Monday, August 23, 2010

Brothers, sisters, others

I was out having a sandwich last week and brought along Nathan Miller and Jack Donovan's book, Blood Brothers. It's a cross-cultural and historical survey of male alliance structures and rituals. With all the variations there are still some astonishing themes. The prominence of shared blood is the most outstanding, of course. Exchange of clothing is frequent, too. But in many of the incidences where the bond is public, it creates new relationships between the men's families. Fascinating stuff, deep archetypal territory.

A man came into the restaurant, someone I would describe as a chatty old queen, whom I know only very casually but who is close to a good friend of mine. I guess he felt that gave him permission to comment. When he asked about the book and gave him a brief outline, he asked, "Oh, is that some kind of leather community thing?" Clearly we were not on the same page. And when I talked about this being a self-generated form of male bonding, as opposed to trying to fit two men into the model of heterosexual marriage, he announce, "Well, anyone can do that, of course, but everyone has the right to be married if they want to." Truth, from the heights of Olympus. Luckily my good friend came in and whisked him away.

Is it just me or is the difference between men and women not massive and central and obvious? Does no one suspect that a universal human institution designed to shape the male-female relationship might not fit two people of the same sex?

When I was looking for a single word to describe a male-male bonding that is both emotional and physical, I finally gave up. I still think that it has three dimensions, each of which still needs it own word: friend, lover and I would add now blood-brother.

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