There’s nothing gay about it

Since the nineties, we have a better understanding of homosexuality, especially with media and medical community educating the public. Doctors all agree that homosexuality is natural, and that it cannot be cured, as it’s not even a disease.

However the curiosity index in homosexual and LGBT themes have risen, and the media has been more open to discussing the alternative culture. More movies these days have characters who are gay or lesbian, though except for a handful, the characterization is actually cruel, insensitive, and ribald. This is true even for some of the Hollywood movies.

I must confess that I used to be homophobic once upon a time, but with better education and understanding, I have got rid of that phobia. Yes, I do still laugh at a gay joke or two, possess a repository of a few; but I do laugh at almost all jokes, however crude they are, since I can appreciate almost all types of humour.

For long we have looked down upon people whose sexual orientation was not straight. We continue to do that because we have long described the LGBT crowd as queer. This is probably the reason the entire media gets excited when a public icon comes out of the closet. And then we start threads of tasteless jokes, juicy gossip, and sordid tales.

I believe even that’s fair since the bedroom lives of public figures have long been discussed in the open. However, I feel we must stop speculating when the person in question is dead. Or when the person actually was never really born as in the case of fictional characters.

Consider Mahatma Gandhi. Though I am an ardent admirer of the great soul, I must admit that he was a man with hundreds of flaws. He was  stubborn, insensitive, inconsiderate at times. His policies and beliefs alienated him from several leaders like Jinnah, Ambedkar and many others. He indulged in several kinky practices.

However, when Pulitzer prize-winning author Joseph Lelyveld wrote a book called “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India”; it raised a number of questions about M K Gandhi’s trysts and legacy, all the hoi polloi was interested in were the passages referring to his possible homosexual relationship.

Though I have not yet read the book, the reviews and  comments confirm one thing. It’s apparent that the author has figured out that Gandhi had an affair with a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder. “Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom,” he wrote to Kallenbach. “The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed.” Another letter states, “how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.”

The book also talks of cotton wool and Vaseline which were “a constant reminder” of Kallenbach, an indication that Gandhi and Kallenbach had indulged in anal sex. Gandhi nicknamed himself “Upper House” and Kallenbach “Lower House,” and he made Lower House promise not to “look lustfully upon any woman.” Is that a possible reference to popular gay lifestyle terms, “top” and “bottom?”

Frankly, I don’t care. And neither should anyone. That’s because what Gandhi has contributed to the world is far bigger and more relevant than the fact that he may or may not have been gay. You must not respect him any less if he was gay, and neither should you consider him a gay icon; if he was indeed bisexual.

I have been pained when the question has been raised about fictional characters. Consider Sherlock Holmes. In the Canon consisting of 4 books and 56 short stories, written by Arthur Conan Doyle, there have been speculations of Holmes’s sexual orientation. He has taken interest in just one woman, Irene Adler, and that too in a non-sexual way. There are theories that since Watson and Holmes shared the same lodgings for many years, there could be a homo-erotic relationship between them.

A theory based on a passage from the story the Adventure of Three Students suggests that Holmes and Watson were indeed an item. The passage is as follows:

“It was in the year ’95 that a combination of events, into which I need not enter, caused Mr. Sherlock Holmes and myself to spend some weeks in one of our great University towns, and it was during this time that the small but instructive adventure which I am about to relate befell us.”

A few facts would indicate that Holmes was not actually gay.
1) The author, A C Doyle was a medical practitioner and did subscribe to the popular opinion of those days that homosexuality was a mental illness such as hysteria or schizophrenia. I doubt he would have given a trait which would have been disapproved by the Victorian readers.
2) It was quite common during Victorian times for bachelors to share accommodation, and it’s very clear as mentioned in many stories, that Holmes and Watson shared the same roof, but not the same bedroom.
3) At the end of “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot”, Holmes states: “I have never loved, Watson, but if I did and if the woman I loved had met such an end, I might act as our lawless lion-hunter had done”. In the story, the explorer Dr. Sterndale had killed the man who murdered his beloved, Brenda Tregennis, to exact a revenge which the law could not provide. Watson writes in “The Adventure of the Dying Detective” that Mrs. Hudson is fond of Holmes in her own way, despite his bothersome eccentricities as a lodger, owing to his “remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with women”. Again in The Sign of the Four, Watson quotes Holmes as saying, “I would not tell them too much. Women are never to be entirely trusted—not the best of them”. Watson notes that while he dislikes and distrusts them, he is nonetheless a “chivalrous opponent”.
4) There are several passages like the one which gay theorists have used, which only indicates that Holmes was on a case, that cannot be discussed as it was meant to be clandestine.
5) Holmes definitely knew a thing or two about dating. In the The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, Holmes did befriend, entice, and get engaged to Milverton’s housemaid.

