carelessles.

And after all, aren’t “binaries” simply bad? Well, some binaries are needed; others are not. The now-hallowed sex/gender contrast is one that we entitled to question. All too often, the contrast is simply parroted, as if assertion constituted proof.

I turn now to the larger context: sexual malleability. This line of thinking takes two forms 1) the notion of absolute fluidity; and 2) the idea of a populous realm of intersexual individuals of all sorts.

The first approach is associated with John Money, a sexologist connected with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Money held that at birth we all all psychosexually neutral: our subsequent sense of being male or female was entirely contingent on the intervention of the environment. This view is of course a version of the famous nature/nurture argument. For Money, those assigned the male label came to understand that they were expected to display certain masculine-gendered behavior. Social pressure forced them into that pattern; environment, and environment alone, made them "male." Nature had nothing to do with this process.

Notoriously, Money came a cropper with the David Reimer case. Reimer was a Canadian boy whose penis was zapped off in a botched circumcision operation. When the parents consulted Money, he decreed that the child must be raised as a girl. The parents complied, but the child rebelled. Somehow, despite all the appropriate socialization, and the accompanying hormone treatments (an exception to the pure-environmental argument) the “little girl” insisted that she was a boy. When Reimer became an adult he freed himself from the annual ritual of visiting Money’s clinic, and had himself fitted with a constructed penis. He began dating. Such, however, were the sufferings that he had undergone as a result of being a guinea pig for Money’s false theories, that he finally committed suicide.

As a result of this, and other grotesque applications of the theory of absolute malleability in the realm of sex/gender, the concept has come under a cloud, though some still support modified versions of it.

It is of course possible to compromise, recognizing both nature and nuture. I quote from the excellent blog of an Australian scientist, Zoe Brain ( “[S]exually-differentiated neurology exists at birth, and while no-one is born knowing they're male or female, the biasses, the hard-wired tendencies mean that as soon as they're exposed to other adults and children, it becomes obvious to them which group they belong to. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, depending upon how strongly they conform to either ‘typically male’ or ‘typically female’ stereotypes in their lymbic system (part of the brain).”

At all events, the hypothesis of absolute gender malleability is no longer viable.

A more common theory these days recognizes that there are male and female poles. However, the theory asserts that there is a large and varied terrain--the Zwischenstufen of the early German sexologists--of provinces that lie between. The attempts to “correct” the genitalia and behavior of theintermediate types dwelling in these territories have led to great unhappiness. The latter assertion is certainly true.

What then do these intermediate populations consist of? I quote Brain again. “There are over a hundred relatively common Intersex conditions, and almost as many definitions of the word "Intersex." The most useful one is "having a body neither stereotypically male nor stereotypically female." While 1 in 60 people are technically Intersexed, most are asymtomatic, and never know. About 1 in 1000 have symptoms so obvious they're readily apparent. And Mother Nature provides a wide variety of conditions - 1 in 500 people who look apparently male don't have the usual 46xy chromosomes, but 47xxy. Perhaps 1 in 100,000 people who look apparently female are also 47xxy. Then there are some men and women who are mosaics, a mix of 46xy/47xxy, or 46xy/46xx, or 47xxy/46xx, or 45x/46xy or.... you get the idea. There's people with non-genetic intersex conditions, such as persistent mullerian duct syndrome, who have partial male and partial female reproductive systems. There's Swyer syndrome females, who have the 46xy chromosomes usually only found in men, and Turner Syndrome females, Kennedy Syndrome males, De La Chapelle syndrome males etc etc.

“Those with 5ARD or 17BHDD syndromes look female(mostly, partly, or completely) at birth, but masculinise to look (mostly, partly, or completely) male later in life. The change varies a lot from a very masculine girl getting slightly more masculinised, to a complete "natural sex change". 17BHDD and 5ARD are each about 1 in 100,000 in the general population, so there's several thousand men in the USA who were born looking like little girls.”

Zoe Brain’s site (aebrain. cites a number of scientific papers. Consulting these and others like them will deepen one's knowledge. With all such findings, however, several interpretations are possible, and it is by no means inevitable that informed study must compel us to accept the views of the gender-bender advocates. Their views may be “scientific,” but so too are the conclusions of some who disagree with them. It will not do to adopt the ploy of some of these advocates, who simply seek to clobber anyone who disagrees with them. I at any rate will not be clobbered.

Let us take a condition that is fairly common among young females, who have a clitoris that is “too big.” Once upon a time, it was common to amputate these outsized clits, so as to “round out” as it were the femininity of the patient. In many cases, such operations are a tragic mistake. If they are to be performed at all, the surgery should be undertaken in adulthood, when the patient can give informed consent.

Moreover, and most importantly, the idea that so-and-so’s clitoris is too big is a subjective judgment. Nature evidently intended for the individual to have such an organ. Assuming that the person has a fully functioning set of female reproductive organs, the person is a woman, and there should be no question about it--surgery or no surgery.

The operative term is of course “functioning.” It is true that morphogenetically the penis and and clitoris have a common origin. Yet the clitoris lacks the crucial attributes of the completely formed male organ, namely a urethra running the length of the center of the shaft, and connected to a pair of testes.

As far as I know, medical science has never detected even one specimen of a true hermaphrodite, that is a person who has a fully functioning set of the organs of both sexes. Such a legendary creature (known to us only from the fantasies of classical literature and art) would be able to both impregnate and be impregnated.

Thus at the center of the supposedly vast spectrum of the intersexes lies a void. Everyone in this realm falls somewhat (or a good deal) to the left or right side of this mythical point.

At this point I turn to a case that has received a good deal of media attention: that of a man who has given birth twice. In June of this year Thomas Beatie, the so-called "pregnant man," gave birth to his second child, a healthy baby boy. We are told that it was a "natural childbirth.” Beatie's wife, Nancy, will be breastfeeding their son, as she did with their daughter, Susan Juliette, who was born the previous June. Last year photos of a bearded Beatie with a pregnant belly caused a sensation.

Born a woman named Tracy, Thomas Beatie, now 35, had sex-reassignment surgery, and legally changed his gender from female to male in Hawaii.

