A while back, in one of my speculations about the nature of the Gods, I wrote, “There is at least one God who is male and at least one Goddess who is female.” A gay colleague got very upset with that concept, saying it left no room for him. He’s a really bright guy. Why did he misunderstand that?
I unfortunately tend to assume that other people know some of the arcane information I’ve picked up over the years, like, for example, the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses. I never learned about that in my English major. After all, poets don’t need to worry about rules and regulations on use of commas. Instead, I had that distinction drilled into me in the Stanford University Press boot camp, and spent the next 30 years editing and rewriting books mostly by people with Ph.D.s, including some Nobel Laureates and nominees, almost none of whom could get that distinction right. So I tell my Comp I classes that it’s ridiculous for anyone to expect them to get that right either.
Anyway, what I was writing was restrictive clauses. I did not mean that there is only one god and that he is male. I did not mean that there is only one Goddess and that she is female. I meant that, out of all the gods and goddesses, there is at least one who is 100% male and at least one who is 100% female. All the others are, like humans, a mix of male and female in differing proportions.
I do know Witches who conceive of the Lord and Lady of the Craft as standing each on one end of the spectrum of gender, as being the ideal 100% of male or of female. But humans are not 100% of anything. It’s a cliché to say that every man has his feminine side (whether he’s aware of it or not), and every woman her masculine side, but I don’t think many people have thought through the implications of that insight.
Current research, though I’m far from expert on it, seems to show clearly that neither gender identity nor sexual preference is dictated merely by our physical dimorphism. There are evolutionary biological reasons for some (not all) of the physical differences between male and female humans, but the linkages between those differences and feelings, cognition, psychological type, and so on, are very flexible. In human experience, there is no absolute, black-and-white difference between male and female, masculine and feminine, or gay and straight.
In pursuing this line of thought, I have no solid, double-blind, statistically analyzed research. The evidence I have is anecdotal, circumstantial, derived from informal interviews and many conversations, but it clearly disputes the common Western assumptions about homosexuality, although those, thank the Gods, are now changing rapidly. One is the assumption that homosexuality is restricted to a minority of the population. Not necessarily.
In Periclean Athens, about 10 percent of the men were strictly gay, as now. Another 10 percent (more or less) were strictly heterosexual. But the other 80 percent were bisexual. A married man would fall in love with another man, often a boy who had reached legal age, and they would become lovers, partners, and often comrades-in-arms in the wars against the Persians and the Spartans. This culture has been described lovingly, accurately, and exquisitely in Mary Renault’s Last of the Wine. I get a kick out of assigning Plato’s Symposium for a humanities class; I get to watch the students’ astonishment and other emotions as they find Socrates, the hero of intellectuals, praising love between two men as being vastly morally superior to love between a man and a woman. One may deduce that the Greeks portrayed Zeus as having both male and female lovers because that’s how they were themselves.
That Greek culture was horribly misogynistic. Respectable women were confined to their houses, were nevertheless suspected of having adulterous affairs (that is, of violating their husband’s property rights), and were allowed out for the women’s special festivals only with an armed escort. There were plenty of nonrespectable women available, of course; the Greeks were no different from the surrounding cultures in that way. The important point is that it was quite acceptable for women to be lovers. We have documentation of that fact, not least the fragments of the poetry of Sappho of Lesbos (for those classically illiterate, that’s the source of “lesbian”).
It might almost seem like belaboring the obvious to point out that the preceding facts blow most American assumptions about sexuality out of the water—yet it is necessary, because the obstacle here is the phenomenon of denial, which is a central component in all addictive behaviors. We are not physically different from the Greeks of only 2500 years ago. Perhaps 10% of Americans are physiologically strictly heterosexual. Apparently about 10% of human males in all times and places are gay. I don’t know if there is reliable research on what the proportion might be for gay women. But the rest of the population, that approximately 80%, is perfectly capable of being actively bisexual.
There is an experiment that anyone can try. Line up people all facing one direction in a large room, and begin asking questions about sexual feelings and behavior (you do need a well-defined list). The format is, “If you have ever felt thus and such, take a step to the right; if not, take a step to the left. If you have ever done thus and such, step to the right; if not, step to the left.” This format is vague enough that most people can be relatively honest about themselves. After about 20 questions, people will be scattered all over the room. Sexuality is not black or white, either/or. It is a spectrum.
Much homophobia appears to be driven by religious beliefs, although I don’t think they are the ultimate mechanism. Instead, I think homophobia may be self-perpetuating. The typical sad scenario I have heard from gay friends is that they were raised in a community where they were taught that homosexuality is evil, a legacy from the Christian heresy that all sex is evil. When they reached adolescence and first fell in love, it was, to their horror, with a person of their own gender. The inescapable conclusion was that they too were evil; so they would try to deny or hide their feelings as long as possible. That was wise, considering how many teenagers have been abandoned by their families for being gay.
Down in New Orleans, I ran into a subculture known as the Gutterpunks. At first they looked scary, like a gang, but then I discovered they were mostly runaway teenagers, many of them gay, who had banded together for survival and developed a nomadic lifestyle. It was a lot better than being sex slaves. They knew which restaurants in New Orleans, including some of Emeril’s, would give them a free meal if they came to the kitchen door. There are some good people in New Orleans.
The typical gay male, as far as I’ve heard, would actually try to choose to be heterosexual, futile as that turned out to be. He would get married, father children, and stay in the closet. Finally, he would fall in love with another man and decide to stop being miserable. I think gay men have a much better track record for staying friends with their ex-wives and being actively involved in their children’s lives than straight men do. The idea that “Homosexuals can’t have children” is sheer, willfully ignorant bigotry. On average, they have just as many as heterosexuals. And note that even a thoroughly gay man is bi enough to father a child.
There is an idea going around that what a homophobic man is afraid of is his own feelings. That may not be the whole explanation, but it does make sense. That man may not even be conscious of his feelings; he may be in a state of total denial. But the unacknowledged reasoning would be, “If I were actually gay, then everyone would fear and hate and abuse me too; so I can’t allow that.” Obviously, as fear and loathing of homosexuals begins to die away in our society, which does seem to be happening, then the fear of revealing one’s own feelings will lessen, and the cycle would spiral down. It’s a very different society from decades ago. Suddenly a majority of the public approves of same-sex marriage. A teenager can receive standing applause for coming out in his or her valedictorian address. And laws inspired by bigotry are being overthrown.
Well, what about the people who insist that “Homosexuality is against God’s law”? The one place in the New Testament where a statement like that occurs is in one of Paul’s letters. Jesus certainly said nothing about the subject. The very first college course I taught was on the Pauline corpus, and in doing lesson prep, looking at that statement, I discovered it was mistranslated. The Greek term did not mean “homosexual” at all; it meant “male prostitute,” an entirely different moral issue. It is not okay for people to use their ignorance about the scriptures of their religion as an excuse for cruelty.