More Mary Renault – On Limitations and Other Fallacies

Still reading The Charioteer by Mary Renault, published 1959. I left you with Laurie, the gay male hero of the novel, attempting to mislead a fellow gay boy into thinking he (Laurie) wasn’t queer, which he is. The other man persists, however, inviting Laurie to a get-together that evening for his (Sandy’s, the other man’s) boyfriend, Alec. Laurie just wants to get away, but then Sandy mentions the name of the head boy from Laurie’s prep school, the one that got expelled, presumably for being queer, the one Laurie has been more or less in love with all these years. So Laurie goes to the party, but as soon as he gets there, he gets creeped out. All these GAY MEN are there, and he’s having a really hard time with it. Renault says,

“The party had warmed up by this time. A momentary detachment came upon Laurie as he looked on. After some years of muddled thinking on the subject, he suddenly saw quite clearly what it was he had been running away from; why he had refused Sandy’s first invitation, and what the trouble had been with Charles. It was also the trouble, he perceived, with nine-tenths of the people here tonight. They were specialists. They had not merely accepted their limitations, as Laurie was ready to accept his, loyal to his humanity if not to his sex, and bringing the extra humility to the hard study of human experience. They had identified themselves with their limitations; they were making a career of them. They had turned from all other reality, and curled up in them snugly, as in a womb.” (p. 132, Pantheon, hard cover)

I read a lot of what I guess you would call historical queer literature, and this position pops up again and again: Yes, all right, I’m defective – a traitor to my sex, actually —  I’m limited, but I’m going to do everything I can to protect others from it, it’s nobody’s business but my own, I’ll go on quietly being abnormal in as normal a way as possible, nobly subsuming my own inclinations and desires to be as much in line with the status quo as possible…. The idea that someone different from the herd doesn’t deserve to share pasture with the rest of the critters is strong, strong, strong. Right alongside “The Noble Cripple”, “The Jolly Fat Man”, “The Saintly Old Person” we have “The Self-Denying Queer”, all working their asses off so “The Normal, Regular Citizen” doesn’t have to trouble his or her pretty little head about anything other than him or herself. How does this help society in any way shape or form? It only does when you deeply and utterly believe that normal equals the majority (and, in the spirit of the bumper sticker “The moral majority is neither” it helps to remember that even members of the so-called majority are very different from one another once you take a closer look).

As we are finally beginning to discover, even if it’s only in fits and starts and one step forward, two steps back, it’s ok to be different from one another – we can actually learn a lot from one another; difference opens wide doors and windows, as long as we can allow the difference without getting into power play and “my way is the only way” bullshit.

Poor Laurie! So young and rigid in his thinking, wounded in body and heart, he’s ready to judge very harshly other queers who are taking solace in their shared sexuality, talking fey with one another, dancing, drinking, and laughing. Not perfect, of course; the weight of societal hatred and having to live so far in the closet takes its toll and probably there are guys at that party that you’d rather not hang out with too much, but better than being completely isolated. And here’s Laurie, 23, watching with scorn, sure he’s figured it all out, feeling both bereft and highly judgmental. Setting such high standards for himself and all other queers that he’s setting everyone up for failure and digging himself deeper into a big, isolated hole. Some of that is his youth, but the rest is his own complicated way of reacting to the poison dumped on the deviant by one and all.

I recognize Laurie in the “we’re just like you” queers, who work harder than anyone to be upstanding citizens and parents; I recognize Laurie in the overachievers, the self-deniers, the “just happen to be gay”-ers, in the ex-gays, who treat their sexuality like an addiction – unfortunate but manageable. We’ve come a long way, but Laurie’s sad, self-hating way of thinking about “abnormal” sexuality is still with us. I’m different from you – I’M SO SORRY! Here, I’ll take your attention away from it by being the best cop, the best soldier, the best lawyer. By never showing you who I really am, by pretending I’m not a sexual being just like you. AGGGHHH!!!

I love reading these old books because I’m fascinated with the changing ways people think about their queerness, but really, it’s all still with us. Again and again and again we have to keep picking away at the hatred and the violence it breeds, over lifetimes, decades, centuries. Being specialists in queer. Rejecting limitations imposed by ourselves, by an uncaring populous. Making a career of it.

Published in: on June 2, 2009 at 7:00 AM  Leave a Comment  

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