Thursday, March 19, 2015

On Antithetical Thinking, the Masculine Protest, and Double Consciousness: Gay Men and Women's Rights

I think I've mentioned to you several times before that I keep a log of quotations from things I've read  over many years that leapt out at me as I read. My journals over the years are full of snippets from work I was reading as I kept my journals. They're also stuffed with photocopied pages from books or articles I've read, which struck me as important and as worth remembering.

At times (like the current one) in which I feel I need inspiration and guidance — runes, I Ching, bibliomancy, prophetic utterances: you name it and I'll try it as I seek spiritual light — I often comb through my quotation log. I know a woman, a distant cousin of mine, who does genealogical research this way: she says that when she feels uninspired and is meeting one dead end after another in her  research, she'll say to her ancestors, "Okay, so who's ready to talk now?"

And then she scrolls through the index of her genealogy program until she lands on a name out of the blue, and asks that person what she or he has to say to her. She swears that this method of genealogical divining works, and that she often breaks through a brick wall by following this, well, somewhat elliptical way of pointing her research.

Here's a statement in my quotation log that has jumped out at me in the past two days, as I've leafed through it: this is James Hillman in his book entitled The Dream and the Underworld (NY: Harper & Row, 1979):

Antithetical thinking, found by Alfred Adler to be a neurotic habit of mind, belongs to the will to power and the masculine protest (p. 82).

I think Hillman (and Adler) are on to something here. It strikes me that there's what I'd call a typically masculine posture in conversation, in argument, which is always intent on countering. No matter what is said, its basic instinct is antithetical.

It's to knock down the observation or argument of the other, in order to gain dominance over the other. Its fundamental impulse is not to listen and understand, to add one insight to another so that, together, two insights work to correct each other and expand the universe of thought for both dialogue partners.

The impulse to antithetical thinking, which derives from "the masculine protest," is more interested in the will to power: it's more interested in control. 

It has long seemed to me that many (but certainly not all) gay men lack that instinct for antithetical thinking and for the will to power. Perhaps because we've been classified by heterosexual men as feminized men — as pathetic men far down the ladder of power, because we've "chosen" to be quasi-women — we tend to develop, many of us, what W. E. B. Du Bois called "double consciousness."

Du Bois noted that people of color by necessity have to cultivate a double consciousness, in which they understand the rules by which white people play alongside the rules by which African-American culture plays. Of necessity many people of color must internalize a doubled vision of the world, in order to survive in a dominant culture that is often inhospitable or outright hostile to the needs and interests of black people.

The same thing happens, I think, with many gay folks. In the case of gay men, I think that double consciousness accounts for insights like James Baldwin's in his essay "Here Be Monsters":

Each of us, helplessly and forever, contains the other—male in female, female in male, white in black, and black in white. We are part of each other (The Price of the Ticket [NY: St. Martin's, 1985], p. 690).

I wonder if a straight man could have written, as Richard Rodriguez has recently written, the following:

It is clear to me that civic attitudes toward homosexuality and gay marriage are changing. In countries we loosely describe as Western, opinion polls and secular courts are deciding in favor of the legalization of gay marriage. Nevertheless, the desert religions will stand opposed to homosexuality, to homosexual acts, unless the desert religions turn to regard the authority of women. And that will not happen until the desert religions reevalute the meaning of women. And that will not happen until the desert religions see "bringing into being" is not a power we should call male only. And that will not happen until the desert religions see the woman as father, the father as woman, indistinguishable in authority and creative potence (Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography [NY: Viking, 2013], p. 116).


A gay man easily sees himself as expendable in the eyes of the Church hierarchy because that is how he imagines the Church hierarchy sees him. The Church cannot afford to expel women. Women are obviously central to the large procreative scheme of the Church. Women have sustained the Church for centuries by their faith and their birthrates. Following the sexual scandals involving priests and children, women may or may not consent to present a new generation of babies for baptism. Somewhere in its canny old mind, the Church knows this. Every bishop has a mother. 
It is because the Church needs women that I depend upon women to protect the Church from its impulse to cleanse itself of me (ibid., p. 104). 

After he published his award-winning novel Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), critics asked Allan Gurganus how, as a man, he could possibly place himself so successfully inside the imagination — the mind and heart — of a female character, the Confederate widow Lucy Marsden. Gurganus's response: as a gay man, he had always found it easy to place himself inside the female viewpoint. As with other gay men, he had grown up listening to and appreciating the female perspective as a gay boy in North Carolina.

Does any of the above sound to you as if, in any shape, form, or fashion, it bears out the validity of the ugly stereotype one still can encounter on any given day at any Catholic blog site — namely, that "most men with homosexual tendencies enjoy denigrating and ridiculing women"? No, not to me, either.

The collage of quotations about love is by TiiaBear at Deviant Art, and is available for sharing under a Creative Commons license.

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