History & PoliticsGert Hekma delivered the sixteenth annual Mosse Lecture. We already published the first part, and now follows the second and last installment, for What did fifty years of gay acceptance actually bring us?
by Gert Hekma
- 02 January 2018
| length: 12 min. |
|50 Years of Gay Acceptance, From Unattainable Ideal to Inadequate Perspective|
Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
length: 12 minuten
Acceptance of erotic expression... Nowadays, I do not like the looks I get on the street. Often disapproving, rarely inviting. My quiet dream of having a chat and the possibility of a little flirting seems to be a risk rather than an option. In the past, flirting and having sex happened in public. In churches, urinals, parks, the Red Light District, the Leidsestraat, the Reguliersdwarsstraat, Warmoesstraat, in cinemas, in every situation where strangers met. Places where young men, construction workers, soldiers, sailors, those who were broke, and queens swarmed out to take a chance.
As I mentioned earlier in my lecture, in the past, there was “sexual border traffic” between homosexuals and heterosexuals. Even when Amsterdam was at its peak as “gay capital,” around 1970, the old system of street life and cottaging for gay men existed alongside a vibrant scene of bars, clubs and saunas for gays. Now the old system with that border traffic between gay and straight has become unimaginable, I hear from students. They have become each other’s foreign country.
Public situations of erotic interaction between unequals have been replaced by others that are “safe”: in bars, dark rooms, bedrooms. Gay contacts were quickly hidden from the outside to the inside, which rather became a “script,” creating a world of its own. Gay sex was dirty and depraved, but is now someone’s private business. What happens behind closed doors, remains just as dirty for outsiders. Heterosexuals accept a gay man for who he is only to the point of being approached.
“Stay away from me, take your hands off of me!” is the usual response to the idea of what might happen, from anal sex to violence. Things for which homosexuals should be warier then heterosexuals. There is a reason for gays and lesbians wearing less provoking clothes in order to avoid the dangers they fear. It is acceptance of sexual signals on the condition of an appropriate distance taken. The fear of flamboyant queens is very much alive in straight males who perhaps are less capable of looking after themselves than they think.
Open Air Joys
Controversy about cruising in the public domain are indicative of the limits to acceptance. Recently, Mayor Pieter Smit (D66) of Oldambt tried to make a gay meeting place impossible by placing fences, and when that did not work, through trainees from intermediate vocational education (MBO). “We’d rather see mushrooms than people cruising,” he said.
It is just one example of the silent struggle for gay cruising areas throughout the country, in which one party advocates cruising, and the other party stands up for “morality,” also within that very same party. It seems to me something for practical diversity education. People such as Anthony Matthijsen of Platform Keelbos deserve support for their stoic commitment to the acceptance of nearly three hundred of such cruising places in the Netherlands.
Often, heterosexuals ask why such places are necessary. Well, just because they are endangered in a world based on heterosexual norms when it comes to the use of space and public decency violations! Tension that is also playing up at Gay Prides, increasingly becoming more Straight Prides, not denouncing gay acceptance, but celebrating and simulating shamelessly.
Public Gay Culture
Ever since we have dating apps for sexual exploratory behaviour on the internet, gays do not use outdoor meeting places as much. Such places are disappearing at a rapid pace. Bookstores Intermale and Vrolijk are permanently closed, the gay corner of the American Discount no longer exists, and who remembers the Oscar Wilde business on the Spui, the gay section at Van Gennep? The COC organized dance and leather parties, and for SM lesbians there was the Wild Side. And what happened to both Thermos saunas? Mecca’s such as D.O.K., Schakel, Argos, and Cockring, to name a few, or It, Roxy, Vive-la-Vie, all gone. And what came in their place? Much less, that much is certain. Amsterdam has more visitors and less gay businesses.
We have a stronger identity but less opportunity for sexual expression outdoors. We are getting more upset about the hustle and bustle from tourists in the city centre than for the disappearance of public gay culture. It seems that gays and lesbians are more concerned with who they are and less with what they do; that they, paraphrasing Michel Foucault, prefer to surrender themselves to professionals and identity brokers than embrace new kinky possibilities. At first, gays and lesbians demanded the space and visibility, which are now on the decrease. They make themselves invisible on the streets and avoid gay bars. Bars such as Monico, Xantippe, Groningen or Blonde Saar for lesbians are gone.
