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Half a Century of Gay Acceptance, From Unattainable Ideal to Inadequate Perspect

by Gert Hekma in General , 05 december 2017

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar


On September 20 Gert Hekma delivered the sixteenth annual Mosse Lecture, which “Gay News” will publish in two installments. Mosse Lecture, Part 1: not about coming out of the gay closet, but about the history of gay acceptance, a somewhat more abstract term.

By this I mean that heterosexuals and homosexuals realize what gay acceptance means for their sexual citizenship. This concept is based on the freedom of sexual activity, speech and relationships. Gay acceptance was subject to much change in fifty years of coming out of the closet en masse. By some, homosexuals are labelled the “victorious minority.”

In spite of all the progress, Gerrit Komrij’s remark in his 2008 Mosse Lecture still resonates: “Do we even know what gay acceptance is?” What are we talking about exactly?! To answer this question, I want to start with a brief overview of how being openly gay was transformed from an unattainable acceptance-ideal to a moral obligation. Then I will review the outcome, our current acceptance, and wonder whether it offers sufficient perspective. Please note that rather than using GLTB constructs, I will use the older and highly inclusive words gay, lesbian and homosexual(ity), the most important historical terms for those who like same-sex partners.


The Caboodle of Identities

Firstly, I want to elaborate on my views on the term homosexuality. Primarily, it is socio-dynamic rather than bio-dynamic, more a result of cultural design than natural orientation. The word “homosexual” for instance was “concocted” in 1868 as a militant concept.

The early period of sexual citizenship is a good example of my socio-dynamic categorisation of homosexuality as a phenomenon with many origins, forms and applications for which history and society came up with different concepts and meanings, such as pederast, sodomite, pervert, urning, gay, lesbian, queen, queer, dyke, as well as GLBT with its whole caboodle of identities. All of these words have different and opposite emotional values, because, as Gloria Wekker explained in her 2009 Mosse Lecture: Surinamese, Moroccan or native “white” homosexuals are not the same because of their cultural background and colour of their skin. And also because of a difference in homosexual expressions, such as oral, anal, active or passive behaviour, BDSM, fetishism, the number of partners, or other variations.

In my favourite book, the “ABC of perversions,” dozens of expressions are described. Minister Jet Bussemaker (Education, PvdA) stood up for sexual diversity education in her Mosse Lecture, which is great. However,the fact that Dutch parliament has curtailed this to just the four categories of the abbreviation GLBT is very regrettable.

A foursome that leaves out more than it incorporates. Sex is not just a physical act: friendship, desire, art, apparel, teaching, cruising in the city, love, and ars erotica.

In view of the cultural flexibility of homosexuality, I am not a fan of rituals, such as perfunctory confessions or silencing the other; I prefer exclusive over inclusive “sex and gender performances” in reference to Markies de Sade, Jim Holmes, John Gagnon, and Michel Foucault; and my fancy for the glorification of gay pride is gone. After centuries of condemning homosexuality, we see a celebration of gay acceptance, with sex in the black books.

With regard to visions of sexuality, Simone van Saarloos, in her 2016 Mosse Lecture, called on lovers of eroticism to do more with it; getting the best and most beautiful out of yourself and each other; homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, all of us. Great! Gloria Wekker once again expressed the “white” compulsion to talk about sex and referred to the Surinamese “mother has eyes to see,” the “what you cannot speak about should not be discussed.”

No, thank you! I prefer to practice and discuss sex and acceptance, as silence and looking away is a waste of time. Surinamese people, as the “white” Dutch do, know about the verbal abuses, hearsay and gossip concerning homosexuality we would rather not hear. “Speaking out is a must, as silence is not for us.’ It is not a question of whether or not we need to discuss sex, but how: in a poetic, religious, academic, or personal way, with a loving whip?

As a serious acceptance theme, sex is underexposed in our world that thinks it is tolerant and positive, which I doubt. That is why I ask that question about acceptance and (homo)sexuality.


Half a Century of Gay Acceptance

The history of gay acceptance is known. Prior to the sexual revolution and gays and lesbians coming out of the closet, there was no room for their sexual citizenship; only in a negative way. According to the churches, their sexual preference was a sin, and according to Catholics and many Muslims, homosexuality is still “completely wrong.” Secondly, homosexuality was a crime. Up to 1971, the Netherlands had Article 248bis in the Criminal Code in place, which punished illicit sexual acts between adults and minors of the same sex, with an age limit of twenty-one; for heterosexuals this age limit was and stayed sixteen. Thirdly, it was a disease. Psychiatrist Wijnand Sengers made an important breakthrough with his educational book “Gewoon hetzelfde?” (1968) and his dissertation “Homoseksualiteit als klacht” (1969).



