Friday, December 16, 2011

The Right to Die

Last week I had lunch with two former colleagues in social work with whom I worked for about thirty years. As often happens, part of the conversation involved stories of colleagues who have either died or have serious health problems. I want to stress the word "part" because I have shared the common negative perception that death and illness occupy most conversation of the elderly. One of the "benefits" of having lived through the Aid's epidemic is the realization that being acutely aware of mortality and illness is not an exclusive characteristic of the elderly, but forms a part of anyone's life at any age who has come face to face with those vulnerabilities. While, at one point in my life, I would have reacted with distaste to such a topic of conversation, since the experience with Aid's and becoming elderly myself, I am more comfortable with the naturalness of sharing those concerns, as long as the topic doesn't become the predominant focus of the conversation.

Just one block from my home there is a chronic care facility that would be most accurately described as a warehouse for people. It is a concrete structure of Stalinist-era architectural design, ten stories tall, with small windows. It houses mostly the elderly and some physically handicapped whom it has been determined cannot live on their own. While the rooms of residents on the upper eight floors are not air conditioned, the staff floors have windows fitted with air conditioners. Imagine the stifling heat and over whelming odours of the patient floors on hot Summer days, when the building stands totally exposed to the heat of the sun. Sometimes, as I walk by with my dog, Zoe, I hear the moaning of residents, who have, evidently, not been adequately meditated into tranquility. That establishment serves as a portent for me of an end of life care that I would  dread and would not want to survive to experience.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Marc. A Remembrance

This isn't the first ode to a client dying young about whom I've blogged, but, I assure you, it will be the last for a while. I suppose my adolescent romanticism remains with me and one of its allures is the early death of an attractive boy. Perhaps, another motivating factor is the desire to memorialize a loss from the days of plague; losses that often came so frequently that grieving was interrupted by the next loss and, so, continues.

Marc was fifteen when he became my client at the Gay Social Services Project in the late Seventies. He was on the short side and had features that clearly showed aboriginal genes in his inheritance. His eyes were black, his hair jet black, his complexion rudy and his teeth a startling white. To me Marc was an attractive boy; he was very aware both of his attractiveness and that he had made a conquest. His inclinations were towards older men, whom he approached with a winning flirtatiousness. Though clearly pleased that I had been assigned as his case worker, he was savvy enough to observe boundaries and never in the years that he was my client did he make an overt sexual gesture. I, myself, realized that observing a professional boundary was essential if our relationship was to be productive. Nevertheless, the sexual energy that passed between us contributed to the effectiveness of our working relationship; to deny its presence or to think negatively of it would be both hypocritical and a manifestation of a sex-negative mentality.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mind and Matter. A Reflection

In a recent conversation a client used the word "narrative", then remarked with a smile that it was one of my favorite words, which he had learned from having discovered my blog. The concept of narrative is certainly one that I find very helpful both in the work of therapy and the understanding of my own and others lives. Sometimes I imagine readers of the blog must find it tedious to see the term employed with such frequency. I may have felt more defensive about the repeated use of that concept had I not, happily, stumbled a few days before upon a fascinating article in the New York Times; an article which boldly leads me to voyage into spaces the specifics of which I know very little;  employing the concept of narrative to sketch an understanding of what is real

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Twist of the Kaleidoscope

When I first thought of writing a blog, I was going to use the adjective "kaleidoscopic" in its title in order to signal my intention to employ the kaleidoscope as a metaphor for the human person. Our individual experiences of sensory data, what we are capable of perceiving of whatever is there, are continually constructed and deconstructed through language and perspective; shifting as we move through life from one time to another, through space from one context to another; just as the bits of coloured glass are formed and fractured by turning a kaleidoscope, emerging as new patterns; changing patterns that make a life. A friend suggested the use of that adjective rendered the blog title more than a little obscure, so I chose the more straight-forward one of "brucethoughts". What I am describing here represents another turning of the apparatus; a different configuration of the bits of the self; something which, in its specifics, may be of interest only to me, but is an instance of a process present in each of us.

In my last post describing some of the narratives that construct my present life, there is a striking absence of one that informed earlier times in my life: there is no significant political narrative; no struggle against oppression or repression; a detachment from the major issues of the world. The political narrative remains as a part of my thinking, but is embodied in my activities hardly at all.  As an illustration, despite my contention that older gays should continue to be included in the political life of the gay community I have taken no action to further that goal. Today, it is almost exclusively my interventions as a therapist that represent a domain of action informed by a political perspective: the propensity to often view conflicts within a person as a product of oppression and repression.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

And Then There Is Me

As a gay male on the cusp of seventy-one, I want to reflect on my current life-experience from the perspective of what I have written concerning older gay men. I'm very conscious of the fact that, even if musing about my own life holds little interest for most people, nevertheless it is productive for me. Writing about the present is difficult to do; more difficult that writing about the past. Just as an important value of therapy is to gain perspective on your life from another person, not involved in your personal life, so the simple fact of time-passing provides somewhat of a perspective on your own past life. While I can look at the past and see some of the narratives I think were guiding my life, it's more difficult for me to discern what narratives are constructing my present.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fight Gay Ageism: Go Shopping!

The recent deaths of Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings highlight the reality that, despite the negative attitudes toward aging in the gay community as a whole, there are sparkling exceptions of elders who were pioneers in the movement for homosexual civil rights and continued to be influential leaders after the inception of the gay liberation movement.  They stand in stark exception to the more common treatment of pioneers in our community, which has been either to ignore them totally or to trot them out as relics at reward ceremonies.

Patricia Neel Warren wrote in the Nineties of attending such a ceremony during which an elderly man with a walker was asked to come up on the stage to receive a plaque of recognition. She describes watching with embarrassment as the man struggled to negotiate access to the stage; no one in the audience made any attempt to help him; some even chuckled. She relates that she made a decision after witnessing that even to stop using the word "community" to refer to gay society; any genuine community, she felt, would not treat their most vulnerable members in such a fashion.

It would have been preferable and praiseworthy had a powerful enough movement to bring about a more positive attitude toward aging, along with more caring and respect for gay elders, emerged from within the gay community itself. As it is, the simple fact of demographic shift will likely be the most effective factor in accomplishing that goal. To be sure, there have been both individuals and organizations (SAGE is a fine illustration) in the last couplee of decades that have been working to change the negative perception and treatment of elderly gays in our community. However, in my opinion, they have not yet achieved the breadth and strength of influence to accomplish the significant change that is needed if were are to become a healthier community for gays of all ages.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gay Ageism: A Particular Vulnerability.

I have reflected in my last post on the fact that the gay community, more specifically, the gay, male community, has internalized negative narratives regarding gay aging that are propagated by the dominant, heterosexist culture. That narrative is, of course, re-enforced by the broader culture of youth that has prevailed in Western Society since the Sixties. It is not to be expected that the gay community would be impervious to that broader, cultural trend; however, I want to suggest that the community has, in fact, been particularly susceptible to some of its more destructive consequences.

