A few years ago on a trip to Paris, I read an intriguing review in Le Monde of a book called Comme un Frère, Comme un Amant, a study of “Male Homosexuality in the American Novel and Theatre from Herman Melville to James Baldwin,” the work of one Georges-Michel Sarotte, a Sorbonne graduate and a visiting professor at the University of Massachusetts. I read the book, found it interesting; met the author, found him interesting. He told me that he was looking forward to the publication of his book in the United States by Anchor Press/Doubleday. What sort of response did I think he would have? I was touched by so much innocent good faith. There will be no reaction, I said, because no one outside of the so-called gay press will review your book. He was shocked. Wasn’t the book serious? scholarly? with an extensive bibliography? I agreed that it was all those things; unfortunately, scholarly studies having to do with fags do not get reviewed in the United States (this was before the breakthrough of Yale’s John Boswell, whose ferociously learned Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality obliged even the “homophobic” New York Times to review it intelligently). If Sarotte had written about the agony and wonder of being female and/or Jewish and/or divorced, he would have been extensively reviewed. Even a study of black literature might have gotten attention (Sarotte is beige), although blacks are currently something of a nonsubject in these last days of empire.
I don’t think that Professor Sarotte believed me. I have not seen him since. I also have never seen a review of his book or of Roger Austen’s Playing the Game (a remarkably detailed account of American writing on homosexuality) or of The Homosexual as Hero in Contemporary Fiction by Stephen Adams, reviewed at much length in England and ignored here, or of a dozen other books that have been sent to me by writers who seem not to understand why an activity of more than casual interest to more than one-third of the male population of the United States warrants no serious discussion. That is to say, no serious benign discussion. All-out attacks on faggots are perennially fashionable in our better periodicals.
I am certain that the novel Tricks by Renaud Camus (recently translated for St. Martin’s Press by Richard Howard, with a preface by Roland Barthes) will receive a perfunctory and hostile response out there in book-chat land. Yet in France, the book was’t treated as if it were actually literature, admittedly a somewhat moot activity nowadays. So I shall review Tricks. But first I think it worth bringing out in the open certain curious facts of our social and cultural life.
The American passion for categorizing has now managed to create two nonexistent categories—gay and straight. Either you are one or you are the other. But since everyone is a mixture of inclinations, the categories keep breaking down; and when they break down, the irrational takes over. You have to be one or the other. Although our mental therapists and writers for the better journals usually agree that those who prefer same-sex sex are not exactly criminals (in most of our states and under most circumstances they still are) or sinful or, officially, sick in the head, they must be, somehow, evil or inadequate or dangerous. The Roman Empire fell, didn’t it? because of the fags?
Our therapists, journalists and clergy are seldom very learned. They seem not to realize that most military societies on the rise tend to encourage same-sex activities for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has not grown up ass-backward, as most Americans have. In the centuries of Rome’s great military and poIitical success, there was no differentiation between same-sexers and other-sexers; there was also a lot of crossing back and forth of the sort that those Americans who do enjoy inhabiting category-gay or category-straight find hard to deal with. Of the first twelve Roman emperors, only one was exclusively heterosexual. Since these twelve men were pretty tough cookies, rigorously trained as warriors, perhaps our sexual categories and stereotypes are—can it really be?—false. It was not until the sixth century of the empire that same-sex sex was proscribed by church and state. By then, of course, the barbarians were within the gates and the glory had fled.