Gerard Reve’s Ideas Played a Very Important Role in the Rights of Homosexuals

Gerard Kornelis van het Reve (known as Gerard Reve or Simon van het Reve) was a Dutch journalist and writer and is considered, together with W.F. Hermans and H. Mulisch, was one of the three most successful and top-level post second world war Dutch writers. One of the first homosexuals to ‘come out’ in his country his works are mainly focused on man-to-man love ( including the sexual aspect ) as well as the idea of redemption from the material side of reality and religion.

Born in 1923 in Amsterdam as Gerard J.M. van het Reve, he also worked as a journalist under the pseudo name of Gerarg Vanter and Janetta Jacoba Doornbusch. He grew up in the Betondorp district, east Amsterdam, then moved to the Diamantbuurt district, where he set his first novel “De Avonden” (“The Evenings”). He attended the Vossius Gymnasium high school and then he joined the (Graphic arts) Grafische School in Amsterdam. On receiving his degree, he applied for several jobs, including as judicial chronicles reporter for the Het Parool newspaper.

It was this which allowed him to meet Simon Carmiggelt, one of the most successful award-winning Dutch journalists of all time. In 1948, he married the Dutch poet Hanny Michaelis, who proved to be a loyal and caring wife until 1959, when they decided to divorce. The marriage years coincided with the couple’s residence in England. He joined some theatre classes and he worked for several months at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases.

During these years, he decided to write articles exclusively in English because of the huge outcry which occurred in Holland when one of his novels, Melancholia, appeared in the newspaper. The outcry was triggered by the explicit content of the novel, which was mainly focused on masturbation. In 1959 he moved back to Holland where he lived with Wim Schuhmacher, who is represented in Reve’s works as “Wimie”. In 1964 he moved to Greonterp with a new life partner, Willem Bruno van Albada (“Teigetje” in his novels) and then with Henk van Manen (“Woelrat”) and their house in Greonterp was named “Huize het Gras” (House of Grass). In 1974 he met Joop Schafthuizen (“Matroos Vos” in Reve’s novels), without any doubt his most important and closest partner.

In 1993, they left Holland to move to Belgium, where they settled in a villa located in Machelen-aan-de-Leie. In 1997, Gerard Reve was affected by Alzheimers and in 1998 after heart surgery, his health degraded further. He died on the 8th of April, 2006, at the age of 82, in Zulte, Belgium. He was buried in Machelen-aan-de-Leie, and on his grave is written the epitaph: Here lies Gerard Reve. You are dear to me.

His life was often filled with negative events: in 1966 he was charged with breaking a law concerning blasphemy, since he had written a novel describing a sexual act between himself and God, who had become incarnate in a 3-years-old donkey. In 1975, during a poetry festival in Holland, he read a satirical poem that described the immigration in racist terms, while wearing a swastika and hammer and sickle on his clothing.

His work contains several topics which Reve analysed with sharp irony, a cutting-edge, de-constructive and sometimes even negative, morality. One of the first topics his career made him get in touch with was homosexuality especially the male sort. In an interview published in 1962 he claimed that the human love, that is finds its externalization in material sex, does not correspond to God’s love, but there is a wide hiatus between the two spheres: traditional religion, according to Reve, has nothing to share with reality, ethics and politics.

Therefore, sex, when considered as aiming towards filling the distance between material and transcendental, can involve, apart from the mere sexuality, also something even higher and somehow universal. Some descriptions he used have the characters of some sort of “ritual”, involving a very strong mental participation, which is externalized by forms of sadism, often described in some scenes, that represent both punishing and cathartic sexual acts, aiming at higher levels and in the end, aiming at God himself. This practice, often defined Revism, ideally consists of the search for a true meaning of the word sex, which is undoubtedly inconsistent with its mere human and material form. Reve also declared that sex is the right key to gain access to a higher form of knowledge, often compared to stoic wisdom, which may assure freedom from the material aspects of reality.

Although Gerard Reve embraced some extremely strict positions, his work, together with many other intellectuals’ work, such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Pedro Almodovar, Thomas Mann and Andre Gide, and his ideas have played a very important role in the process of the acknowledgement of homosexuals’ rights.

This topic has always been set aside because of some kind of “ancient taboo”, whose origin is undoubtedly difficult to trace: superstitious belief in the sacredness of semen, which must not be wasted; ancient Christian will to be distinguished from corrupt Greek culture. It has been set aside even in recent years, because it seemed to be a niche problem, belonging to a minority of people.

Nowadays, this topic is burning, much more than ever, in the setting of the aggregation and categorization risks that have to be faced by our increasingly integrated societies, or at least, increasingly tempted to deal with the pluralisation of society, triggered by objective causes, such as world markets, immigration and easier communication and by the means of a constantly growing integration.

The appeal to values is stronger than ever today, in a historical moment where religious beliefs are multiplied, the ethnicities are mixing and many community bonds are being loosened. In such an unstable situation, characterized by a strong and risky totalitarian and categorizing jeopardy, the issue concerning homosexuals’ rights is ceasing to be meant as a few people’s responsibility and is raising homosexuals to the definition of prophetic minority that, in accordance with Reve’s thinking, keeps the need for the authentic secularism of public institutions alive.

This secularism can be achieved only by affirming a state’s character as non-choice structure which is not asked to choose between one ethical view of the world and another, but has to ensure freedom of the citizens to operate and turn into practice their personal choices on this kind of topic. So we can easily say that Reve’s subtle arrogance and versatile, subversive genius, as well as many other homosexuals, has subverted the hierarchy of the relationship between majority and minority, presenting himself as the vanguard of a new intellectual movement, that created a true homosexual cultural identity and presented the homosexuals as beholders of a civil duty that strengthens everyone’s rights.

Last but not least, they also render a service to the Church: many, among homosexuals, wish to be members of it even without being accepted. Even for what concerns religious beliefs, this secularism, far from being a sad necessity, is definitely a step forward towards the achievement of their actual vocation of universality.

Alessandro De Arcangelis was born in Naples, Italy. He published two books, “Un’Elitaria Democrazia” and “Zampa di Gatto” and worked with several magazines and newspapers. His interests vary from humanities to music, from philology to IT. He attended the classical literature and philology university in Milan, Italy.