Thursday, June 02, 2005

Seeking a License to Live

A friend of my recently sent me a link to this article about the relevance of Malcolm X's sexuality to his legacy...

The author, Bruce Perry, that wrote the Malcolm biography that all of the controversy stems from is a fairly reputable scholar. Of course Perry seems most interested in putting forth a psychological profile of Malcolm, and so his bio focused primarily on Malcolm's early years (when psyches are most powerfully shaped). It does appear that Perry was most concerned with uncovering childhood traumas and speculating on how those traumas impacted his later public life. It is left to the reader to determine how objective and discerning Perry was in the interviews he conducted for his book.. I tend to believe there is some veracity to Perry's account, but you don't need to turn to Perry to see evidence that Malcolm had at the least, less sexual inhibitions than most of his contemporaries. Even in Malcolm's own autobiography, Malcolm recounts stories of when he was an addict, being involved in some rather illicit behavior with "fetish" clients.

Now whether Malcolm was drawn into this world due to fighting the throes of drug addiction or using his addiction as an excuse to act out his own latent fantasies (that he had been acting out for years according to Perry's book) is not of much consequence to me. Those who feel a need to protect Malcolm's legacy from his alleged past are reflecting their own attitudes, not only about sexuality, but about morality on brother Malcolm. Malcolm was a pimp, a numbers runner, and a junkie before going to prison and joining the Nation of Islam (NOI). Once ostracized from the NOI he continued to develop in his faith and morality, putting down the hate mongering rhetoric that had promoted him to the most visible minister under Elijah Muhammed. Most people use Malcolm's life arc from common criminal, to pedagogue, to true spiritual leader and humanitarian as a shining example of growth and development of the human spirit in love and compassion as it seeks out truth. So my question is, even if one feels that homosexual behavior is wrong (or at the least believes homosexual behavior is not becoming a leader such as Malcolm), why do they feel like this part of Malcolm's history would mar his entire legacy if all of this occurred in the same years as his criminal youth? Is it because our own homophobic society feels that homosexuality is not only a sin, but an unforgivable one? If this is the case how is consensual sex between any two individuals less forgivable, than exploiting one's financially hobbled community with a numbers racket, or exploiting another person as a sexual object. Why would it not magnify his luminosity if it could be demonstrated that he overcame his 'sexual pathologies' just as he overcame other social pathologies like drug addiction and hate? My gut feeling is that most mainstream attitudes are informed by the personal experience that "we can run from, but we cannot hide from what we desire sexually." You might not act on those desires, but they are always there and too visceral to be tamed by reading, fellowship, and natural maturation. How ironic, that some would believe in Malcolm's ability to exorcise the demons of drug addiction, ignorance, hate, and materialism, but we don't really believe he could have changed his internal world? But in this accusation lies the confirmation that we believe in the the immutability of one's sexuality. So aren't we also admitting that the feelings and internal reality of homosexuality are not a conscious choice, even if one has unlimited control over how to deal with those feelings?

No matter how much one deems homosexuality as unnatural, it seems to me one must either assume that Malcolm transcended and overcame, or made the best set of possible choices given what he could never hope to change? So the question remains, why fight so vehemently to protect Malcolm's legacy from these allegations?

On the other hand, those who jump to believe any conjecture about the extent of Malcolm's homosexuality are still seeking the approval of a hostile society. At one level, I understand the need to try to change the opinions of society at large thus increasing one's freedom within that society. (Even as a heterosexual man, I find the limitations imposed on me by a society that is hostile towards not only homosexuality, but anything it deems associated with homosexuality to be a superfluous constraint on my own self-fulfillment. One is constantly made aware of the "witch hunt" mentality, even those who are best qualafied to hunt out a concealed sexual identity are persons who have experience in concealing their own identity, but I digress.) But I don't know if trying to use Malcolm's actions as some kind of proof of the legitimacy of all sexualities makes a lot of sense. Brother Malcolm stood up for black people, poor people, and ultimately stood up for the human race, but he never expressly stood up for sexual liberation, that I know of. If Malcolm was indeed homosexual, his failure to disclose this fact demonstrates an attitude of shame or at the least indifference, which doesn't make him a role model for self acceptance or even embracing diversity. If he had meant to fight that battle for the liberation of sexuality, most certainly he had the courage to fight that fight. So my strongest thought about those who seek to "de-mystify" the sexuality of Malcolm is they are still trying to convince themselves of the rightness of their own actions or attitudes. They still do not trust in their own indwelling sense of determining what is right and true for the spirit that lies within. This is not unlike when black people used to have that argument over whether Beethoven was black. History does suggest that Beethoven had some ancestors who migrated from North Africa, via Spain, but the racial make up of these ancestors was most likely Arabic, not the presumed native Nubian. But what does it say about my own talent and ability and worth if Beethoven was or was not black? If I trust in the unique and intrinsic worth of my own life I will not seek out other people with similar races, sexualities, or any other arbitrary personal quality to validate my own worth, goodness, or correctness. Using Malcolm's stature as one of the greatest men of the twentieth century to justify one's own choices is about as mature as using Bill Clinton history of marijuana use or George Bush's history of cocaine use as justification for one's own use of drugs. If I really trust in the legitimacy of my feelings/actions I am completely indifferent to the choices others have made in the same regard. My only concern is with trusting my own experience and understanding the repercussions of my choices.

Of course this is a path that requires constant improvement because few of us can say we truly defer to no one. As I write this...I am wondering what some of you will say in response...?

mr. wilson


chad said...

Very well said Mr. Wilson…

But I can't help putting my 2 cents in on your very sufficient offering.

It is true that some people who hold brother Malcolm in high regard will passionately dispute any suggestion that Malcolm may have engaged in homosexual encounters as a young man. They can’t even tolerate you suggesting that he might have had same-sex attraction, but never acted on it. To some people, homosexuality is the “unforgivable sin” and it leaves a permanent stain on the reputation of the sexual deviant that can never be cleansed.

To me, if Perry’s assertions are true (I suspect there is at least a modicum of truth there in), then Malcolm is an even greater man in my eyes. It’s one thing for Malcolm to overcome drugs and criminal-mindedness when he was able to recognize that these behaviors were clearly self-destructive. But to suppress ones sexual desires, because you believe homosexual behavior to be wrong is an even greater feat of human will, because it means denying what you desire even if it does not seem all that self-destructive. That kind of control requires great faith, and I think Malcolm’s faith that God wanted something other than a homosexual lifestyle for him must have been great indeed. Think about the restraint that Malcolm would have required to be around all of those impressionable brothers in the NOI that looked up to him. In the height of his NOI popularity, any one of them would have taken a bullet for him, so of course the brotherly affection was there. Yet he married and raised a family, despite the tempting fruit (of Islam, so to speak) that was around him everyday. (In light of the amount of federal surveillance he was under, I’m sure the FBI would have exposed him had they any evidence to support that he was unfaithful to Betty, with another man no less) Who knows what the truth really is? Unfortunately, if the “stain” of homosexuality on Malcolms’ legacy is indeed real, it will be much harder to remove in the hearts of many than the stain of stealing, pimping, and getting high.

Our society has a hierarchy of immorality, and homosexuality sits high on the pyramid. Is it not a bit strange that we call people homosexual or gay based on how they feel, not on what they do. If I have same-sex attractions, but have never so much as hugged another man, our society disparages me as gay or homosexual. However, if I constantly have thoughts about knocking the living shit out of my co-worker, but always maintain control, I’m not called a murderer. And if I constantly find myself casing the bank when I run errands and I am constantly tempted to steal, I’m not considered a thief. Or, if I can’t stop thinking about my best friend’s wife, but I never do anything, no one accuses me of betrayal. Apparently, in our society homosexuality is so unforgivable, that one cannot even think it without being defiled.

Well I guess I’m fortunate because I’m in the majority, and I don’t struggle with same-sex attraction. But I do struggle with corrupt desires just like every human being since Adam and Eve has struggled with. Heterosexuals engage in all manners of sexual exploitation, perversion, fetishism, sadism, masochism, prostitution, and debauchery, but apparently this is all forgivable compared to having had your first crush on your team mate on the JV football squad. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s what the religious right seems to preach. I just wonder what we would find if we looked into the closets of the heterosexual “moral majority”…because I can hear bones rattling from here.

Your brother in suppressing the flesh,

"The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn't mean that God doesn't love heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision."
-Lynn Lavner-

Audrey said...

Mr. Wilson,
I am not nearly as interested in your position on Mr. Perry's view on Malcolm's sexuality as I am in the thought processes you perused before coming to your position.
With that said, I lean toward Chad's understanding of the human predicament man finds himself in when faced with a sexual preference that is deemed unnatural in our society today.
The question that begs to be asked is when did homosexuality become unnatural? We know of its existence in the Bible. Not much later we learned young Spartan boys were sent to camps to be trained to be warriors
by day,and then satisfied the sexual appetites of their warrior-teachers by night. During Medieval
times, while young females were left at home to learn from their mothers how to manage the household, their young brothers were shuffled off to the monastaries where they were educated in art, history, and philosophy by day while wondering whose body "Father John" was going to use as if it were a woman's by night. And with this knowledge, there was still a waiting list! The millions of dollars the Catholic Church has spent for the sexual offenses of its priests tells us that even men of God can not control their sexual appetites. But, who judges? Have we forgotten that only God can?
If I need a tumor removed from my brain, the surgeon's sexuality is of no concern to me. If the surgeon is an excellent surgeon, why should I be concerned about who he or she sleeps with? Is not integrity,honesty,loyalty,
patriotism,and civility more important than one's sexual preference? Certainly, heterosexual relationships can be debased!
My solution, treat every man and woman the way I want to be treated.
To do more than this would be errant! No matter what sexual experiences Malcolm may or may not have had in his lifetime, it is his decency and humbleness in his fight for humane treatment of all peoples that will stand the test of time!

Manchild Evolving said...

Very interesting stuff...I posted on this topic as well a while back, let me know what you think.