Category Archives: Sexuality

Gay Pride and a Sabbath Reflection

Today is the Gay Pride Parade in Toronto.

Frye in his 1952 diary:

I have never myself felt any physical basis to my affectionate feelings for other men, but there must be one, and it seems to me to be as pointless to speak of all male love as buggery as it would be to speak of all marriage as legalized whoring. When Marlowe said that the beloved disciple was Christ’s Alexis, he wasn’t just being a bad boy: the sense of his remark is that Christ’s love, being human, must have had a substantial quality in it. (CW 8, 465)

The joke writes itself. A pasty, slightly flabby, middle-aged guy dressed up as a cowboy at an event where they “bust broncos.”

The joke continues with the observation that some “Christian conservatives,” identifiable as libertarians in the private sector and authoritarians in other people’s private lives, are also regularly discovered to be deeply in the closet, sometimes in the company of a rent boy and a ready supply of crystal meth. This includes pastors of “family values” churches and a striking number of Stephen Harper’s Republican brethren.

So nobody is suggesting that our God-fearing, End Times-friendly prime minister is anything but what he appears to be. However, according to the demands of the joke, he does exhibit eyebrow raising behavior. Most notably, a conspicuous streak of homophobia likely related to some unresolved conflict that dare not speak its name, but is expressed by an obsessive concern with restricting the sexual behavior and personal freedoms of people who do not conform to his version of “real Canadian values.” Think of the secretly cross-dressing J. Edgar Hoover’s paranoid fantasies about “the enemy within” — in the end it was clear who the “enemy” and where the “within” was.

Finally, there’s the punchline involving Harper’s billion dollar G20 Sweet Sixteen last June: all those sweaty, heavily muscled, body armored, nightstick swinging riot police “kettling” legally assembled protesters, pushing up hard against them from behind, thrusting deeper and deeper into the crowd . . . Very butch. Totally top.

However, joking aside, does any of this sound anything like what Jesus would do? Or is it a projection of what Harper’s Jesus would do if he actually existed, passing judgment and casting aside those who do not qualify as somehow fulfilling God’s love?

It’d be hard to go wrong with the assumption that any God of love worthy of the name loves gay people and would have some stern (but still forgiving) words for the odd over-compensation of our jet-buying, jail-building prime minister. There’s not a lot of peace or love in Harper’s Christianity, which means it could use a little more Jesus and a lot less idolatry, such as worshiping the golden calf of corporate power and Mammon in general.

All of which raises the very serious question: what exactly is Stephen Harper afraid of?

Gay Pride exhibits both pride and courage. Harper seems to possess neither. Except maybe the hollow courage of those who have acquired worldly power for personal gain, which is in turn closely related to the pride that goeth before the fall.

Frye on the Homosexual Jesus

Jesus and the Beloved Disciple

It’s Gay Pride Week, which makes it an especially good time to bring bailing buckets to the leaky boat of fear and intolerance.

Frye many times uses the term “homosexual” to describe the Jesus of the gospels, which makes sense archetypally because he is the second Adam who must redeem our fallen sexuality, including the always problematical subordination of women. He therefore consorts with men and has a “beloved disciple.” This is part of the “Eros Regained” aspect of salvation, the return to innocence of our sexuality (that is, sexuality without shame rather than suffused with it), the pinnacle of which is the restoration of the female. Frye in Notes 52:

Eros Regained starts with the homosexual refined Jesus lying on the bosom of a male beloved disciple, trying to get away from his mother but still so hung up sexually that he insisted his father was not his father and that his mother was a virgin, rescuing a bride symbolically but saying “don’t touch me” as his last words to a woman. This is the first phase of [Robert] Graves’ sequel: the mother-son one, where the son has to be “pure” to stay away from the Oedipal situation . . . I think the refined pure youthful Christ who’s been such a pain in the ass to later ages goes with the perversion of his teachings into a Mother Church. If I’m right about the Virgin as (this also seems to be Jung’s view) the glorified creature, or Man as the fourth person in the Trinity (except that it’s Woman), the Catholic cult of the Virgin is really a kind of narcissism.

What this ultimately means is that the restoration of Eros completes the resurrection of love where even the sexes become interchangeable, and, as with the Angels in Milton’s Paradise Lost, sex itself becomes interpenetration where “obstacle” they “find none / Of membrane, joint or limb” (8: 625-6). Moreover, if Christ is the bridegroom and the Church his bride, then all of humanity is female at the moment of salvation.

So maybe we can throw in transvestism as also doing God’s work.

Henry Miller


From the 1969 film adaptation of Quiet Days in Clichy

Today is Henry Miller‘s birthday (1891-1980).

