Publisher’s note: As always, we strive to peel back the layers of our hidden history and mine for evidence of resistance to the onslaught of control, censorship, and bigotry from feminist ideologues. Recently we were gifted with a gem by the name of John Lauritsen, who confirms that where feminism is concerned there is nothing new under the sun, or under the crushing weight of oppression. Let us insist that his words be carried forward for the sake of all men.—PE
This talk was delivered to the Gay Academic Union Conference IV, New York City, 1976. Despite my discomfort with some of the rhetoric I used 30 years ago, I have made no changes in the text. I hereby give permission to print out this document and to photocopy it. However, it may not be published commercially without my permission. My current views on Gay Liberation are found in my book, A Freethinker’s Primer of Male Love.
The early homosexual rights movement and the women’s emancipation movement were both part of a broader sexual reform movement in the first three decades of the 20th century; they were regarded as comrade struggles. This was also true in the gay liberation phase of our movement, from the fall of 1969 onwards. I believe this is correct, and that every progressive person should endorse the basic goals of both movements — though to be sure, neither movement is a systematic body of doctrine, and both movements have internal disagreements.
Unfortunately, some very serious problems have arisen. Self-proclaimed feminists have acted in ways that were harmful to both gay liberation and women’s liberation, and reactionary ideas have been advanced under the banner of feminism. I do not say these things were characteristic of the women’s movement as a whole; rather, they can be attributed to a small, but highly publicized, minority.
Although criticism of male homosexuality and gay liberation has issued freely from the feminist camp, there has been almost no reciprocal criticism from gay men, not even in self-defence. It has become almost taboo to criticize anyone who identifies herself as a “feminist.”
Why have feminists enjoyed this virtual immunity from criticism? For a number of reasons: Because most gay men really do support the women’s movement, and are therefore hesitant to attack a women’s liberationist. Because of a mood of guilt. Because feminists have so often demanded that things they disagree with be censored, and have so often gotten their way, that some men frankly are afraid of them. There is also an element of traditional male gallantry. And finally, there is a particular ideology which justifies the privileged status that feminists enjoy within the Gay Academic Union and other gay groups.
According to this ideology, the most basic division in society is not between class and class, but between male and female; distinctions according to gender are seen as far more important than distinctions based on wealth and power. According to this ideology, there is a hierarchy of oppression, with the oppression of women being the worst of all. It is an oppression so profound, so mysterious, and so ineffable, that it cannot even be described in concrete terms, as might other, lesser forms of oppression.
According to this ideology the oppression of homosexuals derives from “sexism,” the foundation of which is male supremacy. Homosexuals are oppressed because they, not being seen as “real men and women,” violate the “sex-roles” which sexism comprises. It follows that the oppression of male homosexuals is essentially a by-product of female oppression, and that the liberation of gay men must tail after the liberation of women. In effect, the gay liberation movement becomes the fag end of the women’s movement.
According to this ideology, lesbians are doubly oppressed — both as homosexuals and as women — where homosexual males are merely singly oppressed. Gay men still enjoy a “male privilege” because, according to a central dictum of radical feminism: ALL MEN BENEFIT FROM THE OPPRESSION OF ALL WOMEN. So it would seem that gay men are not really so badly off, and perhaps it would be better if they did not devote their energies to repealing sodomy statutes and fighting discrimination, because these goals if realized would simply give them equality with straight men, thus objectively increasing the oppression of women. Instead, gay men should spend their time “dealing with their sexism,” which they acquired from having been born male, and in learning how to “give up their male privilege.”
According to this ideology, the best things gay men can do is to act as a “men’s auxiliary” for women’s liberation, taking their cues from feminists. And since men are the enemy, gay men should be willing to enlist as agents in the fight against males and against maleness.
Enough of this ideology! Perhaps some of you thought I was just making this up or being satirical. I assure you that the only original formulation in my description was the term “fag end”; everything else was taken from current extreme feminist arguments. There may be elements of truth in this ideology, but most of it is clearly mistaken, and it would be fatal for the gay liberation movement to adopt it. Certainly it is false to say that the oppression of homosexual males is a trivial matter. It is false to say that a perceived violation of sex-roles provides the explanation for our oppression; there have been many societies, before and outside of Judeo-Christendom, including male supremacist societies with rigidly defined sex-roles, which nevertheless did not place a taboo on sex between males.
At any rate, I am not convinced that feminists should be exempted from critical judgment. I shall deal with three main areas of contention: the first concerned with disruptions and diversions, the second with censorship, and the third with feminist bigotry against male homosexuality.
Disruptions and Diversions
I remember a number of such episodes in the early days of the Gay Liberation Front, in the fall of 1969. Women we had never seen before would come in and deliver tirades against the GLF men; they would say that not only were gay men more sexist or more male chauvinist than straight men, but men in GLF were among the worst of all. These charges were unfair and untrue, for GLF had always been in solidarity with women’s liberation, and women had played leading roles in GLF from the beginning — but such charges had a certain demoralizing effect. Some of the men felt that rather than acting against our oppressors — for example, picketing the Village Voice — or publishing the first gay liberation paper, Come Out! — instead we should turn our attention inward to confront the enemy which was: Ourselves!
