The Issue of Homosexuality
To the Editor:
Samuel McCracken’s “Are Homosexuals Gay?” [January] is marvelous: a brilliant work of both exposition and analysis. . . .
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
To the Editor:
“Are Homosexuals Gay?” is a splendidly written and particularly timely statement. It identifies, in necessarily condensed form, most of the major issues that are involved, though seldom discussed, in the controversy over homosexuals’ claims for the naturalness and social legitimacy of their sexual behavior.
I would like to add two points that generally seem to be overlooked in the debate concerning whether or not homosexuals should be permitted to teach pre-adolescents and those entering and still in puberty. While gender identity seems to be formed in the first several years of life, its development is a matter of degree. Some children approach puberty with a rather shaky emotional sense of their gender identity. While it is unlikely that they will model themselves on homosexual teachers, they need support to assure them of the “rightness” of their heterosexual feelings. To be told that homosexuality is “learned,” “optional,” “acceptable,” and the like will surely confuse them. Children at this age need clarity of standards concerning this very fundamental aspect of life.
What may be even worse than adolescents “tipping” into homosexuality because of emotional insecurities and as a result of learning that homosexuality is only “different,” is the acceptance by stable heterosexual adolescents of the views propounded by homosexuals in their ardent endeavors to legitimize their sexual activities. When these adolescents become parents, they may then be indifferent to the gender-identity development of their own children, and thus their children will experience all the psychic and other costs Mr. McCracken so aptly describes. . . .
Edward M. Levine
Department of Sociology
To the Editor:
The publication of Samuel McCracken’s stunning article demonstrates that it is not illegal, or even the violation of some exceedingly strong taboo, for a non-scientific journal to publish a piece on homosexuality that is not self-refuting nonsense. The publication of Mr. McCracken’s article strengthens a weakening faith that sense does, at least in the long run, expose ideology.
Mr. McCracken makes one point, however, that calls for more discussion than was possible in his article, given the subject’s tangential relevance to his main argument. He refers to transsexualism as the ultimate rejection of reality. In one sense he is no doubt correct; transsexualism is a rejection of anatomy and the socialization that is determined by that anatomy. But it is worth remembering that the role of physiological influences on behavior is relevant to an assessment of whether the behavior represents acceptance or rejection,
When we refer to a person as a male or female, we refer to a person whose chromosomal, hormonal, anatomical, and social developments are all basically male or female. A male who chooses to wear female clothing is clearly rejecting reality. We know, however, that many transsexuals have undergone a hormonal development such that they exhibit behavior discordant with their anatomy and socialization. It may be reasonable to see such people not as rejecting reality, but as accepting a reality that—with reference to feeling, thought, and behavior—runs deeper even than the reality of anatomy and socialization.
New York City
To the Editor:
Although Samuel McCracken’s article on homosexuality is the best that has been written in recent years, his elaborate effort to keep his balance in an atmosphere of fanaticism leads him to fall over backward on several points.
Most of the psychological speculations about homosexuality are futile. As the great number of conflicting theories makes clear, homosexuality is not a specific mental illness. It emerges among weak, predatory, or neurotic men in all societies where, for whatever reason—artificial in prisons; religious in the Arab world; economic in many countries—many men are deprived of women and are allowed to create a culture of inversion.
C. A. Tripp’s claims for the universality of homosexuality are false. A close analysis of George Murdock’s classic catalogue of ethnographies shows that homosexuality is notably present only in polygynous tribes—those in which the dominant men of all ages can have a group or a series of young wives—and that its prevalence varies greatly even in these cultures.
The polygyny of current American society usually takes the form of serial monogamy and is enhanced by sexual and women’s “liberation.” In general, men have to feel dominant with women to be potent. Any culture that, by whatever means, deprives men of that feeling of dominance will effectively deny them the possibility of marriage and attract them to easy and impersonal perversions.
The key point is that men are not born homosexual or predestined by childhood experience to become homosexuals. Homosexuality is a choice, not a fate. The likelihood of the choice is governed by the beliefs and attitudes of the society and the effective availability of women of childbearing age. The worst result of current pro-homosexual propaganda is that millions of boys grow up imagining that every passing feeling toward men may signify some profound and enduring distortion of sexual identity. If they are seduced during their teens, they may feel their fears have been confirmed. A boy who might otherwise have grown up to live a full life, with family and children, is induced to commit a kind of sexual suicide.
It is thus an indication of the prevailing lunacy that so skeptical and intelligent an observer as Samuel McCracken can accept the notion that the seduction of a teenage boy by his teacher is comparable to the seduction of a teenage girl. Though reprehensible, the seduction of the girl is a fully natural act. The seduction of the boy can inflict gross and permanent damage, particularly in a society that condones homosexuality and accepts the myth of its universality and early childhood fixation.
To the Editor:
I hesitate to take issue with Samuel McCracken’s brilliant analysis of homosexuality, but I would nevertheless like to express my disappointment with one aspect of his article: the section dealing with the campaign to legalize homosexual teachers in primary and secondary schools. . . . Mr. McCracken’s conclusions about the classroom are cautious and guarded in tone, and, all in all, less than decisive. Unfortunately, a parent cannot afford the luxury of such “on-the-one-hand” and “on-the-other-hand” musings while an issue is being decided which will have serious consequences for his children. . . .
I respectfully suggest that in his effort to present both sides of this issue fairly, Mr. McCracken has exhibited less than his usual forth-rightness.
Little Neck, New York
To the Editor:
In his article, “Are Homosexuals Gay?,” Samuel McCracken sets out to expose the myth of the happy, well-adjusted homosexual and, in doing so, seems to suggest that, contrary to prevailing “enlightened” opinion, homosexuals, as a group, have problems which cannot be solely attributable to the prejudice of others. While some of his individual points are well taken, he never questions why these points need to be made at all. . . . While expressing concern that political ideology prevents a scientific analysis of homosexuality, he blithely ignores the political implications of his own analysis. . . .
[But] whether Mr. McCracken likes it or not, homosexuality has become a political issue. As such, advocacy colors objectivity and ideology determines the focus of analysis and the nature of the conclusions drawn. This is as true of Mr. McCracken’s analysis and conclusions as it is of the books he criticizes. For example, he states that “homosexuals are not in reality the object of widespread denial of rights” . . . [and] he goes on to suggest that homosexuals are in some way privileged in that they have an option that is “clearly not open to members of racial minorities or women”—the option of “being in the closet,” he does not, however, consider the possibility that the “closet” is the prime reason that denial of rights is not as widespread as it might be and that homosexuality only becomes a political issue when individuals step out of that closet and begin organizing politically. . . .
Clearly, it is the “public” homosexual who has triggered the current debate on homosexuality, particularly the homosexual who does not conform to the prevalent stereotypes and prejudices. . . .
In discussing the controversy surrounding homosexual teachers, he states that “the traditional disapproval [of homosexuality] is fading away and no longer operates as a deterrent” against trying it out in early adolescence. Here he makes most explicit both the traditional social mechanism used to “prevent” homosexuality and his own support of this tradition. He states that adolescence “is an age, if one is to make a satisfactory adjustment [to adult life], when the temptation to homosexual behavior is perhaps best avoided altogether” (emphasis added). In this one passage, he implies that heterosexual and homosexual behavior are mutually exclusive, that “adult life” is, by definition, exclusively heterosexual, and that the only “satisfactory” adjustment can be an exclusively heterosexual one. Thus he perpetuates the myth of the unhappy homosexual who, by allowing himself to sample an unnatural, and therefore taboo, experience (rather than taboo, and therefore unnatural), has trapped himself in a wretched condition of his own making. If, however, one speaks from within the myth of the happy homosexual, a “satisfactory adjustment” would be altogether different.
The question which Mr. McCracken poses in his title is clearly not the key issue. Of course “gay” is “the very last term to describe “self-destructive” and “wretched” people, homosexual or otherwise. But why are many homosexuals self-destructive and wretched in the first place—and not all homosexuals are; those who use the label “gay” probably tend on the whole to be better adjusted and “happier” than those who do not—and why has the word “gay” been appropriated (rightly or wrongly) by militant homosexuals and political activists? The reason is that an age-old taboo which fosters and/or exacerbates self-hate in those against whom it is directed is now being severely challenged. A political fight is in progress. In political fights, “truth” is distorted and people who feel they are fighting for their “right to be”—in public or otherwise—will try to influence prevailing negative opinions and hostile attitudes by countering negative with positive and using equal and opposite distortions. This is propaganda. It may be deplorable, but when put in the proper context, it is certainly no mystery. . . .
