<$BlogRSDUrl$>

12.06.2003

 

Group Sex: Not


One down, three years to go.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger acknowledged late Friday that the Legislature would probably not approve a pair of financial recovery proposals that he had hoped to place on the March ballot.

In a succession of votes, Senate Republicans and Democrats took turns shooting down the governor's plan and a Democratic alternative to borrow as much as $15 billion to patch a gaping hole in the state budget and prevent future fiscal crises. [...]

GOP senators who met with the governor afterward emerged to say he was very disappointed. (NOTE: Awww, poor Arnie -- "this governing thing and stuff like that" is tough, Maria!)

Republicans and Democrats blamed each other for the failure to reach a deal.
Democrats and Republicans blamed each other? I'm shocked. But the truth is, Governor Group Sex didn't have the needed support in either party. Go figure -- his proposals sucked, and his bully campaign didn't come off to well with most Dems.


12.05.2003

 

Treason Woman!


NOW YOU can have your VERY OWN Ann Coulter Talking Action Figure for only $29.95** through this special online offer! She comes pre-packaged with twelve trite talking point classics the entire family will adore! A few (real!) examples:
"Swing voters are more appropriately known as the 'idiot voters' because they have no set of philosophical principles. By the age of fourteen, you're either a Conservative or a Liberal if you have an IQ above a toaster."

"Why not go to war just for oil? We need oil. What do Hollywood celebrities imagine fuels their private jets? How do they think their cocaine is delivered to them?"

"Liberals hate America, they hate flag-wavers, they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam, post 9/11. Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like Liberals do. They don't have the energy. If they had that much energy, they'd have indoor plumbing by now."
Why not have a piece of Ann? Every other marginal jock in America has -- join the huge crowds! Get one while they last -- they soar from the shelves like witches on broomsticks in a heavy gust on a dark October eve! Don't settle for cheap imitations and don't delay -- you can have this Real American* sitting on the back of your toilet TODAY!

* made in China by teeny tiny young hands

** "voodoo" pins sold seperately

(you just can't make great shit like this up)


 

Good Golly, Ms. Molly!


Molly Ivins, the wonderfully sharp columnist from Austin, puts her support behind Howard Dean today - and she thinks he's a winner!

I believe as Molly does - Dean could very well take Bush down next November. But I'm losing faith in his chances in the general election. Oh, I'm still a Dean National - he was absolutely great on "Hardball" this week - and I will support him in the California primary and, should he be the nominee, in November. But, no one is going to beat the current President by campaigning on a tax increase platform. Granted, taxes should have never been cut that drastically. Bush is engaging in Reagan-style economic trickery. The current "up-swing" in the economic news is all an illusion. The President and his party have bet the farm on the backs of todays children for short term political gain.

That said, with the tax increases already in place, it was only a matter of time before the right wing sting machine started running ads touting Democratic proposals to repeal them. While a repeal may be good fiscal policy, it makes a devestating campaign ad.

(Then again there's this little tid bit that, yet again, illustrates why the Bush-Rove machine is actually scared of Dean.)

I'm swamped at the office today and have back to back engagements tomorrow. However, I'll write more on this issue early next week.

In the meantime, enjoy this knee-slapper found today on contributor Hoffman's blog.

Have a safe weekend.


 

Zen and the Art of Bonsai Shrubbery


Is it just me, or have things been just a wee teensy too serious on the range of late? Well, how's about some levity...


n. bon.sai

1. The art of growing dwarfed, ornamentally shaped trees or shrubs in small shallow pots or trays.
2. A tree or shrub grown by this method.

Take a look at the original: Poppy, the Zen Master who gave us Bonsai Boy Bush!


 

Local Boy Makes Good


Points West editor and contributor Paul Dem has an excellent post published on the main page of Daily Kos today:
From the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald.  Seems to be no trend lines yet.

Dec. 1-3 MOE +/- 5.3%

Undecided 31
Dean 16
Clark 15
Lieberman 15
Gephardt 8.5
Kerry 6
The rest 3

Interesting this:

In hypothetical head-to-head matchups with the five leading Democrats, Bush would beat any of them by eight to 18 percentage points. Dean and Clark came the closest: Each trailed the president by eight points.

Update: Bush's re-elect number, at 43 percent, is good news for the Dems.

Clark is strongest in Pinellas County, with 24.2 percent of voters favored Clark, with Dean and Gephardt at 12.2 percent each.

In Hillsborough County, Dean led the pack with 23.8 percent, followed by Gephardt with 16.7 percent and Clark with 14.3 percent.