At the first gay conference at Rutgers in 1970, the major panel on the last day was disrupted by a group of women who demanded that all proceedings come to a halt. They charged that the panel was “elitist” and “sexist” (although half of the panelists were women); their main ostensible grievance was that on a table in the hall, provided for leaflets and free literature, were copies of Gay newspaper, in which they had found a reproduction of a beautiful, lush, reclining female nude, painted in the style of classic romanticism. This, they charged, was designed to titillate men, and was degrading to women. Overlooked was the fact that the picture illustrated an article written by a lesbian, and that it was unlikely the editors of Gay had intended to convert their male readers to heterosexuality.
The conference organizers were cruelly attacked, apparently for the sin of not having policed and censored the free literature table. It was a senseless, abusive, and thuggish disruption; the main organizer of the conference was reduced to tears, and the women as well as the men on the panel were moved to call the disrupters “fascists,” an epithet that was not unjustified. For the most specious of reasons, a beautiful and mellow gay conference — one of the very first — had been turned into a nightmare.
One could go on and on. I imagine most of the people in this room have witnessed or read accounts of similar disruptions. There was the first international gay liberation conference in Edinburgh, where women discovered evidence of “sexism” and demanded that the conference change its focus from legislative reform to “confronting sexism.” Laws, they argued, only affected men, and therefore it was sexist to concentrate upon things like repealing sodomy statutes. A majority of the men went along with this demand, and that was the end of an internationally coordinated campaign to change the laws. It’s amazing it should be considered trivial that after two millennia, homosexual men are still criminals.
A certain pattern emerges. The people in power do not like movements for social change. When such movements are in their infancy, they will try to destroy or divert them. When movements have grown large and viable, then they will try to render them innocuous through co-optation.
It would have been inept for the ruling class to send someone into an antiwar conference who would say: “Look here, folks, I’m from the Council on Foreign Relations, and we don’t like what you’re doing. The Vietnamese people are giving us a hard enough time over there, and we don’t want trouble on the home front. So forget about this mobilization. Why don’t you just break into small groups and discuss patriotism?”
That speech would not have been well received.
However, what could be done was to send in representatives of “oppressed groups” — including blacks, women, and gay liberationists — to charge the antiwar movement with being white, male, middle class, racist, sexist, elitist, etc., and to demand that it deal with these issues rather than trying to stop the war in Southeast Asia.
I don’t think we should get paranoid over disruptions, for there exist sincerely motivated disrupters — although I do feel that if one has something to say, and is given an opportunity to say it, then it is at least poor tactics to disrupt. My point is simply that we should not let ourselves be diverted from the struggle, and that we should evaluate people’s ideas and actions on their merits, granting no privileged status on the basis of membership in an “oppressed group.”
So far as “silencings” are concerned — disruptions designed only to prevent someone from speaking — I am categorically opposed to them, and this leads me to my second problem area: Censorship.
Throughout its history, the sexual reform movement has had to wage a fierce battle against censorship. So it is especially disturbing to see demands for censorship advanced by a sector of the movement.
The situation is serious. The new censorship, advanced under the banner of feminism, poses a threat to the gay liberation movement, the women’s liberation movement itself, and all other progressive movements. I am convinced that the feminist movement is being used as a cat’s-paw for taking away our civil liberties. The immediate target for ostensibly feminist censorship seems to be pornography — but pornography is a stalking horse, behind which is political repression. And repression is very much on the horizon in the United States. The Nixon Supreme Court has steadily whittled away civil liberties; the death penalty has been restored, and may soon claim its first victim for almost a decade; the Senate bill, S-1, which would virtually repeal the Bill of Rights, is waiting in the wings; new waves of censorship have swept across the country; and everywhere the Ministry of Propaganda is creating an atmosphere of violence and fear, which would justify imposing emergency Law & Order measures. Things like this always occur in a period of severe political and economic crisis, when the custodians of the system perceive it may be in jeopardy.
Now, it would be unfair to blame the women’s movement as a whole for the censorship problem. Only a relatively small number of “feminists” have been proponents and practitioners of censorship, and it would be naive to assume that all of these women were motivated by an honest commitment to feminism, especially in light of recent disclosures of such secret police programs as the FBI’s “Cointelpro.”
A leading exponent of censorious feminism is Susan Brownmiller, author of Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. In tribute to her, I have coined the term “Brownmillerism,” which I define as the use of sexual hysteria, in particular rape-fear, as a justification for repression. The main characteristics of Brownmillerism are prudery, intolerance, and irrationality. The immediate goals of Brownmillerism are censoring pornography and reducing the legal rights of defendants in rape cases, but it extends far beyond this. Brownmillerism helps to set up the machinery of repression and to create an atmosphere favorable to repression.
Brownmiller’s book Against Our Will (AOW) has enjoyed an amazing success. Promoted to the hilt by the establishment media, it became a Book of the Month Club selection and a best seller. Nevertheless, AOW is a shoddy piece of work: ludicrously inaccurate, patently reactionary, dishonest, and vulgarly written.
