Sunday, 21 January 2007

The Yuk Factor

Speaking my mind on a blog is proving unexpectedly difficult. Having been chided with a [non-existent] wish to impose censorship on commentators, I have been roundly ticked off by them for some of the views I have expressed. There is a well-known saying [which I disagree with] that the only three topics worth talking about are politics, religion, and sex. Having had my fingers burned over politics and religion, I suppose I had better fall back on sex.

Having spent many years addressing public and private issues around sex, I must confess to a certain weariness with the usually inane manner in which it is commonly discussed. Havelock Ellis said that in no other field of human activity is so vast an amount of strenuous didactic morality founded on so slender a basis of facts. Freud said that in Western culture, most feel unable to be candid about their sexual tastes and habits, which they conceal under a thick winter overcoat of hypocrisy. A highly experienced and competent teacher of sex educators I used to know said that you must begin by clearing morals, like clearing trumps in Bridge.

What my experience did teach me is that even in our supposedly enlightened and more open times, sex is an extremely painful subject for many people, and a good deal of the sexual boasting and bragging that goes on is just a façade. Also, the physical aspects of sex cause discomfort and distaste, especially to the religious folk who have complained down the ages that the heights of sexual bliss are located amidst the dungheap of excretory functions - presumably due to bad taste on God’s part.

We are inevitably trained as infants to regard some parts of the human body, and its secretions and excretions, as ‘dirty’. Without such taboos, toilet training and a modicum of hygiene would be impossible. In the era of hippies and flower-power, there was a deliberate attempt to overturn these taboos with the result that indiscriminate multiple sexual couplings led to outbreaks of disease. With the advent of AIDS, sex educators who had concentrated on encouraging their clients to be less guilt-ridden and more sexually outgoing were obliged to do an about turn and counsel a return to prudence and even abstinence. It was all very confusing.

My own view is that many of the moral objections to sex, though consciously derived from the Bible and other ‘sacred’ sources, are in fact primarily motivated by bodily prudishness. I once received a letter from a lady whom I shall call ‘Mrs Yuk’ asserting that most people are intolerant of male homosexuals ‘mainly because of shit’, since gay men do not share the majority’s instinctive disgust at buggery. I drafted, but did not publish, a reply to her in the form of an open letter which read, in part, as follows:

“Dear Mrs Yuk,

You tell me that, in order to be accepted, gay men must ‘explain to heterosexuals why they are not put off by the contact with faeces’.

This, you surely realize, is an impossible task. No-one can explain ‘why’ they have certain tastes and certain aversions, or why they lack them. If I were to tell you that buggery doesn’t turn all gay men on, would that really make them more acceptable to you? I doubt it – you would probably then wax eloquent over the iniquities of fellatio. If not, why not? Just a matter of preference, I suppose.

You see, I really don’t believe that the intimate details of my sexual desires and diversions [or yours, or anyone else’s] are any business whatsoever of anybody except ourselves and our willing sexual partners. If you cannot agree with me that this level of toleration for practices and beliefs [sexual or other] which we may ourselves abhor is an essential component of a decent, civilized society, you and I have very different notions of what such a society is.

We cannot allow irrational prejudices to dictate social policy. For everyone is in some respects a Yukker. The list of my own personal yuk targets is quite lengthy. Among the major items are ill-mannered small children and their feckless parents; the practice of abortion, and its false presentation as a fail-safe for birth control; tobacco smokers of any kind and pipe smokers in particular; pickled onion eaters; people of a good many political and religious persuasions; and bigots of every hue.

I say ‘Yuk’ to them all. I won’t have them in my house if I can jolly well help it. But they are free, so far as I am concerned, to pursue their malodorous behaviour and to peddle their daft ideas consentingly and in private: whatever they do is none of my business, unless they intrude upon my or your privacy and freedom. It is at that point that their obnoxious personal preferences become of legitimate public interest; and determining where that point lies is the most crucial and delicate decision of social politics.

Why are the likes of you so obsessed with, and revolted by, shit? Freud, I suppose, would put it down to over-strict potty-training; and I must say I think it is unhealthy to be either nauseated or fascinated by a substance which is a normal, healthy waste product of normal, healthy human bodies. I consider this constant harping on homosexuals’ attitudes to shit [ or piss, or cum, or whatever] is just naïve rationalization of dislike of the different: the basic reason why the majority dislike gay people is simply that we are different, and won’t conform, and the ‘yuk factor’ conveniently bolsters this prejudice and intolerance.

