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Sexual Orientation
Basic Information on Gay Men and Lesbians
© May 16, 2006, Demian


Since Partners Task Force began in 1986, it was apparent that in explaining same-sex couples issues, we sometimes first needed to frame the discussion with clear, scientific information about lesbians and gay men.

Because of the abundance of so many myths and prejudices in the United States, there is no room left to discuss issues of civil rights. There can be no discussion about fairness if the minority group in question is not considered to be human.

The following article addresses the major misconceptions, and clarifies what is at stake regarding sexual orientation and equality.

It is hoped that this information can be recalled when you speak to your friends, relatives, or before the media, to remind them — and perhaps even yourself — of your humanity.

Definitions
Now, Let’s Do the Numbers
The Myths
Internalized Oppression
Ally Building
Women
The Challenge
Our Liberation Starts with Ourselves


———— Definitions ————

__ Homosexual __

This is a scientific term usually applied to the variety of emotional and possibly sexual activities that can take place between people of the same sex.

Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the word “homosexual” around 1868 in a private letter written to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, and in 1869 in his anonymously published pamphlet advocating the repeal of Prussia’s sodomy laws.

Historically, there have been many terms used to describe people who do not fit the average male/female paradigm. These terms include: sodomite, Saphhist, Uranian, homophile, LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual transgender), two-spirit (Native American term), third gender, and “same-sex attracted.” Negatively used words include: queer, fag, poof, and sodomite.

__ Homosexual Orientation __

This term applies to someone who has a complex set of feelings toward another person of the same biological sex. These feelings and responses are social, psychological, spiritual, and emotional in nature.

__ Gay __

Gay is a modern and more expansive substitution for the word “homosexual,” which describes more than just sexual orientation. The term gay indicates a broader spectrum that can include affection, companionship, support of, and love for, people of the same or both sexes.

Gay is a self-definition with strong positive connotations and it implies community. To say you are gay can be a personally liberating and political act. In the past, gay was often taken to mean only male. These days, the lines have shifted, and it has been used more generically.

The terminology has not been stationary. “Gay” first showed up in the 13th century as “gai” in Provencal, France. In the 19th century, “gay” was also commonly associated with female, heterosexual prostitution.

Gay had been in use by homosexuals since the 1900s. By the 40s, the word was widely used to signify same-sex orientation.

__ Lesbian __

Lesbian refers to homosexual women. The term has been around for much longer than “gay.”

It was first used about 520 B.C. by the poet Anacreon in describing a “girl from Lesbos.” Generally, it is thought that “lesbian” was derived from the Isle of Lesbos, home of Sappho (cir. 615), creator of great, beautiful love poems to women.

A more common ancient term for women who preferred the company of women was “tribade” from a root meaning, “to rub.”

When discussing orientation issues, it is more inclusive to say “gay men and lesbians,” because, if the women are not specified, they could be ignored.

__ Bisexual __

Bisexual is the term for someone who responds emotionally and sexually, to varying degrees, to both men and women.

__ Heterosexual __

This term signifies those predominantly attracted to people of the opposite, biological sex. One slang term for heterosexual would be “straight,” and a negative term would be “breeder.”

__ Biological Sex __

Sex is the term used to describe whether a person is a boy or a girl. But one cannot always tell by looking at a person’s body. There are other biological signs that define one’s sex, such as hormones and DNA, and they can be in contradiction to one another. To make things even more complicated, one-in-2,000 children are born with ambiguous genitalia.

Because a person’s biological sex is a naturally-occurring, complex equation, it makes no sense to define legal exclusions based on it, such as forbidding access to certain professions, or the denial of legal marriage.

__ Prejudice __

Prejudice is the result of inaccurate information and negative assumptions made about a group of people. It often entails directing hurtful and demeaning actions toward a minority group.

The prejudice toward gay men and lesbians has varied by culture and time period. In some places, gay people were an integral part of society. In others, they were tortured and killed.

The modern pressures against lesbians and gay men in contemporary American life has been unevenly applied, depending on which state one lives in, as well as the particular work environment. At various times, attacks against gay men and lesbians have taken their jobs, children, homes, and lives.

