Friday, July 29, 2011

Commonweal Puts More Lipstick on the Pig: Dan Savage as Representative Gay Male Threatening Monogamy

So the leading publication of the American Catholic intellectual center, Commonweal, is choosing to respond to the implementation of marriage equality in New York with a double-barreled discussion of Dan Savage, monogamy, and licit or illicit desire?!  Commonweal's two blog sites, dotCommonweal and Verdicts, are now both featuring threads launched yesterday, in which Melissa Matthes of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and Commonweal editor Matthew Boudway lay into Dan Savage for his recent musings about monogamy.  Boudway's piece encapsulates Matthes's--evidently, so that readers of both of Commonweal's side-by-side blogs won't miss Matthes's critique of Savage's "gay" questioning of monogamy.

Both postings highlight a statement of Matthes that "Savage makes it seem as if any sexual desire one has (unless it involves feces, children, pets, incest and the dead) is legitimate."  And so naturally, as if the whistle has called the dog, one of Commonweal's right-wing Catholics in residence, Brett Joyce, immediately picks up on the juxtaposition of the terms "Dan Savage" and "gay" with "feces," "children," "pets," "incest," and "the dead," and runs with that string of terms in the Boudway thread to talk about the "500 pound gorilla in the room," which is that Dan Savage, "the top mainstream homosexual activist out there," represents, along with all the rest of the gays, a "descent into hedonism."

Matthes is, of course, saying precisely the opposite of what Joyce hears her saying here: she's saying that Savage doesn't legitimate sexual desire involving feces et al.  Still, what to make of that rhetorical construct--the name "Dan Savage" (whom Matthes calls a "self-described" "cultural Catholic" and "American Gay Male" and whom Boudway tags as "sex columnist Dan Savage") preceding the string of terms "feces," "children," "pets," "incest," and "the dead"?

Here's what I make of it: it's deliberate.  And Brett Joyce is right to hear the dog whistle inside the terms, even though the arguments of both Matthes and Boudway are crafted in a fancy-shmancy pseudo-intellectual way to mute the blatant homophobia residing at the bottom of both arguments.  They're designed to be measured-seeming, careful-seeming arguments about the danger of unrestricted desire, about the commodification of erotic attraction and the social construction of the erotic à la Michel Foucault (but entirely missing Foucault's point about how social groups deliberately problematize natural erotic desire to pursue instrumental ends that go well beyond control of erotic desire).

Measured-seeming and careful-seeming arguments worrying about unrestricted, socially corrosive desire right on the heels of the implementation of marriage equality in New York . . . . Fancy-shmancy pseudo-intellectual critiques of ideas of the representative American gay male right after New York begins marrying same-sex couples.

Now all of a sudden, unbridled erotic desire and the commodification and social construction of the erotic become problematic.  There were no problems of this sort prior to the start of gay marriage.  

We didn't need to be talking about the dangers of unrestrained desire and the buying and selling and social molding of the sexual--focusing as we do so on the "American Gay Male"--prior to the start of gay marriage in New York.  No sireebob: no problems of that sort before, when only heterosexuals could marry.

When heterosexuals ruled the roost and could channel and control and rule out of bounds the unbridled and illicit desire of the gays . . . . Now, suddenly, desire is problematized.  Since the gays are "marrying."

I'm embarrassed for Commonweal's sake.  This is so clearly a discussion we should have been having all along in Catholic circles, for years now, that it's embarrassing to see a publication with such intellectual pretension (and such pretension to define authentic Catholicism and to promote justice and serve integrity) trotting all of this out as an obvious, but sly and maleficent, response to marriage equality in New York.  As negative commentary on the beginning of marriage equality in New York that dares not speak its name.

Since that name is prejudice.  It's prejudice because the critique of unbridled desire and the hysteria about what will happen to society when homosexual desire is no longer restrained do not go hand in hand, for the Commonweal crowd, with equal and much-needed critique of the unmerited heterosexual power and privilege those pushing this critique are afforded by the Catholic church.  Or by the injustices that the heterosexist Catholic institutions in which many of these critics of homosexuality remain comfortably ensconced or with which they are affiliated routinely inflict, over and over, on those who are gay and lesbian.  Solely because these brothers and sisters happen to be gay and lesbian.

I'm ashamed for Commonweal's sake, issuing this double-barreled blast that tries to turn Dan Savage, with his perfectly reasonable musings about what people mean when they claim to be doing monogamy and whether monogamy is actually working in many marriages, on the same day that the National Republican Senatorial Committee blasts Savage as lewd, violent, and anti-Christian.

They can blast all they want, the Republican party and the spokespersons for the turgid American Catholic intellectual center.  But the real questions, the significant ones, lying behind the growing social acceptance of marriage equality--questions about human rights and justice for everyone in humane and decent societies--won't go away simply because people acting out of prejudice and malice prop up "the" "American Gay Male" and blast away at the token scapegoat target.

Those questions about rights and justice for all don't arise, after all, out of Dan Savage's columns.  For people of faith, they come right out of the scriptures.  And for those who believe in the founding principles of our democracy, they're inherent in our constituting documents.  

It's a pity--and an embarrassment--that the Commonweal crowd doesn't seem to get this, as its leading lights continue promoting vile homophobia and calling that faithful Catholicism. 

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