Update 2:Dean has a small lead in the new Zogby poll out of South Carolina:

Dean 11 percent, Lieberman 9 percent, Clark 9 percent, Edwards 7 percent, Al Sharpton 7 percent, Gephardt 7 percent, Kerry 4 percent, Braun 3 percent, and Kucinich 3 percent. (J A)
Nice job, Paul!


12.04.2003

 

Pentagon: Fire Gay Translators, Burn Money


They used to say that in times of war it didn't really matter if you were gay, only in times of peace. No more:
In the past two years, the Department of Defense has discharged 37 linguists from the Defense Language Institute for being gay. Like Glover, many studied Arabic. At a time of heightened need for intelligence specialists, 37 linguists were rendered useless because of their homosexuality. [...]

Alastair Gamble is one of the Arabic linguists discharged from the DLI. He was caught in his dorm room with his boyfriend, another linguist, during a surprise barracks inspection at 3:30 a.m. While several heterosexuals were also caught in the sweep, Gamble and his partner became the subjects of an investigation into homosexual conduct. Both were discharged. Gamble, an Emory University graduate who had also completed a nine-week intelligence course, assumed that his value to the Army would save him. [...]

Many of the discharged gay linguists were studying Arabic or Korean, among the most rigorous taught at the DLI and most costly to the U.S. government. The DLI estimates the value of its 63-week Arabic language program -- not including room, board and the service member's salary -- at $33,500.

The Army gave Cathleen Glover a proficiency in Arabic, but it also typed the words "HOMOSEXUAL ADMISSION" on her official discharge papers. The best job she could find was cleaning pools. ... "What if a married person in the military couldn't tell anyone that his wife exists?" Glover said. "And if he did, he'd be fired?" ... "They wasted me," she said.
So, whatever happened to the "Don't Pursue" in "Don't Ask, Don't Tell?" With grave budget concerns, Iraq occupation costs spiraling out of control, and troops spread thin, the Pentagon obviously still believes that it has people to spare -- and U.S. tax dollars to burn.


 

and about that petard....


Many of you have probably seen this, but I was out for a few days, and on Hoffmania! I just came across this tidbit on Old Fashioned Patriot's miserable failure campaign project -- later picked up by Atrios -- helping lift this guy to the #1 spot in Google searches of the phrase "miserable failure"...

Now, if we could get Gephardt's bio in the #2 Google spot...just click:

miserable failure

If you agree with my Kos entry pass it on.


 

Goebbels' Gobble


Yet more photo ops from PW's King George the Fake file:
President Bush's Baghdad turkey was for looking, not for eating.

In the most widely published image from his Thanksgiving day trip to Baghdad, the beaming president is wearing an Army workout jacket and surrounded by soldiers as he cradles a huge platter laden with a golden-brown turkey.

The bird is so perfect it looks as if it came from a food magazine, with bunches of grapes and other trimmings completing a Norman Rockwell image that evokes bounty and security in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.

But as a small sign of the many ways the White House maximized the impact of the 21/2-hour stop at the Baghdad airport, administration officials said yesterday that Bush picked up a decoration, not a serving plate.

Officials said they did not know the turkey would be there or that Bush would pick it up. A contractor had roasted and primped the turkey to adorn the buffet line, while the 600 soldiers were served from cafeteria-style steam trays, the officials said. They said the bird was not placed there in anticipation of Bush's stealthy visit. [...]

Nevertheless, the foray has opened new credibility questions for a White House that has dealt with issues as small as who placed the "Mission Accomplished" banner aboard the aircraft carrier Bush used to proclaim the end of major combat operations in Iraq, and as major as assertions about Saddam Hussein's arsenal of unconventional weapons and his ability to threaten the United States. [...]

"This was effective, because it captured something about the president that people know is true, that he really cares about the soldiers and gets emotional when he sees them," Mary Matalin, a former administration official, said about the trip to Baghdad. "You have to figure out how to capture the Bush we know, even if it doesn't come through in a speech situation or a press conference. He regularly rejects anything that is not him."
So, did they know the Turkey was fake or not? Sure sounds like Mary Matalin did. I bet James Carville really gave her hell on this one...


12.03.2003

 

Dean said: "I'll unseal mine if he'll unseal his."


Yeah! Bring it on. Let's get it all out in the open. Let's get those 9/11 docs unsealed, let's get those energy docs unsealed. Hell, let's get Bush's whole AWOL thing straightened up. Let's find out how much his trip to Iraq last week cost the taxpayers. Lieberman and Kerry need to focus on the real enemy and not the presumptive nominee. Each time they do, they just give him more press. Don't they know this!?