Such vulnerability exists because of characteristics which are either particularly present or specific to the gay male community itself; characteristics that have served to augment the negative narrative present in the wider culture; creating a negative feedback loop. The emphasis on the value of youth and the horrors of gay aging transmitted by the dominant culture feed negative perceptions and experiences of aging endemic to the gay community; the extreme negativity toward aging in the gay community strengthens the perception of the accuracy of the perspective of the dominant culture. Each trip through the loop augments the negativity; re-enforces the narrative serving the interests of the dominant, heterosexist culture and diminishing the lives of gay men.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Older and Politically Queerect

Let's begin at the begining: what's in a name? In a book being used as a text in a university Queer Studies course I read an essay on aging admonishing readers to not use the term "older". "Older", like the phrase "Senior Citizen", being seen as a euphemism; a euphemism that indicates discomfort with the more "correct" designations of "old", "aged" or "elderly"; the model being the adoption and transformation of the term "queer" from a pejorative to an affirmative designation.

I found that assertion to be peculiar, coming as it did, from a theorist, himself far from elderly, who knows the power of naming and, what is more important, the power of self-naming. It was an exercise of that power when we went from being labeled as "homosexuals" to calling ourselves "gay"; in itself, a significant, early accomplishment of the gay liberation movement.  Subsequently,  we've evolved to using the designation "LGBT"; more recently, it has been suggested to elaborate that designation into "LGBTQIAO": Q for Queer; I for Intersex; A for Asexual;O for Ominsexual; for the moment seen as a more inclusive designation; with the potential for expanding indefinitely; posing a difficulty for the makers of posters and chanters of chants.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Being Invisible

I have frequently heard from clients, most frequently in their late forties and fifties, that attempting to meet other men in gay bars or on the net has become increasingly frustrating for them; that they are never cruised in bars and almost never messaged on-line. Their experience is re-enforced and somewhat skewed if they happen to be interested in men younger than themselves. Frequently, they make the assumption that all gay men share their preference, so they have become too old to ever meet a boyfriend, partner, lover to whom they would feel attraction.

In fact, research indicates that gay men often form the most enduring relationships of their lives in their forties. Though it is difficult to come by reliable statistics, it does appear, however, that the possibilities of finding a partner diminish with each decade after the forties; up to the forties somewhere just under fifty percent of gay men are living with partners, but by the time you reach the sixties and seventies it seems that only about one-third of gay men are living with someone; a significantly smaller proportion than is found with heterosexual men of the same age. Those older gay men living in relationships tend to be with long term partners and the single ones tend never to have been in a relationship of any significant length.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Therapy and Traditional Belief

In my post, Absolutes, Relativism, Nihilism, I suggested that an evidence-based ethics could be developed based on Aristotle's Ethics; an ethics that takes the goal of life to be the flourishing of the human species and sees as a means to that goal reasoning well. In this post I want to further suggest that a leading method of psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), can be seen as providing a framework for such an ethic, rather than as a neutral, therapeutic technique.

It's hardly surprising that psychotherapies necessarily incorporate the values of particular world views. Almost universally those world views reflect a secular, post-Enlightenment perspective that values the use of reason in individual and collective choices and opposes the influence of dogma and tradition. Freud's dictum' "Where id was, let ego be", reflects a belief in the heuristic value of reason over the unreasonable.

The initial rise in the practice of psychotherapy in the early Twentieth Century was accompanied by fierce opposition from most religions with the suspicion that psychotherapists were attempting to assume the role of priests; providing confession, absolution and guidance in the consulting room, rather than the confessional. In contemporary societies that are feudal in nature, those in which authoritarian rule and tradition predominate, psychotherapy is still seen either as a threat or as an irrelevant, incomprehensible import from Western culture.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Spill Not Thy Seed Upon The Ground

The first time I recall having made concrete plans for my decline into old age and eventual death occurred when I purchased a condo in my late forties after Will and I had broken up. It was important to me that I be able to afford staying there, living on my own and on a moderate pension, that it be easily accessible and have no internal stairs. Jokingly, I referred to it as my mausoleum; jokes, as I remark to the point of boredom, often bearing truth.

Naturally, having been a gay adolescent, this wasn't by far my first thought of death. The usual templates for living happily ever after seem neither applicable nor particularly appealing to many a gay adolescent; whether it be getting the person of your dreams or becoming a star athlete; though there are exceptions, especially, one hopes, more now than then. Gay youths of my generation tended to be particularly drawn to romanticism: to fantasies of handsome princes dying young; beautiful Camelots in decline and decay; love both tragically and happily ending before its expected consummation. It is a romanticism that lives and breathes in many a Broadway musical; love confronting its inevitable barriers and impossibilities; on the stage usually rescued by a happy ending; those who haven't died young need to sell tickets in order to make their way in the world as adults.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Absolutes, Relativism, Nihilism

I was recently distracted by an opinion piece in the New York Times arguing that moral relativism necessarily morphs into nihilism (The Maze of Moral Relativism, 24/07/11). The argument begins with the claim, frequently made in philosophy, that notions of good and bad, right and wrong, belong to a particular normative domain: the domain of oughts and shoulds, rather than facts. Accordingly, descriptions of "what is" or facts would be considered illegitimate when used to support notions of what is right or wrong; only moral absolutes, such as are found in most religions, can be used to buttress a moral judgement. Since moral relativism rests on statements of fact, i.e., statements that something is right or wrong relative to a particular moral code, it cannot embody what is regarded as a moral judgment and, hence, would result in nihilism. The conclusion being that one must choose between belief in moral absolutes or nihilism.

I haven't outlined all the points elaborated in the article leading to that either/or conclusion; however, I harbor a skepticism towards all binary options. If it isn't possible to make moral judgments without reference to absolutes and those absolutes are most often found within religious systems, it would seem to follow that engaging in rational discourse regarding what is considered right or wrong, good or bad, would be fruitless; the ultimate reference point would be an article of faith. If we were discussing the morality of abortion, after one person arrived at his belief in the sanctity of human life from conception and the other arrived at a person's right to choose, we would be at an impasse. The person basing his position on the right to choose may assert that such a right is inalienable and-God given, which simply confronts us with conflicting absolutes. On the other hand, he might ague that the right to choose is based on the sort of society in which he prefers to live: a relativistic, factual statement which some would claim to be irrelevant from a moral perspective. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Humiliation in Sexual Play

The last posting on cocks elicited comments related to humiliation suffered by people with small cocks and referencing a recent study that documented the correlations between what is taken to be a smaller than average cock size, low self-esteem and the likelihood of being the bottom in anal intercourse. I wonder if that study implies that bottoms have lower self-esteem than tops; perhaps that would be the case. However, I believe individual narratives would differ considerably from general responses to a survey. There's no doubt that being a top is valued in the gay world; how could being more dominant and being seen as more masculine not be, generally, more preferred in our society? On the other hand, research also shows that most gay couples who practice anal sex are not exclusive in their roles. Does their self esteem vary according to the role they have chosen in a particular encounter?

