Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 6 October 1997


By Jack Nichols


"We're going to spend eternity together."

Locker Room Coach,
Promise Peeper's
Funny Man Bill McCartney to the
All-Male Assemblage on the Mall

This article contains both pulsating complaints and sly-guy suggestions.

News from my hometown of the massive gathering of men, The Promise Keepers, has intruded on an otherwise lovely October afternoon. Its happenings like these that send pundits like me to their drawing boards trying to figure what such evangelical male weepers on the capital city's Mall may come to mean. I got some inside goop.

Some think the Promise Keeper's schitck to be a mixed bag, with potential for both good and evil. I have no illusions. The "Christian men's movement", in my perspective, is filling--menacingly at best--a gaping gap that the gay movement once had a heady chance to fill— a bit more wisely-- over 22 years ago.

But the mid-70s gay movement, then newly weighted down by a host of visionless bureaucrats—the piggy backers of football jargon-- ignored a major opportunity to excel. Feminism too, mostly still suffering under the homophobic thumb of Betty Freidan's Feminine Mistake, tried to co-opt what was then feared as male bonding, worrying that any attention given to a men's movement would steal interest away from the fledgling women's movement.

Well, Gloria Steinem's MS., did run a few men's editorials, none of them very gripping. A few stupid women's glamour magazines squawked in favor of male sensitivity—which mostly boiled down to letting guys weep. Big deal.

The New York Times Magazine, starting in the 1980s, ran a regular column by men, often hard to distinguish from mediocre articles in Field and Stream.

But very few in the gay or women's movement seemed capable of realizing that if women were, in fact, changing their perspectives, demanding equality, a change in men's outlooks would be required too and Machismo's Lynchpin is, after all, the Gay Taboo. Ya gotta like wimmin or yer not a real man. That's the test. If hated macho control and domination is to die, the gay taboo must die, because orientation is THE TEST.

If you don't pass it, everything manly seems in danger of withering. If you don't pass it, the guys'l think you're a droop. It's akin to the fear of impotency. Its being scared of being tagged as second class, as womanly, as akin to the patriarchy's second class egg sitters, the women it does, in fact, rule.

Yes, Virginia, it seems—this second class status-- invisible, but its as palpable as any nonsense ever was. Any identity with gay males—to these Hetero Macho Men—spells an eternity in identity hell, chained by values to submissive (not liberated) women whom these Big Guys often experience as Bought Holes, supported women who may submit out of a feeling of socially-forced obligation or, perhaps, need of support for their young children. The macho code falsely treats gay males as necessarily submissive and thus as feminine and consequently abhorrent as exemplars. Passive men are a warrior-mind's heresy. The drag queen, thinks this macho mind, is the craziest male of all! He openly chooses a status machismo treats as inferior. How dare he/she! Be punished, heretic.

Gay males in the mid-70s, then newly as nervous about being tagged or thought effeminate as many remain today, turned away from all talk of male liberation—liberation from machismo—and instead adopted costuming: heavy leather and butchy clone garb. Little did they know their straight brothers were jittery about their roles too.

The fledgling men's movement divided—in the early and late 80s—into four disparate wings, most of which limped along, leading nowhere.

The first and original wing, to which I contributed, was supportive of feminism, but was weighted down by academics short on strategy and who too openly simply parroted feminist theories. It failed to communicate a sense of true social urgency, making instead mere armchair challenges.

A second wing fulfilled the worst fears of feminists, becoming a counteraction to feminism, attempting to reclaim male privilege. It gained minimal popularity among divorced men being chased for either alimony or child support.

A third, better publicized men's faction followed poet-guru Robert Bly, who has led seeker-after-truth-male-coteries into rural encampments where they discuss myths and attempt to make "needed" connections with primitive interior images of some sort. Such tactics, however, have done little more than uphold traditions, providing media (for a time) with a novel feature, making it unnecessary for networks to demonstrate any serious commitment to male-lib concerns.

The fourth wing was the brainchild of a Moslem fundamentalist, Nation-of-Islam founder Louis Farrakhan. Equality of the sexes in Islamic lands brings to mind the Taliban Moslems now going strong in Afghanistan. Not only are gays, as in Saudi Arabia or Iran executed, but women too are excluded from both schools and hospitals. They must wear beekeepers' fashions, minus, of course, white socks which, in Kabul, are currently verboten, being too sexy for sex-starved Moslem men to behold. Stoning is considered apropos for adulterers. The Million-Man March was held to help, in part, restore conventional religious laws to the homes where men are undeniably granted scriptural authority as The Masters.

Enter the Promise Keepers, a pale Xerox of The Million-Man March.

Now, unfortunately, the visionary chance the gay movement once had seems to have slipped into their fundamentalist Christian hands. Male-role conditioning—which needs a total overhaul—will be getting instead a partial nod mixed with gargantuan anti-gay, anti-feminist positioning. "Killing Me Softly With His Love" could well be women's and gay men's anthems if we are to become subject to the Promise Keepers' promises. While males once demanded their primacy with the threat of violence, the Promise Keepers will tell them to demand it gently.

