Philanthropy, in the classic sense, is a gay enterprise. From the days of the presumed male audience, the term has a gay subtext. Etymologically, the word comes to us from Greek, through Latin, with the roots philos for love and anthropos for man. It’s literally a love of man.
And there are lots of examples of the historical, philanthropic gay man, from Saint Sebastian to the ranks of the supposedly celibate gay priests.
However, the trope of the philanthropic man-loving man often required chasteness. A parallel vision of sisterhood likewise puts lesbians in tension with charity. Both turn representation of gay love into taboo; the logic of philanthropy requires that we turn ourselves from horny, heaving homos into castrated, well-wishing ninnies.
Todays gays and lesbians are, from my experience, very open to charitable giving and to volunteer work. I take it to be one of our community touchstones. And having just gotten a little glimpse behind the scenes of A Taste for Life in April, I can tell you that there are hundreds of gays and lesbians and our allies with big hearts and big wallets.
Of course, we reject that chastity is a requirement, as some of the event’s bawdy dinnertime conversation illustrates.
In 1960, Jacques Lacan published an analysis of the parable of Saint Martin. On a medieval Hungarian street, Martin reportedly came across a beggar and, moved by compassion, tore his cloak in two. He gave half to the beggar. This story was told over and over again — and then the French thinker got his hands on it.
“Saint Martin shares his cloak and a great deal is made of it,” Lacan writes. “We are no doubt touching a primitive requirement in the need to be satisfied there, for the beggar was naked. But perhaps over and above the need to be clothed, he was begging for something else, namely that Saint Martin either kill him or fuck him. In any encounter, there’s a big difference in meaning between the response of philanthropy and that of love.”
Bear with me. The use of the word “love” to contrast with Saint Martin+s act of mere charity sets up an interesting dichotomy for us. If Saint Martin really loved the beggar, Lacan suggests, he would “fuck him or kill him.” Love is not chaste or bloodless; it is bodily, bawdy, visceral, intense, aerobic, rending.
Lee Edelman, in his polemic of queer identity No Future, provokes us to embrace the identity that the dominant culture ascribes us: sexual, disruptive, sinister, indeed “queer” in its original meaning. His definition is not incompatible with generosity. It is not bound up with either selfishness or pettiness. He quotes approvingly Lacan+s interpretation of the Catholic parable I began with.
Someone who seems to know this well is Capital Xtra columnist Daniel Allen Cox. In Daniel’s other life, as many of you know, he’s a novelist, and his latest offering, Shuck, illustrates this well. Its main character, Jaevan Marshall, is obsessed with the two things Lacan reminds us that Saint Martin omitted: fucking and violence.
Jaevan winds his way through sexual encounters — street hustling, being a call boy, being a kept man, through to shooting for porn magazines, video and online properties. The men in Jaeven’s life see a lost street kid, a hustler with a heart of gold, a struggling writer, an objet d’art. Many — the owner of Inches magazine, for instance — both want to help Jaeven and fuck him. Those desires are strained, and although not all of them do both, in the Lacanian sense, that tension is an expression of love for him.
I like that Ottawa’s queer community understands that charity without lust, flirtation, and bodily fluids is sterile. It’s philanthropy, but not love.
Just look at our social calendar. HallowQueen combines exhibitionism, gender play and charitable giving. Mister Leather Ottawa combines sex, kink and charitable giving. The HIV Is Bullshit parties (put on by the AIDS Committee of Ottawa) combine burlesque, cruising and public service announcements. Heck, even Pink Triangle Services’ annual fundraiser is using “gala” as a flirty acronym: get a little action.
Get a little action, indeed. Our community is pulled toward both changing the world and getting laid. They are not incompatible.