Harvard University publishes a glossy magazine called, of course, Harvard Magazine. It is sent free once in a while to all graduates, and bimonthly to those who send in some annual amount. It is an extraordinary public-relations vehicle; only the surliest of alumni would choose to take a dim view of such an outpouring of light on ten thousand subjects, most with some connection with Harvard or Harvard people. Substance may run thin from time to time, but the sense of bright, fair, cultivated, and, in the end, politically correct people deal ing with what there may be of substance never fails.
Occasionally the reader comes face to-face with something excellent, or at least something this Harvard graduate considers excellent. The January-February 1992 issue of Harvard Magazine reprints a June 6, 1927, column from the Baltimore Sun by the Sage of Baltimore. The editor of Harvard Magazine may have included the Mencken piece as a warning to Harvard men not to take themselves too seriously as the anointed of America. Mencken admits the superiority of Harvard: “the best of all American universities” (as of 1927, of course), and then he goes on, as only he could, to riddle this estimate with sarcasms and ironies.
The same issue of Harvard Magazine also gives a valuable glimpse at the formation of the haughty Harvard man in an article entitled “Sexually Speaking,” by Adam Goodheart, a Class of ’92 reporter. The fact that I cite an under graduate’s article must not lead you to think that the alumni magazine is any thing like Harvard’s undergraduate daily newspaper, the Crimson. Only the truly superior, penetrating, and tasteful undergraduate effort will win at Harvard Magazine. The value of Goodheart’s piece is that it is brave reporting; it tells much, it reveals more. I am even prepared to say the appearance of the article constitutes brave editing, be cause the editor is revealing not only that the theologians have indeed been “kicked out of Harvard,” as, back in 1927, Mencken noted with approval, but it now appears that all support for the Judeo-Christian “moral system” has been withdrawn “at the highest levels,” and its opposite put in place.
Goodheart reports a visit to Harvard by Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the notorious radio and TV “sexpert.” She spoke at the college’s Science Center. Police had trouble controlling the mob of faculty and undergraduates who came to hear her. It would be fun to quote at length from Dr. Ruth as reported by Goodheart, but I expect Chronicles would frown on this.
But two highlights as presented by Goodheart are worthy of note. At one point a student in the large audience admitted that Dr. Ruth had been the first to tell him, when he heard her broadcasts as an adolescent, that the gay life was OK Dr. Ruth called the student up to the stage to get a “grand motherly kiss.” The other highlight was a somewhat breathtaking statement, evidently intended as a compliment to just that Harvard superiority that Mencken acknowledged: “Maybe what Harvard people could try is some new ways maybe he can bring her to orgasm with his big toe, and she could bring him to orgasm with her armpit.” Superiority.
Goodheart’s article then turns away from Dr. Ruth to a couple of other incidents involving gays at Harvard. It seems some Harvard undergraduates have put out a magazine called Peninsula that flatly states “homosexuality is bad,” and affirms that homosexuals don’t have to live it. The editors of Peninsula, with an enthusiasm more sophomoric than diplomatic, had seen to it that a copy of their “special double issue” was delivered to every Harvard student’s door. The same night some one or some persons painted “Faggot” outside the door of a self-declared student gay. Things promptly went hyper. As Goodheart recounts, a mass meet ing of the Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Students Association (BGLSA) was assembled on a Wednesday; a BGLSA “eat-in” at a college dining hall and the requisite gathering of signatures in sup port of “gay rights” followed on Thursday; with the culminating event being a Friday rally on the steps of Memorial Church in Harvard Yard.
At the rally the Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and minister of Memorial Church, gave what evidently was viewed by nearly everybody as the most memorable speech of the occasion. He roundly condemned the editors of Peninsula and then identified himself, evidently for the first time in public, as gay, saying “these realities [being Christian and be ing gay] which are unreconcilable to some are reconciled in me.”
I have long entertained a notion that as fewer and fewer people grow up on farms, and as the assortment of animals dwindles on these dwindling farms, the sexual instruction the barnyard provided virtually everyone until quite recently has had to be replaced by something else. People have always been reluctant to talk about sex. They still are. Especially to their children. But once upon a time you didn’t have to talk about it. Any child could see “sex” happening in the barnyard and figure it out for him self. Now literature and photography have stepped in to do this job. By literature I mean everything from Flaubert through Nabokov to the paperback porn sold in airport bookstores. Photography is anything from pictures that tourists bought in Paris in the 1890’s to the sexual spectacles on TV and that arc avail able in video stores everywhere today. No one need any longer be ignorant about sex, certainly not past age eight or so.
The collegian who said he discovered from Dr. Ruth that being gay is OK was probably born in the early 1970’s. When I was his present age, a half-century ago, you could go through college, meet “aesthetes” of a certain suspiciousness, make it through a war, and come back to civilian life without ever having heard that gay is OK I remember being stunned by a bulletin board in a Manila Navy installation that was plastered over with copies of typewritten reports of the court-martialing of officers and enlisted men from what looked like a whole flotilla of ships. That’s how I recall it, although it seems to me now the bulletin board may not have been quite so monolithic. But I daresay I got the message the Navy was sending: stay away from that stuff.
There is no hint of such a message in the Harvard Magazine article, no hint that gays might consider a message countervailing Dr. Ruth. That was left to the very brave and sober editors of Peninsula, who have been scorned as rabble-rousers and troublemakers by the Harvard administration and alumni magazine. The message for Harvard students “from the highest levels” simply confirms Dr. Ruth’s message: sex is good; have lots of it, of any variety; use condoms. (Dr. Ruth’s appearance at Harvard was sponsored by a condom maker, and free samples were handed out at the lecture.)
Saint Benedict threw himself into a thorn bush to vanquish an attack of lust. He evidently succeeded, for out of his celibacy and sanctity arose the Western monastic movement. Benedict, of course, was perfectly familiar with the barnyard, and perhaps more to the point, with late-decadent Rome-half Christian, half Pagan-meaning Christian celibacy emerged from a deeply sex saturated society like ours. The editors of Peninsula evidently think celibacy can emerge as a force in our culture once again. It is plain they consider celibacy to be the answer to the confirmed homosexual sentiment, at least until a for mer homosexual finds himself or her self in a position to consider marriage. Many others hold the same view, including many homosexuals, but they get very little press. There is no market for celibacy pitches.
Is it then possible that “idealistic youth” (by the laws of human development, such students must exist some where) will become disgusted, like Saint Benedict, with the degrading spectacle presented to them at “places of higher education” and begin to look around for thorn bushes? Hope perhaps looms on the horizon. The editors of Peninsula have brought forward the Christian response to the homosexual condition as a real, live, reasonable, scientific possibility promising cure. In my time, a half century back, nothing Christian would have been suggested by brainy under graduates as the answer to anything.
Also in the now-infamous Peninsula article is a review of the national organizations available to homosexuals who do not want to live the “gay lifestyle.” They are self-help groups, mostly modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, that grandaddy schema for breaking out of hopeless addiction. Like AA they draw their primary power from a turning to God, to what AA has always called a “Higher Power.” (AA has never insisted you arrive with a belief in a higher power, just that you give the concept a fair try.)
The only resource for people in deep sexual trouble is religion-not the euphemistic religion of today but the real religion that kept the monks celibate in the great days. Until this is realized, the gays at Harvard will have to put up with both the toleration and disapproval of the editors of Peninsula and the kind of condescension visible in Goodheart’s article, whose essential although inexplicit message seems to be that “some of my best friends are gays.”