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This Article Made Me So Mad, I Had To Respond

Section 1. Hockey with the Faeries

One year, I marched in Denver's annual "Pride Parade" with my gay hockey team. Well, marched isn't the right word... most of us had rollerblades on. But the parade organizers put us next to the Radical Faeries. Oops, that was a mistake.

You see, hockey jerseys are expensive. Not to mention practice ice time, and subsidized trips to the Gay Games for the less-affluent members of our team. Luckily, one member of our team got Coors beer to sponsor us. Across the front of our uniforms was a big advertisement for "The Coors Climax Hockey Team".

Coors was an extremely anti-gay company in the 1970s. They gave lie detector tests to employees they suspected of being gay (or worse, suspected of being union members). You had to sign a "purity pledge" saying that you were heterosexual in order to work there. Even today, while the Coors company is extremely pro-gay (they were one of the first companies certified "100%" by the HRC, and had one of the first gay and lesbian employee organizations, LAGER, which I was proud to be a member of)... the Coors Foundation - that is the Coors family - is extremely Republican, starting up the anti-gay Heritage Foundation and giving lots of money to Colorado-based Focus on the Family.

So what do you do? Drink Coors to support their gay employees who need jobs? Or boycott Coors to punish the owners? It's an interesting debate, but one that completely went over the heads of the nearby Radical Faeries, who started coming up with offensive chants for our hockey team ("We play hockey and hate ourselves!"). To their credit, the bigger guys on our team just stood there and took the verbal abuse, even though they were each carrying hockey sticks (and 100 more pounds than the Faeries). I've never seen such an offensive in-your-face group as the Radical Faeries. With the constant screaming and name calling, the parade organizers soon moved them away to another part of the parade.

To me, this is characteristic of the Radical Faeries at their worst. They are for love, except when they are not. They are accepting, as long as you look different in the accepted "different ways". They are anti-establishment, and woe to you if you look like "The Man". Are you wearing short hair? Visible weapons or chains? Leather? Or god forbid... are you wearing fur? If you are a leatherman, you'd better learn to accessorize with a pink scarf in order to send a message: I'm hip, I'm cool, I'm an individual, I'm just like you.

So, how did the Radical Faeries start as an expression of gay spirituality, and end up as arbiters of counter-culture style?

Section 2. Hay vs. Evans

The Radical Faeries were started by Harry Hay, his partner, and two friends, during an infamous 1979 gathering in Arizona. After that first conference, they met yearly, always gathering in outdoor locations - one fundamental idea to the group was to support rural living and environmentally sustainable concepts. At the same time in the seventies, there was a "fairy circle" meeting together in San Francisco led by Arthur Evans. It is a little disingenous to say that the two groups "merged". Evans idea of gay men as the keepers of Wiccan wisdom beat out Hay's more complex idea of gay unity through nature. In a 1992 article in the magazine White Crane, Evans demonized Harry Hay and angrily demanded that it was "he and his 1975 Faery Circle group that should be seen as the founding of the Radical Faerie Movement and not the 1979 Call and the subsequent mind-blowing Gathering."

In a pamphlet titled "Afraid You're Not Butch Enough", Evans invented the term "Castro clone", attacking the newly-emerging leathermen as spreading bourgeois values and conformity. His 1978 book "Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture" was a bizarre mix of pseudo-science and bad historical research, inventing facts such as that the word "faggot" came about because gay men were burned as witches. or, the debunked idea of medieval covens of witches led by gay men that survived the Spanish Inquisition. Evans isn't above lying, if that's what takes to get a point across.

"Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture" was published by a small gay magazine called White Crane. In the past 20 years, Evans has written many essays for White Crane, including a philosophical book called "Critique Of Patriarchal Reason". But please, don't blame the White Crane newsletter. I have a subscription, and along with RFD ("Radical Faerie Digest"), they are an amazing resource for all sort of of views on gay identity, not just Evan's twisted views. The Winter 2007 issue #75 of White Crane was all about bear culture. Meanwhile, the latest issue is a celebration of the last twenty years of the magazine, excerpting the best writing over the 80 quarterly issues. Unfortunately, they included an article from Issue #11 "The Cult of Masculinity by Arthur Evans".

And this is the article that pissed me off so much that I had to write this blog entry:

Section 3. The Cult of Masculinity

"Macho, macho man, I Wanna Be a Macho Man"

"What deep belief do your parents, your sexual partners, and your high school gym teacher all have in common? No doubt the very same belief endlessly pushed by pop singers like the Village People, countercultural heroes like Abbie Hoffman, and actor-presidents like Ronald Reagan: men should always look and act as 'masculine' as possible."

"Through every conceivable means of social influence, we have all been constantly reminded through our entire lives that only a man who is masculine embodies the ideal of what a real man ought to be. And even more: that only a man who is masculine is sexy. In view of this relentless conditioning, we shouldn't be at all surprised to find that nearly every man in our society, from the homeless man beating his wife in the street to the President planning wars in the White House, proudly insists on his own masculinity. Indeed, a great many men in the society would sooner admit to being rapists or murderers than to being deficient in masculinity."