For many youth, the pain inflicted by their peers because of being different, and of being ostracized, is so great that they attempt to kill themselves. Fortunately, groups such as PFLAG and Gay-Straight Alliances actively work to counteract this oppression.

Prejudice damages everyone, not just gay people, because it creates a climate of fear.

__ Oppression __

Oppression is the application of prejudice in the arenas of society, politics, economics, and physical power, acting to enforce prejudices. Oppression is often built into the culture, and expressed by social etiquette and law.

For centuries, heterosexually-oriented, western culture has oppressed lesbians and gay men. This is achieved through laws designed specifically for homosexuals and not for heterosexuals — even though all are law-biding citizens, and are identical in all other ways — such as the laws regarding certain sexual activities.

Until 1960, anti-“sodomy” laws in every state regulated how citizens could, and could not, engage in sex. By 2003, 37 states had repealed these laws, or state courts had blocked them. While each state defines “sodomy” differently, and both straight and gay people engage in sodomy, it was usually only applied to homosexuality. Even though sodomy laws were only occasionally invoked, they were often used as basis for other discriminatory laws and rulings, such as custody, specifically targeting same-sex relationships.

It was not until June 26, 2003, that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Texas sodomy law, which also removed state laws intruding on private adult sexual relations through the rest of the country.

However, oppression is still in force regarding unequal application of law in such areas as child custody, immigration, the right to work, workplace benefits, housing, insurance, inheritance, social security benefits, military service, and the right to legally marry a loved one.

Oppression has a profoundly negative force on the financial, social, and spiritual well-being of a minority group. As the individual household is impacted, so is the broader community because of reduced spending power, a climate of intolerance, and many other factors.

__ Heterocentrism __

This term signifies the belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexual standards and culture, accompanied by a feeling of contempt for other forms of orientation or sexuality. Heterocentrism supports the widely held assumption that it is proper, and necessary, to be heterosexual in our society. This assumption often is accompanied by the thought that no one would engage in homosexual relationships unless they were emotionally sick or sinful. This bias against homosexuality is not justified by scientific data, and it results in lesbians and gay men being treated as less than fully human.

Homosexuality has often been treated with the same loathing as other cultural taboos, which are so loaded with irrationality that scientific investigation and open-minded interpretation have been historically discouraged or overlooked. As a result, it has been very difficult to obtain grants for scientific studies involving orientation.

__ Homophobia __

Homophobia has become the term used to describe a dislike, fear, or hatred of gay men and lesbians. Homophobia perpetuates fearing closeness or commitment with people of the same sex.

This fear makes it risky for people of any sexual orientation to feel affection and care for someone of the same sex. By cutting off the possibility of close personal relationships with someone of the same sex, it puts unnecessary pressure on opposite-sex relationships. Ideally, a person should be able to get affection, companionship, support, and love, regardless of anyone’s sexual orientation.

Lesbians and gay men, like blacks and women, are taught by a fearful culture to hate themselves and fear each other. Homophobia has also caused irrational job dismissals, evictions, estrangement from family and friends, loss of children, street harassment, spiritual and physical abuse, and even loss of life.

Studies have shown that the most homophobic people often harbor the fear that they themselves may be gay or lesbian.

Homophobia allowed the creation of laws against consensual adult sex, and one consequence is police harassment and entrapment of gay men.

__ Entrapment __

Undercover agents have used entrapment techniques, such as inviting gestures, to arrest gay men who respond, saying that the men were looking for sex, whether or not this was true. Of the men who have been entrapped by these methods, many do not identify as gay. These arrests are victimless “crimes,” which often resulted in jail, probation, job loss, loss of family, and other hardships.

Hatred or fear of lesbians and gay men is a precedent often used as a wedge to introduce, increase, and legalize many other forms of oppression.

Because homophobia blocks love in us all, the struggle for gay liberation benefits everyone.

__ Sexism __

Sexism is a prejudice based in assumed differences between those of different biological sex. Sexism keeps women in second-class status, denies them their rights to control their own bodies, and denies personal, mental, and physical safety. Sexism reinforces the false notion that any man who is gentle, flexible, compassionate, or gay becomes “feminine,” and thereby loses status and respect. To say, as sexism does, that a woman is not as good as a man is unjust and untrue. Sexism is the cornerstone of homophobia.

