Wednesday, November 25, 2009


On October 11 Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill designating May 22 as Harvey Milk Day—the date on which California schools will be encouraged to perform “suitable commemorative exercises” based on the late San Francisco Supervisor’s life and contributions. That word “suitable” deserves close scrutiny.

What most Californians know about Harvey Milk is based overwhelmingly on the movie for which Sean Penn won an Academy Award. As is typically the case, Hollywood and reality have little in common.

“Metrosexual” British journalist Mark Simpson puts the disconnect this way: “the famously horny middle-aged sexual libertarian in 1970s Free Love San Francisco, who combined cruising and political campaigning—and had a taste for men half his age—is presented in ‘Milk’ as a serially monogamous chap looking for The One to make house with.”

Simpson’s witty observation is based largely on the respected Milk biography by the late gay activist, Randy Shilts. “The Mayor of Castro Street” provides a detailed portrait that’s far from the “pasteurized” Hollywood hagiography. Shilts not only recounts Milk’s fondness for boys as young as 16 but also the martyr’s radically non-monogamous views about sexuality:

"As homosexuals, we can't depend on the heterosexual model. We grow up with the heterosexual model, but we don't have to follow it. We should be developing our own lifestyle. There's no reason you can't love more than one person at a time."

Those words weren’t spoken by Milk during a pre-AIDS conference on gay culture. Rather, according to Shilts, they were directed toward a San Francisco lover while explaining the existence of another boyfriend in Los Angeles.

I can’t think of a “suitable” classroom commemoration for that bit of wisdom. A third grade reading of “Heather has Four Daddies” seems a stretch even for “progressive” Californians—especially in an era when inconvenient political truths are rigorously censored.

Fortunately, no one would know, based on Sean Penn’s Milk, that the slain Supervisor’s life was decidedly more risqué than the serial debauchery celebrated on CBS’s “Two and a Half Men.” Nor would they know that Milk was (in John Podhoretz’s reading of Shilts) an “aggressive, purposely offensive, press-savvy” fellow “who believed the cause of gay rights would be advanced if there were riots in the streets of San Francisco.”

Reality has long been packaged in Hollywood and swallowed by lazy consumers without the wit or backbone to investigate matters for themselves and to stand up for principles not embraced by Oprah Winfrey.

Harvey Milk Day has come to pass based on a Tinseltown deception—just as Americans’ views of JFK’s assassination have been largely shaped by Oliver Stone’s even more egregious cinematic fabrication.

Few are inclined to study (or even to ponder) the actual facts—including those from ancient Greece that give the lie to PC propaganda about homosexuality as a “purely” genetic predisposition akin to eye color.


Anonymous said...

What do you think about celebrating MLK Jr?

RKirk said...

I am fine with MLK Jr. Day, though I think national holidays, since they have become so politicized, should at least restore Lincoln and Washington's birthdays--and add Ronald Reagan to the mix.

This question about MLK may be implying two other thoughts. One is the parallel that is constantly drawn between homosexuality and race. The latter is clearly a function of genetics whereas the former is an activity that may or may not involve significant genetic input. As I noted at the end of my column (a challenge no one has responded to in over a decade), sexual practices in ancient Greece rather clearly demonstrate that homosexual behavior is not a "purely" genetic predisposition. In other words, society and society's expectations make a difference in this regard. Put briefly, there is a huge difference between homosexual acts and skin pigmentation.

The second thought that might be concealed within this query is whether one's "private life" should affect recognition for public contributions. MLK's private sexual indiscretions were, for one thing, private! In addition, his sexual activity was not related to the racial liberation he sought. With Harvey Milk, however, his sexual activity was anything but private and was tightly linked to the overturning of traditional sexual mores that he openly articulated (a philosophy I mention in my column).

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. In regards to when it is permissible to legally or socially discriminate against homosexuality, what difference does it make the degree to which sexual orientation is genetic, environmental, caused by factors in infancy or early childhood, etc?

Furthermore, doesn't race include cultural aspects? For instance, society/culture keeps blacks in the US from having children with whites in large numbers (though this is changing). And if you look into the biological sciences, they will tell you that the racial categories we use (black, asian, white, etc) are not necessarily all that accurate even in describing genetic diversity. For instance, many scientists carefully map clines rather than rely on the fives races. Whatever its genetic background, human race, like sexual orientation, as it functions in society is clearly a set of sociocultural practices that are mixed with the genetic. And yet we don't think its permissible to discriminate on that basis.