SCOTT NOTES... Anna has an interesting post on this at Dean Nation as well. And OH SHIT!...There's a doozy of a twist on this one, check out my post at Dean Nation.


 

Dershowitz to Government: Quit The Marriage Biz


I tell ya' the LA Times has been seemingly supportive of civil unions lately -- on their Op Ed pages, the front page of Sunday's Book Review and in overall content. Their archives only go back a week (compared the SF Chronicle's rather unlimited archives) so I'm gonna do my best to collect civil-union appropriate material here at Points West.

As I've stated elsewhere, the GOP has already decided to make this a campaign issue. Democrats can either wimp out or take Howard Dean's lead -- but like it or not, the die is cast. "gay marriage" as an issue, as it's less popular. Why quibble with the tuth if you're a Republican?

Notably, most of the Dems have followed Dean -- but our base seems to have some trouble climbing on board. That's one reason I'm currently on this crusade, as I really think the progressive blog community should open up further debate and reporting on civil unions. We need to hash it out, because eventually activists are going to need effective communication tools when talking with working-class Dems, union members, and minorities. Right now, I hear from many that they support Dean in spite of his stance on Civil Unions. However, even this has a useful tool at times. I recently heard a big Central Valley union organizer say simply: 'Listen, like it or not, you gotta give it to him, Dean stands for something and doesn't back down, and that is the only way we will win. It's simply the right thing to do." What's to argue? However, more nuance approaches will be required as well.

We must find tools and ways to state emphatically that civil unions are no threat to marriage, without getting to wrapped up in the real threats to marriage -- namely, divorce -- divorce typically caused by infidelity, substance abuse, or economic pressures. Ironically, the rate of dissolution for civil unions and domestic partnerships for gays and lesbians is likely to be far lower than the heterosexual 50% -- such unions are so charged and polarizing that few will enter in to them lightly. But as for the so-called threat to marriage, Allan Dershowitz actually suggests how civil unions could strengthen marriage itself:
To Fix Gay Dilemma, Government Should Quit the Marriage Business by Alan M. Dershowitz

The decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declaring that gays have a constitutional right to marry could become a powerful wedge issue in American politics. There is, however, a way to avoid that.

Those who oppose gay marriage believe deeply that marriage is sacred -- divine, a blessed sacrament between man and woman as ordained in the Bible. If they are right, then the entire concept of marriage has no place in our civil society, which recognizes the separation between the sacred and the secular, between church and state.

The state is, of course, concerned with the secular rights and responsibilities that are currently associated with the sacrament of marriage: the financial consequences of divorce, the custody of children, Social Security and hospital benefits, etc.

The solution is to unlink the religious institution of marriage -- as distinguished from the secular institution of civil union -- from the state. Under this proposal, any couple could register for civil union, recognized by the state, with all its rights and responsibilities.

Religious couples could then go to the church, synagogue, mosque or other sacred institution of their choice in order to be married. These religious institutions would have total decision-making authority over which marriages to recognize. Catholic churches would not recognize gay marriages. Orthodox Jewish synagogues would not recognize a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew who did not wish to convert to Judaism. And those religious institutions that chose to recognize gay marriages could do so. It would be entirely a religious decision beyond the scope of the state.

Under this new arrangement, marriage would remain a sacrament, as ordained by the Bible and as interpreted by each individual church. No secular consequences would flow from marriage, only from civil union.

In this way, gay couples would win exactly the same rights as heterosexual couples in relationship to the state. They would still have to persuade individual churches of their point of view, but that is not the concern of the secular state.

Not only would this solution be good for gays and for those who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds, it would also strengthen the wall of separation between church and state by placing a sacred institution entirely in the hands of the church while placing a secular institution under state control.

Although this proposal may sound radical, it does not differ fundamentally -- except for labels -- from the situation that exists in many states today. Throughout the United States, couples have the option of being married civilly by going to town halls or to a justice of the peace and simply signing a marriage certificate. They also have the option of going to a church, synagogue or mosque and being married in a religious ceremony. So most Americans already have the choice between a sacrament and a secular agreement ratified by the state.

All that would be different would be the name we give the secular agreement. The word "marriage" would be reserved for those who chose the religious sacrament.

Though some traditionalists would be certain to balk at an explicit division between marriage and civil union, a majority of Americans already agree that gay couples should be allowed to join in secular unions with the rights and responsibilities that generally accompany marriage.

