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Tilting at Windmills

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June 29, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Not So Long Ago

Hendrick Hertzberg has a good piece on the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In it, he quotes a 1966 article from Time called "The Homosexual in America". It's worth reading as a stunning reminder of exactly how far we've come in the last forty three years. For instance:

"Both [male homosexuality and lesbianism] are essentially a case of arrested development, a failure of learning, a refusal to accept the full responsibilities of life. This is nowhere more apparent than in the pathetic pseudo marriages in which many homosexuals act out conventional roles -- wearing wedding rings, calling themselves "he" and "she."

And:

"Homosexuality (...) is a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life. As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding and, when possible, treatment. But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste -- and, above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness."

For some reason, the tone in which this is written bothers me almost as much as the content: it's somehow curdled. The condescension, the fake knowingness, the pervasive underlying "heh heh heh" -- it sets my teeth on edge.

As long as one gay man or lesbian is denied the right to marry, or legally discriminated against because of his or her sexual orientation, or asked to leave the military after honorable service, we haven't come far enough. But we have come a long, long way.

Hilzoy 11:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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Interesting to me that this was published a few days after I was born and yet I was able to reach a level of acceptance of homosexuality that seems pretty common today in about half the time. But that was likely most due to the fact that both my uncle and a close friend's brother were gay. And I grew up near San Francisco. Acceptance is all about experience.

Posted by: cthulhu on June 29, 2009 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

The once widespread view that homosexuality is caused by heredity, or by some derangement of hormones, has been generally discarded. The consensus is that it is caused psychically, through a disabling fear of the opposite sex.

Given that this was written at basically the height of boutique psychoanalysis, I suppose it should come as no surprise. Still hilarious in its horribly wrong certitude but that was a pretty common trait among psychoanalysts of the time.

Posted by: cthulhu on June 30, 2009 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

It started not so bad and then... brrrrr.

Sadly, I could see certain Time or Newsweek writers penning similar dreck today. Not this, obviously, but one of the usual Conventional Wisdom screeds that "This is how America does things, and any deviation from these obvious truths is abnormal and dangerous." It would be interesting, thirty years from now, to read articles about liberals written during the 1990s.

Posted by: wilder on June 30, 2009 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

Time is a good way capture the facile opinions of the masses.

And that was back in the day of comic books being tools of homersexuals and comminists to corrupt our youth. And today we can have comic books with strong homosexual characters -- or, I guess in reflecting on changes, I should say explictly homosexual characters.

What's the final word on those police raids in Texas? Was it a police with a hardon for harassing drinkers OR a hardon for harrasing gay people? Your readers want to know. I want to know.

Posted by: inkadu on June 30, 2009 at 12:38 AM | PERMALINK

"Acceptance is all about experience."

Nah. I'm even older then you and had no known homosexuals around, in a society with plenty of negative stereotypes and nasty jokes about queers and fags. It didn't take because it didn't make sense.

Seems to me that acceptance is default. Hatred is learned.

( and the quote sounds a lot like William F Buckley sneering at Gore Vidal while knowing that Vidal is his intellectual superior )

Posted by: Joey Giraud on June 30, 2009 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

Soon the only people getting married will be the homosexuals.

Posted by: Al on June 30, 2009 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

Acceptance is the default, but I think it's generally quickly overwritten by culture.

I still remember the first time I noticed the differences between black people and white people. It was the day my mother dropped me off in kindergarten and pointed out a black student in the yard. "See that little boy, there," my mom asked me. I nodded. "Well, don't you treat that boy any different because he's black. Treat him the same as everyone else."

I've been an implicit racist ever since.

Posted by: inkadu on June 30, 2009 at 12:50 AM | PERMALINK

... but fortunately, nobody mentioned homosexuals until I was very much older, so I never had a problem with it. It also probably helps that me and my best friend in first grade liked nothing more than trying to grab each others balls on the bus.

Ah, youth.

Posted by: inkadu on June 30, 2009 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

Too bad it isn't signed.

Posted by: Ross Best on June 30, 2009 at 1:40 AM | PERMALINK

Identity of the authors of the 1966 drek?

