Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mind Your Manners, Girls

I'm just coming to know, via the Internet, a good woman and mother, younger than her husband, and unlike her husband, straight as a dye. Unlike also the other women I've known in similar circumstances, my new friend went into her marriage, eyes wide open. They began, as I understand it, as friends, then became lovers, and despite his self-identification as gay, they've married, happily, and have had a handsome baby. There's another now on the way. I congratulate them both, for having made together a family from such an unlikely pairing. Both seem not only happy, but almost unreasonably so, such being the effect of true love, and I can think of few couples, judged admittedly at some distance, who seem more likely to continue so. The husband, my contemporary, I think I understand. What I now know of his biography does not preclude the expectation of contentment with so special a woman as his wife. The wife, I should think, is in a position complicated not so much by her husband's sexual history, -- she has I think the liberal imagination of her generation and the rare gift of a truly generous and open mind, as well as as a bountiful heart, -- but rather her life, to me, seems unduly, if lightly burdened by the anachronisms of a gay subculture, into which she has unwittingly, if willingly, married. It is not her husband's queerness then that troubles either of them, but only the occasional intrusion into their happiness, not of her husbands men, an accommodation long since made, but of his friends, or rather, as even these have been made welcome, of their only occasional, if ill-considered, ill-mannered, and ultimately unkind camp.

I don't mean to make too much of this. It is not as if my friend, her husband, invites unexpected drag queens to crash her Mommy-and-Me play-dates. My friend is, if anything, so wholly respectable to all outward appearance as to be too shockingly staid, at least in his public life, for such an unconventional marriage. Had I predicted any partnership and parenting for him, I might have pictured him hitched to a judge, a man at least, of some years and seriousness himself, and quietly raising, between then, some adopted delinquent, perhaps with a nanny. But then, one tends to misjudge one's friends as easily as anyone else. Life does not so often conform to one's assumptions as we might like, and people, almost never. If they did, where would be the fun in having friends? And yet, among his friends, in our community as a whole, the accommodation of difference still constitutes, for too many, a demand made of the wider society, and that quite loudly and rightly, but too seldom considered as a responsibility to see to our own prejudices, question our own assumptions, or accommodate and welcome, within our own community, such of our friends who might themselves be straight, or even if gay, those who may happen to have found an unlikely, if lasting love with a woman. And even if, to all outward appearance, such an accommodation has long since been made, by such good, traditional and engaged liberals as we queers tend to see ourselves as being, almost to a man, such actual nonconformity as a woman married to a gay man would still seem to threaten some of us, unduly. In the fragility of our identities as proud and rebellious pioneers of the sexual frontiers, we forget, it sometimes seems, that the revolution was intended, as all such upheavals have been, and as all such revolutions ultimately fail to be, for everyone. Ours, it seems, being still so new, has left an unbecoming allowance for the kind of slack, unthinking, vicious bitchery with which we once had to protect ourselves from the judgement Our Fathers and the rest, by assuming and lampooning the misogyny of the society that condemned and criminalized us. As if women had not led us! As if women were not us! As if we men did not owe our movement, our liberty and our lives to the women among and of us. It's a shameful thing, to still hear gay men talk about our sisters as if we were no better than other men.

We shouldn't therefor call women "fish," without, by now, I should hope, expecting and deserving a kick in the balls.