So let each couple decide whether they want to receive the sacrament of marriage or the secular status of civil union. And let the state get out of the business of determining who should receive holy sacraments.

Alan M. Dershowitz is a law professor at Harvard University.
Well, it's one suggestion, an interesting one. And so I request of the blogging community again, consider this as a front-burner issue -- it already is for the GOP, and we're not gonna win on this one by sticking our collective heads in the sand.


12.02.2003

 

1,000 and 101


Today, we passed a little milestone of 1,000 visits after little more than a week-and-a-half tracking, currently at 1,042. And in a nice bit of symmetry, our daily average visits have just passed 100, and stands at 101. Thanks, Westerners!


12.01.2003

 

Coming Out at Points West


Well, I never wanted us to be THAT Queer Blog. In fact, I really tried to avoid it. Alas, I have failed. Perhaps history and our own self-interests conspire against us, eh? I also hope that we haven't scared of Hoffman with our newly-revised Queer Vigilance. And by the way, big gay marriage proponent Andrew Sullivan seems to not enjoy primers on civil unions unless he himself is writing them. To wit:
I liked the blog but it wasn't quite eye-catching enough a post for a link. No offense, I hope.
None taken, but what the f*ck does that mean and why are the words of everyday people that simply want the rights, privs, and responsibilites of everyone else not eye-catching to Sully?

The beltway is a damaging road one supposes, but I do not know. However, I wonder what he thought of Edmund White's brilliant cover story from the LA Times Book Review, which requires a 7-day brick-and-mortar subscription or a fee, so I reprint it here for you with little comment. A quick note to Brent, who has always adored White's Our Paris. Read it, it's stunning.
The history of a love that dares speak its name - by Edmund White

Homosexuality is the most obvious and often-practiced erotic alternative to heterosexuality and the one, because it shades into friendship and rivalry, fealty and rebellion, that calls on an extraordinarily wide range of human sentiments and institutions. In the 20th century, it became a theme that haunted most of the best writers of fiction: D.H. Lawrence and Gide, Jean Genet and Marcel Proust, Christopher Isherwood and Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather. Whether thought of as a literary theme or as a social force, homosexuality is the reverse side of the tapestry, and the design can best be made out in its scrambled threads. So interesting is it as a subject for novelists and historians that a library of books about homosexuality has accumulated in the last 25 years. This season more compelling volumes have arrived, deepening our sense of the historical trajectory -- and complications -- of human sexuality, as well as the history of human intolerance.

Homophobia, though gradually receding, can be exacerbated when gays are seen to be invading the basic institutions of our society, including marriage and adoption. Gay marriage will undoubtedly be the most discussed social issue in the upcoming presidential election. The recent decision by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts that denying homosexual couples the right to marriage violates the state constitution has alarmed the Christian right and its conservative allies, among others.

This is hardly surprising since Christianity, it turns out, has long been homosexuality's great enemy. For the 600 or 700 years before the political triumph of Christianity, the classical world of Greece and Rome honored love between males as being superior to heterosexuality. Indeed (as Louis Crompton points out in his brilliantly researched "Homosexuality and Civilization") Plutarch made a splash in the 2nd century arguing in the "Eroticus" that conjugal love is preferable to the love of boys.

"Plutarch has from the first presented himself as a defender of conjugal love," Crompton says. "But his panegyric is in fact a paradox. Since he chooses to draw on episodes from traditional Greek history and myth and the commonplaces of popular opinion, the vast majority of his examples are inevitably homosexual. Whereas the first part of the 'Eroticus' accorded equal time to two differing points of view, and though Plutarch will later defend matrimony, heterosexuality assumes a distinctly minor role in the panegyric. So strong was Greek tradition that to reconstruct the idea of love on a primarily heterosexual basis would have been extremely difficult, even at the end of antiquity, and Plutarch does not try. Nothing could be more revealing of the prestige male love still held in late Hellenic culture."

About 150 years later the "Amores" attributed to Lucian takes up once more the debate between the defenders of women and the defenders of boys. One of the heterosexual apologists argues that homosexuality threatens the survival of the race and is unnatural since it is not to be found in the animal kingdom. The defender of pederasty replies that in the early days of civilization men were struggling to subsist and did not yet know "the proper way to live." The love of males -- "the privilege only of philosophy" -- is not to be found among other animals because it is a gift of humanity: "Lions do not have such a love, because they are not philosophers either. Bears have no such love, because they are ignorant of the beauty that comes from friendship." (Interestingly, a book published in 1999, Bruce Bagemihl's "Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity," establishes that homosexuality is found in more than 450 species.)

