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Collective Statement

This is a socialist journal edited by gay men. We have a

two fold aim in producing this magazine. First, we hope
to contribute towards a marxist analysis of homosexual
oppression. Secondly, we want to encourage in the gay
movement an understanding of the links between the struggle against sexual oppression and the struggle for socialism.

The Gay Movement

Our common framework is our experience of the gay
liberation movement. We have all benefited from our
involvement in the movement, particularly from its two
unifying elements: the emphasis on honesty and openness
in our gayness (coming out); and gay pride, with its
combination of solidarity and togetherness. The gay movement that arose in the early 1970s stressed these new
values in opposition both to straight society and to the gay
subculture that had arisen in the interstices of that society,
and which was, in effect, a ghetto defined by straight
values. 'Out of the closets and into the streets' had a real
meaning in challenging gay people's acceptance of heterosexual society's definition of them. But once these new
insights were absorbed the movement lost its coherence.
The counter-culture emphasis which dominated the early
movement stressed personal change as the key to social
change and the elimination of sexism. The emphasis was
on awareness groups, consciousness-raising groups, political
drag, communes and dropping out. But the power structures of society were left completely untouched, and the
lives of the majority of gay people were left completely
unchanged by the sweet smells of incense, inspiration and
home-baked bread. There was no realistic recognition of
the ways in which sexuality is moulded to serve the needs
of society. And, as a result, the G.L.M. was characterized
by extreme fragmentation and/or reformist policies. It is
pointless lamenting the sense of purpose of the early days,
even to try to recreate it. Nostalgia is the enemy of progress. Radical gay analysis must start with the movement
as it is, and for this reason we start with the most public
manifestation of the gay movement ; its press.

The Gay Press

The popular gay press, which includes magazines, periodicals and newspapers, has proliferated in the last five years.
Some understanding of the purpose of this press will go
some way to explaining why we feel the need for a new
journal. The gay press is largely related to, and dependent
on, the expansion of the gay, and largely male, subculture.
This subculture itself has two functions ; it acts primarily,
and with most value, as a focus of identity for gay people
who can within it begin to achieve a community ; but,
secondly, it creates this community within the confines of
capitalist values. Its success depends upon exploiting existing stereotype sexual attitudes and seeks to institutionalize
the gay subculture without making any attempt to challenge either the basic family unit or the sexual roles necessary for its survival.
Parts of the gay press have been concerned solely with
serving a gay market. Such periodicals as Him or Line

Up act as a vehicle for the exchange of goods and services

in that market, devoting a large amount of space to contact ads.
By far the most popular and successful gay newspaper
is Gay News which first appeared three years ago. Its
attempts to raise gay consciousness through a fairly concerted emphasis on civil rights, are, however, circumscribed
by its dependence on the gay commercial market for its
continued existence. The result is that while championing
'gay rights', it nevertheless fails to challenge sexist stereotypes in its advertising and personal contact ads. These
seemingly contradictory aspects of Gay News have the
effect of co-opting a rising gay consciousness into capitalist
values and structures.
At present, gay activists who need the subculture for
community and identity, but reject its values and lack of
political awareness, have no press focus. From 1972-4, the
Gay Marxist journal was an attempt to meet this need by
acting as a forum for discussion of radical gay arguments.
However, the journal had no clear editorial policy or
political base. It accepted articles, not only from marxists
but also from anti-marxists and reactionaries, and it finally
failed through lack of purpose and direction. Our journal
is seeking to meet the needs of radical gays by providing
a forum for discussion. We plan to work within a clearly
expressed collective policy which will be reflected in the
articles selected to be published.

The Collective
As a group of gay men we believe it necessary to work
out a marxist theory of sexuality. As gays, we have each
been forced into examining why heterosexual society
abuses, reviles and persecutes us. Each of us has come to
realize that this oppression is linked with the role of the
family and the subjection of women. These in turn are,
we believe, related to the capitalist system of production.
By working . together, developing our understanding of
capitalism and sharing our experiences of intolerance, we
will attempt to draw the links between the family, the
oppression of women and gay people, and the class structure of society.
The present collective, which has for some time been
meeting regularly, decide for the time being at least, that
we could best explore our sexist attitudes most truthfully,
in an all-male group.