Literature research convinced him that no homosexual was ever “cured” from his or her orientation, that “therapy” took time, was costly, yielded little result, and that gay people did not feel sick. It would be better if they went to a gay bar or to the COC for self-acceptance. Around 1970 the idea of homosexuality as a sin, a crime and a disease was considered outmoded. Prior to 1970, the Dutch did not care for homosexuals at all. After that, homosexuals came out of the closet in large numbers. These negative notions disappeared and opened up new grounds for gay culture and activism that were widely developed.


A Female Soul in a Male Body, and Vice Versa

A crucial change in this acceptance process involved the notion of what a homosexual or lesbian was exactly. Since 1850 they were seen as gender and sexuality inverted. With regard to gender, homosexual men had a woman’s soul in a male body, and lesbians had a man’s soul in a female body. Their condition was seen as innate abnormality, for which new words, such as homosexual, and new theories were created and developed.



For sex, gay men looked for “normal” men, and lesbians for “normal” women, meaning heterosexuals. Prostitution was commonplace. Homosexuals had sex with rent boys. At the time, the principle of sex was that opposites attract, a man is attracted to a woman and vice versa, as (anti)poles sparking. Sexual inequality was the norm for sex, and that was also true for homosexuals: they liked heterosexuals.

The much-needed inequality could also be in something else, for instance race, class, culture, power, or age. That last category, age, was common. In 1900, for instance, the French gay philosopher Georges Hérelle thought that all homosexuals were pederasts and had a preference for teenagers. Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the German gay movement in 1897, reported that almost half the gay men he interviewed in 1914 were attracted to adolescents.

From our perspective, it seems only natural that they compared homosexuality to prostitution at the time, and rejected homosexuals having sex with heterosexuals as butches with femmes, but for the homosexuals in that age it was unthinkable that gays would have sex with other gays, equals, and lesbians with lesbians. Lesbians used to refer to this principle as “wood on wood,” which did not work. It has been a true reversal that sex was no longer thought of as between unequal people, but, since the 1960s, it was just between equals. Gay with gay, lesbian with lesbian. Criticism of political inequality in socialism was translated by homosexuals and feminists in opposition to inequality in sexual and gender relations. The demands regarding equality are getting increasingly high, and inequality is barely accepted any more.

Markies De SadeWrongly so to my opinion, as in many preferences, such as BDSM, this sense of inequality is what constitutes the attraction herein. The redevelopment of unequal to equal relationships is an important explanation for the destruction of ideas of sin, illness and crime, and for the rise of gays for gays and all that this entails: coming out, gay pride, a lively subculture with much social support, for example on Internet. Sexual equality became the norm, a revolution that still dumbfounds large parts of the world. Gay acceptance changed from an unreachable ideal to a perspective that was within reach, from a distant dream to a touch of reality. To what extent we are using it remains to be seen.


Growing Acceptance?

Magnus HirschfeldFrom the late 1960s to 2001, it took over thirty years from the outing of social acceptance to gay marriage. Meanwhile, small steps in achieving acceptance for homosexuals and lesbians were painstakingly taken. These accomplishments you can most likely recite. In his 2008 Mosse Lecture, however, Komrij asked himself, several years after the integration of gay marriage, whether the Dutch truly have any interest in knowing what acceptance is about, and, I wish to add, have any notion of what homosexuality is about.

I guess that was the question posed to heterosexuals and homosexuals alike: do others accept us, do we accept ourselves, and do we know what homosexuality stands for? Is gay marriage a form of acceptance; or heterosexuals participating in Amsterdam Pride?

Mosse Lectures are there to make people tackle gay themes with more bite. We heard from speakers, such as Hafid Bouazza and Mohammed Benzakour, that Dutch Moroccans, in my own words, still need a boost when it comes to gay acceptance. Dolly Bellefleur discussed the acceptance of transformation artists. Maaike Meijer criticized the keeping quiet of lesbian women and compared it to killing gay men with kindness. Gloria Wekker pointed out that ethnic minorities still do not get their share of the pie.

Bas Heijne, Stephan Sanders and Ted van Lieshout predicted more of the now familiar acceptance without having illusions about its content. Marian Sax and Hedy d’Ancona argued that as long as the acceptance project is not finished, continued activism remains necessary. Simone van Saarloos referred to the underexposure of fluidity, bisexuality and polyamory. Mosse Lectures mostly lead to questions about the extent and depth of gay acceptance in the Netherlands. With the key question: what do you and we think about it?

In the 1970s, the organisations “Paarse September” and “Rooie Flikkers” consisted of young activists. They wanted “everything” immediately - from wild free sex, a Lesbian Nation, a gay front to attention to gay subjects in education and research. They wanted a permanent gay revolt, destroy the heterosexual debris, and build a gay culture with demonstrations, clubs, magazines, theatre, parties, film festivals, erotic abundance, and many, many dresses.

