Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Homonormative

Classical Male Homosexuality and the Patriarchy

Amidst the founders of what we think of as western "classics," and the creators of what become hegemonic American society--ancient Greece--we see not only the massive use of children for sex, but also completely open male homosexuality. Throughout the Greek and Roman empires (link here for those of the "Greek was not an imperial model" outlook), men loved and made love to their male friends, boys, slaves, and prostitutes, and procreated with their wives. Romantic affection between men was "so normal" that it was, perhaps, even "more normal" than heterosexual affection in the 21st century American empire.

From these traditions came all the patriarchal stuff that evolved out of the classics of western civilization. Men, and only men, voted. Wealthy, powerful landholders ("tops"?) had more power than anyone else, in a society designed exclusively for them and their freedoms. Weak men, along with women and children, could be owned as slaves. As the classical tradition developed through the ages, it brought with it the consolidation of polytheism into monotheism, where singular male gods continued to propertize women, children, and weak men. Middle-eastern anti-homosexual trends from Judaism pushed male homosexuality into the closet, where it remained for centuries.

Who was really pushed "into the closet"? Not everyone; merely those who lacked the political savvy, cash and authority to play their cards right. The seeming centuries of "attacks" on homosexuality were not really attacks on homosexuality, but an excuse for killing and asset seizure against certain homosexuals. This is similar to why The Right Kind of Blacks can get the cops in trouble when the cops try to treat them like poor blacks/whites/potential Mexicans.

Within that seeming repression, though, was the hidden power-based male homosexuality of monasteries, lords, and slaveowners. This was not the homosexuality we think of today, but a homosexuality of a different kind; a male homosexuality that largely shut out the opposite sex for all purposes except breeding, child-rearing, opinion-mattering, public appearance, and household management. The rich and influential raped their way through the ages, occasionally siring children as they went*, but the lusty heroes of their literature were ever tireless warrior men. The repressed, "naughty" homoeroticism of buddy action movies and Schwarzenegger finds its nexus in the same literary tradition that produced centuries of segregated stories about young men going to battle.

(*Endless worry about "when will the royal line have an heir?!" explained. Why was it so difficult so often?)

Patriarchy, and its associated invisible classes and repressions, was built, in Greece and then Rome, on the backs of powerful men, who wished to keep the exclusive company of other powerful men. Is this so impossible to imagine? Why? The western classical tradition is one of male-only warrior societies, male-only politics, male-only property possession, male-only voices, and male-centered entertainment. There was, of course, always procreation, but the dirty secret of male-centered sexual desire--and the open, non-secret trumpeting from Greek and Rome--is the massive expression of male homosexuality inherent in the development of patriarchy and the warrior empires and elite politics of today.

Now, as "open," modern male homosexuals try to gain more social acceptance, it can seem laughable to equate male homosexuality with repressive patriarchy. After all, the Catholic Church, and other bastions of religiosity and heterosexuality, have demonstrated how thoroughly non homosexual they are, right? It wasn't all just an act?

Of course, it was an act. The repressed male politicians and public figures who now sweatily warn that acceptance of homosexuality will lead to bestiality in Times Square are, rather obviously, worried about their own private philandering and their own errant thoughts.

Homosexuality in Batman

Consider a 20th bastion of patriarchy and western literature: Batman.

Courtesy toyzone.

Ironically, as male homosexuality theoretically became "more" accepted in the "west" throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, D.C. comics and the latest round of movie-churners have been judicious about scrubbing any of the old homoerotic traces out of the franchise.

(Updated 3/2/2015: looks like someone shut down toyzone's essays about Batman, Robin, and their tight leather suits, as well as web-scrubbing the scan of Bruce Wayne and the Boy Wonder sharing a bed.)

The Batman franchise isn't alone in demonstrating strong old-style homoeroticism alongside old-style patriarchy. Most traditional American comics of the 20th century followed this trend. Action is focused on a man (or men) who wear tight suits and have incredibly muscular bodies; they have little to no time to see their token girlfriends because they're busy battling with other men. Women have very little role in the lives of the old heroes, except as: screaming damsels to be rescued by said incredible men in tight suits; secretaries answering the phone; or, occasionally, being the butt of sexist jokes. You'd almost think that the creators of these franchises were far, far more interested in men than they were in women.

