State of Israel Bonds parlor meeting, men’s group, Vancouver, B.C., 1964. (JWB fonds, JMABC L.14507 )
If you know someone in this photo, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected].
Some people still act as if same-sex attraction were a crime or, at least, an abomination and ought, therefore, not be tolerated. Russia, for example, recently announced that it will not permit any of its orphaned children to be adopted by people living in jurisdictions recognizing homophilic marriages, thereby ensuring that they will not end up in any of the more liberal democracies, including Canada. Perhaps this is based on the supposition that homosexual adoptive parents will somehow transmit their sexual preference to their charges, although there is no evidence that such attraction is a learned behavior, nor, indeed, that it is inherited. And, in either case, why should it be anathematized? It evidently does not harm consenting adults and becomes a crime only if we insist that it is.
For as long as there has been human heterosexuality, there has also been homosexuality. Overwhelming psychological and historical evidence demonstrates that same-sex attraction has been a consistent feature of human society, going back at least to the earliest days of antiquity, and that it harms no one who does not, somehow, insist on being “harmed.” The only people who may suffer are homosexuals themselves who, if they live in a bigoted environment, often have to conceal their sexuality or face expressions of disapproval, including imprisonment and violence, especially if they are men; female homosexuality seems more widely accepted.
There is no mention of homosexuality in the Christian Testament. The Jewish Testament, while decrying homosexuality between men, makes no mention of sexual attraction between women, which certainly existed.
God’s destruction of Sodom was allegedly a consequence of what is described as its “depravity,” (Genesis 13:10) interpreted as sodomy, a word still appearing in some criminal codes and defined as “the unnatural sex acts between two men.” (This became the basis for a criminal indictment in the notorious 1896 trial of Oscar Wilde, which my 1929 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica describes as “moral obliquity.) But Sodom was more likely destroyed because it was notoriously inhospitable to strangers, its sole survivor being Lot, the city’s only cordial resident. (And his wife, who shortly thereafter turns into a pillar of salt because she disobeyed God’s order by looking backward at the doomed city. As a side note, while Lot exhibited remarkable concern for his male guests, that evidently did not extend to his daughters, whom he offered to the mob.)
Leviticus is more explicit. In 18:22, it states: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination.” This inveighing against homosexuality was likely occasioned not by presumed morality, but rather as a consequence of a far more important remonstrance, viz., “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), a demographic imperative necessitated by competition among various peoples, some of them more numerous than the Israelites, in the Fertile Crescent of Canaan. The “sin” of Onan (Genesis 38:9), for example, has been interpreted as not being simply that he cast his semen on the ground in coitus interruptus with Tamar, his widowed former sister-in-law, but that he subverted God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.”
Much effort has gone into uncovering the underlying causes/motivation(s) for homosexuality. Theories have ranged widely, yet none has adequately explained same-sex attraction in spite of its apparent inevitability among persons of both genders, its long history, and its observed appearance in non-human species.
Much effort has gone into uncovering the underlying causes/motivation(s) for homosexuality. Theories have ranged widely, yet none has adequately explained same-sex attraction in spite of its apparent inevitability among persons of both genders, its long history, and its observed appearance in non-human species. Moreover, there may not be a single cause, but rather a constellation, perhaps including social, hormonal, genetic and environmental factors and, furthermore, one ought not assume that explanations for male homosexuality, no matter how cogent, can be extended to female homosexuality (lesbianism). To place this in perspective, the causes of heterosexuality, while it is evidently the norm and can result in progeny, are also not clear, although convention, conditioning and an impulse toward parenthood must be counted prominently among them.