The roles dictated by sexism require men to get emotional support from women, and not to get nurturing relationships with other men. These rigid roles strangle healthy personal development as well as curtail satisfying sexual exploration. Sex role rigidity denies women their right to be independent and bold, and denies men their right to be nurturing and gentle.

__ Queer __

The term “queer” is not a term of endearment. The definition is “odd” “mildly insane,” and “deviate.” It is a slur.

As a descriptive, it hurts, and devalues our worth as human beings. There is no way to de-fang or somehow excise the meaning out of the term.

The use of pejoratives, such as “queer,” to describe gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexual or transgender persons is unhealthy.

If we don’t want hate-monger theocrats, such as Pat Robertson, to call us queer, sick, perverts, and the like, it makes no sense to allow our own community to do so.


———— Now, Let’s Do the Numbers ————

Male and female homosexuality is widespread. It has been recorded in all parts of the world and throughout history. Different ages and different cultures have exhibited varying attitudes toward it; sometimes welcoming, sometimes ignoring, and sometimes killing.

In the United States surveys made by the Kinsey Institute, and released in “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” in 1948, indicated that:

  • 37% of the post-puberty males in the U.S. have had at least one homosexual contact that resulted in orgasm
  • 50% of had at least one homosexual contact, of those men who do not marry before age 35
  • 4% of adult white males are probably exclusively gay, having no heterosexual contacts from the time of adolescence
  • 30% of all adult males in this country have, at one time or another, been brought to orgasm as a result of genital stimulation by another man’s mouth
The Kinsey Institute released “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” in 1953. This study revealed that:
  • 28% of women surveyed responded erotically to other women
  • 13% had had at least one adult lesbian sexual experience
  • Between 2 and 6% identified their orientation as exclusively lesbian between the ages of 20 and 35
Dr. Pomeroy, co-author of Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” estimated that 15 percent of the total population is bisexually inclined. The Kinsey Institute provided documentation during 1977 that the population of predominantly lesbian and gay men in the U.S. transcends all geographic and ethnic barriers and totals 20 million.

In 1981, the Kinsey Institute publishes a study revealing that neither parental nor societal influences have much effect on a person’s sexual orientation.

In spite of these numbers, there is an astounding abundance of misinformation about lesbians and gay men.


———— The Myths ————

Myths and stereotypes serve both to instruct the youth, and to keep everyone in line. Myths reinforce the cultural power structure, helping to keep oppressed people in place. Most myths and stereotypes, that is, most conventional information about gay men and lesbians, are false.

Stereotypes about gay men are so contradictory that they would be laughable were it not for the terror they instill in gay as well as non-gay people, and the rigid behavior toward gay people they tend to produce. Two, common, contradictory myths about gay men are that they are:

  • Weak and passively effeminate. This is also a sexist slur against women.
  • Powerful, predatory seducers and rapists.
Hetero-centrist cultures perpetuate the myth that lesbians hate men. The truth is — to the astonishment of straight men — that they are simply not in demand.

These widely-spread falsehoods, along with laws selectively enforced — such as loss of child custody, loss of housing and jobs, and police entrapment procedures — helps make lesbians and gay men a most viciously and openly oppressed group.

The lack of accurate information and the circulation of myths provide a backdrop for justifiable fear among gay people in our culture.

Gay people often have to deal with other people’s miss-information whenever confronted by these myths:

__ Not Normal or Natural __

Ford and Beach, in “Patterns of Sexual Behavior,” state that in 49 (64 percent) of the 76 societies other than our own for which information is available, homosexual activities of one sort or another are considered normal and socially acceptable for certain members of the community. “Normal” or “natural” appears to be a culture-bound value judgement.

__ Not in Nature __

Cross-cultural and cross-species comparisons show that homosexuality is a common response found in all mammals, especially primates, which include the human species. It is also found in some birds and insects.