Homosexuality in Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings is another suitable example. J.R.R. Tolkien--a soldier, then academic, with a keen lifelong interest in classical male adventure tales--produced his famous, massive, multi-volume sets with such a low female-to-male character ratio that it would make John Wayne blush. Females appear so rarely in his tales that he achieved his goal of recreating a classical "mythology" for England (because, goodness knows, all the old English tales simply vanished somewhere, ergo the need for his scholarly creative work) by duplicating the near-utter exclusion of women from his story.

Tolkien did so in conjunction with old-style male homosexuality. For those who have actually pored through the tiresome, stilted, history-textbook-like journey of Sam and Frodo to Mordor, the hobbits engage in some serious stroking and cuddling in order to reassure one another.

As ironically as in the modernized Batman, though, increased social acceptance of male homosexuality came at a price for Frodo and Sam--their homoerotic encounters were scrubbed entirely from the movie, except for in one place: when Frodo prepares to leave Middle Earth at the very end of the recent movie trilogy, he gives Sam a kiss on the forehead. Production notes tell us that this kiss was added at the behest of actor Ian McKellan, who had read and understood the subtext of Tolkien's work, and wanted at least a hint of the physical aspect of the Sam/Frodo relationship to show through.

What Effects Does the Repression Have?

In this graphic or prose literature, we see that modernization made the repression even greater during the 20th century. Zeus was more important than Hera, and certainly more important than Aphrodite, but the Greeks at least had their female leads showing up more often to get raped, rather than vanishing entirely for hundreds of pages, or doing nothing more than serving mead to a party of sturdy male adventurers.

In many of the new Batman movies, we've seen an emphasis on brave, heroic women, who either force Bruce to face tough emotional facts (cringe), who demonstrate independence by doing boxing workouts (Nicole Kidman/cringe), or who learn how to use whips (Michelle Pfeiffer). This has come at the price of removing the old traces of homosexuality. Similarly, in Lord of the Rings (and the forecoming Hobbit product), the producers completely changed or flat-out added characters to make up for the dearth of women. Besides serving drinks and getting married, women did nothing in Tolkien's original story, with a single exception: Eowyn rode off to war, in disguise, over her father's objections, and stabbed one enemy. And she was a princess, e.g., daughter of a manly warrior-king. But still, she was at least one female character out of thousands of pages who did something. The producers militarized Arwen for their movie version, so we got a sanitized version of old-style patriarchy, except one where the men are now straight.

Revising history in this memory-hole-like way is nothing new for commercial entertainers, who see nothing as sacred; they can be rightly abused elsewhere. For the purposes of examining the terrible things that happened to women over the course of patriarchy, though, we should consider whether the male-only focus of so much classical history had any connection to the way the classical patriarchs approached their own homosexuality.

Reevaluating Homosexual Takes

There are as many measurable sexualities as there are people times measurable instants of time in any given universe, but in the context of modern perspectives on male homosexuality, there seems to be a distinct type that drove patriarchy, male monotheisms, and the great war-making empires. To call it "repressed homosexuality," while more accurate in modern times, would be in error, as the imperial Greeks and Romans were more, if not totally, open about it. Now, we primarily see this in the west only in the few fading bastions of the American Republican Party and the dying old-style boardrooms: the kind of ridiculous, hyper-masculine focus that frets and worries about open sexuality, while believing that fit young men in snug military uniforms should line up, pose in salute, then travel overseas to do battle by, ideally, firing objects into other young male combatants.

This is something, though, that we must learn from. Violent, patriarchal male homosexuals (consider Lothar Machtan's thoroughly researched Hidden Hitler) have had a powerful, consistent, deadly impact on history; "homosexuality" as a caste has not been the perpetual downtrodden creature it is presented. Rather, certain homosexuals have been marginalized, while others--maybe even the majority of them?--have been exceedingly powerful in shaping the course of human history. It seems more likely that, as time goes on, the "liberation" and "acceptance" gained by some homosexuals for the first time will be part of a slight adjustment in media perspective on certain lifestyles, while the same elites will continue to run the show. If we convince ourselves that the issue of sexuality is solved as soon as everything is made formally legal and socially equal, we'll be neglecting the real story of centuries.