"What is this charmed quality called 'masculinity' which so many men so highly covet? Is it, like a person's taste in clothes, a learned form of behavior? Or is it more deeply embedded in physical nature, like one's natural hair color? Is it purely personal and subjective? Of does it objectively reflect broad historical and political patterns? Most important, how does it relate to us as gay men in our sexual and spiritual lives? The following article will touch briefly on each of these questions.

"Pants and Dresses vs. Penises and Vaginas"

"The word 'masculinity', like the word 'up' is a correlative term; that is, it makes sense only in the context of a term of opposite meaning to which it is co-related. Just as the words 'up' and 'down' are opposites which must be understood in terms of each other, so 'masculinity' can only be understood in terms on its opposite, 'femininity'. So we may define masculinity as that which properly characterizes men as opposed to women, and femininity as that which characterizes women as opposed to men. Which is just another way of saying the obvious: masculinity hangs on the sexual difference between men and women."

"But what is not so obvious is the fact that sexual difference is itself a very slippery concept, since it can refer to either of two very different things: 1) that which pertains to one sex because of conventional expectations of behavior, such as wearing pants or a dress (sex as sex-role); or 2) that which pertains to one sex by virtue of physical plumbing, such as having a penis or a vagina (sex as gender). As it turns out, masculinity has its roots in both sex role and gender, so we must look briefly at both sex-role masculinity and gender masculinity."

(Sections on "Sex-Role Masculinity" and "The Patriarchal Connection" snipped)

"Butch, Butcher, Butchery"

"But what does the 6,000-year history of patriarchal violence have to do with our discussion above about sex-role masculinity? Everything, because patriarchal history has profoundly conditioned what is now regarded around the planet as appropriate, and even sexy, behavior for the human male. As a result of the Patriarchal Revolution, sex-role masculinity has typically come to reflect violent and authoritarian themes, such as a fascination with domination, hierarchy, and bondage, the eroticizing of pain and punishment, and enthusiasm for wearing uniforms or uniform-like clothing, a fascination with guns, clubs, whips, or instruments of torture, and contempt for any signs among men of any traits usually associated with women."

"As with a 'primitive' tribe of hunters in the Eurasian steppes, so with the 'developed' United States: Its standards of sex-role masculinity serve to eroticize the very kind of male behavior most needed to sustain the dominant social and economic order (in the steppes, the rule of the hunting clans; in the United States, the regime of militarized industrialism). Men who get a thrill out of putting on uniforms and violating or killing other men on command, this is the highest ideal of 'the real man' that now prevails in the United States and all other countries under the sway of militaristic civilization, regardless of whether they are capitalist, communist, or fascist. Every one of us who grows up in an 'advanced' industrial society has been repeatedly exposed since birth to social conditioning that reinforces such an ideal of masculinity, although not every man has internalized it to the same degree."

"This internalization of the ideal of patriarchal masculinity, successively reinforced from one generation to the next, is responsible for a number of the mail 'archetypes' (as some call them) that can be found in both individual male psyches and collective myth. Far from being mysterious ghostly presences existing in their own right, these 'archetypes' are merely the psychological effects of an internalized patriarchal masculinity."

"Gender Masculinity"

"Just as one kind of masculinity, sex-role masculinity, corresponds to sexuality as a cultural and historical construct, so he have seen that a second kind, gender masculinity, corresponds to sexuality in its purely physical aspects. More specifically, gender masculinity simply means the possession off certain primary and secondary sexual characteristics (primary: penis and testicles; secondary: facial hair, heavier bone structure, larger muscle mass, etc.)"

"Since every man posses primary and secondary sex characteristics, the measure of one's gender masculinity is a quantitative matter, not qualitative, as in sex-role masculinity. So, for example, a man having a longer penis, larger testicles, a more hairy face, heavier bones, and more massive muscles than another is regarded as having greater gender masculinity. But if the second man, although physically less well endowed, is more domineering, and sadistic in his behavior, then he will be regarded (at least in militaristic societies) as having greater sex-role masculinity. So in effect man's overall masculinity rating will always be a blend of his qualitative gender masculinity and his qualitative sex-role masculinity. Naturally, then, the highest ideal will be found in the combined 'best' of both kinds of masculinity, which in patriarchal, militaristic societies is exemplified by a big-boned, long-penised, muscular sadist in uniform-like clothing."

(Sections on "Testosterone Poisoning" and "The Cult of beautiful Violence" snipped)

"How do these circumstances regarding masculinity affect those of us who are gay? However different we may otherwise be, we have all been born and raised within a militaristic, patriarchal civilization which relentlessly reinforced the values of masculinity as defined above."