Well, I rest my case.

A movie which I have been waiting for is Spielberg’s Adventures of Tintin. As I search for more information, I come across several theories on Tintin’s sexual orientation. Times (UK) Columnist, Mathew Perris claims that since Tintin never kept in touch with his folks, since he wore colorful clothes, and stayed with a sailor and a chronic bachelor, he was gay.

Herge created the first comic in the late 20s. The last comic appeared in the early 50s. During that period, most comics targeting young boys never featured any female characters of romantic importance. That was the trend. Moreover, France Info, the public news radio network, has pointed out that Herge, who died in 1983, dismissed the gay Tintin theory after it was aired in the 1970s.

Then there are several other characters. The friendship between Batman and Robin. Biggles. Again, theories of sexuality that need to be debunked. Tarzan comics have been banned in a few schools in the UK, since Jane and Tarzan live together in spite of not being married.

I believe that unnecessary speculation over sexual orientation of fictional characters is a sheer waste of time. It is a shame indeed if some of these literary works which have given me such joy and pleasure are banned by homophobic groups because of fanciful theories. It’s ridiculous if parents think that their son or daughter may turn gay if they were to read Holmes or go through a Tintin comic.

Homosexuality is not a cultivated habit; it is in your genes.

Let me leave you with a wonderful episode from one of my all time favorite TV Shows, Thin Blue Line. Whenever I come across such theories, my expression is similar to that of good old Inspector Raymond Fowler.

Advertisements
Categories: Random Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Post navigation

3 thoughts on “There’s nothing gay about it

  1. I agree that characters like Holmes and Tintin have given us considerable enjoyment. These books spoke to our sense of adventure and mystery. They are really wonderful. But in Literary theory, we also believe in reading against the text. It’s an interesting exercise. You argue, why do it. I’ll say, why not? What is wrong in imagining the sexuality of characters? There have been many essays where Holmes, and therefore A C Doyle, has been considered a misogynist. Yes, you can argue stock female characters were the norm in those days especially among male writers writing about adventure and mystery. That is fine. The fact remains that there are few female characters that show women in a good, at least, in a normal light. So really, it is perfectly fine if we were to do a feminist reading of these texts and find them to be woefully wanting. We all can still agree that as books of mystery and adventure, they are unsurpassed.

    As kids we are content to read and enjoy; as adults we should be allowed to read, enjoy, and engage in discourse even if most of it is hypothetical, don’t you think?

    Yes, if people are going to ban good writing based on some notion that is really too ridiculous.

    Gandhi was a great strategist. I always maintain that it was the times too that enabled him to bring us together as a nation and join the freedom movement. But he didn’t miss a single opportunity to push for what he wanted. That is admirable. There is a lot we can learn from some of his theories. No doubt he is a great man. But if someone posits that he was a homosexual or at least a bisexual, what is the harm in that? It is merely titillating. It neither adds nor takes away from his greatness.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      If it were mere titillation, I see no harm in it. But some of the discussions are going beyond past time. You have the lead character of the Sherlock Holmes movie, Downey Jr. stating that he played Holmes as a gay man. That is certainly not just titillating.

      I think we must stop applying 21st century thinking to themes of 19th and early 20th century literature.

      You need to understand that with more gay people coming out of the closet, homophobia is also growing considerably.

      On one side the gay community is looking for new icons to champion their cause, and at the same time the conservatives would like to ban anything that may have a “bad” influence.

  2. Mitch

    You have made some interesting points. However, I think you need to be more specific

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: