The Gay Liberation pamphlet
With Downcast Gays (1974)

by Andrew Hodges and David Hutter

Part 5 of 8 Parts


Remembrance of things past showed Marcel Proust to be a very different writer from E. M. Forster, his English contemporary. Many of the central characters in the novel are gay and the homosexual world was opened to view as never before. But critics over the past fifty years have contived to ignore the fact that this was the first major homosexual novel and to discuss instead "Proust the Philosopher of Time", "Proust the Jew", "Proust and the Impressionists", Proust and almost anything except Proust and the homosexuality which was possibly the germ from which the whole work sprang. This is usually referred to en passant as if it were merely a literary artifice, a trivial facet of the fin-de-siecle artistic world. Some critics have regretted it as a perversion; others have reduced it to a symbol of the decay wrought by time.

We are what we are

Proust's self-oppression lay not so much in the transparent artifice which he employed in this first-person novel of making the narrator homosexual, but in the compulsion he felt to offer an explanation for homosexuality. Following a theory fashionable at the time, he asserts that the homosexual man is a woman trapped in a man's body. With less confidence he inferred the analogous interpretation of lesbian women. This is nonsense. Women's minds do not exist as separate entities capable of being fitted into the wrong bodies because of inattention somewhere along the production line. There is no such thing as a woman's mind which exists independently from the female body, and if a woman's brain does differ intrinsically from that of a man it can only because it has developed in a woman's body.

But many people do follow Proust's rationale, accepting homosexuals with a fair amount of tolerance, as victims of a mistake on the part of Nature. By considering gay men to be really women, and gay women to be really men, the attraction that homosexual men feel towards other men, and that lesbians feel towards other women, can then be seen as the 'normal' attraction of women to man and man to woman, thus restoring the comfortable idea of the universal attraction of sexual 'opposites'.

The simple theory outlined above is contradicted by another widely held belief: that homosexuals divide into masculine and feminine types who mimic 'real' men and women by playing out butch and fem roles. Certainly some gay people oppress themselves by identifying with the only models society offers; and we do find parodies of heterosexual marriage in which one partner adopts a male and the other a female role; but straight society has magnified the importance of these distinctions in order to support the universal division of people into male and female types; ignoring the fact that the most feminine men sometimes prefer an 'active' sexual role, and many butch men seek each other instead of confirming the heterosexual model by chooing feminine men.

In actual fact most gay people would be hard to classify as anything in particular. Moreover "effeminate" is hardly an accurate way of describing the traits and mannerisms of obviously gay men; they have a style of their own quite unlike that of women. It would be nearer the truth to say that certain very camp women have learned to affect the mannerisms of gay men. How clearly the use of words like "effeminacy" indicates our continuing self-oppressive acceptance of the idea that masculinity and femininity are opposing polarities to one of which everyone must necessarily be drawn!

Political drag

In recent years gay people, anxious to overthrow the wrong-sex theory, have hastened to deny that homosexual men are effeminate or lesbians butch. Much stress has been laid on gay people looking like anyone elese or indeed being gratifyingly masculine or feminine. Inasmuch as this has made people realise that gays are more numerous than they had thought, and that homosexuality is a matter of emotional need quite unrelated to outward appearance, these protestations have been valuable; but the Gay Liberation movement demands a far more radical change than this. We are not arguing about the assignment of gay people to one or another gender role, but questioning the validity of gender roles. We reject the concepts of masculinity and femininity, with their respective associations of dominance and submission. Talk of men who are really women becomes meaningless when these categories are discarded, and so does talk of "men who are real men".

By attempting to gain acceptance within heterosexual society by dissociating themselves from the stigma of effeminacy, gay men only support the rigidity of gender roles. In doing so they unfortunately confirm a definition of men from which their homosexuality automatucally excludes them. They must realise that the 'real' men they hope to resemble are not much given to hopping into bed with each other! Gay men should attack the idea that there is something wrong with effeminacy instead of trying to off-load their oppression on to those who are usually disparagingly described as the stereotype. Camp queens and diesel dykes came out and bore the brunt of heterosexual hatred long before law reform and the gay organisations gave their more discreet counterparts a platform from which to denounce them.

To the discomfort of gay people who try to achieve a respectable image of men who behave like men and women who behave like women, the Gay Liberation Front has developed a strong section of opinion which claims that the only way for gay people to come out that will make any real impact on the gender role definitions which underly gay oppression is by adopting a life-style and appearance that explicitly reject the masculine/feminine distinction and all that it implies.

Led by the nose

A related form of self-oppression consists in denigrating the other sex. It is not uncommon to hear gay men speak disparagingly of "the shallowness of women", or of "their sole interest in men as a meal ticket". Mention of female body odours offers an explanation for the speaker's homosexual preference, while making clear that he is man enough to speak from first-hand experience.

Women are equally prone to this kind of self-oppression. An issue of a lesbian magazine containing an excellent demolition of some psychiatric rubbish about the unnaturalness of homosexuality unfortunately followed it with a curious remark to the effect that men anyway seen so reluctant to take baths! Lesbians often claim that homosexuality was the only course open to them, since aggressive male chauvinism made it impossible to form equal relationships with men. All this plays straight into the enemy's hands; it confirms the belief that gay people are frightened of the other sex and "retreat into homosexuality" — as psychiatrists persist in describing the uphill struggle to assert one's sexual integrity.

Possibly gay people who say such things have actually come to believe them; if so it is because social pressures are too great for them to welcome their homosexuality and they feel obliged to excuse it under cover of intellectual integrity or moral indignation. To pretend that one has chosen to be homosexual because women are frivolous or men selfish is not only dishonest — sexual direction is too powerful a force to be so easily diverted — but again, by virtue of the apology involved, deeply self-oppressive.

Introduction | Preface and Links | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

Page by
Andrew Hodges

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