For as long as I can remember, we have looked around at other cultures and back into our own Western history searching for homoerotic Shangri-Las, those utopias where gay life flourished free from taboos. For a while, much was made of homosexual connections between older and younger men in ancient Greece, then there were reports from anthropologists like Tobias Schneebaum in the 1960s about widespread homosexuality among tribesmen in the rain forests of South America, and there has been a long standing fascination with the two spirited people found in various indigenous societies in North America.
Though not myself a seeker after utopias, I have always wondered why there are such deeply rooted and vehement taboos against something that for me is beautiful and life-enhancing? Glaringly absent from the societies in the above examples are the Judeo-Christian-Muslim traditions that dominate the planet. Is there a connection? I think so.
Taboos are a response to fear, and sex is a powerful force that understandably engenders its own set of fears. But, what I find most disturbing is the level of vehemence that religions cultivate around homoeroticism. It’s well and good for the researchers of the world to say that all of us live along a sexual identity continuum that is fluid throughout out lives, but how many people are truly comfortable confronting the taboos that keep them from exploring their own homoerotic desires? The barrier of fear is a tough one to cross, especially in places where the taboos are backed up by very real threats of physical harm, or worse. This cult of fear with all its vehemence is what I lay at the front door of religion, j’accuse…
Sadly, fear will always be with us, as will condemnation of those of us who choose to say yes to an eroticism that is not confined by the narrow dictates of religion and society. Fortunately and in spite of the taboos, our homoerotic desires will be with us as well, and they play a far more important function in our lives than does fear. Eros and the heart work together, and they enrich us through the power of deeply physical and sexual touch. This is where healing happens. Contrast this with fear, which has nothing enriching or life enhancing about it. Fear adds no value to life whereas eros opens a dimension that is rich beyond words. If anything, the world’s religions ought to be joining hands with the movement afoot in some governments to bless the love that gay people have been brave enough to express and fight for.
Maybe I am naive, but I believe love will always win out, even in those societies and religions that are trapped in the darkness of hatred replete with fears oozing out of the taboos they have created and continue to promulgate. Tragically, the various cults of hatred are still strong enough to crush those people unlucky enough to fall victim to their grip. As we say yes to eros, at the same time we need to proceed with reasonable caution. In thinking of this tension, I am reminded of one of my favorite songs, What A Wonderful World as sung by Louis Sachmo Armstrong. His gravelly voice conveys all the hardships fate tossed his way as it uplifts us all through his loving spirit and sense of wonder at the beauty surrounding us. The world is indeed wonderful, especially when invigorated by the spirit of eros.