26 January 2009

Malebranche, Jack. Androphilia: A Manifesto: Rejecting the Gay Identity: Reclaiming Masculinity. Baltimore: Scapegoat Publishing, 2006.

Here's a curious thing. I Finished! this weeks ago, and haven't known how to begin talking about it, so I'll keep things quick (maybe). Jack Malebranche* (of, like, the Sparta Malebranches?) loves men and hates gays, or more specifically hates the gay identity. This is because he sees a direct correspondence between gayness and effeminacy. In short: he's a homo who doesn't like musicals. I mean, join the club.

There's so much to make fun of in this book, but the weird thing (and what's made me hold off on writing about it) is that there's a lot I agreed with and was glad to read. And its audience is no one who's read even the tiniest amount of gender theory; Malebranche's fans all tend to be gay men who grew up in strong, good-old-boy environments and who, one imagines, were hot for daddy without ever wanting to dish with sis.

Let me just skim over some places where this book is interesting and stupid.

We can start with Malebranche's preferred term: androphilia, meaning a love for men. So fussy, right? One imagines him out in a bar and getting hit on by some other guy (one surely larger and gruffer than he), and being asked "Are you gay?" and him saying "No, I'm an androphile." I mean it's such a pain in the ass. And the insinuation—that being gay is about loving a kind of faux femininity innate in us gays more than it is plain loving men—is not so much offensive as it is short-sighted. How's this book any less bigoted toward self-identified gay men than something published by, say, Focus on the Family?

One very smart assertion in the book is that "the Gay Rights Movement has turned to nitpicking" (33). Malebranche admits that in the middle part of the 20th century such a movement was vital to give homosexual people a sense of self and pride, and more importantly to bring about an end of public shame and often physical abuse. His argument that it's been a complete success is a bit specious—I don't think I'll get to a point in Lincoln, Neb., where I'm comfortable holding my boyfriend's hand on the street in broad daylight, which is less a factor of my wussiness and more a factor of past acts of assault I've read about in the paper—but he also adds that the Gay Rights Movement is far more interested in manufacturing homegrown terrors than looking at and calling attention to terrors wreaked on gay people abroad. I've been asked to fight the ban on gay marriage more times that I can count, but the only time I've been asked to think about the plight of people in countries more militant and scary than this one is probably through moveon.org or something. Never a specifically gay organization.

One chapter is titled: "'Man' – The Natural Religion of Men" and here might be a good place to point out that Malebranche is, reportedly, "an ordained Priest in the Church of Satan," which means he actually believes in the devil. The devil!

In many places in the book, Malebranche calls for little more than good old fashioned respect for others. He likes the idea that men have a universally agreed upon code of honor, that we're all deserving of other men's respect simply because we're all men, and we're, I guess, in this rough, female-dominated world together? It's silly, but the advice behind it all—aim for self-reliance, be respectful of others, strive toward some kind of public achievement—is hard to argue with.

And then lots and lots and lots of boneheaded advice. Adopt a Masculine Ideal. Surround Yourself with Men. Abandon Affected Gay Behaviors. Why can't everyone just be how they want to be? Under Alter Your Everyday Influences and Explore Male Culture, Malebranche claims that
[m]any gay men's music collections consist primarily of female vocalists, and I believe that over time this has a profound effect on their psychology. They literally have women's voices in their heads (italics in original).
Malebranche suggests the androphile-in-training "Balance out his collection by acquiring some male-oriented music" and "awaken [him]self to the voices of other men." Also: "Take up a male-oriented hobby."

Ha! I was going to do the work of coming up with some great zingers to try to answer what "male-oriented" music and hobbies might be, but I'm rushed and busy right now. A. Peterson, I'm looking in your direction.


*Probably goes without saying that this is a nom de plume.


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