Last summer my hometown, Madrid, was the center of the world in terms of gay pride. Every few years a city is chosen to host the main international LGBT event and it was our turn. What really surprised me this time is that some Spanish newspapers, which have been at the forefront of the gay rights struggle for decades and which do not hesitate to publish lists of dangerous homophobes, openly reported about some Spanish public hospitals having decided to stockpile vast amounts of anti-HIV pills as a precaution; about many shopkeepers and bar tenders in downtown Madrid who simply chose to shut down early, because the whole city had turned into a massive binge drinking party; or criticising our leftist mayor for having announced that there would be no fines for excess of noise, given the occasion. Even more surprisingly, a lengthy article in the liberal El Mundo informed about gay pubs where women and transvestites were not allowed and about the increasing number of “homophobic” homosexuals, who just cannot stand the aesthetics and eccentricities of gay pride parades and even reject the movement against homophobia, altogether. Perhaps it is no longer taboo to discuss certain things. In this emerging spirit of freedom, that is what I would like to do here.
Growing up way too straight
I grew up in a definitely homophobic environment, where the slang and obscene terms used to refer to homosexuals were actually synonyms for “coward” and “cowardice” in a more brutal way than the English word “sissy.” In fact, after a stint in the army, I realized how interchangeable the expressions “being a real man” and “being a real sex machine” were, to many of my peers, in practically every locker room conversation I witnessed. I wonder if any gay people indulge in the same kind of dirty talk, but it seems that some strongly reject just being assimilated to supposedly unmanly “fairies” or “queers”.
To be perfectly honest, if such a thing as gay aesthetics exists, I do not dislike it any more than I dislike Duchamp. Nevertheless, though I do not reject homosexuals nor judge homosexual inclinations, I do reject acts of homosexual sex. But I do not think I deserve to be numbered among the dangerous homophobes, because practices such as anal sex or mutual masturbation are in no way the patrimony of the LGBT community.
Rejecting homophobia and homosexual sex
Someone may reply that not rejecting inclinations should inevitably lead to accepting the acts which logically proceed from those inclinations. I do not buy that. Having an inclination does not say anything about the inclination itself, nor about what it is to which you are inclined. Persons and inclinations are not to be judged. Actions are. Inclinations are not morally right or wrong in themselves, and when we refer to a certain inclination as a negativity, we actually mean that whoever has that inclination experiences more difficulties behaving in a certain way than someone without it. Just that. There are selfish people and selfless people, but the existence of more or less selfish individuals is hardly to be taken into account in a discussion of the appealing character of generosity. Rather, it makes the virtue that much more sublime when you encounter it. The fact that you have an inclination to have sex with a man — or with a woman — or to have sex in an “unconventional” way, does not make these inclinations good or bad, nor does it say anything about the corresponding sexual acts. I am fed up with these movies where somebody says “that is not who I am” or “we have forgotten who we really are.” As if being a third generation member of the Gambino Family meant that being a mobster is good — or bad. Being Sicilian does not make you a “made man,” being Arab does not make you a Muslim, and being homosexual does not imply that you practice sodomy. If anything it is our actions which define who we are, not the other way around. “Stupid is as stupid does,” Forrest Gump’s mum used to say.
Furthermore, there have always been homosexuals who have not practiced anal sex because they thought it was wrong, and there have always been heterosexual individuals who have practiced anal sex with other men, for whatever reason: because there were not any women available in their prison cell or because they were so bored that they wanted to try something new, exciting and forbidden. You are not supposed to have anal sex just for being homosexual anymore than you are supposed to have “vaginal” sex, just because you are heterosexual. Celibacy has been a perfectly honorable option in various cultures, throughout history.
Homosexuality is not about love … necessarily
But — you cannot foresee who you are going to fall in love with! Being homosexual is about love! No, being homosexual is not about love. Being human is about love. Looking back, I have truly loved many more men than women in my life. That does not make me a homosexual, nor does it provide any information about my sex life. A lustful character in a García Márquez novel, who had never had sex outside a brothel, cannot be said to have loved a single day in his life.
Being human is about love, and love can manifest itself in manifold ways. As someone once said: no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Love can be evidenced by listening, by smiling, by working, by risking one’s life dragging a wounded comrade out of a trench, and by the agonizing pangs of giving birth even without anesthesia. In all these actions we make use of our body to show love, to “make love.” It could not be otherwise because humans, being material beings, cannot do anything — physically or spiritually — without their bodies. It just happens that, for whatever reason, the act of genital penetration and sexual unity is so plastic, so evident, that “making love” has become a synonym for having sex. Still, anybody who is fond of Hollywood’s classics remembers that, not so long ago, “making love” to someone did not necessarily mean “banging” them.
