This is gay pride week in Toronto, and my friend Stan Persky has challenged me to write about it and the recent Federal government decision not to appeal the Ontario court ruling that has enabled gays to get married. As the title of this piece suggests, I’m going to put my foot squarely in the middle of it.
Now, I’m not only a card-carrying heterosexual, but I’ve been married more than once, which should make me something of an expert on the subject of marriage. For a fairly conventional hetero, homosexuals have had a surprisingly large influence on my life: I got the best part of my university education from the teaching of a homosexual poet named Robin Blaser, and I have a 37 year friendship going with Persky, also gay, and it’s the sort of friendship that is still deepening. I’ve had a lesbian editor for one of my books, Tracy Reid, received the best reviews my books have gotten from Susan B. Cole and have a large number of other longstanding relationships with other people who are gay. I’m not sure why all this is so, but I suspect it is because I don’t perceive sexual and gender orientation any better than I do race. I tend to judge the people around me according to their intelligence and civility, which are the social and intellectual parameters that interest me. Most of the gay people my avocation as a writer has put me in contact with are unusually intelligent and civilized.
I can understand why gays have pursued the legal right to get married under the same civil statutes accorded heterosexuals seeking sanctioned union. Marriage is an institution now primarily useful for the protection of children, and there’s no reason on earth why gays shouldn’t be having and/or adopting kids. On balance, most of the gays I know would make better parents than the average heteros of my experience, for the simple reasons that the homos are generally better educated and more sensitized to issues related to fairness and civil nuance.
I should add that the only other purpose I can think of for marriage is that it provides a legal blueprint for non-violent dissolution of domestic relationships, or at least for the equitable distribution of joint property. Past that, we’re all on our own, unless we think that fatuously sentimental speeches, dressing up in fancy going-to-meeting clothes, and being blessed by deities we all should have outgrown centuries ago can guarantee interpersonal bliss. None of those seem to have helped heteros make their marriages work, if the divorce rate and the squalor/misery indexes are anything to go by. Relationships work because of common interests and a lot of hard work and civilized compromises, none of which the church or state provide the slightest help with or comfort toward these days.
Now comes the part where I put my foot in it. None of my close gay friends are planning to rush out and get married, and I think I know why. It isn’t because they’re middle-aged like me. They are, mostly, but a sizeable percentage of the getting-married gays currently in the media also appear to be reasonably middle-aged. I think it’s because none of my gay friends aspire to be Rotarians.
Rotarians, so we’re clear what I’m talking about, are people with an inordinate wish to be normal. They wish to be and to be seen as normal and mainstream, and they created a powerful international organization to set markers on their solidarity with other normal people and to congratulate them for being normal at every opportunity. Since marriage is one of the markers of social normality, Rotarians like to be married. If eating sheepshit became a normal thing practice, Rotarians would have the brown stuff caked around their lips and smeared all the way back to their ears, because they don’t merely like normality, they’re desperate for it, and will commit vast energies to dysfunctional and obsolete institutions to secure its illusions for themselves.
My gay friends, most of whom are dissident intellectuals, show little interest in being normal. That’s probably why I’ve sought them out, now that I think of it. For them, being gay was, and remains at least in part, a means of separating themselves from a wide range of conventional preferences and tropes. Avoidance of the conventional heterosexual missionary position has been only one of the conventional preferences they aren’t willing to go along with. The missionary position is something everyone should try to avoid, for sure, but nearly all my homo friends are dissident across a wide range of things. The gradual and still partial elision of homosexuality into the fabric of mainstream Western society, they’d unanimously agree, is a good thing, but it doesn’t complete their being. That’s because to be fully normal in an unjust, basically crazy society shouldn’t complete anyone’s being.
I seem to have lifted my foot from the gooey stuff, but I’ve explained only half my title. Now I have to explain why the burbs terminate in Nazi Germany, and to do that, I’ll have to plunge my foot back in: It’s time everyone stopped thinking of homosexuals as a single community. I can distinguish at least three fundamentally different tropes among gays that ought to separate them socially, politically and erotically, and my distinctions certainly don’t exhaust the field.
A modest percentage of those generally included as part of the gay community—those that are normally tagged as “transgendered”—have been born in the wrong gender, and are engaged in correcting the inaccuracy. Not having to hide in a closet makes changing their condition possible if not exactly easy, and more power to them for making the changes. The more gender permutations the process creates, the better.
Then there are the Rotarians, noted above. One of the things I’ve noticed about their pairings is how similar they seem to be in age, demographics, physical appearances, and obsessions. I find it a little scary, to tell the truth, because the model of perception inherent in it is counter to the exogamy and inclusiveness that is democracy’s best model, and to some extent, nature’s. Exogamy, as a political and social activity, is the process of being attracted to that which is different from oneself and one’s kind, and it’s pretty much what keeps democracy from going off the rails. As a biological model it prevents inbreeding and results in diversity.
Yeah, yeah. I’m aware that I’m in serious danger here of stepping on some land mines, not mere gooey materials. For those who may think I’ve already lost a leg on this, many of the points I’ve made are argued similarly in Michael Warner’s The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, Free Press, 1999. In the meantime, what I’m wondering is pretty much what I wonder about nearly everywhere I turn these days: at what point does the prideful rejection of exogamy turn into xenophobia, which was at the root of Nazi-Fascism when it emerged in Germany 70 years ago. I honestly don’t know the answer, so this is an open, not rhetorical, question. I can identify some of the German ingredients: xenophobia, excessive pride, a sense of community aggrievement. These are precisely the ingredients that seem to be fueling more than a few of today’s minority subcultures. It seems to be a side-effect of globalism, which likes to atomize inclusive social alignments so we can all be frog-marched to the mall together in a state of moral and political confusion.
I also note that the gay friends I admire and tend to hang out with aren’t interested, socially, politically or sexually, in locating partners that resemble them. They tend to be, if anything, more exogamous in their choices than most heterosexuals, possibly because the vestigial radical élan of gay liberation still enables this.
I’m probably just stirring up muddy waters by saying this, but here goes anyway: instead of distinguishing gender and sexuality by their orifice targets, maybe we should be thinking about the larger intentions they exhibit. This might be nothing more than dinosaur talk, of course. I was formed, intellectually and culturally, during that brief holiday after the military defeat of Nazi-Fascism during which people believed that social injustice, poverty and prejudice could be wiped out and that the human species was evolving toward a world of post-race copper-coloured polysexual beings who would turn the world into one great dance-party and poetry reading. Instead, we appear to be evolving toward tribal warfare, the Global Mall, and that darkest suburb of the past. I’d add “God help us,” but I don’t believe in gods. Just human beings, walking up and down, and back and forth.
That’s what the gay pride parade is about, with a bit of extra lipstick and makeup.
1400 words, June 19, 2003