The other day, Eve Tushnet posted a link to this post by Mark P. Shea. Shea is responding to remarks by Watergate figure Charles Colson, who was in turn discussing the question of whether puppets Bert and Ernie, of Sesame Street fame, should marry each other. Colson approvingly quotes the official statement from the producers of Sesame Street to the effect that as puppets, Bert and Ernie “do not have a sexual orientation.” He sees a deeper significance in the idea that Bert and Ernie’s close friendship suggests a homosexual relationship, and quotes blogger Alyssa Rosenberg’s remarks about it. Colson’s quote from Rosenberg included the beginning and middle of this paragraph:
And more to the point, I think it’s actively unhelpful to gay and straight men alike to perpetuate the idea that all same-sex roommates, be they puppet or human, must necessarily be a gay couple. Having close, affectionate friendships with another man doesn’t mean that you two are sleeping together, just as liking fashion doesn’t automatically flip a switch on your sexual orientation and make you only interested in dudes. Such assumptions narrow the aperture of what we understand as heterosexual masculinity in a really strange way. As much as I write about how narrow depictions of women can be in pop culture, depictions of men may end up being more positive, but that doesn’t mean they’re less limiting.
To this, Shea adds that the idea that friendship between people of the same sex must somehow represent “sublimated homosexuality” is:
just a lie and the incredible poverty that is foisted on our culture (and on men in particular, who are starving to death for lack of male friendships) is one of the great famines of our time. Some of the most nourishing relationships I have ever known have been friendships–with both men and women. American men are among the loneliest creatures in the universe, not for lack of women, but for lack of friends.
Shea’s blog is called “Catholic and Enjoying It!” Like Shea, Tushnet is a tradition-minded Roman Catholic; the tagline of her blog is “Conservatism reborn in twisted sisterhood.” Unlike Shea, she is an uncloseted (though celibate) lesbian. Colson is neither a Roman Catholic nor a lesbian, but his ardent Baptist faith comes with quite an old-fashioned view of sexual morality. So Shea’s comment puts them in an awkward spot. If the label “gay” holds such terror for American men that they would rather take a place “among the loneliest creatures in the universe” than risk being identified with it, surely it is an urgent matter to drain that label of its terror. To be sure, this is no easy matter. For decades now, legions of people have been laboring mightily to destigmatize homosexuality, and the work isn’t half done yet. But it is the obvious answer. Indeed, the only conclusion I can draw from Shea’s remark is that heterosexual men have a vital stake in the movement to gain full social equality for sexual minorities. This conclusion, however, is not one that Christian conservatives such as Shea, Colson, and Tushnet can accept, and so they are left facing a vastly complex, perhaps hopelessly complex, problem. I believe their hearts are in the right place, and so I feel sorry for them.