Frye in The Modern Century:

In two writers who have strongly influenced the Freudian proletariat movement, Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence, pastoralism is a central theme. . . In Miller and Lawrence this pastoral theme is less sentimentalized and more closely connected with the more deeply traditional elements of the pastoral: spontaneity in human relations, especially sexual relations; the stimulus to creative power that is gained from a simpler society, less obsessed by satisfying imaginary wants; and, at least in Lawrence, a sense of identity with nature of great delicacy and precision.  (CW 11, 44-5)

Ask. Tell.


A shameful display by Stephen Harper in a world where shame is on the wane

It is a nice coincidence that the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell fell on Jean Genet’s birthday. If you’ve watched Un chant d’amour all the way through, you might be surprised to know that, as frank and courageous as the film is, Genet — who otherwise seems uncompromising and unbreakable — felt compelled to disown it after he’d made it.

The gradual realization of gay rights over the last generation may be the best marker for the triumph of our better instincts.  As Frye says, sexual shame is fallen consciousness itself.  The little less shame in the world today is the real measure of our progress.

Previous posts on Frye and homosexuality here, here, here and here.

Oh, and lesbians who look like Justin Bieber and other fun stuff here and here.  There’s a reason why they call it gay.

Video of the Day: Rocking the Vote


The Young Socialists of Catalonia in Spain have produced this video to encourage people to vote in upcoming regional elections.  It’s caused a bit of a stir, but most people (politicians excluded) don’t seem to have much trouble with it.

According to Frye, sex is of course a primary concern, and the right to vote is the peak experience of citizenship, so it seems natural enough that they come together at some point.  Maybe this is it.  Frye in conversation with David Cayley:

Then you get the other account [of creation] in chapter 2 [of Genesis], which begins with a garden and deals with animals as domestic pets.  The imagery is oasis imagery.  It’s all gardens and rivers.  And the emphasis is heavily on the distinctness of the human order.  First you get Adam, then you get Eve as the climax of that account of creation.  Obviously, that describes a state of being in which man and his environment are in complete harmony.  Then comes the fall, which is first of all self-consciousness about sex, or what D.H. Lawrence calls “sex in the head.”  That really pollutes the whole conception of sexuality and thereby pollutes in the same way the relation of the human mind to its environment.  (CW 24, 1023)

Not to be a total jag about this, but there is something deeply satisfying about seeing a woman depicted as having an orgasm while voting: it eagerly embraces both liberated female sexuality and gender equality.  As Frye notes, if, according to Judeo-Christian myth, humanity fell by way of a woman, then it will rise again as one.  Why shouldn’t something like this be winkingly suggestive of that?  Traditionally, nothing about sex is more threatening than female sexuality, which has always been about sexual shame generally and female subordination specifically.  This sort of thing fully exposes the fact that some people (including young socialists) are well past that.  Woman is after all, Frye suggests, the climax of creation.

Gay Pride Week


Today is the first day of Gay Pride Week.

This past month we’ve posted on Alan Turing who committed suicide in 1954.  Bob Denham put together a post last fall on “Frye and Homosexuality” here.

Frye in his 1952 diary made the following entry; remember that this is at a time when homosexuality was illegal and could definitively end a career — and all too often a life:

I have never myself felt any physical basis to my affectionate feelings for other men, but there must be one, and it seems to me to be as pointless to speak of all male love as buggery as it would be to speak of all marriage as legalized whoring.  When Marlowe said that the beloved disciple was Christ’s Alexis, he wasn’t just being a bad boy: the sense of his remark is that Christ’s love, being human, must have had a substantial quality in it.  (CW 8, 465)

The Doubled Heroine Device, or Betty and Veronica


In response to the “virginity” thread started by Jonathan Allan’s post, I think it wrong to suggest that Frye himself has gendered virginity: he is simply describing what he finds in literature, and he is obviously well aware of the value put on virginity as a commodity in a patriarchal culture, as his allusion to the danger of losing one’s bargaining position indicates. In romance this aspect of virginity is naturally enough prominent because the female protagonist is headed for marriage and must keep herself intact for Mr Right. As Frye says, the G-string comes off last. This can mean not just outwitting pirates and other villains but also keeping her true love, when he acts like a pirate himself (as in Pamela and Jane Eyre), from treating her as a slave or social inferior and trying to take her virginity before he has married her. But this is precisely what makes virginity a structural principle in romance, as the heroine uses her wiles to escape, survive, and attain sexual union with the right man at the end of the story. This is all of course discussed in The Secular Scripture.

Where virginity comes to take on another dimension is the point of the epigraph from Frye that Bob used in his post: “virgnity means a transcending of sex.” Jonathan Allen commented in this regard on the device of the two heroines, quoting the pertinent passage from The Secular Scripture: “the virgin who marries at the end of the story, we saw, represents the structural principle of the cycle and accommodation of it. The virgin who is sacrificed, or escapes sacrifice and remains a virgin, similarly symbolizes the other principle, the separation or polarizing of action into two worlds, one desirable and the other detestable” (83; CW XVIII: 56).