There’s only ’t Mandje and Saarein left. Along with their bars, gay men and lesbians gradually disappeared from street life. If there was a leather party, you saw bare-assed teachers on the street in their fetish clothes. In the 1990s on Queen’s Day, skinheads had unapologetic sex and pissed all over each other on the Amstel, a thing of the past. Where sexual wildness is still alive, is on the Internet on Tumblr, with more perversions than I’m even familiar with.
All specializations find their place in the virtual world, but do these specializations even register in real life? Perhaps in Berlin, but hardly in an Amsterdam that is getting more and more inhibited, with its great acceptance and praising of homosexuality. Homosexuality is embraced, but certainly not sex or the excesses in public space or the Boat Parade!
I see a persistent problem with acceptance of sexuality. In 2009 I published “ABC of Perversions,” a book on sexual variations beyond GLBT that are common in the gay world, but are excluded from the GLBTI+ abbreviation muddle.
The most famous forgotten categories are BDSM, fetishism, voyeurism, piss sex or “infamous” categories, such as paedophilia, bestiality, and scat. Everyone has their own special individual preferences and fetishes. For the time being, these variations do not have a chance in the world to become part of the acceptance muddle. It is quite odd, as more people are hooked on BDSM than there are homosexuals, about ten percent compared to seven percent of the population. This also becomes evident from the success of the book and film “Fifty Shades of Grey,” popular with millions of women worldwide. Fetishists are as large in number as homosexuals according to the Rutgers Kenniscentrum, but there are probably even more than that because of their self-denial.
There are masturbants, sex workers and their clients, women who love clitoral stimulation more than coital stimulation. It is a mystery to me why the gay movement does not embrace these variations: more people, more themes. As I say in this book, perversions are ideal for thinking about sex, as they address key issues such as consent, the distinction between slave and master, pain and pleasure, object and subject, and what sexual desire and the acceptance of sex actually are and mean. Prejudices about these variations are stronger than about homosexuality, once a textbook case of perversion. People are often deeply ashamed about such preferences and are afraid to act on them or talk about them. Just like in homosexuality, all reasons for not being proud but rather ashamed of their sexual preference.
Approximately thirty-five years ago, the COC wanted to integrate paedophilia into the Equal Treatment Act, now impossible. What is COC’s answer to these major gaps in GLBT citizenship? That an activist club needs to ask for a place at the table and needs to have something to offer. The classic perversions do not qualify - an easy way out, but lacking in strategic insight. A columnist of the latest “Zij aan Zij” discusses this GLBT list and does not want to discuss sexual minorities, as the term has too many sexual connotations. It is almost a revival of the times of the homophile of the 1950s, when this word was contrived to conceal the sexual aspects of homosexuality. It shows how difficult gay sex is in our own circles. Yes, most men are gay because of the sex, not the identity. I do not think this is different for lesbians.
Fear of Sex
The COC is even considering replacing the term GLBTI with Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and Gender Expression and Gender Characteristics. Sex once, gender thrice. Three times nothing, I would think. As if sexual orientation would not lead to sexual expression.
Being a homosexual remains an empty shell as long as content is missing. There is freedom of speech and sexual acts in the Netherlands, with some exceptions. I have to repeat it over and over again: Say it, Live it, Do it. There is as little wrong with homosexuality as there is with sexual variations as long as nothing is done against someone’s will or when a person is powerless. Morally, they are as good or wrong as heterosexuality, and do not even have to lead to expression. Young people today come out of a closet at an earlier and earlier age and know what they want when it comes to sex.
Let the gay movement become more open-minded, and discuss the variations they now exclude in the realm of sexual citizenship and sex education. The idea is that when you give lessons on perversions, you sanction them by doing so. Nonsense: it is about knowledge and experience.
Fear of sex is typical of a country that calls itself sexually tolerant, but is not tolerant at all. I taught foreign students how to decondition themselves and helped them discover that their idea of tolerance is misplaced.
While acceptance as such is on the decline, our troubles continue. There are issues when it comes to family rights, gender, sex in public, gay cruising spaces, perversions, and bars disappearing.
