Assume the Position!

8.10.2006

By Out.com Editors

Yes, I realize that hazing can be dangerous. It can turn into abuse and bullying or outright sadism, as in those widely reported instances of boys being sodomized with mop handles and pinecones by other boys. Boys, like men, can be plain dumb and dangerous and occasionally fatal. Jocks can be obnoxious, arrogant little shits, especially to male cheerleaders. But my point would be that this is all we ever hear about. Hazing has been tarred with one self-righteous puritanical brush.
Scandalized media reports and a proliferation of antihazing Web sites such as BadJocks.com and StopHazing.org have helped to decisively turn public opinion against hazing (though in some cases with an admixture of voyeurism for the very thing that they are campaigning against). Hazing is now the subject of a full-fledged moral panic about 'our children.' This September sees the First National Conference on High School Hazing'and you can be sure they're not teaching delegates how to conduct a successful elephant walk. Most states now have antihazing laws, and most universities have draconian antihazing policies. Here's the University of Vermont's all-embracing definition of what hazing is and thus what is verboten: 'any act, whether physical, mental, emotional, or psychological, which subjects another person, voluntarily or involuntarily, to anything that may abuse, mistreat, degrade, humiliate, harass, or intimidate him/her, or which may in any fashion compromise his/her inherent dignity as a person.' Which sounds to me like a recipe for a very dull Saturday night indeed. Don't we all want our 'inherent dignity as a person' to be compromised sometimes, especially at university? And why on earth would you join a fraternity, or an ice-hockey team, or in fact any all-male group if you were so concerned about your inherent dignity as a person? Wouldn't it be wiser just to stay at home knitting? Hazing is used by these groups for precisely that purpose: to put off those who aren't really serious about putting the group or the team above their own damn preciousness or good sense.
Note how hazing is defined as 'voluntarily or involuntarily': Consent is irrelevant to the powers that be in their zeal to stamp out hazing (just as it used to be with homosexuality). They know best. Nor is it merely extreme cases such as sodomizing with pinecones that the antihazing zealots are against but 'any act, whether physical, mental, emotional, or psychological' that might be kind of naughty, kind of dirty, kind of fun. In itself a rather convincing argument for hazing, at least for young people. Mom and the cops and the college dean don't like it? Great! Bring on the handcuffs, warm beer, and Jell-O!
Which brings me onto the aspect of hazing that, as you may possibly have guessed, I have a fond fascination for, and is a central part of my desire to defend the practice'and probably why my defense will probably succeed in finally killing it off: the homoerotic dimension, the 'gayness' of what these mostly straight guys like to do to one another and their private parts. Granted, a lot of hazing, especially with the crackdown going on today, has little or nothing to do with being homoerotic. It may be just Jackass-style craziness involving oncoming traffic, gallons of water, and jumping out of trees. Mind, hazing does, like me, keep returning to men's butts and penises and testicles (anyone for 'tea-bagging?') even when it tries not to. Obviously, I think this is entirely understandable and requires no explanation whatsoever, let alone pathologizing it and criminalizing it. But clearly plenty of people think otherwise.
So why is hazing so homo? In part because all-male groups, according to Freud, are bound together by barely sublimated homoerotic feelings. It's what inspires them to such heartwarming loyalty, such passionate self-sacrifice and heroic endeavor'Eros can wrestle the instinct for self-preservation to the ground. The hazing rituals with their simulated homo sex could be seen as a symbolic group fuck that gets the 'sex' over with yet turns all the members of the team or fraternity into a band of lovers. Of course, I would prefer that they followed the exemplar of the Theban Band, or the Spartans of ancient Greece, the warrior-lovers who didn't stop at simulated homo sex (and were widely regarded as invincible); but you can't have everything.
There are also putatively Darwinian explanations for the homoerotics of male groups. In our prehistoric past the bonding of hunters and warriors was vital to the survival of the tribe. Those tribes that survived and thrived and passed on their genes were those in which men were willing to sacrifice breeding opportunities and comforts of life with the chicks back at camp for weeks and months of intimacy with men and a willingness to serve and take orders. Prehistoric man, in other words, was a bit of a leather queen. This is probably the reason why hypermasculinity is sometimes difficult to separate from homosexuality, especially during Hell Week.
There is also another explanation'one that, like psychological explanations of homosexuality itself, has something to do with Mommy. Boarding school, joining the college football team, or joining the military used to be a sacredly symbolic time for males, an initiation of boys into the world of men'away from the world of Mom into a world where hazing rituals and homoerotic horseplay would be used to masculinize boys into men.

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