Invalidating choice? In the name of "validation"?

I found an interesting thought today expressed on the editorial page of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Growing up a shy gay kid in Marcus Hook in the '60s, I found that my only hope of any validating identity was the boob tube. The gay subculture was invisible in Delaware County then, so my refuge was television. For some reason I was drawn to watch theJune Taylor Dancers on Jackie Gleason. Otherwise, I had to wait for the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz."
While I'm truly sorry that anyone would need to find a "validating identity" for his sexuality (which shouldn't require any independent validation), I'm also surprised that this should come from anything on television -- whether from the June Taylor dancers or the Wizard of Oz. But the writer goes on to claim that television actually helped him "form his sexual identity." (Psst! Better not let the social conservatives hear about this, OK?)
For better or worse, TV helped me form my sexual identity and realize that there was a place for me. Time was when I scoured TV Guide for appearances of gay writer Truman Capote on The Tonight Show and The Dick Cavett Show.
To each his own, I guess. I never thought to look for assistance in role modeling from the television set, and I hardly watch it now. As to Truman Capote, I regarded him as one of those lisping stereotypes who were more the exception than the rule. I had read (and loved) In Cold Blood, and when I read Capote was gay and had a crush on one of the murderers I was utterly intrigued. And yes, I did watch him on the Dick Cavett Show. But role model? It never would have occurred to me in my wildest dreams.

There weren't too many role models for me, which is probably why I'm such a nut. I was a fan of the Grateful Dead, and in my Marxist days I tended towards misguided idolization of the Black Panther Party leadership. Years later I came to adore a certain crazed junkie writer. But these weren't really role models. I thought of my own sexuality as crazy and uniquely non-conforming, and while I might not have always been comfortable with it, I always thought I had to be my own role model. I've never felt validated, and I never wanted to be validated. The conventional concepts of gay and straight annoyed me then, and annoy me now. Not only is the right to free choice in sexual matters being negated, it's increasingly being seen as an oppressive concept.

Imagine, freedom being seen as oppression!

Sexual freedom means the right not only to have consensual sex with whomever you want, but the right to disregard all sexual role models -- regardless of whether they are thrust upon you by drunken peers, busybody activists, or a pliant media.

Yet tragically, what used to be nobody's business now seems to be everybody's. Today, your sexuality is more someone else's business than it was during my youth.

This is not to say that sexuality was entirely a private matter when I was growing up. My fellow adolescent male friends annoyed me to no end with the notion that manhood was not merely defined by attraction to women, but somehow by an interest in large breasts, which were said to be everything. Now, once again, let me make it clear that I have no objection to anyone being turned on by large breasts. It's just that my peers' insistance that there was something wrong with those who didn't see it that way seemed strained, even phony. Some of them, I suspected, were lying in order to enhance public perceptions of their manhood. Unfortunately, this happened at exactly the same time my poor mom was undergoing a radical mastectomy. When I overheard my father's drunken friends' attempts to reassure him, I concluded that there was a vast conspiracy of sexual tyranny at work. Enforced by sexual bigots who needed to be called on it and put in their place. Years later, I see that I probably overreacted a bit, and for way too long. (It just wasn't a good time for people to demand from me a public display of enthusiasm for big tits.)

Looking back, I still don't think I was wrong in identifying peer pressure as the problem, and on a certain level that's probably just what today's editorial writer is complaining about when he speaks of "validation."

However, I think homosexual peer pressure can be just as bad as heterosexual peer pressure (these days it often seems worse), and I don't think the former is justified by the latter. Attempts to tell people how they should be, or what they should be, are tyrannical. Just as you don't have to be turned on by big tits if you're straight, you don't have to like Truman Capote or the June Taylor Dancers to be gay.

A larger question is whether the gay/straight either/or identity politics dichotomy makes sense. In terms of freedom, I think there's a big difference between telling someone they have a right to do or to like something, and telling them that they must, or that they have a "duty" to an alleged "community" that shares nothing in common except a particular sexual desire. Telling someone that he was "born" with a particular sexuality -- and that all such people constitute a community -- makes about as much sense as it did to tell me I had to like big tits if I was to belong. People should be free to proclaim that they were "born that way," but I just think it's a bit arrogant to speak for others, especially when they have not asked to be spoken for.

Lastly, what about those who don't wish to belong?