My own conversations with gay men who make a point of always being a top have often indicated a fragility behind that preference: the fear of being perceived as less than a man if they were to assume the so-called passive role in anal sex. Understandably, behind that fear is usually a negative appraisal of what it means to be gay and a history of having resisted that identification. Taking refuge in the old shibboleth that a man who fucks a man is twice a man reflects the cultural stereotype of men as dominant and women as passive that has long been a lynch pin of homophobia. It is not surprising that many gay men, having been socialized as men, would subscribe to that cultural perspective and link their preferences in anal sex to their self-esteem. I would maintain that gay men who are more liberated, i.e., more critical of the norms of our culture, are less likely to have their self-esteem linked to a particular sexual role; their comfort with a variety of sexual roles being a sign of a deeper affirmation of their identity as gay.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cocks. My Experience

Well, not really my experience; that would be too shocking in a family-rated blog; more accurately, the experiences of my clients. Shocking enough, I suppose. You can't be a therapist conversing with gay men and be perceived as open to hearing about their sexual exploits and fantasies without hearing a lot about cock. I imagine the same is true of a therapist working with heterosexual men with the same openness to hearing about boobs. In fact, you can't really spend much time even in casual conversation with straight men without hearing a lot about boobs. Some forget that most gay men are socialized first as men, when men of any sexual persuasion get together for a few beers, their proclivity for objectification is hard to miss, even for those on the periphery of their well-oiled exuberance. While women tended in the past to be more reticent, the widespread practice of sexting indicates that the precocious amongst them are not immune to the pleasures of objectification and are shamelessly exchanging pics of their boobs for pics of the cocks of potential boyfriends over their smart phones.

It's also evident that men of all sexual persuasions are concerned with the size of their cocks; the importance of mine being bigger than yours not being limited to its metaphorical applications. Most men are size queens; they feel proud about having big cocks and being well-endowed is, in fact, somewhat correlated with self-esteem. Talking with my women friends it would seem that many women share the preference for a large cock with men, though thickness seems to score more than length. There may be justification for that in the experience of sexual pleasure. Research seems to indicate, though, that women concerned about cock size form a sizable minority, but not a majority. In most surveys of women preferences about cock size are not high on the list of features seen to be important in a boyfriend.  A preference for big cocks seems to be more of a guy thing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Family, Responsibility, Guilt

Perhaps because my clientele consists primarily of gay men, I have often talked over the years with people who, as adults, are troubled by their relationships or lack thereof with their families of origin, especially their parents. That is no doubt due to the fact that sexual minorities often experience rejection by their families and often have to move elsewhere to fully live their sexual lives. It is also due to the fact that any therapist working with clients suffering emotional conflicts is likely to find that a significant proportion of their clientele has experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse within their family. Whatever the reasons for the abuse or rejection, few would deny that leaving the family is a healthy decision, especially if the abuse is continual and incorrigible. Usually, separating from the family is done as an older adolescent or young adult; the guilt, shame or sadness sets in as an adult, when the perpetrators are likely to be aged.

One way in which to conceptualize families is to see them on a continuum with close-knit, enmeshed family relationships at one end of the continuum and loosely connected, more distant relationships at the other. Most families fall somewhere between the two extremes and the patterns of relationship they exhibit tend to have characterized them for generations. Close-knit, enmeshed patterns are more associated with our tribal origins, though they still exist in tribal cultures today; times and cultures where civil society is weak or virtually non-existent; times and cultures in which kinship ties are paramount for survival in an environment of scarcity and for protection in an environment of risk. Such families are typically led by a matriarch or patriarch who keeps family members in line; assuring their allegiance and cohesion with the structures and values of the family through the exercise of guilt, shame and the power to punish and reward; at its most extreme manifestations, resorting to sanctions, such as so-called honor killings, to enforce family cohesion and loyalty. The concept of abuse is itself very attenuated in such societies because whatever is seen as necessary to assure family cohesion is seen as justified.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Awkward Desire: Patrick

Some would say that "awkward" is too mild a word and would use "unprofessional", "inappropriate", "bad", "immoral", or "sick" as ways to describe feeling sexually attracted to someone in a context where acting on that desire would be inappropriate, harmful or destructive; contexts, for example, in which you're a close relative of the person, in a position of professional responsibility for them or where there's a perceived vulnerability in the person you desire. Simply acknowledging that someone in such an inappropriate category as a sexual partner is attractive or sexy is usually seen as more of an intellectual judgment and, thus, not subject to strong disapproval, though there are some who recoil even from an uninterested appraisal. It is in acknowledging that you actually feel an attraction or sexual desire that condemnation, even horror, is more likely to be elicited; strange, because the existence of such attraction, even in its most taboo manifestation of parent and child, is the stuff of mythology and the grist of much psychoanalysis. The existence of such desire should hardly be news or shocking to an educated, western individual; yet it is.

I first heard of Patrick through my sons during their early years together at the fine arts core, elementary school. It seemed there had always been problems in his family; the mother was a health-care professional and the father a business man; a German immigrant, who reputedly had a penchant for womanizing and drinking. Patrick was their only child and even in his youngest years there seems to have been difficulties with their parenting of him. In the school he was regarded as very intellegent, though there were problems with his behaviour, especially outside of the school environment. I vaguely remember there was some interchange between Patrick's mother and one of the mothers in our collective concerning the struggles she was having trying to control Patrick. I also remember, again, vaguely, hearing that his father attempted using corporeal punishment to get him to obey; to no avail.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gay Parenting. Before It Was Fashionable.

Will and I had been a couple for less than a year when my former wife decided to leave the commune and move to the country on the periphery of Montreal. As I understand it, that move was largely due to the tensions that surfaced around attitudes toward me and homosexuality after I had come out and moved out. Because the boys, about seven and eight at the time, were going to school in Montreal and commuting every day to her new home wasn't possible, she asked that I take them during the week, as we lived a short distance from their school. That meant my sons would be living with us all the time during the school year, except for those weekends when I hadn't been scheduled to see them by our separation agreement. Accordingly, Will and I left the McGill residences and moved into a large flat on the third floor of an old triplex in what was at the time a working class neighborhood of Montreal; a beautiful area on the edge of Mont Royal, long since gentrified.

There was enough room in the flat for a bed room and working space for Will, another for myself and one for the boys. Although Will and I enjoyed a very active sexual life together and with assorted others, we never in our fourteen year relationship slept together or shared bedrooms. One of the happy things about being gay at the time was that you felt perfectly free to establish your own living patterns as a couple; I don't think we ever questioned the "normalcy" of having separate bedrooms; nor do I remember anyone in our social network questioning our arrangement; a sign of the happy acceptance of difference within the counter-culture of the Seventies. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blogging as an Adjunct to Therapy:An Experiment.

I began this blog partly as a gesture toward establishing a more productive relationship between my clients and myself in my professional practice; a practice customarily referred to as psychotherapy or counseling. I'm not especially comfortable with either name. Counseling is often seen as psychotherapy-light and has a surface connotation akin to advice-giving (think of Star Trek's Counselor Troi); while psychotherapy invokes a paradigm of mental health. Despite those reservations, I tend to use both interchangeably, while preferring to see what I do as having a special sort of conversation; a "conversation" because what is involved is an exchange between two, less often, three or more, individuals. What I hope to bring to that conversation is an attitude of openness and acceptance of the person, a curiosity and interest in what he or she has to say and the training and experience that can help the person understand and articulate his or her thoughts and feelings more fully; ideally moving toward a preferred and less troubled sense of self.