Michel FoucaultThey discovered gay literature that actually wanted to be like that. I became familiar with the body of work of Marquis de Sade, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Hirschfeld, and Jacob Israël de Haan. Sometimes a book was a flower, sometimes a bomb. Gay text books were published that were far ahead of their time. Reading, writing and discussing gay acceptance became a basic need, hobby and occupation for me.

Nowadays, more books are published than my healthy body can handle. In the beginning it was perhaps one title a month, by Michel Foucault, Guy Hocquenghem, René Schérer, Jeffrey Weeks, George Mosse, Lilian Faderman, Monique Wittig, Rob Tielman or Myriam Everard. Oh, how I feel nostalgic about the time when everything that was published on homosexuality was an event and made inroads on ignorance, yes, innocence that was normal in the Netherlands! Unfortunately, I have to say that the thrill is gone when it comes to an increasing number of books on gay sex.

I want to elaborate on that experience of social change, to see where acceptance remained an inadequate perspective by discussing three main themes of gay acceptance: relationship rights, gender behaviour and, particularly, sexual practices - the menu of sexual citizenship in short. As it happens they are also personal interests. Lastly, I revisit the gay culture Komrij appreciated so, and hope to answer the question regarding gay acceptance.


None of the themes of relationship, gender and sex are specific to gays and lesbians; but they are usually more relevant to them than for heterosexuals. In many areas, they benefit from the straight norms that have not disappeared by a long shot.
Relationships

When it comes to the first theme of gay acceptance, relationship rights, we cannot escape gay marriage and the wider definition of the family. It seems great that besides heterosexuals, gays and lesbians can now also marry. It seems progress that multiple parenting is discussed and considered (a child having more than two parents) or changing the law of succession in favour of those who are not wed - even though the Dutch Christian parties CDA and Christen Unie in the next cabinet may put a spoke in those wheels.
Wilhelm von Gloede
However, marriage is still only for two persons, excluding others - the least inclusive relationship we know of. Not every married person achieves happiness with just one partner. Some prefer one for love and another for sex, or they prefer more people because they have a polysexual or bisexual lifestyle.

Or think of the old COC ideal of individualization, abandoned because of opportunism. Go against the grain and don’t give a damn about marriage, D’Ancona and Sax have said before me. Forget monogamous and hetero-coital norms, forget the gender dichotomy. Not two, three or four genders, but zero. Certainly, marriage has been modernized, but it wasn’t remodelled. Come on! The Netherlands was the first country to allow gay marriage, now let it abolish marriage altogether!

Now we get to the widening of the definition of family. Why is adoption only possible when it concerns minors and not adults? Many gays and lesbians have a close relationship with a younger or older adult, and they wish to formalize that relationship. The government wants to connect, and this wider definition means enriching lives, as do relationships with multiple persons enrich lives.

Traditionally, homosexuals have a casual relationship with family because there are no children at stake. The adoption of adults provides a stronger connection, not only between individuals but also between generations. It can complement traditional family structures and create new ones. Too often, gays and lesbians are the victims of family law.

And furthermore: the opening up of the family benefits from higher demands on and requirements for parental power. I have never seen statistics on how often children were removed from custody because of homonegativity in the family. It is astounding that you never read about a complaint against parents who abuse their authority to force children to become straight.


Gender

In addition to the acceptance of more forms of relationships, the acceptance of gender variation is also topical. Our view on gender, that is, the range of male and female behaviours, feelings, relationships and forms, of trans, and everything else. It has always determined society’s view of homosexuals - such as the idea of the female soul in a male body or homosexuals being sissies. Much needs to be done still to tackle prejudice about gender in the gay world, which often swears by active or passive, male or female, top or bottom, sissy or macho, and terms such as “straight acting gay,” and “gender conformity.”

Gert Hekma & George L. MosseApparently, this is exciting for many, but what are they thinking? As for me, predictable commonplaces without an eye for other forms, as if only an imitation of the coitus or penetration, counts as real sex. Funnily enough, more than a century ago homosexuals such as Ulrichs and Hirschfeld were quite convinced that homosexuals were feminine and that among them, anal sex was rare. This situation has reversed. It is another example of changing ideas about homosexuality in just one century.

More acceptance for transgenders, intersexuals, and gender variation please! But I doubt whether the gay movement is the right place for trans and intersexual activism. Did not Maxim Februari, another Mosse speaker, in the newspaper NRC say: “Being transsexual is a matter of identity, not of sexuality.” Many are of a similar opinion, as if sex is alien to transgender people. Is the purpose of the gay movement not sexual citizenship? Meaning acceptance of freedom of speech, practices and relationships for all who profile themselves as lesbian or gay?

I prefer solidarity with groups such as feminists, transsexuals, intersexuals over professing inclusivity and diversity, but ignoring sexual citizenship.

(To be Continued)



 







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