When I see Patricia Ireland of NOW complaining about the Promise Keepers, I sympathize with her. But I would remind Ms. Ireland that as a pioneering gay and men's activist--in 1975-- I personally placed a volume published by Penguin Books titled Men's Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity into the hands of NOWs nasty stepmother, Betty Freidan. Ms. Freidan failed, even, to say thank you. Not so surprising, really. She'd once called NOW's lesbian members "The Lavender Menace."

NOW's 1975 leadership chose a member Men's Lib advocate carefully, one to keep close watch upon, one to fill a needed gap.

He was a partially uninspired heterosexual yuppie named Warren Farrell. NOW put him and his claims to represent male lib safely under NOW's wing where it went—not surprisingly—nowhere. I was gay, a men's movement "menace." What many in the men's movement didn't know was that by 1976 I'd already been active in the gay movement for 15 years.

Men's Liberation— then a cutting edge work-- sold nearly 100,000 copies and got translated into German and Greek. Publisher's Weekly said it "breaks new ground."

Many mid-70s gay publications like Boston's Gay Community News, and Pittsburgh's Gay News, hailed its arrival as did even MCC-founder Troy Perry in a letter to me and journalist-pioneer Jim Kepner. Kepner noted wisely that I'd adopted an old leftist strategy—one I called the Trojan Horse method—by taking one step back to take two steps forward. This strategy found a lengthy excerpt of Men's Liberation appearing in—of all places—Parent's magazine. Yes, a gay male-lib author—a Trojan Horse—giving advice in Parents. 1975. This was introducing a new two step, kids. Any wise Trojan Horse knows to blend in with the other horses till that blessed moment when they discover something's happened, something that's rather surprising.

The Advocate's myopic reviewer, Newt Deiter, blasted the book, however,—not because of its ideas (which eluded him) but because I'd written the book without announcing upfront that I was gay. That was my one step back which Kepner had understood. But it wasn't a gay-oriented book, Newter, sweetheart.

I'd written two gay-identified books beforehand. With Lige, I'd been—for years-- among Manhattan's best known public gay figures. Did The Advocate's Newt Deiter really think I was trying to fly back into the closet? Men's Liberation was a book for all males, irrespective of their orientations. Newt Deiter ignored the book's radical chapter on Friendship too—one that spoke clearly about the impediment to bonding caused by the gay taboo.

In the meantime, men's movement activities revolved (my last formal meeting attended was 1983) around a few bewildered seekers-after-truth who mingled with ambitious academics and psychologists who arrived armed with their business cards at men's movement gatherings.

The ever-present folk singers, bless them, were always there to inspire.

I had a choice. I could throw my lot with these seekers after truth-- or I could once again experience passionate joys and go riding for a bit on the magnificent coattails of my second great love. (I'd dedicated Men's Liberation to my first longtime loving friend, Lige Clarke, who'd taught me its rudiments, read it in full and then—three days later— he was suddenly murdered in an area that is the homeland of hardcore machismo).

My second longtime loving friend, Logan Carter,—on the second occasion I met him—performed on stage in Manhattan where, just before we reconnected, I saw him change gender as part of his act. The act was titled What Makes a Man a Man? Derek Calderwood at NYU turned it into a classroom-debate movie, Gender. Logan fully shared my men's lib perspectives and it seemed wise to accompany and encourage him instead of continuously preaching on behalf of my men's lib book, something I'd been doing non-stop anyway—on TV and at universities-- during the year before we began living together.

Inspired by Logan, I continued to speak out about male role-conditioning in articles. Manhattan's Gaysweek published my 1977 essay, Butcher Than Thou: Beyond Machismo, which saw reprints in The New Gay Liberation Book (Ramparts Press) and Gay Men: The Sociology of Male Homosexuality (Harper & Row). A university text, Courtship and Marriage in America (Little-Brown) published lengthy extracts from Men's Liberation.

Still, the gay and feminist movements stealthily kept away from the topic. And now that the Promise Keepers have managed to co-opt it, spokespersons are bitterly complaining. Hmmmm.

But surely this isn't the end of the line. Within the movements for sexual equality—both gay and feminist—there remains to us a bright promise to recapture ground seized almost illegally by the Promise Keepers.

The liberation of males from damaging roles such as control and domination is a human task not only a religious one, but since the days of Walt Whitman and Edward Carpenter, or even as long ago as Lao Tzu's time, it has also beat as the heart of any far-reaching revolution recognizing the happy balance needed through a society stressing gender equality.

Therefore, as said, a role revolution has long been needed--liberation among men counterbalancing and complementing changes taking place in women's' and gay males' lives.

Instead, after only a few rounds on talk shows, a film or two like Mr. Mom, and TV sitcom jokes about machismo engineered by the genius Norman Lear and on shows like the brilliant Home Improvement, there's been, in spite of early warnings about the need to redefine male roles, an eerie silence about such liberation.

Let that silence evaporate.

