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“Is the Rectum a Grave?” This question becomes a nexus for observations about sex in the park, sadomasochism, bath-house orgies and jerk-off clubs. This is not the usual setup for a somber meditation on the classlessness of nakedness and The Mystical Experience breaking sexual boundaries to touch the infinite through the internal. This is not exactly the Song of Solomon: The pursuit and recovery of the sacred and the ecstatic in contemporary life is a journey separate from the path to equity, democracy, and justice. It promises only a quality of knowing unavailable to the Rousseauistic mind of social contracts. The impulse toward the ecstatic speaks only to remind us that the permanent human condition is exposure, and it reveals that the new activist demand for sexual “safe space” is little more than a silly oxymoron. On the one hand, “safe space” denies the darkness and violence humans face in nature, and on the other it concocts a language of banal, “redemptive” sexual management that would suppress the inherently transgressive nature of desire. Fearful of facing the terror squarely, we invent a new “radical” mythos, complete with its own system of privilege and taboo. We actively contrive to inoculate ourselves from one another, struggling to deny that in the messiness of human affairs the only genuinely safe space exists in an urn of ashes. We forget the simplest, plainest truth: To be alive is to be at risk. Sea *Vi # Horse / Inn Oc Kitchenettes-Cable TV is Pool t $ beside the Gulf of va Mexico c i a r $ on Mustang Island fl Ay Available for private parties 0 111% aLik t , n ig u c European Charm 1 & Atmosphere j 1 Special Low Spring & Summer Rates % Pets Welcome f e t 1423 11th Street 1 10 Port Aransas, TX 78373 9S call Mr Reservations f la* o ur00, 14 A FAIL_ _…,0706.Im a eo ir %I…….. a , Nowhere can sex be altogether safe, because sex is, for most of us, our primary, residual, atavistic connection to the realm of animal existence. But then, life on the boundaries is everyday life for gay men. A major theme in recent gay fiction has been the larger familial structures gay men find. Sometimes these include quirky and forgiving relationships with biological relatives. Sometimes gay extended families are composed of former lovers, their lovers and their “fag hag” friends, along with assorted pets and stuffed animals. Browning introduces us to these odd assailants of , the Victorian nuclear family. A family of gay lovers, dying off in the AIDS epidemic, proves that loyalty is not necessarily a property of blood. A gay Cuban-American couple demon strate that cultural loyalty can overcome their own fear of assault in macho Cuban Miami. What we gays have discovered is that families are the people who are there for each other; or as Barbara Bush would trill it, “However you define family, that’s what. we mean by family.” Browning also examines ways in which gay culture appropriates prevailing cultural values even when they are least admirable, e.g. racism, uncritical patriotism. Even these values get pressed into the service of gay community spirit. Racist elitism is deployed for the advancement of the Hotlanta River Expo, and patriotism props up the Mr. Hotlanta pageant, held annually in Atlanta, Georgia. Browning’s last two chapters deal with the interaction of the internal and external forces that shape the gay culture. On the one hand, gay culture is produced from within by gay politicos and image makers, then sold to gays nationwide as an export of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. On the other hand, the gay ghettos of America’s large cities are a bulwark against an oppressive prevailing culture. The traditional authorities of religion, law and medicine use gay bodies as a battleground in the struggle for power and prestige. \(Is gay life a sin to be denounced, a crime to be punword “homosexual” was concocted as a way for psychologists to pry custody of sex out of the hands of jurists. This historic power struggle was repeated in stop-action fast motion in the development and implementation of military policies during World War II. Browning describes this development briefly: The war came at a time when Americans were finally relinquishing the dream of bucolic community life, when the promise of the modern city defined the future. It also came at a time when psychotherapy had finally moved beyond the intelligentsia and was taking its place as a generally applied tool of human management. At the outset of the war, military psychiatrists argued forcefully that the homosexual was not a criminal but simply a type of human being incapable of controlling his condition. It followed that since homosexuality could not be stopped, homosexuals . should either be excluded or “managed.” It was a turning point in America’s reconceptualization of homosexuality. Though the sodomy laws did not disappear, the new mental-health movement transplanted homosexuals from the jail cell to the psychiatrist’s couch and opened up the first broad discourse over what homosexuality is. Whether or not doctors could “cure” homosexuality mattered less than that they saw it as a condition, a state of being that described vast numbers of human beings. Odd distortions of gay image-play are attempts at subversion of authority structures to create room for life. Browning points to an aphorism by Oscar Wilde as a crystallization of this style: “What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion.” Wilde’s witticism sheds light on the private lives and public lifestyles of many other gay men E. M. Forster, Andre Gide, Jean Genet, Joe Orton and Michel Foucault, to name a famous few. I like Browning’s The Culture of Desire as much for what it doesn’t do as for what it does. It does not develop a single, unified narrative line. It doesn’t argue a consistent and tight thesis. It doesn’t structure itself into neat syllogisms illustrated by interesting anecdotes. The Culture of Desire drops in on brief, often banal, moments. It describes interesting, ordinary people. It connects what it discovers in fresh ways. It provokes thought and reflection. It excites, and it frightens. And in the end, it encourages me because it helps me see that my activism \(with all my self-indulgence, grandstanding and demaproper because it is necessary for my own and others’ well-being. Browning shows that there is such a thing as gay culture, even if that culture is very young, artificial and Protean. Gay culture is transmitted to novices by example, personal instruction, writing, and artistic expressions; and it is based on sexual desire. So, you see, Michael Swift’s 1979 satirical essay is exactly right: “We will seduce your sons!” We will subvert traditional family values. We will flout authority and flaunt our sexuality. We will be good role models for the youth of our nation. And we will make the world a more authentically human place to live. A word to the wise: Get used to it. 111