Are people trying to help the gay rights movement doing more harm than good?
The Warwick Rowing Team, the official rowing team of the British University of Warwick, puts out a calendar every year that depicts a gaggle of ephebes posing nude in sports-themed pictures. While they are sex-neutral, in that they claim not to care one way or the other about the sexual preference of their fans, they are composed of straight men. Images include washing each other’s naked bodies in cream and patting each other on the (firm, I admit) ass, all in an attempt to combat homophobia, especially in athletics. The attempt at a magnanimity of the human form is no doubt partly well-meaning and partly capitalistic, since most of their base is composed of gay men.
Why, though, is combating homophobia coincident with tasteful pornography? While I myself would buy the calendar (if I could afford it) how I have bought prints of Tuke, a long-dead painter of the male figure, I find myself worried that a campaign for equal rights sees fit to express itself primarily through sex. The chief complaint that the world’s Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Jews, as well as secular critics and critics centering around family values, have with homosexuality is the emphasis of the “sexuality” bit over the “homo” bit. Sometimes the same complains arise from within the camp, so to speak, of camp.
I agree with them, somewhat. Just how black women have been incredibly sexualized in American media and American discourse under the umbrella of feminism, gay men have been ghettoized to the realm of the penis and the urbane drollness of the situational comedy. I do not attend Gay Pride parades because I don’t find them tasteful: while once they were radically effective in expressing the homosexual voice in the public sphere, I think they have survived as a farcical caricature of their original intentions. People protest local pride parades because, not intimately knowing that the gay man finds in the city what he could not find in the countryside, namely an identity both urbane and dignified, they only see the spectacle and therefore remain blind to the inherent humanist meaning in such parades. The statue David is a tasteful nude; a street full of naked men wagging their dicks around while exclaiming human rights, I daresay, is not.
I might receive a charge of conservatism, and perhaps that is in this instance not far off the mark; however, I am an American through and through and so I prefer to link my politics to pragmatism rather than exhibitionism. Now, if one’s desire is to organize a massive expression of wanton sexual freedom, that is one’s prerogative, and that is fine provided it does not assume the banner of homosexual civil rights. I take issue with the deceit, not the substance: indeed the substance is quite enticing even when it is not properly erotic.
There was a gay bashing in my city last week. A man named David Keck was beaten half to death by a man he had been drinking with earlier in the night; Keck had come on to the other man, and the other man had reacted violently and inhumanly. He turned himself in to the police because he thought Keck was dead. Now, his face looks largely like a Picasso painting cast in blues and blacks. There is no form of human rights on this earth that will defend the attempted murder of a gay man because he came on to a man who is not gay. And I for one don’t want Keck’s near-death experience to be subsumed under the banner of Pride, or the Warwick rowers. Were I in Keck’s shoes I would have pulled out the knife I carry in my pocket before the other man could throw a punch.
The Knoxville police, with whom I’ve discussed the case, does not foresee it being able to do much about Keck’s brutalizer.
Human rights, a component of which is the cultural struggle against homophobia in all of its forms, is not an easy thing to come by. Historically it was the product of decades, if not centuries, of struggle by certain interests in solidarity: be you a proletarian, a black woman, a Latino immigrant, an Anglo-Irishman, or a deaf child, the attainment of civil rights and cultural rights was an exercise alongside Sysiphus’s struggle up the fabled mountain.
So why confuse the issue of sexuality with sex? How does one combat the likes of a culture that can nearly murder Keck, the gay man from my city, by framing calendars of naked heterosexual men sitting on top of each other at an elite university? Non sequituers do not save lives nor do they restore human dignity. The 21st century has seen homosexuals integrate into the social formation of the nuclear family: now we want to marry and raise families, not gorge ourselves on promiscuity and crystal methamphetamine. It is not all about sex, even when the core of our public identity is cemented around the issue. Before homosexuality was a political platform it was a form of love. Rather than reducing gay rights to a mere spectacle, we might desire an actual living practice of the affirmation of rights so that people like Keck are not brutally assaulted.
You can read more about the Keck case here. If you make it famous perhaps the crime will not remain as purposeless as it is now:
Photo: Guillaume Paumier/Flickr
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