In our current more-accepting environment, many homosexuals have “come out of the closet.” But we may never know the full extent of homosexuality because in disapproving social-cultural environments, even its self-acknowledgement may be difficult. Indeed, in many jurisdictions, homosexual behavior is still criminal, although its practitioners are rarely indicted. Far more common is that suspected homosexuals, especially men, have been the targets of blackmail, violence and murder. Even when the public is more tolerant, there is no uniform level of acceptance, so often homosexual relations are still clandestine for fear of the reaction of relatives, employers, fellow workers and others, including heterosexual spouses. “Coming out” by formerly “closet homosexuals” is still a life-changing and challenging experience. Consequently, public homosexual behavior still is dependent on local acceptability. What is permitted, for example, in Vancouver or Tel Aviv, may precipitate expressions of disapproval elsewhere.
It is estimated that exclusively homosexual men constitute about five percent of the male population, with approximately twice that number being occasionally homosexual. From an anatomic, physiologic, genetic or endocrine point of view, homosexuality offers no reliable markers. It is neither entirely genetic nor developmental in origin. The level of gender-related hormone production in most homosexuals does not differ significantly from that of heterosexuals and, ordinarily, male and female homosexuals, in their usual behavior and appearance, can be indistinguishable from their heterosexual peers or, on the contrary, they may, in the case of males, become “queens,” or of females, “butch.” Indeed, who has not speculated on what life might have been like, had he or she been of the opposite gender? (Interestingly, all human fetuses start out with external genitalia apparently female. While there are no proven instances of parthenogenesis – the development without spermatozoa of a complete embryo – among people, it can occur in other mammals.)
To offer additional revealing commentary on the idiosyncrasies of human sexual behavior, approximately 270 days after every nighttime power outage lasting a few hours, there is almost invariably a small but significant blip in the number of babies born in the affected area.
To offer additional revealing commentary on the idiosyncrasies of human sexual behavior, approximately 270 days after every nighttime power outage lasting a few hours, there is almost invariably a small but significant blip in the number of babies born in the affected area. Evidently, when it comes to TV versus sex, the data suggest that the former is frequently preferred.
However, our culture, if not obsessed with sex, is obviously mindful of it. Advertisers certainly have discovered that sex sells. “Sexy” has now become an adjective that defines anything from form-fitting or revealing clothes to a more permissive tax bill. It usually implores us to be more attractive (“sexy”) by the profligate and indiscriminate purchase and use of a great variety of products. In any case, any mention or hint of sex, almost without fail, attracts attention.
Sexual intimacy plays a prominent role in the way men and women relate to one another and, to be complete, the way women relate to women and men to men. The desire for sexual intimacy can arise from many sources – the release of sexual tension (a large factor in adolescence and youth), an expression of love, reassurance of one’s sexual attraction and capability and, since we live in a largely competitive society, to keep up with the purported national average. People being as variegated as they are, there are any number of other conceivable reasons and their combinations. So, while the heterosexual form of sexual intimacy is predominant (and the only one that can now give rise to progeny), finding the reasons can be difficult because, as is the case in uncovering the motivation for any human activity, although the final common pathway can be an objective behavior, the impulses for it are never in the singular, and may be arcane, derivative and complex.
It is clear that traditional Judaism does not approve of homosexuality, although congregations, individual Jews and rabbis may have a more accepting and realistic approach. Yet, the Talmud has the virtue of candor, suggesting, for example, frequencies, according to profession, of (heterosexual) intercourse, something quite unimaginable in Christian commentary, especially when one considers the Catholic priestly vow of chastity and that the preeminent female in Christianity is considered a virgin, even after the birth of Jesus’ younger sibling(s).
When it comes to all (non-coerced) sexual behavior, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau cogently declared that “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.” It’s a sensible sentiment also expressed, in pithier form and broader terms, by Jimmy Durante, a popular madcap comedian of the 1930s and ’40s, known affectionately as “The Schnozz” because of his prominent proboscis: “Leave da peepul,” he vigorously intoned, “da hell alone!”
Eugene Kaellis has a doctorate in biochemical endocrinology. He is the author of several publications, including Making Jews, on the theme of the current basic problem of Diaspora Jewry, which is available from lulu.com.