Where We Stand
The women's movement was the first, historically, to
pose the need to confront sexism. Sexism is the discrimination against people on the grounds of their gender or
sexual orientation ; it is the stereotype expectation of what
women and men should be or do. The anti-sexist struggle
was a major part of the early gay liberation movement.
This developed out of the contradictions of a society which
proclaimed the 'sexual revolution' but limited sexual freedom to the young, the pretty, the heterosexual. The early
Gay Liberation Front proclaimed that sexism and the
resulting oppression of women and gays was so endemic

to society that it could only be obliterated by a transformation of society. But this was a statement more on the level
of moral exhortation than of scientific analysis. As a group
we feel the need for a materialist analysis of sexual
oppression and hope that this journal will contribute to
that end.
It seems clear to us that sexism is generated and perpetuated in the family unit. In capitalist society the family
has a two-fold function: economic and ideological.
Firstly, the sharp polarization of male/female roles in
the family, with the male role dominant in production, the
female subordinate in the home or secondary labour
market, serves the economic needs of capitalism. The
system of domestic production, centred in the home, and
integrating all members of the family into it, was replaced
during the early part of the nineteenth century by the
growth of factory production which tore the worker from
the home.
The then existing role differentiation between men and
women sharpened during this early factory period as male
workers became the dominant wage earners and women,
being responsible for child-care in the home, and earning
only half the equivalent male wage when working, were
forced into the roles of housewife, mother and secondary
labourer. Because the factory system made families entirely dependent on wages, the work done by women in the
home, which didn't earn a wage, tended to be seen as
valueless. Similarly, the fact that women earned less as
workers, tended to reinforce their subservient economic
and social position relative to men.
The needs of the factory system were met by this subservient position of women because they provided a pool of
cheap labour that could be drawn on when needed, e.g.,
during periods of economic expansion and easily discarded
when employment shrank. The production of domestic
work, i.e. the raising and care of workers, was ensured
without being a drain on the profits of the workplace.
The present ideological framework of male and female
roles can therefore be seen as a manifestation of the
particular sexual division of labour which arose as a
consequence of the growing dominance of industrial
Secondly, the family has an ideological role, both in
perpetuating the class position of its members (the female's
class position is always defined by that of her husband) and
in defining the subordination of the woman, economically,
socially and emotionally, to the man. It claims as natural
what has been socially created and moulds the emotions to
serve the sexually created gender expectations. In the process it rejects homosexuals, transvestites, transexuals:
people who do not conform to the social expectations that
are needed to perpetuate the capitalist economy. Whatever
the ideological forms it takes (the religious one of 'sin', the
medical one of 'sickness') ultimately gay oppression is a
result of the demands made on the family by a capitalist

The Way Forward

Sexual oppression cannot be destroyed under the capitalist system, though no doubt local victories may well be
won. It is essential, therefore, for us as gay people, to
begin to link our oppression to the wider system of exploitation and oppression that capitalism operates. But at the
same time, the question of sexuality must he confronted by
the self-defined revolutionary left and by the labour movement generally. Many of them still fail to see sexism as
having a materialist basis ; or they believe that sexual
orientaton is biological and immutable instead of being a
result of social conditioning. Some revolutionary groups
argue that sexism will disappear after the revolution,
accepting its presence now but failing to understand how
it forces gays and women to conform to sexist roles and
consequently prevents us from rejecting the values connected with those roles which are intrinsic to capitalism.
Part of our task in relation to the revolutionary left is to
expand the discussion of sexuality which occurred pre-1914
in the works of Engels, Kollontai and Zetkin. This task
has been taken up and developed in the women's movement which is the main force posing the relationship
between sexism and capitalism.
As revolutionary gays we realize that a socialist revolution can only be made by the working class. It has great
strength but is held in check by a reformist leadership, and
Gay Left 2

fragmented by regional and craft differences. Areas such as

women's and gay oppression have been largely ignored in
the labour movement. We therefore support gay caucuses
in the Trade Unions and rank and file movements. But it
is only in the context of building a revolutionary movement committed to fighting against both sexism and capitalism that there is any real hope of achieving gay liberation.
We do not approach the revolutionary left with a ready
made analysis, nor do we expect to be presented with one.
By developing marxist theory and practice in the ways we
have suggested we can strengthen and enrich the revolutionary tradition. We would agree with Juliet Mitchell
when she wrote in Women's Estate that :
The oppressed consciousness of all groups contributes to
the nature of socialist ideologyif any oppressed awareness is missing from its formation that is its loss.
We intend this journal to contribute to the development
of a broader socialist analysis.

