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We're here! We're clear! We don't want any more rumours! - A Bible and a Bat'leth
Two double-edged swords, one angry peacemaker.

custodianiseed
Date: 10:51 pm Fri 2nd of Nov, 2012
Subject: We're here! We're clear! We don't want any more rumours!
Security: Public
Tags:books, heterosceptical, offence, society, theory
In which our hero figures out why it's important that Marlowe, Shakespeare, Frodo/Sam, David/Jonathan, Spock/Kirk, Xena/Gabrielle, Dumbledore, Bert and Ernie and all the other puppets might be gay
I used to get pretty annoyed at people watching Lord of the Rings (and I think there were some books too) and insinuating homosexual relationships between Frodo and Sam (and latterly, thanks Internet, everyone and everyone else). I rolled my eyes at the idea that devotion between two people of the same sex is destined to have a sexual expression; or must be produced by an underlying sexual attraction.

Having said that, it's not that the intellectual tenor of those assertions was aggressively well formulated. Relationships like Sam and Frodo's were generally presented in sniggering tones. Much like, during the second time I watched The Phantom Menace, as Obi-wan held Qui-gon as he died, a couple of rows back someone yelled out 'I love you!' Hilarity. I felt that this sort of join-the-dots dropped-your-gay-card type of response was dumbing down, or a lowest common denominator. And I'll be honest: I still do.

BUT. I have other perspectives as well.

~Something I have discerned about my thought process is that I don't easily give up ideas I have held and which have been illustrative or important. I would much rather hold them in consideration with newer or more useful ideas. Eventually, some may modify or wither away, but for a time at least, I have multiple perspectives in operation. I am growing to accept this.~

Speculation about Shakespeare uniformly irritates me, I think because I understand the initial school of questioning to be class-informed, with educated and well-heeled university types in the early part of the 20th Century asking each other how a peasant without the benefit of the Grand Tour, hours of leisure and a full library could have written such plays. Surely he must have been a hack passing off as his own the productions of an educated, cultured aristocrat?

In my best self, I suspect that there was always more to it than snobbishness - however, that association taints for me any discourse that questions Shakespeare's authorship or proposes theories for what we don't know about him. "Oh come on" I said to myself, 17 years old at Sixth Form College, "what does it even matter? Study the plays! The Author is Dead!"

Okay, I never would have said that The Author is Dead, at least not until I was lodged into that Literary Theory module in 2nd Year University. I was all about respecting the Authority back in those days. I suspect that, to my younger self, 'Shakespeare Was Gay' sounded a lot like a slur and an attempt to be controversial. I couldn't see how it might inform a reading of his work, so I did not see the point of it at all (other than to sell some books). For after all, the author was dead - and their existence is not as a classification system for specific marketable cultural products, no?

Perhaps I was not quite as tied into capitalist thought as I project. In any case, because I did not see any usefulness in debating (nor certainty of establishing) Shakespeare's sexuality, I ignored it. 'What is the usefulness of knowing that?' I asked when JK Rowling said that Dumbledore was gay, after the books were done. If it had been a facet of the character, it should have been a part of the books. That it was not meant that as a revelation it lacked any power. It wasn't important. So, why say it?

For Biblical characters like Jonathan and David, far further back in history, but not the less human than Shakespeare, I was even less interested in ideas that they had a gay relationship. It felt like a combination of Sam/Frodo snickerishness plus an assault on Christianity. Typing that now, I wonder, why? What exactly would a gay relationship in the life of King David say anything to Christianity? After all, the norm for the Patriarchs would not pass muster with orthodox Christian behaviour and sexual expectation.

On the other hand, I think David has a somewhat special place for Christians, and I am not sure quite why. Since I seriously got to know David, I have disliked him, especially as an icon or model for Christians; someone to emulate. I think there is something about his flaws that people find appealing - his adultery with Bathsheba and the murderous actions he took to conceal it, for example. Yet he has this pure paladin moments like refusing to kill Saul when he blunders into David's cave. This is a tangent, I know - but I want to establish that David is certainly a complex character and one that makes an approachable role-model for Christians. So, casting his relationship with Jonathan in a sinful light seems to flip it from an ideal - a pure, brotherly military friendship - into a disappointing opposite.

This disappointment was part of why I resisted characterisations of male friendships as suppressed (or expressed and hidden) homosexuality - it seemed to denigrate the quality of the bond by making it 'just about sex'. And there is an unavoidably sly feeling to the suggestion of homosexuality. Since there is no direct Biblical statement to support this reading (and none that directly counters it, of course), it feels like insinuation and rumour. If your position is that homosexual relationships are sinful, then hearing this of one of the 'good guys' (even if that good guy is all human and flawed and interesting) seems at best like unreliable speculation and worse, like slander.

So. That was some of my thinking. What's new?

Well, I figured out that homosexuality was not the sin I had been led to believe. In some ways this was a long and gradual process for me. A lot happened without me really being conscious of it, with occasional moments of sudden clarity or rapid realisation. Accompanying this was conscious and active engagement with scripture to interrogate the interpretations I had been given. This was one place where my former understanding did not persist too long, because it was ultimately very shallow; essentially 'the Bible says this'. Understanding the Biblical passages on homosexuality as part of an anti-oppressive practice, criticising imperial and patriarchal power exercised through homosexual male violence fits into my broad approach to the scriptures and to the message and the journey, so as it complimented other perspectives, I found it impossible to persist in understanding these passages as blanket condemnation of same sex relationships.

At some point I started to look around and wonder why the vast bulk of the church (and indeed, the majority of societies worldwide) oppress queer people. One of the answers I reached, satisfying my curiosity (but not necessarily offering me an action to take) was that there are very few examples of same-sex relationships in the public eye. Those that do exist might be good or bad, but the point is that they are largely, almost universally absent. That leaves only the negative assumptions and associations to linger as the paper-thin examples of homosexuality. With no living or positive examples or contexts for same-sex relationships, all that is left are negative caricatures, sourced from our collective fear, informed not the least from scripture's occasional lists of types of evil people, which include those who exercise cooercive or abusive sexual power.

So, when I think about these fictional and Biblical characters, and the possibility of a 'queer text' reading, I remember that queer people and particularly queer relationships are hidden (verb and adjective). What does it mean that the best example I could find of a gay relationship in the mainstream was Bert and Ernie? Two males, innocently cohabiting just like Noddy and Big-Ears or Morecambe and Wise. The very existence of homosexuality is actively concealed! It is policy, here and now, with the legislation of the nineties in Britain banning schools from teaching about it, and the same things happening now in current day Russia and Ukraine.

I still feel that Dumbledore being gay outside of the context of the books is specious information, but it is not irrelevant. In fact, its positioning says more than the fact itself. Dumbledore can be gay, but that cannot be a part of his personality. It will be tolerated, but not accepted. Gay people will not be actively persecuted, but they will not be permitted to be public and honest and free (which IS active persecution - excepting for those who see it as tolerance).

So yeah, Frodo and Sam love each other. It doesn't diminish their friendship, and it doesn't sully their good names. Making their relationship one of same-sex love does not destroy them as characters nor dominate their reality, but it acknowledges and enables a perspective that is sorely lacking. Sam goes on to marry Rosie, Frodo lives alone, and that's okay. Not all relationships last. Not all relationships are even acknowledged; but they may still be real, and realising this is part of knowing the truth.

Peter out...
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