8 comments:

  1. i have always questioned whether glbt/lgbt/whatever is a natural ally of the feminist movement(s).

    one example: fashion--skinny models, high heels, etc. sure, we can view it from the demand side (what hetero males allegedly prefer). but (and i admittedly fall to stereotype here) it doesn't seem to me that hetero males are the ones actually driving fashion. (for myself, i'm as attracted to someone of healthy weight wearing sneakers, short shorts, tight t-shirt. in a word, schlubby--if you ask certain fashionistas.)

    at a more basic level, there aren't many stronger rejections of womanhood than to reject the idea of sex with women, are there? (obviously, a different read when talking about lesbians, but still...) not that women are only good for sex, but recognizing that sex is an integral part of being human.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's an interesting blunt concept, puppylander: that a complete lack of desire for physical intimacy with one sex is something like a rejection of it. "Something like," of course; not a total rejection of that sex. It raises questions about what our notion of sex is and what it should be; should we truly be disgusted by any type of physically intimate gesture from the wrong sub-group, even if it was someone to whom we had a close emotional connection (and who had, of course, taken a shower and was free of contagious disease or other variables that would skew the results of a choice to hold her/his hand)?

      "Fashion" is an interesting road to travel in this concept, from the easy-access toga to the ruffles and lace of the most manly "heterosexual" men of Louis' French court, to the bulging biceps, rippling abs and tight athletic pants of men modeling men's clothing. The design of restrictive women's fashion seems a cage for those who were less interested in women's bodies than they were in men's. And, as Sera points out below, there's a strong correlation between male homosexuality and designers of entrapping female clothes. Was the corset and garter really meant as a prison for those who didn't care about women having freedom of movement or freedom of sex?

      Delete
  2. Yes, what better to keep women from accomplishing anything meaningful than to keep them all busy trying to transform into something that gay male designers find appealing? And then there's Andrej Pejic.

    I would argue that the "GL" part of GLBT *is* a natural ally of old-guard feminism, in that feminism never really supported the normatisation of female concerns, but rather sought permission for women to play at traditionally male roles. A decidedly lesbian agenda, one that frustrates hetero-, bi- and transexual women attempting to align themselves with the movement.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not a "lesbian agenda," as any given lesbian could be a lesbian one minute and something else the next.

      What would be a better term for the behavior correlations above? "Exclusionary homosexuality"? The male homosexuals who built the masculine war-empires are thoroughly dissimilar to any TV version of limp-wristed lower-middle-class urbanites. They are, rather, a "manly" version of homosexuality. All the concepts of patriarchy are, essentially, homosexual: hanging out with only men; watching manly muscle-sports; dressing in military uniforms; camping out with men in cold weather while hunting animals; competing with men for positions and dollars based on the male social dynamics of a company owned by an old man who picks favorites as successors.

      Despite this, there's still a social aversion to seeing any similarity between homosexuality and the most staid, traditional notions of masculinity. It's taken decades of metaphorical hammers to the head for the idea of the pervert priest to finally reach an expression in the mainstream consciousness. We're clearly all very afraid of admitting something about ourselves.

      Delete
  3. i could be showing a strange bias, but i even find g and l to be a weird alliance. (stereo-?)typical/casual consensus seems to be gs are meh/annoying but ls are cool/down-to-earth. just sorta based on personal experience.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Puppylander: at a more basic level, there aren't many stronger rejections of womanhood than to reject the idea of sex with women, are there?

    So does this mean heterosexual women are strongly rejecting womanhood, since they reject the idea of sex with women, too?

    ReplyDelete
  5. hi arka,having a quick look in to see what you've been talking about this week / did you note my comment to pen karl last week about a person (he said her name was jenny ) suggesting femininity of gay men, i said to this - " being a gay man isn't about femininity , it's of all the varying that goes with men being attracted to other men , of all the gay men that i have known only one was what i would call feminine , they were never comfortable with being born a boy , the most feminine girls do not like make up or heels , neither did he " / i also said to someone else .. that we are not men in drag ,of all of most feminine of womb, that i know ,including myself , don't like make up or heels like daggers.. in our more feminine , something has gone very wrong.. in/of perspective on feminine over the years in ways that relate to some of what i have been able to read in a break here of what you have written about above , my comments here are poorly gathered ,as thoughts , but this is such an important issue , i've been talking about this with others, at gatherings that we have around here , of my neighbourhood , so it is starting to get out there of some discussion about

    ReplyDelete
  6. daisy, touche. i suppose i could have better qualified. (not too unreasonable a leap to except for self-self relations.)

    on the other hand, maybe worth asking, do hetero women reject womanhood? maybe in some cases! (even "reject" in the strong form.) and maybe in other cases, mere recognition ("reject" in a weak, idiosyncratic sense--more, "acceptance of a lack [wrong word]") of complement (better word) or supplement (potentially incorrect).

    anne, i like that "we are not men in drag".

    ReplyDelete