On the Topic of Homophobia, November, 2013
This is an essay based on historical research by Byrne Fone in his book, Homophobia: A History. This essay is formed from the information presented entirely from this book and from a few personal opinions of my own on the topic of homosexuality. Maybe not quite every statement has been credited but I have tried, at least, to give the page references should anyone want to learn more information.
Fone, Byrne. Homophobia: A History. New York, NY, Metropolitan Books, ©2000.
This is an essay about homophobia and if you are aware of the many sites on the Internet having to do with gay news you will quickly learn that homophobia is rife in present day society. This present reading inspired me to put a few paragraphs together to form this essay. This book has been not far out of reach for many years (in my partner’s collection) as an intended reading and, finally, the time has arrived. The reason for wanting to read it is because of my gross lack of knowledge of historical fact. I know that many of us don’t place history as a top priority but still intend to get around to it at some point. I feel I should have had more regard years ago for this knowledge in order to have a sound basis for protest and to be convinced in my own mind of the recorded past and present. Many beliefs have gone unexamined for centuries and, in a way, have gone unexamined in my own mind relying almost entirely on common sense and snippets of information gathered from public argument and news articles. You will see in this essay that, after centuries of murder and bloodshed, people finally began to examine the topic of homosexuality even, in some cases, putting their lives at risk because of homosexuality being considered as sodomy and heresy not only being labelled as sin but working it’s way into being criminalized.
Before I start, I want you to know that I am thinking of two people in particular for dedicating this piece. One is a young man who I became acquainted with five years ago. We haven’t met face-to-face but our relationship was to become much more than an acquaintance with him asking me if I would be his dad. This is certainly one of the most important events in my life. I had no idea what this meant upon being approached with such a question and had to give it some thought. I said yes but not before wondering why he would want another dad in his life when his biological father had turned out to be a horrible physical and mental abuser. I think that, for this person who made this request of me, it was precisely the reason of him wanting and having a need. Today is his sixth anniversary of being “out-of-the-closet” as this essay goes to its posting. This very close person, at this point in his life, has distanced himself from a horrible past making his way towards a promising future and has even taken on a new family name because he is now adopted. This man who took him in is now also his dad was physically present for him and so was able to be of great assistance when our son’s life was taking another bad turn. But, after dealing with a biological homophobic and abusive father and going from that to a mother who got sole custody but became verbally abusive in time, he now has a new attachment on life as it should be.
Number two of this dedication is for a young man and his family. His mother is the only one I’ve been in contact with. Her young son came out-of-the-closet recently. Despite that she is a woman of openness and understanding it took her son four years to reveal his secret. It wasn’t so much to do with keeping this from his family as much as from living in fear and doubt from the influence society has left on friends in his life. He could never be sure of their reaction.
My essay probably does not reveal anything extraordinary nor does it bring about revelation or problem solving. It simply is to do with historical fact according to the author’s research. This dedication is being made in the name of discrimination. When I talk about time you will have noticed that I always mentioned it in terms of centuries and not years. That is precisely the truth. Homophobic society has existed for centuries and still, today, people still cannot contend with the fact that homosexuality is here to stay. They would prefer to have it wiped out despite the absolute impossibility. Homosexuals have been used as scapegoats as were black people, Jews, etc. and, as a result, many people through the centuries were given the death sentence condemned in the name of the law and in the name of religion. It is still happening but this discrimination is finally being challenged big time.
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ll homophobic people have their own ideas of why homosexuality shouldn’t be – for example, disobeying not only the law of the Bible but the laws of nature as well. It appears that from the early centuries all laws were formed without any regard to psychology. Not yet finished my reading, I haven’t come across a great description of a time when homosexuals were allowed to have a say about what they felt about love. They were preached at, and about, by straight people who were probably scared and nervous, and familiar with nothing other than the promiscuity, seemingly not reminding themselves that there was and is also that existence in straight society.
In my opinion as a homosexual, I can’t see that I can be changed to a heterosexual by hanging around with one. So, in turn, I also do not see myself being able to turn a heterosexual into a homosexual simply by hanging out with the person. This appears to be one of the nervous beliefs of some straight people. If you were born a heterosexual why would you want to turn homosexual? There’s no basis for it and your brain makeup probably wouldn’t even allow it.
We should probably all be familiar with the term “in-the-closet”. You might have thought someone was heterosexual and then find out one day that this person is homosexual. Some people might think that the person made a decision to turn homosexual for whatever reason. Or the person was hanging out with a homosexual and got turned. That is totally wrong. The person, to put it simply, was in-the-closet. But don’t be too rough on this person for the change in identity. Some people take awhile to realize that they are actually in-the-closet. Even after realizing the closet status it doesn’t mean an automatic exit. With all the negative connotations of being gay, how is a person to reveal this to family and friends? It’s not an easy move. Some have or will go on to marry the opposite sex and even have a family in continuing to hide the truth from others or even never come round to admitting or revealing it.