I am sorry to rain on this couple’s parade, but Beatie is not a man--I repeat, not a man. It seems that the surgery was limited to “doing the top,” that is, breast removal. Her (yes, HER) beard was the result of the administration of hormones.

As you can see, when appropriate I freely violate the taboo on labeling “transgender” individuals according to their own preference. The precept may seem harsh, but it must be pronounced: if it has feathers, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it IS a duck.

As I indicated above, the key element is function. There is much disagreement about which criteria are most relevant for determining sex. Not all women (including Beatie’s spouse) are able to give birth. Yet anyone who gives birth is, at least at that point, a woman. Some things are beyond dispute.

I turn now to the final point. Many transgender advocates revel in the set of intermediate categories calendared by Zoe Brain (see above), implying that such status is overwhelmingly typical of those who have adopted a transgender identity, regardless of whether this status is "confirmed" through the intervention of surgery.

Statistics are hard to come by in this contested realm. My own sense, however, is that many, perhaps even most are not somatically deviant, even within the expansive framwork of Brain's enumeration. This is obviously true of most drag queens, who it seems to possess a fully functional set of male genitalia. In fact, the notion that they rank as pre-ops is false; most have no intention of having surgery to “return them to their true sex.” Just as they are, they a r e their true sex; they simply choose to make their own choices regarding clothing and deportment. For this independence I salute them. I do not, however, regard myself as obliged to call them "she."

What then about those who elect the full course of transition, with the surgery, hormones, behavioral retraining and all? Here too I suspect that many (what proportion I do not know) begin with fully functioning sexual organs, the equipment characteristic of their respective genders of origin. In due course, they can ejaculate and menstruate, toutes proportons reservees. Thus their intersexuality starts out as a psychosexual, not somatic condition. Because of the nature of their "head trip," some have concluded that they must seek surgery to make a 180-degree turn. In this way, they achieve an intersexuality they were not born with.

This whole area is bedeviled by many confusions, Sadly, some of these seem deliberate. Not infrequently, in fact, the confusions that swirl about the subject are the product of self-serving and deliberate obfuscation.

I will go further. Some individuals who advocate and undergo these fundamental bodily alterations are probably disturbed. Why not? After all a good many people who are psychosexually orthodox ("cis-gendered") are disturbed as well. All things considered, disturbed individuals do not make good role models.

A hundred years ago, the great German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld explored the whole range of sexual variation. He was himself an androphile homosexual, and not a habitual cross-dresser as has recently been alleged. (He did coin the term "transvestite," now banned, in 1910). As a scientist, Hirschfeld fully understood the importance of making careful distinctions. Today, it seems, we have lost sight of the core of the German savant's teaching.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Some recent history, and its mythical transformation

I am a survivor, and my involvement in the gay movement goes back a long ways. In fact it started at a time when the current obligatory designation of "GLBTQ" could scarcely be imagined. We called ourselves homophiles in those days.

I was living in Los Angeles in the 1950s when Mattachine, the first significant homophile advocacy group was formed. I had other concerns in those days; getting through college and laying the foundations for my academic career. After having attended a few meetings, I finally joined the New York branch of Mattachine in 1968. Like many of my contemporaries I was energized by the events at the Stonewall Inn a year later. Not long after, I was became active in the gay committee of the American Library Assocation, and then became a founding member of the Gay Academic Union.

After I shifted from activism to gay scholarship, I realized that the history of the American gay movement needed to be written. I knew that the belief (still common to this day) that everything started with Stonewall in 1969 was mistaken. Accordingly, I journeyed to Los Angeles, where a number of the leaders of the original movement, which started in 1950, were still active. I was lucky enough to speak at length with such key figures as Harry Hay, Jim Kepner, Dorr Legg, and Don Slater. Over the years I have maintained a friendship with Billy Glover, a key figure in the early years who is still going strong in his late seventies in Louisiana. Billy is a kind of living record of those brave years.

I then gathered some biographical pieces on the early leaders, turning them over to the late Vern Bullough, who shaped them into an essay collection, entitled Before Stonewall (2002). This book is now the standard reference for the period.

I won’t rehearse any further my credentials in this area. I mention them because they are relevant to what I am now going to relate.

A strange new myth has arisen about the origins of the gay movement. This myth, fervently endorsed by some trans activists, holds that the gay and lesbian movement was, essentially and pivotally, the work of their group, the transgender people. The transgender folk were in the vanguard, gay men and lesbians followed meekly after. This bizarre claim in the opposite of the truth.

First of all, the term "transgender" is an anachronism, and as such revealing of the present-minded agenda of those who brandish it. To be sure, Christine Jorgensen had made headlines with her Danish surgery in 1953. Jorgensen, and the very few individuals who followed her example at the time, had little interest in gay matters, because they believed that they had truly become women. Jorgensen dated men and regarded herself as heterosexual. The same was true of Reed (formerly Rita) Erickson, a wealthy oil tycoon who helped fund several social-change organizations.

Let us then be honest. If we are to speak of a “transgender” contribution we must restrict ourselves to drag queens. They were the only transgender folks around in those days. None of them in fact made a major contribution to the movement.

It is true that Harry Hay sometimes donned a string of pearls, but that was as far as it went in those days. Among the lesbian stalwarts in Daughters of Bilitis, my friend Barbara Gittings was known occasionally to pull out her corncob pipe. Most of the time, though, Barbara wore a dress (gasp!). The demonstrations she and Frank Kameny organized annually in Philadelphia were known for their sartorial conservatism: dresses and skirts for women, and coats and ties for men.

The female impersonator Jose Sarria of San Francisco, who came along a little later, was the only exception in those early days. Quite a few years later Beth Elliott, a Bay Area male-to-female post-op, made a splash. Unfortunately and tragically, Beth was soon run out of the lesbian movement, for not being born a woman. Transsexuals remain controversial in the lesbian movement.

In reality, the “transgender” contribution was negligible in the early gay and lesbian movement. We started the French Revolution, so to speak, without these individuals. The claim of current trans activists rests, as far as I can see, on the slight foundation of two events, the Compton Cafeteria episode in San Francisco and the much more famous Stonwall Inn riots in New York City. (I will return to Compton's in a moment.)

