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.