Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A requiem for male friendship?

The love that dare not speak its name has rapidly become, as one of our own resident heretic commentators has made all too clear, the love that simply will not shut up. In many quarters of our society, this sort of obstreperousness -- "openness," "coming out," "we're here and we're queer: get over it!" -- is feted as a cause celebre, as a sign of sound social health. Others -- not all of them Bible-thumping fundamentalists from the backwaters of Mississippi -- are not as confident.

Touchstone magazine ("A Journal of Mere Christianity"), an Orthodox-sponsored ecumenical periodical, is proving to be an increasingly reliable source of solid cultural commentary, as demonstrated by the latest issue, which features an thought-provoking essay by Anthony Esolen entitled "A Requiem for Friendship: Why Boys Will Not Be Boys and Other Consequences of the Sexual Revolution" (the article is not available online as of this posting).

What is the Esolen's thesis? He writes:

On three great bonds of love do all cultures depend: the love between man and woman in marriage; the love between a mother and her child; and the camaraderie among men, a bond that used to be strong enough to move mountains. The first two have suffered greatly; the third has almost ceased to exist.
To what does he attribute the erosion?

We think of divorce, pornography, unwed motherhood, abortion, and suicidally falling birthrates. But the sexual revolution has also nearly killed male friendship as devoted to anything beyond drinking and watching sports; and the homosexual movement, a logically inevitable result of forty years of heterosexual promiscuity and feminist folly, bids fair to finish it off and nail the coffin shut.

What is more, those who will suffer most from this movement are precisely those whom our society, stupidly considering them little more than pests or dolts, has ignored. I mean boys.
Thus, Esolen is arguing that male friendships, as precarious and attenuated as they have become, suffer under a terrible pincers attack between (1) sexual libertinism and (2) defiant promotion of homosexuality:

The libertinisim of our day thrusts boys and girls together long before they are intellectually and emotionally ready for it, and at the same time the defiant promotion of homosexuality makes the natural and once powerful friendships among boys virtually impossible.
Interesting that hard on the heels of the issue of Touchstone featuring Esolen's article should come the October 10 issue of TIME magazine featuring "Gay Teens: They are coming out earlier, to a more accepting society." Page 44 features a picture of an 18-year-old boy with arms raised in a hurrah gesture, featuring the caption: "Proudly Gay: Aaron Arnold, 18, tells his coming-out story at a Michigan retreat for Point Foundation students and trustees ..."

The social pressure to fall in line with this sort of open-armed acceptance, of course, is formidably powerful. It plays well to the public and appeals to the moral high ground of "compassion." Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, Tenn, is setting up a ministry for "gay and lesbian" Catholics, according to the October issue of New Oxford Review. He refers to all "gay and lesbian" Catholics as "wonderful, good Catholic people" (to which editor, Dale Vree, remarks: "How would he know that? Gosh, not even all 'straight' Catholics are 'wonderful, good Catholic people'"). Steib, who held meetings with homosexuals and parents of homosexuals, says of the latter: "These parents of gay and lesbian Catholics are extremely proud of their children." The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that those with homosexual inclinations are "objectively disordered" and those who are actively homosexual commit "acts of grave depravity." Vree asks: "What's to be extremely proud of?"

But as I say, the social pressure to embrace open-armed acceptance and approval usually trumps Church teaching. Esolen devotes a significant portion of his article to linguistic theory, which I will not delve into here, except to comment on his inferences about how this is relevant to social interaction. He recounts the "language" we have for meeting strangers -- the clipped "How do you do" with a nod and a handshake, for American men; the smile, head tilt, "It's nice to meet you," and presentation of hand, for American women. Then there's the "language" of hand holding between a grown man and woman that tells us they are not brother and sister; and the "language" of the teenage boy's modest crew cut, surrounded by others who are dyeing their spiked hair grape. Esolen comments on the postmodernist, deconstructivist logic that is applied to such language:

Thus the Left proceed syllogistically. Language is utterly arbitrary. Social customs form a kind of language, and sexual customs form a very powerful language. Therefore social customs are arbitrary, and therefore sexual customs are equally arbitrary.
The impetus of this logic animates the often sincere (and often knee-jerk) rush to accept and affirm and empower and celebrate those who are "different," even when these differences include those the Catechism calls "objectively disordered" and "acts of grave depravity."