As various accounts show, drag queens played a role in the Stonewall events--but only in the raucous aftermath OUTSIDE the bar. The actual patrons of the Stonewall Inn were for the most part gay men of middle-class origins (note Rivera's testimony below). For the real facts, see the definitive account in David Carter's 2004 monograph, Stonewall. Anyone who has not consulted this book does not know much about Stonewall. Some things just can't be "winged."

From the Greenwich Village event emerged a whole new cadre of leaders, who joined together to form the Gay Liberation Front. Not long after some of them seceded to create the Gay Activists Alliance. None of these leaders were in any way classifiable as transpeople.

There were, to be sure, two fringe individuals, the drag queens Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. While these two persons now enjoy iconic status among trans advocates, neither of them made a significant and lasting contribution to building the overall gay movement. They were pretty much doing their own thing. I knew both of them.

What then of the Compton Cafeteria event? One must step back a moment and realize that during the pre-Stonewall years confrontations with the police were routine. These stemmed from the vicious bar raids conducted by the men in blue. As a rule, one of two precipitating factors came into play: “cleanups” when an election was in the offing, and dissatisfaction on the part of the police that their payoffs (routine in those days) were insufficiently lucrative.

For the most part, the gay victims went quietly during these raids, resulting in a misdemeanor charge. These arrests could be career-ending, though. Doubtless this was one of the main reasons why the raids kept happening--to “keep the queers in line.”

In a few cases gays fought back. This was true, for example, of the Dewey’s restaurant raid in Philadelphia (1965), the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco (1966), the Black Cat raid in Los Angeles (1967), and the Donut shop event in Los Angeles (May 1969). Thus the Compton occurrence, now lauded to the skies by trans activists, was but one of a series. Compared to Stonewall, all these episodes were of merely local importance.

What happened at Compton’s Cafeteria so long ago? The riot occurred in August 1966 in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. On the first night of the disturbance, the cafeteria management summoned the police when some drag-queen customers became obstreperous. When a police officer attempted to arrest one of the cross-dressers, the individual threw her coffee in his face. At that point the riot began, dishes and furniture flew in the air, and the restaurant's plate-glass windows were smashed. Accounts of the event indicate that the rioting and subsequent picketing of the cafeteria were a joint effort of drag queens, hustlers, Tenderloin street people, and lesbians. This occurrence was by no means a “transgender exclusive,” as it is often portrayed nowadays.

On this slender foundation--a San Francisco episode of purely local importance and the flare up of drag queens at Stonewall--today’s trans activists have built a whole elaborate myth. We are asked to revere a gaggle of crazy queens as heroic pioneers who were responsible for the foundation and progress of the gay movement. As I have shown, this contention is simply nonsense.

FOOTNOTE. Here is what Sylvia Rivera herself told the historian Eric Marcus for his book, Making History: "The Stonewall wasn't a bar for drag queens. Everybody keeps saying it was. ... If you were a drag queen, you could get into the Stonewall if they knew you. And only a certain number of drag queens were allowed into the Stonewall at that time." In fact, the night when the Stonewall riots began was the first time Rivera had ever even been to the bar, and then she only appeared outside the premises.


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Permanent Government triumphs again

“One of the myths of the international community is that the United States likes war. And the reality is, other than the first two or three years of World War II, there has never been a popular war in America.” (Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, as reported in the New York Times, Dec.13).

Just so. Why then do we get all our wars? The career of Robert M. Gates, a retread from the Bush administration, offers an important clue. Whatever the people and the voters may want, what we get is what is decreed by the most powerful criminal class in human history: the Permanent Government ensconced in Washington, DC.

Here is a revealing anecdote. In 1964, so the story goes, a naive conservative announced his intention to vote for Barry Goldwater. A friend counseled: “Don’t do that. If you do, the Vietnam War will escalate.” The conservative disregarded the advice and voted for Goldwater. Soon the results became evident. "My friend was right," remarked the naive conservative. "I voted for the Republican candidate and, lo and behold, there are more troops in Vietnam." Of course the escalation was ordered by the Democratic victor in the election, Lyndon B. Johnson.

The moral is that once the Washington consensus has congealed, what the people want is immaterial. The apparatchiks have made up their minds. What will be is what they have decided. Democracy has nothing to do with the matter.

As Justin Raimondo has aptly noted, this high-handedness is particularly egregious when it comes to going to war. Of course, the military-industrial complex plays an important role, particularly when it meshes with the local interests of Congresspeople in getting reelected. Recall the classic cartoon in which a politician points to an elaborate weapon. “This is the perfect product,” he exults. “The parts are made in all 435 congressional districts!” Nowadays, most of them are made in Asia. No matter, the Permanent Government can adjust to almost anything.

At all events the ultimate decisions are not made in the boondocks, where ordinary people live. They are made by powerful elites, like those individuals who serve on the Council of Foreign Relations. These miscreants owe their prestige and income to their constant promotion of overseas intervention, ranging from application of “soft power” to open warfare. They are the reason why we are maintaining more than 800 bases throughout the world.

So the will of the people is routinely thwarted.

It is even possible to rally the public to support, temporarily at least, policies that are clearly not in the national interest. A good example is Obama’s appalling Oslo speech a few days ago. As Glenn Greenwald noted, this was “the most explicitly pro-war speech ever delivered by anyone while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Greenwald goes on to observe that it “was such a clear and comprehensive expression of his foreign policy that it's now being referred to as the ‘Obama Doctrine.’  About that matter, there are two arguably confounding facts to note:  (1) the vast majority of leading conservatives -- from Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich to Peggy Noonan, Sarah Palin, various Kagans and other assorted neocons -- have heaped enthusiastic praise on what Obama said yesterday, i.e., on the Obama Doctrine; and (2) numerous liberals have done exactly the same.”

