Wednesday, February 22, 2017

One Nine Seven: Community

I was going to write tonight about a question posed by a friend on mine in Ohio. She suggested that I write about what each partner learns in age-disparate relationships, about what each takes away from the relationship. That's a topic that interests both of us, since we've each been in a number of age-disparate affairs. 

That was my plan--- to write about the Young Companions I've been with and what we've learned from each other. Then I turned on the news a day or two ago and discovered the scandal that seems to have canceled Milo Yiannopoulos' career. In case you haven't been following the news, Milo is what the press likes to call a "provocateur"--- a nasty piece of alt-right work, a gay man who devotes himself to praising the Trump regime and attacking the usual list of groups and people on the alt-right's hate lists. He was always destined to have a short career. Sooner or later his right-wing audience was going to grow bored with him and turn on him. Being the alt-right's gay court jester is far too like being one of the Jewish musicians the death camp guards briefly spared so they could have dinner music. Anyway--- Milo's ship hit the rocks over the weekend. Someone found footage of him that suggested that he approved of  sex with underage boys or at least thought that age-disparate gay relations were potentially acceptable. The right wing, as the saying goes, was okay with misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism,  and disdain for trans people, but found pederasty to be a bridge too far. 

I don't propose to comment on the scandal itself or even on Milo's pose as a defender of some version of free speech. I wonder, though, if there's something to be learned from the way he responded to accusations of being in favor of child molestation. He stumbled about trying to explain that in the gay world "boys" could be males in their twenties, that he really didn't mean that sex with thirteen year olds was acceptable, and that he regretted his own "imprecise phrasing". I wonder, though, if he'd have done better by simply saying something like When I was sixteen or seventeen, I had older lovers, some much older, and many of them are good memories. They taught me how to be a proud gay man, they taught me about the history and culture of  the gay world, they taught me how to be a lover and how to be in love. I feel gratitude and affection and respect and admiration for the men who mentored me and loved me and gave me stability and acceptance and letting it go at that: full stop.  I have no idea if he could have said something like that with honesty, but let's assume that he could. Saying something like that and nothing more, with no bitchy games of snark and no bitchy-transgressive poses--- would that have saved  his dignity and possibly his career? And how would a statement like that have been parsed out over the web?

I'm old enough to remember articles and novels about age-disparate gay relationships that argued that they were or could be a good thing. I can remember novels and articles that argued that this was how a gay culture, a gay world, was kept alive over time--- by mentoring relationships and love affairs. Again, I'm not commenting on whether those arguments are right or wrong. I'm only noting that once upon a time, back in my undergraduate days, the arguments were posed in serious journals and by serious gay advocacy groups. There are any number of strands there if you want to follow them up--- the desire to be (as Edmund White wrote) a community and not a syndrome;  the desire to preserve a separate community; a desire for the exchange of sex and knowledge; the whole idea of "recruitment". You can't make a argument these days for a sexualized mentoring relationship, whether gay of straight--- the issues of power immediately intrude. Anyone who argues for an "Athenian" kind of relationship between men and mid-teen boys is automatically seen as arguing for exploitation and violation. 

Again, I have no idea about the weight of arguments pro and con; that's not relevant to asking how the idea of a sexualized mentoring relationship was posed back in the 1960s and 1970s and how it became rejected--- or asking whether or not Milo Yiannopoulos could have salvaged something of his dignity if he'd made a very brief, cold statement saying that he didn't regret the older lovers of his past and let it go. Which of course takes us back to the idea of a lovely girl making the same basic statement about her own older lovers. Would the response to her be different to the response to the hypothetical statement Milo might've made? Would the response be more or less hostile?  Which factions would support her or condemn her?

I do hope you'll think about that. We'll come back soon enough to the issue of what each party learns in an age-disparate  relationship. That is something I want to address, though. And it is something I'd like to hear from you about, any of you out of out there reading this.

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