The classical preference for pederasty vanished with the conversion of Constantine to Christianity. Suddenly the polite debates about boy love versus heterosexuality were replaced by legal persecutions of homosexuals. Constantine's own sons passed stringent laws against sodomy, and these were codified and expanded under the Emperor Justinian. As Edward Gibbon wrote in the 18th century, "Justinian declared himself the implacable enemy of unmanly lust and the cruelty of his persecution can scarcely be excused by the purity of his motives.... " Men -- even bishops -- accused of sodomy had their penises removed and were paraded naked in the streets.

In the Middle Ages the punishments were still harsher and more widely applied. Many sodomites were burned to death. In Ireland consent wasn't even an issue. One Irish penitential decreed: "A small boy misused by an older one, if he is ten years of age, shall fast for a week; if he consents for twenty day." Under Charlemagne the laws against homosexuality were conflated with those against bestiality (quite literally homosexuality had been "de-humanized"), and a church council at Paris explicitly endorsed capital punishment for homosexuals. The council interpreted the writings of St. Paul as advocating the death penalty -- in the Epistle to the Romans, Paul had found "this infamous crime" to be "worthy of death."

One of the most fascinating sections in "Homosexuality and Civilization" deals with the Knights Templar. When this order lost its control over the holy city of Jerusalem during the Crusades, it also lost its prestige. King Philip IV of France ("Philip the Fair"), in need of money for his wars, declared the Templars (with little or no evidence) to be sodomites, worshipers of an idol in the form of a cat who enjoined their members to spit on the Holy Cross. Pure invention, but the king rushed the Templars to judgment, exacted confessions from them with torture and, before they could retract, had them burned to death. Once they were out of the way, their property was seized by the crown. Even Dante, whose "Inferno" contains some harsh passages about homosexuals, denounced Philip the Fair in "Purgatorio" for his "cruelty and avarice."

Crompton, drawing on his immense erudition, contrasts Christianity and its barbaric cruelty toward same-sex love with more benign traditions in Moorish Spain (where virtually all love poems by Jews or Muslims were addressed to boys, despite the strictures of the Koran and of Leviticus). Crompton also discusses the cult of romantic homosexuality in traditional Japan, where relationships of intense loyalty and idealism sprang up between the samurai and their pages. Curiously enough, in late 19th century Japanese literature male homosexuality became associated with uncouth brutes, usually from the rural south, whereas a disposition toward heterosexuality was linked to refinement and even effeminacy.

The violence done to homosexuals in the Christian West made queer individuals go underground and disperse. No wonder gay history has been so hard to recover, though we are witnessing a flourishing of such endeavors. "Toward Stonewall," by Nicholas C. Edsall, begins with the Enlightenment, overlapping with "Homosexuality and Civilization," which ends there. Edsall finds that "sodomitical subcultures" began to emerge in northwestern Europe about 1700, accompanied by a corresponding wave of persecution. In Paris, the police attempted to avoid public scandals, especially those involving aristocrats and public figures. (Even well into the 1980s the French had a special police force called "la Mondaine," which kept tabs on prostitution and protected the reputations of celebrities.)

In 18th century London, there were Societies for the Reformation of Manners, an ad hoc movement for the suppression of bawdyhouses and sodomy as well as obscenity, drunkenness, blasphemy and Sabbath breaking. This kind of highly publicized reform movement, however, encouraged, Edsall says, "blackmail, extortion and bribery, the manufacturing of evidence, and the criminalization of otherwise relatively harmless activities." In Holland the celebrated tolerance of the country sometimes gave way to savage witch-hunting of homosexuals. In a village near Groningen in September 1731, 24 men and boys were accused (probably falsely) of sodomy and were burned at the stake.

As the 18th century went on, the Enlightenment led to more progressive attitudes, and by the 1730s the systematic persecution of homosexuals had come to an end in most places. ("Only" seven sodomites were burned in Paris during the 18th century.) The leading philosophers took lenient positions. Diderot declared that "nothing that exists can be against nature or outside nature," though he did not mention sodomy explicitly. Such directness was left to the Marquis de Sade, who declared, "It makes absolutely no difference whether one enjoys a girl or a boy, no inclinations or tastes can exist in us save the ones we have from Nature." Sade's argument was the most "evolved" one in any country until the 1960s. In England at the end of the 18th century, Jeremy Bentham argued for a benign neglect of homosexuals on the basis that persecution only hardened these men in the pursuit of their misdeeds -- but even this guarded defense Bentham did not dare to publish (indeed, some of his texts on sodomy were published only in 1978).

