The Gay Assumption, Again

Just this morning, someone arrived at my blog by confidently Googling “Joseph Gelfer is gay”. I get this kind of thing quite a bit. Sometimes it comes as a direct question, other times it is about someone revising my biographical data on Wikipedia (oddly, the same wiki-vandal also had a bone to pick with the Methodist revivalist Howell Harris, Jazz musician John Mehegan and actor Christopher Eccleston).

As it happens, I don’t believe in the gay/straight binary, so would reject this statement not in terms of whether it is true, but because the category of “gay” has insufficient or restrictive meaning.

But it gets me thinking: which scenario is more acceptable to the kind of people who find my critique of masculinity objectionable:

  • Gelfer is openly gay;
  • Gelfer might be gay;
  • Gelfer is straight?

My feeling is that “Gelfer is openly gay” is the most preferable option to these people as it allows them to dismiss my position as simply a bit of gay propaganda. These folks may have no problem with gay people, but won’t take them very seriously as critics of masculinity, as they are considered to perform only a faux-masculinity in the first place.

“Gelfer is straight” is a more challenging proposition as it suggests that I speak from a position of “full” masculinity, yet still feel inclined to critique it. Folks attempt to dismiss it by declaring I am wallowing in self-hate and misandry, even if this is clearly not the case in light of my many pro-people/pro-male comments.

However, “Gelfer might be gay” is an altogether more troubling possibility. If I were openly gay, they could dismiss me. If I were clearly straight, they at least would know what they’re dealing with. But if they’re not sure? Whoa: that’s where the panic sets in; things may not be as they seem!

There’s a niggling kernel to this panic that begrudgingly states, “feck … Gelfer … might … actually … be …right.” This is the moment when the Masculinity Conspiracy is ideally revealed, or I am dismissed as slightly mad (even if madness—like masculinity—is largely a social construction).

Such are the outcomes of arriving at this blog on a particular search term. I may need to unpack my recent favourite of “joseph gelfer prophetic hippie”. It’s all about me, you know 😉

49 thoughts on “The Gay Assumption, Again

    1. Cheers, Cormac.
      FWIW, I think we can afford to be optimistic on this issue: when I speak to younger people (albeit of a particular type who go to universities and attend talks), they seem less inclined to pigeon-hole along these lines.

      1. Yes, I agree with you.
        Even here in Ireland which has been traditionally steeped in Roman Catholic Conservatism (we still don’t have legal abortion, only got contraception in 1979, decriminalized homosexuality only in 1993 and passed a very limited civil partnership bill this year) the word on ‘the street’, or at least in the campus coffee shops, seems to be ‘gay? so what? what’s the biggie’.
        Of course, we’re still a long way away from the sort of shift d’episteme regarding men’s own sense of masculinities and paradigms of ‘authentic Irish manhood’ that I’d be rooting for.
        Authentic Irish Manhood (like hello? WFT even is that when its at home?) has long been the concern of several self-appointed vanguards, each one quite provocatively promoting its own version of what constitutes “a true Irishman”. Of course, since Irish independence from British rule (1922) and up until quite recently the available and approved models of ‘Irish Manhood’ were bound up in Catholic Nationalism – with the Church and the Republican movement stepping into the void left vacant by the staunch stoic Men of the English Empire. The Catholic Church and a very Nationalist Government insidiously folded a discourse of chaste – yet confusingly virile – manliness which was bound up in hagiography and the lives of the saints into the discourse of violent patriotism, with sex – any kind of sex – being something ‘the perverted English’ did; and weren’t we all better off without them and their filthy immoral ways now that they’d been sent back to their orgiastic homeland???
        Nowadays, since the 1990s, and particularly with the fall of the Church due to sex scandals, ‘Irish Mahood’ is something that we get courtesy of a neo-liberal capitalist consumerism. Reified and purchasable, the advertising industry ties it up in a pluralist discourse of hardy rural bucks playing Gaelic games at the weekend who are also, during the week, corporate warriors.
        And, this neo-liberalism knows how to take advantage of the newly legal pink pound. The market on manhood can be split into the gay/straight binary which serves a twofold purpose: One part of which is consumerist and highly profitable- they can sell to a larger percentage of men by capturing both sides of the binary. The other side of the twofold purpose being, of course, a discourse of pseudo political progression; the newly legal, newly liberated gay man can be flouted at EU conventions on human rights as a way of saying ‘look how progressive Ireland is’ – whilst in reality he’s a decoy, deflecting attention away from some very misogynistic social and cultural practices which are actually held up by our constitution – and also deflecting attention away from some very recent and very racist anti-immigrant bills which have recently been passed through parliament.
        Oh dear! That’s a very long reply Joseph, my apologies. The grammar and structure are probably all over the shop.