The problem with the syllogism, as Esolen explains in some detail, is that it is faulty. Without going into detail, he argues that it is faulty with respect to language on the levels of phonology, syntax, and semantics. "But even if it were true that our spoken language were utterly arbitrary," he writes, "it does not follow that the language of our custom is, or that our sense of good and evil is, or that the idea of human nature is." The big mistake was that of the scoffers who dismissed the post-structuralist deconstructionist debate over language as "only a silly argument over words." In fact, the professed study of language has been used by the Left as a tool for dismantling the idea of natural order and for establishing their own order and imposing in totalitarian fashion it on everyone else.

What does this have to do with sex and friendship? Everything. Esolen writes:

The pansexualists -- they who believe in the libertarian dogma that what two consenting adults do with their privates in private is nobody's business -- understand that the language had to be changed to assist the realization of their dream, and also that the realization of their dream would change the world, because it would change the language for everyone else.

Language is not language if it is not communal .... If clothing is optional on a beach, then that is a nude beach. It cannot be a nude beach for some and an ordinary beach for others; to wear clothes at that beach at the very lest means something that it had no meant before....

If all of Kate's friends leap into bed with whatever male gives them a hearty dinner at Burger King and a round of miniature golf, and Kate chooses instead to kiss her date once on the cheek and leave him on the porch, she will suggest to everybody that she is a prude. ... her actions have connotations they did not used to have.

Imagine a world wherein the taboo has been broken and incest is loudly and defiantly celebrated. Your wife's unmarried brother puts his hand on your daughter's shoulder. That gesture, once innocent, must now mean something, or at least suggest something. ... You see a father hugging his teenage daughter as she leaves the car to go to school. The possibility flits before your mind. The language has changed, and the individual can do nothing about it.
By this time Esolen's point clearly emerges. Of all human actions, nothing is more powerfully public, in a sense, than what two consenting adults do with their bodies behind (hopefully) closed doors. "Open homosexuality, loudly and defiantly celebrated, changes the language for everyone."

Esolen illustrates this point dramatically at the beginning of his article by citing several examples of male friendship. The first is Sam Gamgee's friendship with Frodo as dramatized in the cinematic version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. To rescure Frodo from the orcs who have taken him captive, Sam has fought the monstrous spider Shelob, dispatched the orcs holding Frodo, and found his friend lying naked and half-conscious in the filthy upper room of a tower. "Frodo! Mr. Frodo, my dear!" he cries. "It's Sam, I've come!" he says, tenderly clasping him to his breast, then cradling Frodo's head, as one would comfort a troubled child. At that, notes Esolen, a snigger rises from the audience in the theater: "What, are they gay?"

Esolen's second example: "Shakespeare, or his narrative persona, expressed in his sonnets a passionate love for an unnamed and not too loyal young man, so Shakespeare must have been a homosexual -- despite the absence of evidence, and despite his persona's explicit statement in sonnet 20 that the young man's sexual accoutrements are of no interest (or use) to him whatever."

Third: the bachelor Abe Lincoln long shared a bed with his closest friend, Joshua Speed, and later wrote letters expressing his fear that he would be lonely once Speed had taken a wife. Lincoln, too, "must" therefore be homosexual.

Fourth: Edmund Spenser used to share a bed with his friend and fellow Cambridge scholar, Gabriel Harvey. Obviously, he too "must" have been a homosexual.

Fifth: David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. "Your love to me was finer than the love of women," laments David in a public song when he learns of the death of his friend Jonathan. Another gay couple, "obviously."

Sixth: Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu walk hand in hand into the dark forest of Humbaba. We all obviously know what must have gone on between them and why Gilgamesh wept inconsolably at Enkindu's death. "Obvously." We "know."

Just as O'Leary thinks he, too, "knows" that Evelyn Waugh, Cardinal Newman, and Pope Paul VI were gay and that Pope Benedict XVI shares such homosexual inclinations.

But how, for example, could Abraham Lincoln have shared a bed with another man if he were not gay? His age was hardly more tolerant of homosexuality than our own, to put it mildly. How then, if deviancy in widespread reproach, could Lincoln risk sharing a bed with a man and having the fact be publicly known? The alternatives, says Esolen, are clear:

I am sorry to have to use strong language, but only when sodomy is treated as a matter of course for everyone (as in the institutionalized buggery of boys and young men in ancient Sparta) or when it is met with such opprobrium that nobody would assume that a good man would engage in it, could Lincoln and his friend share that bed without sufficient ridicule. The stigma against sodomy cleared away ample space for an emotionally powerful friendship that did not involve sexual intercourse, exactly as the stigma against incest allows for the physical and emotional freedom of a family. ...

