By John Lauritsen
A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love By John Lauritsen, Provincetown: Pagan Press, 1998, 94 pages, $6.95
Freethinkers— people who think for themselves instead of relying on the 'graces' of so-called authorities—will be delighted by this slim volume's clear, uncomplicated approach to male love and affection. Author John Lauritsen, a scholarly thinker, has, with admirable economy, transformed his case into everyday language.
Drawing carefully from reams of history, literature, anthropology, archeology, zoology, and psychology, Lauritsen's thesis goes directly to the heart of many questions now bedeviling gay movement theorists. The result is a valuable contribution to men's perspectives, one that belongs in the library of every person hoping to understand—on a worldwide scale-- erotic responses among males.
The current or 'official' movement for same-sex equality has lost its bearings, writes Lauritsen, "through bad theory, unprincipled politics, and meaningless jargon ('sexual orientation', 'affectional preference', etc)."
Lauritsen, who has been sometimes wrongly dismissed by political opportunists as a radical, rightly bristles when he says:
"Obsessed with 'building coalitions', present-day 'gay leaders' have toadied to mainstream religion (although they occasionally attack the 'Religious Right') Shameless in their opportunism, they have not hesitated to re-write history to accommodate tactics, and to ostracize scholars who tell the truth."
The anthropological perspective on male love, Lauritsen argues, is sufficient by itself to undermine "causation" theories. "Homosexuality" is a 19th century word he rejects as divisive, separating males into two disparate groups. In this, he appears to agree with Gore Vidal who says:
There is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person. There are only homo – or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices, and what anyone does with a willing partner is of no social or cosmic significance.
To raise the 'causation' question about same-sex affection is to assume that it is an anomaly, which, in fact it is not. A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love, therefore, offers fresh breaths of sane air as Lauritsen makes succinct his scholarly points:
"Erotic responsiveness among males is not limited to human primates, but occurs among other mammalian species as well."
"Sexual behavior among males occurs in all kinds of human societies—where it is condemned, where it is tolerated, and where it is encouraged. There have been and are societies in which virtually every male takes part in sexual activities with other males."
"All male eroticism has been favored in relatively simple societies (the Siwans, the Azande, many Amerindian groups, various New Guinea tribes) as well as in great civilizations at their zenith (ancient Greece, samurai Japan, medieval Islam).
"Erotic responsiveness to one sex does not preclude responsiveness to the other. Most males who have sex with each other also have sex with females."
"Given opportunity and permission, in one-sex groups or permissive cultures, most males will enjoy having sex with other males."
"The condemnation of all-male sex is not a human universal, but rather a transitory historical phenomenon, limited in space and time to particular cultures, particular religious beliefs and practices."
Lauritsen the freethinker is no friend to anti-sexual religious dogmas, nor does he sympathize with a more recent phenomenon, namely the rise of Protestant gay-friendly churches and groups like Roman Catholicism's banned New Ways Ministry. His perspective on Christian history seems amply backed by current events, namely the Vatican's reiterated and pointed condemnation of same-sex love as "intrinsically evil."
Lauritsen therefore critiques the politics of those whom he calls "Christian revisionists". They may be apologists, he says, like the late Roman Catholic scholar, John Boswell or such fellows as (this is my choice) the practicing-gay-Catholic-liberation-political-theorist Andrew Sullivan—both men practiced pleaders for greater tolerance for "homosexuals" or "gay people" while they "simultaneously exonerate the Church from her historical responsibility for fostering intolerance."
Without mercy Lauritsen shows how the Holy See itself is a main source excusing and thereby promoting hate crimes and anti-gay violence. He includes in his text a letter approved by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 1986 and sent to Catholic Bishops On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. This letter—unforgivably—says:
"But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when…irrational and violent reactions increase."
Thus, Lauritsen correctly damns such outright Papal incitement to and excusing of murder.
My singular near-disagreement with Lauritsen involves his understandable revulsion at how dogmatic ideologues in the feminist movement— some of whom have built coalitions with gay males-- has affected male liberationists in ways of which he disapproves.