Frankly, Mrs Yuk, I am utterly choked off with your sort – constantly invoking your yukkiness as an excuse to abuse those you happen to dislike and to condone inhumane treatment of them, while at the same time parading a phony tolerance. I too say ‘yuk’ quite a lot; but thank goodness I am not a paid-up member of the loud-mouthed tribe of censorious Yukkers.”


Toby Lewis said...

Thankfully the tribe of Yukkers in response to homosexuality is relatively quiet of late. Not that the attitudes have been eradicated but at least homosexuality is pretty much tolerated in the UK.

The good news is that over this issue it seems people will only become more tolerant. This is something in the modern world we can definitely be proud of.

anticant said...

Having been actively involved in campaigning on this issue for a great part of my life, the currently growing level of tolerance is indeed welcome. But tolerance can equal indifference rather than genuine acceptance, and Yukking is by no means confined to sexual topics!

Toby Lewis said...

If there is greater tolerance in general surely it will mean that many will become accepting as well. In Brighton where I live there is a huge gay community. Perhaps though there are problems behind this, in that it is a form of ghettoization. Yet I imagine it can be comforting to find a place for a young gay person where they can feel welcomed given the bigotry still around in society.

anticant said...

Brighton always was a gay Mecca! I spent a lot of enjoyable times there when I was your age. But it's always had a "naughty" reputation, ever since the Prince Regent and even more the weekend gallivantings of the late Victorians and Edwardians.

Jose said...

I have read this post and will revert to it as soon as I have time. I've been very busy of late, what with electric power cuts and other home chores, life has not been very easy for me over this last weekend.

Jose said...

Well, here again. What happens with sex is that conditioning morals have made people be hypocritical. Depending on the place of the world where sex is also a main component of the daily life, being prone to any kind of its practices is or is not condemned.

In olden times the Asian countries did not consider infantile sex as morally punishable, even today there are large parts of Asia where this kind of sex - abhorrable to me - is practiced, but the execrable thing about is is that people in Europe who in their countries condemn it, have no reluctance to travel to those far away parts of the earth to have a taste at it.

Asian countries did not have any problems with homosexuality either, but the arrival of religious missionaries have apparently little by little changed this in former times simply a normal practice.

The problem with sex as I said at the beginning is simply how morals came to become a fundamental part of it. It is altogether a human condition which is simply physical with no spiritual component in it, except in the cases where love intervenes, which is not fundamental to sex itself but an addition to its pleasure.

I would be more on the alert regarding yukers than I would with any other normal human beings. They use to be inhibited beings who, if their contained passions were freed, might be quite a surprise to their acquaintances in a given moment.

Hypocrisy is the word in this.

Richard W. Symonds said...

I lived in Paris for a number of years, and I found (and still find) their attitude to sex to be far more healthy than here in England.

Here, we are really 'screwed up' about the subject - and the 'muck media' have a grand time 'pulling our plonkers'.

Jose said...

When I married "prudism" was rife in Spain mainly due to the Catholic Church directives. Imagine that it was imperative that the Judge should displace to the Church to carry out the civil marriage.

But I was recommended by a friend to buy a book on marriages written by a Brazillian bishop which had really indications of a freer love-making relationship in the married couple, something I had not heard of in Spain where the sexual act only had to be performed for procreation.

With time the use of condoms came to be generalised, against the directives of the Church. The Ogino method based on the menstrual cycles of the woman was the only authorised manner that could be used, provided that the married couple had already had children and there was danger to the woman's health.

anticant said...

Weird, isn't it, how much of the various Churches' thinking and effort - especially the RC - goes into attempts to control peoples' sexuality. It's as though they fear that freer sexual behaviour will unleash an explosion of social chaos. It's a pity the Churches don't pay more attention to really important aspects of morality, such as honesty, kindness, peacefulness.

Jose said...

It is blatantly clear, Anticant, that clergies are human beings and nothing more than human beings.

anticant said...

Of course - but they believe that they are "God-guided" human beings, and that they speak with Divine authority. That is the whole problem about religion of any variety. Either those who speak on its behalf are correct, or they are deluded. It is for each one of us to decide that question for ourselves.

Richard W. Symonds said...

Please don't think I'm "preaching" here; I'm not - far from it....but I think a distinction between 'Churchianity' and 'Christianity' is useful...

'Churchianity', whatever the brand, is a load of nonsense. But, for me, Christianity is not.

If just the words of Christ were read (in the Gospels), we have to decide, "each one of us", to make a personal judgement :

Was Christ a total nutter, or not ?

anticant said...

I would be the last to deny that there is much that is noble and inspiring in not just the New Testament, but in the Scriptures of other faiths also. The value of these teachings does not depend on whether or not the personality supposed to have uttered them ever actually existed.