When Mr. McCracken states that “the force behind the ‘gay-rights’ movement springs less from a desire to prevent potential discrimination and more from a hope that, declared a protected status, homosexuality will gain widespread legitimacy” (emphasis added), he is probably right and the same could be stated for the anti-gay-rights movement as well, if one changed “prevent” to “promote” and “hope” to “fear.” The central question is legitimacy and, despite Mr. McCracken’s criticism that the rights issue is being misused, the strategy can work. And so can the strategy of constructing an equal and opposite myth to counter the prevailing one. This is what the fight is all about. . . .
It is becoming more and more untenable to study the “nature” of man divorced from the social and political climate in which he lives, acts, and studies his own nature. To state that “we must face things as they are” is to imply that there is absolute truth. Surely the socialization and politicization of science which has occurred over the past century, coupled with the realization within science that “scientific objectivity” is at best a useful myth, makes such an injunction somewhat naive, if not dishonest.
Ronald D. Crelinsten
To the Editor:
Samuel McCracken’s article repays careful reading: purportedly respectable, even judicious, it is in fact precisely the opposite, full of slyly disingenuous rhetoric, downright misinformation, and grotesque examples designed to excite fear or disgust in his readers and propel them to Mr. McCracken’s conclusion that homosexuals are not “gay” at all, but sick, self-destructive, and a menace to society.
Homosexuals have, according to Mr. McCracken, avoided “an adjustment to adult life,” renounced responsibility “for the continuance of the human race,” rejected reality in ways ranging from the merely pitiable to the repulsive and pathological. They are, moreover, “as sexually active as rabbits.” These facile generalizations are of course the ancient clichés of invincible prejudice that willfully ignores the diversity of the human condition, even among homosexuals. Mr. McCracken is not at all sure whether the condition of homosexuality is voluntary or involuntary; even if it is considered involuntary, he states that “its practice is clearly not.” There we have his final solution for homosexuals: they should cease all sexual activity and subside into invisibility, or face the righteous wrath of the surrounding society. This breathtaking prescription places Mr. McCracken firmly in the camp of Anita Bryant, or, for that matter, the ideologues of the Third Reich. Jews in particular should find Mr. McCracken’s argument depressingly familiar: it is the classic advice to disappear given to minorities that make themselves tiresome by persisting in visible survival. With unconscious irony, Mr. McCracken calls his conclusions “facing things as they are.”
Starting from a consideration of the recent study, Homosexualities, in which he makes some obvious but nonetheless useful methodological criticisms, Mr. McCracken discusses a number of works, including The Joy of Gay Sex, that in his view accurately reflect “current homosexual advocacy” and its “refusal to draw the line”—as if limits in sexual and social conduct were clearly visible and universally observed among heterosexuals in contemporary society. Selecting egregious examples of homosexual sado-masochism, drug abuse, and sex in public places, Mr. McCracken adroitly conflates homosexual fantasies with the horrors of the Manson and Reverend Jim Jones killings—and then, in a device that becomes quite familiar in the course of his article, adds a sly disclaimer that “sado-masochism is, of course, not made more healthy by being practiced by heterosexuals”—as if sado-masochism were a homosexual invention. Mr. McCracken wonders rhetorically where “the line” can be redrawn once it has been erased between homosexuality and heterosexuality, a primitive notion that implies hermetic distinctions instead of the continuum that in fact exists in all human sexuality. He then tells us “lines” have indeed been drawn, in the novel Faggots, an ugly fantasy by a New York homosexual that is as accurate a portrayal of homosexual life as Portnoy’s Complaint was of the Jewish family.
In discussing the gay-rights movement, Mr. McCracken first says that homosexuals, unlike blacks and women, always have the option of “being in the closet,” i.e., going underground and avoiding all sexual life—never mind the human cost involved—so that the issue of their rights need not in fact be confronted. He then says homosexuals have never been denied the right to vote, as if that had ever been claimed; nor access to public accommodations, this last illustrated by a grotesque hypothetical case of a transvestite being denied admission to a restaurant. Mr. McCracken satisfies himself that there is no “pervasive” discrimination against homosexuals in employment by observing that some magazines catering to homosexuals contain solicitations for advertisers claiming that their readers enjoy higher-than-average incomes. Surely the Assistant to the President of Boston University can improve on that logical flight; he has simply ignored the entire issue. Others may wonder why, for example, WNET/Channel 13 recently devoted a three-hour program to this precise subject.
It is when dealing with schoolteachers that Mr. McCracken descends to arguments that again should be very familiar to Jews: conceding that “one knows many homosexuals who are clearly decent and law-abiding” and unlikely to molest children, he again asks rhetorically why the fear of homosexual child molestation, which he himself equates with the fear that Jews poison wells, should be so durable. His answer, craftily merging two separate issues: “The male homosexual culture has in it tendencies which suggest, rightly or wrongly, that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to engage in statutory rape, if not child molestation” (emphasis added). Ignoring the amply-documented fact that over 90 per cent of child molestation cases concern heterosexuals, often members of the victims’ families, Mr. McCracken goes on to say that “the existence of homosexual men who not only traffic in child prostitution but defend the practice as desirable certainly must feed the widespread belief that homosexuals, teachers included, are likely to molest children.” He tacks on the customary disingenuous disclaimer: “and the belief is fed whether or not it is true, as I believe it is not.” This is akin to asserting that although some believe Jews use Christian blood in baking matzah, which one does not of course believe, yet there remains the awkward fact that matzah is baked and consumed by Jews every Passover.
When discussing homosexuality per se, Mr. McCracken often displays a sullen resentment that suggests he believes homosexuals are getting away with it. With what? “The intricate, complicated, and challenging process of adjusting one’s life to someone so different from oneself as to be in a different sex entirely.” What a sad, bleak vision of heterosexual relations, of human relations altogether, Mr. McCracken reveals here. Maintaining that homosexuals have it easier than the rest—“it is easier to live in fantasy than in reality”—he asserts homosexuality is “often, although not universally” linked to “inversion,” as he defines it, and then goes on deliberately to merge homosexuality with “inversion,” which gives him an opportunity to trot out hoary stereotypes about masculine-feminine role-playing that betray fears and ignorance of a particularly crude variety. Mr. McCracken’s confusion overwhelms him on the subject of homosexuality and artistic creativity, although this discussion gives him a chance to deliver a cheap shot feigning incomprehension at how homosexuals, with all their rabbit-like sexual activity, can find the energy for creative endeavor.
Mr. McCracken complains in conclusion that there is insufficient analysis altogether of homosexuality, which is in his view becoming “a sacred cow.” He then cites as evidence for his conclusion that homosexuals are wretched and sick three “analytical” memoirists, who would no doubt have been surprised to hear themselves so described—J. R. Ackerley, Christopher Isherwood, and Quentin Crisp—all Englishmen born before 1920, and in fact one of them dead. The entire subject of homosexuality does indeed deserve serious investigation and responsible public discussion. Mr. McCracken, however, is one of those terrible simplifiers who deliberately ignores the vast range of possibility in both heterosexuality and homosexuality; his essentially grim and punishing view of sexuality in general leaves no room for compassion, let alone comprehension of human variability. His article is, moreover, neither serious nor responsible: its shoddiness and pandering to prejudice are unworthy of the subject itself and a disgrace to a magazine among whose stated aims is fighting bigotry and protecting human rights.
A. J. Sherman
New York City
To the Editor:
Samuel McCracken’s article on homosexuality demands a response. While he is not blatantly anti-gay or obviously bigoted against a continuingly misunderstood minority, that the editors and readers should accept his entirely erroneous and uninformed grasp of the topic without refutation is horrifying.