Brownmiller portrays rape as an omnipresent danger to women, whereas in fact it is a comparatively rare event; she argues that rape laws are too lenient, whereas in fact the penalties for rape are second only to those for murder in most states; she calls for reducing the evidentiary requirements for conviction, even though many innocent men have been executed after being falsely accused of rape. By special pleading, falsification, and atrocity-mongering, Brownmiller strives to create an atmosphere of hysteria and misinformation conducive to assaults upon civil liberties, as well as to diverting the women’s movement from its rational priorities (according to The New York Times, rape has now become the number one issue of the feminist movement, eclipsing such former concerns as legal abortion and equal pay for equal work).
A long essay-review of mine on AOW and the rape question appeared in the Gay Liberator (Detroit, Spring 1976); I have copies of the review here, so I’ll not go further into AOW now.
What is disturbing is the virtual absence of criticism. Two leading gay papers, Gay Community News and the Advocate, not only reviewed AOW favorably, but featured Susan Brownmiller’s photograph on their front covers — this in spite of the fact that AOW contains obvious antihomosexual bigotry.
Critical reviews of AOW, all written by women, did appear in Esquire, Nation, the Militant, People’s World, the Daily World, Women and Revolution, and the Libertarian Review, but these were a tiny minority compared to the accolades cranked out in the establishment press.
So far as I know, not a peep of criticism of AOW appeared in the feminist press — a sad commentary on the feminist movement’s politics or its capacity to criticize a self-appointed spokeswoman.
A striking instance of Brownmillerism in action occurred in New York City last February — an episode I’ll call “The Snuff Hoax.”
What happened was that a rumor began circulating, according to which there existed a genre of movies known as “snuff” movies. “Snuff” movies, so the rumor went, were produced for the titillation of depraved men; they featured the actual torture, dismemberment, and murder of unsuspecting actresses.
Then a movie opened in New York City, entitled Snuff, and advertising itself as “made in South America, where life is cheap.” By this time, the rumor about “snuff” movies had already been exposed as a hoax in the pages of Variety, Screw, and the Village Voice. Nevertheless, a group of feminists began to organize protests against the movie, claiming that the actress in it had actually been dismembered and murdered. The rumor was fed on all sides. A synthetically illiterate leaflet was passed out which began thus:
“Snuff is a film made in Argentina where no less than 18 murders are committed. Not acted out but in reality. Murders. People are actually killed for profit.”
Karla Jay, in the Villager (26 February 1976), first protested that she was a “‘hard core’ civil libertarian,” and then wrote: “So what did it take to make me help organize a protest, hit the barricades, and demand that a movie be shut down? Literally murder. Yes, real women have been dismembered, killed, and disemboweled….”
Deluded into believing that real murder had taken place, and that therefore no First Amendment issue was involved, many New York liberals signed a telegram sent to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau; it read as follows:
“We the undersigned citizens call upon you as District Attorney of Manhattan to prosecute and to prevent presentation, distribution, and advertising of the film “Snuff” now being shown at the National Theatre in New York City. The film exhibits the violent dismemberment and murder of a woman for the purpose of arousing sexual interest. As citizens we demand the immediate investigation, prosecution and removal of this barbaric film from our community.”
One might have expected a better written telegram from the New York intelligentsia, but the thrust is clear; it calls for official censorship, for strengthening the repressive apparatus of the State.
An article in Gay Community News (GCN) gloated that the list of signers of the telegram read like a list of “Who’s Who” of the women’s and gay communities in New York. The first name on the list was Susan Brownmiller.
To his credit, DA Robert Morgenthau refused to prosecute the film, insisting, correctly, that there was no legal basis for doing so. There were a few other voices of sanity. The American Civil Liberties Union refused to go along with the erst-while-liberal censors, and in consequence, the ACLU itself came in for attack. Bella Abzug sent a letter to the protest organizers, in which she said she would favor picketing and so on, but “could not support a legal suppression of the movie.” “I would not go along with official censorship,” Abzug wrote, “because I think once it is established, we in the women’s movement or any other movement of dissent will find ourselves victimized.”
Noe Goldwasser, writing in the Village Voice, continued to expose the “Snuff delusion,” but to little avail. Goldwasser wrote: “the so-called actual murder film is a cheap-jack Manson take-off that had been in the can for three years … you can see more gore in ‘Taxi Driver’ and more sex in ‘Gidget Goes Hawaiian’.”
The protest organizers escalated their demands. Since there was no legal basis for prosecuting Snuff, they claimed that women in NYC were defenseless. What was needed were some new censorship laws which would protect the lives of women. They agitated accordingly.
For many weeks GCN treated the Snuff protests as the number one gay action; it gave front page coverage to the rantings of people like Lea Fritz, who strongly attacked the ACLU, and who said such things as: “We don’t think the big money creeps should be able to foist their sick eroticism on the rest of us!”