Still today, many straight people are very ready to criticize the existence of homosexuality. They can see only as far as their own sexuality believing that they were born that way. Then, at the same time, they go on not accepting that a homosexual was also born in their own way. Could a homophobe even begin to imagine being told to turn homosexual? Yet, exactly what they expect of a homosexual is to turn heterosexual. Is it any wonder why they think a homosexual can influence a heterosexual as if it was contagious?
What really “gets my goat” is to hear religious people and politicians spurt identical comments that were expressed as long ago a 15 to 20 centuries – not years but centuries.
Charicles: not only claims superiority for heterosexual sex, but in rabid and almost hysterical terms condemns homosexual behavior as immoral, contrary to nature and dangerous to the state and to the individual. (Charicles may well be the first full-scale fictional portrayal of a homophobe even before it had a name). [p. 68-9]
How about these brainwaves back as early as century 305 – 306 that are still being shared by brainwaves of today: (a) the council assumed that homosexual behavior was prompted only by lust or cash, (b) homosexual sinners cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. [If I am homosexual I am automatically a sinner and so, if you believe in Heaven this might be hard to take. After all, you have been also told that this idea came from God!] (c) Their sex acts are not sins so much as monstrosities.
Greek Church father, John Chrysostom: accuses those who engage in homosexual acts as monstrosity and insanity ‘but he goes even further, recommending that they be driven out and stoned. And, how about this. “….. the soul is more damaged by sin than the body is of illness.” [p. 103]
“….. Those who engage in homosexual acts do so not for pleasure but because they are in the grip of insane lust.” [p. 104]
Also, “so attractive is their sin, so powerful its obsessive temptation, that even though God offered them the chance to reject their passion they refused and were unpardonable.” [p. 104]
In the early ages of history, recorded writings existed but were probably not made common knowledge to the common person that there was the existence of homosexual love and harmony. In any case, that reality probably wasn’t even believed.
It was quite common for teaching purposes to claim to have overheard such conversations between God and sinner. Too bad people believed in such stories and were so easily scared. Chrysostom, despite admitting that “pagan literature documents an honourable history of homosexual love,” goes on to insist that homosexuals are “seized by mania [and] dead to the legitimate affections; their desire, merely lustful, knows nothing of love. His excuse to reject this history: “the pagans did not know God or his law.” To me, this makes it seem as if they were privileged! (My personal opinion).
So, in choosing to refuse to believe there is a state of love within the existence of homosexuality and, understanding nothing about homosexuality, he takes the existence of God into his own authority and claims: “They are even worse than murderers, and it would be better to die than to live dishonoured in this way. The murderer only separates soul from body, but these destroy the soul within the body.” And further, “whatever sin you mention you will not name one which is the equal of this.” And so, how about this from an Italian monk named Gratian who, in 1140, compiled the Concordia discordantium canonum and thus earned the sobriquet “Father of Canon Law”. Though he found fornication, adultery and incest serious, he saw them as lesser evils since they used the sexual member in a “natural” way. Homosexual acts, however, are patently unnatural in the Augustinian sense and irredeemably sinful. Not only did they not result in procreation but fellation and intercourse was contrary to the pinis’s “natural use” which, according to Gratian, was thought by the scriptures and the Prophets upheld in Canon Law and in the deliberations of the Church, justified by the example of nature, and commanded by God.”
So, to reiterate, fornication, adultery and incest were not as serious because with these acts there is the possibility of procreation. Homosexuality doesn’t have that “privilege”.
Take note that it was never certain that sex had anything to do with the Sodom and Gomorrah story. It was decided much later that it did refer to homosexuality for the convenience, in part, of the Church to get rid of people who had land that the Church could confiscate after the trial and death of the “sinner”.
Albert of Cologne, called Albertus Magnus (“the great”) (1206-1280) [:] “Sodomy is more detestable than any other sin … because it is characterized by uncontrollable frenzy … Finally, it is contagious, and spreading from one man to another until the whole world is in danger of infection.” [p. 137]
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) a pupil of Albert: “Even adultery, fornication, seduction, rape and incest do not fall into the category of unnatural acts because, although they may cause harm, they can nonetheless result in procreation, ‘the ultimate purpose’ intended by God.”
Can you believe this way of thinking being okay by God? Adultery, fornication, seduction, rape and incest are not as bad as gay sex because procreation was intended by God!