In the first part of the article, the author delves at length into the high suicide rates for homosexuals as reported in Bell and Weinberg’s Homosexualities. He claims that the statistics are misleading and/or distorted and Bell and Weinberg’s own description of their statistics is biased. But immediately after bringing up the topic of suicide, the author drops the ball like a hot potato. He has supposedly undermined the book’s statistical sampling and interpretative techniques, but does not follow through to ask why suicide rates for homosexuals just might actually be higher than for heterosexuals. He drops the subject with myopic, but good, reason: failure to follow the thoughts to their logical and obvious conclusion. He has been on the verge of revealing plainly that overall suicide rates for blacks are higher than for whites. Can it be that the all-too-obvious conclusion is, thus, too onerous and odious for the author? The comparison should be clear. Need I point it out here? Groups of people, any groups, who are oppressed by the attitudes and actions of a society are bound to have higher suicide rates than groups not so oppressed or than society as a whole. It is as simple as that, yet heterosexuals persistently refuse to admit it or see it because they cannot admit that homosexuals just might be the victims of society, like blacks or any other minority group. . . .
Mr. McCracken’s resonantly superficial description and extreme misunderstanding of gay “sadomasochism,” together with his upright, uptight, resolute (and oh-sohealthy) disapproval of same, points out how little he really understands about homosexuality, its so-called sado-masochism, or the role of fantasy in sexuality. Despite what one would hope to be wide reading on the subjects, Mr. McCracken simply hardens his own preconceived, unvalidated belief system, even going so far as to compare gay sexual fantasies with events such as those in Guyana and with the Manson murders. And where does the missionary position fall in his spectrum of representative symbolic horrors of current events, to say nothing of rape and murder in the sordid underbelly of the straight world?
The author fails to find self-analysis or critical vision among homosexuals in regard to drug use and public sex in “tearooms.” The analysis is simple: Western Judeo-Christian societies for more than 2,500 years have severely punished and ostracized homosexuals and any homosexual activity. Does it seem odd that such totality of oppression by sanctioned governmental means and by unbelievably inhuman acts of cruelty against homosexuals among the populace should produce odd behavior and unusual methods of escape (i.e., high suicide rates and heavy drug use) or, alternatively, a safe, enjoyable, covert method of sexual satisfaction (one which may or may not meet your approval)?
Why do authors critical of homosexuals fail to see such connections? Because if they did, it would cause the whole structure of their belief system to collapse under its own weight. This could cause them some anguish of relearning.
The author, in the third section, is so far behind in his reading of current psychological research on theories of homosexual origins that he actually considers the question of “involuntary or voluntary” homosexuality “vexed.” Research now clearly shows a growing consensus indicating that sexual preference is basically set by about age five. . . . Of course, the author ignores such evidence, charging directly ahead in typically negative fashion, and stating that “anyway” the actual practice of homosexuality is, of course, voluntary. The not-very-well-hidden implication here is that if gays would simply control themselves and remain celibate or become eunuchs then they might get better (closely related to the outrageous “germ theory” of homosexuality—see Anita Bryant). And if they got better (that is, became heterosexual or disappeared) then everything would be hunky-dory in Mr. McCracken’s vision of society.
The author’s assertion of an alleged lack of discrimination against homosexuals further reveals his ignorance of what it means to be a homosexual in America today. Discrimination against homosexuals (whether or not they choose to be obvious by fashion or demeanor) has become quite professional and conspiratorially subtle and pervasive throughout many sectors of our society. Corporations, management, and, yes, academia are not as blind or benign as Mr. McCracken.
Nevertheless, he trundles forward the homemade facts at his disposal. He declares (oh, hoary truism) that homosexuality is (gasp!) “unnatural.” Now just exactly what this means in this day and age is beyond me. I, too, can marshal arguments to show that a large number of apparently innate human practices are “unnatural.” But, no, the author cannot accept that “whatever is, is natural.” He has his very own belief system about human bodies, their functions, orifices, lubricants, procreation (yes, he uses that word too), and even the fact that homosexuals are usually childless. Each person is entitled, of course, to his/her own belief system in life and I think mine is equal to that of Mr. McCracken.
He, of course, blithely and incorrigibly, carries his point even further: homosexuals are “irresponsible” because they do not add to the earth’s miserable overpopulation problem and because they choose how to spend their own money themselves and choose how to have a good time themselves rather than take instruction from Mr. McCracken’s rigid, straight, bloated, fading academic elitism. And, do I dare bring up the point that the straight author himself just might be feeling that he’s missing something, just might feel incomplete himself in his own experience, the realms of human experience, that he just might be omitting something from his own self? What do we find when we scratch the surfaces of these charges of irresponsibility, incompleteness, and lives of fantasy? Why, we find an extremely repressed and militantly overdefended ego, and an utterly closed mind and body. We also find a very curious, envious, and jealous Incomplete Person there too!
One would not object to Mr. McCracken’s asking serious and useful questions in the last part of his article, but when he starts mixing inversion, homosexuality, transvestism, creativity, Freud, and lesbians on the same page, confusing all of those subjects, one realizes that a shotgun has got nothing on the author’s grasp of his topic (s).
Again and again the author says we must face things as they are. It is clear from Mr. McCracken’s own article that he would like to do just that in some areas, while in others he chooses to remain smothered by myth, bunk, hokum, hearsay, and personal prejudice.
San Francisco, California
To the Editor:
Samuel McCracken’s article puts the late Alfred Rosenberg to shame. . . .
He continually points to the higher suicide rate of homosexuals, but nowhere does he address himself to what part Western “civilization” played in this phenomenon. Incidentally, the same Western “culture” also contributed to the increased number of suicides among Jews in pre-war Germany.
Mr. McCracken goes on to cry, like an erudite Anita Bryant: “. . . many male homosexuals add gross effeminacy of manner and a few add cross-dressing. . . . Men who, not being Napoleon or Teddy Roosevelt, dress and act like these historic gentlemen, are a byword not merely for maladjustment but for madness.” Unfortunately, Mr. McCracken does not follow up with an admission that 98 per cent of homosexuals are indistinguishable in appearance from heterosexuals.
Mr. McCracken appears to gag on C. A. Tripp’s allusion to the great number of artists who are or were homosexuals. He might have also mentioned the plethora of fine writers who fall within this category.
It is tragic that more people in our society do not recognize the possibility that people like Mr. McCracken might just be reflecting a personal problem in propounding the kind of half-truths he has successfully foisted on the editorial staff. Such articles are more appropriate to Der Stuermer.
Raymond Dennis Jarrard
Santa Barbara, California
To the Editor:
At one point in his article Samuel McCracken states: “A rational view of homosexuality has always been difficult to hold and to propagate.” Mr. McCracken’s vicious piece does not make it any easier.
It is difficult to respond to Mr. McCracken’s diatribe. . . . There are so many points which should be addressed and yet a letter to the editor allows for just so much space. One is tempted to attack his perverse use of selected pornography to incite distaste and hatred under the guise of what purports to be a serious discussion. One is also tempted to detail with great dudgeon the cheap tricks, worthy of a precocious but not too ethical high-school debater, with which Mr. McCracken develops most of his arguments, such as his totally gratuitous inclusion of transvestism in each of the discussions, and his disclaimers followed by the very thought he was disclaiming. . . .
All of the above, though important, should be fairly obvious to any intelligent reader who is not searching to have his prejudices confirmed. However, there are two points in particular that need to be examined in more detail . . . : discrimination against the homosexual and the renunciation of responsibility of the homosexual.
One of the curious aspects of the article is that while Mr. McCracken admits, albeit tentatively and with little detail, the persecution of the gay in terms of harassment, entrapment, and brutality, he claims that discrimination does not exist. His recognition of the “closet” as an option clearly indicates that he recognizes there is such discrimination, else why would there be a need for such an option?
Several years ago there was a study in Canada (S.L. Wax, 1948) which demonstrated that if someone with a “Jewish” name like “Greenberg” were to apply to a hotel for a reservation, he would be far less likely to get one than someone named “Lockwood.” According to Mr. McCracken’s reasoning, the Greenbergs of this world are not discriminated against the way that women and blacks are, because they do have the option of hiding their Jewishness, perhaps by changing their names.
Discrimination against gay persons does exist. It ranges from legal sanctions, including imprisonment, discharge from the armed forces, etc., to expulsion from one’s family or church. If Mr. McCracken is interested in learning something about the oppression of the gay, I would suggest that he consult sources other than The Joy of Gay Sex.