A temporary madness swept through the gay community, affecting particularly those who considered themselves “radicals.” The Snuff protests were the cause of the moment, and to criticize them meant ostracism. Everyone seemed to know a friend of a friend who had seen Snuff and vouched that the dismemberment and murder was real. They insisted I had no right to speak until I had paid $4 and seen the film for myself. This, fortunately, was not necessary; it was perfectly obvious from looking at the stills outside the theatre that nothing but crude special effects had been employed. What was supposed to be a dismembered hand looked hardly more real than a pair of rubber gloves from the dime store. And yet more than a thousand deluded protesters had filed past these stills without perceiving the obvious.
The rumor died hard. Long after he should have known better, Allen Young, writing in GCN, described Snuff as a movie “in which a women is murdered in order to create a film of erotic entertainment.”
Eventually reality broke through. Robert Morgenthau, under pressure, located the actress who had allegedly been dismembered in Snuff. He found her in good spirits and, as he put it, “in possession of all her appendages.”
Majority Report, which had helped feed the real-murder rumor, was forced to eat crow. A long article by Mary Lou Fox (MR 6-20 March 1976) exposed the hoax, placing the blame for the rumor-mongering on almost everyone except the protest organizers. The Snuff movie, she informed her readers, had been made in Buenos Aires four years ago, for a mere $33,000, and by a husband and wife team! The three-minute dismemberment scene was tacked on afterwards.
One sentence in Fox’s article struck me as poignant: “The truth of the snuff-movie story seemed indisputable coming from so many sources at once.”
- Nolder Gay entered a dissenting opinion in GCN; he summed the affair up: “Is ‘Snuff’ a gay issue? No, but censorship is … and twisting the bill of Rights in the winds of immediate passion is, and increasing the powers of D.A.s is.”
There’s no doubt that Snuff was a truly vile movie, and offensive to women (though even more offensive movies were probably playing at the same time). I think women should protest against anti-woman bigotry — but succumbing to rumor-mongering and hysteria, and calling for official censorship, is playing the game of the enemy. If one is opposed to censorship, then one is opposed to censoring even that which one finds vile and offensive.
Perhaps history will group the Snuff hoax along with such episodes as the Flying Saucer delusion or the War of the Worlds panic; perhaps, if one accepts, as I do, a more sinister interpretation, history will class it with such fabrications as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” or the attribution of the Reichstag fire to the Communists.
A glimpse of where Brownmillerism and snuff-type hysteria lead was provided only a few weeks later, in Chicago. On May 26, a new censorship board was set up there to deal, at least in the beginning, with movies of violence. The immediate inspiration for Mayor Daley’s antiviolence law, according to an article in the Guardian, was the public outcry against Snuff. Members of the new censorship board are all appointed by the Mayor, they average over 67 years of age, and their main qualification seems to be that they are widows of Democratic Party machine politicians.
The Guardian article makes it clear that it is political radicalism, rather than violence, that Daley is concerned with censoring, and that the board, if unchecked, may be expected to extend its mandate. “Mayor Daley himself told reporters the kind of film he had in mind when proposing the ordinance was ‘Medium Cool’, Haskell Wexler’s fictional feature that included on-the-scene footage of [Daley’s] police beating demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.”
Censorious feminism has also played a role within the gay liberation movement itself. I have already described the incident at the first Rutgers conference.
In the Gay Academic Union, some feminists have demanded that panels on S&M, pederasty, and transvestitism not be allowed at conferences, and more often than not, their demands have been acceded to. A scholarly presentation on the Marquis de Sade was censored last year — feminists felt it would advocate sadism, and that that must not be permitted.
This kind of censorship — the censorship of ideas — is offensive to every person of integrity. If we are opposed to someone’s ideas, then if anything we should wish to draw him into debate, so we can counter his ideas with our own — assuming we have something to say. This is known as dialogue, and it is through dialogue that truth emerges.
This year in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee, a few women (speaking for all women) laid down a series of demands. First, women would march at the head of the parade, to offset what they called “lesbian invisibility.” Second, half of the marshals and speakers would have to be women (actually, this had always been the case). Third, all floats and speakers would have to be approved by a committee, which would censor anything it found guilty of “sexism,” “racism,” “classism” (whatever that is), and perhaps some other “ism.” The main fear of these women was that female impersonators would be allowed, either on floats or as speakers.
For several years now, drag queans have been special targets of feminist wrath. We gay men have been forcefully told that if we support women’s liberation, we must denounce and repudiate everyone and everything connected with drag. The censorious feminists claim that drag oppresses women — that it is a mockery of women, misogyny, and a form of bigotry. If anyone feels I am exaggerating the feminist position, then I urge him to read an article in GCN (20 November 1976) by Karen Lindsey. Lindsey, who identifies herself as a “straight woman,” delivers a vicious attack against drag queans, and in the process engages in some coy anti-male-homosexual bigotry. She compares wearing drag to “sexual harassment,” pimping, rape, and wife-beating.
I am fascinated by one sentence of hers; she writes: “But when men dress in spike heels, rhinestones, sheer stockings, and evening gowns fitted with bustdarts, there is no room for doubt — or for tolerance.”
