Friday, February 15, 2019

Marvin Gaye: Sexual Healing, and Otherwise

    Hollywood sharks continue to circle the prey that is a big-budget Marvin Gaye musical biopic, as they've done for years, The call to a violent epic fleshed out with a baby-making sensibility is irresistible, obvious and highly lucrative. There's no need to muddy the waters with perversion or a sensitively questioning take on the man. To put it bluntly, there's little likelihood that anybody's planning on remaking "Glen Or Glenda" with a dope soundtrack.

Contemporary male bisexuals and cross-dressers have only themselves to blame if their broad “acceptance” hasn’t followed in the wake of LGBTIQ successes. Beginning with their inclusion at the onset of the Queer movement (where they enjoyed more currency than transgendered people), the vast majority have subsequently declined membership of the club. Often demonstrating little more than a determination to uphold that brand of closetry and disassociation whose by-line (and identity) begins and ends with “I’m not gay", they wonder why nobody's really taking them seriously these days.

There's been little movement since this 2014 New Republic piece on the matter, so perhaps these guys need to think some more about what they are, rather than what they’re not. And that would begin with a broad look at all aspects of sexual attraction and masculinity, rather than playing to a numbers game which invokes “preferences”, as proof of something beyond aspiration. Profits aside, there's little to be gained from re-imagining Marvin Gaye - there is however a persuasive case for more appropriately imagining the man himself.

Subverting Boundaries And Delusions


   Some males exhibit hysteria around their own sex appeal when it comes to other men. (It's traditionally been impossible to gauge in advance whether acknowledging or disavowing their same-sex appeal will cause most offense.) The many versions of  "I'm not gay" presented as discussion-ending fact can't pass reasonable scrutiny for homophobic motivations and/or content. Realistically, Gen Z's ideas about pansexuality and sexual fluidity are coming to dominate modern narratives about sexual identity. With simple attraction as the touchstone - and a never-say-never attitude - even bi-sexuality as an idée fixe is looking a little old-school to under 24's. 

The data spewed out in "A Billion Wicked Thoughts" suggests that our ideas about a "homosexual male sexuality" versus a "heterosexual male sexuality" need drastic re-thinking, and not along fixed behavioral points on the Kinsey Scale. Two irrefutable facts about male sexuality (that gay interest is  a primary internet search, and that dicks elicit arousal in most men) can't be ignored. Common sense suggests that overlaying the data with older evolutionary thinking about male / female sexual selection science is to create conclusions which rely entirely on a host of binaries which may be substantially irrelevant. Queering Marvin Gaye then simply means he's re-evaluated for our times and not his: as public property, straight-washing the guy serves only the purposes of straight-washing.

The evolving 60s  style of Motown's Prince Charming

   The insinuating sex appeal of Marvin Gaye - one of music’s most sexually attractive men – is as intriguing as sexual attraction itself. Coltish thighs and rump packed into tight pants during his early Motown days was a nice way to package a girlish voice which swung easily to the R&B pop of the day. His boy/girl duets went a long way to cementing the genre, while establishing the boy's romantic appeal. Artistically he’d rather have been known for standards and show tunes, and he'd obviously learned more from Peggy Lee's contrived intimate vocal style than any rowdier or assertively male influences. In lionizing Sinatra, his vocal shifts may or may not have taken something from that old adage of the opera world: "Tenors thrill the ladies but baritones get to fuck them". With remarkable insight, his biographer David Ritz (in the excellent “Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye”)  challenged an older Marvin Gaye as to whether that voice was in fact indicative of a softer “woman within”: the sometimes candid Gaye dodged that bullet by attributing it to showmanship.

The bullets Marvin Gaye couldn’t dodge were those fired by his violent, cross-dressing father who shot him to death in 1984 – the day before his forty-fifth birthday. The father’s actual sexuality was never as well-defined as that of his siblings’: Marvin Gaye's paternal uncles were all gay. Suffice to say that the abused young Marvin’s shy sexuality, fueled by “daddy issues”, went on to define yet another conflict in a highly conflicted life. He pursued hyper-heterosexuality as an antidote to an unimaginably painful sexual insecurity - a pursuit which  could only sabotage a damaged boy’s potential for intimacy.

Humanizing A Heterosexual Fail

   While openly acknowledging his own cross-dressing tendencies as inheritance - as well as being intrigued by seeing himself as a woman - Marvin Gaye stopped short of acknowledging any inherited sexual ambiguity from father or uncles. Nor did he expound on the sexual aspect of his perhaps fetish. Religiously conflicted as well, he unsurprisingly embraced heterosexuality as religion, which compounded his woes to the degree that sexuality (as well as his innate sensuality) would bring him no worthwhile peace or comfort, spiritually or otherwise.

