Dreher On Blow

After reading Charles Blow’s intense and fascinating account of his own childhood abuse and his particular experience of bisexuality, Rod Dreher actually comes out with this:

The thing that stands out to me about it is Blow’s (very modern) belief that his passions constitute an essential part of his identity as a person. That is, he seems to believe that his freedom consists in accepting his desires, and that he is “subject to the tide.”

But is this really true? Somehow, reason tamed his homicidal passion in the case of avenging his rape. Why is that passion restrainable, but sexual passion is not? He would say that the passion to kill someone is not the same thing as the passion to have sex with someone, and he would, of course, be right.

But he would be wrong in another sense. According to Dante (speaking from a position informed by both classical and medieval Catholic thought), all sin comes from disordered passion. To be truly free is to master our passions by making them subject to our reason. We cannot prevent our desires, but if we make ourselves “subject to the tide” of passion, we cannot be said to be free.

This is a very strange response to the essay. Rod insists that his point is not about bisexuality, but about “passions” in general and our modern sense that we should accommodate them, rather than “master” them with reason. But I didn’t find any evidence in the piece that Blow had somehow “surrendered” to his “passions”. What he did was simply come to terms with who he really was – to probe what his sexual orientation really was and is. This is an integral part to mastering any passion. If you are not fully aware of who you are, you can act out in all sorts of ways, or enter relationships you really shouldn’t, or make horrible mistakes, or suppress feelings without ever really confronting them. What Blow describes is very much an exercise of reason, of inquiry, of remarkable poise in the face of a troubled past (including sexual abuse). Surrendering to passion meant in this case a seven-year marriage to a woman, including kids. And Blow rather movingly explains how an actual homosexual relationship was not something he could pull off.

If Blow were heterosexual, I doubt Rod would have said anything about “disordered passion”. We all have unique and complex sexualities – and all Blow did was examine his own past and his own nature and channel both toward a constructive present. It has to be the element of homosexual attraction that provokes Rod’s splutter – as if anyone can simply master by reason who they actually are. We do not have control over that. But those who come to terms with their sexual identity, who face it squarely, are likely to have a much better chance of channeling such passions toward good ends.

One other note about Blow’s piece: it’s a very convincing and eye-opening explanation of a certain kind of bisexuality:

I had to accept a counterintuitive fact: my female attraction was fully formed—I could make love and fall in love—but my male attraction had no such terminus. To the degree that I felt male attraction, it was frustrated. In that arena, I possessed no desire to submit and little to conquer. For years I worried that the barrier was some version of self-loathing, a denial. But eventually I concluded that the continual questioning and my attempts to circumvent the barrier were their own form of loathing and self-flagellation. I would hold myself open to evolution on this point, but I would stop trying to force it. I would settle, over time, into the acceptance that my attractions, though fluid, were simply lopsided. Only with that acceptance would I truly feel free.

Dan Savage adds:

As Blow’s piece makes clear, writing “lopsided bisexuality” out of the bi experience, the constant and often smug framing of bisexuality as the capacity to be sexually and romantically attracted to both men and women equally, excludes men like Blow and makes it harder for men like him to accept themselves as bisexual. Men like Blow walk around believing that they’re either not really bi (like this guy who wrote me at “Savage Love”), or that they’re bi but defective or broken.

But bisexual guys like Blow aren’t broken.

They sure aren’t. Which is more than one can say, sadly, for many men who refuse to confront their identity, and construct lives based on fantasies about what they’d like to be rather than what they are.

For much more on the nuances of bisexuality, check out this Dish thread.