I have two questions for Ms. Lindsey. Number one: “You say that there in no room for tolerance. May we know specifically what forms of intolerance you would advocate?” Number two: “Do you believe that Woman, the eternal feminine or whatever, comprises such things spike heels and rhinestones?”
The time has come to defend transvestites. On the level of personal freedom, I say that if women have the right to dress like drag queans, then drag queans should have the right to dress like women. Many states and communities still have laws prohibiting “cross-dressing,” and little enough has been done to get rid of these medieval absurdities. Beyond this, I think we must question whether there be any justification for the current feminist vendetta against drag queans.
Now, the transvestite issue is not a simple one. Superficially it is true that most transvestites are straight; it is also true that the vast majority of gay men have no desire to put on women’s clothes, and are at least as “virile” as the average, exclusively heterosexual man (though perhaps less rigidly “masculine”).
On the other hand, it is also true that drag has long been a part of the gay subculture. When gay men get together for a really fun and special occasion — now, as in the 19th or 18th centuries — costumes and drag may well be a part of the festivities. Drag and drag queans are a part of the gay world, whether one likes it or not. One may believe that the gay world as we know it now is part of our oppression, and I agree up to a point. But I suggest that in drawing up a blueprint for a liberated future, there is a danger of falling into puritanism in the present.
Why drag? Well, gay men have a sense of humor, a unique sense of humor, known as “camp”; it is part of our heritage. And at the heart of camp is a mockery of the situation we find ourselves in, our predicament as homosexuals. And so camp, among other things, includes a mockery of sex-roles, a mockery of taboos, a mockery of danger, a mockery of condemnation.
If gay men have survived the worst oppression that Christendom had to offer, we owe something to camp. For most of the Christian era, the Church and State have not recognized our right to live — not even our right to exist. And yet the gay men who escaped the Executioner often came out strong and more creative than the straights. I would like to believe that even in the dungeons of the Inquisition, men were camping. I would like to believe that even in Nazi concentration camps, the men with the pink triangle gave each other courage by camping.
Drag is considered to be a form of camp, and it is. Drag is the most extreme mockery of sex-roles, the most extreme exposé of how arbitrary most of the real-man/real-woman divisions are. To be sure, there is high as well as low camp, and good as well as bad camp. But at its best, drag is very good camp indeed.
Feminist claims to the contrary, what a drag quean parodies is not women, but culturally dictated sex-roles — sex-roles which are themselves oppressive to women. In anything, by demonstrating the arbitrariness and absurdity of traditional sex-roles, female impersonators, far from being oppressive to women, may actually serve as consciousness raisers aiding the liberation of women.
I think some of the feminist rage against transvestites can be explained by a denial of the element of self-oppression involved in playing traditional sex-roles. So far, gay liberationists have been more willing than feminists to analyze the ways we contribute to our own oppression; immediately Carl Wittman’s Gay Manifesto and Andrew Hodges’s and David Hutter’s With Downcast Gays come to mind. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and the protests at the Miss America Pageant seemed to promise a women’s analysis of self-oppression, but lately the feminist movement has opted for a men-are-the-enemy-period sort of pseudo-radicalism.
Karen Lindsey in the GCN article claims that women adopt traditional sex-roles, and dress the way they do, only because they are forced to do so by men; in her words: “It is men who determine what is fit apparel for men and women, reserving to themselves what is functional and assigning to women styles that conform to male fantasy and power needs.”
I find this hard to believe. Surely women have some responsibility for their actions. Do men really force women to wear rhinestones? Spike heels? It seems to me that any woman who is determined can walk into a store and buy a comfortable pair of shoes. Who forces them to buy spike heels? Do men really enjoy walking with a woman who has to totter along like a cripple? Similarly, if a woman is oppressed by cosmetics, then I suggest that liberation lies no further away than the nearest sink, with the aid of a little soap and water.
Now, who is supposed to be hurt by drag queans? Women? How many women have ever even seen a drag quean? If they did see one, what would happen? Would they suffer? The only group of transvestites that really do harm others are ecclesiastical transvestites — that is to say, priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes — but so far the feminists have shown no inclination to attack ecclesiastical transvestitism.
If anybody at all is hurt by drag queans, it would surely be gay men, or so I believed at one time. Since the stereotyped image of a homosexual man is a man who wants to act and look like a woman, I believed that drag queans tended to reinforce the stereotype.
I have changed my opinion. If, to use Mencken’s term, “Boobus Americanus” wishes to believe in the stereotype, they I’m sure he will do so, with or without the aid of transvestites. I now believe that transvestites should not merely be tolerated, but actually encouraged to do as they please. If they want to dress up and carry on, then why not? We only live once.
In the very early days of the Gay Liberation Front, we made the decision that transvestites would be as welcome as anyone else. Unlike the “homophile” movement, we were not so concerned with respectability that we would turn away any of our gay brothers and sisters.
When I entered the gay world, many years ago in Boston, I had a hard enough time of it, though I had certain advantages. It was drag queans in a seedy Boston cafeteria, the “Bick,” who first let me laugh at things which had been the torment of adolescence. I laughed till I cried — and after that it was easier. I would expand the Nietzschean aphorism to say: “Oh my brothers: Camp! and be hard!”