Mr. McCracken states: “The fact is that homosexuality generally entails a renunciation of responsibility for the continuance of the human race and of a voice in the dialogue of the generations.” Like most of his facts, it isn’t, but is, rather, a poorly supported opinion. He begins with the simplistic assumption that the continuation of the human race depends solely upon the physical production of children. It also depends upon the maintenance of a society that can support, feed, train, and generally care for those children. I wonder, when was the last time Mr. McCracken prescribed medicine for his children, made the clothing they wear to school, grew the food they eat, taught them in the classroom, etc.? All those who have done those things for Mr. McCracken’s children have taken responsibility for the “continuance of the human race,” and a large number of them are probably gay. . . .
A. Damien Martin
New York University
New York City
To the Editor:
In the wake of Harvey Milk’s assassination, it was both shocking and dismaying to read in COMMENTARY a homophobic diatribe by an intellectual Anita Bryant. Samuel McCracken’s article purports to deny that homosexuals are in fact “gay.” . . . Mr. McCracken points out that “they” are promiscuous, have suicidal tendencies, engage in “bizarre” sex and take “poppers”—amyl nitrite. Moreover, he implies that even if they are gay, they are happy because they are irresponsible. One wonders if having a heritage of millennia of persecuion at the hands of zealous heterosexist bigots under the guise of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, capitalist democracy, Communism, and one’s own family itself might account for the basis of some of these pathologies. . . . Of course, minorities will display symptoms of alienation and gays, who are the most oppressed, might be expected to have their share. . . .
That a Jewish magazine chose to publish such an insidious diatribe might seem a bit surprising, considering we gays were also slaughtered in gas chambers by the Nazi maniacs. Remember the pink triangles! . . . We were also butchered by the Inquisition, like the “closet” Jews and Moors (Marranos and Moriscos) in Spain. Remember them when you want to talk about the “beauty” of staying in the closet. Moreover, some gay writers estimate that at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of gays may have been burned at the stakes as witches and heretics—the very word “faggot” conveys the holocaust against gays. . . .
As for Mr. McCracken’s little discourse on why gays do not merit this nomenclature, . . . gay people are sick of this patronizing, heterosexist, colonialist mentality which tells us what we should call ourselves.
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . I am disturbed by the snide rhetorical tenor of Samuel McCracken’s article, which remains quite apparent despite the author’s unsuccessful effort to appear unbiased. Mr. McCracken plays the role of the Grand Inquisitor: ostensibly caring deeply for the soul of his victim, while ever-so-piously setting match to the faggot (pun intended) which will carry the hapless victim to oblivion.
Mr. McCracken’s approach, initially to call into disrepute the most recent sociological study on the subject of homosexuality, establishes an odd,’ and presumably unintended, juxtaposition of Homosexualities (which he faults because of errors in scope, method, and interpretation) with other sources more to his liking, which have the characteristics of extreme tendentiousness. Refering to Homosexualities, he writes: “If the study had shown more interest in tabulating the proportions of transvestites and sado-masochists, not to mention more lurid specializations, it would have been perhaps harder to maintain the comfortable view of homosexuality. . . .” Should we wish to know more about the putative place of such “lurid specializations” in homosexual society, the author obliges by citing opinions from popular literature, all, of course, as an invitation to open and enlightened discussion. . . .
I remain sharply suspicious of those who merely recite the most closely held homophobic myths because “we must face things as they are.” A mere recitation without competent analysis does not begin to delineate “things as they are.” . . . This endless piffle on the subject only serves to detract from the truly important question: Who, in the existential sense, is the homosexual to be? How is the homosexual experience to be made a fulfilling, goal-directed one? Mr. McCracken dismisses Larry Kramer’s Faggots in a short paragraph as having merit, but as “of course already beginning to be denounced by the activists.” Why “of course”? Kramer and, similarly, Andrew Holleran in Dancer from the Dance ask important existential questions in their novels, which have considerably raised the level of discussion among homosexuals. Mr. McCracken shows an unexplainable propensity to overlook this fact, in favor of vivid sensationalism. . . .
To “face things as they are,” as Mr. McCracken would have it, is the first inducement to despair, if not allied with the vision to see things as they ought to be.
John G. Wilkinson
To the Editor:
. . . I began to suspect trouble on the first page of Samuel McCracken’s article. Blacks are “black,” even though most of them are brown; gay people are “homosexuals” because the name we prefer is a euphemism. And then, of course, it gets much worse. Many of us are depressed, as I was by reading Mr. McCracken’s article, which clearly indicates that we are mentally ill. Some of us, perhaps damaged by the sort of repression Mr. McCracken advocates, pretend we are masters or slaves during sex; the sort of thing which, God knows, could never happen to heterosexuals. . . .
And so it goes, on and on. . . . There is a market for this sort of article, and I should think that the Anita Bryant Newsletter or possibly the Voelkischer Beobachter would have been pleased to get it. But why COMMENTARY?
Brooklyn, New York
To the Editor:
. . . In his article, Samuel McCracken states: “The fact is that homosexuality generally entails a renunciation of responsibility for the continuance of the human race and of a voice in the dialogue of the generations.” . . . But there is a great deal more to “the continuance of the human race” than merely making children. . . . Would that all the human race had to do was continue. Unfortunately, this is not so. We could have continued very well . . . as cave men, gnawing on raw food and hoping that some day one of us would invent the wheel or paint something on those weary walls at Lascaux. When one is talking about humanity, continuance entails development, and development of civilization has absolutely nothing to do with sexual preference. Though I detest sexual speculation regarding our ancestors, certainly Socrates spoke and still speaks to “the generations.” And this applies equally to Leonardo da Vinci and all other creators in any discipline whom the gay activists now name-drop as a form of defense and justification. Surely Mr. McCracken would admit and allow that homosexuals have made, and make, significant contributions—those which move us yet further from the caves.
Regarding the arts specifically, I would speculate that homosexuals have contributed precisely because they do not have—they are by their nature freed from—the awesome and weighty responsibilities of bringing up children. They can put their minds (after all, Mr. McCracken, human beings are both minds and bodies) to other things.
Furthermore, and again regarding reproduction, one need only glance at the low standards of today’s youth and the utter pragmatism of both young and old to realize that reproduction is not that great a banner to wave. . . .
To the Editor:
We constantly hear talk about homosexual contributions to the arts, but if the question were to be asked, Have not heterosexuals made as significant a contribution, wouldn’t the answer be a decisive yes?
To the Editor:
Samuel McCracken’s article is the most thinly-disguised harangue against gays that I have read in a long time. Under the façade of fairness, he manages to distort and reverse almost everything that gay activists stand for.
His formula is simple: pick a book (or movie) and lift a quotation that will suit his point—no matter how out-of-context it is. For instance, out of the twenty-six moving interviews with homosexuals in the documentary film, Word Is Out, why does Mr. McCracken pick the few unpleasant passages where gay men, seem selfish and intolerant of others?
His article takes on a feverish pitch of self-righteousness as he travels from one area of gay life to another—although he begins each section rather calmly. For example, in the child-molestation section Mr. McCracken agrees that gays are no more likely to molest little children than are heterosexuals, but then he goes off on an emotional tangent about a pederasty ring in Boston.
It is clear that Samuel McCracken’s mind about gay liberation was made up well before he undertook the essay purporting to reveal insights about our lives and struggles. . . .
Philadelphia Gay Media Association
To the Editor:
With the publication of Samuel McCracken’s “Are Homosexuals Gay?,” COMMENTARY sinks to a new low in the mire of conservative reaction and intolerance. Mr. McCracken, in his denigration of the gay-rights movement, displays the fullest insensitivity to overwhelming forces of institutional, psychological, and ideological oppression which confront minorities in this country—be they blacks in white America, Jews in Christian America, or gays in straight America. . . .
To cite claims of higher-than-average gay incomes or the alleged scarcity of “de-facto” edicts against gays in employment by no means demonstrates, as Mr. McCracken suggests, an absence of job or any other kind of discrimination. The elimination of laws persecuting blacks has certainly not ended racial bias. But more importantly, what Mr. McCracken’s analysis fails to account for is that the real oppression being protested against emanates from the sexual ethos of the dominant culture which preaches that homosexuals are necessarily sick, abnormal, and living less than complete lives. Mr. McCracken fails to see this because he clearly subscribes to each of these views himself. He expresses incredulity at the tendency of certain gays toward a psycho-sexual identification with the slave or prisoner because he cannot see that the self-deprecation manifest in such behavior is a logical consequence of the oppressive self-image which straight America operates in innumerable ways to impose upon gays.
Mr. McCracken seems to applaud Larry Kramer’s recent “remarkable” novel which characterizes gay life as shallow, self-indulgent, and frivolous, and he even ridicules gay-rights leaders for speaking out against it. He fails to see what the gay press has come to acknowledge: this type of literature, especially when written from “the inside,” is just as self-destructive to the gay psyche as individual acts of sado-masochism. Mr. McCracken’s inability to see the real problems of gays in this country is truly exasperating, and his clinical discourse cannot screen either his lack of insight or his own blatant prejudices. He . . . is trapped in the web of his own homophobia. . . . If it were not so tragic and repellent, one could almost laugh at his “some-of-my-best-friends-are-gay” conclusion.
Mr. McCracken’s lack of understanding of the oppression experienced by gays cripples his perception of the gay-rights movement. . . . Undoubtedly, gay relationships suffer from the same neuroses and exhibit the same variety of forms that characterize the heterosexual world. But if the gay-community spokespersons sometimes seem unwilling to admit to any problems, it is not because they are unrecognized; almost every gay person is all too aware of them—and, lest he forget, the Samuel McCrackens and Larry Kramers will always remind him. Rather, this alleged whitewashing occurs to counteract the pervasive stereotypes, to begin the desperately overdue process of constructing a positive and affirmative gay movement and identification which can take the place of the self-hatred which has lasted too long. The rhetoric may seem to condone all behavior with a philosophy of “anything goes,” but that is not its main thrust. Rather, it seeks to accomplish the much more significant goal of allowing gay people to feel good about themselves, to feel healthy, to feel normal, to feel whole and complete. This development must occur before one can hope to see the elimination of the patterns which so upset Mr. McCracken. That he should have so little insight into and sympathy with these efforts in his utterly distorted portrayals of the movie, Word Is Out, or the book, The Joy of Gay Sex, represents the worst kind of outwardly projected personal distress and ruling-class thinking. . . .
David A. Karnes
Samuel Mccracken writes:
First, I would like to thank Joseph Adelson, Edward M. Levine, Steven Goldberg, and George Gilder for their generous comments.
Mr. Goldberg has persuaded me. To the extent that some transsexuals are the victims of fetal hormone incidents, I agree that they are certainly responding to a more compelling reality by seeking transsexual surgery. Whether they are homosexuals at all would depend not on their desire for surgery, but on what they do after it is accomplished.
I am glad that Mr. Gilder attributes my alleged backward fall to so laudable a cause as a desire to keep my balance. My own view is that the universality of homosexuality, even if proven, would say nothing about its desirability. All sorts of widely condemned behavior is also widely found. But it is obvious that much of the homosexual behavior cited as evidence for universality is a ritualized and transitory phenomenon that bears little resemblance to the contemporary form in advanced societies.
Mr. Gilder deals helpfully with a point I only adumbrated, that a certain amount of passing homosexual behavior is common among adolescents, and it is unfortunate when this is taken seriously—by the participants no less than by a censorious society.
I regard heterosexual and homosexual seduction of children as comparable only in that each is despicable. Mr. Gilder is certainly right, however, in the distinction he makes, and if my essay can be fairly read as rejecting this distinction, then I have been less clear than I should have been in stating my position.
I in turn hesitate to take issue with so generous a critic as Joel Widom. If my statements about homosexual teachers in the classroom are guarded and cautious, it is because the issue is in fact very complex, balancing as it does conflicting rights. And Mr. Widom is perfectly correct in saying that a journalist can afford tentativeness that a parent cannot. My own view as a parent is that homosexual teachers ought to be judged on their own merits like everyone else. I would regard a transvestite teacher who insisted on exploiting his right to appear in the classroom in drag—if legally established—as so lacking in judgment as to raise doubts about his competence, which is precisely the position I would take with regard to a heterosexual transvestite, or indeed any teacher who insisted on turning up for work dressed in a ludicrously inappropriate fashion. I think parents ought to be willing to protest the employment of irresponsible teachers severally and singly, rather than falling back upon the exclusion of a large group, many of whom are responsible. There are not enough good teachers in the world to do without those who are homosexual.
Another issue implicit in Mr. Widom’s letter is the problem of role models. Let me be forthright: homosexuals are, qua their homosexuality, inappropriate role models. On the other hand, so are those who smoke and so are those who are grossly overweight. We do not propose to ban the latter classes, even though their inappropriate behavior and status may be visible to their students. I think homosexual teachers have no more right to be officially certified as perfect role models than fat teachers and teachers who smoke.
If by “the myth of the happy, well-adjusted homosexual” Ronald D. Crelinsten means the idea that homosexuals as a group are as happy and well-adjusted as an equivalent population of heterosexuals, then that is precisely the myth I am out to counter. But I do not mean to argue that no homosexuals are happy and well-adjusted.
Mr. Crelinsten’s disagreement with me is best expressed in his last paragraph. As old-fashioned as it may be, I really do believe in the existence of absolute truth, e.g., the fact that the orbit of Venus is always inside the orbit of earth or that lead is denser than aluminum. It is a complex and elusive quality, corrosive on those who believe they have an easy grip on it. But it is not so corrosive as the belief that it does not exist, that there is no external world of reality against which perceptions are measured. Those who hold this latter belief in its most extreme form are quickly “liberated” into madness. Naive I may be in this, but not dishonest, for I have expounded my heresy on the topic before in these pages (“The Drugs of Habit and the Drugs of Belief,” June 1971).
With this archaic orientation, I find it important to try to establish what is before deciding why it is. As a matter of fact, it seems to me almost too obvious to mention that much of the distortion of reality on which I was reporting is politically inspired. Now, it appears that Mr. Crelinsten would agree with me that politics is the Father of Lies. But once one has made this obvious comment, one is—or I, at least, am—still stuck with the obvious problem of which predicates are lies and which are not.
I do not think that his discussion adds much to our understanding of this sort of question, which I gather does not interest him a great deal.
Mr. Crelinsten is unique among my critics in pursuing a fundamental disagreement with me reasonably and courteously. The remainder of those who argue that I am full of applesauce do it in a very different manner. In reading over the more intemperate of these letters, it occurs to me that had I published a Philippic against motherhood, it would have have occasioned a more moderate reaction. Homosexuality is the last, and has become the greatest, of our sacred cows. No skepticism, no doubt, can be permitted: he who expresses either is no better than a Nazi.
A. J. Sherman’s letter repays careful reading: purportedly high-minded, even devoted to compassion and human fulfillment, it is in fact precisely the opposite, a shoddy compound of cant, misrepresentation, half-truth, and downright lie, designed to excite fear and disgust in his readers and propel them toward his conclusion that I am not only anti-homosexual but anti-Semitic.
Mr. Sherman appears to believe that he had only to label my views “the ancient clichés of invincible prejudice” in order to refute them. Taking my undebatable assertion that homosexual activity—a condition of choice—is distinguishable from ethnic background, he uses the phrase “final solution” to characterize a view which I do not hold and expressed nowhere in the article. His denigration of me pales beside his trivialization of the Holocaust. But Mr. Sherman is not content with his oblique—I suppose he would call it “sly”—attempt to make me out a Nazi. I am, he says, “firmly in the camp . . . of the ideologues of the Third Reich.” To say this is to say that I favor sending homosexuals to concentration camps. Mr. Sherman does not really believe this, for he is content to misrepresent my views by claiming I say that homosexuals “should cease all sexual activity and subside into invisibility.” Given the demanding standard set by his Nazi accusation, this is less vicious, but no less false. Since I advocated the legalization of sexual relations among consenting adults and opposed the banning of homosexual teachers from the classroom, Mr. Sherman must know that I do not advocate what he says I do.
It is a crumb of comfort that Mr. Sherman finds my methodological objections to Homosexualities “ useful.” But they are not “obvious,” because they have not been made by other reviewers.
I fear I am unregenerate in my belief that in general heterosexual society observes limits more closely than homosexual advocates of the sort represented by The Joy of Gay Sex and similar works. Readers wishing to choose between our positions need only consult the works in question, which represent the use of amyl nitrite as very widespread among male homosexuals and sadomasochism as a growing cult. If these views are inaccurate, then Mr. Sherman’s quarrel is with the authors of this work, not with me.
