Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Summer 1998

A Freethinker’s Primer of Male Love, by John Lauritsen

reviewed by Terry Sanderson

The blurb on this booklet (96pp) describes it as a “defence of male love from a secular humanist perspective: “Male love is good, the opprobrium suffered by gay men is a product of Judeo-Christian superstition.” So far so good, few of the readers of this magazine would argue with that.

Mr Lauritsen asserts that our culture springs not from Judeo-Christian traditions – as religious propagandists would have us believe – but from Hellenistic and Roman ones which, in his opinion, are infinitely superior. Christianity, he says, systematically imposed itself on the Greek and Roman world and changed everything for the worse. He gives a succinct and well-informed history of the development of Christian hostility to homosexuality (or “male love” as he prefers to call it), and brings us up to the modern day with well-aimed attacks on psychiatry and the medical profession and on pioneers for gay liberation, such as Magnus Hirschfeld, who went along with the idea of homosexuality as a medical condition. This is all well-trodden ground, but the book is called “a primer”, so we’ll assume it is meant for people coming to it all afresh, or those who want a résumé of the story so far.

Mr Lauritsen makes the case for male love being beneficial – for society and the individual. “The Uranian ethos has been prominent in great civilizations at their zenith, and in most creative men.” He says that there is a tendency to belittle the “gay geniuses” argument, but he wants to see it promoted with vigour. He says that “the roster of great men who were distinguished by a propensity to love other males” would include “almost every ancient Greek of distinction, Julius and Augustus Caesar, Hadrian, Richard the Lionheart, Hafiz, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Correggio, Cellini, Servetus, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Bacon, Frederick the Great, Winkelmann, Goethe, Beethoven, Schubert” and so on. This leads him to conclude that “(a) gay men constitute a superior minority (in which Judeo-Christian culture has subjected the very best men to systematic persecution) or (b) the majority of men have the potential to love members of their own sex (in which case all men are oppressed by the taboo on male love).” He exhorts “all self-respecting men who love other males to rise above the religions that have caused so much suffering for them and their kind”.

In other essays in the booklet, Mr Lauritsen explores such topics as the ancient Greek approach to male love; the mistaken decision by the gay community to adopt the word “queer” as a self-description; and the superiority of male beauty over female beauty. He also launches an attack on Christian revisionists (particularly John Boswell, author of Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality) who try to make out that the Bible’s hostility to homosexuality is a construct of fundamentalists. He says that Boswell has “whitewashed the church” and, in an attempt to let religion off the hook, has ignored important legislation which subsequently leads to persecution. He says that some gay historians thought that the Boswell book was “tactically correct” (“Don’t you see, we can’t win people over by attacking Christianity?”), but Lauritsen says “This sort of argument is demoralizing for genuine scholars. No doubt we should be conscious of public relations. But good and lasting social change can only be achieved on the basis of truth.”

I’m with John Lauritsen this far. But in another essay, he makes the tendentious argument: “Not that all men are gay: Love is a game, which like any game, only a few can play well and some cannot play at all. Some men are too elderly, too undersexed, too unattractive or too much in the thrall of Levitical taboo to be gay. However, I firmly believe that all good-looking and virile young men are gay – in the sense that they would embrace male love under the right circumstances.” (His italics)

This, together with a pervasive misogyny, makes me uncomfortable with Mr Lauritsen’s view of the world. There is nothing “politically correct” about this. I firmly believe that women have a justified grievance over their treatment throughout history, and it is not unreasonable for them to demand an equal share of the world. Yet Mr Lauritsen’s only concern is that women’s demands for equality have resulted in the disappearance of male-only gathering places. At some points in the book, one begins to imagine that John Lauritsen would like a world where women didn’t exist – or where they were kept under wraps until needed for procreation. Such cultures exist, of course – Afghanistan under the Taliban might be an example.

The book is fine when examining the historical record, but there is an unpleasant hostility to women, and an almost fascistic approach to male love which I found disturbing.

A response to Terry Sanderson’s review

by John Lauritsen

It’s not easy explaining to the judge that you haven’t stopped beating your wife because you never beat her in the first place and perhaps never even had a wife. Nor is it easy to argue that you’re not really a fascist, after someone has tarred you with that brush. Nor is it easy to explain that you wrote a passage with tongue-in-cheek, after a reviewer has wrenched the passage out of context and changed a few words.

Terry Sanderson’s review (Gay and Lesbian Humanist, Summer 1998) of my new book, A Freethinker’s Primer of Male Love, is predominantly favorable. Thanks. But he ends his review with the following statement: “The book is fine when examining the historical record, but there is an unpleasant hostility to women, and an almost fascist approach to male love which I found disturbing.” I deny being a misogynist, and meant it when I wrote: “I do not reject the women’s movement as a whole, only certain intemperate and reactionary tendencies within it. The case has been made convincingly that women themselves are the main victims of the ‘gender feminists’ – Christina Hoff Sommers, Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women, New York 1994.”

For over two decades I have polemicized against the “censorious feminists” – those women, presented as feminists, who attempt to smuggle in censorship under the guise of protecting the lives of women. In 1976 I was the only writer in the gay press, and one of a handful in the entire US who dared write a critical review of Susan Brownmiller’s shoddy magnum opus, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. Also in 1976, I was the only gay writer to help expose the Snuff Hoax – a fabricated atrocity story that women were actually being murdered in pornographic films intended for the titillation of depraved men. Using the Snuff Hoax as justification, Chicago and other cities enacted new censorship laws.

So far as fascism goes, I can only say that Mosley and Mussolini were before my time. I see from a previous issue (Spring 1998, Postbag) that Terry Sanderson uses “fascism” rather freely, applying it to those who demand that he “acknowledge the heterosexual element of my [Sanderson’s] sexuality.”

Sanderson seems to have been particularly disturbed by one passage, which was a digression within a digression (or “excursus”, as I called it). I was attempting, with a smidgeon of irony, to turn the tables on straight men – to suggest they weren’t gay because they didn’t have what it takes. I certainly wasn’t saying literally that Sanderson or any other man didn’t have the right to be gay unless he fit an ideal mold. I wrote: “Some men are too elderly, too undersexed, too unattractive, or too much in thrall to the Levitical taboo to be gay.” Sanderson misquoted this as: “... too much in the thrall of Levitical taboo ...” Only a few words were changed, but the sense and cadence of the sentence were spoiled. (“Levitical taboo”, in the context of my book, means specifically that provision of the Holiness Code of Leviticus [ca. 500 BC] which decrees the death penalty for males who have sex with each other.)

I believe intensely in Free Speech. In my book I express my ideas freely – and, according to one friend, “sometimes perhaps too pungently”. I’d be surprised if anyone read the book without disagreeing or even getting mad at something. That’s fine. I welcome dialogue, including sharp and specific criticism of my opinions. What I don’t care for is misrepresenting them or dismissing them with vague charges of misogyny or fascism.

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