Tuesday, January 30, 2018


I made a post yesterday on my Facebook page about Chuck Close, the prominent artist whose exhibition at the National Gallery was cancelled because of charges of harassment. The response was greater and more intense than any other I've received, and triggered further thoughts on my part. Here they are:

Even by those who took exception to what I posted yesterday, I have been treated kindly. I was called "one of the good guys" in more comments than one, and I appreciate that kindness. Perhaps in part because of my remnant English accent (though I have been this side of the Atlantic for more than five decades!) I am sometimes thought of and described as a "gentleman."

Which is fine, except that being a gentleman can come at a certain cost. I am currently contemplating--and starting to work on--a book which I am tentatively calling "What a Good Boy Am I" (you get the reference to the Little Jack Horner nursery rhyme, I'm sure); though it might also be "Sticks & Stones." It's the story of the path--one path, my own--to becoming a gentleman. It involved being sent away from home to a boys' boarding school at a very young age; being subjected to a good deal of physical and emotional abuse and learning to cope with it with that "stiff upper lip"; learning to live in the head, because the heart was strictly out of bounds; and to suppress, conceal or deny all natural instinct, including sexuality.

But they couldn't entirely take the man out of the gentleman. And what I know about men, having worked in intimate circles with them for many years, is that we share certain things in common--and have done so for all the centuries since our species rose up on two legs. Most particularly, we are blessed (cursed?) with equipment designed to make us the more (physically) aggressive partner in our sexual behavior. No matter how gentlemanly, I will confess to having used this equipment in less than gentlemanly, sometimes hurtful, sometimes shameful ways. In this I am like so many men who are now despised. Jimmy Carter, you'll no doubt recall, was widely ridiculed for admitting to having "lusted in his heart." It's a short step, as I can testify, from the heart to that much loved and so easily abused appendage.

I say this not to excuse myself--or indeed all men--from my abuse of the power that comes with privilege and entitlement; in my own case, not only the privilege of the Western white male, but that of social standing, the best of all possible educations, and relative financial security. I say it because it's my conviction that if we wish to correct unquestioned evils, if we wish to change "the way things have always been," we must first look to ourselves. It took many years of my life to learn this difficult, sometimes unpalatable truth: even when blameless, the moment I blame someone else is the moment I become the victim; and victimhood is never a position of power. To find that power and work with it, we must look into our hearts, subject our own thoughts and judgments to careful, honest analysis, examine our own behavior, and change ourselves--man or woman. Only then will we have the chance to change anything outside ourselves.

I hope not to sound sententious or judgmental. I appreciate the sometimes impassioned response to what I had to say yesterday. I tried to learn from it and look at my instinctive defenses. And I remind myself always that I still have much more to learn than I already think I know. I owe my sincere thanks to all my friends out there--the ones I know and the ones I don't. You do me great honor in simply reading what I have to say.

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