Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The "sissy boy syndrome" has indeed become another "old chestnut"

I’ve often written (perhaps pontificated) that I was physically “weaker” than other boys as I grew up, and that this experience did influence my ultimate sexual orientation and interest.

In past decades there was a lot of discussion of the so-called “sissy boy syndrome”, with controversial dissertations or books by George Alan Rekers (1972) and later Richard Green (1987), who authored “The ‘Sissy Boy Syndrome’ and the Development of Homosexuality”.  Some of this attitude was present in the horrible 1968 book “Growing Up Straight” by Peter Wyden - an opus that panders to all the obvious stereotypes, about "being sexually normal" and about being physically undeveloped..  (There was also a book called “Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers” by Ellen Ruth Duvall, in the family den bookcase during my high school years but removed by my parents after the William and Mary debacle in 1961.)

I have, particularly in recent years when I was looking after my mother in her last months, often believed that had I been more physically “competitive” when growing up, I would have come to value the idea of having my own lineage and would have tried to marry and have children.  (That could have gone very wrong, as I explained toward the end of my posting on my “BillBoushka” blog Dec. 4, 2012.) 

The concept of “sissy” was tied to a value system of earlier decades that imposed the needs of the group on the individual.  In the days that there was a male-only draft, physical “cowardice” was considered a character defect.  (Check the work on Wikipedia.)  Too much self-interest or self-preservation in the face of the social expectations (and sometimes dire needs) of the group was a bad thing.  Younger adults and teens raised in upper income homes today probably are not aware of how this value system used to work and was tied to biological gender, but I had to “live it”.

But is it true that homosexual men are in general “weaker” than heterosexual men?  My experience, since my “second coming” in the early 1970s, says, definitely, “No!”  Actually, this may have been true somewhat in the 1950s, but after Stonewall that was definitely no longer the case. 

“Gay male culture”, both in porn magazines popular decades ago, and in publications like “The Advocate”, stressed physical fitness as part of attractiveness.  (They used to prefer the white race, too, but that started to change about fifteen years ago.)  That may have been a particularly good thing to help the community see itself through the HIV crisis starting in the 80s. Socially, though, it might have contributed to an edgy value system that we sometimes call “body fascism”.  But really women have to live with the same thing in the straight world.

By 1978, I had played one game on a gay softball team in New York City (where, in Greenwich village, like on Leroy Street,  the outfields were not large enough). In Dallas, in 1984, I tried to play regularly in an Oak Lawn gay bar league (for JR’s) but did not “make the starting lineup” and play consistently.  The athletic ability seemed to be par with the “mainstream” world.  Timothy Kurek describes gay softball in Nashville in his book “The Cross in the Closet” (book reviews blog, Nov. 26, 2012).

Around 1990, I started going on hikes and even weekend trips sponsored by the DC area’s LGBT group “Adventuring” (link here http://www.adventuring.org/cgi-bin/main.asp ).  There is a similar group in the Twin Cities (MN) called “Outwoods”.  I even led some of the smaller trips (like a scramble on Dolly Sods in W Va, or a lazy ride up the Cass Mountain Railroad nearby.)  I found on a few of the more strenuous hikes (like one particular climb in West Virginia on a 4000 foot peak near Seneca Rocks) that I did not keep up well with others.  I was a little surprised, even when I was in my late 40s.  In September 1992, on a bike trip in Delaware, I fell behind (in heavy rain) and was lucky to hitch a ride back to the rendez-vous  at Millington MD in a pickup truck.  There is a cultural group in DC called “Chrysalis” which has sometimes been called “Adventuring for sissies”. 

After I returned from Minnesota in 2003, I didn’t become active again in Adventuring for a variety of reasons, but keeping up physically would be one of them.

I note well, also, that the gay disco floor is the one area of society where obesity (so much maligned by the “health nut” crowd in the medai as taking over  America) has been “left behind”.  I’ve noticed another oddity.  Gay discos seem to contain a higher than statistically expected number of very tall men (say, over 6 feet, 4 inches, in both Whites and Blacks but not Asian), sort of the outfielder or pitcher look.  Any possible accidental tie to genetics?   

Hollywood has certainly long gotten over the old stereotypes.  In the soap opera “Days of our Lives”, the two leading gay characters Will (Chandler Massey) and Sonny (Freddie Smith) are presented as strong and forceful, with Sonny as one of the most stable people in the show. 

There is no question, we will learn of more openly gay players in MLB and even the NFL sometimes.  
All of this feeds back into the never-ending use of a crutch – that sexual orientation is immutable.  The Mormon Church recently woke up the weakness of claiming it was a “choice” (see posting Dec. 6).  But depending on immutability or “Axiom of Choice”) arguments is dangerous and leaves intellectual holes on either side of this issue.   So now religious groups and cultural conservatives are more willing to face, at a certain intellectual level, the need for people to make differentiated “sacrifice”.  Indeed, the interpretation of the idea of “fundamental rights” in our country did not preclude this expectation in the past.  We all know that the Supreme Court moved away from this in the 17 years between “Hardwick” and “Lawrence”.  There’s also a 1981 opinion on the books that allows a male-only draft (again, specialized exposure to sacrifice and aversion of cowardice), but were this to be challenged now, maybe the Court would change its mind.  This is all a healthy discussion we need to have, in many other areas besides gay marriage. 

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