Why are the neocons so enthusiastic? The answer is obvious, for the Obama doctrine is almost identical to the Bush doctrine. In Oslo Obama harped upon what he termed the right to wage wars unilaterally. He did not stop there, but went on to outline a wide array of circumstances in which war is supposedly "just." The doctrine of Just War, I note parenthetically, is a dubious relic left over from medieval scholasticism. Given the right skills of casuistry, almost any war can be considered just.

According to the Bush-Obama doctrine there is no need for those old-fashioned criteria of being attacked or facing imminent attack by another country. Consistently enough, the president explicitly rejected the nonviolence espoused by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi as too narrow and insufficiently pragmatic for a modern commander-in-chief like Obama to embrace. The United States is endowed--almost divinely, it would seem--with the mission to use war to combating "evil.” The president then hailed the U.S. for underwriting global security during the last six decades. No wonder the world is such a stable and harmonious place!

It is not in any way surprising that the neocon hawks are applauding Obama’s speech; so much of it was devoted to parroting their core beliefs. Not only do the neocons favor aggression and confrontation as a matter of course, they can also assure themselves that “we were right all along.” 

Much harder to explain is why the liberals were so enthusiastic. Why did they find the speech so inspiring and agreeable?  As Glenn Greenwald remarks, “is that what liberals were hoping for when they elected Obama:  someone who would march right into Oslo and proudly announce to the world that we have a unilateral right to wage war when we want and to sing the virtues of war as a key instrument for peace? “

Think back again to the dilemma about who to vote for during that previous megadisaster, the Vietnam War-- Johnson or Goldwater: Tweedledum or Tweedledee. It doesn’t matter because, as always, the fix is in.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The ordeal of Ronald Gold

I grew up in the Age of the Closet. While I came out in college to some close friends, I was aware that perceptions of my identity needed to be carefully managed, if I was to have the career I sought. There must be no public declaration--and no open defense of the rights of “perverts.” To be sure, my contemporaries in the newly-formed Mattachine Society did just that, but some prudently hid under assumed names. Most of the leaders of Mattachine found that, except for the most menial posts, gainful employment was closed to them; the lucky ones were supported by their partners.

In 1969, with Stonewall, the gay and lesbian movement (not then styled LGBTQ) went into high gear. Because of the Vietnam War, the left was dominant then in ways that are hard to imagine now. And the left, especially the far left, has a long history of suppressing opinion not deemed “progressive." “No free speech for fascists!” the Communist Party USA proclaimed. And their definition of fascist was a broad one. Some thought that I fit it. When I became active in the movement I learned that it was simply taboo to criticise certain causes, including radical feminism and Third World advocacy (what morphed into multiculturalism).

Of course I strayed from the narrow path of self-censorship. In due course the guardians of political correctness took their revenge, by successfully maneuvering to deprive me of my editorship of the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality.

In the 1990s I decided to respond by joining a “non-left” gay group, one that contained a number of influential members. called Beyond Queer Friends. There too ideological censorship was the rule, though the list of taboos was different. Anyone who did not subscribe to their program of imposing social conservatism by means of the panacea of gay marriage was ostracized. For this reason I eventually left the group.

One would think that, having experienced repression and denial of their right to free speech, gay men and lesbians would resolve to be different. Yet as I have indicated, the reverse has been the case.

Now I must sadly report an egregious instance. Bilerico is one of the leading GLBTQ sites on the Internet. Recently, the administrators of the site invited Ronald Gold to serve as a columnist. Gold, a veteran New York City gay activist who earned our respect for his selfless work in the years immediately following Stonewall, chose to write his first column on a controversial subject, the rationale regarding transgendered people. He apparently did not realize that this was a no-go zone. These individuals are the poster children of the current postmodernist phase of the LGBTQ movement (perhaps I should write lgbTq movement). At all events a fire storm ensued. Gold was immediately sacked, and the offending column was deleted from the site.

The column is now hard to find. For this reason I reproduce it below. I confess that I would not have used such words. However, the Voltairean imperative is to defend the free speech of all persons, including (especially) those with whom one disagrees.

Here is the offending piece:

"No" to the notion of transgender
by Ronald Gold

“What is transgender? Well, there are two sorts who seem to be covered
by the name, the drag kings and queens so good at portraying cartoon
imitations of straight people, and transsexuals, the folks who report
that from an early age they've felt themselves trapped in the wrong
bodies. Despite the equipment they were born with that belies their
assertions, they say they are really men or really women.

“What does it mean to be really a man or a woman? Since it's not about
genitalia, it must be about personality, and what, one asks, is a male
or a female personality? Even straight people nowadays concede that
some men are the warm, loving type that used to be thought exclusive
to women, and some women are the strong, action-oriented sort that
used to be thought exclusive to men. And lesbians and gay men have
always known that people of the same gender can be very different from
each other. Isn't it true that those we form mated relationships with
are always complementary - even polar opposites - to ourselves?

“Let me state it categorically. There is no such thing as a male or
female personality. Personality is not a function of gender.

“So where does that put the concept of transgender? In my view, down
the tubes! And that leaves the further questions of how transsexuals
got to think the way they do, and what to do to resolve their
dilemmas. I hope I'll be forgiven for rejecting as just plain silly
the idea that some cosmic accident just turned these people into
changelings. What happened, more than likely, is that, from an early
age, when they discovered that their personalities didn't jibe with
what little boys and girls are supposed to want and do and feel, they
just assumed they mustn't be real little boys and girls.

“So, parents of such little boys and girls, do not take them to the
psychiatrist and treat them like they're suffering from some sort of
illness. Explain to them that, whatever the other kids say, real
little girls do like to play with trucks and wear grimy jeans, and
real little boys like to prance around in dresses and play with dolls.
And make sure the teachers are on the same page.

“As for adults struggling with what to do about their feelings, I'd
tell them too to stay away from the psychiatrists - those prime
reinforcers of sex-role stereotypes - and remind them that whatever
they're feeling, or feel like doing, it's perfectly possible with the
bodies they've got. If a man wants to wear a dress or have long hair;
if a woman wants short hair and a three-piece suit; if people want
romance and sex with their own gender; who says they can't violate
these perfectly arbitrary taboos? A short historical and
cross-cultural survey should establish that men and women have worn
and done all sorts of stuff. I recall reading something by Jan Morris
in which it seemed that he thought he needed a sex change because he
wanted men to hold doors open for him and kiss him goodbye at train
stations. For starters, I'd have told him that I've had these nice
things happen to me and I've still got my pecker.

