p style=”text-align: justify;”>A few years ago, I was privileged to be part of the team representing the Soho “gay Masses” in discussions with the diocese of Westminster, prior to the move from our then base in an Anglican church to a new home in a Catholic parish. One of the opening observations made by Bishop Bernard Longley, for the diocese, listed the “concerns” of the diocese about the gay community: one of these was the “homosexual lifestyle”. I’m sure you’re all familiar with that “lifestyle”- obsessed with sex, permanently high on drugs and alcohol, and unable to give a moment’s thought to anything more important than new additions to their wardrobe, or booking seats for the opera, ballet or musical.
The stereotype of course, is laughable- as are all stereotypes. It does not describe any of my friends, and probably not yours. But it is not a laughing matter: this and similar stereotypes lie at the heart of the animus displayed by the Vatican against gay men and lesbians. In “A Question of Truth”, his useful rebuttal of the CDF “Homosexualitatis Problema”, Gareth Moore shows how the Vatican argument is rooted the idea that “homosexuals” are somehow incapable of genuine Christian love, and that homosexual “activity” reduces still further that limited capacity for love. Yet, as Moore and many other writers have observed, and as is obvious to anybody with more than a passing acquaintance with real gay men, they are conspicuously well-represented in the caring professions.
I was delighted today to come across David Nimmon’s “The Soul Beneath the Skin: The Unseen Hearts and Habits of Gay Men“, a book that tackles these false images head-on: not by arguing with them, but by providing direct, empirical evidence of the reality.
Gay men are mindlessly hypersexual, unethically promiscuous and ceaselessly narcissistic or so the worst stereotypes would have it. Rather than refute these charges by painting a portrait of male homosexuals as just like heterosexuals (except for one small detail), Nimmons, president of New York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, radically reinterprets gay sexuality, intimate relationships and self-image. Using a wide range of scientific surveys, anthropological studies, philosophical inquiries and personal observation and anecdotes, Nimmons argues that gay male culture is arranged around highly ethical behaviors that value the needs and health of both the individual and the community. These values, he argues, are enacted through a wide range of sexual practices and unconventional couplings (from one-hour tricks to open long-term relationships), and are manifested in the community-building that has accompanied the AIDS epidemic, as well as the broad range of mentoring relationships between gay men. Noting that “gay relationships are distinct from heterosexual relationships in that they are frequently based on expectations of equality, reciprocity, and autonomy,” Nimmons also examines how gay men’s relationships with women could present a model for heterosexual men as well.