In America, perhaps the necessary conditions for a visible homosexual subculture did not come together until after the Civil War, though the police record and news articles from earlier in the 19th century occasionally picked up stories of extortion or prostitution in New York. The first homosexual spokesman in America was Walt Whitman, though he was always careful to cover his traces. The English gay apologist John Addington Symonds revered Whitman, as did Oscar Wilde, who visited Whitman in New Jersey and wrote: "There is no one in the great wide world of America whom I love and honor so much." In our own times, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg proudly claimed that his lover, Neal Cassady, had slept with Gavin Arthur (President Chester Arthur's grandson), who had slept with the homosexual advocate from England Edward Carpenter, who had slept with Whitman -- a sort of apostolic succession that Ginsberg felt, half-seriously, legitimized him as a gay bard.

"Toward Stonewall" is a good overview, suitable for courses in queer history. It summarizes the research in other books, such as the first gay liberation movement of the 1910s and '20s in Germany or the strenuous persecution by the Nazis (Edsall estimates that 50,000 or 60,000 homosexuals were arrested by the Reich, even if one counts only civilians and German citizens). Many of these men died in concentration camps. Edsall covers the McCarthy years of persecution in America and ends with the beginning of modern gay liberation, the Stonewall Uprising in 1969 in New York, the event that gay marches all over the world commemorate every year.

Gay history, of course, is a fraught subject starting with the very words "gay" and "queer." Is it historical to talk about a figure like Whitman as "gay," since he would never have used such a designation for himself nor would he have defended (or known how to defend) an identity based on his sexuality? Jonathan Ned Katz explores this thorny area in "Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality," in which he demonstrates that in the 19th century the line between a same-sex romantic friendship and an overtly sexual relationship was a wavering one, never firmly drawn. Katz discusses the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and the man with whom he shared a bed for several years, discusses Whitman and gives diary entries from a pre-Civil War Harvard student bewildered by his affection for a classmate.

Michel Foucault famously argued that before the 19th century there may have been the crime of sodomy but not the genus of "sodomite." (Foucault's position has been vigorously contested by historians during the last two decades.) Foucault's argument is the one taken up by social constructionists, who argue that there is virtually no link between the pedophiles of ancient Greece, say, and modern urban male homosexuals. Indeed, as K.J. Dover first proved in his 1978 book "Greek Homosexuality," every aspect of classical boy-love was regulated, from the ideal ages and age difference of the partners to the sexual practices, to courtship etiquette and the pedagogical purposes of the relationship. And, truth be told, this kind of rapport seems to have almost nothing in common with modern American homosexuality -- with the civil union, say, of two bearded 35-year-old lawyers in San Francisco who have adopted a Korean girl....

If social constructivists insist on discontinuity in "gay history," the members of the opposite school, the "essentialists," believe there is an underlying if elusive drive or at least similarity -- biological or situational or even mystical -- that links gay people across the divide of centuries and cultures.

I'm not sure where Graham Robb, the biographer of Balzac and Rimbaud, would place himself on the constructivist-essentialist scale, but in "Strangers: Homosexual Love in the 19th Century," he does a brilliant job in analyzing the prevailing myths about homosexuality in the past that he found:

"Fact: Homosexuals are less likely to marry than heterosexuals.

Theory: Homosexuality is caused by celibacy.

Fact: Homosexual acts were illegal.

Theory: The homosexual is a criminal type.

Fact: Many homosexuals studied by doctors had suffered blackmail, arrest, public mockery and a humiliating medical examination.

Theory: Homosexuals are neurotic.

Fact: Lunatic asylums provided pathologists with large numbers of more or less compliant experimental subjects.

Theory: Homosexuals are insane."

Robb reminds us that "homosexuality" was a term probably invented in the 1860s by a Hungarian man of letters named Kertbeny in a letter to the sexual theorist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Ulrichs had proposed the term "Uranians" for homosexuals and "Dionians" for heterosexuals. Of course, "heterosexual" was itself a term that acquired its present meaning only in the 20th century; before that it usually meant "oversexed."