“Perhaps it isn't needless to say that a No to the notion of
transgender does not excuse discrimination against cross-dressers or
post-op transsexuals in employment, housing and public accommodation;
and I strongly support legislation that would forbid it. I would,
however, get after the doctors - the psychiatrists who use a phony
medical model to invent a disease that doesn't exist, and the surgeons
who use such spurious diagnoses to mutilate the bodies of the deluded.”

Thus Ronald Gold

I trust that no one will attribute these words to me, Wayne R. Dynes. Doubtless I will be attacked for reproducing, or even drawing attention to them. In the eyes of the current gatekeepers of the GLBT movement Ron Gold is now, and will always be a pariah.

This is shameful. Shame on you, people of Bilerico!


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Brief mental-health break

Tchaikowsky composed a sequel to "The Nutcracker." What was it called?

ANS. "The Ball-Breaker." It is rarely performed, though there is a report that it will be done in tandem with "The Vagina Monologues."

What is the name of Ibsen's medical play?

ANS "An Enema of the People."

The recession has cut into the income of psychiatrists, some of whom are now forced to moonlight. What job do they do?

ANS. Wrapping packages. The products are then labeled "shrink-wrapped."

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Church of Global Warming

A few weeks ago, a friend who teaches history at a Boston college told me that he presents to his students a kind of evolutionary view of religion, rising from the lower strata to higher ones. The bedrock is animism, the belief that profound spiritual powers reside in mountains, streams, and plants--as well as in certain animals, In many parts of the world this grass-roots [sic] approach yielded to polytheism, as found in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as in Hinduism today. Then came the third stage: the monotheism of the Abrahamic faiths, which spread from the Middle East to conquer much of the developed (and some of the underdeveloped) world. The last stage, perhaps, is some sort of cosmic religion in which there is a formative, maybe also guiding creative principle, but nothing anthropomorphic. The last view manifests itself (e.g.) in the Gaia Principle, the idea that the earth is a kind of homeostatic organism, constantly regulating itself to make human life possible.

It has occurred to me, though, that instead of this simple linear pattern, ascending from the lower strata to the higher, a more appropriate scheme might be circular. That is to say, with the green movement and environmentalism in general we have come back full-circle to animism. As with animism, streams and oceans, plants and trees, and the existing panoply of animals are considered sacred. So too the Earth itself.

Yet the green movement retains significant Abrahamic residues, as seen in the “church of global warming.” This connection is particularly salient in the apocalyptic (or science-fiction) scenarios which place us on the edge of catastrophe. Apocalyptic thinking stems from later Judaism in the first instance (as seen in the book of Daniel), later migrating into both Christianity and Islam. And now of course it has found a home with enviros. Among the more extravant claims of this new church is Al Gore’s absurd prediction that the seas will rise twenty feet in coming years. Such exaggerations are simply an effort to stampede public opinion into accepting the vast expenditures, coupled with a lowering of the quality of life, that the environmental zealots seek to impose on us.

‘Tis the season of Hopenhagen. Those of us who are wary of the apocalyptic scenarios might think of that jamboree as Coping-hagen, since we will have to cope with the results. Already the Third World kleptocracies are demanding huge sums to deal with the predicted disasters, most of which will never come. Their real problems are poverty, poor nutrition, bad water, malaria and (worst of all) corruption; deal with those and the environment could be addressed. Not dealing with them, though, simply means that the money will end up in Swiss bank accounts.

Last night the dashing John Stossel inaugurated his new contrarian TV series, entitled simply “Stossel.” Stossel’s main guest was Jerry Taylor, an energy analyst at the Cato Institute, who held that the economic impact of global warming will be fairly minimal. Thirteen published studies, Taylor indicated, have concluded that we may gain or lose about one year of economic growth over the next 100 years. Four of the studies actually found that global warming would lead to an increase in global GDP. The reason is that global warming will bring both negative and positive effects, such as longer growing seasons and open shipping lanes in the Arctic. In fact, more people die from cold snaps than from heat waves.

Stossel and Taylor acknowledged that, comprehensively, there had been global warming over the last 100 years. Yet the trend has leveled off in the last decade, when, according to some measures, there was actually some cooling. Since the total amount of anthropogenic pollutants is constantly increasing, it is not clear how this leveling could have happened. In fact, the warming is due to a mix of geocosmic and anthropogenic factors. Climate zealots acknowledge only the latter, the human contribution.

Even we accept the claim that the lion’s share of the warming is of human origin, we have probably passed the point of no return. Cessation of all use of fossile fuels tomorrow would make little difference, because of all the junk that is in the air now. A responsible approach would be to manage the situation, not to impose drastic measures that will be both expensive and ineffectual.

Towards the end of the Stossel show, Stephen Dubner stopped by to discuss the chapter on geo-engineering in his latest book, "SuperFreakonomics," and why the global warming church reacted so negatively. Geo-engineering would be one possible approach to managing the effects of the crisis--possibly cheaper and more effective than the massive interventions now being promoted in Copenhagen.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A superb website:

One of my favorite websites is, which offers news and opinion pieces related to wars throughout the world, from a libertarian, non-interventionist perspective. The site was founded in December 1995 as a response to the Bosnian war.

While publishing antiwar texts and perspectives from writers of all sorts of political beliefs, openly espouses libertarian leanings. Since I regard myself as a “libertarian with sanity” (and definitely with a lowercase l), I find this approach congenial for the most part. I used to say that I am not a pacificist, and I still think that Desert Storm (expelling Saddam Hussein from Kuwait) was justified. However, with the recent disasters in our ill-advised role as world’s policeman I am coming to think that the bar for going to war should be very high.