One interesting example from the animal kingdom is the mated, male swans of the Boston Garden Park in Massachusetts. Long called “Romeo” and “Juliet” because the garden crew simply assumed an opposite-sex pair. After discovering the life-long couple were both male, they kept it a secret so as not to “upset” the public.

__ Immoral __

Morals are often confused with cultural mores. The Judeo-Christian culture has taught that sex outside of procreative wedlock is wrong. Christ, Buddha and most of the great teachers say nothing about sex. What they do talk of is love and caring for others. Further, it is morally wrong to bully, harass, fire, evict, beat up, or kill someone just because you personally think they might be immoral. __ Bible Sin __

Because most Bibles are translations of translations, and the original meanings of many words and concepts are unclear, there is a great amount of debate as to what the Bible actually says. Among those who condemn homosexuality, there are only a few passages upon which they rely. Those who condemn also appear to ignore the scores of very clear prohibitions that share the same pages.

A few of the Biblical requirements include:

  • Do not eat pork, rabbit, shellfish, crab, lobster, shrimp, clams or oysters - Leviticus 11.1-12
  • Houses that have been spreading mildew must be torn down - Leviticus 14.45
  • Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight - Leviticus 19
  • Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed - Leviticus 19
  • Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it - Leviticus 19
  • Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard - Leviticus 19
  • Do not divorce your wife, and then marry another. That is adultery - Luke 16:18
  • Do not marry a woman divorced from her husband. That is adultery - Luke 16:18
  • Do not put tattoo marks on yourselves - Leviticus 19
  • Those who commit adultery should be put to death - Leviticus 20
“The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love heterosexuals. It’s just that they need more supervision.”
         — Lynn Lavner, 1997
__ Illness __

Homosexuality is not an illness. It is not carried by a bacteria or virus, nor is it a psychological, biological, or glandular disorder. Unlike a cold, homosexuality is not caught by kissing gay men and lesbians.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association, and, in 1994, the American Medical Association removed homosexuality from their lists of mental disorders.

__ Mentally Ill __

Being different is not the equivalent of a sickness.

In 1957, Evelyn Hooker made the first study comparing gay and non-gay males who were not in therapy. She found that psychologists and clinicians, unaware of the men’s sexual preferences, could not tell any difference in their state of mental health. No one has been able to associate any constant pattern of happiness or disturbance with sexual orientation.

Most medical workers who still believe gay men and lesbians are sick forget that they have only seen those who have come to them because they have had emotional problems. They are unaware of the vast majority of healthy lesbians and gay men.

__ Biological / Glandular Imbalance __

There is no medical evidence proving that sexual orientation is caused by variations in hormonal levels or any other physiological phenomena. One study has shown that when the male hormone, testosterone, was injected into homosexual males, the effect was to make them more sexually active without changing their orientation.

There has been evidence that genetics may play a strong role in determining orientation. This suggests a normal function of nature.

__ Psychological Factors Causing Gayness __

There appear to be too many variables in the sexual identity equation to identify all causes of any sexual orientation. Over time, none of the factors previously regarded by behaviorists as controlling sexual identity have been proven to apply.

Obsession with finding reasons for gay and lesbian behavior is often grounded in homophobia.

__ We Have a Cure for You … __

As there is nothing wrong with being gay, it is up to our culture to change its attitude and heal.

Some individuals insist that gay men and lesbians change, rather than focus on the homophobia of society. Two historically popular methods of trying to change sexual orientation are marriage to an opposite-sex partner and behavioral therapy.

A person who is gay is not changed by having opposite-sex experiences. Outwardly, they may appear to be heterosexual, however, nothing changes inside. Gay men and lesbians, who out of desperation or anxiety try marriage as a way to change their orientation, often end up making themselves and their spouses miserable.

Many of those who have tried therapy to change from being gay have found treatments to be long-term and expensive, with negative results. You can stop someone from acting on their gay orientation and forming a loving relationship, however, that does not stop the orientation.

Some therapists have tried to change sexual orientation with abstinence, castration, forced hospitalization, vasectomy, hypnosis, hormone treatment, as well as with the “aversion therapy” techniques of electrical shock and nausea drugs, and lobotomy. The results of these barbaric “techniques” have been, at the least, thoughtlessly inhumane. Shock and lobotomy occasionally produces asexuality or a damaged brain.