More traditional, especially, medical models of psychotherapy, posit the therapist as a blank screen; while the patient is expected to share the most intimate details of himself or herself, the therapist is supposed to maintain a neutral stance; enabling the patient to project whatever he or she wishes on the therapist, which then becomes grist for the analytic mill. The extreme being classic, Freudian analysis; having the therapist sit behind and out of sight of the patient lying on the couch. A relationship in which there is a marked difference between what one person is privileged to know about the other is inherently unequal; typically, the person in a position to know more has more power. Quite apart from the question of the desirability of such a model, there is the question of its achievability. Humans have an uncanny ability, even more so than they are consciously aware, to perceive how someone responds to them. In the smallest facial movements, movements of the eyes, changes in posture or breathing, we unconsciously and necessarily communicate approval and disapproval, liking and disliking, interest and boredom, amongst many other responses. It has been shown that even with the most classic of analytic postures the dreams reported by patients begin to resemble more and more the interests of the analyst.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Kink: My Perspective: Part 2.

When I came out in my early thirties, after a brief disco period, I found my niche in the gay community to be the leather world. That was partly because I found leather itself to be sexy and sensual, but also due to other characteristics of that scene. Although there were many drawn to the leather bars for whom leather was their chosen fetish, the community tended to gather within it all who were into kink in its many forms with the exception of cross-dressing. It was to a leather bar that you would go to find others drawn to your particular, alternative form of sexual expression; among them, those drawn to S/M and rough sex.

In addition, it was my impression that people who were part of the leather scene tended to be more politicized than the gay community as a whole. It makes sense that the two communities which were minorities within a minority, those into leather and those into gender non-conformity (trannies, drag queens and others), would have tended toward the most radical social perspectives; it was in the world of main-stream gay bars, what some would call "vanilla", that those more drawn to social conformity were more expected to gather. Leather people and the gender benders played a leading role in the gay liberation movement; during the AIDS epidemic the leather community was the most active both in terms of political action and fundraising. Partly as a result of the minority status of the leather scene within the gay community and of its openness toward diverse forms of sexual expression, there tended to be less emphasis on standard notions of attractiveness and youth. There was more focus on the look associated with the expression of a particular fetish and on the what players in the practice of S/M might have to give and receive from each other; something often more based on skill and experience than attractiveness.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Kink: My Perspective. Part One.

Reflecting on polymorphous perversity and the entire body as an erogenous zone leads to a consideration of kink. Kink in my understanding is roughly equivalent to what has been referred to as "paraphilia" amongst psychiatrists and includes a wide range of erotic interests that are beyond the usual genital couplings of a man and a woman. At one point homosexuality was considered a paraphilia, but no longer is; it seems the new volume of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the major reference manual of North American psychiatry) is removing most of what is considered kink from that classification as well. That change is due to the fact that, as with sexual orientation, there seems to be no widely accepted evidence that those drawn to kink in its many manifestations are any more likely to suffer from psychological aberrations than is the general population.

How we come to have the particular erotic attractions which compose our sexuality is one of the least understood areas of sexual research. There is some indication that those erotically drawn to corporal punishment, such as spanking or whipping, were more likely to experience such punishment as children; however, that doesn't seem to have been the experience of the majority of those so attracted. That is the only exception in research of which I am aware that indicates any differences in childhood experience between those attracted to kink and those who are not. In fact, the only difference I've seen reported in several studies between those drawn to kink and the rest of the population is that the former tend to be more intelligent than the latter.

Among the more widely practiced erotic interests associated with kink are sadomasochism and fetishism (including erotic arousal toward specific body parts and specific materials). Sadomasochism (S/M) involves a power exchange through which one individual dominates another, though that exchange may include a group activity in which more than one person plays the dominant or submissive roles. In a one on one exchange the dominating person is usually referred to as the dom or master and the dominated individual as the slave or sub; the power exchange may focus on one or more elements: control, infliction of pain or discomfort and humiliation being the predominant ones. For myself, most other health professionals and the vast majority of those who practice S/M a power exchange in the context of erotic play must include two conditions: it must be consensual and any harm caused to the sub must not be lasting or permanently debilitating.

The same actions present in an S/M session, when practiced without consent could be considered as assault. Even with the presence of consent, actions that result in permanent harm or maiming to the sub would call into question the psychological health of both participants and in the opinion of many would justify legal interdiction. The simple exercise of control and verbal or physical humiliation in the context of a consensual interaction are not likely in themselves to cause harm. Fetishism, as well, is not in itself likely to cause harm; being turned on by substances such as rubber, leather, PVC or silk or by specific body parts, such as feet, does harm to no one and may bring considerable pleasure. The exception occurs in situations where the fetishist himself feels shame regarding his fetish or finds it limiting or restrictive in relation to the enjoyment of his sexual life as a whole.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Gay Sexulaity: Acceptance and Co-optation.

Having settled the question of the meaning of life, I want to reflect on the evolution and social co-optation relating to sexual minority identities; observations drawn from both my personal and professional observations; though I want to state, once again, that I don't believe those two spheres exist totally independently of one another. I'm am using the term "gay" to sometimes refer to men having sex with men; sometimes to refer to any same sex desire. I'll try to use other terms when making reference to other sexual minorities in the LBGTQ alphabet. "Queer" is a term I prefer when it is taken to refer to any sexual minorities; but, alas, it is not always understood in that sense; alas, it has all become a bit complex. We are becoming again a "love that cannot speak its name." Little is known regarding gay relationships as they existed in Western society prior to the gay liberation movement of the late sixties and seventies. It would seem that previous to the industrial revolution social sanctions relating to gay sexuality focused on particular sexual acts, such as sodomy, and did not conceive of a specific identity applying to men having sex with men. While there are some examples, mainly found in literature, of gay sexual relationships, they tend to be described in such a fleeting and discrete manner that it is difficult to draw inferences toward whatever general patterns may have existed.

Toward the beginning of the industrial revolution the identities of homosexual and heterosexual were constructed with social sanction not only focusing on the sexual acts of the former, but on their identity itself. The construction of those identities meant that individuals not only had to fear reprisal for performing certain forbidden acts, but had to fear being identified as a person who might harbour the desire to perform such acts. Accordingly, oppression took its place within the individual and not simply on how he or she behaved. For many of us coming out in the seventies and becoming active in the gay liberation movement, that construction served a clear social and economic objective. The restriction of sexual acts to the contact between the genitals of a man and a woman originated with the People of the Book; perhaps to some extent to distinguish themselves from the religious rituals of their pagan neighbours, which sometimes included sexual acts between people of the same sex; perhaps, intended as well to re-enforce the divine edict to be fruitful and multiply. Those of us who participated in the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies believed that capitalism made use of that social and religious condemnation of same sex sexual acts and identities to re-enforce its own ideology; indeed, we believed that the restriction of sexual pleasure to the genitals and to the possibility of reproduction were essential to the very existence of capitalism.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ted's Words

When I think of modest, but significant, contributions that one person can make to the life of others, I think of Ted. I found being a therapist in the gay community at the time of the AIDS epidemic one of the most significant challenges of my life. The majority of my clients were young men living with AIDS and at the time there was no cure. Most were not religious, though many described themselves as "spiritual". They offer to me striking illustrations of the ability to create meaning in life even in the difficult context of suffering periodic, predictable losses with the probability of only a few years left to live; almost certainly not enough time to accomplish the objectives for which they had hoped in terms of a career and living a normal life span in a loving relationship. Most of those who were my clients tended to have no hope of a happy afterlife and no belief that they would survive long enough to benefit from a cure for AIDS. They would have been insulted with inspirational discourses on the grand purposes and objectives of life or hollow encouragements that they just might survive long enough to be saved. 