Mr. Sherman’s disposition of the line between homosexual and heterosexual activity is Pirandellian: right he is if he thinks he is. The problem is more complex than that. To require a satire to be an “accurate portrayal” betrays a lack of literary understanding. Ought we to fault Gulliver’s Travels because everyone knows that Europeans in the early 18th century were really well over six inches tall?
I never suggested that the issue of the legitimate rights of homosexuals need not be confronted. I did suggest that those rights are ill-served by the present campaign to make homosexuals a protected minority. I am not sure what is “grotesque” about my example of discrimination against transvestites, but I gather Mr. Sherman agrees with me that homosexuals are not discriminated against in public accommodation. I am not surprised that WNET should have devoted a long program to this issue, but it is odd out of three hours to hear no example.
Mr. Sherman’s attempt to make me out an anti-Semite begins with a lie: that I “ignore the amply-documented fact that over 90 per cent of child molestation cases concern heterosexuals. . . .” I said in my essay that “the great majority of all child molesters are heterosexual males . . . the evidence is that homosexuals are, at worst, no more disposed to molest children than heterosexuals. . . .” Did Mr. Sherman find my essay inadequately inoffensive as it stood and did he improve it on the assumption that readers have short memories?
His ritual-murder analogy is inexact. Let me make it more exact with specifications: let us suppose that after a group of Jews has been indicted on charges of ritual murder, certain Jewish spokesmen begin issuing statements to the effect that ritual murder isn’t so bad, and besides, Christian children like having their blood drained to make matzah. If someone suggested that such statements were not helpful, would Mr. Sherman handle him in the same fashion? Mr. Sherman’s analogy is not merely defamatory, it begs the question: we all know that the ritual-murder charge is false, and, therefore, by analogy, we know that homosexuals do not molest children. Since Mr. Sherman admits that 10 per cent of child molestation is by homosexuals, and he does not deny the existence of the statements I cited, nothing is left of this passage except his intellectually and morally bankrupt attempt to associate me with the most virulent types of anti-Semitism.
A homosexual newspaper in Boston is currently publishing a continuing controversy over the propriety of homosexual relations involving minors. Some homosexual contributors to the debate argue against such relationships, and I suppose Mr. Sherman would call them Nazis too.
It should also be noted here that Mr. Sherman appears to differentiate between child molestation and statutory rape, and think rape less serious. This is typical of his moral vision.
As to my alleged sullen resentment of homosexuals for “getting away with it,” Mr. Sherman cannot have it both ways. Logic—but not my text—can sustain either the proposition that I regard homosexuals generally as “sick and self-destructive” or the notion that I envy them. Not both. And apparently he believes that he can dispose of the phenomenon of role-playing by calling it a “hoary stereotype.”
Mr. Sherman turns fanciful again in his reference to my “cheap shot feigning incomprehension at how homosexuals, with all their rabbit-like sexual activity, can find the energy for creative endeavor.” I neither feigned nor expressed such incomprehension. Rather, I pointed out the plain contradiction between the Freudian theory of sublimation and the cult of homosexual creativity.
With regard to the essayists I cited in conclusion (he does not, by the way, seem to have noticed that I put Isherwood in a different class from Ackerley and Crisp), Mr. Sherman seems to be arguing that that was a long time ago in another country, and besides one of the memoirists is dead. I am less sure than Mr. Sherman that either Ackerley or Crisp would be surprised to be thought analytical.
If Mr. Sherman were not himself a terrible simplifier of the most terrible sort, he could see that far from ignoring the vast range of possibility in both heterosexuality and homosexuality, I explicitly recognized it. But this recognition is a very different thing from refusing to discriminate among the manifestations of this diversity, as he does and would have me do.
Mr. Sherman appears to believe that when I noted that the maintenance of heterosexual relationships is a complicated business I gave evidence of a “grim and punishing view of sexuality in general.” This hyperbole is typical of his inability to read the text before him and respond directly to what is said, rather than at second hand to his own hysterical and prejudiced reaction. Finally, on the evidence of his letter, Mr. Sherman has no business invoking compassion or calling others bigots.
Ned Tuck is very generous in saying that I am neither “blatantly anti-gay [n]or obviously bigoted.”
I did not discuss the high suicide rates of homosexuals, because there are no hard data on the topic. Rather, I discussed the high rate of suicide attempts reported in Homosexualities. But I did not, contrary to his allegation, claim that these statistics are misleading or distorted. I merely noted the plain fact that they are very inaccurately reported in the summary chapter and are at variance with the generally optimistic conclusions of the study. I gather from all these references to myopia, onerousness, odiousness, and so forth, that I am being accused of suppressing evidence in a fashion which, if proven, would deny me the right to be taken seriously.
The only problem with Mr. Tuck’s charge is that it is based on falsified statistics. There is no need for Mr. Tuck to take my word for this. Let him look at a standard reference work, The Statistical Abstract of the United States. On page 182, he will find a table of suicide statistics by race. Since 1945, the suicide rate for white males has hovered around 25 per 100,000. For white females, it has risen over the same period from 7.2 to 9.3 per 100,000. On Mr. Tuck’s theory, white females, although somewhat more oppressed since the rise of women’s liberation, are much less oppressed than white males. Over the same period, the suicide rate for non-white males has risen from 8.5 to 16.4. On Mr. Tuck’s theory, the effect of thirty-five years of civil-rights activity has been to double the oppression of non-white men, but at least they are only 60 per cent as oppressed as white men. Since 1945, the suicide rate for non-white females has risen from 2.1 to 4.6. That is, on Mr. Tuck’s principles, although the position of non-white females has worsened by 119 per cent since 1945, they are still the least oppressed of the four groups.
These facts dispose not only of Mr. Tuck’s specific claim about suicide rates among blacks and whites, but also of the house of cards he erects on it. High suicide rates are not a symptom of oppression. In national suicide rates, we see the same pattern: Austria, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland have the highest suicide rates in Western Europe, about four times those of Italy and five times those of Spain. Elsewhere in the world, the suicide rate in the Philippines and in Mexico is almost low enough to be accounted for by despondent tourists and successfully disguised homicides.
Although many of my critics say that homosexuals have high suicide rates, the only evidence I have seen for this—and it is inadequate evidence—is that a group of homosexuals from San Francisco report a higher rate of suicide attempts than a heterosexual control group. If homosexuals do have abnormally high suicide rates, they appear to be alone among “oppressed groups” in this regard.
Mr. Tuck may be simply ignorant rather than dishonest, and I hope he will consider how much else of his passionately held “belief system” rests on similar bogus information.
There is no way to answer Mr. Tuck’s vague claim that I misunderstand sado-masochism. It would be interesting to know why he calls it “so-called.” Have even its enthusiasts misdescribed it, and are its adepts really into the avoidance of pain, humiliation, and feelings of dominance? Mr. Tuck concedes that it is “odd behavior,” but it is not clear wherein he believes the oddness lies. He would advance the debate on the topic were he to provide evidence and argumentation rather than relying, as he does, on ill-tempered but unspecific assertion and personal abuse. Charles Manson and Jim Jones, are, Mr. Tuck must realize, precisely examples of the “sordid underbelly” of hetersosexuality, the existence of which I explicitly recognized in my article. Would he have preferred me to have cited homosexual mass murders in Texas and Illinois?
If Mr. Tuck wishes to believe that homosexual relations in “tearooms” are “enjoyable,” I have no grounds on which to dispute him. Whether they are “safe” might be disputed by those who are arrested or assaulted there. (The Joy of Gay Sex has some interesting practical advice on how to tell whether your newfound partner is about to mug you.) In any event, even conceding Mr. Tuck’s overheated claims of oppression by “Judeo-Christian societies,” surely it is clear that Jews have been at least as persecuted as homosexuals without developing similar pathologies. Quite the reverse: historically the Jewish rate of alcoholism has been a fraction of that among their Gentile oppressors.
Considering Mr. Tuck’s grasp of suicide statistics, he is perhaps not quite the person to tell me that I am behind in my research, but I am aware of his “growing consensus” that sexual preferences are fixed by the age of five or so. But I retain my right to believe that the minority view has not been disposed of and that the issue remains “vexed.”
Mr. Tuck’s assertions about discrimination remain no more than that. As it happens, I did not deny the existence of discrimination against homosexuals. But I did maintain that it is preposterous to equate it with discrimination against blacks.