The two heroines can also represent what Frye calls the two cadences or “creative moods” of romance, the comic and the tragic or romantic, the social and the withdrawn, the world of ritual and the world of dream. The device is, in general terms, part of the general structure of doubling in descent narratives, a milder form of the doubling that you get in a tale like Poe’s William Wilson. An important prototype is Milton’s two muses in L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, the one sociable and light-hearted, the other withdrawn and pensive.

Scott used the device in several of his novels and brought it into into popular use in the nineteenth century where it is all but ubiquitous, at least in the Anglo-American tradition; it does not seem, as far as I can tell, to have the same prevalence on the Continent. Stendhal–an early and avid reader of Scott–uses a version of the device in his two great novels, The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma: Julien Sorel is torn between the withdrawn and pensive Louise de Renal and the more political and theatrical Mathilde de la Mole; Fabrice del Dongo is torn between his socially adept and politically astute aunt, Gina Sanseverina, and the withdrawn and melancholic Clelia Conti.

The device is now known in my classes, thanks to a student wit, as the Betty-and-Veronica device. By the way, I was told by the same young woman that the problem of the two heroines is beautifully solved in the Archie comics: in a recent issue of the comic book Archie marries both of them, thanks to the possible futures of Borges’s garden of forking paths.

A romance device, the doubled heroine is a central structural principle in realist novels as well: George Eliot uses it in a number of her novels: Lucy Deane and Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss (where the device itself is a meta-fictional theme in the novel: Maggie says she cannot finish novels in which the “dark unhappy ones” are doomed from the beginning); Dorothea Brooke and Rosamund Vincy in Middlemarch; and Gwendolyn Harleth and Mirah Cohen in Daniel Deronda. The latter breaks with the tradition, which goes back to Scott and the two heroines of Ivanhoe, by having the hero marry the dark Jewish heroine, the Rebecca figure, and reject the Rowena figure, Gwendolyn. As Russell Perkin noted in a previous post, there is a good example of it in Mad Men: Don Draper is torn between his uptight conventional blond wife, Betty, and the dark and alluring Jewish businesswomen, Rachel Menken.

There are of course male versions of the same thing (Wuthering Heights and Gone with The Wind being obvious examples), and Frye even gives an example of an unhappy male virgin who is sacrificed: “the martyrdom of Sydney Carton at the end of A Tale of Two Cities.”

The device, which is first briefly discussed in Anatomy, is one of those conventions that Frye draws attention to as part of a much larger argument, but which is really worth a book-long study in its own right. I wonder, Jonathan, if your “virginity” project might not be turned more fruitfully in the direction of the doubled heroine convention itself.

Frye and Homosexuality, Cont’d

Rembrandt's David and Jonathan

Rembrandt's David and Jonathan

 Further to my earlier post:

I’m not altogether sure what Frye intends by what he calls the homosexual or androgynous Jesus, but I suspect it’s related to his notion of the original form of humanity––the adam––before the creation of Eve.  That, in any event, is what emerges from Words with Power (127, 189).  There, as in most of Frye’s references to homosexuality and androgyny, the thrust is less sexual than metaphorical.  But perhaps one could begin to figure out Frye’s views on the issue from those passages where he mentions homosexuality.  Some of these are:

I write you some funny letters, don’t I, for a lover? All convention and all tradition is against me. Everybody thought, up to the last century, and most beyond it, that, as women had brains but no disposition to use them, and resented anything but an emotional reaction, that any kind of love that went beyond the caresses and endearments of a union based frankly and brutally on mutual possession of bodies, had something unnatural about it. But, oh, Lord, how dead, smelly, worn-out, stale that kind of love is! All men, all women, only react in one way to physical intimacy, which was why people had to be so frightfully monogamous. And so prudish too, because if there were no taboos on sex the race would die out. And it’s so hard to get away from that. When D.H. Lawrence started writing, everybody thought he’d be the Messiah of a new, fresh, vigorous kind of loving. Well, he did, until the war got him, or Oedipus, or something: anyway he betrayed his trust and slipped back into all the nineteenth-century drivel with Lady Chatterley. A sensitive, intelligent person in love today is a kind of pioneer. The Greeks started the antithesis between cultured, intellectual love and emotional physical love by making the first homosexual and the second heterosexual—or at least the Christian Church completed the antithesis. I think we might resolve that antithesis today, but with economic conditions as primitive and barbaric as they are, it would only work in isolated cases, of which you and I, thank God, are one. A lot of people, including yourself, squawk and squirm and giggle occasionally when talked to like this—but, while I may sound silly in my manner of expression, or pompous or what not—I know all the automatic reactions—to be educated intellectually is so easy, and to be educated emotionally so difficult—I despise a Philistine so much in the arts, that I can’t be satisfied to be one in love.  (Frye/Kemp Correspondence, 28 June 1935)

