Bill Donohue Lies About History of Homosexuality

Feb 27 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Bill Donohue - Making it up as he goes

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that a group of openly gay soccer fans, worried about anti-gay violence in Poland requested that the European Championships soccer matches have separate seating for gay and lesbian fans. This prompted a typically fact-free Christofascist response from Catholic League president Bill Donohue. Bill the Bigot was offended that anyone should question the anti-gay views of Polish Catholics: “If being opposed to homosexuality makes one phobic, then almost the entire world (throughout all of history) suffers the same malady,” Donohue claims, “How about adultery and incest—is opposition to them also phobic?”

Donohue then proceeded to leave all fact behind as he launched a bizarre assault not only on civil rights but on history:

Some homosexual Polish soccer fans are demanding that a separate seating section be created at the 2012 European Soccer Championship in Poland; they claim that gays and lesbians might otherwise be subjected to harassment and violence. Their plea would be of no interest to the Catholic League save for a comment made by the AP reporter who wrote the story from Warsaw.

The following is a direct quote from the news story: “Homophobia also remains deeply embedded in Poland because of the legacy of communism which treated homosexuality as a taboo and the teachings of the church in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.”

Let’s follow the logic. Every world religion is either opposed to homosexuality or takes no position on it; not one finds it acceptable. So if being opposed to homosexuality makes one phobic, then almost the entire world (throughout all of history) suffers the same malady. Not only that, we are to believe that the problem in this case is not delirious homosexuals taking up the cause of segregation, it’s the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexual ethics.

How about adultery and incest—is opposition to them also phobic? That such ideological nonsense can appear in a sports article in a prominent media outlet shows just how far standards have fallen in journalism. It also shows how gay-crazy and anti-Catholic many in the media have become.

Donohue is wrong, of course. When he says that every world religion has been opposed to homosexuality and that not one has found it acceptable – throughout all of history – he is proving himself completely unaware of history.

We claim to live in an enlightened age yet we are trapped by our own understanding of gender roles and categories. We are brought up to believe that there are boys and there are girls. Boys have penises and girls have vaginas. And there is nothing in between and it is obvious how the pieces are supposed to go together. And no surprise: we are brought up to see the world in this way.

But it is not the only way; other cultures and other ages have different ideas and understandings. In the industrialized West we determine gender categories based on plumbing. We don’t base these categories on gender roles; instead, gender roles have for a long time been determined by gender categories: men fight and hunt; women engage in domestic duties.

Likewise, if a boy makes love to a boy, it is homosexuality. You thus have a category called “homosexual” – those who engage in same-sex sexual relations. Both participants are labeled as homosexuals.

There is no cogent reason to object to total equality in the marriage sphere. Bill Donohue’s opposition is based on myth. And I am not speaking of the Bible as myth but of the very universality of the term homosexual.

But homosexuality, few people realize, is a modern concept. The pathology of the 19th century created the category from the male/female conceptualized as abnormal.[1] Ancient ideas about sex and sexuality are far more ambiguous.[2]

To claim therefore (as Donohue of necessity does when he claims “all of history”) that modern distinctions and prejudices are simply continuances of ancient Pagan feeling on the subject is to misstate the case. As Marilyn Katz puts it, “the nineteenth-century notion of sexual pathology was unknown to antiquity.” As she goes on to say, “[T]here is a radical discontinuity between the ancient and modern discourses on sexuality.”[3]

As Beate Wagner-Hasel observed in 1989, the debate over the status of women in ancient Greece “is not only an attempt to reconstruct a bygone way of life, it is also a discourse over woman’s place in modern bourgeois society which had its beginnings in the Enlightenment and has continued up until the present time.”[4]

Arguing over whether our polytheistic ancestors were tolerant or intolerant of homosexuality is problematic. It is rendered meaningless once we understand that we can’t even talk about homosexuality in an ancient context, because the ancients did not have the same attitudes we have today, either of homosexual acts or of gender.
Homosexuality has not been universally seen as immoral; it has not even always been seen as homosexuality. As often happens, the truth is much more complex than the simple black and white model offered modern Western audiences.

Archaeologist Joan Breton-Connelly speaks of “presentist” assumptions – arguments based on or colored by “late twentieth -century political sensibilities.” [5] With regard to genders as “fixed” categories Breton-Connelly appeals to Judith Butler’s questioning of “woman” as a fixed category in her Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) in which she “exposes the ways in which traditional feminist constructs decontextualize individuals from their historical, political, and cultural settings and identities.” [6] The same can be said of homosexuals as a fixed category.

To claim therefore that modern distinctions and prejudices are simply continuances of ancient Pagan feeling on the subject is to misstate the case. As Marilyn Katz puts it, “the nineteenth-century notion of sexual pathology was unknown to antiquity.” As she goes on to say, “[T]here is a radical discontinuity between the ancient and modern discourses on sexuality.” [7]

Take for example my own Heathen Norse ancestors. While a boy might be born with male sex organs, that simple fact did not in itself make him a man. Gender categories were not fixed and manhood was something that had to be earned – and maintained – through the activities normally associated with that gender category. This meant that while a boy and his penis could aspire to manhood, so could a woman. By laying aside one set of gender roles and embracing another, a woman could become a man. Conversely, a man could become a woman.