The trouble starts with their professed disciples. All churches are power-structures, whether or not they have priesthoods.

anticant said...

BUTWHATIF asks me to post the following:

I read in the press over the weekend that there has been a substanial rise in reported homophobic attacks over the past year, in the 'Mecca' that is Brighton.

Everyone's wondering whether it represents a real increase, or merely the upshot of improved methods of reporting. The policeman interviewed suggested a real increase, ruling out better reporting procedures alone.

Just a thought, AC, to dampen that "we are all good, tolerant modernists now" thing, you've got going on that thread.

anticant said...

I've NEVER said "we are all good, tolerant modernists now". With 3 million Muslims in the country whose preachers tell them that gay people should be thrown off tall buildings?

I quite expect an upsurge in homophobic attacks. I wonder who's responsible? [No prizes for guessing my hunch.]

Richard W. Symonds said...

And what is your "hunch", Anticant ?

Jose said...

Well, Richard, I'd say that neither Christ nor Mohammed were nutters, nor was a nutter who wrote the Jewish scriptures. Perhaps we should study who really was or is nutter, because I'm prone to say that those interpreting whom may have availed themselves of those sayings to make a string of nutters.

One must acknowledge that there were multitude of translators of those sayings. One must acknowledge that those translations may have been flawed by the thoughts of those who listened to the original teachings. One must acknowledge the human error along the chain of historical legacies in religious matters. One must be humble as humble must have been those who were in charge of leaving their learnings for posterity. And finally...

One must have a conscience to behave in accordance with what our mental patrimony has had to teach us.

I am not pontificating, I'm only saying what I think in a loud "voice".


Richard W. Symonds said...

Are you saying that what, say, Christ said was not translated properly - He didn't actually say what was written down by the translators ?

That's possible...but improbable.

Jesus was pretty clear - and the Jews at the time certainly understood the implications of the words - and was killed for uttering them.

Jose said...

No, I am just saying that what Christ said, which he did not write, may - just may - have been interpreted by fallible humans in successive translations.

I have been a translator and checked how easy it is for translators to mistake an expression, a term.

There is an Italian familiar proverb : Traduttore tradittori = He who translates betrays.

anticant said...

My "hunch", Richard, is religious bigots.

Jose and Richard: With respect, I find your arguments quite nonsensical. In the first place, I doubt whether the Jesus of the Gospels ever actually existed. In the second place, the Gospels weren't written for several decades after his alleged death. How could they possibly have reported his words verbatim? You can't even rely on accounts of yesterday's events in two different newspapers being compatible.

Richard W. Symonds said...

So your 'nonsense' argument, Anticant, must also apply to Plato's 'reporting' of Socrates words - and that happened circa 400 years before Christ !

You must therefore doubt that Socrates, or even Plato, existed.

With respect, I find your arguments 'inchoate'.

anticant said...

What independent evidence, apart from his own writings, is there for the existence of Plato? The Platonic Socrates is the artistic creation of the writer[s] calling himself Plato. If there was a real Socrates, I would be very surprised if he bore any close resemblance to the Socrates of the Dialogues.

Richard W. Symonds said...

Well, Anticant, I've just been called a "solipsist" by a fellow inchoate this evening - but perhaps that applies more to you than me.

Jose said...


Let's suppose Christ never existed, let's suppose so for a while. You cannot deny that all facts attributed to him have helped form the morals of our societies along 2,007 years. Century upon century a belief has been created based on those principles which you cannot deny, either, are merciful, compassionate and defend our liberties and our mutual understanding.

Do you find anything untoward in what is attributed to Christ as saying or advocating?

In 622 A.D. Mohamed acknowledged the existence of Christ, or perhaps this is also non-existent? I very much doubt so because the continuous wars between Christianity and Islam could be a foundation to believe it.

There have been many centuries in between the alleged beginning of Christianity and our days with so many persons of relevance along all this time affirming the existence of the Messiah for the Christian religions, a prophet for the Coran, and an impostor for the Jews, to have reasonable doubts about that fact.

If we followed your train of thought perhaps we would also arrive at the conclusion that the world was bigbanged not too many centuries ago, as far back as we should estimate a plausible time of apparition of the universe.

Another thing is that you or Richard or I believe or not that Christ was the son of God.

The existence of Christ, also once called the first communist in history, has been fundamental for a large part of our coexistence, although the use of his person has been used for purposes that his teachings did not advocate.

I am sniffing at your words, on the other hand, an intention of starting some form of polemics. Am I wrong?

Peace be with you.

anticant said...