Robb is amusing and informative about the signals gays sent to each other in the 19th century. Not only did they use ordinary words with an unusual emphasis, they also put their fingers under their tailcoats and wagged them (in London) or walked beautifully groomed poodles (lesbians in 19th century Paris). Green had been a gay color for centuries. (I can remember, in high school in the 1950s, how wearing green on Thursdays was tantamount to an open confession.) Once homosexuals were assured of another person's complicity, they could become transformed completely; I have read that when Tchaikovsky met Saint-Saens, they were both in drag within minutes, dancing about and laughing. By the 1890s New York homosexuals were meeting at such venues as the Golden Rule Pleasure Club and the Cercle Hermaphroditos, which congregated at Paresis Hall in Manhattan.

Robb has read widely and quotes from Byron's letters and even Smollett's "Roderick Ransom," in which Earl Strutwell defends homosexuality with wit and concision. We learn that when Byron was forced to leave England in 1811 because of his homosexual reputation, he was only following the path of William Beckford, an earlier so-called martyr of prejudice, just as late in the 19th century frightened English homosexuals followed Wilde's path to Paris or Rimbaud's to Abyssinia. "These new maps of martyrs' travels," Robb writes, "were superimposed on older routes with historical and mythological staging-posts: Chaeronea, where the Theban band of soldier-lovers perished; Leucadia, where Sappho jumped to her death; Mount Ida, where Zeus ravished Ganymede."

Discussions of homosexuality -- at least in histories -- can become a bit abstract, a tendency corrected by "Picturing Men: A Century of Male Relationships in Everyday American Photography" by John lbson. These portraits, which range from the Civil War to the 1950s, show same-sex friendships in the era before Freud became a household word and Kinsey revealed how extensive homosexual experience truly was in contemporary society. These pictures -- of soldiers, sailors, athletes, fellow students, brothers or just friends -- show men holding hands, linking arms or sitting on each other's laps. Sometimes they are obviously clowning, but more often they look at each other with deep, unembarrassed affection. A closing section is devoted to pictures and text about Americans, male and female, who fought in World War II.

For many historians the war was the forcing shed of modern homosexual identity. All the necessary conditions for coming out were present. Large groups of young men -- and of young women -- were separated from the opposite sex in barracks. Soldiers and sailors faced imminent death, which promoted a seize-the-day psychology. They were living far from home and the surveillance of old friends and family members. They had a bit of money of their own. On leave they could get drunk and do as they pleased. Allan Berube's "Coming Out Under Fire" is the definitive book on the subject.

James McCourt's "Queer Street: Rise and Fall of an American Culture, 1947-1985" is as idiosyncratic and funny as many of these other studies are impersonal and solemn. McCourt, a novelist known for his hilarious novel about an opera diva, "Mawrdew Czgowchwz," has assembled interviews with Mae West and Bette Davis, old diaries and news clippings, lists and apothegms -- all to portray a camp sensibility that thrived on indirection and absurdity and that acted, as Susan Sontag once observed, out of affection for failed glamour. Religion, world literature, old movies, opera anecdotes are all discussed here. McCourt's book is not a study of gay rights and certainly not of gay sexuality; instead it is a sly and resolutely disorganized homage to a vanished sense of humor.

Equally entertaining are the texts anthologized by our best lesbian critic, Terry Castle. In her wonderfully elucidating introduction to "The Literature of Lesbianism," Castle points out that the word "lesbian" did not refer to love between women before 1890, just as sapphism (to mean unnatural relations between women) did not acquire that acceptation until the same year. And yet writers since the Renaissance had dealt with the subject -- a revival partly because of the rediscovery of classical Roman and Greek authors who wrote books about the love between women (Sappho, Ovid and Juvenal above all).

Castle is careful to point out that the authors she anthologizes are not always or even usually lesbians, though all of them are aware of the idea of sexual love between women. She includes the Italian poet Ariosto because in 1531, when his "Orlando Furioso" first appeared, "lesbianism became openly, if ambivalently, 'thinkable' for the first time since late antiquity." The ways in which writers since then have thought about lesbianism occurred most often in poems, plays and stories about Sappho. Sappho interested Boccaccio and Petrarch in Italy and Louise -- and Pierre Ronsard in France and, in England, poets from Alexander Pope to Swinburne.

Many of Castle's writers about lesbians are men, from Theophile Gautier to Henry James, Proust to Ronald Firbank and Hemingway. "In each case," Castle writes, "there is something emancipating in the encounter between male writer and sapphic Muse -- a sort of mad permission-granting that can sometimes resolve (as in Gautier or Firbank) into profound emotional gratification. She lets him be himself, while also providing that psychic arousal from which a complex human art is born."