Jesus is a Son, but the Son & the Bridegroom are different: that’s why the gospel Jesus is presented as a homosexual (actually androgynous).  The difference comes out in the wedding at Cana [John 2:1–11], which I have no doubt means a wedding where Christ himself was the bridegroom.  But that wedding was not a biographical event in Jesus’ life: it’s a parable of the Second Coming.  Whenever there’s a son there’s a mother, and Jesus declares his independence of his mother here.  The Bridegroom is the sexual Jesus: the Bride is the people, of course, but Jerusalem is the Second Coming of the Virgin individual carrying the Word. (Late Notebooks, 1:277.  See also Words with Power, 202–3.)

I am about to write the world’s profoundest poem, with apologies to William James, the only one who has touched my level of genius:

Hogamus, higamus,

God is polygynous.

Higamus, hogamus,

Christ was androgynous.

(Late Notebooks 1: 274)

[James is said to have awakened one day with this jingle ringing in his head: “Hogamus, higamus, / Men are polygamous. / Higamus, hogamus, / Women monogamous.”]

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Frye and Homosexuality


In response to “Thoreau, Frye, and Same-Sex Desire“:

There’s this from Frye’s 1949 diary:

University lecturing is not teaching but a form of intellectualized preaching. You can go into all the world and preach the gospel, but if you try to teach any more than about twelve disciples you’ve had it. Teaching relates two individuals through Socratic love, which has to be homosexual. I can’t really teach a woman, because, being a woman, the things organic to her learning process are female, and shut me out. All I could do would be to identify myself with her animus, which puts me, as I’ve discovered and elsewhere remarked, in a hell of a spot. To teach a boy is to form his character, which means partly to unite him to the males of the tribe. It also involves the sort of love which sees with complete clarity what the boy’s character is: you can’t, that is, teach a frivolous person in the way you would teach a preternaturally solemn one. I’m not a teacher according to this line of thought; and I wonder if it’s possible without some physical interest in men, or sublimation of it. Even Jesus had a beloved disciple, as Marlowe pointed out. I can trace no such interest in myself.

The Marlowe reference: “That St John the Evangelist was bed-fellow to Christ and leaned always in his bosom; and that he used him as the sinners of Sodoma” (Richard Baines, “A Note Concerning the Opinion of One Christopher Marlowe, Concerning His Damnable Judgment of Religion and the Scorn of God’s Word,” Christopher Marlowe, Complete Poems and Plays [London: Dent, 1976], 513). The so-called “Baines’s Note” is a series of opinions on religion, said to have been Marlowe’s but apparently penned by Baines in an effort to bring Marlowe before the Court of the Star Chamber.

And these two passages from the Late Notebooks:

Tillich on the miserable reality of the concrete churches: when I went to church in Montreal with Lorna that jackass disrupted the whole feeling of the service by braying about homosexuals. Before the service, I met a woman I’d never seen before who pecked out of me in two minutes the fact that I had no earned doctorate. Malice, like other pacts with the devil, certainly gives one preternatural perceptions, up to a point.

Eros Regained starts with the homosexual refined Jesus lying on the bosom of a male beloved disciple, trying to get away from his mother but still so hung up sexually that he insisted his father was not his father and that his mother was a virgin, rescuing a bride symbolically but saying “don’t touch me” as his last words to a woman. [The notion of the homosexual or androgynous Jesus is repeated here and there in Frye’s writings––scores of times.]

Thoreau, Frye, and Same-Sex Desire


Thoreau’s sexual longings, from all evidence, appear to have been homosexual, though, sadly, perhaps for various reasons, they may have never been requited.

Thoreau’s case is perhaps yet another indication of the prevalence of same-sex desire among writers (this is certainly true in American literature). Such a fundamental and immediate sense of one’s difference from one of the most anxiously protected concerns of one’s society may encourage the more general development of an imagination and a counter-cultural vision that challenges the gross inadequacies, oppressiveness, and lies of that society.

I am thankful for that one passage, at least, in Frye’s discussion of sexual love in chapter 6 of Words with Power, where he closes the first section with the following paragraph:

I have been dealing with the common tradition in which the poet is a male who begins with the expression of his love for a female, and expands from there into a vision of a symbolically female nature. The sexual bias, however frequent, is certainly reversible, even if the history of literary imagery is not. I have said that there is no ladder of love in the Bible, but there is one inf Plato’s Symposium, and there the object of love, on the primary level, is not female. A crucial, though not surprisingly often neglected phase of the argument is the question about how far Socrates will go in bed with Alcibiades. The sublimating process starts from the beginning, but it goes in the same general direction, up to a vision of and ultimate union with the form of beauty. (201-02)