The Gay Liberation pamphlet
With Downcast Gays (1974)

by Andrew Hodges and David Hutter

Part 1 of 8 Parts


The ultimate success of all forms of oppression is our self-oppression. Self-oppression is achieved when the gay person has adopted and internalised straight people's definition of what is good and bad.

So begins the section on self-oppression contained in the London Gay Liberation Front Manifesto. For us it summarised all that was new and important in Gay Liberation — the realisation that inasmuch as we are agents of our own oppression, so we have power to overcome it.

This booklet aims to explore some of these ideas and to explain how, by oppressing ourselves, we allow homosexual oppression to maintain its overwhelming success. It begins where Psychiatry and the Homosexual left off; again it makes no attempt to identify the causes of homosexual oppression, only the means by which it gains its ends. Written by gays to be read by gays, its choice of subject means that it is critical throughout. But we hope that one thing will gleam through this criticism of our fellow homosexuals: that since self-oppression is the creature of oppression, our criticism is only a pale shadow of the anger we feel towards those who have trapped us into doing their work for them.


Before going on to describe how homosexuals oppress themselves, we should first explain why they do so. It is because we learn to loathe homosexuality before it becomes necessary to acknowledge our own. as children and young people we never hear anything good said about gay life, and only see it referred to as a subject for mockery, disgust or pity. Moreover gays, like cuckoos, are reared in alien, heterosexual nests, and even at home the message is the same. Never having been offered positive attitudes to homosexuality, we invariably adopt negative ones, and it is from these that all our values flow.


We have been taught to hate ourselves — and how thoroughly we have learnt the lesson. Some gays deliberately keep away from teaching lest they be a corrupting influence. Others, except for brief, furtive sexual encounters, consciously avoid the company of gay people because they cannot bear to see a reflection of their own homosexuality. More typically our self-hatred is unconscious and our self-oppression automatic. Unthinkingly we accept the line that soliciting is offensive and confine our complaints about the law to the tactics the police use to enforce it, or to the unequal sentences passed on those convicted. So ingrained is our assumption of second-class status that we fail to notice even external oppression unless we make a positive effort to root it out. We seldom recognise the queer-basher's fist in the liberal's guiding hand. "How can you be sure you are homosexual?" asks the psychiatrist. Whenever does he ask heterosexuals the converse question? This interchange of homo- and hetero-sexual is a certain test for both gay and self-oppression. Another is to compare ourselves with other minorities, who may well resent and complain of things we tolerate. Gay people say they fear the loss of non-gay 'friends' if their homosexuality is revealed. What Jew would value the friendship of the anti-Semitic? Once blacks underwent the painful operation of having their hair straightened in an effort to resemble their white masters. This glaring act of self-oppression is nowadays repudiated by every Afro hair-style. If only an insurgent gay movement could sweep away gay people's futile and unending attempts to straighten their lives!

Evading the issue

Once they can on longer deny their homosexuality, gays find ways to avoid confronting the fact that they are the people they despise. It is not easy to live with raw, undiluted self-hatred. Devious and complex are the means by whiuch gay people come to terms with the dilemma of finding themselves to be that which they have been taught to hate.

The G.L.F. manifesto rightly identified the final stage of self-oppression as saying — and believing — "I am not oppressed". Conscious every minute that they are seen as ridiculous and pitiable, for ever working out ways to suppress evidence of their homosexuality, how can gay people make such a claim? But they do. The Campaign for Homosexual Equality constantly receives letters imploring it to put a stop to the activities of the radical members. "We are not oppressed," the writers say, "so please don't let them rock the boat." Ironically, the metaphor aptly expresses the danger and insecurity of our oppressed situation.

Of course it is the very degree of success with which gay people can conceal their identity that makes it possible for them to shrug off their oppression. Indeed it is possible for gays, by denying their homosexuality in every social situation, to imagine that they share the status of non-gay people. Their deception goes deeper: they go on to adopt the attitudes of their oppressors — even the logic and language of the non-gay people with whom they identify. Such 'well-adapted' homosexuals have never in reality adapted to their homosexuality, only to its brutal suppression. They will never acknowledge a lifetime's subjugation and dishonesty. 'Well-adapted' homosexuals would prefer to carry their oppression to the grave rather than admit that it exists.

