Proust’s law: you always get what you want when you no longer want it.
Gay is everywhere. Canada's new loonie celebrates 50 years of official gaydom, Ontario lived under 4 years with open lesbian premier Kathleen Wynne. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves at the crowds at Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade, like Queen Elizabeth, along with Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (Much love and happy pride to all!), and Toronto Mayor John Tory. The marchers were probably less than 10,000, but spectators 50,000+.
The police were denied their own delegation, resented for taking so long to find serial killer Bruce McArthur, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to murdering eight men with ties to the gay village. The sole dissenting political voice was Ontario Premier Doug Ford, fresh from an election victory that was subtley anti-gay, who refused to participate in the march. He covered himself in the now stridently pro-gay media, by attending a small gathering in York Region earlier in ‘GayPride Month’ for the de rigueur photo-op.
The over-the-top celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York (150,000 marchers, 3m spectators), the birthplace of World Gay Pride, was preceded by the Queer Liberation March, sans corporate floats and police, protesting the gentrification of the event and the movement in general.
All the celebratory marches ignore the stark truth that the height of gaylib was long ago, 1978 (novelists Holleran, Kramer, photographer Mapplethorpe, choreographer Joffrey). The next 40 years has been a slow motion hangover, the homosexualization of America, which has left the US in a moral mess.
Who better to turn to for assessing the state of the union than Edmund White, author of The Joy of Gay Sex (1977), who lived through those 50 years and has written more than anyone else about it?
New York was, since the end of WWII, the mecca of the western world in all facets of life -- intellectuals, artists, in entertainment and theatre. It still is, the dream for all. In the third volume of his quasi-memoirs, The Farewell Symphony, Edmund White claims that a quarter of Greenwich Village are gay, though statistics for metropolitan New York suggest 4%, not much more than the 3% norm. The Manhattan neighborhoods of Greenwich Village and Harlem were home to a sizable homosexual population after WWI, and then again after WWII, when men and women who had served in the military took advantage of the opportunity to settle in larger cities. Suddenly, it was possible for small town boys and girls to shed their straitlaced surroundings and ‘let it all hang out.’
Edmund White, who moved there in the 1960s, writes:
We assumed there was going to be a future and that it would get more and more extravagant. We saw gay men as a vanguard that society would inevitably follow. We thought ‘the couple’ would disappear and be replaced by new, polyvalent molecules of affection or Whitmanesque adhesiveness.*
White has almost nothing to say about lesbians, whose lifestyle has never been promiscuous to the same degree as men. Not surprisingly for a male-dominated world, it is gay men who have been the shapers of gay society, the ones to point the finger at.
White describes a memorable evening in his radical new lifestyle:
I was having sex with a sleepy-eyed Native American I’d met through Kevin. He and I would make love to a blond steward from Norway---and sometimes with a hairless translator from the French, who affected a crewcut and policeman’s shiny shoes. At other times we were joined by a Kennedy-like gay political leader who’d rush in wearing a white shirt and rep tie and would have to keep checking his messages. We were friends and lovers, more friends than lovers, and our long evenings of pasta, Puccini and sex felt as mellow as vintage Bordeaux held up to a flame and as exhilarating as a hit play in previews.*
It all came crashing down in 1981 with the onslaught of AIDS. This plague was originally called GRID (gay-related immuno deficiency), but renamed Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome in 1982 to avoid pointing fingers.
The real culprit of AIDS of course is gaydom itself, more accurately, male gaydom, which celebrated/ celebrates promiscuity, dismissed/ dismisses old truths and customs, determined to convert the heterosexual world into a new gender-fluidity of ‘Whitmanesque adhesiveness’, where love is a quaint custom, where sex rules, now openly, and anything goes.
White is a documenter of this transition, born in 1940, beginning his writing career in the 1970s. He is torn between celebrating gaydom’s rise, and bemoaning its inherent dangers to society and what it means to be human. Though HIV positive by 1980, he is one of the lucky survivors from that gruesome period. He describes his closest acquaintances (friends?) in Symphony and then sees them die off one after the other.
Did that wake him up? The Farewell Symphony was published in 1997, when the first ‘cocktail’ drugs were developed, and is peppered with ambivalent thoughts, boasting of over 3,000 sexual partners from 1962--1982, though his normal state is angst and loneliness.
None of our friends would have said we were ‘obsessed’. That was a word heterosexuals used, or older, envious homosexuals. We thought having sex was a positive good, the more the better. ...
We believed that women held out to force guys into the servitude of marriage, that pussy was scarce so men would have to work for it, religion conspired to make men believe they were doing the right thing. We thought that if women were as disinterestedly horny as men, then everyone, straight or gay would be having sex on every street corner.