Therapists obtain more humane and productive results by helping individuals accept, rather than attempt to change, their gay or lesbian orientation.

__ Gay Men Caused AIDS __

AIDS, which hit the gay male community very hard in the U.S., is most widely spread among the heterosexual population throughout the rest of the world. Lesbians have had far fewer cases in all continents.

Gay men did not invent AIDS, nor did they bring it to the U.S. The immunodeficiency virus has existed in human populations for at least 75 years, according to analysis at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It is thought that the virus jumped from chimpanzees to humans sometime around 1930.

__ Being Gay is Illegal __

There is no U.S. law declaring homosexual orientation illegal.

In the past, laws in many states had been specifically against oral-genital, anal, and masturbatory sexual behavior. These laws, often called “sodomy” laws, label some specific homosexual acts as criminal behavior.

As of 1999, Arkansas, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas still had sodomy laws against same-sex, but not opposite-sex partners. 13 other states had applied sodomy laws to both opposite- and same-sex partners.

Just asking for intimate relations has been used against gay people in some states. Calling it “solicitation,” laws were most often applied against same-sex, but not opposite-sex, couples.

Interestingly, two-thirds of opposite-sex couples engage in oral and anal sex, according to the Kinsey Institute and Redbook Magazine. If the sodomy laws were equally enforced, rather than selectively used to oppress gays, these opposite-sex couples would likewise be designated criminals.

In the landmark 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case, the Supreme Court struck down the country’s anti-sodomy law throughout the U.S.

Therefore, being gay — as well as having same-sex intimacies — is no longer a crime.

__ Sex should be Only for Procreation __

Sex is fulfilling because it can by fun, energizing, spiritual, and an enrichment of a friendship. We observe that opposite-sex couples are seldom required to limit sex only to those times when babies are desired. To suggest gay men and lesbians are not normal, or sinful, because sex is “only for procreative sex” is both inconsistent and inhumane.

At this time in history, there is a huge crisis facing our planet because of overpopulation. There is a clear connection between population growth and virtually every challenge facing our planet.

As of April 16, 2006, the world population was 6,516,256,619, and the U.S. population was 298,753,826.
[See the U.S. government Web site: Population and Household Economic Topics]

According to the Scripps Howard News Service, each year, global population increases by about 78 million people. They also estimate that humanity is consuming the earth’s resources 20% faster than it can be sustained.

There is no reason to obsess on creating more babies.

__ Gay Men and Lesbians Destroy Families __

“Family” is two or more persons who share resources, share responsibilities for decisions, share values and goals, and have commitments to one another over a period of time. The family is that climate that one comes home to; and it is that network of sharing and commitment that most accurately describes the family unit, regardless of blood, legalities, adoption or marriage.

Assertions that the family unit is disintegrating have been made for centuries. The way families structure themselves goes through periodic changes, depending on changing economic circumstance and social policies.

Many sociologists have stated that the number one cause of marital conflicts is money.

In spite of intense social opposition, and lack of legal support, many gay and lesbian couples opt for marriage-like arrangements.

Gay men and lesbians — with or without children — who are in committed relationships are a family.

__ Gay Men and Lesbian do not have Children __

Many gay and lesbian single or coupled persons have children from previous opposite-sex relationships. They can foster parent, and adopt children. Lesbians can obtain children through insemination, and gay men through surrogacy.

The American Bar Association, Family Law Section estimates that there are four million gay and lesbian parents raising 8-10 million children.

The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that eight-to-13 million children are being raised by gay or lesbian American parents.

Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund estimates there are from six-to-10 million lesbian and gay parents who are mothers and fathers to an estimated six-to-14 million children.

The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse estimates there are 1.5-to-5 million lesbian mothers and 1-to-3 million homosexual fathers. As of 1990, 6-14 million children were being raised in a household with a gay or lesbian parent.

According to the May 2000 edition of “Demography,” published by the Population Association of America, 21.6 percent of homes with lesbian parents and 5.2 percent of homes with gay male parents have children present, wrote Dan Black of the Center for Policy Research at Syracuse University in New York.

