I finally just got the latest issue of Sunstone in the mail. For some reason, Minneapolis is the last state in the Union to get Sunstone subscriptions. This issue is devoted to "Women's Voices." I eventually want to comment in a different post on Holly Welker's piece, "Clean Shaven: No More Beards," which is a critique of mixed-orientation marriage, and which aims very particular criticism at our own Mr. Fob. But before I comment on that piece, I wanted to address a very different piece, with very different implications by Tracie A. Lamb, "Why Do We Need Each Other? A Personal Search for God's Odd Juxtaposing of Male and Female."
Lamb begins her essay by talking about how as a girl and as a maturing young woman she was afraid of men. She feared and disliked men because, in a word, they were emotionally retarded, crude beasts. They mocked her and made fun of her and they sexually objectified her (an uncle actually felt her up, though she called him on it and nipped any further sexual abuse in the bud). She gradually overcame her fear of men as she came to accept the notion that men are fundamentally different from women because of biology. She gained insight into her relationships with men from a book, Michael Gurian's A Fine Young Man, and from various articles on biology and gender. The fact that adolescent men have as much as 20 times the amount of testosterone "surging" through their bloodstreams as women accounts for their aggressive and sexually promiscuous behavior. As she came to understand men, she realized she pitied them and decided that in fact it was women's task to civilize the beast and help men make themselves productive members of society through familial commitments. Women, she said, cannot abdicate this civilizing role by leaving the home, or the rest of society falls to pieces.
Now I'll start by saying this is not a new argument. It is, in effect, a twenty-first-century restatement of an argument that first came into being in the Victorian age, at the time when the industrialization of western societies was provoking concern that traditional social structures and familial roles were falling apart. I'll let others debate the particular merits of this argument and its premises. But I was intrigued by the thesis that men and women are essentially different species. Because if true, it seems to me that based on the evidence she offered in support of this argument, it is no less reasonable to argue that gay men and straight men are as alien to each other and as much different species from each other as women are from men.
Based on my personal experience, and the experience of many, many gay men I've come to know over the years, we just don't behave like straight men in any sense that makes it reasonable to generalize about us in the same category. I'll offer some of my own experience growing up, and let other gay men pipe in if they feel they can relate.
As a boy child, I did not own (or want) typical boy toys. I had no interest in cars, trucks, speed racers, etc. I despised war-toys: G.I. Joe disgusted me; I hated and refused to play with toy soldiers of any kind. (That might have been a function of some of the graphic images of war I saw on T.V. growing up in the Vietnam era.) On the other hand, I liked dolls, and played frequently with my sisters' Barbies (even when they complained bitterly to my parents). Obviously I never got my own set of Barbies.
When no one was around the house, I played "dress up" with my mom's clothes and make-up. I once got severely scolded when my dad arrived home from work to find me prancing about on the front lawn, poking holes in the sod with my mom's high heels.
A favorite game I used to play with my younger brother was "Mr. Bear" and "Mr. Rabbit." I was Mr. Rabbit, he was Mr. Bear. The game consisted of Mr. Rabbit preparing cakes and rolls, and then inviting Mr. Bear over for tea. Then Mr. Bear would reciprocate.
I hated competitive sports, and avoided them like the plague. I will never forget getting severely scolded by my parents when the neighborhood boys tried to recruit me into a game of touch football, and I just ran home rather than subject myself to that. Whenever the T.V. channel got turned to sports, I usually withdrew -- to my room to read a book or to the kitchen with the women folk.
I tended to be a sensitive and introspective boy. I both laughed and cried often. I was artistic and I loved books. I excelled at school, despite being taunted by other boys. I was pretty much tortured by my peers in Junior High; my mother talks about how I came home from school every day in tears during my first year in high school. I befriended those I felt were outcasts. I established close friendships with girls as well as boys.
My comfortableness with my own emotions also uniquely equipped me for religion. I was aware of the Holy Spirit speaking to me at the age of eight, at which time I acquired a testimony and began to frequently bear it in Sacrament meeting. My relationship with the Church would be another essay, but suffice it to say, the Church played a central role in my life from the time of my baptism on. I was not afraid of being viewed as "different" at school because of my spirituality. There were not many other Mormons in my school in upstate New York, but my observation was that the few there were tended to keep a low profile about their religion, and tried to blend in with their peers. I did not. I was openly Mormon, gave Books of Mormon to my friends and teachers, and spoke openly about my beliefs and values in classes.
I could go on, but I think I've made my point. How many other gay boys are there out there -- from many different religious backgrounds, not just Mormon -- who grew up quiet, sensitive and spiritual, artistic or bookish, uninterested in typical boyish interests and pursuits? We were not the playground bullies, we were the playground victims. We were not the classroom-challenged, the rebels, the bad boys wanting to sow our wild oats, we were the Sunday School teacher's pets, the angelic kids, the good boys who self-consciously set an example for the rest. We didn't need women to civilize us, we were the vanguard of civilization among our sex, willing allies of the womenfolk in their desperate attempts to tame their unruly men.
Which brings us to the question of sex and marriage. According to Lamb, women and the Church work together in harmony to civilize men. Women use men's sexual attraction as bait to reel men into a life of familial responsibility. The Church uses a regimented and hierarchical priesthood organization to give men the structure, discipline, and role-models they need in order to become adequate providers for their families.
But wait! Sexual attraction and connubial bliss may be the reasons why straight men marry straight women. And straight men may become civilized in the bargain. But the cart is before the horse in the case of gay men who marry women. Gay men marry women in spite of the fact that they are not attracted to women at all. Gay men do not marry women in order to become more civilized, they marry women because they already have a highly developed sense of civic, familial and spiritual responsibility. They marry out of a sense of duty, and a highly self-sacrificial sense of duty at that.
The problem for straight men in our society has always been to convince them to buy a stake in civilization. Lamb in her essay suggests that institutions such as the Boy Scouts, organized sports, and the military, and -- in the LDS Church, the Priesthood -- help to reward men for investing in society with camaraderie and social status. Upholding strict sexual morality and allowing sexual expression only within the confines of marriage is a tool for ensuring that dangerous male sexuality is kept in check.
I would argue that the problem for gay men has always been the opposite. We love and are attracted to and always (covertly) become the mainstay of every homosocial male organization that aims to uplift and civilize men. (My book is about how we did that in the case of one such "civilizing" organization, the Young Men's Christian Association.) Our problem is not that we are insufficiently attracted to civilizing influences, the problem is that civilization despises us, tortures us and excommunicates us the moment they realize we are gay. Gay social anomy -- promiscuity, chemical abuse, suicide -- is the product of homophobia, not of our gayness.
For those of us who choose marriage or celibacy, the challenge, I believe, is to provide sufficient emotional, psychological and social support to help deal with the pain and the challenge of living without the kind of sexual intimacy human beings naturally long for. For the rest of us, having been excommunicated from civilization, we need to develop non-homophobic role-models, structures and social support to help channel and discipline our sexuality into stable, committed relationships, to nurture our spirituality, and to empower us to use our time and resources in the service of the common good.