ONCE UPON A TIME, men — at least — who acted outside of the norms of Christian culture and chose to engage in their sexual desires for other men were called Sodomites. For this reason, the present author has been accused of using the term uncritically without considering it, or “unpacking” it. On the contrary, these four articles are exactly an unpacking and consideration of the term. As will be noted, however, in the previous article after accepting the idea that the Bible was talking about what would be called “hospitality” in that culture, I wondered why anyone leaving the destroyed city would want to claim such a tag at all. Our tags, the names we take to ourselves, are important. They say more about who we think we are, and how we value ourselves than we care to admit.
If you were in a culture where your lover-on-the-side was accepted, you got married and had kids and had sex on the side in ways easy to arrange. In these cultures, same-sex action was often more socially acceptable than opposite-sex action because the latter could make a woman unfit for marriage or do other social damage. Alexander the Great may have had paramours, but it was his wife and her (lack of) children that people were terribly concerned with. If you were in a culture where your lover-on-the-side was not accepted you got married and had kids and had your sex on the side in ways difficult to arrange. In both cases, you did the cultural thing because they did not imagine that you “really are” gay rather than straight, but rather than you “really are” a member of a given local culture and this is how human sexuality is expressed within that culture. You fulfilled your cultural obligations to procreate and no one asked questions about your inner being or your self-identity. There was no term used to describe different classes of people engaged in this activity.
In point of fact, for describing same-sex action, at least in older English usage, there were two terms: Sodomites and Catamites. Both were engaged in same-sex sexual expression, but the Sodomites were the active parties. Catamites were the passive parties. This latter word is the Anglicized Latin for the Greek name “Ganymede” and it was intended as a flirtatious compliment, carrying all the implications of a youthful, attractive, athletic guy. Becoming someone’s “Boy” in ancient Athens could be a position of great honor, especially if one’s partner was of high social standing. With the revolution in thought that came via God’s revelation in Christ, the sense of flirtation and social motion this word held in Ancient Greece and Rome was removed. It became the reverse: a denigration. At one time in the first millennium being a catamite – even without one’s consent – made a man canonically unfit to serve at the altar as Christian clergy.
“Homosexuality” was originally only a psychological term, devoid of cultural content. The term became a noun, “homosexual” and the noun was attached to people. Popular usage wasn’t fond of the clinical term so other terms – both positive and negative – arose. These labels, together with any cultural baggage, must be recognized as social constructs of the modern and postmodern eras. These labels get applied to individual persons and are used to describe a situation or feeling. This is, itself, a new thing – for they were never used that way before. The labels Sodomite and Catamite are unimportant today exactly because no Sodomite was ever gay: neither in ancient Sodom nor in Victorian England. Not one of our ancestors would have understood the concepts conveyed by “I am gay” or “queer culture”. “Queer Culture” is entirely fabricated and most if not all of that fabrication is only a reaction to other things: it evolved mostly in the last 100 years give or take. So fluid is the understanding of “Gay” that the entire inter-cultural dictionary had completely changed three or four times since 1983. One can spend endless hours regaling “the young” with stories of how it was “back in the day”, by which one may mean the Nixon Administration, or before AIDS, or in the midst of the plague and Reagan years, or now with PrEP. The words change and the pop-cultural referents change. One can pick sitcoms and TV dramas of the 60s and note them as “Gay” or “Straight”. I Dream of Jeannie and The Partridge Family were straight, but Bewitched and The Brady Bunch were both gay, for example. These tags were terribly important in the culture at the time. They are meaningless now. We do not get to project our cultural ideas and modern inventions backwards. Alexander was not “really” gay, nor was any other character out of history: because there was no gay. There was no straight. We made these up: they are social constructs and nothing more. That these fluid names now describe classes of ontology is unusual and unhealthy.
Our choices are no longer based on cultural obligations. We do not sense the obligation to get married and have children just because “that’s what you do”. In fact, we deny the validity of cultural expectations, as such, against which one is measured. We insist there is no social dogma. (You’re not the boss of me!) If one doesn’t accept the social dogma that there is no social dogma one is accused of being narrow-minded. Our Modern Creed is: I feel thus, thus I will act – and none may say me nay. We make entire life choices based on how we feel. We go a step further and say that our feelings create who we are. I feel thus and so I am thus. We are so intent on this doctrine that, sometimes when feelings change, we deny the validity of the new ones. We start to medically reassign you, based on your feelings, as soon as possible. No going back, sorry. I recently saw a tweet where a parent was saying they had spend $15k on “gender reassignment” for their kid and when the boy no longer wanted to do it, the parent felt like she had wasted all that money.