"How have the established masculinist values of the dominant culture, and especially the cult of beautiful violence, affected our cultural and spiritual lives? Is there perhaps a conflict between the male part and the liberation part of the very concept of gay male liberation?"

(end)


Section 4. My response

Where to start? I want to invoke "Godwin's Law" from the very beginning, when Evans combines Abby Hoffman, high school gym teachers, wife-beaters, and rapists as examples of masculinity. I hate his faux intellectualism, using terms like "correlative term" and "quantitative matter" to give this article a scientific sheen. And I hate the whole post-modern drivel about patriarchy and archetypes.

But what I think I hate most is the assumed division that "feminine" is the opposite of "masculine". I would heartily disagree. To me, the there is no opposite of the word "masculine", the way that there is no opposite for many terms like "trousers" or "kitchen sink". It is defeating to try and define masculinity by what it is *not*... setting up a false dichotomy that everything feminine is what masculinity lacks. So, if I say masculinity is about "power" in this response, please don't think that I'm implying women are somehow weak in comparison.

I have to thank this article for forcing me to think about masculinity, and why I love it so much. I am highly attracted to "hypermasculinity": a set of sexual characteristics that turn me on. Filthy overalls, men who work outdoors with their hands. Big stompy boots, sometimes polished lovingly to a high shine for inspection, or sometimes covered in mud after a hard day's work. Sudden violence and physical pain: two guys fighting out of boredom or fun. Fear and action. Uniforms, and protective clothing, whether for athletic sport or work. Muscles and power. Sweat and stink. Pain, competition, and rough humor. Clumsy affection and rough fucking.

What do all these things have in common?

I'm trying to figure this out. My current theory is that I love action over words. I like a guy who is dirty, because that means he values the job more than his own physical appearance. There will be time to shower up after the job is done. Again I repeat, this doesn't mean that women are somehow creatures of inaction... destined to fret and jabber while the menfolk work. That idea would completely disagree with woman as creator,who cares and nurtures and makes life itself possible. Rosie the riveter and midwifery and female athletes and the whole idea of politics as communication plus persuasion. Trust me... women in our culture get a lot of shit done.

But one of the core ideas of masculinity to me is "adventure". Leaving the security of what is known and safe in order to do something that has never been done before. Discover someplace new. Slay a dragon. While this sounds fun, it's often not. It's scary out there. Cold and lonely. Would you rather stay at home where the world is - where there is a community of love and people that care about you. Or would you rather go exploring? I think your answer says more about you than it does about the expected roles of men or women.

I am offended at Evan's idea that only masculinity expresses "the eroticizing of pain and punishment... or instruments of torture". That completely disagrees with many dominatrices that I know! {grin} When a female Top puts on fishnet stockings and picks up a whip over a groveling male, I don't think she is trying to emulate some masculine archetype. She is completely Herself. Many people who have had a female boss can agree with me that being cunning back-stabbing, and ruthless are not solely masculine traits. Scarlett was extremely feminine when she shook her fist and said she "would never be hungry aga-hun!"

So, where does that leave masculinity? What aspect does it have that uniquely defines it?

Evans hates uniforms. He maligns then several times in his essay. So, why do I love them so much? Because to me, a uniform is a symbol of giving up self-identity in order to serve a common purpose. That the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. And in order for the community to survive, a man will put aside his own personality - his "self" - in order to become a cog in a machine. A soldier shining his boots isn't doing it out of some personal narcissism. He is doing it in order to look more like the rest - and in doing so, brings up the standard of the group as a whole. And to me, that's masculine and beautiful.

In my opinion, the pinnacle of masculinity is voluntary suffering. Refusing to shy away from pain or discomfort. The cowboy trudging through manure in freezing weather in order to help the cow give birth. Giving up years of freedom in order to serve in the military. A consensual objectification every time you put on a uniform, when you stop talking and expressing a personal opinion in order to make things happen.

There is a danger here that men are destructive - that in my fetish for action I would worship the people who make the largest changes to the world: the dirty miner with a backpack of explosives, the wrestler crushing an opponent. But there's also something very sexy and masculine about creating as well, because that's another way of effecting change. As a child, I had a crush on Thor Heyerdahl (of "Kon-Tiki" fame"). I read Farley Mowat ("Never Cry Wolf") and watched "Grizzly Adams" on TV. All those men had beards... as if they were too busy having adventures to find time to shave. As if they needed the extra hair in order to survive in the wild, to protect their faces from the brutal wind. They looked like men that had reverted back to the wild to become animals again.

Life sucks. Life is hard. There are things out there that hurt you. I have a fetish for strength. Not out of brutality, nor out of a sense of fascism as Evan suggests. To me, masculinity is a pure expression of refusing to be carried along by chance and events. Refusing to die without affecting the world. Femininity is not the opposite. At its core it also has a strength to make something out of nothing. They are both aspects of the same drive - to be human. To be. Now THAT word has an opposite. To "not be". Masculinity is enemy of non-existence, it will always fight the void, and that is why I love it so much.
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