I sat with them and listened as they explored and expressed the depths of their hopelessness; finding it very difficult not to rush to the rescue with comforting hopes, possibilities, reassurances; needing them as much for myself as for them. It was always a source of amazement how, if one simply stayed with those periods of despair, didn't interrupt them, they would be followed by a willingness to go on; to re-invest in life and what it still had to offer. It was as though accompanying them to the depth of despair was one part of a movement that, if allowed to go deeply enough, was almost invariably followed by another movement: a re-emergence, a recovery of spirit that gave the strength to go on; often more re-vitalized than before; even though physically more depleted. Staying there, quietly, with someone in the depths of despair and hopelessness gives them an experience that those depths can be contained, can be held, can be tolerated, until that next moment arrives. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different:The Meaning of Life

I've become bored with recounting some of the events of my life that I find interesting. I assure you that many more events, interesting at least to me, have occurred since the Seventies, where I've left off; perhaps I'll continue recounting them some day, but the closer I get to the present the more delicate it becomes to speak of them. At any rate,  it was my intention from the beginning of this blog to interweave my lived life with theoretical reflections upon it; as I believe each informs the other. I want to turn to an issue which seems to have arisen frequently of late in both my professional and personal conversations; not that I would totally separate the two domains. Otherwise, elucidating their interconnection could hardly have been one of the other intentions of this blog. At this point, I turn with some modesty to another topic: the meaning of life or, more precisely, a reflection on asking the question: "What is the meaning of life?".

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Androgyny Bookstore and First Gay Love

At the first meeting of Gay Mcgill the following Fall, when we were attempting to expand the newly formed organization into the community beyond the University, a newly arrived graduate student was present: an American who did his undergraduate work at the University of Missouri in Columbia and had come to McGill to study film.  He was about twenty-three at the time, close to six feet tall, broad shouldered with narrow hips, and long, dark hair; in the sunlight it took on an auburn hue and fell down his back far beyond his shoulders. He was rather sultry looking at the meeting and, as I recall, didn't say anything, although he had been quite active in gay liberation and the anti-war movement as a student. I was immediately attracted, but having trained myself in years of teaching to refrain from evincing an interest in students, as much as that's feasible given the strength of sexual attraction and the weakness of attempts to control non-voluntary communication, I don't believe I showed any interest. His name was Will Aitken and he later told me that, walking out of the meeting, he said to a friend, "I want the tall one with the beard."

I met him again on my way to the residence where I was a professor in residence and it emerged he was living in the graduate residence just meters away. At that meeting I permitted myself to be somewhat more flirtatious. It was after the next meeting of Gay McGill, when we all went out for a few beers after the meeting, that we sat next to each other and the serious cruising took place. Under the influence of our strong, mutual sexual attraction and several beers, we walked back to the residences together, and, as was the norm in gay culture at that period of time, proceeded directly to my apartment and our first sexual encounter. It was a resoundingly exciting sexual romp and the beginning of our fourteen years together as boyfriends/partners/lovers.

My journal entry not too long afterwards reads:

                             Yesterday, he told me that he loves me, but was afraid the
                              admission would freak me out. It didn't; not only because
                              I expected it, but also because I had been feeling that way
                              myself. He is the only person I have had a relationship with
                              for even this long without seeing elements in his character
                              that I don't like. I feel that I'm in love with him, but I'm being
                              my characteristically "cool" self.  (October, 1973)

Love, as they say, is blind.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Being Out. It Did Get Better.

Saying goodbye to family life as I had known it was, however painful, clearly necessary in order to move on emotionally: to fully commit to maintaining an independent parental relationship with the boys and hope that my former wife would continue to recognize the value of that relationship; to learn how to manage a world that presented a myriad of potential connections and rejections.  As it happened, my former wife asked me at one point that she be able to take the boys out of the country for one year in order to pursue a professional opportunity that was closely linked with the Catholic Church. We both discussed that request with the boys, they were excited about living in another city for a year and I felt that, although I would miss them, the experience could be good for them. We both realized that in the terms of our separation and divorce agreements I could have prevented the children being taken outside Quebec, but I agreed.

Arrangements were made that they would visit with me at regular intervals during the year. When the year neared its end, she decided that she wanted to stay away an additional year. I felt that decision violated the understanding we had and began to think that she might, in reality, want to take away the close relationship I had with the boys; I suspected she was being encouraged in that direction by  her colleagues and advisors in the Church. Although strongly objecting to that extension, I accepted a slightly shorter time for the boys to remain with her and away from Montreal in return for her promise to return at the end of that extended period. While she did return as promised, that experience led to a break in my trust that she respected the maintenance of a close relationship between me and my sons and set into motion the series of events that led to both of my sons living full time with me.

Meantime, my political activities related to gay liberation expanded;  my professional life as a professor of philosophy unravelled simultaneously. My friend and colleague at McGill, John Southin, had organized a programme of studies known as "Biology and Social Change". John suggested that we teach a seminar in gay liberation as part of that programme and it was offered in the autumn of the academic year 1971/72.  We were joined by Linda Page Hollander, a lesbian and teaching assistant in the Biology Department. The seminar, drew mainly on the book, Homosexual Liberation and Oppression, by Denis Altman, an Australian professor of philosophy. The book synthesized in a skillful manner the various theories that led me to change my own understanding of my sexual identity.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Being Out. It Got Worse.

I know that, in general, being out is better than being in the closet and it certainly has been for me; however, I am not alone in having experienced an initial period of emotional turmoil after coming out. It's very important in encouraging young people to come out to prepare them for that possibility: coming out is not a magic bullet that will take away isolation, unhappiness and oppression. In fact, bullying might increase; families and friends might react negatively, or more negatively, than anticipated; desired opportunities for sexual intimacy might not materialize. In talking with someone, especially a young, financially and family dependent person, about coming out, their resources for coping with such possible, negative consequences should be explored. Hopefully, coming out is easier now than it was when I came out, but that is far from universally the case.

I was fortunate in that John Southin was not only a professor at McGill, but also Director of Student Residences. When he heard that I was moving out of the collective he offered me the position of Resident Faculty Advisor, which provided a small, two room apartment in one of the student residences. Having a place into which I could move without moving "stuff" and where I could take my meals in the student cafeteria provided a smooth transition from one form of collective living to another. In addition, it was a space where the boys enjoyed visiting me; there were ping-pong and pool tables, a TV lounge, Parc Mont-Royal at the doorstep; often excitement. My wife and I decided to have shared custody of the boys, rare for that point in time, and they were to live with me every other weekend and for a month in the Summer. Within a year their time of living with me gradually began extending; in their early adolescence they both choose to live with me full time; however, not knowing what the future would bring, that initial period of separation was very difficult for all of us.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Coming Out. Part Two.

