Letter from Thessaloniki

For two millennia, homosexuality has been made to seem a crime, a vice, an illness. Yesterday Archbishop Christodoulos found a new term and declared it a «koussouri,» which is a rather tricky word in Greek. It can mean a defect, a more or less minor physical flaw, a corporeal imperfection or even an infirmity. It can also mean a «bad habit.» Defending the pious, Catholic incoming EU Commissioner Rocco Buttiglione, who is married and has four daughters («He is a good Christian who tells the truth») and following the example of those scorching letters that Saint Paul mailed to the residents of Corinth and Athens, our Christodoulos, in an apparent state of terminal hysteria, gave a religious dimension to this «bad habit» by declaring that those «who have the vice» are disturbed by words such as those as pronounced by Buttiglione. Buttiglione is the only commissioner-designate to be rejected by an EU assembly panel so far. The almost-to-be EU commissioner for justice, freedom and security (who was to take office today, November 1) has attributed the low birthrate in Europe to women concentrating too much on their careers and not enough on having babies. He has also said that being gay is a sin. This, apparently, is something with which not only Christodoulos agrees, but also another prominent member of our society, Yiannis Ioannidis, ex-trainer of the national basketball team and currently serving as a New Democracy member of Parliament. Speaking recently at a parliamentary committee Ioannidis sighed: «Today, television provides models and stereotypes that are rotten. Our TV screens cannot show enough gay situations. I have hardly seen any archetypes of motherhood, or on the rights of women to retirement, etc. This must change!» Author Elena Akrita promptly declared, «The truth is we are inundated with useless people. Morons who are gay and morons who are straight.» And popular TV satirist Giorgos Mitsikostas couldn’t agree more: «Television disposes of everything. Mr Ioannidis forgot the cranks and the suckers. As far as homosexuality is concerned, we are all hermaphrodites. If anything is harmful, this surely is some kind of gay demeanor and surely not just being physically gay.» In the Greek legend of Hermaphroditus, the nymph Salmacis fell in love with the beautiful son of Hermes and Aphrodite, and in answer to her prayer never to be separated from him, the gods merged the two in a being worshipped as a god, who seemed neither sex, and yet both. There are others who have had similar opinions for decades. Homosexuality, for Dr Charlotte Wolff (born 1904), a psychiatrist who has specialized in the psychology of gesture and in sexological research, did not exist: «People calling themselves either homosexual or heterosexual are in my view adopting an artifact produced by society.» Later in the century, Kate Millett (born 1934) would weigh in with «Homosexuality was invented by a straight world dealing with its own bisexuality.» And: «Bisexuality is the natural endowment of every human being.» For Greece, it is not that natural. The title story of the Athenian S-Magazine last Saturday read: «Homophobia – Homosexuality is still a taboo in Greece.» Although the article stated that one in 10 people in Greece is either gay or lesbian, this 10 percent minority seems to be taking precautions. The guilt attached to them by ignorant outsiders can indeed be compounded by their own. Gays in public life here are still extremely fearful of coming out, though their homosexuality is usually known to those close to them. People in the news still parade their wives and children as credentials. Only Iraklis Doukas, a well-known actor in Thessaloniki, who for many years ran a gay bar downtown, dared to stand as candidate for city hall, appearing in a wedding gown and a slogan that said: «Vote for the bride of the Thermaic Gulf!» Speaking of homosexuality, the subject unavoidably turns to Ancient Greece and, almost always, to Plato. Here is how the «koussouri» is defined in the «Symposium:» «In Ionia and other places, and generally in countries which are subject to the barbarians (Plato is referring to the Persians and the Jews) the custom is held to be dishonorable; loves of youths share the evil repute in which philosophy and gymnastics are held, because they are inimical to tyranny; the interest of rulers requires that their subjects should be poor in spirit and that there should be no strong bond of friendship or society among them, which love, above all motives, is likely to inspire, as our Athenian tyrants learned by experience; for the love of Aristogeiton and the constancy of Harmodius had a strength which undid their power.» These last-named were a pair of lovers who helped overthrow the Athenian tyrants of the time. Two-and-a-half-thousand years later, after the legality of homosexuality was assured, the battle to establish its morality clearly has still to be won. How? Probably by paying dearly for the victory. The homosexual has come out of the closet and into the marketplace. This is due to the decline of the need to keep same-sex preferences secret. With neither wife or children to support, and generally without a heavy mortgage or big insurance policy, gays have a comparatively large discretionary income. Nowadays, advertisers and retailers view gays as an important market.