Mr. Tuck finds “this day and age” a strange time to invoke the notion of the natural, but there was never a time when the term was a more pervasive shibboleth. To the charge of the unspeakable crime of having uttered the term “procreation,” I am able to offer neither denial nor mitigation.
One is hardly surprised to hear homosexual apologists raise the issue of overpopulation, and I suppose that homosexuals in certain overpopulated and underdeveloped nations may feel they are performing a public service. But in the United States, where we will almost certainly shortly face the problems of what the depopulationists quaintly call “negative population growth,” this is not the case. Indeed, any person of whatever affectional preference who determines to remain childless and whose economic well-being depends to any extent on the existence of children is to some extent parasitic on those who have children.
Mr. Tuck’s paragraph of personal vituperation is obviously deeply felt but a little repetitious. He appears to have a very strong need to believe that homosexuals lead lives to be envied, and to have great difficulty in believing that I do not envy them.
I take it that Mr. Tuck believes that “inversion, homosexuality, tranvestism, creativity, Freud, and lesbians” are somehow unrelated topics; when he speaks of “myth, bunk, hokum, hearsay, and personal prejudice,” he speaks as an expert practitioner.
It is not clear to which Nazi leader Raymond Dennis Jarrard is tastefully and moderately comparing me, Alfred Rosenberg or Julius Streicher, publisher of Der Stuermer. I suspect he has not actually read any of Rosenberg’s work, which is too incomprehensible to be compared to anything. But I appreciate the delicate compliment of being compared with Streicher, the “beast of Franconia.”
Mr. Jarrard’s novel and incisive suggestion is that the alleged high suicide rate of homosexuals is the fault of Western civilization, which also appears to be responsible for Hitler. If only this country could be free to enjoy the moderation and humanity of those non-Western civilizations that produced Idi Amin and Pol Pot!
Mr. Jarrard seems unaware that Anita Bryant goes about advocating those very laws against the employment of homosexual teachers that I explicitly rejected. I did not “admit” that 98 per cent of homosexuals are indistinguishable in appearance from heterosexuals because the figure is not that high. Even among homosexuals who do not cultivate the fashions of inversion, there is a homosexual style, and Mr. Jarrard is being either naive or disingenuous to deny it.
I did not “gag on Tripp’s allusion to the great number of artists who are . . . homosexuals,” or mention any such allusions by Tripp: I brought the issue up all by myself and made it clear that homosexuals are prominent in all arts. Perhaps Mr. Jarrard does not regard writing as an art.
I suspect that Mr. Jarrard’s tactful suggestion that I write out of “a personal problem” is probably a veiled version of the suggestion often made by homosexuals that they who criticize homosexuality do so because they are themselves homosexuals. This is an astonishing notion, suggesting as it does that only homosexuals have any reason to be skeptical about homosexuality. The notion may reflect in those who make it a measure of subconscious recognition of the facts.
It is not clear why A. Damien Martin, under the guise of defending homosexuality, should claim that a more or less random selection of material from a heavily affirmative book on the subject should “incite distaste and hatred.” One intention among several I had in citing these passages was to show that some aspects of homosexuality, even as presented by supporters, can be distasteful.
I did not introduce transvestism into each of my discussions, although I am at a loss to understand why he thinks transvestism is “totally gratuitous” to a discussion of homosexuality.
Mr. Martin calls my flat reference to police harassment of homosexuals as “serious and indefensible” a “tentative” admission. I did not, as he paradoxically claims, say that discrimination against homosexuals does not exist. I made the claim that it is much less widespread and pervasive than the discrimination borne by other minorities.
Nor did I claim that homosexuals are not discriminated against because they have the option of concealing their orientation. I noted that the presence of this option, in the context of constitutional law, distinguished them from all the minorities previously protected by civil-rights acts. Terrible simplifiers like Mr. Martin are always uneasy with such distinctions, but that does not make them any less real.
Mr. Martin’s own examples of “discrimination” all beg the question. Once one assumes without argument that there is absolutely nothing wrong with homosexuality, then it is a simple matter to claim that all laws and customs which disadvantage it are unjustifiably discriminatory. But this tactic should not pass for argument. I myself believe that many of the disadvantages now imposed on homosexuals are unjustifiable. But these must be analyzed singly and severally. As long, for example, as it is settled Roman Catholic dogma that homosexuality is a sin, one may reasonably expect the church to regard the matter as one for religious discipline.
I do not know what to make of Mr. Martin’s suggestion that I consult sources other than The Joy of Gay Sex. My essay dealt directly with ten books, which formed only part of my reading. Can Mr. Martin really believe his readers can be snookered into ignoring this fact? In any event, his remark suggests that he has not read even The Joy of Gay Sex, for it does contain discussions of alleged oppresion.
It does not seem likely that Mr. Martin is a parent, or he would not have confused the two very different roles of parenthood and child service. Parenthood involves the creation of another human being for whom one has a supreme responsibility for twenty years, and with whom one has a continuing relationship that terminates only with death. (I should say that adoptive parenthood partakes in this relationship in all the essentials.) This unique, magnificent, and, incidentally, unpaid relationship he equates with a variety of roles in which, without ultimate responsibility or long-term commitment, people deal with children as a means of earning a living. It is no doubt the case that a substantial proportion of those who do this are homosexual. (Whether they are also gay is a question to be answered only by acquaintance.) It is also no doubt the case that a much smaller proportion of the world’s biological parents are homosexuals, and a still smaller proportion of the active ones.
I am relieved that my dilatory habits kept my essay from appearing in the December issue, else Toni Bordoni might have accused me of fomenting Harvey Milk’s “assassination.”
Mr. Bordoni makes a strange charge against my article, viz., that it purports to deny that homosexuals are “gay.” If he thinks the article does not really make such a denial, what is he complaining about? All my remarks about homosexual behavior which he cites are based on pro-homosexual sources; I did not allege them to be typical of homosexuals (except the promiscuity, which is, for males at least, well attested by all sources and disputed by none). I did not claim that when homosexuals are happy it is because they are irresponsible.
As to his astonishing claim that the pathologies he concedes exist are the result of millennia of persecution, it should be necessary only to point out that no one can be persecuted before conception. No one, homosexual or otherwise, has been persecuted for “millennia.” As to his even more astonishing claim that homosexuals are the most oppressed of all minorities, I suppose this must be necessary to maintain to explain why widespread pathologies have developed among homosexuals that have not developed among other minorities, e.g., blacks and Jews.
The only evidence he cites is the unsubstantiated claim of unspecified writers that “hundreds of thousands, if not millions” of homosexuals were burned at the stake. On this sort of evidence he might as well claim “billions, if not trillions.” No doubt all the documentation for these mass slaughters has been destroyed by the Heterosexist Conspiracy.
Nowhere did I tell homosexuals what they should call themselves. At the outset I did discuss what I would call them, and at the end I did suggest that the term “gay” is not universally appropriate to homosexuals. If this is patronizing, heterosexist, and colonialist, so be it. Probably if the National Heterosexual Task Force were to decree that heterosexuals should call themselves “normal,” Mr. Bordoni would do a little colonizing and patronizing himself.
It would be easier to comment on the “snide rhetorical tenor” alleged by John G. Wilkinson had he specifield one or more examples of it. There is a certain novelty to his charge that I am an inquisitor burning homosexuals at the stake (rather than an SS-trooper gassing them), but that is about all I can say for it.
My principal objection to Homosexualities was its considerable tendentiousness. But when I read Mr. Wilkinson on sources “more to my liking,” I wonder whether he can have read my article itself, rather than depending on word-of-mouth accounts. These other sources were indeed more tendentious than Homosexualities, but in the same direction, for they were all staunchly pro-homosexual. As to the more lurid specializations, I did not object to any opinion maintained thereupon by the authors of Homosexualities, but to their omitting to mention them. Mr. Wilkinson is correct in decrying any attempt to make the bizarre fringes of homosexual life typical of all of it. But I did not try to do so, as any fair-minded reading of my essay will show. Still, I am not going to sweep them under the rug as he would have me do.
When Mr. Wilkinson puts the real problem as who is the homosexual to be and how is his experience to be made fulfilling, he begs a number of obvious and important questions. I said that Faggots was “of course beginning to be denounced by the activists” because it was predictable that it would be. After all, Larry Kramer’s picture of much homosexual life is far more negative than anything in my essay, and look what happened to me. The extent of the personal abuse leveled in these letters leaves very little over for Kramer. I am glad, however, to learn that some homosexuals are taking his novel seriously. If Mr. Wilkinson really thinks my essay is “sensational,” he does not know what sensationalism is.
