Every so often I have to catch up on what Camille Paglia is saying. I certainly don’t always agree with her, but her writing is rich, thought provoking and usually breaks through the liberal/conservative impasse in a creative way. She is courageous, bold and tough minded as well as sharp tongued.
I recommend the first half of this month’s column on Salon.com. She, by the way, is the only author I find worth the read over there. Herself a post-Christian lesbian, she takes on the GLBT orthdoxies this month.
There has been a lot of discussion (though not much lately) of whether homosexuality is inborn or caused by outside factors. Whatever happened to the Electra and Oedipus complexes of Freud, of which so much was heard when I was in college way back when? And what do you think?
This is from a hetero male happily married to a hetero female. The question is one of intellectual curiosity.
Yes, the intellectual climate of the 1950s and ’60s, during which I was educated, was saturated with Freud, even at the level of stand-up comedy (as in Lenny Bruce or Mike Nichols and Elaine May). I loved it! But the Freudian style of lacerating self-examination would pass from the scene after the politicized ’60s, which promoted a new worldview where everyone is a victim of oppressive external power.
In clinical psychology, pharmaceutical intervention became the norm. Long-term Freudian psychoanalysis, which probes childhood memories, began to seem too protracted and expensive. Practical, short-term help with current problems was now sought. Freud was also turned into a cartoon sexist by feminist philistines like Gloria Steinem, who dismissed his entire body of work merely because of a few passages they didn’t like. French poststructuralist readings of Freud became a campus fad in the ’70s and ’80s but sank in a sludge of their own gobbledygook.
After the American Psychiatric Association, responding to activist pressure, removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973, psychological inquiries into homosexuality slowly became verboten. To even ask about the origins of homosexuality was automatically dubbed homophobic by gay studies proponents in the ’80s and ’90s. Weirdly, despite the rigid social constructionist bias that permeated the entire left, gay activists in and out of academe now leapt on the slightest evidence that could suggest a biological cause of homosexuality. The very useful Freudian concept of “family romance” (typified by the Oedipus and Electra complexes) is almost completely gone. Yet the intricate family dynamic of every single gay person I’ve ever known seems to have played some kind of role in his or her developing sexual orientation.
The widespread desire to find a biological basis for homosexuality seems to me very misconceived. It will inevitably lead to claims that gays are developmentally defective at the prenatal level. I myself believe (as I argued in “No Law in the Arena” in “Vamps & Tramps”) that everyone is born with a potential for bisexual responsiveness and that exclusive homosexuality is an adaptation to specific social conditions. When a gay adult claims to have been gay since early childhood, what he or she is actually remembering is the sense of being different for some reason, which in boys often registers as shyness or super-sensitivity, leading to a failure to bond with bumptious peers. This disjunction, with all its painfully stifled longings, becomes overt homosexuality much later on. But retrospective psychohistory is out these days, and the only game in town is pin the tail on the oppressor.