Writing from a theoretical perspective regarding the shift in my understanding of my sexual identity is one thing; living through that change was quite another. It was by far the most difficult period of my life: the only one during which I had to use medication in order to be able to cope. Even reflecting on that time decades later has made it difficult to sleep. The situation was made worse by its reverberations with what I had put my wife through in relation to my previous life-choice: monastic life or marriage. Once again, I was exposing her to uncertainty, loss, sadness and anger. Throughout our life together, I felt a particular sense of sadness and remorse when she sang the folk song, Water is Wide, which I always felt referenced myself.  It was one of our favourites from the time we had first met as students; one verse held incredible prescience :

                                         I leaned my back against an oak
                                        Thinking it was a trusty tree
                                        But first it bent and then it broke
                                        So did my love prove false to me

I was even more concerned about my sons; Raphael was five at the time and Julian three. My wife and I were both adults; we were both implicated in the course our life together had taken since marriage and, however difficult the situations facing us, both had adult resources to cope with them. The boys were much more vulnerable to potential long term consequences of what we were about to live through and decisions that might emerge. As is the case with all of us: they didn't get to choose the family into which they were born.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Coming Out. Part One.

While living in the student ghetto, my wife met Sheila, a woman active in the women's movement, who ran a day-care cooperative. Her husband, Peter, was a social worker and community organizer; founder of the Greater Montreal Anti-Poverty Movement; a group inspired by Saul Alinsky that employed direct action and guerilla tactics as a way of empowering the poor. In conversation with them we decided to form a collective that would involve our two families; both of which had two children of roughly the same age. We found a large house in Westmount, a wealthy enclave surrounded by Montreal, that we could afford because it was scheduled for demolition. It was large enough for both couples to have their own large bedroom and two separate bedrooms for each pair of children. Otherwise, all the space was common. There was a finished basement with a very large room that served as a play room for the children. Sexuality stayed within the couples; but, after several years of living together, there was a high level of emotional intimacy. Given that this was a collective of professionals, it was only appropriate that we had a woman come in each day of the week to look after the four children and a cleaning lady; rather ironic given our commitment to the equality of women: tasks in the household were shared with total gender equality. One of the aims of living together was to save money on childcare and living expenses and to save time through sharing household tasks such as cooking and cleaning up. It worked well and was, mainly, a happy way of living for all of us; at least speaking for the adults; I'm less sure what the children would say. My coming out was mainly responsible for its demise.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Montreal Council to Aid War Resisters. My Involvement.

When we returned to Montreal after the European trip we didn't return to the charity house in the Point, but moved into an apartment in the McGill student ghetto. Our second son, Julian, was born not long after our return. The fact that we didn't return to the Point and that we named our son "Julian" is an indication that we had been gradually drifting away from the practice of Catholicism. As far as I know, the name "Julian" has no particular resonance with the Church and was chosen because I was reading Julian by Gore Vidal; not a particularly religious association; we simply liked the name. Pope John XXIII had died a few years previously and the movement in the Church to retrench was slowly, but surely, establishing itself. Our disengagement from the Church followed the metaphor suggested by Wittgenstein of the assault on an impregnable fortress; there was never a definitive moment when it was captured, rather, individual by individual, the fortress fell by being deserted. The drift away from Catholicism went almost unnoticed by us and took several years more before I definitively acknowledged it, though my wife subsequently re-engaged in a very committed way.

We were increasingly implicated in the secular political movements of the Sixties: my wife with feminism and myself with the peace movement. Because our baby sitters for the boys were mainly students, our apartment became a hang-out for dope-smoking students drawn from the counter-cultural movement of the time. I remember the first time I got stoned with Phillipe; a short, cute,very long haired, guitar playing, song writer and student. He wrote several of the most popular songs of Kate and Anna McGarrigle. I had smoked before to no particular effect and he was determined to get me really stoned. He suggested I go into the small closet (how appropriate!) in his bedroom, sit on the floor with the door closed and smoke. When I came out I was hallucinating stained glass windows and totally enjoying it, though there was also a strong and disconcerting attraction to Phillipe. There were long, enjoyable, wine-drinking, dope-smoking evenings, sitting on pillows on the living room floor, the boys running or crawling around and listening to Bob Dylan, Janice Joplin and the Beatlles. Several of those students subsequently became well know cultural figures, as artists and musicians. There was a relative absence of boundaries between the students and my wife and I, which never provoked any feelings of conflict, even when they might have been in my classes.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Two Most Stupid Acts of My Life. So Far.

My experiences with racism in Virginia contributed to my interest in socially and politically progressive expressions of Catholicism. Catholic schools were, generally, the only ones in the south that were not segregated and Catholic priests and members of religious orders were very active in the civil rights movement. On the other hand, the great majority of white, Protestant churches in the south either supported or quietly tolerated segregation; just as they had done with slavery. There is an interesting history of Church opposition to slavery, beginning with papal bulls condemning the practice in the Fifteenth Century, which were almost totally ignored, and including impressive figures, such as Bartolome de Las Chapas, a Dominican monk, who in the Sixteenth Century became a fervent advocate for the abolition of slavery in the New World.

When we returned to Montreal in the Fall of 1966 we were still very committed to progressive, Catholic social and political activism. A former Italian worker priest, who was our friend since arriving in Montreal, arranged for us to live in a house in Point St. Charles, at that time a poor, working-class, mainly English speaking area of Montreal, dedicated to providing services to the poor. It was established and run by a woman named Margo, who was inspired by Dorothy Day of the Catholic Workers Movement in New York City. The house had a food and clothes bank, as well as a very busy medical clinic, and my wife and I helped with its operations. Happily, Margo wasn't as conservative when it came to Catholic morality as Dorothy Day and birth control services were amongst the most important given through the clinic. Dorothy Day visited the house at least once and was shocked at the poverty of the area, which she claimed was worse than any she had seen in New York City. I spoke often to adults in the Point who had never been to downtown Montreal, which was in easy walking distance, fearing that they didn't have proper clothes and would be humiliated. Our first son, Raphael, named after the Prior of St. Andrew's Priory, was born while we were living and working there. My wife having completed her PhD, took a teaching post in a small, girl's college and, later, at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) and I returned to teaching at McGill.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Racism: My Experience.

As a child I lived until the age of twelve in Germantown, a district of Philadelphia, which was founded in the late Seventeenth Century by Francis Daniel Pastorius, originally a Lutheran, later a Quaker. It was the first German settlement in the New World and Pastorius was my great, great (add as many "greats" as necessary) grandfather on my mother's side. Germantown is known as the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in the Americas because of a petition against black slavery he initiated in 1688.