The converse is also true, If your society depends upon such emotionally powerful friendships -- if the fellow feeling of comrades in arms is necessary for your survival -- then you can protect the opportunity for such friendships in only two ways. You may go the route of Sparta, or you may demand on pain of expulsion from the group that such friendships will not be sexualized.

How does this most recent twist of the sexual revolution hurt boys in particular? Some may suppose that it leaves them more vulnerable to be preyed upon by older men, and Esolen says he has no doubt that this is true, given the psychological springs of male homosexuality and the historical examples of ancient Greece and Japan, and the awful fact that many homosexual men were themselves abused as boys. But he says that he doesn't want to overemphasize this point. Certainly most homosexual men abide by the law. What he means is something quite different:

The prominence of male homosexuality changes the language for teenage boys. It is absurd and cruel to say that the boy can ignore it. Even if he would, his classmates will not let him. All boys need to prove that they are not failures. They need to prove that they are on the way to becoming men -- that they are not going to relapse into the need to be protected by, and therefore identified with, their mothers.
Societies used to have rites of passage for young men. But in our carelessness, says Esolen, we have taken away such signs from boys and left them to fend for themselves. Two choices remain to them:

The boys must live without recognition of their manhood and without their own certainty of it, or they must invent their own riturals and signs.

And here the sexual revolution comes to peddle itspoison. The single incontrovertible sign that the boy can now seize on is that he has "done it" with a girl, and the earlier and more regularly and publicly he does it, the safer and surer he will feel. If sex is easy to find, and if )as mothers of good-looking teenage boys will testify) the girls themselves seek it out, then you must have a pressing and publicly recognized excuse for not having sex. To avoid scandal -- think of it! -- you must be protected by your being a linebacker on the football team, or by being too homely for any girl to be interested in you.

A boy who does not agree wo a girl's demand for sex will be tagged with homosexuality. She will slander him herself. Ask teenagers; they will tell you. But even a linebacker known as a rake will not dare to venture into the dangerous territory of too-close asociation with the wrong sort. He, too, will avoid the close male friendship.
Thus Esolen comes to lament the attenuation of male friendships, as I have said, which suffer under the terrible pincers attack of libertinism, on the one hand, and defiant promotion of homosexuality, on the other. All of this, given current realities, is inevitable. It must happen, says Esolen. In large part, it has already happened. "But we must try to remember when it was not so, if we are going to guage what we have lost."

What agonies of loneliness and insecurity Abraham Lincoln may have suffered may never be known. He did indeed have a cold father, as Esolen notes. "But I assert that his lifeline for not becoming homosexual was the very same friendship that our pansexualists say was proof that he was." In the name of compassion, in the name of protecting homosexuals, we ignore the feelings of boys, says Esolen, and snatch from them their dwindling opportunities to forge just such friendships of which homosexual relations are a "delusive mimicry."
Think about that friendship, the next time you see the perpetual adolescents in feather boas as they march down Main Street, making their sexual proclivities known to everybody whether everybody cares or not. With every chanted slogan and every blaring sign, they crowd out the words of friendship, they appropriate the healthy gestures of love between man and man. Confess -- has it not left you uneasy even to read the words of that last sentence?

What do the paraders achieve, with their public promotion of homosexuality? They come out of the closet, and hustle a lot of good and nautral feelings back in. They indulge in garrulity, and consequently tie the tongues and chill the hearts of men, who can no longer feel what they ought, or speak what they feel.

Reader, the next time you feel moved to pity the delicate man in the workstation near you, give a thought also to an adolescent somewhere, one among uncounted millions, a kid with acne maybe, a kid with an idea or a love, who needs a friend. Know then that your tolerance for the flambeau, which is little more than a self-congratulating cowardice, or your easy and poorly considered approval of the shy workmate's request that he be allowed to "marry" his partner, means that the unseen boy will not find that friend, and that the idea and the love will die.

No doubt about this: If you are a modern man, a half-man, many such ideas and loves have already died in you. For as much as you can admire them wistfully, from a half-understanding distance, you can be neither Frodo nor Sam, nor the man who created them. You dare not follow Agassiz, alone, to the Arctic. You will not weep for Jonathan. You once were acquainted with Enkidu, but that was all. Do not even mention John the Apostle.

Friendship, rest in peace.

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