I had a friend in college, himself as extravagantly gay as the bow on the neck of a French bulldog, a good and kind friend, who never the less remonstrated with me, on at last meeting my lover and seeing that my lover was not white, that I had not "warned" him of this before they were finally introduced. He accused me, in having neglected to mention my lover's race, of having "embarrassed" them both. I was deeply shocked, and offended in turn. My lover had felt no such embarrassment. I checked. So, I could neither accept nor understand this position, taken by a man I considered a friend, someone himself so seemingly liberated, himself a victim of prejudice. How could such a man be shocked by a fact I had not withheld but which I had simply, honestly neglected to mention? I had to consider, at that moment, for the first time, that my friend could be racist, that a good, gay, liberal fellow could actually object to an interracial relationship. He did. It took some time before he could be brought to say so, or to see that he had said as much already, but eventually, between us, we talked the misunderstanding through, and continued to talk about this issue with some uncomfortable regularity, on both our parts, thereafter. We stayed friends until his untimely death. I can not say I ever felt quite so sure of his good opinion again, or that I trusted him as I had. He taught me a valuable lesson though, about assuming the experience of oppression as automatically producing a corresponding expansion of empathy, when this has, historically, not been the most common or even likely response, even among my own friends, even in the community I'd come to as my own, to the prejudice and persecutions we ourselves have commonly experienced. I still find this shocking.

If racism, even twenty odd years ago, was already at least cause for some embarrassment, even to those still suffering it's stain, certain grotesque expressions of distrust and disdain for women are still, alas, so much a part of how we have defined ourselves within ourselves and in defense of ourselves in the wider society of men, as to still go largely unchallenged, except as has been done by that small, somber body of the politically watchful bluestockings collectively dismissed as the "politically correct." That such a phrase, originating among the worst reactionary intellectual element of our avowed enemies should have been adopted and used amongst our own, suggests both the ease with which we still allow ourselves to be defined by our enemies, and our unwillingness to assume full responsibility, even now, for inclusion, rather than the exclusion we ourselves have suffered, as our fundamental difference with the majority society. Not only do we not always practice what we preach, we stigmatize even the most obviously well meaning among us for suggesting we might do better than we have. It is, I must admit, an all but irresistible temptation, to poke at the prudes now and then, to use the forbidden words, to mock the modern pieties just as we so easily now mock or ignore the old. But whatever fun there is in this, and however often I myself have to indulged in offending against the new proprieties, I will not have the whole effort to modify our most unthinking insensitivity to persons in some way unlike ourselves dismissed, out of hand, as the same impulse to enforce conformity that once and for so long held us all down. It is not the same. It does not originate in hatred and distrust of the other. It is not all but so much fuss. I've certainly known more than a few humorless, dogmatic busybodies within our community who, being self appointed censors, would have us all be not simply more sensitive to difference, but unvaryingly deferential to any and all in anyway unlike ourselves. Such people anticipate every touch as a potential bruise. They make themselves, and our common cause, ridiculous by insisting on such extravagant gentility as has not been seen since the last royal luncheon served at Versailles. Not every act of congress is a rape. Not every interaction between the sexes is an unequal contest. Not every joke requires review. Such tiresome preachers of bland inoffensiveness would have the whole world not just at peace, but as flavorless as a Vegan Christmas dinner. And those on our right, as much or more than those of us on the left, need not crow too loudly their superiority to such considerations. In my experience, there is no one more likely to insist on his absolute right to say and do just as he pleases, in whatever company, than the man -- for so he seems always to be -- without an original or interesting thing to say on any subject. It seems what they are most insistent on being allowed to continue to say is usually neither true nor admirable. And they are almost never actually funny, have you noticed? One wonders why they are so proud of sounding stupid. In truth, our own ragtag band of queer rightists, always louder than their actual numbers would seem to allow for, for all their insistence on rugged individualism, are actually but so many Baptists and Republicans outside the bedroom; conformists in everything else but cocksucking. They are a pitiable lot of vulgar bores, just so many Log Cabin chickens; for all their crowing, tame and fenced, easily frightened, and laughably eager for every kernel they can scratch out of the dirt, or catch falling from the table of their owners. I have no patience for such quislings. They deserve their friends. Let 'em cluck. I wish they would shut up, but I wouldn't think of wasting my time chasing them down with a hatchet.

But just between ourselves, if we might at least consider the possibility that we can still be silly amongst ourselves, mess about with gender and sex, femininity and masculinity, without invariably reducing any woman who might be present to a "fish," we just might be worthy of her good company. We owe her that, I should think, don't you?

And if we forget, darling, you know what to do.

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