Posted by: Mauimom on June 30, 2009 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK

"Virtually all societies in history have known homosexuality and, with few exceptions, have strongly condemned it--and yet often tolerated it. In 18th century London, for example, Novelist Tobias Smollett sarcastically found that 'homosexuality gains ground apace and in all probability will become in a short time a more fashionable device than fornication.'"

Interesting quote from Smollett (who died in 1771). The earliest citation in the OED for "homosexuality" is from 1892.

Posted by: Ross Best on June 30, 2009 at 2:12 AM | PERMALINK

I shuddered as I re-read this piece. You see, I have every word of that article burned into my memory. I was a scared teenager when that issue of Time landed in my family's mailbox. I knew I was "different", and I'd figured out what a "homosexual" was. When I read the article, I was horrified to find "this is me!" I didn't want the rest of the family to even think their son might be "one of those", and so I hid the magazine in my bedroom. I re-read it again and again, hoping to find some words to suggest I might, in fact, grow up to have a happy life. There were none.

As time went on, I eventually came out, earned the acceptance and love of my biological family and my family of choice, and found a wonderful man who has shared my life for 33 years. But I still have that worn copy of that old magazine. I keep it to remember how far we've come.

So, at the risk of sounding like a crabby old man saying "get off my lawn", I'm not all that upset that Obama hasn't waved a magic wand to make everything perfect. To my gay and straight friends angry because the world isn't perfect, I say go read that article again, and imagine what I felt like when I read it. Then think about how far we've come. And yes.... know hope.

Posted by: eeyore on June 30, 2009 at 6:28 AM | PERMALINK

You miss the point. The falsity you see now is the very nature of journalism in "opinion pieces". The journalist is talking through his hat, for he is not trained in the field at all. We see that now. So what is going on? He represents the common man of the time back then. Those attitudes were almost universal in 1966. Indeed, everyone of you reading this now would have had those exact opinions, too, if you were there in 1966. If you don't see that, then you are more bigoted than the anti-homosexuals then. Deal with that, kiddies.

Posted by: Bob M on June 30, 2009 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

Articles in magazines like Time and Mewsweek were generally not signed until about the mid-1970s. A piece like this was likely at least partially written by whoever was editor-in-chief at the time.

Intersting is the rather winking reference to the "latest Rock Hudson movie." Hudson's gayness was not generally known to the public in 1966, but surely would have been known to the editors of Time.

Posted by: Virginia on June 30, 2009 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

Reading this tripe from 1966 is akin to painfully watching certain aspects from "Mad Men". Sadly, so little has changed in many minds, except for smoking not being allowed in offices.

Posted by: berttheclock on June 30, 2009 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, that "heh-heh-heh" assumed cluelessness pervaded most of the newsweeklys and mass market magazines back then. I recall "Look" as a conspicuous exception, but otherwise the joke headline then aming satirists was "Negroes: Threat or Menace?"

As for the author, he probably came out ten years later.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on June 30, 2009 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

". . .essentially a case of arrested development, a failure of learning, a refusal to accept the full responsibilities of life. This is nowhere more apparent than in the pathetic pseudo marriages in which many . . . act out conventional roles -- wearing wedding rings, calling themselves "he" and "she."


Does this not exactly describe social conservatives?


". . .a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life. As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding and, when possible, treatment. But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste -- and, above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness."

Posted by: alan on June 30, 2009 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

One can't help but wonder how many current Republicans would loudly agree with Time's 1966 sentiments, both in content and tone. One suspects it would be a scary high percentage.

Posted by: ed on June 30, 2009 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

I read this article when I was a 13. It also contained such gems as Homosexual men have less body hair than heterosexual men", or words to that effect.

Posted by: scott on June 30, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

That's so funny....

I read the same passage and mused that I would find it a measure of progress if compassion and pity were what homophobes encouraged of society.

These 1966 types quoted here were more advanced than some of the knuckle-draggers we have skulking around today.
(though I have little doubt that there were even more of them then.)