Editorial Note
In the first issue of Gay Left members of the collective
have contributed nearly all the articles. We have attempted
to explore sexual politics from a revolutionary point of
view and hope that in future we will receive a response on
the part of the gay community and particularly from those
members who are socialists.
In one way we feel that this issue has not completely
fulfilled our aims. There are no articles on lesbianism or
female sexuality. We realize that the oppression of gay
people is intrinsically bound together with the oppression
of women, but this first issue inevitably relates to our own
experiences as gay men.
In future issues we would like women, either as individuals or in collectives, to contribute their own articles
to the magazine. Only by these sorts of exchanges can we
all work for an understanding of our position as gay men
and women who are socialists.
We ask for articles, reviews, letters, notes of meetings,
relevant press cuttings, etc. from all gay socialists, men or
women. The only proviso, which we as a collective have
hammered out, is that we will not publish any main articles which directly subvert the editorial policies. That is to
say, we will not publish articles which are anti-Marxist,
anti-socialist, anti-feminist or anti-gay.
Members of the Gay Left collective are:

Keith Birch, Gregg Blachford, Bob Cant, Emmanuel

Cooper, Ross Irwin, R. Kincaid, Angus Suttie, Jeffrey
Weeks, Nigel Young.

Where Engels Feared to Tread. Jeffrey Weeks
Gays and the Trade Union Movement. Bob Cant
Gays in Cuba. Keith Birch
The Case of John Warburton. Nigel Young
Coming Out Politically. R. Kincaid
CHE in Close Up. Emmanuel Cooper
Gay Workers' Conference. Gregg Blachford
Document. David Widgery
Book Reviews

Gay Left Collective

Published by Gay Left Collective,
c/o 36a Craven Road, London W2.
Typesetting by Finsbury Park Typesetters Ltd,
London N4.
Printed by SW Litho.


Where Engels Feared to Tread

By Jeffrey Weeks
A socialist involved in the gay movement has to look two
ways: to the movement itself, which is fragmented,
generally civil rights oriented, and often apolitical (C.H.E.
is 'the biggest club in Europe') ; and to the labour and
socialist movements, which have, over the past fifty years
or so, almost completely ignored sexual matters. On the
reformist wing of the labour movement the struggle for
sexual freedom has been seen as a matter of `individual
conscience' ; amongst the revolutionary groups, where
the issue has been raised at all, it is generally seen as a
'personal' matter, irrelevant to the wider class struggle.
The gay socialist, therefore, has a complex task: on the
one hand, to attempt to convince the socialist groups of the
relevance and significance of the struggle for gay
liberation ; and, on the other, to convince the gay
movement of the necessity of combining the struggle for
sexual freedom with the struggle of the working class for
The gay liberation movement of the early 1970s made
two theoretical gains which are worth re-emphasizing :
first, the recognition that 'personal' issues are political,
in the clear sense that personalities, and sexual
personalities, are moulded by social forces ; secondly, that
the struggle for personal liberation can only be successful
by a common involvement of 'all oppressed peoples'.
The trouble with these statements was that they remained
on the level of moral exhortations rather than becoming
analytical tools which needed development ; and as the
movement lost its original utopian clarity, they were
reduced to pious platitudes.
Where Marxism differs from other socialist theories is
in its conviction that capitalist society has produced social
movements which must struggle against capitalism in
order to achieve economic, social and personal justice.
Socialism, therefore, becomes not a blueprint for the
millenium but a necessary product of the struggle of the
working class and oppressed peoples to throw off their
shackles. The last few years or so have shown that many of
the original aims of gay liberation can be achieved this
side of socialism, through the conscious intervention of
gay people themselves, pushing at the slackening bar of,
nineteenth century bourgeois morality. But there is still
no evidence that the root of gay oppression, the sharp
gender expectations enshrined in the family, will he tackled
by a late capitalist society manifestly disintegrating. It is
this awareness that justifies gay socialists campaigning to
draw gays, women and men, into the struggle against
capitalism. But this having been said, the revolutionary
socialist grouplets, with one or two tokenistic exceptions,
have hitherto shown remarkably little interest in taking
up the issue. This is not a failure of 'real' socialists to
take up a 'peripheral' matter. It is a result of a total
inability of revolutionary groups to break out of a long
economistic tradition. It represents, above all, a theoretical
failure to grasp that a ruling class perpetuates itself not
only through the economic and ideological forms of
exploitation and oppression, but also through the
character structures, the emotional formations, of its
members. Certain issues, particularly male/female sexual
relations and characteristics, are implicitly seen as beyond
ti me and history, not subject to historical processes and
social transformation. This misconception is rooted in the
development of Marxist theory, but at the same time it is
the Marxist awareness of historical processes which
provides the key to broaden the theory. This historical
narrowness is particularly obvious in the case of
homosexuality. To remedy it we must begin to cut a
pathway through tangled woods ... where Engels feared
to tread.