I have also known sensitive young men who did not have my advantages — who had run away from fathers who beat them and mothers who cursed them — who were not intellectuals — who had no assets other than a sudden will to be themselves. They did not know what it meant to be “gay,” so they plucked their eyebrows, or set their hair; they wore an earring, or a necklace; they sullied their complexion with makeup; or they wore something that put them beyond the pale of masculine normalcy. They were naive.
Usually the phase passed, especially if they were fortunate enough to acquire a friend or lover who accepted them as they essentially were, without the extreme role-playing or accoutrements of either butch or femme.
It frightens me to think that such a young man, assailed by doubts and fears, facing pitfalls and dangers on every side, might be subjected to further cruelty from gay men who have been influenced by the censorious feminists. We must be firm. Not only must we reject without qualification the claim that drag queans oppress women, we must also make sure than none of our brothers are hurt through malice instigated by the censorious feminists. Our lifestyle is none of their business.
At this point I’m sure we are sick of censorship. What is really disgusting about the censorious feminists is that they trample on the memory of the many women in the freethought and sexual reform movements who courageously battled against censorship over the last century. One thinks of women like Annie Besant, Margaret Sanger, Martha Ruben-Wolfe, Emma Goldman. How appalled they would be to see the things now being done under the banner of feminism!
Prohibiting and censoring will be the death of our movement. Our struggle is to get out our own ideas, not to suppress the ideas of others. I share the faith of Thomas Paine, who concluded his Age of Reason by saying: “When opinions are free, either in matters of government or religion, truth will finally and powerfully prevail.”
Feminist Bigotry Against Male Homosexuality
To continue the story of this year’s Christopher Street Liberation Day: every one of the women’s demands was agreed to. Women were at the head of the Gay Pride march, and women with bullhorns cleared the area of male interlopers. In this contingent, two women marched with a banner proclaiming: “Cocksucking Causes Cancer!” Despite the vaunted concern with censoring “sexism,” apparently none of the other women in the contingent suggested to these sisters that they were marching in the wrong parade.
The phrase “cocksucking causes cancer” is from a poem entitled “Cut the Cock,” which appeared in the quarterly journal Dyke (“To be sold to and shared by women only!”). Here are some lines from “Cut the Cock”:
Cocksucking can cause cancer
cockclimbers better watch their step
on the ladder to suck-cess-pool
cause the cockclock is running out of ticktock
and when the woman revolution comes
there ain’t gonna be no pawn shop
where an old cocksucker can hock a cock…
No comment on the poem, but I do find it reprehensible that the gay press has hidden its head in the sand and pretended that the poem never was published.
Recently I have been reading and rereading many of the major feminist writings, and have come across much prejudice against male homosexuality. Sometimes feminist bigotry against male homosexuals is obvious and crude, as in the poem; usually it is more subtle. Basically, the feminist writers deny the validity of male love; they insist on treating it as the product of misogyny, rejection or fear of women.
(Some of the feminist works I criticize have merit, despite their prejudice against male homosexuality. Specifically, Phyllis Chessler’s Women and Madness is moving and informative; the Redstockings anthology, Feminist Revolution, is valuable for its accounts of how the women’s movement has been diverted and coopted, as well as for its principled exposé of Gloria Steinem’s links to the CIA; and there are things to be learned from Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex and even Kate Millett’s much overrated Sexual Politics.)
A blatant example is provided by Leslie B. Tanner, in her article, “On Being Natural,” which appeared in the popular anthology Voices From Women’s Liberation. Tanner writes about male fear of women, and she works up to these two sentences:
“The Christian tradition — based on male anxiety from the Hebrew tradition — takes the fear of the female to even greater extremes. During the Middle Ages celibacy (which is related to rear of the female) produced such strong anxieties that both self-castration and sodomy existed.”
This is clear enough: if it were not for a pathological fear of women, a terrible thing like sodomy would never happen. Tanner is also conveying the impression that sodomy is a form of emasculation.
Of course the notion that male homosexuality is caused by a fear of women is a stock-in-trade of such psychiatric quacks as Drs. Bergler, Bieber, Kardiner et al. — but then these people are men, so we’ve been allowed to criticize them.
What feminist writers seem totally unable to comprehend is the validity of all-male attachments — the great desire and need men have for the companionship, friendship, and love of other men. The feminists cannot see male fellowship as a positive thing; to them it can only be misogyny, a rejection and exclusion of women, a form of segregation.
Whereas a gay liberationist would say that men in our culture are alienated in their affection for each other, some feminists believe that men are too close to each other already.
