Friday, October 13, 2006

Self-hating gays?

Theodor Lessing was a distinguished German-Jewish philosopher of the Weimar era. A careful stylist, he was capable of making very cutting remarks. In a critique of the senile militarist Paul von Hindenburg, who became Germany's president, he said that some might be supporters of the general because it is "better to have a zero, than a Nero." However, as Lessing remarked, one can have a zero who turns into a Nero. He was very close to the mark, for it was Hindenburg who appointed Hitler chancelor. He was worse than Nero by far.

At any rate, for speaking his mind, Lessing was assassinated by a Nazi in Czechoslovakia in 1933. Three years before he had published one of his most important books, an analysis of the concept of Jewish self-hatred. His starting point was a very significant one. Otto Weininger was a precocious Viennese scholar who published a once-influential monograph called Sex and Character. Of Jewish origin, Weininger was both a misogynist and an anti-Semite. He killed himself in 1903 because he had detected substantial elements of the feminine in his makeup.

Since Lessing's time the concept has been extended to other ethnic groups and to gay and lesbian people. Shelby Steele and other African American conservatives are widely regarded as self-hating. In Steele's case, this accusation seems little more than an epithet, designed to shut him up. Since Steele issued his pioneering books his criticisms have been echoed by Bill Cosby and Juan Williams. Fair-minded observers now recognize that all three have made valid points about the need for African American self-examination. Had the critics forced Steele to shut up a chilling effect would have been created. Instead, by fostering such discussions we come closer, asymptotically, to the truth.

In a similar fashion some gay activists are tempted to declare gay conservatives like Andrew Sullivan, Jonathan Rauch, and Dale Carpenter self-hating. Clearly the concept has become so semantically iridescent that it has become virtually useless. Like the allegation of "fascist," it serves to designate almost any position one doesn't like. A comment on this blog suggests that the criterion is "working against gay interests." Since most of us agree that there is no Gay Agenda it is uncertain what gay interests actually are.

A view that I definitely do not share is the idea that gay men are hopelessly promiscuous as we are and must be herded into marriage for our own good. Among others, Jonathan Rauch has maintained a version of this view. Some would say he is self-hating. Fiddlesticks. Jonathan is one of the sanest individuals I have ever encountered. He and I just have different views about what is good for gay men.

A truly remarkable document of how such claims can be divisive can be found at the site There one will find a list of almost 8000 individuals under the category of Self-Hating and/or Israel-Threatening List (commonly known as the Sh*t List). Among the names are Woody Allen, Noam Chomsky, and Amos Oz.

Currently the distinguished historian Tony Judt, who is Jewish and who heads the Remaque Institute at HYU, is being victimized by such allegations. Judt, a former kibbutznik, is being vilified for opinions that he has published in Israel with no repercussions. Professor Judt favors a binational solution and has been critical of the Israel lobby in the United States. In accordance with a suppression campaign, two venues were recently closed to him in New York City.

As two recent incidents at Columbia University have shown, Manhattan is scarcely the island of free speech that many claim. I doubt that it ever has been. But that is another story.


Blogger Dyneslines said...

Postscript. Lest I give a false impression, I favor gay marriage, and have written frequently to this effect. What I am against is a particular social-engineering version of it that purports to make gays better thereby.

Let's suppose, for the purpose of argument, that I actually was against gay marriage. I might oppose it for a variety of reasons. I might think that marriage is an oppressive bourgeois institution that should be dismantled for the common good. Or I might think that marriage is OK for heterosexuals, but applied to gays would tend to erode a distinct cultural heritage that has been built up over centuries. Or, finally, I might think that marriage is a sublime institution that must not be sullied by having perverts participate in it.

Only in the last category, I think, could I be regarded as self-hating. But the mere fact that I was working against the institutionalizing of gay marriage would not be dispositive. It is my attitude that is the key, not what I am trying to achieve.

Once again the appelation of "self-hating gay" is dubious. Since it has often served as an epithet to stifle honest discussion, it should be abandoned.

11:50 AM  

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