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The Daily Agenda for Saturday, March 2

Jim Burroway

March 2nd, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: National Student Pride, Brighton, UK; Belgian Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Brussels, Belgium; Cape Town Pride, Cape Town, South Africa; Telluride Gay Ski Week, Mountain Village, CO; Sydney Mardis Gras, Sydney, NSW.

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
The Usefulness of Homosexuals: 1895. Marc-André Raffalovich was a French poet and early theorist on homosexuality. He was also among the early writers to introduce the very word “homosexuality” into the English language. He had begun writing about the subject in 1894, using the French word unisexualité, but when he contributed an English translation of a portion of his work for the March 1895 edition of the Journal of Comparative Neurology in 1895, he used the terms “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” as opposite but equal poles of human sexuality. That, in and of itself, makes this particular article noteworthy, as it appears to be the first time that homosexuality and heterosexuality were discussed as directly contrasting characteristics. He nevertheless also continued to use older terminology – “invert” and “uranism” (based on a German theory of a “female psyche in a male body” as an early formation for effeminate male homosexuality)  — and he appears to have coined a new term, “psychic hermaphroditism,” to describe bisexuality. Writing in the March 1895 edition of Journal of Comparative Neurology:

It is difficult to do justice to the inverts; so also it would be difficult to do justice to the heterosexuals if we were to confine ourselves exclusively to their sexual life. Falsehood and sexuality are always so intimately associated because reality belies desire since expectation and realization are in glaring contradiction. If men were bold today, if they were not under the sway of an all-pervasive materialism, how differently would they think of sexuality!

…The day when the invert ceases to call for the indulgence of society, he will begin to justify himself in the eyes of truly superior men. Because heterosexuality is not suppressed homosexuality ought to be equally favored. Strange logic, if the repression of heterosexuality is one of the problems of the future, as I believe it to be.

Raffalovich saw two types of homosexuals: those who were born gay and those who “chose” their inversion. The former were worth studying, but the latter were mere criminals as far as he was concerned. Nevertheless, he was among the first to argue that homosexuality (and homosexual people) was morally neutral. But that didn’t mean he believed in homosexual emancipation. Instead, Raffalovich wrote that a homosexual, if he were “the superior being that he imagines himself and if he had any religion,” should pursue celibacy and dedicate himself to serving humanity:

The great men claimed for homosexuality have been great only because they have not allowed themselves to be overmastered by their sexuality. The grand inverts have been grand in spite of their inversion or because they raised themselves above it and so above humanity. The man without family, without wife, without children, who is kept by continence or by chastity from so many annoyances, vexations and falsehoods and whose heart is not barren and withered, may be a Michael Angelo or a Newton. (Newton is classed here only for his chastity).

…Well! since the invert is not burdened with maternity nor by all the vexations of the female sex, why not try to make him serve humanity? He has many defects and many vices inborn, but our civilization and our education do not and cannot improve his condition.

The bees and the ants have workers who do not reproduce. Is it possible, barely possible, to make some use of the uranists?

But as for changing and becoming heterosexuals, Raffalovich thought that would be impossible, and even dangerous.

So I protest that we should not make a practice of pitying the inverts as inverts. The enthusiastic uranists do not wish to change. With whom should they? The true homosexuals, those who have the passion of similarity, if they were women would love women; so also the true homosexual if he were a man would love a man. Let us pity humanity as a whole if we wish; let us pity it bitterly if we have no religion — but let us not pick out the inverts for the our utmost pity. I cannot repeat this admonition too often.

Raffalovich’s conflicted view of homosexuality betrayed his own conflicts with his sexuality. Three years earlier, he had met and fallen in love with his lifelong companion, the poet John Gray. Together, they developed a deep devotion to Catholicism, to which Raffalovich converted in 1896 and became a third order lay Dominican. Gray also converted and later became a priest (see below). After Gray’s ordination (with Raffalovich footing the bill), Raffalovich settled near Gray’s parish in Scotland where he continued to provide financial support and attended mass every morning. And while Gray served his parishioners, Raffalovich served humanity by hosting a salon and becoming a patron of the arts. Raffalovich and Gray remained devoted to each other (while living in separate households) for the rest of their lives until Raffalovich’s death in 1934, just four months before Gray’s.

[Source: Raffalovich, Marc Andre "Uranism, congenital sexual inversion." Journal of Comparative Neurology 5, no. 1 (March 1895): 33-65. Available online via Google Books here.]

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
John Gray: 1866. A poet of the Aesthetic movement, Gray was a friend of Oscar Wilde, who some say used Gray as his inspiration for the title character in The Picture of  Dorian Gray. Like many in the Aesthetic movement (Wilde included), Gray was drawn to Roman Catholicism. He converted in 1890, lapsed, then re-embraced Catholicism in 1895 before issuing his 1896 volume Spiritual Poems: Chiefly Done Out in Several Languages. It included eleven original poems, plus twenty-nine translations of other Catholic and Protestant spiritual poets. In 1898, he went to Rome to study for the priesthood, and he was ordained in 1901. He served is a priest in Edinburgh, and was supported in his endeavors by his life partner Marc-André Raffalovich, a successful poet and early defender of homosexuality who had joined the Dominicans in 1896. The two lived near each other until Raffalovich died suddenly in 1934. Gray was devastated, and became ill and died just four months later.

Matthew Mitcham: 1988. The Queensland, Australia native and Olympic gold medalist received the highest single dive score in Olympic history in the 10m platform in 2008. His performance prevented a Chinese gold medal sweep in diving, and he became the first Australian male to win Olympic gold in diving since 1924. Australia’s post office acted very quickly on the historic win, issuing a 50 cent stamp with his image just one day after his victory. But despite his achievement, his gold medal didn’t translate into sponsorship gold. While lesser athletes snapped up lucrative deals, Mitcham struggled to find a single sponsor before finally landing a contract in 2009 with an Australian telecom. It’s widely believed that his open homosexuality played a role in holding back the rush of sponsors. In 2011, he suffered a string of injuries which hindered his training for the 2012 games in London, where he finished 13th in the 10m platform semifinals, just one place away from qualifying for the finals.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Comments

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Regan DuCasse
March 7th, 2013 | LINK

There are some rare books around Los Angeles and there are a few that feature Gray’s poems, which are quite beautiful. Reminiscent of Burns sometimes. Sometimes Whitman.
I can understand being drawn to Catholicism. It’s solemn pageantry can be very beautiful of course.
I’ve been very much into Wilde’s period. The popular writers of the time. I think I might be going a little steam punk, even.
And I have several of Wilde’s books, which I love. He was a genius. And it breaks my heart that the gay men and women of his time were so repressed.
Their passions could come out in their writing and it’s amazing.
I don’t know if such repression made their work more intense.
But the more I know about that era, in that part of the world, the more I understand.

Jim Burroway
March 7th, 2013 | LINK

I would have been (and probably still am) a total Aesthetic, which may explain why in my active Catholic days I was something of a traditional “bells and smells” Catholic. Every day, in the words of Oscar Wilde, I strive to live up to my blue china.

Priya Lynn
March 7th, 2013 | LINK

“I was something of a traditional “bells and smells” Catholic.”.

All I can remember is that offensive incense that smelled like death.

Jim Burroway
March 7th, 2013 | LINK

Really? Canadian corpses must smell a whole lot better than American corpses. ;-)

Priya Lynn
March 7th, 2013 | LINK

LOL

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