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on June 30, 2009 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

'Interesting quote from Smollett (who died in 1771). The earliest citation in the OED for "homosexuality" is from 1892.'

I was intrigued by this so I googled it; and the word 'homosexuality' does not appear in the original quote. Nor is it something Smollett said, sarcastically or otherwise, but something one of his characters said, which isn't quite the same thing. You can read the original context here.

Posted by: Harry on July 6, 2009 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

Brilliant commentary, brilliant responses! I hope you'll love mine too! (sarcasm)

Posted by: John Doe on July 7, 2009 at 5:32 AM | PERMALINK

I am what you would call a 'social conservative', and am 30 years young. I just read that 1966 article for the first time. It is sad to read such hatred and condescension in that piece. It was anonymous, which is cowardly (similar to the thinly veiled hatred of groups like the KKK). For those that took license to associate the words and tone of that piece with today's "Republicans" or "social conservatives", don't be so quick to react with a similar stereotyping mentality. That's not the tone to which I would subscribe, nor would I be foolish enough to think it would be productive.

But, many are correct to point out how far we've come as a nation. I'd like to know though, is this really progress? In which direction? Or is it just that it's become en vogue to progress away from the historical position, just because? What exactly is the hope that this "progress" points us to? I'm not being cynical, I'm asking real questions, that I think ought to be considered.

Acceptance is not the default. We may want it to be, but if acceptance were a default, and hatred were truly learned, as was suggested, I doubt this world would be so filled with conflict (personal, interpersonal, familial, national, regional, international, etc.).

Posted by: jack on July 7, 2009 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

Well, should we also accept people who like having sex with their teddy bears, too? And how is that any worse than homosexulaity (seriously)?

Posted by: Tom on July 8, 2009 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

"Accept" . . . "Acceptance" . . . ? "Should we [sic] also accept people who" . . . ?

Suppose our Constitution said (as it does), that no people are to be denied the equal protection of the laws? Suppose the question were not acceptance in the least, but the denial of right? Suppose the denial were unconstitutional, and a crime under Federal statute (as it is).

Who, then, would be empowered in this nation even to answer the foregoing "serious" question?

Nobody.

End the begging. Start the prosecuting.

Posted by: Carter Nicholas on July 8, 2009 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

"Suppose our Constitution said (as it does), that no people are to be denied the equal protection of the laws? Suppose the question were not acceptance in the least, but the denial of right? Suppose the denial were unconstitutional, and a crime under Federal statute (as it is)."

Well, the truth is that homosexuals have the exact same rights that everyone else does. There's no right to having several wives at a time, either (not even in Utah.) In any case, I thought the whole point of this topic was not about rights, anyway, but about attitudes toward homosexuality?

Posted by: Tom on July 9, 2009 at 11:58 PM | PERMALINK

Uh Tom? We DO accept people who have sex with teddy bears (not that we would ever know about it). Sex with inanimate objects is not a crime, but those inanimate objects are not eligible for rights associated with marriage: next-of-kin status, adoption, inheritance, etc. The whole point is that regardless of whether you approve of a sexual relationship, if the sex partner is a human being in a long-term committed relationship, it doesn't make sense not to treat that relationship like a marriage. Civil rights should apply to all Americans (regardless of broader social acceptance of their love lives).

Posted by: Kirstin on July 16, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

"The whole point is that regardless of whether you approve of a sexual relationship, if the sex partner is a human being in a long-term committed relationship, it doesn't make sense not to treat that relationship like a marriage."

Does that point apply to relationships with plural sex partners or parties partnered with their parents, siblings, or offspring?

Posted by: Michael Zeleny on July 17, 2009 at 2:59 AM | PERMALINK

"Uh Tom? We DO accept people who have sex with teddy bears (not that we would ever know about it)."

No, if anyone would dare admit they did it, we would ostracize them and call them sick perverts, like we used to do with homosexuals. Of course we're more accepting today; ask Woody Allen and his wife whom he had raised as a daughter.

As for two people living together, what about, say, two deaf people who do so out of necessity (as illustrated in the Carson McCullers novel "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter")?

Posted by: Tom on July 19, 2009 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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