If I may stand Mr. Wilkinson’s final remark on its head, it does not matter how clearly one sees things as they ought to be if one does not see them as they are, and if one does not see them as they are, it is very unlikely that one will ever see them as they can be. And that is the important vision.
Douglass Roby’s logic on nomenclature is fuzzy. “Black” is hardly misleading in the way that “gay” is. I would have thought that it was clear that all homosexuals are homosexual.
My article did not indicate that most homosexuals are mentally ill. This charge, like so many others in these letters, is not specified because there is no evidence for it.
Mr. Roby cannot have read my article with very close attention, or he would have noticed my reference to and condemnation of sadomasochism among heterosexuals, but it would be interesting to know what sort of repression he thinks I advocate. After all, I did advocate the legalization of sexual acts between consenting adults and oppose laws to ban homosexual schoolteachers. There is not a great deal of scope for repression in such a position.
Mr. Roby’s learned reference to the Voelkischer Beobachter makes his charge of Nazism a little more elegantly than his fellows. The tactic is morally no less shabby for the poshness of its expression.
I fear Elan Garonzik is confusing the human race with civilization, two entities which are, regrettably, not coextensive. Whether or not it was a homosexual who painted the caves at Lascaux, I cannot say. Apparently Mr. Garonzik’s detestation of speculation about the sexual preference of our ancestors is inadequate to keep him from doing it. The ritualized pederasty of 5th-century Athens was quite unlike modern homosexuality. But let us say, arguendo, that Socrates, as well as Leonardo, was as homosexual as the next man. What of it? My essay clearly indicated my belief that “homosexuals as a group are as gifted and intelligent as anyone else.” It is not merely that I “would admit and allow that homosexuals have made, and do make, significant contributions.” I have done so.
Mr. Garonzik’s suggestion that homosexuals are better artists because they have no children is certainly unfair to large numbers of gifted and hard-working artists with families (see Steve Kniss’s letter). I am not clear as to the import of his final paragraph, unless it be to suggest that the human race does not deserve continuation.
If my essay is the most thinly-disguised harangue against homosexuals that Timothy Cwiek has read in a long time, he certainly leads a sheltered intellectual life. Actually, as a casual reading reveals, it was not a harangue of any sort, nor did I disguise my views even thinly.
Mr. Cwiek’s sample of my alleged technique is yet another case of fabrication. I did not discuss the movie Word Is Out because I have not seen it. From the book, which I have read, I cited three passages. In one of these, a homosexual man talks about effeminacy among black homosexuals. No selfishness here, and if there is any intolerance, it must be of other homosexuals. In another, a homosexual man talks about the pleasures of nieces and nephews, just as any bachelor uncle might. No unusual selfishness and certainly no intolerance here. In a third, a homosexual man argues that being a homosexual is less demanding than being a heterosexual. A certain amount of both intolerance and selfishness are manifest in this quotation, but it was not cited to argue that either quality is typical of homosexuals.
If this is the most telling example Mr. Cwiek can cite for my alleged “technique,” I am content to be judged by a reasonable readership of whatever sexual persuasion.
In his next example, Mr. Cwiek accurately specifies that I agreed that homosexuals are no more likely to molest children than heterosexuals. That, he suggests, is the good news. When he gets to the bad news, specificity goes out the window; I am alleged to have gone off on an “emotional tangent” about an alleged Boston pederasty ring. Mr. Cwiek has to cloak his charge in language this vague because my text will support nothing precise. For I simply noted that a number of Boston-area men had been indicted for alleged sexual relations with adolescent males. I then noted that because none of the cases had come to trial I would not discuss them further. I then moved to a discussion of statements issued by gay activists arguing that the acts alleged, even if proven, should not be considered illegal. This is what Mr. Cwiek calls “feverish self-righteousness,” a case of projection if ever there was one.
I will not pretend that I had not formed opinions about the subject before taking up the task of writing my essay. But in that task I reexamined them all, and revised many of my views, some in directions that Mr. Cwiek would approve, others not. I am sure that my mind was less made up than was his when he picked up my article.
David A. Karnes’s letter is a sad commentary on the state of education. It is hard to know which is more distressing: the inability of this Harvard student to read a magazine article, or the ideologized vulgarity of his treatment of what he imagines I have written.
He begins by faulting my understanding of the oppression not only of homosexuals but also of Jews and blacks. The latter groups I mentioned only in passing, and never in terms that could provide evidence for Mr. Karnes.
What stands out most clearly in the smokescreen surrounding his discussion of discrimination against homosexuals is that he offers no evidence that I am wrong in my estimate that homosexuals are relatively not much discriminated against. In place of evidence, he offers the repeated assertion that I am wrong because I was wrong.
I expressed, he says, “incredulity” at the existence of sado-masochism among homosexuals. I expressed no such incredulity; the existence of such behavior is a sad reality. My discussion was concerned entirely with analyzing a facile defense of sado-masochism in a current pro-homosexual book. It is interesting to note that underneath all his cant Mr. Karnes seems to agree with me that sado-masochism may be harmful to people and other living things, but he assigns a cause of this unsatisfactory phenomenon that has become inevitable in these self-indulgent days. Like absolutely everything else undesirable, sadomasochism is always the fault of someone else. Specifically, sadomasochism is said to be caused by the alleged oppression of homosexuals by the rest of society. Mr. Karnes’s formulation may provide an explanation of sorts for masochism, but he does not even address the genesis of sadism. And it would be interesting to know what varieties of psychosexual derangement Mr. Karnes thinks oppression breeds in Jews and blacks, not to mention what oppressions accounted for the divine Marquis himself.
Although it is a small point, it is typical that the one time Mr. Karnes quotes me directly he gets it wrong: I did not call Faggots “remarkable.” Nor did I ridicule homosexual activists for criticizing the book: I simply noted that they had, predictably, done so.
Mr. Karnes diagnoses me as a sufferer from homophobia, which I take to mean that I hate homosexuals. It is typical of his half-baked approach that he can say this of someone about whose personal life and acquaintance he is unrelievedly ignorant. I did not, of course, end by saying “some of my best friends are gay,” and Mr. Karnes’s shabby distortion of the point I did make is no substitute for analysis of it.
Although Mr. Karnes concedes that “gay-community spokespersons” lie about the realities of homosexual life, he defends the lie on the grounds that it is necessary for homosexuals to believe it in order to “feel good about themselves.”
He continues his misstatements of my text by objecting to my “utterly distorted portrayals of the movie Word Is Out [and] the book The Joy of Gay Sex.” The fact is that I did not portray the movie Word Is Out in any fashion whatever. I mentioned it merely as the source of the book of the same name; and my only characterization of the book was that it is “superior.” As to my treatment of The Joy of Gay Sex, anyone who buys a copy when it goes on remainder will see that I have, for reasons of good taste, probably made it seem rather less lurid than it really is.
It is quite delicious that a student at Harvard College should seek to denigrate another’s views by calling them “ruling-class thinking.” It is of course true that I wrote the piece with a good deal of personal distress. I foresaw that it would almost certainly prove offensive to many homosexuals. It occurred to me that it might be misused by anti-homosexual bigots. Indeed, I considered that the article might best not be written, but on balance concluded that nothing was to be gained for rational discussion and a good deal lost by suppressing my views merely because they might prove inconvenient.
This group of letters is characterized by two qualities. First, these correspondents take me to task for having made a great many statements that I did not make and which are in sharp conflict with statements that I did make. I do not know whether these are deliberate distortions or the result of hysteria, but it seems unlikely that all of them are the result of dyslexia.
Second, the response of these correspondents is astonishingly immoderate. None is content to say calmly that I am wrong and to show why. Rather, they concentrate their space on a level of personal vilification unprecedented in my experience as a controversialist. And this in the face of an essay that was deliberately pitched at a low key. I did not mention names and never criticized individuals except as makers of arguments. Nor did I deal except tangentially with homosexual activism. I did not, for example, express a view (which I do hold) that so-called “gay-media” organizations openly call for a manipulation of television that is nearly totalitarian. That so restrained a piece should have provoked so violent a response is not evidence for either the reasonableness or stability of homosexual advocacy.