        1. No need to apologise: this venue is for knocking ideas around, not the scientific record. And I like a good rant!

          Yes, I think the neo-liberal habit of turning a dollar should not be underestimated as a danger for killing off progress. Just as the potential of the “spirituality revolution” has been commodified and killed by the likes of Eat Pray Love, so too gender and sexuality: all we need is some androgynous-looking young folks on an advert fingering technological trinkets and the whole thing is reduced to a marketing demographic. Now I remember: MacDonald’s have already done this:

        2. As I’m resident in West Cork I’d really appreciate you letting me know where these hardy rural bucks cum corporate warriors are to be found…..I’m obviously looking in the wrong places……

  1. falling in love again…what am i to do…never wanted to…can’t help la la la la la….this time with an irish man…an yes you too joseph…gosh i feel like a lecherous womanist…but don’t let that stop your ranting or debating.

    i have just come back from watching EAT PRAY LOVE…couldn’t bring myself to read the book when it was “the” book to read…and just felt like a hollywood love story this morn….taking a break from resume writing and career leaps !

    yeah so what if joseph is gay….it’s only disappointing news for us wimmin 🙂

  2. sacre bleu ! (?) or is that sacred cow? off course i would tell yer wife! sisterhood and all that…eh eh eh

      1. Ah, apparently they aren’t…..well, I’d join the love-in too but I never get involved with married men….sisterhood code of conduct…..and Joseph doesn’t like look the older woman type.

          1. Well, honest assessment is that whilst you would be more than comfortable moving bi-laterally ( pardon the pun ) you do have an aura of a man who wouldn’t venture too far out of his chronologically vertical comfort zone.

            1. PS. Am currently writing a piece entitled..’Exposing the fraud of multiple masculinities’….a concept which I believe to be the Conspiracy’s greatest achievement…sure you’ll love it.

                1. I didn’t notice this at the time…yeah..multiple realities ! I’ll be in one where I’ve got a shit load of casn and won’t need to bother writing anything !!! Way to go…thanks J.
                  Why are the comments all skinny?

            2. ‘Er indoors is five days my junior.

              That said, these days my rather delusional perception of self has taken on a rather timeless quality that makes it difficult for me to peg myself against other peoples’ ages.

              1. Don’t gets better….i found life really took off at 47 ! i wouldn’t be younger for all the Botox in the world. But having said that am now off to get my de-wrinkiling quota as it’s one in the morning gone here.ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

      1. Perhaps I should find some mind-map comment software for some rhizome-like feedback: there seem to be a few Deleuze fans in these parts.

        1. Jeez..that’s seriously heavy homework you’re setting there J. Do bear in mind that it’s getting very late on this side of the world……Deleuze,rhizomes….fuck it, you win this time…cocoa, pyjamas….tomorrow is a new philosophical day. Nite nite all…..

    1. We women have been soulsearching for years. I find it fanitsaicng that there are some men who don’t know who they are. Today I looked out into the lobby and there in the lobby was a man I see from time to time, no not dating, just standing in my eyepath. Everytime I see this man, no matter who he is talking to, he always has a confused look of vulnerability on his face, which I find quite amusing and fanitsaicng at the same time.