As to Milk, what does it mean that his sexuality was "public" as opposed to MLK's "private" indiscretions? And why is that difference important?

It also seems to me that any full understanding of Milk -- and you are right, of course, that Hollywood doesn't give it to us -- requires us to understand the historical circumstances out of which he emerged. Homosexuals, after all, were socially ostracized, economically marginalized (if they were out or even suspected of being gay they often had hard times getting or keeping jobs), and even subject to police harassment in their institutions of sociality. Is it any surprise then when that aspect of them that society treated as defining their character as degenerate -- their sexuality -- became something they positively celebrated? If people like Milk were excessive in their promiscuity, perhaps that excessiveness requires the charitable understanding of history.

Milk certainly was a not a saint, but does that mean he shouldn't be recognized for his courage and activism and the high price he paid for such commitments? Perhaps the real problem is that we expect our heroes to be suitable for consumption by third graders.

RKirk said...

The argument put forward by gay activists vis a vis homosexuality has consistently equated homosexuality with race in order to suggest that opposition to gay marriage (as only one example) is equivalent to discrimination against blacks. That argument is based on the notion that homosexuality is purely genetic, just like race is purely genetic. But as studies on twins clearly show and as the history of civilization clearly shows (I bring up, again, ancient Greece.), homosexuality is not purely genetic. It appears that sexual orientation exists along a spectrum, and that sexual possibilities are immense. Normon O. Brown, I think it was, used the term "polymorphous perversity" to describe human sexual possibilities.

Your introduction of the idea that racial designations--such as Caucasian, Black, Asian, American-Indian, etc.--are social constructs confuses the "names" we give to an individual's "race" with the actual genetic mix that results in the particular pigmentation and facial/bodily characteristics that an individual possesses. The genetic mix is not a social construct, and it is that genetic mix that is assumed, wrongly, to be "purely" responsible for homosexuality under the black=gay propaganda.
The idea is that one can no more change his or her sexual orientation than a black man or woman can change his or her color. But one's color is a genetic given, whereas homosexuality is an activity--and the genetic roots of that activity is, at best, unclear. What is quite clear is that homosexual activity is influenced by social mores (e.g. ancient Greece, versus 21st century Los Angeles, versus "modern" Iran).

You seem in the latter part of your comment to be providing an apology (in the sense of explaining it away) for the philosophy of promiscuous sexuality that Harvey Milk publicly articulated. It is only because of social oppression, you suggest, that Harvey Milk and others engaged in the kind of sexual promiscuity that he embraced as distinctive to homosexual relationships. If you are right, there exists the fundamental problem of celebrating the life of someone whose stated philosophy and practice has to be explained away. I suspect Harvey Milk would find your explanation of his sexuality and of his sexual philosophy offensive--that he would say he knew damned well what he believed and doesn't need a latter day gay revisionist reinterpreting his words. There are many folks like Harvey Milk who currently reject the notion of gay marriage because it doesn't fit what they conceive to be the gay lifestyle.

The reason for the quite typical connection between homosexuality and promiscuity is (the truth is often very simple) that homosexual relationships are necessarily nonreproductive. You can't have a kid, so fidelity isn't really a problem!

Note also that Harvey Milk wasn't killed because he was gay. He was killed because he was in the political office formerly held by the person who murdered both him and the Mayor of San Francisco (who was not gay).

The fundamental issue here is whether there is a good reason to prefer and to encourage male-female sexual relationships over homosexual relationships. The answer, in my view, (based on anatomy, health, the psychological development of children, and the stability of the home)is clearly yes. "Discrimination" (which means "judgment") based on reasonable standards (like prefering monogamy to polygamy) is absolutely necessary. That doesn't mean one persecutes individuals who fall outside the pattern. But just as I don't view my "divorced" status as ideal, so also the "idealization" of the gay lifestyle that Harvey Milk exhibited is something that society, and especially gradeschoolers, can and should do without.

Gay is not the new black. An activity that is overwhelmingly associated with promiscuity is not the same as skin pigmentation.