On young gays and lesbians that are busy coming out of a closet that heterosexuals were never in. Gays and lesbians have more psychological problems that other Dutchmen and women. Violent acts are committed against gays and lesbians of all colours because of their preferences - which does not happen to heterosexuals all that often. Rumours of gay bashing seldom come to court. Sex work and sex tourism continue to be seen as abuse of and trafficking in women. In short - What kind of acceptance do we really want?
Political Acceptance and Cultural Education
I see two perspectives on gay acceptance: on the one hand, as promoted by many people and the COC, an emancipation struggle for political equality, inclusiveness, diversity, to be who you are and want to be. Out and proud. This is important, but not if this results in normalisation, adjustment and cultural emptiness. In that case, acceptance becomes an inadequate perspective, a threadbare banner. Such a commitment to gay acceptance is no commitment to gay culture, the day-to-day gay existence. It will not be reduced to normalisation. Adjustment? Yech! I prefer revolt, deviation, alternative living.
Gay acceptance that is about equality, yes please! But acting normal just to be equal, no! The situation will not improve if gay youths claim to be “straight acting” or “just” lesbian. Confirming with heterosexual norms willingly, subjecting themselves to what Etienne de la Boetie once called “voluntary slavery” and what George Mosse called “respectability” and “normality,” and avoid the issues we just discussed. As far as I’m concerned, this kind of gay acceptance should remain a foot note in gay history.
I conclude my litany on the degeneration of an unreachable ideal to an inadequate perspective with a more encouraging notion of a new reality that leaves the old behind and surpasses it. The Rooie Flikkers (Red Faggots) and all sorts of creative groups and individuals in my life gave me the resilience for which I remain grateful. Acceptance of erotic pleasure, a sexual culture that is not affected by heterosexuality (all about coitus and monogamy) requires permanent revolt, not permanent adaptation.
The Art of Homosexualities
Normality is not there for acceptance – it needs to be challenged! We were not raised in a gay friendly household and were stuck with a heteronormative upbringing. Thus, whole generations of homosexuals, despite tolerance, are ignorant of the best of homosexuality because of their disadvantage of being second-rate citizens. Much still needs to be done: self-acceptance through art and knowledge of gay life, finding the threads of gay history that connect the past, present and future, of which the young Komrij spoke.
The Rooie Flikkers gave a radical twist to both the acceptance and the art of homosexuality. Markies de Sade, Dada, Situationists, Fluxus, Provo, feminism, underground and improvisation offered inspiration. Trash, on the other hand, was patriarchy, the Christian dog, the status quo, and politically correct drivel. Long ago, Sade indicated that getting rid of old forms leads to new forms, with new people and wishes.
Is one better off with gay acceptance by adapting and acting normal or through rebellion and redevelopment of a heteronormative culture? The answer was obvious to Red Faggots and students. They did not seek acceptance by adapting to the status quo, no equality, but difference, new forms of activism, re-assessments through art and knowledge of gay culture. Not because it is better, but because it is a basic need and an enrichment.
I think of loners, such as Gerrit Komrij, Johan Goossens, queer logger Ad Schuring, Fabiola, the duo Yo de Bo and Andrea van Pol or Ton of Holland and Dennis Koot and organizations such as Club Church, Trut, Saarein, Secret Garden, the Kanjerclub, Sex on Sunday, the Secret Society of Perverse Literature, Queering the Collections. And there are many more.
The question is not whether you are homosexual, but what kind of homosexual, what you make of your life as a homosexual. In short, the art of being a homosexual, or “l’art des Homosexualités,” which is ignored by that other acceptance perspective.
With their gay experiments, the Red Faggots turned the status quo upside down, crossing the line of general acceptance with unprecedented provocation, celebrating freedom while spurring homosexuality on.
Gay acceptance, an unreachable ideal, an insufficient perspective? Yes! Acceptance as such is not enough for people. They need culture, sexual boldness. That is what makes a person happy. My benchmark is the commitment to gay culture. Gay acceptance is silver, gay culture is golden. A gold mine for the mind.
Gay Studies gave me more knowledge, leading to more dreams. This, in turn, has made me a happy person. Not at the University of Amsterdam anymore, I will use my new-found freedom to get art and knowledge of gay life out of the closet. “Es geht nicht ohne,” George Mosse would have said.
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