I wonder if I even know what constitutes “romance” anymore.
I bring this up because there’s a pretty heavy discussion on Steve Gershom’s blog, where one of the readers is trying to “appeal to finer detail” on gay romance (no sexual contact implied) vis-à-vis Catholic sexual morality. And I don’t mean to appear as though I ridicule the idea, but my unruly mind can’t help but reel under the assaulting image of one man presenting another a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates.
At one time, to say that something was romantic was to say that it had the air of epic adventure, that it was an Iliad or Chanson de Roland waiting for the right bard to cast it into poetry. Within the context of love, it was love both idealized and realized, having all the required, even scripted, elements yet evoking wonder and beauty, like a performance from Michelle Kwan at the top of her game. (No, I will not turn in my guy card.) The sexual tension was maintained almost perfectly, awaiting the honeymoon for its resolution and consummation.
The postmodern sexual madness always has to find new ways to shock because, wherever it’s occupied territory for awhile, it’s become yawningly banal. While I get that calling an ardent admiration for another person a “crush” is supposed to be funny, as is calling a close male friendship (such as that between Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) a “bromance”, it has all the stale emptiness of too many knock-knock jokes, of hearing somebody say “Houston, we have a problem” as though Apollo 13 just hit the big screen last weekend. “Man-crush” was cliché as soon as it was coined.
Examples abound of “repressed homosexuality” injected into male friendships, from Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (lampooned in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), even to the extent of an S/M cult among female fans of Star Trek: The Original Series centering on Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock. Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood and Sean Astin attempted to celebrate heterosexual male friendships in the Lord of the Rings trilogy; however, the result — and I say this as one who loved all three movies — verges on a sappy sentimentality that would have had Tolkien, who wrote the friendship between Frodo and Sam in a very old-school British manner, rending his garment.
It’s precisely this tendency to see sexual feelings where none need be that Robin Williams sends up in Aladdin: When Aladdin (Scott Weinger) expresses gratitude for being saved, Genie (Williams, who ad-libbed his dialogue) replies sentimentally, “Aw, Al, I’m getting pretty fond of you.” Then, as they fly off to Agrabah, he adds awkwardly, “Not that I want to pick out curtains or anything.”
Do you see the point? As funny as the line is in context, it begs us to ask: Why should a man need to add such a disclaimer?
According to the new meta-narrative, we’re supposed to conclude that the man is uncomfortable with his homoerotic feelings and is therefore forced to push them away in a display of machismo, like Gunny Highway (Clint Eastwood) in Heartbreak Ridge: “Don’t think this means we’ll be taking long, soapy showers together.” But it’s just as easy to respond to such psychobabble with more psychobabble: by importing homoeros into friendships, aren’t we trying to rationalize same-sex attraction just as some are trying to rationalize pedophilia by sexualizing children?
We could well ask why man-woman friendships “get to have” sexual tension but same-sex friendships don’t. Again, though, why does the sexual tension between a man and a woman need to be acknowledged, let alone resolved? More to the point, is it really true that all male-female relationships have sexual tension, or are we just trying to rationalize sexual stupidity? Can’t a cake just be a cake, for crying out loud?
Melinda Selmys of Sexual Authenticity makes a valid point about Theology of the Body devotés’ tendency to over-emphasize the sacramental nature of married sex, out of her concern that others will be led to believe that every marital encounter ought to be mind-exploding in its awesomeness. If it’s an over-emphasis, though, it’s a corrective to the contradictory memes that sex is “no big whoop” and at the same time something one must have — and regularly, too! — to be a well-functioning human being.
To sneer that Catholic teachings about fornication, contraception, homosexuality, yadda-yadda-yadda, are all about “not liking sex” or sex being “dirty” is to completely miss the point: “sexual freedom” spoils sex itself. Absent its biological imperative — reproduction — it’s like a weekly social requirement to eat cake: cake loses not only its association with special occasions, it loses the extraordinariness of its taste, even while it diminishes the nutritional wholesomeness of every meal with which it’s eaten. Even the most basic act, masturbation, cheapens any positive value to orgasm, like getting drunk alone in one’s kitchen.
People go to the fringes of sexual deviance — “water sports”, S/M, bestiality — because everything less outré has become stale … like knock-knock jokes. Or, as Erica Jong discovered, they lose interest in sexual license; it’s just not everything it’s been made out to be (pun intended). Others, like Steve Gershom and my friends the Bright Maidens, deliberately choose to live chaste lives, not only in response to Christ but also because that’s the direction in which sexual sanity reposes.
Sexual tension — where it does exist — doesn’t need to be resolved, explored or even mentioned in the context of a friendship. Friendships have value for their own sake, and ought not be ruined by mindless boundary-pushing or political coöptation.
A person can enjoy Men at Work’s “Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive” without ever knowing that the last chord is a dominant seventh rooted on the subdominant of a mixolydian scale (and therefore, according to classical theory, “needs” to be resolved into a tonic major). Why can’t we enjoy our friendships that way?