A quote found almost at random that speaks volumes:
“Purism could certainly be heard on the libertarian Left, some of the most regular rants coming from those who opposed any form of organizing as inevitably a type of domination. A minority of feminists, if often a noisy one and, exasperatingly, a voice the media provocatively delights in highlighting, developed a special sort of intransigent moralism in their attacks on men, and even boy children. It left anti-sexist men confounded and many feminists confused or, like me and my friends, in outraged dispute with their stance. It took some years for women to discuss and begin to theorise the dangers that stalked political affiliations based upon shared injuries: resentments could harden into a self-righteousness that threatened to undermine the broad-based solidarities needed to effect change. The occupation of such moral high ground usually served primarily to paralyse, shame or silence precisely those with any sway in progressive arenas, those already most attentive to particular claims of victimhood.”
From Making Trouble by the incomparable Lynne Segal. More on this another time soon.
Richard Cohen is an American "sexual reorientation coach" who believes homosexual people can be transformed into straight ones and cites himself as an example. Such therapies are, of course, extremely controversial and Cohen is more controversial than most who practice them. In New Statesman he writes:
"In my undergraduate years of college, I had a male partner for three years. But, with all my heart, I wanted to marry a woman and have a family...After coming out straight, I went back to graduate school and obtained a master’s degree in psychology. In 1990, I founded the International Healing Foundation and began my counseling practice, helping SSA [same sex attraction] men and women fulfill their heterosexual potential. For seventeen years, I assisted hundreds of men and women fulfill their dreams - many are now married with children. In my book Coming Out Straight, I detail the process of transformation - how people may change from gay to straight. I have also helped hundreds of family members whose loved ones experience SSA...I am pro-choice regarding homosexuality. If someone wants to live a gay life, that needs to be respected. If someone wants to change and come out straight, that too needs to be respected. Let us practice true tolerance, real diversity, and equality for all."
What is the best response to this? The comment thread below the article includes examples of the familiar pro-gay arguments: most gay men and women know they are gay from an early age; there's nothing wrong with being that way; gay people who dislike their homosexuality do so because of social pressures to conform to heterosexual convention. I readily accept and agree with all of these claims except when nature is invoked to reinforce the case. When nature gets dragged into these things, life always becomes trickier for me.
I too consider homosexuality entirely normal but don't believe that it is often - if ever - wholly or decisively fixed by "nature". I can see the attraction of insisting that it is - what better defence for a gay person against accusations of defectiveness or degeneracy than a riposte which says, I can't help being homosexual. Nature - and maybe God - made me this way! But this argument is weak against the likes of Richard Cohen.
It's not his "tolerance" disclaimer that provides his defence. It is because Cohen's whole approach is premised on the fact that many people's sexual orientations can change - and do. It follows from this that he accepts that they are therefore very often flexible. While not endorsing Cohen, I find his intellectual position on where sexuality comes from is consistent with my view that sexuality - like, while we're at it, sexual practices in general - is more usefully understood as the product of all sorts of factors - psychological, social and environmental as well as microbiological - which interract in ways that cannot be reduced to a hard-wired "natural" drive that makes straightness or gayness essentially involuntary.
There's so much evidence to the contrary. Look, for example, at what straight men have long got up to when denied access to women by military service or jail. A truly liberated human sexuality would dispense with the categories homosexual or heterosexual, and even bisexual, for describing and defining human beings. Instead, there would be homosexual acts and feelings and heterosexual ones, all or any of which may be experienced by any human being at any point in their lives - and done so entirely normally.
In the Mail (of all places), a campfire veteran defends the decision of today's older Girl Guides to put safe sex near the top of their new badge wish list on the grounds that it displays a modern world update of the movement's traditional down-to-earth practicality.
"Guides are a sensible lot and if we worried mothers can put aside our immediate sense of outrage for a moment, we would realise this is a sensible list....There will always be girls who feel more at home in the unaffected surroundings of the Guides, with its outdoor pursuits and fun activities, than in the increasingly sophisticated world of school, where cool rules...Those less than cool girls may prefer to get sex advice from Guides leaders, usually practical women and mothers, somewhere they don't feel that Charlene in the back row is sneering from behind her Goth make-up and boasting that her bloke-count is in double figures."
"Where is that touch of madness and smidgen of recklessness that, if you can't display in youth then more often than not, you forfeit for good once the mortgage has to be paid? Of course, safe sex is a good idea, as is speaking with confidence in public, but so much of what the older Guides seem to rate is about looking after 'me' in a dull and orthodox and predictable fashion and much too soon in their lives."
Young people today, eh? If they're not too wild, they're too dull. I'm so glad I'm not one.
It isn't only about "soccer". It isn't only about style. It's about British style of a once American variety.
"Becks in the noughties is exporting metrosexuality back to the US, and in fact to the very town, which, in the 1950s, came up with the prototype for it in the delectable, Cinemascoped form of Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and James Dean, and Elvis Presley...America is today somewhat conflicted, fearful and hypocritical about one of its greatest inventions: the mediated, male sex object. In the US, Speedos, Beckham's favourite beachwear, are all but banned because they are seen as "too gay". Which, apparently, is still the worst thing you can accuse a man of in the US - and the reason why the US, unlike the UK, experienced a backlash against metrosexuality."
I've always thought the insistence that more male teachers in classrooms would of itself raise boys' attainment was rubbish. Now Ed Balls knows it too. Has he the courage to respond to this report - published by his own department - accordingly? Or will he continue Labour's customary approach to this issue, which is to go along with the right wing "sex war" narrative about education being "feminised" and so on?
"Isn't it about time Men's Health, the world's biggest-selling 'men's lifestyle' magazine, came out to itself? I couldn't get to sleep the other night and so resorted to flicking through a recent UK issue: I find the pictures of semi-naked men's perfect, sweating muscles and the droning narcissistic hypochondria of the copy in this notorious metromag strangely soothing."
"Soothing," eh? Righto. Anyway, I certainly take Mark's point about MH not coming out. There again, anyone with a brain already outed MH years ago. Didn't they?
Here's the current TV ad for Strongbow. It's all about "refreshment", it says here.
Fair enough. But how did they choose the cast? David Stubbs in The Guardian ponders the keys issues.
"Four blokes in a pub? No. Looks like a hooligan gang. Two blokes? No, no, no! Not that there's anything wrong with it, but Strongbow's not that sort of pint. One bloke? No. A loser. Probably got a book. Gotta be three blokes...Three white blokes? No. A bit BNP nowadays. Two white blokes and a bear in a pork pie hat? Too retro. Three black blokes? Now steady on. Two black blokes and a white bloke? Not being funny or nothing, but what would the white bloke be doing there? So, it's settled then - two white blokes and a black bloke, going down the pub to get completely and utterly, well and truly 'refreshed'."