Friday, May 12, 2006

Immaturity [II, 30]

Hostile observers chide gay men for remaining perpetual adolescents frolicking in sensual enjoyments, while disdaining the adult responsibilities entailed by forming stable families. Even some gay people have internalized this complaint. A major theme of the gay-conservative movement is that gays must be more mature.

The locus classicus of the idea of homosexual immaturity appears in the influential writings of Sigmund Freud. Starting with an a priori assumption of a natural "procreative instinct," Freud set forth a fanciful theory of psychosexual development in which a male infant passes through narcissistic oral, anal and phallic stages, attaining an Oedipal desire to have sex with his mother. Then fearing castration by his jealous father, the maturing male transfers his love to another woman. In this way the goal, the only acceptable one, is achieved: a glorious heterosexuality.

Men become homosexual, Freud thought, when this progression is inhibited—-he never explains how--and the individual remains fixated at some preliminary stage of
development. In this way the sufferer undergoes one of several fates. He is blocked at a narcissistic stage, or fails to negotiate the Oedipal phase, or fears castration by a woman's vagina.

Odd as all this seems, the result was that homosexuals were viewed as psychosexually immature. In his 1933 "New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis" Freud wrote that homosexuals "have failed to accomplish some part of normal sexual development." And in his 1935 "Letter to an American Mother," published in 1951) Freud wrote, "We consider (homosexuality) to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development."

In simplified form Freud’s ideas migrated to America. In a notorious 1980 essay entitled "The Boys on the Beach," conservative writer Midge Decter explained that for homosexuals there were: "No households of wives and children requiring security; no entailments of school bills, doctor and dentist bills; no lifetime of acquiring the goods needed for family welfare and the goods desired for family entertainment, with a margin left over for that greatest of all heterosexual entailments, the Future: no such households burdened the overwhelmingly vast majority of homosexuals." Male homosexuality, Decter claimed, is a flight from adult responsibility "far more than a wholehearted embrace of men."

Earlier, in January 1948, the writer Anais Nin had emitted similar misgivings. "[W]hat I see in the homosexual is different from what others see. I never see perversion, but rather a childlike quality, a pause in childhood or adolescence when one hesitates to enter the adult world. The relationship based on identification, on twinship, or 'the double,' on narcissism, is a choice more facile and less exigent than that between men and women.... There was often a parody, too, of parents or grandparents, an attachment to the past (love of antiques), always a fixation on preadolescence, when our sexual inclinations are not yet crystallized, and always some traumatic event which caused fear of women, hence the hatred of her." Further, “[W]enever I came close to a homosexual, what I found was childishness."

Now these ideas, in their Freudian guise, have been embraced by the magisterium of the Catholic church. The nerve of the 2005 Vatican Instruction in paragraph four reads: "The candidate to the ordained ministry, therefore, must reach affective maturity. Such maturity will allow him to relate correctly to both men and women..." "Affective maturity" is not defined but since "affective" refers to feelings or emotions the term refers to emotional maturity--specifically here sexual emotions.

Then paragraphs 8 and 9 state that "those who ... present deep-seated homosexual tendencies ... find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them
from relating correctly to men and women." So although the Instruction avoids
saying so explicitly, gay men are barred from priesthood training because they
are thought to have immature sexual feelings. It is curious that the ghost of Sigmund Freud should have insinuated itself into Vatican thinking at this late date. Yet that seems to be what has happened.

Either through trickle-down or spontaneous generation some of these ideas have appeared in popular consciousness. It is not unusual for parents, noting the same-sex affinities of their adolescent children to make remarks such as the following; “It’s only a phase.” “(S)he will grow out of it.” This expectation seems more common with women than men, hence the expressions LUG (“lesbian until graduation”); a college student who will ostensibly settle into regular, heterosexual life) and hasbian. Religious groups seek to “rescue” homosexuals from their supposed self-destructive immaturity, by turning them into ex-gays.

Inadvertently perhaps, some gay men seem to confirm these stereotypes through open displays of frivolity. These range from flamboyant behavior to an obsessive concern with gossip and popular culture. These traits may be accompanied by disorientation, produced by stimulants or an irregular lifestyle: hence the term dizzy queen. For some the word gay e itself ncapsulates these notions. In this censorious view homosexuals lack a tragic sense of life, a deficiency possibly rooted in their tendency to avoid family responsibilities.

Homosexuals are thought to be excessively hedonistic, and preoccupied with sex. It may be that the term homosexual itself serves to foster this stereotype.

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