Monday, October 08, 2007

Wishful thinking about the past

If I were limited to one reason why "I detest the gay-lib movement," I wouldn't refer to the sinfulness of homosexual conduct (sodomy has been around forever and didn't particularly need Stonewall to justify it). But I would instead choose the way that it has poisoned same-sex love, which takes many forms including loyalty and friendship, by injecting the aura of sex into them.

Consider the execrable articles from last month on a paper in the Journal of Modern History that was widely reported (and positively so, on that grounds) as providing a model for homosexual relationships. Predictably the usual suspects got aroused by it: Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish (though not Sully himself); National Public Radio; Live Science; and very silly student journalists.

Here is (customary warning here; article is fine, whatever the dangers the broader site may hold)

Same-sex civil unions, while seemingly new and radical, appear to have existed 600 years ago in late medieval France, a professor writes in the September issue of the Journal of Modern History.
The term affrerement, or "brotherment," referred to a certain type of legal contract that provided a marriage-like foundation for non-nuclear households of many types, according to Allan Tulchin, an assistant professor of history at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.
What utter balderdash ... (CM rolls up sleeves and readies fisking muscles) ...
The model for the arrangement was that of biological brothers who inherited the family home on an equal basis from their parents and continued to live together, Tulchin wrote.
But in cases where the affreres were single, unrelated men, the contracts provide "considerable evidence that the affreres were using affrerements to formalize same-sex loving relationships," he wrote.
The $64,000 question here is the phrase "same-sex loving relationships." What does that mean? And what does it communicate?

To answer the latter first, it communicates to a modern audience homosexual "marriage" (see the very silly student journalist). But literally, of course, it doesn't "mean" very much at all. Or rather it means nothing at all new or controversial or anything having to do with marriage law. I have a "same-sex loving relationship" with my father. I have one with my confessor. I have ones with my best drinking buddies, Courage brothers and other friends. We are all of the same sex. We do love one another. And we have relationships.

Well, let's all toodle off to Massachusetts then. (At least, once the consanguinity taboo has been suitably demystified as the irrational prejudice future generations will see it as, so my father can join the fun.)

What never ceases to raise my wrath with these sorts of scholarly articles is precisely that the writers will never say "gay marriage," because they know their scholarly credibility will be shot to hell if they do. Instead they use "same-sex loving relationships," which doesn't exactly "say" gay "marriage," but will be heard as saying it. And also cooperate with news articles that puts that spin on their work sotto voce. Even to me, who cannot be called someone who speaks French, "affrerement" is an easy word to translate -- "brothering" ("frere" is the uncontroversial translation of "brother"). Obviously "brother" has to be somewhat metaphorical in this sort of case, but prima facie, "brothering" someone is not evidence of sexual interest.

Nor is there no precedented for this very problem with this very term. There was the 1990s flap over John Boswell and adelphopoiesin (the Greek term for "making brothers"), which has been roundly dismissed, me saying that "his books' account of social approval and gay marriage are incompetent fantasies based on tendentious eisegesis."

"I suspect that some of these relationships were sexual, while others may not have been. It is impossible to prove either way and probably also somewhat irrelevant to understanding their way of thinking," Tulchin wrote. "They loved each other, and the community accepted that."

In other words, there is NO evidence at all, merely Tulchin's supposition ("I suspect"). This is rather less than persuasive.

There is a difference between primary evidence and corroborating evidence, and "affrerement" and "adelphopoiesin" rites can only be corroborating evidence of social tolerance of same-sex sex. I agree that Tulchin is making a reasonable surmise if we were dealing with a society in which there were good pre-existing reason to think homosexuality was widely tolerated. But as evidence for such toleration in the first place? Not even close ... that's the classic case of Nietzsche's critique of scholars "who dig up what they themselves buried."

Yes, of course "the community accepted that." But if "the community" were a bunch of homophobic Catholics who understood same-sex love as perverted if it involved sex (while having no difficulty with ritualized friendship, fraternity, paternal love, etc.), then said tolerance would be evidence of nothing whatever.