The gay libertarian Justin Raimondo was the chief founder; he remains the editorial director. The editorial stance is libertarian with a "big tent" message, encouraging libertarians, paleoconservatives, and the anti-war left to work together in opposition to war. Columnists for the site include Justin Raimondo, Ivan Eland, Praful Bidwai, Ran HaCohen, Nebojša Malić, Alan Bock, Charles V. Peña, Doug Bandow, David Henderson and Joseph Stromberg. Other notable contributors who write exclusively for the site include Michael Scheuer, Aaron Glantz, Gordon Prather, Edouard Husson, and Jon Basil Utley. The site also includes various columns taken from the Internet, with authors ranging from libertarians and Old Right conservatives (such as Ron Paul, Paul Craig Roberts, William Lind, Charley Reese and Pat Buchanan) to antiwar leftists (including Alexander Cockburn, Norman Solomon, Noam Chomsky, Joshua Frank, John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Kathy Kelly, Jonathan Cook, Cindy Sheehan, Juan Cole, Tom Engelhardt of The Nation, and others).

Despite this impressively eclectic outreach, the political establishment, especially the “permanent government” ensconced in Washington DC, has succeeded in marginalizing They were enraged when the group initially opposed Bush’s assault on Iraq--and even more enraged when that misguided effort turned sour.

Don’t let the establishment win this one by default. Read!

As a sample, I am reprinting below some excerpts from Justin Raimondo’s latest article, “US Foreign Policy and the Cult of ‘Expertise.’” This brilliant analysis goes a long way to showing why Washington keeps involving us in disastrous wars, despite the expressed wish of our people to avoid them. Raimondo:

“The news that Americans want the U.S. government to mind its own business when it comes to foreign affairs has our Washington elite in a panic. The explanatory notes accompanying a new Pew poll [.pdf] describe the "rise in isolationist sentiment" that started during George W. Bush’s second term and continues in the age of Obama. The agonized hand-wringing is all too apparent in the use of the "isolationist" epithet and even in the way the question was asked: should the U.S. "mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own"? Forty-nine percent – the highest proportion "in nearly half a century of polling" – answered yes. And that’s not all: a gob-smacking 76 percent agreed the U.S. should "concentrate more on our own national problems and building up our strength and prosperity here at home," as opposed to "think[ing] in international terms."

“The poll took samples from two groups: common, ordinary, everyday people (i.e., you and me) and members of the Council on Foreign Relations, an elite group of foreign policy-oriented intellectuals, policy wonks, and high muckamucks. The elite group disagreed sharply with the general public’s view on virtually every important question: for example, none of the CFR members thought we should mind our own business – a policy that would go against the group’s history and orientation, which has always been pronouncedly interventionist.

“Founded by disciples of Cecil Rhodes, who sought to reestablish the fading glory of the British empire by using the U.S. as Britain’s cat’s-paw, the CFR doesn’t just represent the views of the American Establishment – it is the Establishment. And that Establishment is committed irrevocably to the idea that America’s destiny is to inherit the mantle of world leadership: in the CFR’s view, the question is not whether we ought to police the world, but rather how to go about it. The American public, on the other hand, is sick to death of endless war – the inevitable result of assuming "world leadership" – and is increasingly diverging from elite opinion when it comes to the pressing foreign policy issues of the day.

“For example, as this poll shows, when it comes to Afghanistan, the latest theater in which the interventionist drama is being played out, the gulf between the elites and the public is wide, and getting deeper: 50 percent of the CFR group support Obama’s Afghan "surge," while among the hoi polloi the number drops to 32 percent. Asked if the United States should be the "most assertive" world leader, only 19 percent of the general public agrees, but when it comes to the CFR, the numbers turn around: 62 percent want the "most assertive" role for the U.S.”


Ramondo continues: “How do we account for the huge gap between the people and those who make policy in their name? To begin with, we have an entire class of people whose jobs, social prestige, and livelihoods are directly tied to our foreign policy of global intervention. These people are naturally inclined to favor militarism and meddling in the affairs of other nations. This group, while small in numbers, wields an outsized influence when it comes to such matters, and it can successfully defy popular opinion for quite a long time.

"It manages to hornswoggle the public with a number of scams, notably the cult of expertise, which Americans have traditionally been suckers for, and never more so than today, when confusion over the sheer complexity of some of the foreign policy issues being raised makes people particularly vulnerable to the argument from authority.”


“The cult of expertise is being used to maximum effect by the Obamaites as they prepare to bog us down in the Afghan quagmire for the next five to 10 years: that’s why it supposedly took 92 days for the One to reach a decision on the Afghan escalation issue, as he conducted an extended foreign policy seminar-and-debating-society at the highest reaches of his administration. The whole charade – as if withdrawal was ever an option! – fits in with the self-described "pragmatism" of the Obama administration, which abjures general principles and affects a brisk "just the facts" get-the-job-done air – a method and style that neatly evades the question of whether the job should be done at all.

“Another trick that allows the foreign policy elite to get away with pursuing a course so out of sync with the general population is elite control of the political system. As we never cease reminding the rest of the world, America is a democracy, and the people get to vote for – or vote out – their leaders. However, when both candidates – and there are usually only two major applicants for the job – advocate variations on the same interventionist themes, then the "choice" presented to voters is strictly limited, and in fact nearly meaningless.”


A third method used to get around the common-sense "isolationism" of the American people is interventionist control of the "mainstream" media – which can be counted on to act as a megaphone for government officials and the interests that back them. While the tendency of Americans to want to stay out of foreign entanglements might apply in most cases, in some instances people are ready to make an exception if specific grounds can be found ("weapons of mass destruction," the presence of al-Qaeda, or perhaps both of these together) to make an exception.”


“The portrait painted by the Pew poll is of an increasingly isolated – and anxious – elite whose foreign policy views are nearly the opposite of the overwhelming majority of Americans. Our Brahmins face a crisis of confidence, one that could very well be followed by a crisis of legitimacy – and that is what they fear most of all.

“This crisis is exacerbated not only by the increasing failure of our foreign policy to do what it is supposed to do – that is, protect Americans from harm – but by a number of relatively recent developments that undermine their methods of suppressing majority "isolationist" sentiment.