"More than anything else, the gay liberation movement has been confounded by feminism, or at any rate by certain tendencies therein."
Still, in a footnote, Lauritsen says:
"I do not reject the women's movement as a whole, only certain intemperate and reactionary tendencies within it."
I wish only that the author had confined his concerns to these ideological "tendencies" rather than seeming to risk, as he does, any assignment of blame to feminism itself. One of my best-loved visionary literary mentors, Edward Carpenter, whose work Lauritsen quotes, saw the emancipation of women and their equality to be part and parcel of those changes needed to establish a similar social footing for same-sex love.
Nevertheless, I heartily agree with Lauritsen that the establishment of women's equality is insufficient in itself as a method for achieving gay-male equality. And I also agree that certain unworthy "feminist" sprees such as Andrea Dworkin's anti-pornography crusade are "thereby strengthening the forces of censorship". But many anti-censorship feminists have also opposed ideologues like the now-fading Dworkin and have said so forthrightly.
Strength in numbers (especially in this age of AIDS when many prominent male leaders have perished) has been guaranteed by women's cooperation and in 1999 the results of such cooperation, I'd say, have been hugely effective. Lesbians, in particular, have often been angels of mercy in the fight against AIDS.
In a once-male-dominated-movement (as early as 1961) in the Mattachine Society of Washington I felt privileged to work side-by-side with several extraordinarily effective spokeswomen, including Lilli Vincenz, Barbara Gittings, Kay Tobin Lahusen and others. Without their pioneering efforts, much less would have been accomplished. These women, strong and forthright, stood for their own sexual equality, yes, yet they knew, as I did, that the liberation of same-sex affection would require both action and input from the two sexes.
The first gay movement march for equality at the White House consisted of seven men and three women. Until 1969, The Daughters of Bilitis, a somewhat miniscule, singular national lesbian group had nowhere nearly as large a membership as did the nation's male-dominated groups. A 1950s theorist, Edward Sagarin, thought lesbians constituted only a fourth of the so-called homosexual population.
The few women in the D.O.B.—and, on the East Coast, a 5 or 6 person-scattering of women from Mattachine Societies in Washington, Philadelphia and New York, provided the only known spokespersons for lesbians in that timeframe. New York and Washington Mattachine boasted two and more "straight" women—plus a couple of bisexuals-- in their memberships.
Therefore, the current ascendance of women is a matter for rejoicing, in my view. It beats scrounging up a lone lesbian in our rare early 60s public discussions about same-sex love. The few pre-Stonewall lesbian activists knew, and we men knew too, that a degree of gender parity was essential. We all cooperated-- inasmuch as both men and women comprised our mass audiences. Barbara Gittings asked me to accompany her in the Spring of the Summer of Love, 1967, to address—jointly-- college students at Bucknell University. An early example of parity.
John Lauritsen's take on such matters—I'm simply surmising-- could stem from when he first joined New York's Gay Liberation Front, an idealistic Stonewall-era group that often got stymied by arguments between its ideological lesbians whose newly-discovered (and therefore) often angry-feminist pitch did little to endear them to others. I didn't care for it either, while Lauritsen saw much more than I did.
I am quite certain that Lauritsen stands—at least ideally-- for equality between the sexes. On top of that, perhaps his complaints need airing.
I recall John Lauritsen in the Stonewall era, usually walking in the epicenter of the counterculture's best-known New York neighborhood, East Village. He'd struck me then as a serious thinker, and both his activism and writing over the last three decades have since been celebrated in several histories. Lauritsen is the author of seven previous tomes, including a co-authored work with David Thorstad titled, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935).
A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love is chock full with a host of telling quotes and references making rock solid Lauritsen's compelling case that those who oppose male love are lame promoters of taboos that stem mostly from primitive superstitions. Such witchdoctory he ably attacks head-on and without embarrassment. The low-cost of this important Primer guarantees, nevertheless, a provocative, high-quality purchase.
A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love can be ordered directly for $6.95 postpaid*
P.O. Box 1902
Provincetown, Massachusetts 02657-0245
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