Engels et al
The starting point for our exploration must lie in the
works of Marx and Engels, and Engel's Origin of the
Family is the locus classicus for the search. This work
begins with the absolutely essential precondition for a
Marxist analysis, the assumption that the sexual division
of labour, between men and women, and the historical
supremacy of men over women, has a material base, is

rooted in the mode of production. He then makes a second

assumption: that the relationship he sees in the bourgeois
family, with the male's supremacy based on his economic
position in a commodity producing economy, and his
desire to ensure uncontested inheritance of his property,
can be pushed back to the origins of class society. The
overthrow of mother right and the growth of a social
surplus controlled by men coincided with the `world
historic defeat of the female sex'. Whatever the historical
validity of this, a logical deduction follows from it : that
only on the basis of women's full re-introduction into
social labour on equal terms with men will their liberation
be achieved.
`The predominance of the man in marriage,' Engels
wrote, `is simply a consequence of his economic
predominance and will vanish with it automatically.' (1)
' Automatically': behind this simple word are a number
of assumptions which have persisted throughout Marxist
1. Firstly, there is a clear assumption of the 'natural',
biological basis of social roles. The sexual division of
labour between men and womenwith the women
primarily responsible for child careis not questioned.
It only assumes oppressive qualities, we must understand
from Engels, with the development of private property,
and he seems to believe that under socialism the family
will embody a traditional division of labour, even though
many of the family's previous functions will be socialised.
2. Secondly, as a corollary of this, there is an inevitable
bias towards heterosexuality. Marx and Engels inherited
from the utopian socialists a classically romantic belief
in the all-embracing nature of true love between men
and women:
`our sex love has a degree of intensity and duration
which make both lovers feel that non possession and
separation are a great, if not the greatest calamity ; to
possess one another they risk high stakes, even life
This sex love has been distorted by commodity production,
but will flourish on a higher plane under socialism so that
` monogamy, instead of collapsing, (will) at last become a
Homosexuality is consequently abhorred, its expressions
seen as 'gross, unnatural vices'. Its manifestations are
seen as symptoms of the failure of sex love and the
degradation of women, so that, for example, in ancient
`this degradation of women was avenged on the men and
degraded them also, till they fell into the abominable
practice of sodomy and degraded alike their gods and
themselves with the myth of Ganymede'.(4)
It would have been extraordinary in the early 1880s if
Engels had thought otherwise. It reveals, however, a failure
to explore the social and historical determinants of sexual
and emotional behaviour which underlines another key
3. Engels seems to believe that sexual oppression can be
directly deduced from economic exploitation, and without
which it would disappear. As a result his outline of the
family is bare and external, bones without flesh. He
assumes that the 'personal' is natural and given, and that
once the constraints of a society dominated by the pursuit
of profit are removed private life would spontaneously
adjust itself to a higher stage of civilisation. There is no
concept, that is, of the need for conscious struggle to
transform inter-personal relations as part of the
transformations necessary for the construction of a
socialist society.
Within the socialist movements of the Second
International (1889 to c1914) Engels work was treated not
as the starting point but as the last word. The key to
women's emancipation was seen as entry into the work
force, so that the women's struggle was related directly to
the class struggle. Women's domestic labour was left
unanalysed, as was the nature of 'personal' life, and
particularly female sexuality. In his conversations with
Clara Zetkin Lenin lashes her for allowing German
women's groups to spend evenings discussing 'sex and
marriage problems': 'I could not believe my ears when
I heard that.(5) It is worth adding that even in 1975, when
a British Trotskyist group seeks to raise the women's issue,
it quotes this very sentence as if it were the height of
wisdom, ignoring the specific context and its general
Gay Left 3

irrelevance to the modern women's movement. (6)

Nevertheless, as a result of this emphasis, questions of sex
were relegated to the arena of 'personal freedom' where
they have remained to this day.

