The following review appeared in Gay Today (2 August 1999) and in the Greenwich Village Gazette

Book Review by Jack Nichols

A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love

By John Lauritsen, Provincetown:

Pagan Press, 1998, 94 pages, $6.95

Freethinkers — people who think for themselves instead of relying on the ‘graces’ of so-called authorities — will be delighted by this slim volume's clear, uncomplicated approach to male love and affection. Author John Lauritsen, a scholarly thinker, has, with admirable economy, transformed his case into everyday language.

Drawing carefully from reams of history, literature, anthropology, archeology, zoology, and psychology, Lauritsen's thesis goes directly to the heart of many questions now bedeviling gay movement theorists. The result is a valuable contribution to men's perspectives, one that belongs in the library of every person hoping to understand — on a worldwide scale — erotic responses among males.

The current or ‘official’ movement for same-sex equality has lost its bearings, writes Lauritsen, “through bad theory, unprincipled politics, and meaningless jargon (‘sexual orientation’, ‘affectional preference’, etc).”

Lauritsen, who has been sometimes wrongly dismissed by political opportunists as a radical, rightly bristles when he says:

Obsessed with ‘building coalitions’, present-day 'gay leaders' have toadied to mainstream religion (although they occasionally attack the 'Religious Right'). Shameless in their opportunism, they have not hesitated to re-write history to accommodate tactics, and to ostracize scholars who tell the truth.”

Lauritsen stands tall among those visionary Stonewall era pioneers who've demanded a wider view — not one that foolishly separates gay men from straight men — but which sees through to the core of their kinship. This reviewer connects especially with Lauritsen when he writes:

The condemnation of sex between males is a transitory historical phenomenon, not an eternal feature of human society. At the core is a specific taboo, which is no more rational than the one on eating pork.”

The anthropological perspective on male love, Lauritsen argues, is sufficient by itself to undermine “causation” theories. “Homosexuality” is a 19th century word he rejects as divisive, separating males into two disparate groups.In this, he appears to agree with Gore Vidal who says:

There is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person. There are only homo- or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices, and what anyone does with a willing partner is of no social or cosmic significance.”

To raise the “causation” question about same-sex affection is to assume that it is an anomaly, which, in fact it is not. A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love, therefore, offers fresh breaths of sane air as Lauritsen makes succinct his scholarly points:

Erotic responsiveness among males is not limited to human primates, but occurs among other mammalian species as well.”

Sexual behavior among males occurs in all kinds of human societies — where it is condemned, where it is tolerated, and where it is encouraged. There have been and are societies in which virtually every male takes part in sexual activities with other males.”

All-male eroticism has been favored in relatively simple societies (the Siwans, the Azande, many Amerindian groups, various New Guinea tribes) as well as in great civilizations at their zenith (ancient Greece, samurai Japan, medieval Islam).”

Erotic responsiveness to one sex does not preclude responsiveness to the other. Most males who have sex with each other also have sex with females.”

Given opportunity and permission, in one-sex groups or permissive cultures, most males will enjoy having sex with other males.”

The condemnation of all-male sex is not a human universal, but rather a transitory historical phenomenon, limited in space and time to particular cultures, particular religious beliefs and practices.”

Lauritsen the freethinker is no friend to anti-sexual religious dogmas, nor does he sympathize with a more recent phenomenon, namely the rise of Protestant gay-friendly churches and groups like Roman Catholicism's banned New Ways Ministry. His perspective on Christian history seems amply backed by current events, namely the Vatican's reiterated and pointed condemnation of same-sex love as “intrinsically evil”.

Lauritsen therefore critiques the politics of those whom he calls “Christian revisionists”. They may be apologists, he says, like the late Roman Catholic scholar, John Boswell or such fellows as (this is my choice) the practicing-gay-Catholic- liberation-political-theorist Andrew Sullivan — both men practiced pleaders for greater tolerance for “homosexuals” or “gay people” while they “simultaneously exonerate the Church from her historical responsibility for fostering intolerance.”

Without mercy Lauritsen shows how the Holy See itself is a main source excusing and thereby promoting hate crimes and anti-gay violence. He includes in his text a letter approved by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 1986 and sent to Catholic Bishops On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. This letter — unforgivably — says:

But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when irrational and violent reactions increase.”

Thus, Lauritsen correctly damns such outright Papal incitement to and excusing of murder.

My singular near-disagreement with Lauritsen involves his understandable revulsion at how dogmatic ideologues in the feminist movement — some of whom have built coalitions with gay males has affected male liberationists in ways of which he disapproves.

He writes:

More than anything else, the gay liberation movement has been confounded by feminism, or at any rate by certain tendencies therein.”

Still, in a footnote, Lauritsen says:

I do not reject the women's movement as a whole, only certain intemperate and reactionary tendencies within it.”

I wish only that the author had confined his concerns to these ideological “tendencies” rather than seeming to risk, as he does, any assignment of blame to feminism itself. One of my best-loved visionary literary mentors, Edward Carpenter, whose work Lauritsen quotes, saw the emancipation of women and their equality to be part and parcel of those changes needed to establish a similar social footing for same-sex love....

I recall John Lauritsen in the Stonewall era, usually walking in the epicenter of the counterculture's best-known New York neighborhood, East Village. He'd struck me then as a serious thinker, and both his activism and writing over the last three decades have since been celebrated in several histories. Lauritsen is the author of seven previous tomes, including a co-authored work with David Thorstad titled, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935).

A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love is chock full of telling quotes and references making rock solid Lauritsen's compelling case that those who oppose male love are lame promoters of taboos that stem mostly from primitive superstitions. Such witch doctory he ably attacks head-on and without embarrassment. The low-cost of this important Primer guarantees, nevertheless, a provocative, high-quality purchase.

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[The late Jack Nichols was Senior Editor at GayToday, an important electronic publication. Nichols was active in the gay movement starting in the early 60s, when he was was a leader of the homophile movement. Together with Frank Kameny and a few others he founded the Mattachine Society of Washington. In the 70s Nichols and his lover, Lige Clarke, edited Gay, a New York “lifestyle newspaper which points the way to new values.” He was author of The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists. (Prometheus Books, Inc.)]

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