Cameron Díaz was right when, right before crashing her car in Vanilla Sky, she confessed to Tom Cruise: “When you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise, whether you do or not.” Genital intercourse is a human act which has, in itself, several purposes and meanings. If it is deprived of any of them, it loses all or part of its humanity. Sexual intercourse calls for freedom, love, pleasure and openness to life, in order to be entirely human, perfect in its humanity. The sexual acts of no other creature on earth comply with these four conditions. Sexual intercourse can be the product of a rational choice or of a simple animal instinct, as in an involuntary erection. Sexual intercourse can be a way to demonstrate love or sheer selfishness, as in a drunken Friday night random encounter. It can be a way to achieve consensual pleasure or to inflict pain, as in an act of rape. It can be a way to establish a family or to prevent one, as in contraception.
I can understand that homosexual practices can be the means to obtain pleasure and manifest sincere love, but they are by nature closed to the creation of new life, and that makes them less than human, no matter how harsh this sounds. It came as no surprise that Rowan Williams, before becoming the most prominent figure in the Anglican Communion, wrote that a Church which had embraced contraception — as his Church had — could not reject homosexuality nor homosexual relations. In my view, the best reason — not the only one — why fornication is wrong is that it is optimal for a child to be born into a full-fledged family. Any orphan knows that. But if sex can be artificially closed to life, I would like someone to explain to me why criticizing fornication (or homosexuality) is something other than a prudish and empty kind of criticism.
Why is it wrong? I’m not hurting anyone
For someone like me, not raised in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, it is still relatively shocking to hear the Benthamite mantra “I am not hurting anyone” as a justification for any kind of consensual sex or for any of those acts or conducts which are always falsely believed to start and end in the agent who performs such behavior, allegedly without consequences for the rest of the world. Individual actions always have consequences for the community. The community is now simply the entire world. Furthermore, pleasure and pain, as synonyms for good and bad are just not acceptable, because the history of mankind is the history of those men and women who have sacrificed their well-being and undergone privation and pain for the well-being of others — as well as the history of those who have not, and whose names are remembered with disgust, if at all.
The fact that a gay couple may truly love each other does not force me to approve of gay sex in the name of love. Actually, the increasing acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual acts has greatly devalued friendship as a man-to-man form of love. So much so that, nowadays, the only way to explain why Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson live together in a new soap opera, without being college roommates, is by hinting at the possibility that they are actually a gay couple, or by making jokes about that possibility. Yet when Robert De Niro says “I love you, Nick” to Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter, as as Walken’s character puts a gun to his own head, we know we are watching a great story about friendship, not Brokeback Mountain.
There is to my mind no love more passionate than the love of a mother for her child, and the best way in cinema to show an audience how twisted and mean a woman on screen is, is by implying that she is sexually attracted to her son, as with Meryl Streep’s character in The Manchurian Candidate. Would it be all right for a mother to have sex with her child if they use protection, so as to avoid a genetically harmed baby? Sexual attraction is not bad in itself, but it does not justify anything.
Discrimination is about discrimination, not about sex
Accepting homosexual acts as a way to stop discrimination and violence against homosexuals is not acceptable, either. It would be like doing away with the principle of separation between Church and State, in order to stop Islamophobic attacks. Manifesting your opposition to homosexual acts does not make you remotely responsible for homophobic violence, in the same way that opposing Marxists or Marxism does not make you a Nazi. The fact that I resist fornication does not mean that I hate heterosexual couples and the fact that I resist masturbation does not mean that I hate myself.
Homosexuality is about identity, some people say, and identity is today’s magic word, like class, party, king and country were magic words in the past, too. Law and society as a whole should revolve around our innate or chosen identity, they say. By the way, it seems that the gay rights movement has not yet decided on a libertarian strategy (i.e. gays ‘choose’ to be what they are), or on a “natural law” strategy (i.e. gays are always ‘born that way’).
Well, I do not buy the identity story, either. There are plenty of key elements in our identity which we do not choose. We do not choose to exist, although some intone the sophism that if we have the right-to-live we also have the right-not-to-live. We do not choose our parents, nor our ethnic group, not even our linguistic group, nor the place where we are born, which will determine much of our life. Our identity has many legal repercussions, and the law is aware of that. We do not choose our name but the law regulates the use of that name, as well as the very scarce possibilities to change it, which usually hinge around the name by which those around us know us, not around the name by which we would like others to know us.