Two typical cases

Facing the superior smile of the gay psychiatrist who has grown rich and respected by writing and lecturing on the "problem" of homsoexuality, and who recommends psychotherapy for "these people"; or the weary eyes of a homosexual academic who counters every assertion of the ubiquity of oppression with, say, an instance of eighteenth-century bawdry — one realises that powerful enemies lie within our own ranks. Always they refute the general by the trivial. Cornered and challenged to drop their pretence, these Uncle Toms retreat behind a smokescreen of bogus objectivity. "If gay pride," they ask, "why not queer-bashers' pride?" The more masochistic their pronouncements, the prouder they become of their detachment. Always the onus is put upon us to prove the validity of our sexual pleasure, never on our persecutors to justify their infringement of our liberty. "You're talking about Utopia," they cry if one dares to suggest that it is society that must adapt to us, not us to society. One longs for such people to display genuine emotion, to cry out against the distortion of their lives; to admit that their social status has been paid for by a million petty deceits and the death of all spontaneity; above all to realise that the outward conformity of which they are so proud has stunted and falsified all their relationships.

The extent of our self-oppression is indicated by the fact that out of the millions of gay people in Britain only a thousand or so are actively associated with the gay movement, and out of these few only a minority are really determined to press home their demands on a society that persecutes and derides them. The majority of homosexuals, like underpaid but genteel office-workers, refuse to join the union. They prefer the imagined status that comes from identifying with the management.


Language itself is an instrument of self-oppression. Because it is not value-loaded we use the term 'homosexual', but reluctantly, since it is a nineteenth-century medical definition. It is fast becoming replaced by 'gay' — a word chosen by ourselves. Heterosexuals chide us for using what they see as a euphemism, but there can be no euphemism for 'homosexual', since a euphemism essentially replaces an offensive word.

One would hardly guess this from the argument in favour of 'homophile', which is that 'homosexual' emphasises sex. If the substitution of the mild suffix '-phile' (as in 'Anglophile') means anything at all, it is that a homophile is one who feels more comfortable with persons of the same sex — what used to be known as 'a man's man'. But serious analysis flatters the word. 'Homophile' is simply an evasion of the fact that it is by their sexual love that homosexuals are defined; to evade this panders to the sexual guilt that permeates and perpetuates our oppression.

How clearly our self-hatred is revealed in the words we use. How easily 'queen' becomes a term of abuse: "That silly old queen," we say. Even those women who show a preference for the company of gay men we disparage with names like 'fag hag'. Until recently 'queer' was a word used by all gay people. We were so conditioned to believe in our abnormality that we never questioned the way the word defined us as sick and abnormal.

Compensating factors

Even the positive claims gay people make serve to disguise their negative attitudes. It is tempting for us to compensate for our downtodden position by inventing special qualities and investing homosexuality with a spurious glamour. Taught that we are nothing, the dregs of society, we defensively retaliate by compiling lists of famous gays. "Jesus was gay", we claim proudly (overlooking two thousand years of Christian persecution). "Gay people are so imaginative and creative," we plead. "We are such fun to be with," we cry. Some gays treat life as an unending commercial — fervently selling, not our genuine advantages, but whatever goods they imagine there to be a market for.

Briefly looking back, we find the early nineteenth centry gay elite exploiting the Byronic, 'wicked' aspects of homosexuality. The closing decades of the century saw them viewing themselves as the vanguard of the Aesthetic Movement. It must have been this that gave birth to the legend that gay men are 'artistic' and 'sensitive'. W. S. Gilbert poked fun at this attitude in Patience:

If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily
...everyone will say
As you walk your flowery way...
"Why what a most particularly pure young man
this pure young man must be!"
The twentieth century saw gays transformed from exquisite aesthetes to brittle sophisticated wits. Our acid tongues, we imagined, were the scourge of every cocktail party. The sociological 'seventies find the privileged gay elite eagerly accepting the role of scourge of society. We believe that without effort on our part, simply through the act of being, we subvert social and economic structures. So keen are we to possess something extra to compensate for our homosexuality that we unquestioningly jump from the observation that we are, by our very nature, alienated from the nuclear family to the belief that we have some particular power to destroy it. Much as we should welcome the demise of that self-perpetuating and role-defining institution, the idea that we shall bring about its downfall seems hardly less overweening than the quaint idea that we were responsible for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire!

This extra gloss which gay people feel obliged to give their lives is, of course, quite unnecessary; there is nothing in their homosexuality for which they need to compensate. When we genuinely believe this, and welcome our homosexuality for the natural thing it is, and see homosexuals as the different, but none the less ordinary, people they are, then at last we will have begun to throw off our self-oppression.

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

Page by
Andrew Hodges

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