Gay 'n Gray: Beach Reading
|by John Siegfried|
|How can a book be considered "beach reading" if your whole year is spent at the beach?
Beach reading is usually the accumulation of paperback mysteries, romances, and spy thrillers crowded out of the busy winter work world and set aside for the lazy days of summer at the beach. Frequently these are books that erudite readers term "trash," and are reluctant to even acknowledge that they enjoy the reading change of pace. But for me, personally, the "Life's a Beach" bumper sticker is true. Since I spend eight months in Rehoboth and the winter four in Ft. Lauderdale, everything I read is "beach reading."
Actually, in Rehoboth, my reading is limited. I'm too busy enjoying the town, tending my roses, running a rental property and simply "being" with my friends. But I make up for lost time with my winter reading. In the past few months I've meandered through such goodies as A Kiss Before Dying (Levin), Dark Lady (Patterson), Felix in the Underworld (Mortimer), The Saving Graces (Gaffney), Hannibal (Harris), The Erotic Mind (Morin), and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Eggers). There were two that made a particular impact and that I will re-read at more than a meander: Why Christianity Must Change or Perish by Bishop John Spong, the retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, NJ, and The Genesis of Justice by Alan Dershowitz, a well known Harvard Professor of Law.
Dershowitz takes an analytic look at the narratives in the book of Genesis, which he characterizes as, "perhaps the juiciest best seller of all times," and traces from them the origins of the Ten Commandments and of our current legal system. I have to confess that it's been a long time since I read the book of Genesis, and when I did, I read it as an accepting, believing adolescent and didn't particularly question the contents.
Perhaps my critical edge in reading The Genesis of Justice was honed by a visit to Haulover Beach just north of Miami a few days before I started the book. Haulover is a nude beach or more correctly a "clothing optional" beach. By unstated agreement, gays go to the left and straights to the right as you enter the beach area from an under-the-highway tunnel. There's a lot of mix of gay and straight, particularly on the volley ball court. And guess what? The anatomy's the same.
I've enjoyed nude swimming since my childhood days of learning to swim at the Y. That was a time when the Y was a separate facility for men and nude swimming was the rule, not the exception. Having experienced the freedom of skinny dipping, it's beyond my imagination how kids today can enjoy swimming with yards of wet cloth clinging to mid thigh.
With the memory of my recent Haulover freedom, I was distressed to re-read the Adam and Eve story in Genesis and realize that the remarkable insight our ancestors had after eating from the "Tree of Knowing of Good and Evil" was that they were naked and made a covering out of leaves to cover their nakedness. Apparently there was no remorse for breaking God's only commandment, no anger at God for what may have been a setup, only shame over their nakedness.
Now that to me sounds dumb. What's to be ashamed of when there are only two of you in the garden plus the Creator who made you? That type of response doesn't square with my experience of being nudein the presence of my Creator and many others. I can only surmise that the Genesis author either owned a clothing store and wanted to stimulate sales or was an ecologist touting new uses for fig leaves. But of all the responses Adam and Eve could have had, shame over their nudity seems to me to be the least important and the most inappropriate. But that's what the "good book" says.
Also, as an adolescent Genesis reader, I felt it was unfair that "the iniquities of the fathers will be visited on the children unto the third and fourth generation." It was not only unfair, but I felt I had enough iniquity of my own without taking on my great grandfather's account. Later in life, as a professional in the field of child health, I saw the generational continuation of family pathology and realized that the authors of Genesis would have ranked with Freud had they been identified. Somehow, in my earlier reading, I missed the impact of the Genesis tales that the legal eye of Alan Dersowitz discerns: "Cain murders his brotherand walks... God gets angryand millions die in a flood... Abraham commits attempted murderand is praised... Jacob deceives his father, then robs his brotherand gets away with it..." And that's just skimming the surface of the rape, incest, deception and murder that fill the rest of the book, along with the "begats."
The author's conclusion, "The genesis of justice is in the narratives of injustice found in the Book of Genesis." The story told in Genesis "will continue as long as Adams and Eves are tempted by serpents, Cains enraged by jealousy, Abrahams fight for justice, Jacobs succeed by deception. In other words, the story of Genesis will continue until the end of human kind." And gays, a part of the Genesis story, will continue as well.
It's a good thing that Genesis was written when it was. Written today, only the names would have changed, not the events, and there would be many more pages of "begats" to plow through. And, come to think of it, A Kiss Before Dying, Dark Lady, Hannibal and the rest of my beach reading have all the adultery, murder and deception my mind can handle.
John Siegfried, a retired association executive, resides in Rehoboth Beach and Ft. Lauderdale.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 11, No. 3, Apr. 6, 2001