We were free. Christians had already assigned us to hell just for looking at men. Courtship was a con, again part of female culture. Even love was a suspect word.
If love was suspect, jealousy was foul. We were intent on dismantling all the old marital values, and the worst thing we could be accused of by one of our own was aping the heterosexual model.**
White is clearly of two minds on this Brave New Sexuality. Holleran and Kramer, writing in 1978, are more clearly negative in their assessment of gaylib. In a plea for celibacy, Malone, Holleran’s hero in Dancer from the Dance, realized he had ceased to be a homosexual. He realized ‘a young man’s beauty was an impersonal fact, as impersonal as the beauty of a tree. He watched boys playing soccer and when the game ended he rose and walked away, a calm spirit.’
New/old role of homosexuality in society
Many of White’s relationships were/are with younger men/ boys, and (if it’s not fictional) his most touching relationship was not sexual at all. He informally adopted his nephew Gabriel, getting him out of an asylum and helping him get on his feet. The family ‘instinct’ kicked in, and this shows perhaps the most important role gays can play in society: helping broken individuals, casualties of bad marriages, poverty, social injustice.
Another instance of this mentoring/ fatherly role was White’s befriending a lonely, slightly neurotic teen, Giovanni, in Venice during his many travels to Italy. He chummed around with Giovanni and his young friends. When Giovanni kept insisting White should have a girlfriend, White told him he preferred men, that he ‘felt good with men,’ not women.
Giovanni thought about it, then said, ‘what a fine pair we make, you with your sickness, me with my mania.
White later reflects:
I never felt good with men; with a gay man I always felt something indefinable was missing, whereas with a woman I knew what was missing: a man.
I could see something had gone out of the friendship for him. I was no longer the simpatico guy who was also a real man, the sort he wanted to become.***
White’s satisfaction in both those relationships was not in sex, but in the male friendship, the familial father-son relationship. This is the real, positive ‘revolution’ which can develop out of the gay personal-social conundrum, and it has more to do with not having sex than having as much as possible.
It helps mitigate the male homosexual’s role as the Other. Male homosexuals were/are also a small minority (3-5%) of men, a social ‘shadow’ which threatens the sacredness of marriage and the character of manliness, just as Jews threaten Christian spirituality. They suffered side-by-side with Jews and witches under Christendom (much less so under Islamic rule) right up until the Nazis, who decided homosexuals were just as bad, in their own way, as Jews, and both should be wiped out. Their fate today—legality, tolerance, outsize prosperity and apartness—parallels that of Jews.
While the Catholic church and Islam will not bless the Other with holy sacriment, the state has given its sanction, and most Protestant churches accept gay marriages, as if wishing the Other would just blend in seamlessly, accepted by the 97%, ignoring the very fact that God or natural selection produced this Other. That it must have a special role.
For Catholicism and Islam, all forms of promiscuity and sins, including adultery, prostitution and gay sex, are proscribed, which really translates as: should be discouraged or at least kept out of the mainstream, so as not to disrupt society. This moral injunction is meant to control socially disruptive behaviour. Promiscuous sex, gay or straight is disruptive to society. It’s Plato, where chaste boy-love is the highest form of love, with wife and family next.
Disease or dis-ease?
As for the reversal of the medical definition of homosexuality as a disease in 1973, that doesn’t mean the social and psychology problems disappear. Whether it is called a disease or just a social problem is a moot point. White notes: ‘We were gratified that officially we were off the books,’ but ‘most psychotherapists, especially the Freudians, kept their reservations about homosexuality in petto.’**** The homosexual’s role in society is a work in process, but it will always be the Other, the hetero norm's shadow.
Interestingly, at the Washington DC Dyke March this year, the organizers refused to allow marchers to have an Israeli flag, outraging a few, underlining their role as defenders of other repressed minorities, this time the Palestinians. Gays generally are a bit more socialist, like Jews, but also more supportive of Palestinians, despite Israel’s ‘pinkwashing’.
In 2011, the Obama administration directed agencies involved with foreign policy to promote LGBT rights, a striking policy for a government that, up to the early 1990s, considered homosexuality a security risk and cause for job termination. This sudden promotion of a gay agenda abroad by western nations, led by the US (until Trump), dubbed the ‘gay international’, is resented by all third world nations and Russia, and has had a vicious backlash, with msm^ now targeted where before they were just ignored. It came spectacularly to Orlando, Florida, where 50 gay nightclubbers were murdered in 2016 by an Afghan American. Wake up call, anyone?
*Edmund White, The Farewell Symphony (1997), 341.
**op. cit., 245-6.
***op. cit., 284.
****close to the heart’, 250.