“The first and most obvious is the Internet, which has not only bypassed the "mainstream" media and, indeed, driven it into near-bankruptcy, but which has also delivered a body blow to the cult of the "experts." After all, who is an "expert," and why are they so called? Well, because they generally have credentials and, therefore, are given a platform by the media to expound on matters they supposedly know everything about. Yet with the advent of the Internet, the significance of this "mainstream" platform is radically reduced. Add to this the wide availability of previously obscure knowledge – thanks be to the gods of Google! – and credentialism is thrown out the window. Today, an unknown writer can take to the Internet, set up a blog, and – perhaps – become the go-to source for this or that specialized branch of knowledge. An alternative crop of experts has arisen, which rivals the old crowd and indeed seems to be fast surpassing them, at least so far as influence over the public is concerned.

“Yet the elite stranglehold on our foreign policy continues, in large part due to the iron grip of the interventionists on the two-party system. Our present conundrum – a president elected to office largely on the strength of his "antiwar" stance, who is now taking us into a wider and more difficult war than his warlike predecessor ever conceived – is an eloquent testament to this cruel fact.”

“If the leadership of both major parties sees Afghanistan as a "war of necessity," then the War Party can relax – because the restive public will have no one to turn to even as it rejects the policies put forward by the elites. This is why the policymakers can continue to ignore the rising rebellion against interventionism roiling the American street and continue talking only to themselves.

“In their view, ordinary Americans don’t matter: only politicians, lobbyists, and other policy wonks matter. But this Marie Antoinette attitude can only take them so far before they run the risk of revolution.”

My only dissent [WRD here again] is the idea Raimondo advances at the outset--that the DC elites are “in panic.” It looks to me as if they are getting their way, as usual. But hopefully not forever. As Winston Churchill sagely remarked, "one can always rely on the Americans to do the right thing--after they have exhausted every other option."

Monday, December 07, 2009

Gay rights: the emerging global dichotomy

Terrible things are happening in Uganda. Under an anti-homosexual bill currently before the country’s parliament, life imprisonment would be the minimum punishment for anyone convicted of having gay sex. If the accused person is HIV positive or a serial offender, or a "person of authority" over the other partner, or if the "victim" is under 18, a conviction will result in the death penalty.

As Britain’s Guardian reported on November 29, “Members of the public are obliged to report any homosexual activity to police with 24 hours or risk up to three years in jail – a scenario that human rights campaigners say will result in a witchhunt. Ugandans breaking the new law abroad will be subject to extradition requests. . . .

“Human rights groups within and outside Uganda have condemned the proposed legislation, which is designed to strengthen colonial-era laws that already criminalise gay sex. The issue threatened to overshadow the Commonwealth heads of government meeting that ended in Trinidad and Tobago today, with the UK and Canada both expressing strong concerns.”

This outrageous bill reflects deeply-rooted homophobia in Uganda, which is, it must be said, not an advanced society. Yet the situation is being aggravated by a US-linked evangelical campaign alleging that gay men are trying to "recruit" schoolchildren, and claiming that homosexuality is a habit that can be "cured.”

Well, perhaps the bill is simply a vehicle for venting, with little chance of becoming law. Not so, however, In an interview with The Guardian, James Nsaba Buturo, the minister of state for ethics and integrity [sic], said that the government was determined to pass the legislation, ideally before the end of 2009, even if meant withdrawing from international treaties and conventions such as the UN's Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and foregoing donor funding. Apparently, the discovery of oil makes the Ugandan authorities confident that they can now forego some of the donor funding, which has been abundant over recent decades.

Some ordinary Ugandans seem frankly to avow and even cherish the retrograde nature of the proposed legislation. As one remarked, “We would rather live in grass huts with our morality than in skyscrapers among homosexuals.”

Uganda, it seems, has usurped the dubious distinction of Jamaica as the "most homophobic place on earth" (Time Magazine). Long familiar to Americans as a laid-back beach destination, Jamaica is hardly idyllic. Not long ago, two of the island's most prominent gay activists, Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey, were murdered--and a crowd even gathered to exult over Williamson's mutilated body.

Jamaica may be the worst offender, but much of the rest of the Caribbean also has a long history of intense homophobia. Islands like Barbados still criminalize homosexuality, and some seem to be imitating Jamaica's violent example.

As in sub-Saharan Africa, Caribbean antigay feelings rest on a bedrock of Christian evangelical homophobia. However, gay-rights activists ascribe the current viral spread of homophobia in Jamaica largely to the country's increasingly thuggish reggae music scene. Reggae's anti-gay rhetoric has seeped into the country's politics. Having passed some of the world's toughest antisodomy laws, Jamaica's regularly incorporate homophobic music in their campaigns. A tourist boycott is long overdue.

Regrettably, a number of other countries could be cited as places where homophobia is getting worse. They lie mainly in the Third World and the Islamic zone.

In other parts of the world very different trends are evident. Thank goodness. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, a gay-male couple had been denied a marriage license last April, but took the matter to court. On November 13, a city court ruled the denial unconstitutional; Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri said that he would not appeal the decision. José Maria Di Bello and Alex Freyre were set to be the first gay men to marry in Latin America. Yet a day before the event, National Judge Marta Gómez Alsina ordered the wedding blocked until the case could be reviewed before the Supreme Court.

As of this writing the matter has not been resolved. Yet there is no doubt about the way matters are proceeding. Previously, civil unions had attained recognition in several cities in Argentina. In that country, civil unions are registered unions conducted between two adults, either of the opposite or same sex, and provide some of the rights granted to married couples, such as health and insurance benefits and hospital visitation. They do not provide inheritance and adoption rights. Civil unions can only be entered into once a couple has lived together for a given time, usually one or two years. It is not certain whether the right of same-sex couples to marry will be generally confirmed, but clearly Argentinians are on their way.

In Portugal, Prime Minister José Sócrates said on January 21, 2009 that, if reelected in the September 2009 elections, he would introduce a bill granting same-sex couples the right to marry. While the bill does not contemplate adoption, most LGBT organizations in Portugal support the measure as an important step towards equality. In fact, his party won the largest share of the vote on September, 27 2009.