The fact that news media folk are currently confused by the Promise Keepers doesn't surprise me. They were even more confused in 1975 when Penguin sent me to talk male roles on a national tour. A few understood me, but not many. Several gay interviewers got my drift pronto—especially poet Steven Blevins—whose appreciative arguments on my behalf were published in Gay Community News.

There were many reviews that were heterosexuals' shows of appreciation, too. Numerous. But a radical weary decade whose news anchors were peopled by conservative business interests, feared the social implications of male critiques. As I traveled to TV and network shows in every major city, I was questioned suspiciously about what I represented.

Still there were many that seemed to understand precisely what was being said. But they never coalesced. And media, gay and straight, was made nervous by the topic. Is it too late to teach more realistic lessons? You know, realistic in the same way that Four Weddings and a Funeral starring that handsome English bloke, oh you know, the one who got in trouble out in L.A. because of his unfortunate proximity to a lady.

Today, the Promise Keepers, spawned in right wing waters by prominent anti-gay crusaders, capitalizes on male-bonding needs. Some laughingly call it the Christian Bisexual Movement, for while these Promise Keeper males betroth themselves to their wives, they leave them at home and hungrily hug each other!

Their massive gatherings in stadiums across the nation highlights not only their hunger for male-bonding, but the distress these men know as they share breadwinning with women and are thus displaced as sole-providers and Masters. This has helped some bright males question the old-fashioned "male provider" roles they play, but the Promise Keepers? Who knows?

Tearing down old stereotypes of manliness is now essential. In 1992 Gloria Steinem wrote: "Make no mistake about it, "women want a men's movement….If you doubt that, just listen to women's desperate testimonies of hope that the men in our lives will become more able to talk about emotions, less hooked on a spectrum of control that extends from not listening through to violence, and…less repressive of their own human qualities that are called feminine."

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen writes: "Promise Keepers has lifted this feminist critique and refashioned it into a biblical theology of true manhood. It tells followers to reject the image of the friendless American man—emotionally cool, competitive, unapologetic and uncommunicative—and tells them to instead adopt Biblical virtues like optimism, forgiveness, confession and compassion. Promise Keepers helps men feel safe about crying and confessing to their sins. It sets a tone of tough love and new beginnings, much like Alcoholics Anonymous."

Van Leeuwen notes, however, that Promise Keepers have taken no formal position on the equality of the sexes. No formal position. No consistent message.

Its founder, however, is sure and clear about one thing: homosexuality is an abomination, he says. This from a friggin football coach, a male cheerleader turned into a hardcore member of the Buddies for Jesus Bangers.

What next?

Yes, the Promise Keepers—due to a lack of media awareness--is the world's largest men's movement— and has for its founder the football coach, Bill McCartney. He couldn't keep his eyes on those boys on his fields alone. So, to forcefully say something to us about himself, in 1991 he helped lead Colorado's fight against same-sex love, championing the anti-gay Amendment 2. His disingenuous ploys went down to defeat five years later, however, at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

But they call this Locker Room Promise Peepers fellow "Coach." Yikes.

The Promise Keepers pretends not to be political. It got its start, however, with the blessings of that dear and busy entreprenuer, Pat Robertson and that godly ass kisser and rich man himself, the holier than thou, James Dobson. Need more be said?

The overwhelming need of men to bond—what Walt Whitman referred to as adhesiveness—has been tragically sidetracked by these "Christians," celebrating their own brands of male comaradarie under the spell of religious glee. Male comaradarie is thereby defined and sublimated into "proper Christian" channels to "protect" Christian men from the truly serious meanings behind the equality of the sexes.

Both gay and straight males have long been caught in the webs of old-fashioned male posturing. Some have tried to extricate themselves from its withered strands, but American culture has given them little or no support. Men are encouraged to preserve such rigid postures (even with only vague notions of what they mean) with greater urgency than they are taught anything else.

Thus, the patriarchal value system—which makes criminals of those who experience same sex love—harbors harmful illusions of male dominance and remains the greatest impediment to all social reforms.

Macho means death.

Receiving its support from the JudaeoChristian tradition, basking in the approval of dog-eat-dog capitalism, lacking empathy for the underprivileged, having too little environmental empathy, the old male order runs roughshod over whole populations; its adherents hoping for the survival of the fittest profits, celebrating their tough guy theatrics which, if left unchecked, will lead to planetary doom.

How important is it to beat others at the game? To seize instead of to share? To compete instead of cooperate? To control? To dominate? To protect. To support? To be always on top?

To an inquiring avant garde that hasn't yet despaired, to those who see through to the patriarchy's profound social implications, it follows that opening male role options is, perhaps, THE major revolutionary activity.

The old male prescriptions are, in both personal relations and in social effects, more limiting, more anxiety-provoking, and more insidious than any other kind. The values at their base encourage violence and destruction.

Having said such things nearly a quarter century ago, I can only repeat them again in hopes that movement stalwarts may—on this round—stand up to call male roles into question.

© 1998 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
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