American academicians comes across as simply incapable, for reasons I dare not speculate, of imagining any form of love that is not sexual or a sublimated pale-substitute for sex. Inevitably, they read sex where it isn't (or rather there is no evidence that it is). To quote from Shaw's review of Boswell:

Such agreements and rituals are "same-sex" in the sense that it is two men who are involved; and they are "unions" in the sense that the two men involved are co-joined as "brothers." But that is it. There is no indication in the texts themselves that these are marriages in any sense that the word would mean to readers now, nor in any sense that the word would have meant to persons then: the formation of a common household, the sharing of everything in a permanent co-residential unit, the formation of a family unit wherein the two partners were committed, ideally, to each other, with the intent to raise children, and so on.
Although it is difficult to state precisely what these ritualized relationships were, most historians who have studied them are fairly certain that they deal with a species of "ritualized kinship" that is covered by the term "brotherhood." (This type of "brotherhood" is similar to the ritualized agreements struck between members of the Mafia or other "men of honor" in our own society.) That explains why the texts on adelphopoiesis in the prayerbooks are embedded within sections dealing with other kinship-forming rituals, such as marriage and adoption. Giovanni Tomassia in the 1880s and Paul Koschaker in the 1930s, whose works Boswell knows and cites, had already reached this conclusion.
That point stands essentially unchanged against Tulchin's work. Back to the article:
Before a notary and witnesses, the "brothers" pledged to live together sharing "un pain, un vin, et une bourse" -- one bread, one wine and one purse.
The "brothers'" goods usually became the joint property of both parties, and each commonly became the other's legal heir.
Evidence of a formalized union, even especially one involving property, is not, never was, and never will be evidence that said union included affective ties.

Otherwise what would some Tulchin or Boswell of the 30th century be able to make of documents showing the widespread practice of "fraternities." Such scholars could even find, in addition to proof of collective living, deeds showing that it was a common practice for two or three "special brothers" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, saynomore) to live together, by themselves, away from the community? Add a few "original documents" of fraternity rites and oaths, including all these Greek letters (more winking and nudging).

There will also be all the references to "loyalty" and "bonding in brotherhood" and the like (it'll help if these Tulchins and Boswells do not speak English and so will need to translate "loyalty" and "brotherhood"). And if there are references to "fellowship" and "camaraderie" (all these four words are species of the genus "love") ... do I need to say more?
"Western family structures have been much more varied than many people today seem to realize, and Western legal systems have in the past made provisions for a variety of household structures," wrote Tulchin, who studied documents and gravestones of the affreres to arrive at his conclusions.
And now we get to the other thing that pisses me off when I read these sorts of articles. Those of us who oppose gay "marriage" really are quite aware that a range of family structures is possible, and that all societies acknowledged plurality, within the limits that define the society's understanding of family. We don't need to be talked down to and told this. We really don't. But the mere fact of diversity on points A, B, and C is not a reason for accepting structures that differ on points X, Y, Z. Not in itself. Indeed, social norms operate precisely on the how difference is constructed between ABC on the one hand and XYZ on the other.


Allan Tulchin said...

You complain about a lack of evidence, although you're reading a press release, a short summary of a 35-page article. Obviously, a lot had to be left out. Actually, there's plenty of evidence, at least that the couples lived together, shared all their worldly goods, and in some cases were unrelated and weren't married to anyone else. Non-procreative sex doesn't leave much evidence in the historical record, so I don't know how to "prove" they were having sex.

Allan Tulchin

Anonymous said...

Why is the love between two men such a threat to the leadership of the Catholic Church? Is it so horrific for a man to love another man. The work by these men mentioned in this "response" of yours is a scholarly as any work of history can be. I am very conserned by the level of proof that you need to these relationships to be real. I am a gay Roman Catholic (I will not renouce MY religion even if MY church leaders hate me because of whom I chose to love), and you level of proof needed concerns me because using your method of proof, the very existance of Christ himself is in question. YOU sound like the heretic to me. I have faith in God that he loves me and my partner of Ten years. These writers give me hope that the bigotry of my church and my country will come out of the dark ages to embrace the home I have shared with my partner and how we both try to be Christ-like every day. Your condesending attitude and your obvious bigotry doesn't help.