A November 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation poll revealed that of 405 self-identified gay, lesbian and bisexual adults, 11 percent had children under 18 living with them. Only eight percent were the legal guardian. The poll also found that 49 percent of the gay people who were not parents said they would like to have children someday.

A survey released in October 2002, by marketing company Witeck-Combs Communications, stated that 2 million same-sex couples have children. They forecast that by 2004, the number will be 3.4 million children.

Gary Gates of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., estimates that 150,000 same-sex couples are now raising 250,000 kids, based on the 2000 census. This is probably an under count.

[For more on parenting options, see our article: Parenting Options for Same-Sex Couples in the U.S.]

__ Children Raised by Gay Men or Lesbians will Become Gay __

Most gay men and lesbians had heterosexually-oriented parents. A child raised by gay male or lesbian parents may become gay or non-gay.

Orientation appears to be more a factor of genetics. Studies have never proved any clear connection between environment and orientation.

__ Cause of Society’s Downfall __

Homosexual openness thrived during the heights of Periclean Greece, Renaissance Italy, and medieval Japan. Some cultures in which homosexuality has been accepted, like those of certain African and Native American tribes, neither rose to, nor fell from world dominating heights.

In contrast, the Persian Empire’s decline was accompanied by strong anti-homosexual taboos. Leniency toward homosexuality was evident at the zenith of the Roman Empire, but its decline was attended by an increase in anti-homosexual restriction.

Initially employing, then later murdering, homosexual men, like SA leader Ernst Röhm and his troops, the Nazi concept of supermen did not include homosexuality. Ultimately, gay men and lesbians were sent to concentration camps, forced to wear pink triangles, and were exterminated by the hundreds of thousands. The Nazi downfall was accompanied by hatred for minorities, including gay men and lesbians.

Homosexuality appears to take on different patterns of style, bonding, and sexual activities depending on the cultural setting, general level of acceptance, and class privilege, and is unrelated to a society’s economic or political standing.

__ Seduction or Molesters of Innocents __

Several surveys have shown that most persons who engage in homosexual sex during their adolescent years do so with those of about their own age.

Reports also have shown that 95 percent of the child molesting is done to females by non-gay men, usually the father or another male well known to the child. Child molesting is a straight male affliction.

The army recruits. No one can “recruit” an orientation, or force someone to love outside his or her nature.

__ Gay Men are “Feminine” … Lesbians are “Tough” __

Most gays are indistinguishable in appearance from other people. Those gays and non-gays who may appear to fit the gay stereotype do not deserve ridicule or harassment.

__ All Gay Men are Transvestites __

“Transvestites” enjoy wearing clothing usually socially assigned to a person of the opposite biological sex. They often do so on special occasions such as stage performances and private events.

More than half of those men who enjoy wearing women’s clothing are heterosexual.

__ Gay Men want to be Women __

Most gay men are happy to be men. Some gay men feel they are trapped in the body of the wrong biological sex and therefore seek sex change surgery. If they did surgically change their physical attributes, they would be a transsexual.

If a man was gay before a sex change, his attraction to men would likely continue after surgery. Therefore, as a female, her orientation would be heterosexual, no longer gay.

If a heterosexual man had surgery to become a female, his attraction to women would likely continue, and thereafter she would then be a lesbian.

__ Flaunting __

In our culture, an openly gay person is often accused of flaunting their gayness. To ask someone not to “flaunt” being gay usually means that they must never:

  • Mention the biological sex of the person they love most
  • Display a photo of their partner at their workplace, or wear their wedding ring
  • Talk about or openly support groups that are fighting to protect their civil rights
To demand someone not be openly gay is like telling him or her that they have no right to self-respect, and that they should remain invisible.

Non-gay people often forget that they frequently “flaunt” their love in books, movies, TV, as well as holding hands and kissing in public. For all humans, whatever their orientation, it makes no sense hiding a good thing.

Underlying the charge of “flaunting” is discomfort with gay people, or just plain hatred. It also expressed the fear that homosexuality will become commonplace and accepted by society.

