National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science, No. 30 This Week: Eros’ Corruptions Vs. Shakespeare in Love

My view of gay identity is premised on two affirmations: 1. that there is an underlying order and purpose to the universe (propelled by a self-developing negative-entropic scientific lawfulness that appears in nature; some may credit God for it) and, 2. within that, same-sex erotic attraction plays a positive, meaningful role. Everything in my explorations is derived from these.

My view of gay identity is premised on two affirmations: 1. that there is an underlying order and purpose to the universe (propelled by a self-developing negative-entropic scientific lawfulness that appears in nature; some may credit God for it) and, 2. within that, same-sex erotic attraction plays a positive, meaningful role. Everything in my explorations is derived from these.

In my argument, the role of same-sex erotic attraction as a dissymmetric tendency in the universe unfolds in human history in an uneven and bumpy way. Mother Nature is far from precise, especially in perpetuating an imbedded, necessary alternative to the norm that is subject, for that reason, to repression and brutality.

Thus, an empirical examination of same-sex erotic attraction and behavior runs the gamut from the most abusive to the most loving – from viewing desired persons as “meat,” on the one hand, to “beautiful souls,” on the other. Homosexuality’s marginal status has made it susceptible to abuse, even as its uncorrupted natural impulse weds erotic attraction and the pursuit of beauty, art, science and “the good.”

So the history of homosexuality is far from uniform. There are many forms that are cruel and exploitative. There’s the socially-accepted ritual abuse of prepubescent boys by older men in certain tribes of New Guinea, ancient Cretan pederastic abduction rituals, Spartan-like militaristic cults, present-day practices by tribal leaders in Northern Afghanistan, examined in PBS’ 2010 Frontline documentary, “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan,” where homeless boys are dressed up like girls to dance and be sexually abused by gatherings of powerful men.

For thousands of years, rape and abuse by the rich and/or powerful in political, religious or other institutions has undoubtedly occurred under a cloak of silence.
Still, it is not homosexuality which is to blame. It is man’s inhumanity to man, and for most of history, women have seldom fared any better, either.

But by contrast are examples of uplifting and progressive forms of same-sex erotic expression, which elevate beauty and the enduring and loving nurture of the subjects of same-sex love.

Over the course of history, the vast, vast majority of same-sex oriented persons remained invisible, largely because they did not do anything to draw attention, but also because so many deigned to follow the humane and empathetic model of Plato and Socrates and their followers, focusing their same-sex erotic attractions and loves toward advancing notions of beauty, art, learning and institutions of compassion. Thus, they lived the creative and progressive lives that nature had intended for them.

Few homosexual “love letters” have persevered through all the years, though gay historian Rictor Norton assembled a bunch in his “My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries” (1998). But there is no case that has matched the Sonnets of the English language’s greatest pen, William Shakespeare. His Sonnets were published without his approval (thus “outing” him) in 1609 only a few years before his death, and they resonate with the highest expression of same-sex love.

There is no mistaking that 126 of the 154 total Sonnets were written as love letters to a young man, the mysterious “Mr. W.H” to which they were all dedicated.
In 1766, a scholar named Thomas Tyrwhitt theorized that “Mr. W.H.” was an Elizabethan boy actor, Willie Hughes. That theory was based in part on the use of a pun in Sonnet 20, referring to, “A man in Hew, all Hews in controlling.” That sonnet, considered the first by some scholars, began, “A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted, hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion.”

In 1889, gay writer Oscar Wilde wrote a short piece of fiction entitled, “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.” about this object of Shakespeare’s passionate affection.
The passion expressed in Shakespeare’s Sonnets is breathtaking, revealing a depth of emotion that remind us all of our most intensely desired subjects of love. Shakespeare wrote of the “desire of perfect’st love being made” in Sonnet 51, and proclaimed, “So are you to my thoughts as food to life, or as sweet-season’d showers are to the ground” (Sonnet 75).

Shakespeare sung of “the beauty of your eyes and in fresh numbers number all our graces” (Sonnet 17), and in the famous Sonnet 116, he proclaimed the eternal nature of such passionate love:

“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove: O no! It is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken; it is the star to every wandering bark, whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come; love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it down even to the edge of doom.”

The physical beauty of the present is extended to the eternal beauty of the soul forever, the greatest ever expression of same sex passion.

To be continued.