Who will validate them?

posted by Eric on 10.19.05 at 03:38 PM


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Tracked on October 20, 2005 12:34 AM


Excellent, absolutely true. But your ------- spam filter won't let me comment. My comment here wasn't any different from my usual comment so I can't figure out what it's objecting to. I'll try to get past the damn thing.

I was going to say before I was so rudely interrupted:

What do men's men have to do with Oz?? L. Frank Baum's Oz stories, all 16 of them -- beginning but by no means ending with The Wizard -- were female dominated, not only featuring heroines like Dorothy and the Patchwork Girl, but the whole land of Oz was ruled by Ozma, who was assisted by Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, and there there were numerous other Witches, both Good and Wicked, and Queens scattered throughout Oz and its environs. There were plenty of eccentric male characters, and lots of talking animals, but the Oz milieu as a whole was dominantly female. Baum wrote other stories about girls outside of Oz.

I can see that a budding man's man might well like stories about boys. Not being of that persuasion, I never liked such stories myself. I always liked stories about girls. Another was Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Lewis Caroll positively hated boys.

As for TV, what I loved most were heroines in perilous situations.

I don't know what it means to be "validated".

See if this gets through. I'll omit a word you used in your original post:

I don't conform to that stereotype either. What I love above all is a woman's face, hair, neck, and shoulders.

"Validate" it through the marriage vow? I don't know if I ever will. But Jesus and Nietzsche never did either, so that fate must be good enough for me. Though Nietzsche loved the Ring of Eternity, and, in Catholic theology, Mary the Queen of Heaven is also the Bride of Christ. Holy Dawn is married to holy Norma, and wicked Wanda has her 69 women. I shall have to validate myself through them.

Sorry to have to send that comment in pieces like that, but I had to experiment a great deal. Still can't figure out what was blocking it.

Steven thanks for hanging in there. It's obviously the damned spam filter, and I need to figure out what words are being rejected, so let me know. It is tits? I'll find out when I post this. (It automatically adds things whenever I block spam.)

Anyway, I will not tolerate blocking of any of your words!

Eric Scheie   ·  October 19, 2005 8:37 PM

I think it was a synonym for that. The one that starts with a "b" and does not rhyme with "tube". But even after I deleted that word, it still kept on rejecting my comment. Was it "sexuality"?

Sexuality. Heterosexuality. Homosexuality. Androsexuality. Gynosexuality. Breasts? Yes, breasts are beautiful, distinctively feminine. I prefer to see them clothed rather than nude, suggestive rather than explicit.

Hmmm.... That went through.

Bondage? Captivity? Masochism? Sadism?

I went through a long period of my life in looking for validation from others. I see it has having been primarily due to having what they call "father issues." I only finally shed myself of the last vestiges when I stopped caring if other bloggers said nasty things about me--which I guess would mean it's comparitively recent, except as I said that was mostly a last vestige of it.

I understand the young gay man's confusion and need to fit in in many ways, but I also understand that some people never have that feeling, or don't have it very strongly anyway (I suppose it would be utterly psychotic to never care what anyone thoght of you).

Some people's identity is very much wrapped up in their sexuality. Think, for example, of transexuals. It's tempting to dismiss them all as simply needing the ultimate in a certain form of validation, and yet if you've talked to or read about a few of them in-depth you realize the need to be something different is something that's burned into them at a very deep level.

If I seem to be rambling it's because I am. I suppose what I'm saying is that I see a spectrum here of people who self-identify by their sexuality and some who don't. So it would be intersting to ask which type is more prevalent.

Dean Esmay   ·  October 20, 2005 3:56 AM

Whether for sexuality or anything else, I don't think there's anything wrong or unnatural about seeking validation from people you know and respect, but to expect it to come from anonymous and impersonal sources such as the TV strikes me as a bit unreal, and possibly unfair. Sexuality is such a highly individualized thing that what one person might find "validating" another person might find just the opposite. There's something quite arbitrary about defining things like "gay culture" that I have to ask why. What's being defined, and who gets to define it?

I'm uncomfortable with self-appointed "role models" deciding that the sexuality of total strangers is their business. And even if the goal is the altruistic one of "validation" -- what does this suggest to the unvalidated?

Eric Scheie   ·  October 20, 2005 7:04 AM

When I think of "validate" I always think of a ticket or a bus pass.

My god, what a beautiful post. I could not agree more strongly.

Jason   ·  October 22, 2005 11:25 PM

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