__ The Gay Agenda __

There is no such thing as a “gay agenda.” This is a fantasy created by theocrats designed to instill fear in their support base in order to raise money and get their people elected to public office.

In a culture as diverse as America, in a community as widespread and as profoundly diverse as the gay community, it is virtually impossible to have any sort of unified agenda.

However, there is in the gay community — as there is in the women’s and black community — the universal desire for freedom and equal treatment. This takes on wildly different methods and approaches over time; hardly the dreaded “agenda” posited by the radical right.


———— Internalized Oppression ————

“Internalized oppression” is self-hatred.

Internalized oppression is a reaction to societal pressures and the fear of reprisals. It is marked by absorbing the prejudices of blood relatives, friends, and society.

Just as blacks for many years tried to straighten their hair, seeking conformity to non-blackness for social and economic safety, gay men and lesbians have tried to stay hidden, remained silent about civil rights and oppressive jokes, and accepted the stereotypes.

Internalized oppression is at its worst when we believe the myths that have branded us sexual and social outlaws.

Self-hate grows from the pain of bearing social antagonisms and can result in various forms of self-invalidation such as:

  • Guilt feelings, especially because of our attraction to those of the same sex
  • Desire for self punishment
  • Desire to punish others for being gay
  • Desiring sex and a deep emotional relationship with those non-gay men who would be unresponsive, while at the same time being repulsed by a gay relationship
  • Engaging exclusively in compulsive, anonymous sex
  • Using derogatory jokes and name-calling (use of “faggots,” “queens,” “dykes,” etc. as put-downs)
  • Getting drunk or stoned before having gay sex to avoid thinking of oneself as gay (it is estimated that one out of every eight Americans are alcoholics - the statistics in the gay community are one out of four)
  • Fear of showing non-sexual affection to someone of the same sex in public
  • Gay men hating women due to sexist attitudes regarding the female side of themselves
  • Feeling unworthy of certain jobs or personal rights
  • Feeling like a corrupting influence of children and young adults
  • Desire to stay in the exclusive company of gays, building a ghetto, and searching for the exclusive “gay sensibility” in the arts
  • Denying the need for, and preventing one’s self from making personal, political commitments
One disastrous effect of peer oppression is the insistence on pure, infallible activists. Much inner gay community turmoil stems from assumptions that someone may not be political enough, be too political, have an unpopular profession, sleep with the wrong, or too many, or too few people. These kinds of assumptions, marked by nit picking, scapegoating, and separatism, are usually based on the assumption that there is only one road to liberation.

With acknowledgement and elimination of internalized oppression, we can operate with full pride in our worth as humans. We can forge links with our natural allies (fellow gay men, lesbians, women, blacks, immigrants, and other minority groups), and we can find clear ways to communicate with other elements in the culture to express our needs.


———— Ally Building ————

When undertaking the task of liberation we can gain more friends by assuming that everybody is our ally and wants to stop the oppression of lesbians and gay men. Just as there have always been whites who have challenged racism, and men who have challenged sexism, there have always been non-gays who have challenged homophobia. Given the proper information and encouragement, everyone would work to end all oppression. Everyone can encourage open discussion, support gay men and lesbians who choose to come out (i.e., to be truthful and openly gay), and lobby for civil rights.

Since young people constantly hear misconceptions about gay people, it is especially important that they be informed. The notion that young people should be “protected” from the influence of lesbians and gay men by keeping them ignorant betrays a lack of confidence in the good sense of the younger generation. It also prevents youth being able to make a free-will judgement, and denies them opportunity to explore their own sexual feelings.

Open discussion is furthered by starting, joining or supporting a gay speaker’s bureau, gay consciousness-raising group, school straight-gay alliance, writing articles for the local newspaper, talking about gay issues on radio and TV, petitioning the neighborhood and local union for equal rights amendments, writing and performing poems, plays and music.

If gay men and lesbians are encouraged to be open about his or her own sexuality, it gives support to other open gay people and to those who are not yet out. Openness makes it impossible to be threatened by disclosure. It destroys the mirage of invisibility. It can produce a great sense of personal relief. Openness dissolves the burden of fear generated by silence and hiding, and shows that gay men and lesbians are not alone.