In October 2009, the newly reelected José Sócrates stated that the Socialist Party would move ahead to fulfill its campaign promise regarding same-sex marriage. The plan received strong support from the Left Bloc, with its parliamentary leader presenting a proposed amendment to the Family Code that would make the definition of marriage gender-neutral. Government spokesperson Jorge Lacão said that is likely that same-sex marriage will become law in Portugal in early 2010.

In Ireland the authority of the Roman Catholic church has been severely damaged by its complicity in covering up the widespread allegations of sexual abuse of minors. This change has improved the prospects for gay rights in that country. Same-sex relationships are due to be recognized in Ireland under a recently published bill (Civil Partnership Bill 2009) that would permit civil partnerships between same-sex couples with extensive legal rights but not full civil marriage. The Government had indicated that the bill will become law before the end of 2009. The debate on the Second Stage of the Bill took place in the Dail (parliament) at the beginning of December 2009.

It is evident that the world is seeing a massive split. Some nations, generally the richer and better educated ones, are becoming more gay-friendly. Other countries, mostly in the Third World, are becoming more openly homophobic, even lethally so. It is true that some religious figures in the US and Britain are promoting homophobia abroad, but the general trend in our own countries is in the opposite direction.

On October 17 an interdisciplinary conference at Yale University (which I was unable to attend) addressed the dichotomy through the prism of the worldwide Anglican community. The conference was entitled “Why Homosexuality?  Religion, Globalization, and the Anglican Schism.” Participants included Kwame Anthony Appiah, George Chauncey, Mark Jordan, and Mary Jane Rubenstein

The conference statement is as follows: “Rather than restaging the arguments for and against the ordination of openly gay clergy, this day-long conference analyzes the threatened schism in the Anglican Communion in order to examine wide-ranging and interrelated issues of religion, secularism, globalization, nationalism, and modernity.  How and why, we ask, has homosexuality come to serve as a flash point for so many local and global conflicts?”

The last sentence is indeed the pivotal question.

The first panel, on The Politics of Schism, took place under the following rubric: “What global and local conditions (e.g., economic, political, theological, postcolonial, mediatic) have fostered the peculiar global realignments pertaining to the schism? To what extent (and why) has sexual liberalism, including both the recognition of homosexuals as distinct subjects and the extension of tolerance toward them, come to serve as a marker of a distinctly Western modernity, to be embraced or resisted?”

Another panel offered the following acknowledgment. “All parties in the struggle seem to agree that beyond the institutional and legal stakes of church property and governance, the unity of a larger body is at issue.  How is sex mobilized by different parties in order to define (or purify or regulate) confessional traditions such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism?  Why do sex and sexuality especially serve as the occasion for such struggles over religious collectivity?  How does this wedge issue serve different parties?”
The final panel addressed this question: “How is the Anglican debate shaping—as well as reflecting—broader debates over sexuality, morality, and the norms of public and private both within and between North American, British, African, Asian, and Latin America societies?   What may be the broader consequences and significance of a schism?”

Anglicanism does indeed offer one entry point for exploring the global question. Yet it is clear that the conundrum must be tackeled in a much broader context, one that would include such topics as Islamic homophobia, Confucian silencing, and psychiatric inferiorization. We can look forward to further, more incisive analysis. Regrettably, though, the negative side of the dichotomy is unlikely to disappear any time soon.


Sunday, December 06, 2009

London splendors--and one disappointment

Last week I was in London, mainly to visit museums and bookstores. I had a lovely room overlooking Tavistock Square, a location strategically placed midway between the British Museum and the British Library at St. Pancras. During the sixties I was fortunate enough to live in London for four years, toiling away at my dissertation and supporting myself by translating books. I return every four or five years to renew my acquaintance.

London has never looked better. Yet there is one change I observed that disconcerted me. The change was at the venerable British Museum. Let me explain.

The present building in Bloomsbury, with its giant colonnade overlooking Great Russell Street, stems from a design created by the neoclassical architect Sir Robert Smirke. Construction began in 1823. Over time, some collections that were intended to find a place in the building went off on their own. The founding of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square provided a separate space for the nation’s paintings. Natural History decamped to South Kensington.

In my salad days, though, the British Museum yoked together two important functions. The vast collection of objects, reflecting the global reach of the British empire, were deployed around the central rotunda, constituting the Reading Room for those consulting the books. The books remained there until the British Library moved to St Pancras in 1998.

The paterfamilias of the books was a man sometimes called the "second founder" of the British Museum, the Italian librarian Anthony Panizzi. Under his supervision, the British Museum Library (now the British Library) quintupled in size and became a well-organized institution worthy of being called a national library, one of the largest libraries in the world. At Panizzi’s request, the quadrangle at the center of Smirke's design was filled with a noble circular Reading Room of cast iron, 140 feet in diameter.

The original arrangement, with the books at the core and the objects arrayed around it on all four sides somehow captured a central feature of the British national character in which the written word has always ranked as the supreme art.

The departure of the British Library to a new site at St Pancras, finally achieved in 1998, provided the space needed for the books. It also created the opportunity to redevelop the vacant space in Robert Smirke's 19th-century central quadrangle into the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court--reputedly the largest covered square in Europe--which opened in 2000.

When I visited the Museum five years ago, one could stroll from this court directly into the restored and now resplendent Reading Room, where I had spend so many happy and productive hours during the 1960s. Last week, though, this experience was impossible. The space had been meanly carved up for exhibition space, currently exhibiting a display of Aztec art. This show was interesting enough, but clearly in the wrong place. To be sure, one could still glimpse some details of the dome above, but the results of the amputation were terrible.

The problem is partly economic. The major museums in London are still free (as ours mostly are not), so revenue must be secured from other sources, including overpriced restaurants and special exhibitions. Entry to the Moctezuma show, now desecrating the Reading Room, costs about twenty dollars.

There is hope that a different space will be created for exhibitions at the museum. At that point, I earnestly hope, the Reading Room can be restored to its former glory. Then, and only then, will I give a donation to the Museum.