One method of good literary criticism, I think, is where you look for the parts of the story that upon close inspection seem to not quite hold together. Then, when you find the weak spots in the manuscript, where the motivations of the characters seem not to jive with their behavior, you try to figure out what’s really going on.
I read a comment on a website on Friday and I think I must have bookmarked it at work, because I don’t have it here with me now, that said “Men are hurt by the patriarchy, women are oppressed by it.” And I laughed when I read it, but it stuck with me and I started to wonder if that was exactly true.
One of the things I’ve been mulling over this week is, frankly, just how fucked up you guys are. No offense, but as a general rule, we don’t go around beating the shit out of each other; we’re not killing each other; that’s all you guys.
We’re all caught up in this way of relating to each other that is crippling to all of us. I know some feminists really would like to just flip the tables, let y’all be under our yoke for a thousand years or two. I reject any philosophy of revenge in this vein, because I think it reaffirms a view of history I reject–you ought not to draw some line from the Old Testament to Greece and Rome into Germany and England and over to us and call it a true version of our cultural heritage. But it’s an impulse I understand, this desire for turning the tables, if only because I long to be the person at the dinner table who gets to have her stories heard.
But I’ve been thinking about how homophobic y’all are–straight men–and how weird it is, because it’s not any of your business. Gay men aren’t waiting for you to drop your guard so that they can sneak in and touch your penises. So, why are you so fucking hostile to them? Why do you beat them up and ridicule them and threaten them and, sometimes, kill them? It makes no sense.
But I’ve been watching you for a long time now, and I’m working on a theory.
Here’s what I’ve noticed. There is often something really, really fucked up between fathers and sons. I think it has to do with the competing pressures you feel to both “be your own man” and “carry on the family name.” And the complimentary pressures fathers feel to “toughen you up” or “teach to fight” or “teach you to be a man” and to keep you in a position of submission to them so that they can teach you everything you need to know about taking up your proper position in the family.
You must navigate between being your own person and being the next in line.
As I said, I’ve been watching y’all and this is what it seems like from where I’m standing, that you guys are constantly struggling with your fathers and sons over these contradictory impulses.
It’s not pretty.
But gay men, as they have become more publicly visible, have obviously escaped that problem. They aren’t going to take their place next in line. (One might suspect as more and more gay men are adopting children this might once again become a problem, but that remains to be seen, I think.) And they clearly are their own individual selves.
The problem the straight man has is balancing the two. If he is utterly subsumed into his family, he’s not an individual. If he’s too individual, he’ll lose his place in the family. Either one of these outcomes is pretty terrible.
Or seems pretty terrible. We have a lot invested in our cultural myths.
But gay men really embody an alternative to that. Many of them have been rejected by their families and, in return, have rejected their families. Many of them have moved to more gay-friendly places and created their own close communities of friends that reaffirm and support them.
In other words, they’ve found a way out of the conundrum that makes a lot of men so miserable.
And now, we can see why so many straight men react so violently to gay men. It’s that, in part, we want to believe that we’re miserable because there is no other choice. Any proof of other choices must really threaten us right to the core.
And now it becomes clear why so many homophobes* insist being gay is a choice, not because they care whether two men touch because they choose to or because they were born to, but because they’re responding to many gay men’s decision to choose not to participate in a core cultural struggle that is making a lot of men of all sexual persuasions miserable.
That, my friends, is what I suspect the real threat is.
Let’s for a second reconsider the notion of that continuum of history I just rejected, because, frankly, so many Old Testament stories are foundational myths of our culture. So, here we have this problem–this fucking Biblical foundation myth–of Jacob both striving to receive his father’s birthright at the same time he’s kicking God’s ass because he’s not going to submit to any authority.
These foundational myths, repeated over and over, and reinforced in church and in school, really shape how we see ourselves. They start to feel RIGHT, NATURAL, ORDAINED BY GOD.
Even if they make us miserable, we have to keep perpetuating those types of ways of relating to each other, because what other choice do we have? Abraham almost killed Isaac. Isaac was tricked into giving Jacob Esau’s place in the family. Jacob wrestled God. That’s just how men are–violent, lying, rebellious creatures who must be brought into line.
Rejecting that notion of manhood means, in great part, rejecting our foundational myths. To most people, obviously, that’s unacceptable.
And if some group of people–especially people that seem so much like us–find ways of escaping that, it’s both a threat that must be eliminated, and, since from our perspective we’re still accepting the cultural myth as true, rebellious creatures who must be brought into line.
At least, that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.
* I hope it’s obvious that I’m using this word in a way that continues our discussion about how, while I believe it’s fine to hate whoever the fuck you want, I can’t understand why you have to take that next step into acting against them, and that this post is, in part, about attempting to do that.