When mid-20th Century Generations of youth and teens went “looking for themselves” their answers were all feelings and emotions. Those children have cut off their children from a culture of absolutes and hard facts. Only in this relativism could we construct an idea of individual feelings and of “my truth”. Love is a feeling. I feel love this way. You can’t tell me I don’t feel love this way. You can’t judge me because of my feelings. I will or will not act on those feelings based on my own choices; ie based on my other feelings. So embedded is this concept in our culture that we are surprised to learn that “Great Lovers” of history have no stories of “Falling in Love”, of feelings. Tristan and Isolt had to be drugged into “Falling in love”. Most normal people didn’t treat such feelings as a valid guide to action. Lancelot and Guinevere are the destroyers of Camelot, not the romantic hero and heroine. Romeo and Juliet followed there feelings and a whole lot of teens had to die as a result of the chaos. That’s not love: that’s selfishness and evil.
We can hear Joseph Campbell explain that “Love” and “Romance” is really a modern invention – and he has nothing but chronological arrogance disguised as pity aimed at those cultures and people who didn’t “follow their bliss”. We know so much better, finally, now. How many people will die because of my personal feelings?
This is a personalized nominalism – nothing means anything of itself. Things have only the meaning I give them. My feelings decide my meaning. I validate myself: I am my own witness. My feelings, desires, and cravings are the only real me there is. From this grows the message of “gay culture” and the rest of our consumption-driven world. Naturally, your meanings will differ and so we must “accept” each other as equally true. Oddly no one says that for everyone. Not all feelings are equally valid, right? Each one of us, claiming all individual truths are valid, can think of at least one politician whose truths are not valid. That sense – and I assume you have it – that one politician, either right now or in history, was making invalid choices indicates a sense that the dance is not pure chaos: something is going on here that we can suss out if only we work hard enough at it.
So there are three options here:
- There is no order at all – you’re making all this up in your mind.
- There is order, and when you find more about it, you’ll discover it has no meaning or drive at all. It is self-organizing at best.
- There is order, it has meaning and a driver, a volitional cause behind it.
Option 1 doesn’t work. Personalized nominalism is a fun place to start but we all need other people to back us up. You must support me in my choices. So we go looking. Option 2 takes over. Think how many coming out stories involve leaving: leaving the family that was stifling me, leaving the church that was stifling me, leaving the small town that was stifling me in order to find “The Real Me”. Adults who discovered their “real” feelings late in life had to leave all the above and also leave the marriage that was stifling them and, often, the kids that were stifling them. These stories paint “coming out” as a healthy part of “individuation”, breaking out of the universal into the individual, of liberation from the family and social norms into “just me”. The unacknowledged lie, however, is the claim that the ontological “just me” exists at all. There is no such thing as an individual. We are who we are because of who’s around us. To be you and to be in communion with other beings is the same thing – even if we deny it. If you leave communion with your family, your church, the Boy Scouts, whatever, you still have to be in communion with someone to be a person at all.
Option 2 fails eventually. No community can be pure enough. I won’t want to be binary, I want to be trinary. I want to be a different set of pronouns. I want to make stuff up. But I demand you let me do so.
You can switch back and forth between options 1 and 2. The implication of both option 1 and option 2 is that nothing matters. There is no reason to value your life or mine, there is no reason to value anyone’s life at all. It doesn’t matter if Trump or Obama is the president. It matters not if Bill Clinton and Trump have spent their lives molesting women or just lying to voters. It doesn’t matter if Fidel Castro imprisoned his political enemies or if Abraham Lincoln did. There is no reason to imagine it’s “good” to protect the ocean, or bad to vote fascist. There is no reason to imagine that any human action is better (or worse) than any other human action. If option 1 or 2 is the way the universe works, tell me why anything matters. I did not want to live in that world. The sense of “this is not fair” was too real. If I wanted to ask for “just wages” or “equality” or “better environmental choices” then I was appealing to something external, something that should – in theory – be the same for anyone who thought about it for a while. Else the only thing that the 20th Century dictators did wrong is run afoul of American Cultural Imperialism. Why is my human reason any better or more valid than Stalin’s? Any logical appeal against the dictators of the 20th Century or against the politicians of the 21st is an appeal to option three.
If Option 3 is the way things are… then maybe my identity is NOT up to me. Maybe these tags need to be sidelined so that the social constructs which no longer apply to me can fall away.