RICHARD: Maybe I am a 'solipsist but'. I am an everything 'but'. I do not think most questions have a black-or-white answer.

When I was about eleven, I was in the local public library with my nose in a book [as usual] when an impatient litle old lady who wished to get past me to the shelves poked me with her umbrella and said: "Do you think the world was made for you alone?" I have pondered this question ever since, and my reluctant conclusion is that no, it wasn't - but it should have been!

Bertrand Russell tells of a lady who wrote to him saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there weren't more of them. Russell replied that he was surprised at her surprise.

JOSE: The BELIEF that something happened is real, whether or not the thing in question actually happened or not. I would be the last to deny the influence of religious beliefs throughout history. I think they have usually been far more destructive of human happiness than benign, and are all the more deplorable because the events they are supposed to commemorate probably never occurred at all.

I don't suppose you believe in Santa Claus, but his influence on both children and their parents at Christmas time is undeniable.

I don't believe that Christ was the son of God, any more than you or I are. But then I don't think there is a God, any more than I believe in the tooth-fairy or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Richard W. Symonds said...

Says Toilet Graffiti :
God is Dead - Nietzsche
Nietzsche is Dead - God

Says Anticant : "I don't think there is a God..".

Substitute "Thoughts" for "God" - as Thoughts don't 'exist' either :

"I don't think there are Thoughts..."

That is a logical absurdity because you are thinking thoughts which don't 'exist'.

Try opening up your head, and saying : There's a thought which exists. You can't.

In the same way, I can't say : There's God.

As I see it, both Thoughts and God exist in a very real sense - but no-one can 'prove' it.

So I find your statement : "I don't think there's a God" rather absurd - and very inchoate :)

anticant said...

Twaddle. I know that I think. I don't know there is God.

Why does my belief or non-belief bother you so much? My perceptions are no doubt limited - as are yours - but I believe what makes sense to me. God doesn't.

Richard W. Symonds said...

Your 'intellectual certainties' intrigue me, Anticant...and Orwell's words come to mind ('Down and Out in Paris and London' : "He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him).

Some extremely unshallow human beings believe in God - Carl Jung even 'came out' and said this towards the end of his life, when asked if he believed in God :
"Believe ? I don't need to believe...I know".

"Twaddle" in your book, I suppose...OK.

Cyril Joad, at the end of his life, said that for him : "Christianity was the least implausible explanation of the Universe".

More "twaddle" in your book, I suppose...OK.

Anticant, I have no wish to 'preach' - I am only too acutely aware of my failings, and I find it grossly insulting when someone tries to 'push' their prejudices on me - so I won't do the same to you.

If I sound 'pushy'. I apologise...I certainly don't mean to be...It's just that you often express your views very stridently - which is more than fine by me - so to debate with you requires equal 'stridency'.

To my 'inchoate' mind (I like that word - thanks), we're all floundering in the dark when it comes to 'knowing' things - and cocksureness is a function of ignorance.

Truth-seeking is an endless quest - and if any fallible human being says they have found the Truth, we can be sure they have found no such thing.

anticant said...

RICHARD: We seem to see each other as mirror images. I do experience you as 'pushy'. Why won't you just accept what I say as my perceptions, and stop haranguing me about how 'wrong' I am? I do not seek to convert you to my way of thinking. If you persist in believing what I don't, that is no business of mine until your beliefs start interfering with my life-choices, when I shall resist you strenuously.

How can I "personally dislike" something whose existence I doubt? It is not "God" - whatever that is - but the actions of those who profess to be his followers, that I dislike, because they are so often anti-peace, anti-toleration, anti-fair play, and anti-common sense. In other words, anti-social.

anticant said...

PS. To revert to the theme of this thread - which I wish you would - you have not had to experience the lifelong deluge of hostility, bigotry, intolerance, lies, and downright nastiness that I, as a gay person, have had to combat from religionists of all stripes.

Richard W. Symonds said...

I live near Brighton. I read about the 'gay' attacks regularly in The Argus. I read about 'Gay Pride'...

You are right - I have not had to suffer what you have suffered as someone who is not 'gay'...

But I can tell you this...the real nasty, dangerous attacks on gay people don't seem to come from "religionists"...they come from ignorant, bigoted thugs who have more than a little 'spare hatred' - with time to spare.

As to "haranguing" you - that's crap - it's simply debate.

anticant said...

RICHARD: I don't mean physical attacks. They - though even one is too many - are a different matter. What I am referring to is the ceaseless denigration and abuse of gay people by the religious, not because of what we do or think, but because of what we ARE. Not all Christians do it - some are supportive - but very few Muslims have anything good to say about gay people. [Many Islamic preachers call for our murder.] And there is a great deal of humbug involved, because some of the most vociferous holier-than-thou people of all faiths have turned out to be closet cases.