Our identity, our full identity, including our gender, has an impact on society and the law responds to that impact. Law does not regulate our name to give us the pleasure of “being who we really are.” We can have that pleasure without the law. There are laws on names because it is tremendously useful for the community to be able to identify its members with a word, or with a couple of words and the corresponding legal obligations ensue. To pretend that law and society should adapt themselves to a hedonistic view of identity and not the other way around is to ignore what law and society are.
A family is a family and a koala is a koala
Families existed millions of years before states and state law were born. States did not suddenly decide to legislate on marriage because they somehow realized how good it was for two people to mate. Consensual mating is devoid of any significance, in the eyes of the law. Legislation on marriage arouse out of the relevance of marriage for society, not for the individual, and a large part of that relevance is the fact that marriages naturally led to families and families — not couples — are the basic social and economic unit. If procreation was not involved in marriage, the law would have never paid any attention to marriage, as it has never paid any attention to friendship. If two friends establish a business partnership, the law may decide to regulate partnerships, never friendship. If marriage, as an institution, did not lead to children, family law would not exist, only contract law. Regulating gay couples is just one more step in the recent tendency of legislative bodies to make laws that are simply pointless gestures, fodder for potential voters, but which do not serve any social need, whatsoever.
The fight for gay marriage is, nevertheless, not just about identity. Gay marriage is not about two men or two women who have made a life love commitment and want law and society to acknowledge their ‘identity’ as a loving couple. Gay marriage is not about satisfying a need to be together because, when gay marriage became the spearhead of the gay rights movement, most gay couples already lived their lives unmolested — at least in the West — and millions of young heterosexual couples had simply refused to believe that marriage was something needed, let alone desirable, in order to have legitimate sexual pleasure or in order to be able to move in with your boyfriend without making a scandal or just in order to be happy. In fact, many people had already realized that it was much harder to terminate a tenancy agreement than a marriage covenant. Is that really the kind of relationship that the gay community was willing to fight for?
The “free love movement” allegedly started as a battle to remove silly conventionalisms which prevented people from truly loving each other. It has ended by simply declaring that consent between those who engage in sexual intercourse is the only needed or tolerable ethical rule. That is why, if you have sex with an eighteen year old, you may be called a hero. If you have sex with a seventeen year old, you may be called a monster. Love is absolutely absent from the equation. Free love has become free sex and selfishness is not a vice nor a virtue, anymore. It is a cult.
The gay marriage struggle is actually about giving visibility to the gay movement and taking advantage of the little prestige that marriage still has, maybe because of insipid romantic comedies which end with a corny wedding cake and make millions in the box office. Gay marriage is about the idea that the only way to stop homophobic aggression and discrimination is by making everybody accept — at least, in public — that homosexuality and homosexual acts are perfectly OK, as if the decriminalization of adultery would have taken place any sooner, had lawmakers been forced to declare that adultery or polygamy were basic human rights. Nevertheless, the truth is that the decriminalization of adultery (where it was a criminal offense) had nothing to do with preventing discrimination or violence against adulterous men, or against farmers in Utah.
The age of feelings
Some of the abovementioned opinions (yes, they are only opinions) may be hard to swallow but this is because we live in “the age of feelings” as Robert P. George brilliantly puts it. Something is true if I feel it is true and, it is only true with respect to myself. As Machado, the great poet of Castile, wrote: “Your truth? No, the truth. And come with me to search for it. You can keep yours.”
Sex as a human right has been given a proper, decent sounding name: reproductive rights; but it must be taken into account that the contemporary notion of individual rights is just that of a sphere of power, whose only limit is the power of others. Rights are no longer the legally protected capacity to pursue a goal which is deemed to be good and socially relevant, in accordance with a given set of values. Sadly, sex is just one such sphere of power, nowadays.
Pleasure may now be the only objective of our lives and sex seems to be one of the most attractive kinds of pleasure. Nevertheless, let us be honest. Lust is like addiction to heroin. The first shot is just amazing but, although the pleasurable vertigo of that primordial burst, which only lasts for a few seconds, does not cease to decrease, the memories of that original “trip” stay stuck in the back of our minds, while our body consumes itself and our capacity to love withers, choked by desire first and by boredom, later. We know that something is wrong but we actually get annoyed at those good friends who eventually tell us that it is just not worth it, man, just not worth it.
Featured image: “Carousel reflection” by Börkur Sigurbjörnsson (CC-BY-2.0)