As one of its “services,” Facebook regurgitates people’s posts as memories of previous years from time to time. In my case, it’s usually the most banal of information. Last week, though, Facebook Memories brought back around an article I found of interest on male bonding, so I reposted it.
It included a large collection of pictures depicting male friendships during the 1800s. Similar photos have been included in books written about homosexual relationships from this period. But I think, in an effort to find queer history, today’s writers might be making a bit of a stretch by including these images.
It is crucial to understand that these photos cannot always be viewed through the prism of modern-day culture. Of course, there were male couples engaging in sexual intimacy. That cannot be argued. Yet, a far greater number of men, free from the strict, present-day mentality of gay-vs-straight, engaged in behaviors and relations that were loving towards one another without really fitting the modern-day idea of “gay.”
At the time, Freud and his gang of psychological professionals had yet to begin their successful campaign to portray all male intimacy as a perversion.
But once they did, religious leaders and politicians joined in the effort to annihilate any semblance of male bonding.
As a lingering result of this assault, American culture today is phobic in preventing any genuine expression of affection among men.
This past Labor Day I accepted an invitation to an all-male pool party. It’s been a few years since I’ve attended such an event, but nothing’s changed.
Gay men act the same as always. It was early in the day, so the alcohol had not yet worked its magic on releasing inhibitions, and the men seemed incapable of demonstrating any degree of social interaction. Regardless of age or social bearing, they remained in their small cliques, seemingly posed to involuntarily bolt when approached by a stranger.
Men who in other venues reign supreme in the art of superficial conversation seemed autistic in a room of their peers.
Why are we so unable to let our guard down around one another? It seems there is something so broken within us, something that is somehow perpetuated throughout every generation of gay men.
We seem to get around this when we come together for fellowship, be it social or religious. Some shared common interest acts as a buffer somehow.
I don’t see lesbians or straight people being so on guard with each other, and it sometimes seems like it actually takes them being in the room with us for us, as gay men, to let down our armor. That’s somehow pitiable.
Competiveness? Fear of rejection? Our male posturing? Perhaps some of all of these elements are at play. But this inability to engage in a group setting is deeper than any of those things.
At the turn of the last century, a very large bull’s eye was placed on the male homosexual. We became the target for America’s hatred. It was real. It was deadly.
Legislation was written to lock us up. Those in the medical field recommended we be locked up. And the churches wanted us locked out. Men showing any kind of affection to each other became socially forbidden.
This was a reflection of the strictness and lack of intimacy that this country embraced in the Victorian period. Women were also subjected to a strict code of conduct . Men were expected to not demonstrate any visible sign of emotion. It was so in tune with the Christian morals American churches professed.
That attitude prevails to this day. It seems every male born in this country learns to withhold all expression of emotion and continues to adhere to this madness. We are instructed on the proper methods for demonstrating our manliness.
And when we eventually grow into the gay men we become, we are stunted.
Being gay, you become focused on these requisites and your own failure meeting them. We have been bred to isolate ourselves from our own community.
Each of us develops the capacity to become intimate on some basic level with sexual partners and a varying cadre of other gay friends. And we’ve learned to navigate in the rest of the world as openly gay men. Yet, in a room surrounded by others like ourselves, we falter.
We falter for this very reason: We keep assessing our own selves throughout our lives. Confronted with our own tribe, we use them to assess our own worth. It’s always them measured against ourselves. Are they acting in the correct manner? Are their renditions of masculinity authentic enough? Am I better at this posturing than they are? Do they find my brand of gay man a turn-on?
Can they possibly improve any of this for me?
We never figured out how to turn off this constant self-editing. As for me, I have no advice other than getting to the point to just turn it off.
The catwalk stretches on for miles. We are capable of stopping along this treadway and just letting our guard down.
Engage in superficial chatter for a moment. It’s very much an adult behavior. We are all big boys by now. Those broken young children, unable to figure out how to fit in, are only ghostly entities of our past. We can never fix them. They will remain broken.
Other gay men are not enemies. Other gay men are not at our disposal to help us assess our inventory. I think we are all weary of this. Let’s try to change.
Gary Bellomy is a longtime Dallas activist working on issues of LGBT equality, HIV/AIDS services and family violence prevention. He is a war resister and a Trump resister.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 29, 2017.