Christmas is a lonely time for many gays. Yes. But let’s not get too self-indulgent yet awhile. Christmas is a lonely time for lots of other people too. It’s a lonely time for the very old who have outlived, become separated from, or ignored by their families. It’s a lonely time for the divorced, the widowed, for those men and women who just don’t happen to have got married. It’s a lonely, bleak time in institutions. It can be a lonely time in the family circle when the ring of faces is only made bright by the reflected glow of a television show canned before the leaves fell from the trees. Sometimes the cruelty of Christmas seems to outweigh the sweetness of its message.
Cruelty? Because instead of bringing peace on earth and goodwill to men, Christmas merely underscores alienations that during the rest of the year are either submerged or easier to tolerate. Not just between gay and straight, but between young and old, attached and unattached, blood and water. Of course, Christmas is supposed to serve a precisely opposite function and much time is spent at this time of year paying lip-service to this myth from the fatuous rhymes in cards and the banalities of Victorian hymns (mistakenly called carols) to the whole carapace of empty phrases that emanate from Canterbury, Rome and Windsor.
Christmas is a time when barriers are generally reinforced, not melted. We are reminded of the less fortunate, the weak, the sick, the distressed and perhaps some people are stirred enough to buy cards from a charity and thus ameliorate the minor stab of guilt. But compared with the money lavished on unspeakable toys, on aggressive displays of illuminated decorations for the streets, on advertising displays for commonplace cigarettes packed in tinsel, a fiver on cards for multiple sclerosis is tokenism of the worst kind.
Why just at Christmas? Multiple sclerosis exists the year round. Why pancakes (which are nice) on one day only; why bonfires (which are nice) on one day only? We jump like rats to a bell and shake out our required responses when required, then wrap them up and put them away until next time. Christmas builds barriers.
Also it promotes a wholly unreasonable selfishness, rationalised into ‘it only comes once a year’ (hear the bell?) or ‘we’re only doing it for the kiddies, have another gin-and-tonic’. Is there any wonder that half the population dread Christmas when the other half is ruthlessly enclosing itself in an impregnable cocoon of self-indulgence. The rich man stay’s at his table and the poor man is forever at the gate.
Is there any wonder that the suicide rate rises quite sharply during the Christmas period. Psychiatrists who, of course, once they have detected a phenomenon must instantly explain it, sought a reason for this suicide increase. It was suggested that the central figure of Christmas, the Christ-child, is a symbol of unattainable perfection and that when faced with this concept many individuals become acutely aware of their own imperfections, their own failures and are thus brought towards a suicidal state.
It’s my guess that they feel so bloody rejected and alienated, so fed up with seeing lights behind windows, so put-down by the relentless cash-bang of the High Street that oppressions felt during the rest of the year, but handled, rise sharply to the surface and get trapped in the cul-de-sac of the mind.
But the symbolism of Christmas is potent, complex and reaches far into the unconscious. It asserts certain standards, certain patterns of behaviour and certain ways of life, projected as ideal but rarely questioned.
In the west it is impossible to escape the influence of the myths; so impossible that the idea of escape never occurs. Christmas has undoubtedly inspired some of the greatest painting and music the world knows. But whether it is projected through Messiah or through a clumsy message picked out in cotton wool on the shopwindow, the assumptions remain the same. Christmas ecapsulates the systems of society which, of course, utterly reject the homosexual who is left kicking on the edges of the festival trying desperately to find a way in.
The central tableau is a family scene, the prototype, if you like, of the nuclear family, a single consumer unit given its consumer goods in the form of gold and frankincence and myhrr. The concept of the family is central, is firm, is essential. But the Holy Family is a strange one with a father who is not a father, and a mother who remains a virgin. So we have, in one image, one of basic contradictions – an assertion of procreation, of new and hopeful life linked with a complete repression of sexuality and sexual love.
How do gay women relate to the Virgin Mary? Talking around one gathers that many lesbians have a strong need for children, yet reject the essential male interaction. AID is a strong subject.
The imagery goes further with a statement of social division, not unity. Consider the attendants on the scene: the shepherds and the magi. The proletariat and the establishment. They meet in common worship in a stable. But they remain divided, their roles are set and the unity of common worship is a sleight of hand designed to suggest an equality that never exists. Paul sent the converted slave back to his master, still a slave.
This concept is a meaningless gesture that has been chucked around through the centuries. It has been revived in the plays dedicated to Moral Re-armament where industrial disputes are settled by shop stewards and management finding a common faith -which is about as relevant to strikes as everyone patronising the same tailor.
All these things are implicit all the time, but are asserted in strength at this time of the year. As I suggested earlier, it isn’t just gay people who are lonely at Christmas, but those who feel lonely and bereft at Christmas but are not gay, do at least have in-built defenses to sustain themselves against this barrage of conformity. They know they have the potential to take part in this festival of family and capitalism.
The gay person has no such defenses. At this time of year if he or she is at all sensitive then they must see themselves as alone and quite outside the structure everyone else seems to be celebrating. I said earlier that gay people were trying to Find a way in. Such is conditioning. Is it something one wants to find a way into? Even those gays who remorselessly claim that there is no difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals must, at this time, realise, somewhere, that this is too simplistic a view.
For sex (what you do in bed) is repressed out of the Christmas story and the root of homosexual alienation at this time must be sought elsewhere. Sex is irrelevant. The homosexual just doesn’t fit into the way society works and that’s that. And Christmas brings this home with force.
There are two things that gay people can do about this situation. One is already being done. That is – to get together over Christmas. Both GLF and CHE are having open parties and encouraging those gays who are physically alone at this time to get together for the holiday: “Not necessarily on a sexual basis, just brothers and sisters seeking a friendly and warm relationship”, as GLF’s newsletter so neatly expresses it.
The second thing is less easy. And that is to acquire an attitude of mind, a way of thinking in which Christmas and the terrible strictures it implies upon the gay community becomes irrelevant, where the images have no power to hurt and reject. To reach a stage where there is no need to find a way in because it isn’t worth getting in to; where the gay alternative is better and more rewarding. And not just for a week at the end of December, but all the year round.