monthly column from gay author/activist Charles-Gene McDaniel
Repressing Desire, Projecting Hate
"Free your ass and your mind will follow," reads a THINK AGAIN poster in Boston. Beneath the slogan is a photograph of a pair of buttocks with two hands spreading the cheeks while the four fingers of the left hand are inserted in the cleft. Printed vertically along the vertical smile are the words "sodomy laws suck."
With haiku precision the activist-artists in THINK AGAIN capture the message of the consequences of sexual repression, evidenced in part by the fact that about half of the states still have sodomy laws on the books, many of them proscribing certain popular sex acts even between opposite-sex couples.
But there is an even more poignant subtext to this brilliant poster. Sexual suppression and sexual repression are the stimuli for gay bashing, both verbal and physical.
The difference between the physical attacks by Nazioid gay bashers and the verbal attacks of the self-righteous religious is one only of degree. Both kinds of bashing stem from the same source, self-loathing arising from repressed desire. Furthermore, the hypocritical piety of persons of the cloth who denounce the "sin" of homosexual acts, in the name of whatever god, contributes to the justification of vicious attackers. If the pope or hassidic rabbis or self-ordained storefront preachers or Methodists or Mormons or Southern Baptists use their selective readings of their sacred texts and their individual doctrines to add authority to their pronouncements, socially marginalized hoodlums find in this, at least on some level, the rationale to take out a few queers, to cast out the sinners and exorcise their own inner demons.
One of the most taboo topics in democratic America is the loaded term "social class." Yet social class, like racial and ethnic differences, often is very much involved in hate crimes like gay and lesbian bashing. Often the perpetrators are young, poorly educated and marginally employed males. Their masculinity has been compromised by their inability to achieve respectable social status. By their dependence they have been feminized. In their anger and frustration they lash out at those with whom they ideally would like to identify -- men who find fulfillment in expressing their sexuality and affection with other men. In lesbians they perceive masculinity that they feel they have not achieved or see women who have succeeded in relationships with other women that they themselves have been unable to have.
On the other hand, there are bashers from the privileged middle-class, college boys and suburban adolescents, whose sexual identity and security are threatened by the mere presence of men who are openly homosexual or even by men suspected of being homosexual. Their viciousness is untempered by any civilizing influence of education, so deep is their self-loathing and rage.
In the Jungian sense, this reaction is part of a collective unconscious, a culturally reinforced hatred, which is institutionalized in varying degrees by the religious institutions. Yet these very institutions, especially the Catholic religious orders and the fundamentalist associations, attract disproportionate numbers of men who are either repressed or active homosexuals. The burden of repression and concealment is onerous indeed. The inability to express one's sexuality or to conceal it is enervating, draining energy from intellectual and creative pursuits and contributing to stultifying emotional depression.
Not only do the Catholic monasteries provide a notorious protective haven for pedophiles, but these same-sex institutions provide a cover for man-with-man sex. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. Members of the religious orders are not allowed to marry women, so the priesthood offers a respectable, even honorable escape from the pressure to get a wife, although the cost is hypocrisy and duplicity. The church condemns homosexuality, adultery, divorce and abortion and the priests must spout this line.
In Atlanta a few years ago I met a gay young man with his afternoon trick who was preparing to enter seminary. He was straightforward in telling his friends that he was doing so to escape pressure from his mother to marry a woman. I am confident that given the shortage of priests his religious superiors did not ask probing questions about this man's sexuality. If they did, he lied.
On another occasion at a very gay party in Chicago I met a monsignor from a nearby city. His lover was the host. He came to the big town for his hanky-panky, then assumed liturgical drag to guide the unsuspecting souls in his diocese.
It is not enough, though, that the religious merely condemn homosexuality. They feel behooved to do "reparative therapy," to help the errant homosexuals, in the name of Jesus or God or whomever, abjure their sinful ways and become happy heterosexuals, or at least repressed homosexuals like themselves. But it doesn't work, their claims to the contrary notwithstanding. The ability to achieve penetrative sex with a member of the opposite sex is no indication that sexual orientation has been changed.
Increasingly the failures make headlines, most notably in the instance of ex-gay John Paulk, who with his ex-lesbian wife, was on the cover of Newsweek because of their work with Exodus, the organization focused on converting queers. Paulk, while working for the fundamentalist Focus on the Family, was seen and photographed in a gay bar in Washington, D.C. His alibi was that he had stopped to use the toilet. But he was seated at the bar where there are no urinals and is now undergoing re-education to continue his work. And two of the founders of Exodus while traveling around the country to promote the anti-gay cause wound up naked in each other's arms in a hotel room. Acknowledging their hypocrisy, they left the movement to live happily ever after, one presumes, as a gay couple.
Jeremy Marks, director of the Courage ministry, an Exodus affiliate, in the United Kingdom, recently announced that he is taking leave from his conversion efforts, noting that reparative therapy does not work. "At the end of the day, we all need companionship, a sense of belonging and the possibility of intimate affection," he was quoted as saying. "If gay people are unable to marry and desire same-sex companionship and intimacy, it is my experience that they manage life far better if this need is recognized and supported."
And now in the United States there is a liberating group called "Dos Equis," Spanish for "two exes" (and the brand name of a Mexican beer). It is comprised of ex-ex-gays, men and women for whom reparative therapy failed, as it almost inevitably does. Those who try to remain in Exodus become emotional zombies, their affect flattened, exhausted under the burden of suppression of sexual desire. Their spontaneity is killed.
Those of us, gay or straight, who have no guilt about our sexual expression know how liberating the sex act with another person can be. As the Bostonian activists so cogently observe, "Free your ass and your mind will follow."