The part of Germantown where my family lived was divided into blocks that had larger homes on one side of the block, where the white folks lived, and smaller, though neatly kept homes on the adjoining side, where the black folk lived; forming all white streets alternating with all black streets. In between were largely open spaces, some the remnants of former farms. Many of the blacks worked in the white folks homes on the other side of their blocks. I loved to ride my tricycle at what I imagined was train-like speed around our block passing first the white side of the block, then the black, so there was a comfort with the proximity of the two races.  As with most northern, American cities in the forties and fifties, there was de facto segregation. The elementary school I attended had only one black student, Billy was his name, and the fact that I remember his name is a reflection of the fact that Billy was important, both because he was a popular kid and because his presence meant our school wasn't officially segregated. It never occurred to me to question where all the black kids I passed on my bike rides went to school and I still have no idea, but no doubt there was a local, nearly all black, elementary school somewhere in the neighbourhood.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Going to Mickey's Jailhouse. An Interlude.

We got married that Autumn of 1965 in Upper New York State on our way to take up my teaching position in the philosophy department at McGill University.  My honeymoon performance was less than spectacular; just as my fears had anticipated.  Sex got somewhat better, at least for me, over the next six years of marriage and was occasionally actually exciting. I suspect for my partner my sexual dexterity never measured up to what she had experienced with men more toward the heterosexual end of the Kinsey Scale, but it did indicate that my self-definition as a bisexual had some basis in fact, however unlikely it may seem to those who know me today. The first year of marriage required some adjustments in my expectations of roles between husband and wife.  Being a child of the fifties, I had envisioned a traditional relationship with myself being, principally' the bread-winner and my wife, principally, the homemaker.  As a couple we liked to occasionally rough-house together and I wasn't above using that play as an opportunity to demonstrate primordial male dominance.

When I first met my wife she was reading The Female Eunuch and continued reading feminist writings as they emerged in the sixties, so she, happily, had different ideas of what a marriage ought to be. She provided my first intellectual exposure to the early writings of the sexual liberation movement. I want to write further about the impact of those writings on the radical change that would occur to my sexual understanding of myself, but for now, a California interlude. There was another intellectual current that was moving me leftward at the time, which was the pacifism that was part of the progressive expression of Catholicism I had espoused. Its major intellectual spokespersons were Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. The Vietnam War was just beginning to escalate for the United States in the Summer of '66, as was opposition to the war that was, initially, mainly identified with the hippies.  The peace movement in it's more significant manifestation was, like most things, only available at a later date in Canada. My wife and I weren't prepared for the polarization that was beginning to form in the United States in relation to the War.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Celibacy. It's Easy.

It was while studying at Claremont Graduate School in California that the struggle between the two choices my sexual narrative allowed to me was played out.  If a life of celibacy seemed easy to me, writing about this time in my life isn't. For one thing I feel it requires more discretion that my other posts and for another the stress and anxiety experienced in making that life choice was the second highest I've experienced in my life; the highest being when the path I ended choosing didn't work out. Although I was supposed to be heading to Yale for graduate school, something now identified as "dyscalculia" got in the way. I had almost failed second grade because I couldn't pass arithmetic. In high school I had to take geometry twice to arrive at a D+. In college I was saved by the fact that logic, which didn't involve dreaded numbers, met the course requirement for mathematics. To get into Yale I had to take the Graduate Record Exams, which had qualitative and quantitative sections. In the former I placed in one of the highest possible centiles and in the latter one of the lowest. As there was an automatic cut off point below a certain average, I was refused admission.

Claremont and the Ford Foundation were more interested in that disparity than turned off by it and offered me a fellowship in an experimental, multi-disciplinary graduate programme they were developing. As I have described previously, there was a small Benedictine Priory, St. Andrew's, in the high desert just across the mountains from Claremont. It was a beautiful location on an oasis where there had been a ranch, facing the San Gabriel Mountains on one side and the expanse of the Sierra Nevada on the other. The majority of the monks were either European or Chinese as the Priory was established in China before being expelled by the Communists.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sex. More of None.

At college there was only one person, I believe his name was Steven, who lived in my dormitory,  and whom everyone identified as being gay, though, as far as I know, he was too withdrawn to either confirm or deny it.  I never heard direct, homophobic remarks made about him and don't believe he was bullied.  He was more shunned and spoken of with a  tone of derision.  As he was the room mate for at least two years of Dave, a fraternity bother and college track star, I was from time to time in their room.  I remember almost nothing about the gay guy except that he was faun-like, nice, very quiet.  I felt nervous around him, as I imagine most other students did, though he must have somehow managed dorm life, including things like communal showers.  I have no ideal what became of him and I'd like to know more about how he survived. When our dormitory closed for the summer, I bunked with Dave at the fraternity house and have a very sharp memory of lying in the bottom bed one evening while he was on the top. There were a few other fraternity brothers in the room and one asked Dave how he could share his dorm room with a queer.  He replied without any hesitation that his room mate gave very good head, was available whenever he was horny and it sure beat masturbating.  I was amazed at how matter of fact and casual he was with that response and the way in which everyone present seemed to accept it as perfectly understandable. Yeah, what's not to like about that?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sex: It's Important. Even in Denial.

I recently read an article in the New York Times, written by a well known psychiatrist, questioning the therapeutic value of self-knowledge.  He described how some of his clients, having come to understand how they developed their problems, felt worse, rather than better.  What interested me most about the article was the supposition that a person can definitively know how they came to be who they are.  In addition, as a sometimes narrative therapist I would suggest that if a client arrived at an understanding of his life that made him feel worse, it would be productive to help the client construct a different narrative.

It is an indication of the power of the narrative I constructed of my sexual self that I would make a transition from being relatively untroubled about my active sexual life with adolescent peers to the decision to no longer act on same sex attractions.  As I indicated in my last posting, there were core beliefs that I'd picked up in my rather furtive research at the town library and from such authoritative sources as the Reader's Digest that influenced that transition.  One was that homosexual behaviour was common, even normal,  during adolescence and was often just a stage of sexual development.  So, not to worry.  Just move on.  And so I did, from the age of seventeen to thirty-one not having a single gay experience.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sex. It's Important. First Part

When you are part of a minority within a majority culture,  your difference is highlighted in your awareness and becomes an important part of your personal narrative.  Just as color is a salient characteristic for visible minorities and religion for religious minorities,  so sex is for sexual minorities.

I want to thank the Boy Scouts of America for introducing me to gay sex.  When I was at scout camp at the age of twelve or thirteen I was lucky enough to be in a tent with four boys one of whom was sexually precocious and had a great imagination.  He introduced after taps sex games to our tent.  We all eagerly joined in and that provided my initiation into masturbation.  I wasn't sure what was going to happen,  at first I was afraid I was going to pee, but I kept at it and was pleased with the results,  even though it was evident this was my first time at self-abuse.  In the fifties you had the advantage of not being suspected of being gay unless you were quite swish.  That was a sad reality for those who were seen as stereotypically "faggy" (many of whom weren't even gay), but was a good cover for boys who wanted to play with boys. And many boys did.  Perhaps the BSA's prohibition on gay scouts will provide a similar cover.  If you're a scout, then you must not be gay, so sex with another scout won't make you queer.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

After Catholicism: Pedophilia and Queer Theory

It is difficult to discuss pedophilia and pederasty without using terminology that is in itself judgmental.  "Sexual abuse", "perpetrator" and "victim" are the most common terms of reference.  Media reports related to adult men who are accused of having sex with boys almost always refer to the boys as "young boys" despite the fact that the "boys" in question are subsequently described as having been fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years of age.  In other contexts people of the same age would more likely have been referred to as "young men" or "teenagers".   Referring to them as "young boys" just adds to the sensationalism.  Proponents of what they term "boy love" and some queer theorists argue that even the terms "pedophile" and "pederast" are derogatory since they're pseudo-medical designations, much as "homosexual" was used for gays and lesbians.  However linguistically awkward it may be, I'm going to attempt to use less judgmental language.

