Midlife
Queer
Autobiography
Of a Decade
1971 - 1981

Martin Duberman
(Wisconsin)

Psychotherapists seem to be blind to the truth of homosexuality. Every book we've read by the current mauvens in the field --- the noisy radio-shrinks, the NLP gang, and the "Psychology for the Masses" bunch --- misses the boat, and misses it badly.

First off, there is now no doubt that being gay is a personal choice --- albeit, a choice made very early on in life. According to Freud, Piaget and Erickson, one chooses one's sexuality at age three, four, or five years (at that stage, one is open to make such choices --- in the same way that one can be open to learning multiple of languages. The window of choice closes around age five-and-a-half.).

Thus, a boy or girl, through hero-worship, or love, or for mere survival --- possibly even a combination of the three --- can choose his or her own future sexual path, viz, "When I grow up, I want to be a woman" (or "I'm going to be a man when I'm a man.") This choice has nothing to do with the physical body. A boy can choose to be a woman, a girl can do the same.

The second --- and more obvious --- truth about homosexuality concerns the principle of feedback. When a man loves (read: wants) a woman, he wants someone outside himself, one he can never be --- eg, an entity with breasts and vagina, and the mysteriousness that comes from within, from being able to engender life.

But when a man loves men, he is but wanting himself, and his lust perforce has to be turned inwards, for he owns the same body that he craves (albeit with variations). This accounts for the unremitting passion that most gays display, the need to sexually "act-out" many times a week (or for some, many times a day). Like a feed-back circuit, lust amplifies itself and the key --- the often ignored key --- is that for many males, one is merely required to love one's self for satisfaction and fulfillment. It's known as onanism. This self-love can, by definition, be far more satisfying than it is for a non-gay --- for a heterosexual male to have sex with himself is to have sex with an object in which he has but an intellectual interest.

In addition, a heterosexual male can pretend to own the body of a woman that he desires (in this society, it's called prostitution, or, in a more refined setting, marriage), but the gay male has another choice: he already owns the body that will feed his passion. He is, by definition, in love with the mirror.

With the strictures of our society --- expressed or not --- these manifestations of self-love (and a "queer" love to boot!) must engender feelings of shame, even for the most self-accepting gay. This shame will express itself in the usual anti-social guises: arrogance, anger, resentment, depression, self-destruct --- and a conflicted sense of isolation ("No-one understands me" a/w "No-one will ever understand me.")

The homosexual male will be alone because he lives what Marshall McLuhan called the paradox of Narcissus. Narcissus "cared for no woman's love," and was thus cursed by Echo --- Echo, who adored him (get it?) --- to love his own image in the pond. The paradox, according to McLuhan, is that Narcissus will never realize that the lovely face reflected back to him is none but his own.

As we read contemporary literature (psychological, didactical, historical, pornographic, novelistic) written by, or relating to, gays, we should keep the paradox of Narcissism in mind, for gays are forced by themselves to accept the choice of loving the self, all the while not knowing it is the self (which permits self-loathing.) Readers of such literature must, thus, be prepared for defensiveness, and for hate, and for, most of all, exhaustive, non-stop onanism.

          

These characteristics are all exemplified, and exemplified in high relief, in Martin Duberman's Midlife Queer. Anger, self-hate, resentment of others ("why are you so homophobic?" seems to be one of his favorite questions) and a powerful blindness to the mirror --- the mirror being a very huge, and very baroque one. For some readers, Duberman's defensiveness may be off-putting, as will the self-doubt, which here appears under the rubric of let-me-tell-you-how-important-I-am:

  • "As I described them in an op-ed piece for the New York Times..."
  • "I was still teaching at Princeton (I resigned in 1972 to join the City University of New York)..."
  • "When I came to review Faggots (in The New Republic)..."
  • "[My play] Visions of Kerouac opened...and got almost uniformly good reviews, even a few raves..."

In truth, these tics may make some readers give up in despair, or in disgust. But Duberman is worth sticking with. It isn't the power that comes from his words. Far from it. Better --- it is that he lays down important clues that probably he himself doesn't see, making going through Midlife Queer a bit like a gay Maltese Falcon.

For instance, he tells us that one therapist told him that he read as much as he did so he wouldn't have to be with himself. With the same therapist, he is looking at himself ("he directed my gaze into the mirror. I reflexively flinched, never having liked staring at myself...") and reveals that his legs are as they are because when he was young, he had polio. There is no follow-up to that powerful piece of information, even though we now know, through the writings of Gould, Gallagher, and a host of experts on post-traumatic stress disorder, that such childhood diseases have profound, long-lasting effects on the psyche.

          

When Duberman is bitching about producers who ignore him, or won't answer his calls, or when he is going on about "homophobia" --- which he sees everywhere --- he can be quite trying. But when he lets us in on his inner battles, over lovers, over bathroom sex versus "settling down," over getting involved in something called "bioenergetics," then his words can come to life.

Bioenergetics, for example, takes him (and us) on a merry whirl to a week-long workshop --- what we used to call "touchy-feelie stuff." It stirs Duberman to tears, and laughter, and a surge of non-logical, non-intellectual, non-what-am-I-doing-here? feelings. Unfortunately, it soon passes, and it's back to the bars again, fighting with producers and agents again, giving us the message, repeatedly: "I'm an awfully good writer --- famous, known, respected --- an excellent organizer, but why am I so miserable (and why do people treat me so badly)?" The answer, Martin, is right there on the page. It's,

  • Drop the mask, Duberman.
  • Life's a bitch, but you're not the only one in pain.
  • We all know pain.
  • You, and I, will never have a corner on it.

The book concludes:

    I've gone from a rented apartment haunted by old griefs to a warm and sunlit home with the chance, anyway, for quieter, deeper pleasures, less luxuriant miseries.

It is at times like this that we want to grab him, and shake him, and tell him to stop making all these phrases less luxuriant miseries for Christ's sakes. As the bioenergetic people told him (even though he wrote it, he didn't hear it): "What you need to put aside are the categorical judgments your intelligence creates in order to distance yourself from available love and support."

Duberman's problem --- pain, as expressed in these writings, in his restless doubt --- carries within it the seeds of its own resolution. Lord hopes he makes it; Lord hopes he learns to get into the mirror. He is talented, sometimes wise, sometimes heroic --- and doesn't deserve to perish in a welter of self-abuse, self-reproach, and arrogantly self-induced despair.

--- Lolita Lark