I really believe that we Queers are much more than social constructions. We are more than just a jumble of responses to societies hatred and oppression of us. I am now and have been for several decades quite convinced that there are very essential components to our GLBT selves. The goal of our own self-liberation, our wrestling and defeating our own internalized homophobia, is to actualize and truly appreciate these essential differences. We then of course bring these differences, gifts really, to the human banquet.
One of the richest differences, for exploration and recognition, between “us and them” is how we communicate with one another. A cheap piece of cultural shtick describing how we communicate with one another in nearly magical ways is the now tired meme: “Gaydar”. This is of course just a superficial nod to how we as queer people communicate in so many varied ways that heterosexual folk rarely do especially within male-to-male or female-to-female contexts. I certainly do think straight women communicate with one another better than straight men do with each other but I suspect that lesbians are often way ahead in their communicating on many different levels with each other than their heterosexual sisters.
That straight male communication with one another is a big mess is of course the understatement of at least the last several millennia. So much violence is the result of a dismal failure to communicate.
I am not sure how this works among lesbian friendship networks but it is not at all uncommon for gay men to cultivate and grow significant relationships that initially started as sexual, perhaps even lovers for a time, but have moved on to lasting friendships. A straight female nurse friend of mine is continually amazed at this phenomenon among gay men, something that would be a friendship long after the fucking has faded. Not always of course but often enough to be something real. Certainly casual sex among gay men can end badly and there is certainly then not a long enduring friendship that comes out of it. I would though challenge many gay men to look at their friendship networks and take account of how many have started with sex, even if it was short-lived, bad and clumsy.
This phenomenon, again among gay men of fuck first and really then only come over later to see my etchings, may have been at its zenith in the 1970’s but it still occurs more than you might think even today post AIDS nightmare. This gay male sexual dance, so taboo in our culture certainly in years gone by, was cultivated and refined into a rather intricate set of behaviors. It could take many forms ‘this come fuck me communication dance.’ The art of subtle and gradual penile tumescence in a public shower for example was and is a very nonverbal intimate form of communication. We of course could take it to rather crude levels like laying on one’s stomach, legs apart in a gay bathhouse with the door wide open on any given night. Another rather crude form apparently popular with the poor closeted gay man is toe tapping in public bathroom stalls.
Then of course there were those middle-of-the-road forms of communication meant to facilitate and expedite a mutually compatible sexual liaison such as multi-colored back pocket hankies and dangling key codes all with right and left connotations. Yes, it was possible to communicate that I would like to tie you up, suck, fuck and fist you or you tie me up, suck, fuck and fist me without saying a single word. Ah, the good old days, long gone now in many respects.
Though gay men have perfected the art of cruising with a bulge often aided by the handy cock-ring or, if being naked is a possibility, the previously mentioned art of subtle hard-on titration, what we are really best at is eye contact. Eye contact in a way that straight men are totally incapable of with each other and if they accidently come close to it a “homosexual panic” often ensues. It is our eye contact that is the often-initial form of communication between one subject to another in a wide range of venues. It is a form of egalitarian and often loving communication between two men simply non-existent in the male heterosexual world.
I wonder how much male-on-male violence could be mitigated with sincere connection first eye-to eye? After a quick glance straight men often do I suppose view other males initially as a threat rather than as potential sex partners? However there is no deep and knowing look involved before pulling the trigger. As gay boys learn often at an early age you have to be very careful towards whom you flash the “knowing look” or you can get your ass kicked or worse.
Not much progress in the form of real communication is being made with modern warfare drifting rapidly to the unmanned drone. This long distance killing, the current rage of the Obama administration, with no face-to-face contact at all, maybe makes it easier. If there is going to be any good come from gays serving openly in the military, and I remain highly skeptical, perhaps it would be our gift of relating male-to-male as true equals, subject-to-subject.
A couple recent examples from my own life though point up what I think is the urgency and ultimate necessity for real subject to subject communication between men in particular or sustainable human existence on the planet is doomed. It is this gift of real communication that we have to give to the rest of humanity that is the essential goal of our queer liberation. Perhaps there is some hope on the horizon
The first example being on one of my last trips to San Francisco I happened on a memoir titled My Queer War by James Lord, published in 2010 shortly after his death. It is the true story of his life as a “queer” soldier in World War Two. A jacket blurb by John Waters in part states: “Here’s proof that all wars could be a tiny bit less brutal with gay people serving in the military.”
I found the book moving and griping in many ways. Once the war was nearing its end Lord was assigned to an interrogation unit (an interesting form of human communication) in a Displaced Persons camp. They were interrogating all the inmates to ferret out possible war criminals hiding out pretending to be refugees. I found his inability to interrogate other men in the same brutal manner as his peers very telling and I thought much informed by his evolving gay identity.
The second connection I will attempt to make here, with the gift of gay communication as a means of humanizing the human condition and even perhaps warfare, is in regards to the case of Bradley Manning. Jim Lord’s inability to fit in as a “good soldier” and the trouble that was always getting him into reminds me on several levels of the current travesty that is the treatment being meted out to Bradley Manning.
This is the young gay man facing serious Court Marshal charges for supposedly leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Interestingly, a poorly thought-out defense of his behavior perhaps motivated by genuine empathy for him, has tried to explain why he would do such a dastardly thing as the result of “gender identity disorder”. This is also a defense Manning himself and his lawyers put out when under considerable duress and harassment. While he was serving in Iraq he became aware of U.S. actions that can easily be interpreted as war crimes and this eventually led to his leaking classified documents (nothing Manning released was designated top secret i.e. Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers).
To point out that the Emperor has no clothes comes at a heavy price. Here and I quote from a March 12th, 2012 article in the Guardian:
“The UN special rapporteur on torture has formally accused the US government of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment towards Bradley Manning, the US soldier who was held in solitary confinement for almost a year on suspicion of being the Wikileaks source.”
This treatment of Manning really has one purpose and one purpose only and that is to intimidate others into silence, or only the most sanctioned forms of communication. You queers are now welcome in the military but you sure better play by the rules.
I think Jim Lord would have done much the same as Manning if in the same situation. Both gay men showing the world how to truly communicate in a compassionate change creating manner and therefore revolutionary manner. This form of communication can though come at a very steep price. Our true calling as GLBT people, through the honest actualization of our queerness, is to create change and in order to do that we must, to paraphrase Gandhi a bit, become the change we want to see.