People back in the 13th century claimed these beliefs to have come from God and there are people today who still hold firm to these conditions and beliefs. My opinion of these people of today is that they are wandering aimlessly, eyes shut or their heads as if buried in the sand. My personal opinion is that they are stupid and ignorant and totally incapable of common sense in that they place their beliefs and fellowship in men who existed so many centuries ago. It was a society based on illegitimate truths, an age when it was convenient to create “sins” to blame even on people that weren’t homosexual but framed and blamed for heresy and sodomy – the wealthy a lot of times. Claiming the rights of God was a great convenience. He wasn’t here to speak for himself.
As already mentioned, I’m writing this essay before my reading is completed. This could be unfair but I will, at least, include the parts where homophobia begins to be challenged. We should be aware of certain names in our study of the history of this topic. Three men in particular deserve gratitude. “John Addington Symonds, historian, essayist, and poet, was among the most vigorous defenders of the social value of homosexuality. The poet and social theorist, Edward Carpenter, forged a new path in claiming equality for homosexual men and women and calling homosexual love “a very important factor in society” because “its neglect, or its repression, or its vulgar misapprehension, may be matters of considerable damage to the common-weal.” Oscar Wilde, in his writing and in the way he lived his life, mounted perhaps the strongest challenge to homophobia – and paid the greatest price.” [p. 287]
The one great regret that I have and that cannot ever be restored is to learn of the many, many people who were put to death through many centuries because of the fact that they loved. Theirs was a love that could not fight back against the forces that prevailed. And a part of the regret, of course, is the length of time history had to travel before it reached the age where homosexuals would no longer put up with the putdown. Symonds, in his A Problem in Modern Ethics is written in a tone of withering irony that barely masks his anger. He was no political activist “but what he did is amazing enough: he called upon homosexuals not to hide but to resist.” [p. 293] Finally, strong confrontations of the unexamined beliefs were to begin. As previously mentioned, we are well aware that many of the beliefs that remained intact for many centuries still remain intact today. The challenge is not over.
I want to close this essay with a short story by John Francis Bloxam. I hesitated because the story involves a priest and a young person. This could be associated with the many sad stories of recent times of the many priests who were found out to be pedophiles and have gotten away with destroying innocence. Also, there is very negative reaction to love that happens between the younger and the older. But, for now, I will not go into that topic that would require volumes of discussion. Let’s rely on this story to portray the love that brings learning and maturity. I find the words rewarding, and helping to see why we shouldn’t be influenced by society’s opinion of what it sometimes insists.
The name of this story is “The Priest and the Acolyte” (1894). The remainder of this essay is extracted from page 285 to 287.
“The acolyte is the ideal friend that Ronald Heatherington, the priest of the title, has long sought. But having found him, Heatherington is accused by the rector of the church where he serves of harbouring improper affection for the boy. The rector asks for an explanation, and Heatherington’s reply speaks of the need for an ideal friend, but also of the process of self-discovery and the attraction of the eroticized aesthetic ideal.
When the rector observes that he ought to have married, Heatherington replies angrily:
“I have never been attracted to a woman in my life. Can you not see that people are different, totally different, from one another? To think that we are all the same is impossible; our natures, our temperaments, are utterly unlike. But this is what people will never see; they found all their opinions on a wrong basis. How can deductions be just if premises are wrong? One law laid down by the majority, who happen to be of one disposition, is only binding on the minority legally, not morally. What right have you, or anyone, to tell me that such and such a thing is sinful for me….For me, with my nature, to have married would have been sinful: it would have been a crime, a gross immorality , and my conscience would have revolted….Conscience should be that divine instinct which bids us seek after that our natural disposition needs…..To the world, to Christians in general, conscience is merely another name for the cowardice that dreads to offend against convention….I have committed no moral offence in this matter; in the sight of God my soul is blameless; but to you and the world I am guilty of an abominable crime – abominable because it is a sin against convention….I met this boy; he loved me, even as I have loved him….How dare the world presume to judge us? What is convention to us? Nevertheless, although I really knew that such a love was beautiful and blameless, although from the bottom of my heart I despised the narrow judgment of the world…I tried to resist. I struggled against the fascination he possessed for me….I would have struggled on to the end: and offered the wealth of his love….How could I tell to such a nature the hideous picture the world would paint? … I knew what I was doing. I have faced the world and set myself against it. I have openly scoffed at its dictates….In God’s eyes we are martyrs, and we shall not shrink even from death in this struggle against the idolatrous worship of convention.
Writing in a climate of prohibition, yet responding to the discourses that were beginning to define sex and sexuality, these writers produced one of the most significant bodies of literature concerned with homosexuality and homophobia to have been published in English, or in any language, up to that time. By their very existence they defined homophobia, just as they enraged homophobes.
Significantly, [Heatherington] reverses the role of the Church and religious proscription. No longer the defiling sinners, homosexuals are now martyrs in God’s eyes. The Cities of the Plain and their inhabitants are no longer guilty of transgression; the new idolaters are those who worship convention.”