Thursday, February 26, 2009

Some Thoughts on Life, Death, Loss, Love and Homosexuality

It's been an interesting afternoon today. Jeff and I finally got together to talk about Colin and much more. It's been several years since I saw Jeff, let alone get a chance to really talk. He, Colin and I were all part of ACT UP back in the early '90s in Brisbane. Jeff and I were also part of GLoC - Gays and Lesbians on Campus - back when I started at the University of Qld in 1992. Back then Jeff and Colin were sharing a place in West End (Brisbane). I would move to West End to Steven's place and Colin moved there in 1996. Jeff and I spoke a lot today about Colin, about those days, about death. It seems to have been the peculiar fortune of Western gay men of our generations to experience the impact of death in a way that the rest of our societies had not known for very many decades. I found out from Jeff that someone else from those days, Thomas, a delightful and energetic HIV+ young man, died back in November 2007. He'd left Brisbane several years ago to head west and then returned to his home town Adelaide when his health began to deteriorate. Who in Brisbane knows that Thomas is dead? How many are left from those days who remember Thomas? As Jeff asked, who is there left to remember and how does this memory get handed on? Is it just ego to want it to be handed on?

The one feature of same sex relationships is that ours are not reproductive. As Pansy Division sing, 'nothing out of our loins, sweetie, will ever see the light of day'. Indeed that non-reproductive nature of the homo-erotic is one impulse behind homophobia. Reproduction, children are one form of guarantee against the 'dying of the light'. Immortality is invested in reproduction. The fact that same sex relationships cannot reproduce (well not without significant outside intervention) reminds the broader society of the fact of our mortality. And ours is especially a death denying society. Heaps of fundamentalist Christians hope that they are going to cheat death and much more by being lifted off the planet by Jesus in the Rapture, a particularly spurious 19th century doctrine that animates the Left Behind cultural phenomenon in the United States. One of its attractions, at least evidenced by discussion on the many sites where people engage in rapture watching, is that the Rapture is a way to avoid death, a get outof gaol free card that gets you into heaven without any pain (and in some versions even taking your pets with you). I think the succcess of Rapture beliefs lies in the death denial so much a feature of US and other western societies generally. In a capitalist fantasy of untramelled consumption death is the unwelcome spectre at the feast. So being carried off in the Rapture or in its new age variant, in a UFO, expresses the hope of eternal consumption without the pain of death and separation to intervene and destroy. For the Left Behinders there is additional schadenfreude of knowing the unbelieving masses will suffer extraordinary horrors in the Tribulation before mostly being consigend to eternal damnation.

Memory is both collective/cultural and individual. Hence memory is political. There was a slogan often graffitied around West End here in Brisbane that went something like 'the struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting'. The societies in which we live make determine what memories shall be preserved as part of the cultural whole and what will be lost. Many memories survive through the fact of reproduction, people pass on alternative memories to their children; religious, ethnic, and political minorities attest to this fact. But for us who love without thought or expectation of progeny, what do we do to pass on our memories to those who will, like us and after us, love without thought of progeny? I love the young fags and dykes today. They have so much, so much, so many opportunities that I could not even imagine at their age. They are so beautiful. I'm not saying their world is perfect. Homophobia has not gone away, there is still much to be done. But so much has been lost already, so many dead. The movement that has given them the possibilities that so many in the past could not even imagine is itself a fragile flower of fairly short duration and our memoirs are not the memories the mainstream and ruling culture is interested in retaining.

Jeff has spent a lot of time in South East Asia, Thailand especially and he spoke about how pervasive Buddhism and the sangha, the order of monks and nuns. Even Angkor Wat, which was a Hindu temple complex in which Siva is the dominant deity, is now also a Buddhist site with shrines and monks and nuns all about it. Monastic orders, religious orders are interesting models of same sex societies of people who live without expectation of progeny. Indeed the spectre of monastic sodomy was one image wielded by the Reformers in their struggle against Rome and in building a new society in which marriage would be compulsory for all (something not fully realised until the 20th century).

That's why I'm not comfortable with the promotion of same sex marriage. I'm all for recognition of our relationships but I don't think marriage is the best model for the dynamics of the same/homo. And even though I am a homosexual that doesn't mean I want the homogenous sameness of marriage for all. Marriage itself must change dramatically so I don't see why we shoudl be dragooned in to its very flawed and patriarchal dynamics.

I know in my case that I not only love the young fags and dykes but I am also attracted to younger guys (maybe one of the pleasures of getting older is that the world becomes more and more full of younger men). It is pretty much a trope of male male love (but not the only one), the mentoring relationship, the daddy/son, the big and little brother and the avuncular, uncle/nephew. This is also not an exclusively male phenomenon. The poet Michael Field was in actual fact a female couple who were themselves aunt and niece.

But the one thing that strikes me about such relationships is their potential for openness. In many respects mentoring is very much a part of academic dynamics. A teacher/mentor usually does not have only one student and while the pedagogical bonds might last a lifetime those student go on to form mentoring relationships of their own. It strikes me too that, as someone who aspires to be in a relationship with a younger man, one of the basic facts of such a relationship is that he will in all likelihood outlive me. It would be a cruelty on my part to expect him to be in a monogamous relationship. I would encourage him to open out the relationship, so that at the very least, he would not be on his own when I die. Such relationships, like father-son, fraternal, avuncular and mentor/'mentee', are in actual fact communal by nature. Mentoring teacher/disciple lineages are a fact of monastic societies Buddhist, Christian and other. The shamanic role too was often associated with a non-biological, often erotic, same sex lineage.

Is this the way too that a lineage of memory, erotically based, but not reproductive can be established? To cite a utopian term from the early days of Gay Liberation, to build a brotherhood (and sisterhood) of sex. How to achieve that is the question? It certainly can't be achieved if we are all dragooned into the marriage model. And in the interim for Jeff and I and other who are the survivors of generations struck down it can only be the fragile shoeboxes of friendships that remain.


  1. I'm enjoying your blog and added it to the favorite links on the Jesus in Love Blog. Keep up the good work!

  2. Hi. To be openly gay within a homophobic christian strcuture is impossibly courageous. My experience of christianity, of catholicsm in particular, has, to say the least, been damaging to my mental well being. I've grown uo to detest preists and so called 'good' christian men etc.
    Speaking as a straight 61 yo male I can attest to the lifelong difficulties created by by an over wrought theism which objectified the female sex to a ludicrous extent, and the ongoing guilt and fear instilled by a Catholic education system which espoused and actively encouraged physical brutalitity.
    From a still suffering lapsed catholic, many thanks for your brave compassion, and your intelligence. would that there where more of you. Forgive my anonnimity