The transition from writing about Catholicism to the topic of adults sexually involved with children is obvious.  The insistence on a celibate clergy and increasing homophobia in the Church continue to make the priesthood a refuge for those with confusion, discomfort and shame regarding their sexuality, whatever it be.  In addition, that refuge provides ready access to children and adolescents in what often remains a position of power and trust.  The current focus on screening homosexuals from seminaries adds to the problem.  Firstly, it will not be very successful in screening out candidates who, while identifying as heterosexual may, when under stress and unable to have an adult sexual partner, turn to children, whether boys or girls, to satisfy their desire.  Boys are the more likely choice in those situations because there is generally easier access to them and they are seen as less likely to report an approach. Secondly, such a policy re-enforces the likelihood that those who have a clear sense of their identity as a sexual minority and a positive self-esteem would not even apply to a seminary and were they to do so would most likely be rejected.  On the other hand,  those candidates with minority sexual identities who are most troubled, least likely to acknowledge their sexuality to themselves or others and least likely to have outlets for their sexuality would be most likely to be accepted.  Psychological testing of candidates is known to be rather ineffective.  Anyone with half a brain,  knowing the attitudes of the Church,  would anticipate the answers that an interviewer wants to hear.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pontius Pilate and Freud....continued

Thanks, John, for your intelligent comment.  I believe the fact that there are intelligent people amongst believers and non-believers supports my contention that religious belief has nothing to do with intelligence or rationality.  Most people in all cultures are not very reflective.  They simply absorb and follow the beliefs of their particular culture and family and assume such beliefs represent Truth.  That reality contributes to one of the most pernicious influences of religion: it's potential to generate division and conflict.  Religion as a factor of self-identity becoming an invitation to exclusion of the other, just as nationalism does. It represents one of the weights about which I wrote that accompanies religious belief.

More reflective believers, however, can attempt to understand and compare their particular religious beliefs to those of other peoples and cultures.  It is possible, indeed likely, that such a reflective stance will lead to the perception that there are many, equally valid ways of arriving at an understanding of the transcendent.  Part of the openness I admired about John XXXIII was his acknowledgment that there are other, valid ways to God than Catholicism.  Religion need not involve the assertion that only my faith is the Truth.

Which brings me to an important factor that I haven't mentioned previously: the appreciation and attraction toward a sense of the transcendent.  Religion speaks to and attempts to facilitate access to that sensibility much as architecture, painting, sculpture speak to and access an aesthetic sensibility.  Just as people vary in their experience of aesthetic sensibility and the importance it has in their lives, so people differ in regard to religious sensibility. It may be the case that those who might be called "rationalists",  such as Russell and Dawkins, feel little in the way of religious sensibility.  Experiences of transcendence, for example, might just have no attraction to them.  Did you ever go to a movie with a friend by a director such as Bunuel, Passolini or Bergman, and come out of the movie feeling profoundly moved, while your friend was bored and complains that "sheep don't act that way".  It's evident that they just didn't get it.  That the film spoke to them not at all.  Is it possible that rationalists in questioning (often more like attacking) the rationality and "truth" of believers are performing their own division of self from other.  Contending that their particular world view is the true one, while others are not.  A performance that has led the more unreflecting to their own acts of violence when it has prevailed in Marxist societies.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Faith and Pyschosis

Thanks, John, for the comment and your patience in posting it.  It's amusing that we're talking here given  our parallel political involvement in the 60s and 70s.  That collaboration, you'll no doubt be pleased to hear, will probably be the subject of future postings.

I think the acceptance of those "pesky little things" you mention, such as transubstantiation, the resurrection and the existence of God is related to one's understanding of them and to the world view within which they are situated.  They are irrational only if understood as akin to empirical facts.  If such tenets of faith are viewed as metaphores within a certain tradition that are not to be taken literally, acceptance of them wouldn't be any more irrational than any other poetic understanding of the world.  Some Christian faiths adopt such an approach, but not Catholicism or fundamentalist Christians.

It once seemed possible, perhaps still is, to understand those beliefs neither as metaphors nor empirical facts, but as having their own, unique meaning within the world view or language game that is Catholicism.  As such what those beliefs mean and their particular truth is to be found within the teachings of the Church.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Catholicism. My experience

I was born into a family of no particular religious affiliation, though they were of the protestant persuasion.  An indication of that is my father choosing for his funeral arrangements a few words from an Episcopalian priest, a drinking buddy, not a Church he'd ever attended, to say a few words at his grave site.  My mother wanted no service at all.  In fact, she threatened to come back and haunt me if any religious service took place at her grave. Catholicism first attracted my attention as an undergraduate through its intellectual history.  I had never associated any religion with a substantial intellectual tradition.  As a student  I was mostly interested in classical philosophy, in particular, Plato and Aristotle.  Reading Aquinas led to curiosity about other philosophers identified with Catholicism from Augustine through Teillard de Chardin including more esoteric thinkers such as Meister Eckhart and Simone Weil.  Much later Wittgenstein's lectures on religion became a part of that intellectual evolution.

Just as important were the aesthetics of the Church in drawing me towards it.  The architecture, art, music and poetry formed part of a comprehensive world view.  While much of that  aesthetic was drawn from Medieval and Renaissance periods, much was contemporary.  The religious architecture of Corbusier, the music of Benjamin Brittin, the poetry of T.S. Elliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins, the films of Passolini spoke to the reality that contemporary Catholicism (and I'm including Anglo-Catholicism in this perspective) was culturally vibrant.  As was the case with my intellectual interests there were other, not very well known influences that were important to me, such as the California beat poet Brother Antoninus and the Benedictine monks at a small priory outside of Los Angeles.

Intentions and Hesitations

 As I enter my seventieth and perhaps final decade, I want to articulate how the givens of my life, my genetics, the family into which I was born and what has simply happened to me have been shaped into the individual I now am.  Responses to those givens,  choices made,  directions taken with the opportunities and limitations they've provided, shape a self that my have developed in an infinite number of different ways.

I am doing this partly for myself.  To situate myself for myself at this point in my life.  I don't like lecturing or being lectured to, though I have done enough of both.  It is also important to me to engage in dialogue with people who share my interests.  One of the choices I've made is to continue to be open to growth, change, new experiences.  I've searched for those people amongst other bloggers or readers without success and hope that they'll come forward as I share myself.