  3. I will buy a T-shirt one day….bit skint at the moment due to being a recession-redundant free-lancer. If I was twenty years younger I could do ‘Masculinity Conspiracy’ wet t-shirt shots to make a few bob but there’s nothing worse than a posing Granny….am just actually bre-reading your stuff as I want to quote you in something I’m doing. Have you considered a ‘Masculinity Conspracy’ Christmas calendar ? Aussie hunks please….

    1. Well, it would require multiple masculinities, which I know you have issues with:
      Mr January: Sheep-shearing Hunk
      Mr February: Computer-twiddling Geek

  4. I only have multiple masculinity issues…..multiple men are quite acceptable. The surface manifestations are entertaining even if the design spec is always the same.

    1. Indeed it is: last week I was at the eResearch Australasia conference on the Gold Coast, and there were plenty of geeks there (although not many you’d necessarily want to see as Mr February).

      1. 1.15 in the morning here so re-reading ‘Sexuality’ will have to wait til tmrw….just finished the other chapters,interesting stuff. When will your next chapter be ready? Right off to bed to count sheep-shearers.

        1. I’m delayed with the next chapter: time has slipped as I have been teaching on top of my publishing job this semester. It’s half-written: should be finished next month sometime.

  5. Will await ! Trouble with writing…life gets in the way. Have just left a comment on chosen celibacy and relational dynamics on the Sexuality chapter. I actually decided on a man-free year this year to leave it free for developing work…have to say it does make a hell of a difference….

  6. I get the same a lot. Because most of my relationships have been “straight” and a few “gay” and yet don’t buy into straight/gay binary I have become troubling to those who want a world of fixed sexuality and gender simply by being. But I think this reveals the great necessity of a masculinity liberation project. I have always felt that homophobic “straight” men usually suffer just as much as a gay or bisexual men simply by resticting all the possibilities of their being that they project onto others as “gay”. But on the same token a lot of men (myself included) will often censor themselves because many heterosexual women will just assume you are gay and not interested. The point of course is that liberation is fairly difficult in this area because both men and women have their prejudices.

  7. if you wanna know, if he loves you’s in his kiss..that’s where it is…da da da da da da…
    tuther day i did my bit for the anti-homeophopbic movement…at a youth rehab. for drug and alcohol problems. (on the gold coast too)
    the blokes (mostly) in conversation, still use ‘the word’ as a negative…e.g.”yeah those hats are so ‘gay'”.
    so i piped up and said “so why is ‘gay’ a back look”?…the blokes just stared at me…and the female said, “well you know, not strong”….
    go figure…i left them staring at me….my work there was done 🙂

  8. You’ve got to admit there’s a real irony at work here: most men who criticize masculinism and do antisexist education wouldn’t be even half the activists they are if it weren’t for their masculine characteristics and gender presentation (apart from you, I’m thinking of Jackson Katz here).

    Female activists might get away with it if they aren’t performing masculinity to the extent that male activists do, but even they have to perform some masculinity in order to challenge the prevailing order. I’ve had to develop all sorts of coping techniques (a really resilient sense of humor, assertiveness, competitiveness) and equip myself with an extremely strong intellectual foundation — all of which would probably be considered masculine pursuits — in order to make sure that when I speak in public or speak to people who are hostile to feminism, my point of view gets heard. It’s got to be even tougher for profeminist men who would be dismissed, as you say, if they deviate from masculine standards.

    1. Yes, I’ve pondered that irony a lot: my big “fuck you” to the masculinity conspiracy is in part an extraordinary performance of normative masculinity.

      If I’m feeling theoretical, I might liken it to an act of subversive mimesis, but equally, it’s just, as you say, ironic.

      1. On the other hand, this also seems to reinforce my earlier point to you in an e-mail that healthier versions of masculinity are basically just normal human development anyway. I certainly believe in the importance of a culture of heroism in any vibrant, developing society. And the advocacy of feminism and women’s liberation certainly requires heroism, so good on you for embodying that. 😉

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