Why Isn't "Nudist" An Identity Politics Identity?
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In my current Taki’s Magazine column on why “polyamory” appears to be emerging as the New Current Thing, I snarked:

The great appeal of polyamory is you can define it to mean whatever you are into. …

Are you a tech nerd born without the Jealousy Gene who has felt, ever since you read in ninth grade Robert A. Heinlein’s sci-fi cult novels Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (with their lengthy descriptions of complex marriage arrangements), that it would be irrational to restrict yourself to just one woman in return for her restricting herself to just one man? Well, that’s not “wife-swapping” anymore, like they dismissively called it back in Heinlein’s day, that’s now “polyamory,” which sounds much more respectable.

From Time magazine in 2023:

The Surprising Political Evolution of American Polyamory

NOVEMBER 13, 2023 10:00 AM EST

Polyamory seems to have burst upon the American mainstream over the past two decades. … Though studies have shown that Americans from across the political spectrum have embraced forms of consensual non-monogamy, it tends to be liberal progressives who publicly laud polyamory as the next stage of the sexual revolution, while religious conservatives bemoan it as the next step in more than half a century of moral decline. Yet, setting polyamory within the longer history of American sexual dissent uncovers a complicated relationship between politics and sexual freedom that defies simplistic categorization.

The term polyamory was coined in the early 1990s after a coalition of ethical non-monogamists came together to give a name to similar lifestyles many of them had practiced for decades. Though sometimes confused with polygamy, polyamory is distinct in that it tends to be gender egalitarian and queer affirming. …

The clearest link between polyamory and the first decades of the 20th century is traceable through the influence of acclaimed science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. Referring to himself as a “child of the Torrid Twenties,” Heinlein was a sexual iconoclast. His first two marriages in 1929 and 1932 were both open, and he spent the 1930s and 1940s frequenting nudist clubs, and running in countercultural circles that included the occultic sex magician and Cal Tech rocket scientist Jack Parsons and fellow science fiction writer and founder of Scientology L. Ron Hubbard.

Although he was a New Deal liberal throughout the 1930s, the threat of nuclear war galvanized Heinlein, pushing him toward an anti-communist right-wing elitism his critics have charged with bordering on fascism. Such themes are most clearly seen in his lesser-known treatises supporting American nuclear armament and in his more well-known Hugo Award winning 1959 novel, Starship Troopers.

Heinlein’s rightward turn did little to temper his promotion of sexually transgressive ideas. If anything, it reinforced the notion that sexual freedom should be protected as a private right. He lamented monogamy and monotheism as the two sacred cows of western civilization and continued to take aim at both in his novels. The culmination of such efforts was his 1961 novel Stanger in a Strange Land. The novel, which follows a human raised on Mars who returns to Earth and starts a church that rejects jealousy in lieu of ritualistic free love, took little time to become canonical within 1960s counterculture.

Actually, Stranger In a Strange Land, despite its great King James Bible title, took a while to take off. Heinlein was a close fan of the great Russian-American writer Vladimir Nabokov, and when his pedophilic Lolita became a vast bestseller in 1958, Heinlein decided book censorship was doomed so it would pay to complete Stranger.

One issue slowing Heinlein’s appeal was that he was too easily bored to become a cult leader like his friend L. Ron Hubbard or colleague Ayn Rand. His three famous cult novels appeal to different cults: 1959’s Starship Troopers to militarists, 1961’s Stranger in a Strange Land to druggies, and 1966’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress to libertarians.

Heinlein suffered massive cerebral problems from 1966-1969, following his best all-around novel, the libertarian The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

Heinlein hadn’t trained to be a writer, having been a U.S. Navy officer from 1927-1934, when tuberculosis forced him into early retirement, and then into various careers such as gold-mine operator and campaign manager in Upton Sinclair’s 1934 Leftist-utopian run for governor of California. He only started publishing science-fiction stories in 1939 at age 33, but then quickly emerged as the “dean” of sci-fi. His status as the natural leader of science fiction was cemented at the first sci-fi convention in 1941, where as the chief honoree he also took over as the officer-and-gentleman host for all the socially awkward attendee nerds. His speech extolling his fans as the future of the world was a galvanizing moment in 20th Century social history.

Heinlein kept improving as a writer in the 1940s and his 1950s juvenile novels aimed at high IQ 13-year-old boys are classics. His 1960s books are more erratic, but his 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, with its Russian-inflected prose style stolen from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, suggests he was still improving after 27 years in the business.

Heinlein smuggles into Moon a lot of propaganda for polyamory via his narrator, Manny the mixed-race regular-guy computer repairman of the Luna colony:

My one grandfather was shipped up from Joburg for armed violence and no work permit, other got transported for subversive activity after Wet Firecracker War. Maternal grandmother claimed she came up in bride ship—but I’ve seen records; she was Peace Corps enrollee (involuntary), which means what you think: juvenile delinquency female type. As she was in early clan marriage (Stone Gang) and shared six husbands with another woman, identity of maternal grandfather open to question. But was often so and I’m content with grandpappy she picked. Other grandmother was Tatar, born near Samarkand, sentenced to “re-education” on Oktyabrakaya Revolyutsiya, then “volunteered” to colonize in Luna.

“Mannie, you’re married. Ja?”

“Da. It shows?”

