Andrew Sarris: Heteros Have Problems Too


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February 4, 1971, Vol. XVI, No. 5

Heteros have problems too
By Andrew Sarris

I am 42, going on 43, and I have never had a homosexual experience. Thus, if only by the process of elimination (and an ecstatically happy marriage), I must qualify as a male heterosexual. I am not bragging, mind you, or complaining either, but merely stating a banal fact. I am not suggesting that I have resisted the blandishments of hordes of homosexuals over the years. Nor am I suggesting that there is anything heroic about being heterosexual. Or even anything special. But I do feel the time has come in my intellectual life to draw the line against any additional accretions of guilt.

For the past quarter of a century I have been accumulating guilt at an alarming rate, beginning with the traumatic screenings in 1945 of the Nazi death camps for which I, as a Graeco-American Christian, assumed historical guilt, followed by black rhetoric against my undeniably american white racism; followed, in turn, by the indignation of the authentically American Indian against my undeniably European-American imperialistic incursions into the Happy Hunting Grounds, followed penultimately by the lash of Women’s Lib against my undeniable male chauvinism. (I won’t dwell on the detours along the way to Hiroshima, Czechoslovakia, Biafra, the Sudan, Mylai, Spain, Greece, South Africa, Cuba, Tibet, China, India, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Guatemala, Chile, Haiti, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Rhodesia, Haiti, Pakistan, and many more sites of misery mercifully repressed by a tired mind.)

Where I have chosen to draw the line, however, is with Merle Miller’s “What If Means to Be a Homosexual,” a self-pitying “confession” in the New York Times Sunday Magazine of January 17, 1971, reprinted on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle on January 25, 1971. I simply refuse to allow myself, as the member of a behavioral group, to feel guilty for the hardships my heterosexuality has imposed on his homosexuality. Indeed, I feel the time is ripe in the moral marketplace to unload some of my guilt-edged investments, and to look more closely at the goods of professional guilt-peddlers for defects in logic and consistency. After all, I may be American and white and male and and heterosexual, but I am also the son of Greek immigrants, an ethnic rather than a Wasp or an Anglo. I may be the citizen of a capitalist, racist country, but I have never personally owned or sold slaves, or driven off Indians, and I have never been rich, or owned even a single share of stock. Similarly, I am a male heterosexual, but I would hardly describe myself as one of those beautiful people to whom heterosexuality or any other kind of sexuality is more a flowering opportunity than a frustrating obsession. To put it bluntly, I have never been invited to an orgy, and no woman, young middle-aged, or old, has ever offered me the option of making love for a living. All in all, I am sure that Jules Feiffer would cast me far more readily for the patsy part of Bernard Mergendeiler than for the raffish role of Harry the Rat with Women. As I look back on the earliest stirrings of sexual desire disrupting my lower-middle-class devotion to decorum, I realize that I was ridiculously repressed by any standard, and perhaps permanently cheated of any prideful pleasure in my masculinity. But perhaps my almost incredible ignorance of the social dimension of sexuality was the necessary condition for my coping with the fearsome problem of intellectual growth. But contrary to what homosexual confessions like Merle Miller’s seem to imply, there was never a time when I woke up in the morning with the feeling: “Hallelujah, I’m a Heterosexual!” Indeed, my recurring nightmare was that I would appear in a public place with my fly open to the giggles of girls in groups, and I must confess that girls in groups still terrify me somewhat. If I could ever dredge down deep enough into the depths and dregs of my subconscious to retrieve the totality of my sex life, it would probably turn out to be more an anomaly than an anthology, a 30-years-war between mind and body, the cerebral and the visceral, grubby careerism and gross carnality, guilt and joy, God and the devil, the pen and the penis, sexless sentimentality and loveless sensuality. It would be a case history like so many other case histories, richer in yearnings than earnings.

As it is, I am not “coming out of the closet,” whatever that means. And the last thing I want to do is initiate heavy heterosexual rapping sessions full of wailing, whining, and self-castrating confessions. The fact remains, however, that heaters have never had it all that easy as a class in Puritanical America where until very recently a male whore was easier to pick up than a female whore, and a buddy made a less scandalous roommate than a girl friend…

But the truth of the matter is that there is not now and there never will be a sexual technology that will insure human happiness. The essential absurdity of human existence remains. We are all in the same boat, and it is steadily sinking, and it will continue to sink even after we all come out of our closets and onto the communal bed of carnal bliss. Miller links himself with E. M. Forster and W. H. Auden on the homosexual issue, and makes the heterosexuals all sound like Yahoos, but the problems i far more complex than he makes it seem. Auden never irritates me because his poetry never suggests a homosexual sensibility attempting to impose itself upon me. But over the years I have had to deal with a great deal of aggressively homosexual art in movies, theatre, painting, and literature. The aggressive homosexual does not ask for my pity or kindness. He prefers to ridicule many of the myths and feelings I revere. The love of a man for a woman, for example, is derided in that funky frolic “Trash,” and we are told quite solemnly by its admirers that this is where America is at, and that so-called “Normal Love,” in Jack Smith’s mocking phrase, is a snare and a delusion. I won’t buy it. The Warhol-Morrissey freak show is a part of New York life, a very small though well publicized part, but it doesn’t represent all of New York, much less all of America. Homosexuals have a right to exist, and not be harassed by police, and not be fired from their jobs, and not be discriminated against in employment. But every homosexual, like every heterosexual, is something more and something other than his sexual personality. And that is where this male heterosexual takes his stand: with the something more, the something other, the something extra that redeems the relative banality and poverty of sexual “techniques” in human existence. Wilde, Proust, Auden, Forster are not so much homosexuals who happened to be great artists as great artists who happened to be homosexuals. Ultimately, it is a waste of time to study the technique of human relations. We are here for too short a time to take courses in life. We must learn on the job, and accept all our mistakes as irrevocable.

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