“This is a world in which ‘masculinity’ always has a plus value, even (or perhaps especially) when it is enacted by a woman,” writes one scholar. [8] It was “a society in which being born male precisely did not confer automatic superiority, a society in which distinction had to be acquired, and constantly reacquired, by wresting it away from others.” Because women had no theoretical ceiling and men no theoretical floor, gender categories were flexible and movable. [9]

Like the Norse, the Romans and Greeks lacked a modern understanding of “homosexual” and “heterosexual.” Once again, it was not what a Roman “was” but what a Roman “did” that determined things. A Roman male was supposed to be a penetrator, the “active” partner in sexual activity. It was manly to penetrate; it was feminine to be penetrated.
For example, a man would brag about penetrating another man, like Sinfjötl in the “First Lay of Helgi Hundingsbani”: [10]

On Sága’s Ness full nine wolves we
Had together – I gat them all.

He is reminding Gudmund of how often he has “had” him sexually. One attempt to convert Iceland floundered on such accusations made against the Saxon bishop who had been penetrated by Thorvald, and Icelandic Christian working for him.

The bishop gave birth to nine children,
Thorvald was father to them all.

The Norse understood things in the same terms. “Anal penetration constructed the man who experienced it as whore, bride, mare, bitch, and the like – in whatever guise a female creature.” [11]

The evidence suggests that for the Norseman’s “character was not either male or female, but lay on a spectrum ranging from strong to week, aggressive to passive, powerful to powerless, winner to loser.” [12]

To be called a man was the highest compliment a man could pay a “woman,” as we see in Laxdaela Saga when Snorri of Helgafell says of Gudrun the Fair, “Now you can see what a man Gudrun is, when she gets the better of both of us.”

To be a man was to be hvatur – bold, active, and vigorous – and this was to be admired, whatever sort of plumbing you had. Likewise, to be blauður – soft and weak – was to be despised, whatever sort of plumbing you had. [13]

The moralizers in some ancient pre-Christian societies decided that men were penetrators and women were penetrated. The old ditty about Caesar demonstrates this, that he was “every woman’s man, and every man’s woman.” In contrast to today’s paradigm, by sodomizing another man Caesar would not be seen as effeminate; but being sodomized was another matter altogether.

Christian moralizers, following Jewish Law, presented the Western world with a new paradigm: Not only did men “insert” and women “receive,” but men could only be insertive with regards to women and women could only be recipients of men. Any toying with this equation was an abomination that had unhappy results for all concerned. And the derision of your fellows (in Pagan cultures) and a relatively quick death (in Judaism) was replaced in Christianity by an eternity of hellfire.[14]

And so it remains today.[15]

And by the way, the Heathen Norse found Jesus to be effeminate and effeminizing. They called him the “White Christ”- white being a passive color. In other words, Donohue might want to think about who the “real homosexuals” were to at least one pre-Christian culture: the Christians themselves.

Notes:


[1] Marilyn Katz, “Ideology and ‘The Status of Women’ in Ancient Greece,” History and Theory 31 (1992), 92. With regard to “homosexual” or “gay/lesbian,” and the effect of using one term over another see Steve Williams, “Gay and Lesbian or Homosexual? What’s in a Word?” http://www.care2.com/causes/civil-rights/blog/gay-and-lesbian-or-homosexual-does-it-matter/
[2] See Ray Laurence, Roman Passions: A History of Pleasure in Imperial Rome (Continuum, 2009), 84-86 for a discussion of views of “homosexuality”in the Roman world.
[3] Katz (1992), 92.
[4] Beate Wagner-Hasel, “Frauenleben in orientalischer Abgeschlossenheit? Zur Geschichte und Nutzanwendung eines Topos,” Der Altsprachliche Unterricht 2 (1989), 19.
[5] Joan Breton-Connelly, Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece (Princeton University Press, 2007), 19-20.
[6] Breton-Connelly (2007), 22. See also Cynthia Eller, Am I a Woman?: A Skeptic’s Guide to Gender (Beacon Press, 2004).
[7] Marilyn Katz, “Ideology and ‘The Status of Women’ in Ancient Greece,” History and Theory 31 (1992), 92. With regard to “homosexual” or “gay/lesbian,” and the effect of using one term over another see Steve Williams, “Gay and Lesbian or Homosexual? What’s in a Word?” http://www.care2.com/causes/civil-rights/blog/gay-and-lesbian-or-homosexual-does-it-matter/
[8] Carol Clover, “Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe,” Speculum 68 (1993), 372.
[9] Clover (1993), 380.
[10] Robert Ferguson, The Vikings: A History (Viking Penguin, 2009), 234.
[11] Clover (1993), 375.
[12] Nancy Marie Brown, The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman (Harcourt, 2007), 74.
[13] Brown (2007), 74.
[14] And in Uganda, with the support of extremist American Evangelicals, we are seeing the return of the death penalty for homosexuality. See “Human Rights Impact Assessment of Uganda’s Anti-homosexuality Bill,” The Zeleza Post, January 17, 2010 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=86439&id=18903-6770804-EYlalox&t=5
[15] See the discussion at ReligiousTolerance.org: http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_legis.htm

 

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