I have given you the necessary links to seek out my own writings on the subject.

Maybe we have different notions of how to debate. I, at least, eschew scatologicial language.

tyger said...


I very much enjoyed the opening post, and indeed found the following thread more disagreeable (far too much name-dropping for my money too ;) ).

Back to the thread.

Things have obviously changed. As a 28yo I went through school confused by a strange dichotomy: It was ok to be gay – but to call someone gay was an insult. This never made sense to me. Maybe I’m being trivial, but I think it conveys beautifully societies strange relationship with homosexuality.

When I was about 17 or 18 and preparing for university I had a friend in his thirties. He was very worldly. He had travelled to the States and Asia, and lived for several years in France in a farmhouse he had renovated. To a young, albeit well read, dreamer he was something exiting. He was of course homosexual.

Sex with the said gentleman had never occurred to me (I have no reason to think it ever occurred to him either), but we got on brilliantly. At an age when most of my friends were happy clubbing, fighting, and drinking, here was someone who knew about wine, French cinema, art, and had read the classics (don’t get me wrong, he could be lovably trashy too sometimes – how is it gay people get the balance right?). We spent a great summer getting drunk and eating a great deal of Indian food. I still treasure those memories.

Someone told my father he was gay.

My parent’s immediately put a stop to our friendship. He was understandably hurt when he found out (not through me), and I was furious with my father. Sex had never been an issue, but my otherwise reasonable father could not comprehend that a gay thirty-something and his son could possibly just be good mates. University and my parents insistence meant I didn’t push it.

This is the first time I have put this into writing, and maybe, having thought about him again, I may seek him out. In these days of Google it shouldn’t be too hard. My father is reasoned and fairly liberal, but even he could quite comprehend the homosexual mind. If indeed there is anything at all to comprehend. To me it’s just about sex. Different kicks for different sorts. Me, I like Eastern European girls and Orientals (maybe Freud would argue there is something about socially indoctrinated submissiveness that turns me on?) – we all have our tastes. For example, I for one like pickled onions…

anticant said...

Thanks for that, Tyger. It's a really sad story. So much incomprehension and needless hurt. Your father's liberality evidently doesn't extend to grasping that sexuality is about emotional and physical attraction - not much to do with the "mind", really. Does he think that every girl is at risk from universally predatory heterosexual men, I wonder?

Of course, being gay may well result in someone mixing with others whose intellectual and cultural interests are different from those of the majority, but that's a by-product. Homophobic theories about a sinister gay mafia ['the Homintern'] exercising its corrupting influence around the world are greatly exaggerated.

I can understand exactly what you mean about your confusion that it's supposedly OK to be gay, but an insult to call someone gay. Having spearheaded the earliest moves towards greater legal and social toleration of gay people in the 1950s and '60s, I am only too well aware of how much still has to be done to eradicate prejudice. The rapidity with which homosexuality has become more visible and tolerated during the past decade is surprising even to me; but a lot of it is only skin-deep. The uglier face of homophobia is still alive and well, as shown by the current dispute over adoption. There is an interesting comment thread in today's "Telegraph" on which several people make the point that for a kid to be dubbed "gay" at school is the worst possible insult - and that therefore, a child adopted by a gay couple will inevitably be disadvantaged. Needless to say, no-one suggests that the use of "gay" as an insult amongst children should be vigorously tackled by grown-ups!

Jose said...

It is curious how an allegedly "macho" country as Spain was dubbed years ago, has been one of the first ones to normalise gay life. Even adoptions are now possible here.

True that there is still a long way to be walked, but I think it has already been paved to make it easier and smoother towards an understanding of how matters really are, leaving aside any unpleasant positions that the bigots of always want to upheld.

I've had one negative experience in my life, but there are no rules without an exception, and that experience was long ago relegated to a mere memory.

The sexual side of our existence needs an overhaul everywhere and education at school level, so that old stereotypes be abandoned once and for ever.

As Anticant says sex and mind are no soul mates, I mean in normal life.

anticant said...

What you say is very true, Jose. The political and social evolution of Spain since Franco's death is one of the most interesting and encouraging events of our time. It illustrates what Yellow Duck said a while ago - that the political weather can change very quickly - and gives hope for the future even in these grim and disjointed times.

It also illustrates that the old-fashioned traditionalists and bigots are these days still a noisy but only a small minority, and that if progressive governments have the courage to face them down, quite radical reforms can be achieved and are soon almost universally accepted. I take much heart from Spain's example.