Homosexual Rights
However, although never integrated into Marxist theory,
demands for homosexual law reform were taken up by a
number of socialists in the period c1890 to 1930in
Germany, Britain and the USSR. We must be clear about
the basis on which this was done.
The last couple of decades of the nineteenth century saw
a tightening up on the restrictions against homosexuality
in many leading capitalist countries, and particularly in
Germany and Britain. The notorious Paragraph 175 of
the German penal code, and the 1885 Labouchere
amendment in England had the function of controlling
male homosexual behaviour and of more sharply defining
the acceptable heterosexual male role: as W. T. Stead
said in the wake of the Oscar Wilde trial 'the male is
sacrosanct ; the female is fair game'.(7) The result on the
part of liberal reformers, and increasingly on the part of
some homosexuals themselves, was a campaign to change
the law and public opinion. This had two overlapping
aspects: the political campaign to support change in the
penal codes ; and a theoretical attempt to conceptualise
homosexuality. In both respects, Germans were in the
vanguard, with Magnus Hirschfeld as the dominant figure ;
the German gay movement found a more muted response
in England, with individuals such as Edward Carpenter
and Havelock Ellis as the most prominent publicists.
Theoretically the aim was to prove that homosexuality was
not a sin, nor properly a sickness, and therefore ought not
to be a crime. It was seen, in Havelock Ellis's word, as
an anomoly, based on biological variation, while
Hirschfeld (and Carpenter) preferred to see homosexuals
as forming an 'intermediate sex'. The important point to
note is that except on the fringes of the movement no
attempt was made to question existing definitions of
gender roles. On the contrary, the existence of
homosexuals was not used to challenge gender concepts
but to confirm them. The political consequence of this
was to place the debate on the level of civil rights for a
sexual minority who could not help being what they were.
This in turn demanded an orientation to law reform, and
,gaining maximum support for pressure to be brought on
the appropriate legislating bodies. Oscar Wilde had
' Nothing but the repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment
Act would do any good. That is the essential. It is not so
much public opinion as public officials that need
This sort of approach led to a consistent attempt to
present an ultra-respectable image for gay people.
Hirschfeld admitted that he had played down pederasty
for fear of delaying law reform, and both he and Ellis
in Britain created in their studies a clear image of the
upright and moral character of their male homosexual
subjects. A consequence, of course was to a large extent
the ignoring of lesbianism, which was not subject to legal
penalties, although the subject did become a matter of
public controversy later (e.g. during The Well of
Loneliness case in Britain). Further, because of the
emphasis on law reform efforts had to be made to
maximise cross class support, and hence a real reluctance
to commit the campaign to a clear political position.
Hirschfeld himself was a supporter of the (then) Marxist
Social Democratic Party and his earliest political support
had come from this quarter. Edward Bernstein, before
his revisionist heresies, contributed an important analysis
of the material base of bourgeois sexual hypocrisy in the
wake of the Wilde trial ; and August Bebel, a founder of
the S.D.P., gave his support in the Reichstag to law
reform.(9) He seems to have found Hirschfeld's campaign
too apolitical, in fact, and urged him to go further in
mobilising support in the early 1900s. By 1912 Hirschfeld's
Scientific-Humanitarian Committee came out for a more
consistently political commitment. They issued an
advertisement just before the 1912 election as follows:
' Third Sex : Consider This! In the Reichstag, on May 31,
1905, members of the Centre, the Conservatives, and the
Economic Alliance spoke against you .. but for you
the orators of the Left! Agitate and vote accordingly!'
Gay Left 4