Still, in this day and age, some gay men and lesbians might lose jobs, or their children, by coming out. These people deserve our warm love and full support, just as much as those able to be out.

Whatever our sexuality, we can all lobby for equal civil rights and sex law reforms by writing letters to our elected officials. If we cannot sign our name, tell them why.


———— Women ————

The women’s movement has been a most important personal, political, and spiritual event toward social change. Women have provided the thinking and the action toward understanding that everyone is in control of her or his own body. They have provided the inspiration toward analyzing and dismantling crippling sex role stereotyping.

Women have told men to stop rape, stop calling them girls and other offensive names, stop master/slave relationships, support lesbian rights to raise their children, and to give them equal job opportunities. Women ask men to listen.

Many women have much anger from years of oppression. Much of this anger will be directed toward men until sexism is eradicated. Since men now have information on the unwanted, socially enforced role as oppressors of women, men can now move to change and stop colluding with the oppression.

As long as women are not equal — because of sex-role stereotyping — gay men and lesbians will not be equal. Since the apparatus supporting the oppression is the same, it is in our best interests to support each other’s struggle.


———— The Challenge ————

When differences of sex, sexual orientation, race, and class are viewed as adding to the wealth of our humanity, we become a united people. Gay men, lesbians and non-gays all benefit from destroying invisibility, ignorance and misinformation on gay issues, and sexism.

Working toward integrating different ages, races, physical differences and abilities, class backgrounds, and religions enlarges our knowledge about our human commonality. We can become more effective and loving in our everyday lives by understanding the roots of oppressions from our political system as well as peer and internalized sources.

Our present economic system has traditionally used a division of labor based on sex and race to keep wages low and workers in line. Historically, racism and gay baiting have been useful toward keeping workers divided. Heterocentrism views the opposite-sex (presumably heterosexual) “nuclear” family as the only form of family.

It is heartening to find large numbers of people who are seeing the gay liberation struggle not just in terms of the right to hold hands, but as part of civil rights and freedom for all. Personal, sexual actions are political actions because affection and sex are, ultimately, not just private but social interactions.


———— Our Liberation Starts with Ourselves ————

The sex role behavior patterns that are usually expected by an overly rigid society never function well for individuals. We can assume the responsibility of refusing to pass on the oppression that these roles perpetuate. We can choose to be a living model of non-sexist behavior.

Our physical health is also our own responsibility. Medical workers are sometimes too embarrassed, or uninformed, to take appropriate action regarding sexually transmitted illnesses. We must overcome fear of disclosure and tell them what we need.

Efforts toward positive change take place both inside and outside. An environment that is safe encourages our internal spiritual progress. We make it safe by creating humanistic social change that includes not only toleration, but also encouragement for diversity, and by being honest with ourselves and those we encounter.

As we learn about ourselves, and demand full participation in our society, we learn how to grow toward personal liberation that is self-loving and spiritual.



Note:

The first, far shorter, version of this paper was written for a peer counseling group of which I was a participant, and printed in one of their national publications in the early 70s. The group’s leadership was so concerned about reprisals that they insisted the article be anonymously authored, even though I was a well-known, public figure with a gay radio program and many published articles on gay issues.

A lengthier version was written in 1979. It was titled “Why are These Men Holding Hands?” and was published in the form of a large poster. Underneath the title was a high-contrast photo of two naked men leaning apart in the forest, holding each other’s wrists, which balanced them so they did not fall over. The answer to the title’s question was printed below the photo: “Because they like each other.”

The first version had important critical thinking and support from Marianne. Along the way, toward making the poster-document, I had invaluable input and encouragement from many including: Mark Jones, Laura, Diane Clancy, Bruce MacDonald, Firefly, Carl, George Fulginiti-Shakar, Gus, Doug, Laurie, Bobby, and Ken.
© 2006, Demian
This article may not be placed on any Web sites or reprinted
by electronic or any other means without permission.

Demian has a doctorate in education and is director of
Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples
206-935-1206 - demian@buddybuddy.com
Seattle, WA
buddybuddy.com


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