The 70s: A Golden Decade for Male Exhibitionists

   It would be remiss to not acknowledge how being molested by an uncle (and being beaten by his father for disclosing it) would have impacted on Marvin Gaye. It's reasonable to assume that some form of sexual disorientation probably came into play, along with much compounded shame. It would be however unreasonable to project notions about his "true" sexuality versus compulsive sexuality based on those events alone.

Contextualizing Marvin Gaye's sorta homophobic comments is fairly easy: he was a child of the 50s and the son of a "sissy", with sissy tendencies himself. As an American man of his times, he was on his own in terms of assembling a male identity from shattered parts, while going on exhibit all the key indicators of childhood sexual abuse.

We don't have a reliable case file which gives a definitive overview of Gaye's sexual disorientation, or what specific behaviors constitute evidence per se. We do however have consistent verification of a life and personal relationships so poorly managed it almost defies reason. The old cover-up term "marriage of convenience" implies many things not stated, and a young and ambitious Marvin Gaye's first marriage to a woman seventeen years his senior certainly ran that flag up the pole. Stardom as a commercial sex symbol is often at odds with functional sexuality: a cruel fate then that Marvin Gaye would come to represent and communicate hetero-centrist sexuality and sensuality from a place of artistry with no real authority.

Getting the Style + Cred mix just right

Bumping & Grinding & Then Some...
The 80's: Not quite burlesque, but close

   And so the Marvin Gaye Carnival of Sex rolled on and evolved into the career-defining and musically sophisticated  sensibilities of “Let’s Get It On”, “Sexual Healing” and “I Want You”, with brief forays like “What’s Going On” as nods to the non-carnal. Damp-panties appeal and simulated testosterone - as supported by a self-destructive lifestyle - threatened deft and talented musicianship. The gods usually put a time limit on most things, and Marvin Gaye’s final wasted tour in 1983 featured an impotent  middle-aged man stripping down to his underwear for the finale. A modern prohibitionist narrative might blame it all on the cocaine, but more rigorous questioning would look to causes rather than symptoms, with the smart money on a psycho-sexual cry for help. What's seen as lewd can also be seen as a Christ-like tableau.

Ritz’ biography aside, Marvin Gaye’s legacy is a lucrative and finely-tuned non-Queer paean to non-gay sensuality and street cred – both money-makers of the highest order. All of that got a nasty shock last year when Quincy Jones shot his wonderful old mouth off. With few fucks to give (and no retractions actually made), he stated that Marlon Brando had fucked Marvin. Gaye’s heirs and other assorted homophobes shot back with vitriol directed at "Q" or denial – as if they knew better. "So what if he did?" was indeed the only appropriate response, given that Marvin Gaye's self-proclaimed womanizing can't be seen as definitive evidence of happy or successful heterosexuality. That, coupled with his other revelations, does evidence a man most likely to be questioning his sexual identity to the core. "Q"'s allegation only offends a homophobic agenda, with the truth being as inconclusive as Gaye's statements on the true workings of his sexuality.

Are We Really Okay With Ambiguities?

   In queering Marvin Gaye, there's not much to be seen if we're just looking to establish binary sexuality, from a pre-Kinsey perspective. For many and varied reasons - nefarious and otherwise - he could simply be dismissed as straight "damaged goods", albeit with kinks, but altogether quite unworthy of Queer re-evaluation. As he himself could have gone the the route of contrariness and contest hetero-centrist presumption, regardless of the fact that position invites the very homophobia which the Queer movement opposes as its central tenet. The "special" homophobia which cross-dressers attract becomes significantly less vague when its misogyny component is fully acknowledged, allowing facts to be correctly ordered from a more reasonably critical pole position.
Marvin didn’t live long enough to out himself as a Queer, or something like it. The commercialized assimilation of Marvin Gaye (with conditional warts-and-all), stands in stark contrast to a real life of alterity, always vulnerable to the worst that society has to mete out. In an ideal world he could have articulated why nobody more than he was in need of sexual healing. In his heart of hearts he may have come to appreciate his sex appeal as a gift, neither sacred nor profane, nor something to peddle or direct at women exclusively. It's easy to empathize with a man like Marvin Gaye, as with all men who are doing it tough with cross-dressing and bisexuality. It might however be in their very best interests to look at Marvin Gaye's life as a masculine sexuality morality tale, and forthwith abandon their smug "I'm not gay" mantra for long enough to do what most men  probably should do as therapy: put on a pair of lace or satin panties and respectfully ask some dude if you can touch him and call him daddy.

   It really couldn't hurt.

Eye candy's last hurrah.

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