I am not exaggerating the feminist position, and urge everyone to read Carol Hanisch’s article “Men’s Liberation” from the Redstockings anthology, Feminist Revolution; it is most instructive. Hanisch writes in a very clear, succinct, and straightforward manner; there is never any doubt what she is saying. The essence of her argument is that men’s liberation groups are a reactionary development; that it is absurd to imagine that men are oppressed by the prevailing sex-roles, because all men profit from the oppression of all women; that therefore men have nothing to be liberated from. When she gets to homosexuality, Hanisch has this to say:
“Men’s liberationists always bring up ‘confronting their own feelings about men’ by which they mean homosexuality. Male homosexuality is an extension of the reactionary club) meaning both group and weapon). The growth of gay liberation carries contempt for women to the ultimate: total segregation. The desire of men to ‘explore their homosexuality’ really means encouraging the possibility of homosexuality as a reaction against feminist demands. This is the reason the movement for “gay rights” received much more support only after women’s liberation became a mass movement.”
The prejudice against male homosexuality contained in Kate Millett’s highly influential book, Sexual Politics, is worse than that in Carol Hanisch’s article, but it is more insidious. Millett’s style is muddled and affected, and her bigotry emerges more in little digs and innuendoes than in direct statement.
To Millett, there is nothing positive about male relationships; they are simply power relationships. Either more powerful males exert dominance over weaker males, degrading them to the status of females, and deriving a peculiar satisfaction from bullyism; or males gang together to consolidate their power over women.
In Millett’s world, men do not really like each other; it is only the sexual politics of the patriarchy that makes them spend so much time together.
Millett extends the term “men’s house culture,” referring to an institution in some primitive societies, to apply to all men’s associations. She tosses in the Nazis, underworld thugs, Norman Mailer’s U.S. Army, and some primitive sadism, in such a way as to imply that all men’s groups are somehow fascistic in character.
Describing the men’s house institution in Melanesia, Millett writes: “They reek of physical exertion, violence, the aura of the kill, and the throb of homosexual sentiment.” And then later: “Untried youths become the erotic interest of their elders and betters, a relationship also encountered in the Samurai order, in oriental priesthoods, and in the Greek gymnasium.” And again: “The tone and ethos of men’s house culture is sadistic, power-oriented, and latently [sic] homosexual….”
When things get lumped together this way, a lot gets lost. How can one equate Greek pederasty with the crude sadism of a primitive people? — Greek pederasty with its pedagogical relationship, its concern with the imparting of knowledge and wisdom, its noble code of ethics.
To Millett, the sexual activity that takes place in the “men’s house” is not quite real: it is either sadism or a sort of surrogate heterosexuality. She writes:
“Considerable sexual activity does take place in the men’s house, all of it, needless to say, homosexual. But the taboo against homosexual behavior (at least among equals) is almost universally of far stronger force than the impulse and tends to effect a rechannelling of the libido into violence.”
In reading Millett, it is sometimes necessary to stop and disentangle the things she has mixed together. Notice how she slipped in the assertion that the taboo on all-male sex is almost universal. This is certainly not true, in historical perspective; if the taboo on male homosexuality were indeed a universal, then we might reasonably infer there must be something wrong about it.
Millett gets to her point, that “men’s house” homosexuality doesn’t really count as homosexuality. Her writing is an extreme muddle here — very, very tricky:
“The negative and militaristic coloring of such men’s house homosexuality as does exist, is of course by no means the whole character of homosexual sensibility. [Thanks for nothing!] Indeed, the warrior caste [sic] of mind with its ultravirility, is more incipiently homosexual, in its exclusively male orientation, than it is overtly homosexual. (The Nazi experience is an extreme case in point here.) And the heterosexual role-playing indulged in, and still more persuasively, the contempt in which the younger, softer, or more ‘feminine’ members are held, is proof that the actual ethos is misogynist, or perversely rather than positively heterosexual. The true inspiration of men’s house association therefore comes from the patriarchal situation rather than from any circumstances inherent in the homo-amorous relationship.”
A real mess, wasn’t it, with Nazism thrown in and everything jumbled together? But we get the thrust of her argument: Men’s house attachments occur only because of misogyny, only because of heterosexual default. It is a camouflaged version of the old notion that male homosexuality equals a rejection of women. It is also close to the “pseudohomosexuality” theories of such psychiatric charlatans as Lionel Ovesy.
It is especially regrettable that Millett links Nazism to homosexuality, since we in gay liberation have worked so hard to undo the “fascist perversion” myth — the notion that homosexuality and Nazism go together — a myth that is the opposite of the truth.
Millett is distinctly hostile to the possibility of genuine male friendship. She writes:
“Much of the glamorization of masculine comradery in warfare originates in what one might designate as ‘the men’s house sensibility’. Its sadistic and brutalizing aspects are disguised in military glory and a particularly cloying species of masculine sentimentality. A great deal of our culture partakes of this tradition, and one might locate its first statement in Western literature in the heroic intimacy of Patroclus and Achilles.”
We note the phrase, “particularly cloying species of masculine sentimentality.” Millet’s language really gives here away here. Was the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus really “cloying” or “sentimental”? For that matter, is there a single line in the Iliad that is either cloying or sentimental? Frankly, I resent Millett’s snide attacks on male friendship, of which there are many.
