I’m partway through a 3-part article series I’m writing for my Olympic lifting blog, The Iron Samurai, about Oscar Wilde on Weightlifting. In the second part, I get quite personal and talk about my own struggles with others constantly treating me as though I were gay because of some of my own natural proclivities which can seem rather girly: a love of pink, make up, and sparkly jewelry, for instance.
That’s all well and good, but it was rather disconcerting when I got a few disgruntled emails from some of my readers about my choice of Oscar Wilde given that he’s a “Homo” and in their words, a “pedophile”.
I touched on this a bit in the article, but given that the other blog is NOT a political blog, and I try very hard to keep it positive at all costs over there, I figured I’d better bring the discussion over here. (I should also mention that the vast majority of my readers were quite positive on the article and supportive.)
We have two issues that people were concerned about. The first is Wilde’s homosexuality. The second was whether or not he slept with children. Since you already know that I think it is moronic and immoral to get down on someone for being gay, I’m going to leave that there and get back to it later.
Wilde was gay. Deal with it.
But … if he slept with kids, that really is a problem. Did he?
Was Oscar Wilde a Pedophile?
Thankfully, the evidence says no. I’m not saying that this evidence is definitive. He lived in a pre-internet age, so the amount of information we have about his everyday life is rather scant. But, by most accounts, he was NOT a pedophile.
He wasn’t sleeping with 8 year olds, dude. (That’s a reference to the movie The Big Lebowski, if you didn’t catch it.)
That said, he DID engage in sexual activity with teenagers of the age of about 16 years and up. Here’s where people get screwy. Wilde (like the VAST majority of men throughout the history of the world) slept with people in their mid to late teens and early twenties whenever he got the chance.
The difference is that Wilde’s lovers were not female, they were male.
The problem people have with Wilde isn’t that he had sex with people between the ages of about 16 and 24 … it’s that they weren’t girls. Modern day rock stars are notorious for sleeping with high school aged girls. But, we don’t care because they’re chicks.
But a boy?! Gasp!
Look … I’m not saying that I condone the behavior of a 40 year old man sleeping with a teenager, but it has been happening since the dawn of time. We’re hardly talking about something odd or rare here, historically speaking. Hell, the age of consent in many industrialized countries (including Australia) is 16. So, it would have been legal even by todays standards in many places.
Creepy? Yes. Deplorable? No.
Wilde, the Gay Icon
It is in part for these reasons that Wilde has been taken on as a mascot for the cause of Gay liberation. He’s like a litmus test. Either you take him as an example of what happens when you let “homo’s” run rampant; or you recognize that he was human, see past his excesses, and focus on his great writing – which was truly great.
However, as this article over at Lex Stripta suggests, maybe other gay men could prove better martyrs for the cause:
One might think that a more natural champion for the gay rights cause would have been a man like Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician, creator of the first working computer, and leader of the code-breaking team at Bletchley Park which decrypted the German “Enigma” code during the Second World War. In 1952, Turing was arrested after he reported to police the theft of his wallet by a rent-boy whose services Turing had engaged. Unlike Wilde, Turing made no perjured attempt to deny the facts: he admitted his conduct, and sought only to argue that what occurred between consenting adults, in the privacy of his home, could not be characterised as indecent. He was convicted and, offered the alternatives of a year’s imprisonment or chemical castration, opted for the latter. As the details of his wartime work were still heavily classified, his immeasurable contribution to the war effort – the huge number of British and Allied lives saved through his code-breaking efforts, his decisive contributions to victory in the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic, and the likelihood that he alone advanced the Allied victory by as much as 12 months – could not be taken into account on sentencing. He committed suicide two years later.
But, Wilde endures as the figurehead, not men like Turing. And why not? The man was witty, fun, a great dresser, and at trial … he said this:
‘The Love that dare not speak its name’ in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as the Love that dare not speak its name, and on account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.
We can quibble all we want about how age differences in relationships are crazy, or just how much age difference is allowable before it becomes creepy (Picasso at the age of 90 was dating a woman in her 30′s), but it seems a rather standard thing in human history. My own wife is 7 years younger than me. I have friends who’s spouses are over 10 years younger. My father is married to a woman who is only 1 year older than I am.
This kind of thing is not abnormal. And no one cares if it’s between a man and a woman.
But, if the younger person in the relationship is a man …
That’s the point. Anytime you hold gay people up to standards you are not holding straight people to, you’re being a bigot. Plain and simple.
Oscar Wilde is a litmus test.