Saturday, March 10, 2012

Variations and vagaries

Dr. Dan Blatt of GayPatriot makes some FB comments on the Iliad and on works derived from it. I am reminded of the Achilles-Patroclus bonding. And Mary Renault's books. And then Mr B made a joke on the phone about the "Native Americans" and the berdache.

As far as I can tell, the public institution of male love in ancient Greece was significantly different from our construct of gayness in that, rather than challenging the role of masculinity in society, it served and solidified it. It was an initiatory part of the patriarchal system and bound by clear rules, ritual and boundaries. That does not mean that the men did not love each other; after all, marriage is also constituted by rules, rituals and boundaries. But it was an older-younger format, and temporary. The rules, rituals and boundaries appear to have been concerned to avoid societal shame, which I take to mean likeness to woman or slaves. Both men had to act with honor. It seems that sex between them was supposed to be intercrural, not anal: that would have been shameful for the younger receiver. Of course it does not mean they always kept all the rules, but the expectation was there.

In a funny way, it might be compared a little to the institution of the royal mistress. I am thinking of Prince Edward and Lillie Langtry as an example. In the elaborate court and gender etiquette of that publicly prim Victorian time, it was well known that she was his mistress, but again, with a set of rules, rituals and boundaries designed to foster the institution of marriage. And to give her definite power, dignity and social position within them. When she later became pregnant (by another prince), she had to go to France and she raised the child as her niece.

(Dan B reminds that Alexander had Hephaistion...not really the same as a male mistress though, but also not often did such pairings occur?)

And although gay cultural-studies types like to use the berdache institution as some kind of vindication of the non-homophobia of the wonderful Gaia-loving sustainable Indians, as they do of the martial and philosophical Greeks, that set-up also fostered rather than challenged the dual-gender regime of the tribes and was equally constructed of clear rules, rituals and boundaries. It was really closer to transgenderism than to homosexuality because it was focussed mostly on gender roles and symbols rather than sexual behavior. Berdaches were males who were ritually transferred into the world of the female (and much more rarely, females into the world of the male.) They dressed, acted like and, crucially,  were restricted to the work of their new gender. As far as I know, there was no institutionalizing of a marriage-like relationship between two fully fledged men.

In the Greek case, the older male-younger male dyad was a training ground for the kind of men that the Greeks desired. It served societal masculinity and solidified it; it had, to my knowledge, no subversive or "alternative" function. The Indian system was a gender-crossing one, quite different from Greece. But it also supported the gender system, precisely in the way it allowed for exceptions. The exceptions proved the rule. And although berdaches had some status in the tribes, at least among the Blackfoot, joking about them was common.

To me, the novelty of contemporary gayness was...or could have been...the assertion that two fully fledged men could make an erotic and emotional bond that was not just initiatory but long-lasting and could do so as men, not as gender-benders. A combination of elements of the Greek and AmerIndian styles in something new. But it has turned out to be something else.

In the "gay" frame, with its founding structures of victimism, feminism and progressivism, being homosexual now means attacking and subverting masculinity (and femininity as well). While gay culture fetishizes masculinity physically and sexually, (witness gay porn), it critiques and contests it in every other way. Its activist leaders have taught gay males to find that a plus. But both societally and psychologically I find that attitude dangerously one-sided. And a lost opportunity.

It was summed up for me one day at my late lamented gym. One of the trainers was working out next to me and we did a little chatting. He had a bodybuilder's very worked-out frame and was quite handsome. With his string of attractive boyfriends (and his videos), I assume that he had a sexual energy to go with all that. But in many ways he had the personality of a teenage girl. And when I asked him --given his build-- if he had ever played football in school, he replied, "Oh, God, no. All that stupid breeder boy shit? No way."

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