Progressive. Queer. Feminist. Opinionated.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

From Fop to Fag

I'm taking a course on English Masculinity in the 17th -18th centuries. We're reading some early texts that rail against mollies (gay men). For today, I was reading some selected pieces in Secret Sexualities: A Sourcebook of 17th and 18th Century Writing, edited by Ian McCormick, and I was struck by how little has changed in the rhetoric of homophobes.

What have we learned about homosexuality in the last few centuries? Well, doctors don't consider it a mental disorder anymore. Gays and lesbians argue that we are functional members of society. We argue that we are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and everything in between. We can be fine parents. We don't have to hate ourselves. We're not abnormal. Queer is proclaimed proudly, not with shame.

And those who are against homosexuality?

This is from “Reasons for the Growth of Sodomy, in England” (from 1749):

"Our fore-fathers were trained up to arts and arms; the scholar embellished the hero; and the fine gentleman of former days, was equally fit for the council as the camp; the boy (though perhaps a Baronet's son) was taken early from the nursery and sent to the grammar-school, with his breakfast in his hand, and his satchel at his back; subject to order and correction, he went regularly through his studies; and, if tardy, spurred up; the school hours over, and his exercise made, he had his moments of play allotted him for relaxation; then sought he the resort of other boys, either in the fields, or public squares of the city; where he hardened himself against the inclemency of the weather, and inured himself to athletic exercises; wholesome as well as pleasant: this has sent him home with his blood in fine circulation, and his stomach as sharp as the ploughman's; supper over, and jogged down with t'other frolic, he went to bed and slept sweetly..." (135)

and then

"Now let us take a sketch of the modern modish way of bringing up young gentlemen...

...his whole animal fabric is enervated for want of due exercise; and he is grown so chilly by over nursing, that he gets cold with the least breath of wind; for, till he went to the girl's school, he seldom or never was out of the nursery, unless to pay a visit, in a coach, with his mamma; for, at the mistress's school, he was brought up in all respects like a girl (needlework excepted), for his mamma had charged him not to play with rude boys, for fear of spoiling his clothes; so that hitherto our young gentleman has amused himself with dolls, assisted at mock christenings, visits, and other girlish employments, inviting and being invited to drink tea with this or that school-fellow; insomuch, that his whole life hitherto has been on series of ignorance, indolence, and intemperance" (136-137)

You know what this sounds like to me? Remember our friend Dr. James Dobson? In his newsletter from June 2002, he included an excerpt from a manuscript A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality, by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D. Recognize this?

It is important to understand, however, that most of my homosexual clients were not explicitly feminine when they were children. More often, they displayed a "nonmasculinity" that set them painfully apart from other boys: unathletic, somewhat passive, unaggressive and uninterested in rough-and-tumble play. A number of them had traits that could be considered gifts: bright, precocious, social and relational and artistically talented. These characteristics had one common tendency: they set them apart from their male peers and contributed to a distortion in the development of their normal gender identity.


Meanwhile, the boy's father has to do his part. He needs to mirror and affirm his son's maleness. He can play rough-and-tumble games with his son, in ways that are decidedly different from the games he would play with a little girl. He can help his son learn to throw and catch a ball. He can teach him to pound a square wooden peg into a square hole in a pegboard. He can even take his son with him into the shower, where the boy cannot help but notice that Dad has a penis, just like his, only bigger.

Based on my work with adult homosexuals, I try to avoid the necessity of a long and sometimes painful therapy by encouraging parents, particularly fathers, to affirm their sons' maleness. Parental education, in this area and all others, can prevent a lifetime of unhappiness and a sense of alienation. When boys begin to relate to their fathers, and begin to understand what is exciting, fun and energizing about their fathers, they will learn to accept their own masculinity. They will find a sense of freedom—of power—by being different from their mothers, outgrowing them as they move into a man's world. If parents encourage their sons in these ways, they will help them develop masculine identities and be well on their way to growing up straight. In 15 years, I have spoken with hundreds of homosexual men. I have never met one who said he had a loving, respectful relationship with his father. [link]

See, if you bring them up to be soft, then they'll be gay, silly!

And this reminds me. So, you've probably read "studies" that show when Mom's too smothering, her little boy will be gay, right? Here's an excerpt from further down the page on that newsletter:

Mom needs to back off a bit. What I mean is, don't smother him. Let him do more things for himself. Don't try to be both Mom and Dad for him. If he has questions, tell him to ask Dad. She should defer to her husband anything that will give him a chance to demonstrate that he is interested in his son—that he isn't rejecting him.


For a variety of reasons, some mothers also have a tendency to prolong their sons' infancy. A mother's intimacy with her son is primal, complete, exclusive; theirs is a powerful bond which can deepen into what psychiatrist Robert Stoller calls a "blissful symbiosis." But the mother may be inclined to hold onto her son in what becomes an unhealthy mutual dependency, especially if she does not have a satisfying, intimate relationship with the boy's father. She can put too much energy into the boy, using him to fulfill her own needs in a way that is not good for him. In reparative therapy [a psychologist's name for treatment of homosexuals], effeminate boys yearn for what is called "the three A's." They are: their father's affection, attention and approval.

And here's a bit from Sir Narcissus Foplin" (1708):

"He is the spindle-shanked progeny of a half-witted father, who drowsily begot him, betwixt sleeping and waking, to pleasure his lady, much rather than himself, and dying, left the fruits of his nuptial drudgery to the mother’s care, who, by effeminate fondness, has made him all women, except for the masculine peg, which is hung on by nature, for the distinction of the sexes"

And back to Dobson:

I've even seen fathers who did not necessarily have other distracting interests but simply remained emotionally removed from the entire family. I saw one father—an immature and inadequate man who emphatically told his wife, before the son was born, that he did not want a boy—completely reject and ignore their son and dote on their daughter. Apparently threatened by the idea of having another "man in the house," this father made his displeasure so clear that, by the age of two, his son was (not surprisingly) wearing dresses and playing with a doll collection.

Now, I've used only Dobson in this post because I kept thinking about his newsletter while I was doing my reading. But there are plenty of others who write similar things to him. And the themes in these two pieces of early English literature were all over the rest of the literature. I thought these homophobic arguments were from our generation, but no, all over these texts I found references to doting mothers, the nefarious influence of other countries, the world declining, men not being “real” men anymore, etc.

We – the gays and lesbians and all others - have changed our arguments over the years to show why we deserve more rights. These guys haven't changed their arguments in over three hundred years!

Isn't there something wrong here?


Anonymous Johnicholas said...

I apologize for always criticizing in my comments, when essentially all the times I don't comment I have unreserved praise for the Dyke Squad blog.

I believe that your implicit argument is something like: "the hatemongers use the same rants over and over again, therefore they are repeating earlier rants mindlessly, rather than looking thoughtfully, at the real world."

Poets describe sunsets and the joys of being in love in similar terms throughout the history of poetry: does that imply that the poets are unobservantly repeating what earlier poets said? No: sunsets and the joys of being in love have been similar throughout history. (think Sappho writing 2.5 thousand years ago)

In order to cement your argument, you need evidence that the rhetoric of homophobes _ought_ to have changed.

10:04 PM

Blogger Harper said...

I think your goals in reading this blog differ from my goals in writing it.

7:23 PM


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