“Quite. You’re nice to a woman but not eager and quite independent. So you’re married and long married. Children?”

“Seventeen divided by four.”

“Clan marriage?”

“Line. Opted at fourteen and I’m fifth of nine. So seventeen kids is nominal. Big family.”

“It must be nice. I’ve never seen much of line families, not many in Hong Kong. Plenty of clans and groups and lots of polyandries but the line way never took hold.”

“Is nice. Our marriage nearly a hundred years old. Dates back to Johnson City and first transportees—twenty-one links, nine alive today, never a divorce. Oh, it’s a madhouse when our descendants and inlaws and kinfolk get together for birthday or wedding—more kids than seventeen, of course; we don’t count ‘em after they marry or I’d have ‘children’ old enough to be my grandfather. Happy way to live, never much pressure. Take me. Nobody woofs if I stay away a week and don’t phone. Welcome when I show up. Line marriages rarely have divorces. How could I do better?”
“I don’t think you could. Is it an alternation? And what’s the spacing?”
“Spacing has no rule, just what suits us. Been alternation up to latest link, last year. We married a girl when alternation called for boy. But was special.”

Then Heinlein’s health, always poor, collapsed.

But then he awoke, like Lord Byron, at the end of the 1960s to find himself famous and rich as hippies had in the interim adopted Stranger as their cult novel. It reads like various coke fiends ranting about their various theories to “Oh, wow”–saying weed heads. The first chapters are thrilling but then it becomes a drag.

But it sold. Not surprisingly, the cognitively damaged Heinlein then produced more but lesser imitations of Stranger in the 1970s and early 1980s, with what I presume are dire results. While I have read practically every word he published from 1939-1966, I’ve avoided most of his post-Moon books. After he recovered enough to start writing again in the 1970s, he was pretty terrible, but he was famous and sold a lot of copies. From Time:

Many within the counterculture opted out of politics. The anti-war movement tended to draw those who were politically inclined toward the New Left. But there were others, like university student Tim Zell, who believed sexual freedom and small government were linked. In 1967, Zell founded a neo-Pagan church in St. Louis modeled after Heinlein’s novel. Prior to that, Zell and his friends had been acolytes of Rand, and their early newsletters heckled campus socialists while promoting Barry Goldwater as the presidential candidate best suited to preserve American freedom. During the early 1970s Zell married Heinlein’s ideas with Randian libertarianism, producing a magazine, Green Egg, which set spiritualist appeals to cast off the restrictive bonds of monogamy alongside articles on anarcho-capitalism. In 1990, Zell’s wife, Morning Glory, would go on to coin the term “polyamorous” in the magazine’s pages.

Zell’s church was not the only Heinlein-influenced poly-precursor with conservative political leanings. Also influential was the Kerista Commune, which proliferated first in New York during the 1960s and then in San Francisco throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The commune is best known in poly circles as originating the concept of “polyfidelity,” the notion that intimacy between more than two people is acceptable if it remains within a closed group.

Keristans believed that sex and capitalism were both central to creating a global utopia. They thought if they could replicate financially successful clusters of polyfidelitous communes around the world, they could deter the emerging Third World from Soviet propaganda, thwarting the spread of communism. Calling themselves the “Hip Right,” they cut ties with anyone who questioned their shared devotion to capitalism and group marriage. Before it disbanded in 1991, the commune became the largest Apple computer dealer in Northern California, generating tens of millions in sales. Disaffected members later disseminated many of Kerista’s ideas into polyamory’s vocabulary.

Keep in mind that Heinlein himself was too interesting to be a cult leader. He tended to get easily bored and move on to a new idea. So it took a lot of character for Heinlein to resist becoming a cult leader like Hubbard or Rand.

Besides polyamory, Heinlein also was into transgenderism, with his genius late 1950s short story “All You Zombies,” in which time travel, a sex change operation, and the old song “I’m My Own Grandfather,” allows Heinlein to posit his solipsistic view of himself as the only consciousness in the universe.

Heinlein had lots of other fetishes, too. But not all of them have taken off into the sacred sphere like transgenderism and, potentially, polyamory. For example, he was really into nudism, such as in The Door into Summer and The Puppet Masters. The latter is a brilliant alien invasion story that serves as a logical excuse for why all the women in America have to go naked all summer.

Presumably, Heinlein liked the nonsexual euphoric kick of tanning, but c’mon, he also had what The Onion in its 1998 prime called a Naked-Lady Fetish.

Area Man Has Naked-Lady Fetish

Published October 21, 1998

ST. JOHNSBURY, VT–Looking at Warren Geary, you’d never suspect. A respected business owner and devoted family man, the 41-year-old Geary, by all outward indications, would appear to be just like anyone else in this sleepy New England hamlet of 4,700.

Dig a little deeper, beyond the many years of PTA involvement and Kiwanis Club membership, and you’ll discover a very different Warren Geary, one who derives sexual stimulation and pleasure from the sight of unclothed women. This seemingly normal husband and father of three has a naked-lady fetish.

“I really enjoy looking at naked ladies,” Geary said. “I don’t know what it is, but seeing women without clothes gets me excited.”

While Heinlein’s kinks for polyamory and transgenderism have elevated themselves into privileged identities in the 21st century, his nudism fetish is increasingly out of fashion.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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