I have said that the proponents of the idea that a man can feasibly marry another man call their desire a trivial variation from a statistical norm, like being left-handed. I have shown that on the face of it that cannot be so, because the left-hander uses his hand as a hand, just as the right-hander uses his. But now suppose that the proponent concedes the point. “All right, I grant that it is not the same at all. But so what? We are just like everybody else in all important respects.”
The first answer to that is that the proponent is begging the question. On the one hand he wants us to treat this particular desire as so important, so determinative of who he is, that to refrain from giving it our blessing, from playing along with it, from recognizing it in law, is to affront his very humanity. Yet almost in the same breath he tells us that it is trivial, like having a taste for blondes rather than brunettes. But these are the claims precisely under contention. We deny that the desire determines the man himself, and we deny that it is trivial in itself or in its implications for marriage.
The second answer is that it is not to the point, whether the man is kind to his dog, works diligently at his job, and pays his taxes. An embezzler may be fond of small children. A drug dealer may work twelve hours a day. A pornographer may pay his taxes. The head of the Gambino crime family may be a regular raconteur at a dinner party. Elizabeth Taylor did her best, in her person, to ruin the integrity of marriage, but she has beautiful violet eyes and is by all accounts a loyal and tender friend. Hitler was quite partial to dogs. None of that is to the point.
But the third answer is that it is not true, even so. Madness is not so easily cordoned, and to be out of right relation to your own body is at least a profound psychological disorder. It must inevitably show up in other ways.
Let me illustrate with a couple of stories I have heard from other people. A boy growing up fifty years ago knows nothing of men who like men. Two men living across the street hire him to mow their lawn. After he finishes, they tell him he's free to take a dip in their swimming pool. So he does, and right away he sees the two men come in to join him. They are stark naked. He runs out of there as fast as he can.
Another story. A boy is hired to help two men move into their apartment. When he's done, they invite him in for a drink, and, seeing that he's vulnerable to their suggestions, they take down his trousers and proceed, one after the other, to bring him to climax. They laugh and tell him he's welcome to come back any time, for more “fun.”
Here is my question. Sometimes the things that are most obvious are hardest to notice. We may be appalled by such stories. Why are we not surprised?
And we are not in fact surprised. I pull into a secluded state park in Pennsylvania, because my daughter wants to check out the unique glacial phenomenon it features. I see a man in a parked car. I had hoped the lot would be empty, but there he is. After a few minutes he tears out of there, in frustration. Who is surprised? The family of one of my college roommates owned a beach house on Fire Island. Several of us spent a chilly spring break there, when the place was nearly empty. He showed us a park in the middle of the island, with a “sunken” garden, below sea level, lush with bushes and overhanging trees. “This is the meat market,” he said, and explained that in the summer, gay men would hang out down there, naked, waiting for whoever or whatever showed up. It was a sad and pathetic thing to hear about, but again it was no surprise.
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Change the situation. Suppose it is a married man and woman who hire the boy to mow the lawn, and who then show up in the pool stark naked. Of course you would call the police immediately. But you would also knit your brow with complete amazement. What married couple would do such a thing? Who ever heard of it?
What ordinary men and women show up in a parking lot, for nameless and forgettable sex? I grant that there are deranged and criminal people everywhere, but why is it that no one is surprised to hear that certain rest stops or parks or beaches are, as the gay men on Fire Island themselves named it, meat markets?
The point is simple enough. Sanity integrates, madness disintegrates. If for some jocular reason, left-handers should ever decide to parade down the street, we would not know them for left-handers at all, because they would be indistinguishable from right-handers, except that they might be driving a British-made car on the right side of the road, or wearing baseball gloves on the right hand, or swinging left-handed golf clubs. They would be as sane as everyone else.
Imagine now a parade in honor of couples who have been married for thirty years. Here they come with their grown children, and some grandchildren too. They smile and wave to their neighbors. The wives are wearing decent dresses, the men are mostly in coats and ties. Old soldiers wear their uniforms, as do members of the Knights of Columbus, and the Shriners. Every once in a while the parade stops as the band plays, “O Promise Me,” and “Juanita,” and “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes,” and other old love songs. The grand marshal and mistress of the parade are old Mr. and Mrs. Santoro, who used to run a small grocery and candy store; they are riding high in an open carriage, ninety years young.
Nobody is naked. Nobody is near naked. Nobody is simulating sexual intercourse. Nobody is wearing leather underpants. Nobody is plying a whip. Nobody is engaging in the act in public. Nobody is flaunting porn. Nobody is singing obscenities. Nobody is promoting threesomes and foursomes. Nobody is preoccupied, in a pathetically puerile way, with the size and stamina of a body part. Nobody has made a poster mocking Jesus or the Pope or Mary or anyone. Nobody is doing anything that would embarrass a decent person. Nobody is doing anything that would make their fathers hang their heads in shame if they had to look at it. They are not insane.
This is no coincidence. The ordinary men and women have more or less integrated their sexual powers into the reality of human existence. They don't have to advert to what they do between the sheets, because that is not an end in itself. They don't have to assign arbitrary meanings to their favorite ways to derive bodily pleasure, because the meanings are already inherent in the acts: there are children and grandchildren to prove it. They don't have to insist upon the duration of their affection, because marriage by its very nature assumes permanence of duties: what a man and woman do with one another is oriented towards the time-transcending creature known as a human being, who will always have the same mother, always have the same father. Indeed, if one of the couples in the parade should call attention to their sexual habits, we would find it something of a profanation of the holy, a pollution of clear water, a small-minded reduction of the grand to the trivial. It would be as if someone had spray painted graffiti on a church or a town hall.
By contrast, the gay men must advert to what they do between the sheets, or in the bathhouses, or wherever, with whomever, in whatever permutations and combinations of human confusion, sin, and longing. That is because what they do has no inherent meaning, or its inherent meaning is not one we would enjoy considering in any sober fashion. What is it, in fact, to sow the seed of new life not in the haven of new life, but in the place of evacuation and disease and decay – in a sewer? That then explains the flagrant displays, the desperate (and childish, and sad) need to affirm the bizarre, the nudity, the raucousness, the distracting battery of one obscenity after another.
It is not sane.
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