Millett’s hostility towards male friendship comes out most clearly in her chapter on D.H. Lawrence, a treatment that can fairly be described as vicious. The tenderest moments in Lawrence’s novels, his attempts to describe the need men have for deep male friendship and male love, receive only ridicule and contempt from her pen. Her plot synopses are grotesque, both for their inaccuracies and for the animus that pervades them. If anyone thinks I am being overly harsh, I suggest a simple test. Read her chapter on D.H. Lawrence, especially her synopsis of Women in Love. Read Women in Love — a wonderful novel — and then draw your own conclusions.
At this point, to go through more feminist writers would involve mostly repetition, for the same themes occur over and over. Phyllis Chessler, in her book, Women and Madness, also puts forward the thesis that male homosexuality is an expression of misogyny. She also links male homosexuality to militarism and ridicules the “‘glorious’ tradition” of male homosexuality.
Susan Brownmiller in Against Our Will blurs together voluntary homosexual acts and homosexual rape; it appears that to her, both are equally horrible.
Shulamith Firestone’s book, The Dialectic of Sex, contains many nasty little digs against male homosexuality. Firestone accepts the Freudian Oedipal complex theory on the aetiology of male homosexuality. She also holds the extraordinary notion that men cannot be erotic objects, and that the female body is intrinsically more aesthetic.
Actually, some of the very worst bigotry has come from men claiming to represent feminism. In this camp are the handful of men who call themselves “effeminists” and publish the expensively produced and synthetically pathological magazine, Double-F. Another male feminist is John Stoltenberg, whose article, “Toward Gender Justice,” appeared in WIN magazine (20 March 1975). Stoltenberg attacks all of the goals of the gay liberation movement, claiming that if realized they would only give gay men equality with straight men; he puts forward the propositions that males concerned with “gender justice” should embrace “a total repudiation of masculinity” (including a repudiation of erections and pelvic thrusts during sex), and a total repudiation of male relationships. Stoltenberg posits a “patriarchal taboo against unbonding,” which is insidiously counter to the truth: what is tabooed in our culture is precisely the desublimation of the male bond; the taboo is on fully realizing eros between males. Stoltenberg deserves only our contempt when he dismisses the yearning men have for male affection by writing: “…all he was ever programmed to long for in relationship with men connects at its center to a process that keeps women oppressed.”
A curious double standard exists whereby feminists see all-female groups, publications, etc. as a necessary part of their movement, but would deny men a similar privilege. Again we are grateful to Carol Hanisch for providing us with a clear rationale for this double standard. According to Hanisch, men’s groups exist in order for men to consolidate their power over women. She writes: “They are a breeding ground for updating male supremacist theory and strategy for ‘handling’ the growing feminist movement.” Hanisch justifies the feminist double standard with this remarkable sentence: “All-male groups are more of the same segregation that women’s liberation all-female groups exist to put an end to.”
Some — though not all — of the feminist writers are so bent on eliminating what they see as “segregation,” that they would abolish one-sex groupings altogether, as well as all sexual divisions. If they had their way, there would not exist any one-sex spheres whatever. Needless to say, this would mean the eradication of homosexuality. An extreme representative of this viewpoint is Shulamith Firestone, who looks forward to a future where every institution segregating the sexes would be destroyed, and even the gestation of human embryos would take place in machines rather than in the wombs of women. Everything would be homogenized. There would be total and uniform heterosociality; if homosexual couplings did occur, it would be on a random and arbitrary basis.
This is not my view of the future. I think that we are still animals, like it or not, and that it is entirely fitting for the female of our species to give birth to the young. I think that men must learn to love men, and women to love women. No doubt under conditions of freedom, the evolved men and women of the future will make their own decisions, but I feel certain there will be some areas of life where both men and women will prefer to be in the company of their own kind.
Despite all of the sorry particulars I have related, I still believe that women’s liberation and gay liberation should be seen as comrade struggles.
I think the women should take a hard and critical look at the extreme feminist wing of their movement; parts of it have become the worst enemy of women’s liberation. I think women should fight for full economic, political, and sexual equality with men, and that they should take action against anti-woman bigotry. There is a time to demonstrate, to picket, to march; there is a time to raise hell — but prudery, intolerance, and censorship have no place in any progressive movement.
The rest of my conclusion I address to the men:
Brothers: We have work to do for our own liberation, and we must not be diverted from the struggle.
We must not let our historic oppression be trivialized. We were stoned to death by the Jews; put to the sword, castrated, and tortured by the Christians; burned at the stake by the Inquisition. We were the men with the pink triangle. We are the ones being persecuted right now in Chile, in Argentina, in Cuba, and in the United States. It is male love that has been under the most powerful taboo of all Judeo-Christian culture: an offence worse than murder, the “abominable crime,” the “unspeakable crime,” the “sin so horrible it is not to be mentioned among Christians.”
We must affirm the validity and beauty of male companionship, male friendship, and male love. We must defend our heritage.
We must recognize our enemies wherever we find them. Nobody’s ideas and nobody’s actions should be exempted from criticism.
If men and women cannot work together in the gay liberation movement in a comradely fashion, then it would be better to work separately. This would be a shame, but the lesbian movement has already become largely autonomous, and perhaps they are right.
This article was originally published on Pagan Press and is posted here with the permission of Mr. Lauritsen.