If men have often written their best pages about lesbians, the opposite case also applies. Colette wrote convincingly about homosexual men in "The Pure and the Impure"; Marguerite Yourcenar raised a literary monument in the "Memoirs of Hadrian," as did Mary Renault in "The Persian Boy." And the best (and sexiest) story about gay men written in the last two decades, "Brokeback Mountain," is by Annie Proulx. Even in this odd, unexpected way, it seems, opposites attract -- and pure invention remains at the heart of all creative work.

Edmund White is the author of numerous books, including "Fanny: A Fiction," "Genet: A Biography" and "States of Desire: Travels in Gay America."
Now, tell me, is this man not a national treasure? Does he not deserve the same rights that most take for granted? If not, tell me why, because It - is - time. And by the way, Mister White -- White v. Sullivan? You, Sir White, you.


11.30.2003

 

Sunday Musings


Back from the extended Thanksgiving holiday to find Scott's wonderful news about Points West readership. Contributing to the blog has been a pleasure beyond words. Scott, Brian, Paul and Hoffman: "I'm not worthy!"

Now...onto the Sunday news. When I arrived back in Santa Barbara this morning, I brewed up a pot of hot coffee, pulled on a pair of flannel pajamas, curled up on the sofa, and buried myself in the Sunday papers.

A few musings from the peanut gallery...

"THANKS, MR. BUSH. WE'LL TAKE IT FROM HERE"
Thomas Friedman nails it (once again) in the Sunday New York Times. The Pulitzer Prize winning columnist is probably the only liberal out there who gets it: The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee is going to have to come across a bit more hawkish on the issues of Iraq and, by extension, terrorism. Friedman challenges the left to step up to the plate and offer a solid, credible alternative to the foreign policy of the Bush team.
...even though the Bush team came to this theme late in the day, this war is the most important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. The primary focus of U.S. forces in Iraq today is erecting a decent, legitimate, tolerant, pluralistic representative government from the ground up. I don't know if we can pull this off. We got off to an unnecessarily bad start. But it is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad and it is a moral and strategic imperative that we give it our best shot.
Friedman goes on to suggest that liberal opposition to Bush's foreign policy should actually come from the right.
On Iraq, there has to be more to the left than anti-Bushism. The senior Democrat who understands that best is the one not running for president; Senator Joe Biden. He understands that the liberal opposition to the Bush team should be from the right; to demand that we send more troops to Iraq, and more committed democracy builders, to do the job better and smarter than the Bush team has.
As I suggested last month, the "Democratic nine" better get it together and quick. We're 11 months away from the next election and with national security heavy-hitters like Gary Hart, Joe Biden, and Al Gore sitting on the sidelines, our candidates need to focus like a laser beam on foreign policy. (Like it or not, this is where the contest is going to be decided.) Perception is everything in politics and the Democrats, for some reason or another, fairly or unfairly, are running campaigns perceived to be weak in the foreign policy arena.

Josh Marshall and Doug Ireland weigh in about the Democrats' dilemma as well.

THE BLUE vs THE RED
Anticipating another close election in 2004, political operatives in both parties argue that next year's winner will be the guy most able to get his base riled up and to the polls. Whereas in most presidential contests the key to victory lays in the ability to win over independent voters, both major parties this year are doing all they can to make sure their core supporters are there next November. The Bush campaign has begun a huge Republican voter registration drive that Ken Mehlman, the President's campaign manager, is calling the "largest grass-roots effort ever."

Ken Mehlman...meet Joe Trippi.

This contest is going to be hard fought and right now the incumbent has a strong advantage. If the 2002 contests provide any indication, the GOP seems to be out-maneuvering the Dems in the old fashioned area of leg work. The Democrats need to match Mehlman's voter regsitration efforts and follow it up with foot soldiers in Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and many of those other states we'd like to see painted blue 11 months from now. Addtionally, the hundreds of thousands of supporters the Democratic campaigns are picking up on the internet need to turn their initial interest into votes. Follow-up with those new supporters is vital. Democratic precinct captains around the nation should make solid efforts to get those voters to the polls on November 2 (even if their guy winds up losing the party nomination).

KERRY BLAH BLAH
And finally, in the interest of fairness and balance, a well written profile of John Kerry appears on page one of the NY Times today. Lifetime of experience, blah blah. Gap in perception, blah blah. His campaign is stuck in the mud and it leaves the perception that he's not up to the job. Gary Hart endorsed Sen. Kerry in September and for this voter that endorsement knocks the candidate up quite a few notches. But, for now, I'm still a Dean guy.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?