This is posed as a tactical rather than a strategic alliance,

but it reflected a real balance of opinion. The S.D.P.ers
had given consistent support to repeal of Para 175 in the
Reichstag from 1897 onwards, and after the split in the
international workers' movement following the Russian
Revolution, the revolutionary tradition as embodied in the
Communist Party continued to do so, at least till 1930.
In May 1928, in reply to a questionnaire, it stated:
'the CP has taken a stand for the repeal of Para 175 at
every available opportunity.'
However, despite this left wing support, Para 175 was not
repealed, and the campaign to change the law was
eventually swamped in the descent into fascism after 1930.
Seen as a secondary issue, it was never given priority in a
period of economic turmoil.
As in Germany, it was generally the liberals and
socialists who favoured reform of the law in Britain, but
no large scale campaign to change the 1885 Act was to
emerge until the post Wolfenden period in the 1950s. And
although Edward Carpenter, perhaps the most persistent
propagandist of the gay cause at the beginning of the
century, was deeply respected in the labour movement, his
views on homosexuality were treated with indifference.
A dialogue he had with Robert Blatchford, editor of the
socialist paper The Clarion, in the early 1890s illustrates
the problem. Blatchford defended Carpenter, and urged
readers to study his works on women. But when Carpenter
wrote to Blatchford in late 1893 suggesting that he write
on sexual matters, the latter replied:
'I am radical but ... the whole subject is nasty to me.'
And in a further letter he wrote:
' Now, you speak of writing things about sexual matters,
and say that these are subjects which socialists must face.
Perhaps you are right ; but I cannot quite see with you.'
To justify this he put forward arguments which still
enjoy currency :
1. That reform of sexual relations would follow
industrial and economic change.
2. If this is so, then anything which inhibited economic
change would also hinder sexual change. And as sex
reform was unpopular, it would be best not to raise it at
3. 'I think that the accomplishment of the industrial
change will need all our energies and will consume all
the years we are likely to live.' As a result, sex reform will,
'not concern us personally, but can only concern the
next generation."(10)
Blatchford's mechanistic position was not untypical, and
went with an unholy worship of the family and the British
imperial mission ; it rehearses all the common prejudices
still heard on the revolutionary left. Carpenter's views on
sex, convinced as he was of the moral superiority of the
intermediate sex, bearers of a 'cosmic consciousness',
hardly fitted comfortably into British socialism. A more
typical position was that put forward by the Marxist
philosopher, Belfort Bax, who questioned whether,
'morality has anything at all to do with a sexual act,
committed by the mutual consent of two adult
individuals, which is productive of no offspring, and
which on the whole concerns the welfare of nobody but
the parties themselves.'
This is the classically liberal argument for toleration, and
it has been the most typical 'progressive' view on the left.(11)
This was pre-eminently the case in Bolshevik Russia.
Penal restrictions on homosexual acts were removed in
1918 along with the legalisation of abortion and
contraception, the liberalisation of divorce etc. These have
been seen by Wilhelm Reich as the harbingers of sexual
revolution brought in on the wings of the social.(12) But in
actuality it must be doubted whether these legal gains
ever amounted to more than a formal acceptance of the
most advanced bourgeois theories, given the enormous
social backwardness of the Soviet population. Little was
done to positively encourage social acceptance of
homosexuality, and although throughout the 1920s Soviet
laws were regarded as models for the rest of Europe, no
theoretical advances were made. The impact of the
reforms was probably not deeply rooted by the time the
reactionary Stalinist juggernaut overtook them in the
To sum up these strands of evidence, it is clear that the
gay question was raised in the ranks of the left,
particularly in Germany, and formal support to legal

equality was often given in varying degrees. But the issue

was never seen as a vital one because it was never posed
as a challenge to orthodox views of gender roles.

The question was always seen as one of individual civil
rights, and the civil rights argument is the one that is most
consistently being taken up again in the modern socialist
tendencies as they find it necessary to respond to the gay
liberation movement. But the view that has dominated
Marxist orthodoxy since the 1930s is that of
homosexuality as a bourgeois deviation and decadence.
There are two overlapping sources for this. The first is the
Stalinist counter revolution in the Soviet Union in the
1930s, which subordinated all aspects of personal
freedom to the priorities of production as determined by
a parasitic bureaucracy. The strengthening of the family
was seen as a necessary part of this, and with it went the
revocation of most of the legal gains of the early
revolutionary period. In March 1934 homosexuality again
became a criminal offence in the U.S.S.R.(13) It was
specifically defined as a product of 'decadence in the
bourgeois sector of society' and a 'fascist perversion'.
The apparent rampant homosexuality of the upper
echelons of the Nazi party was used as one element in
justification. In fact, Hirschfeld's books had already been
burnt in Nazi Germany, and almost simultaneously with
Stalin's clamp down the Roehm purge (the 'night of the
long knives') inaugurated a new wave of terror against
German gays. The fascist counter-revolution of the 1930's
took homosexuals as one of its categories of scapegoats.
But because of the central role of Stalinism in the world
communist movement there was no challenge to this sexual
counter-revolution in the various C.P.'s. A belief in
homosexuality as a bourgeois decadence survives in many
of the Stalinist Parties to this day.
The second source is closely intertwined with the first
and stems from a particular interpretation of the psychoanalytical tradition. This sets up a norm of heterosexual
`genital sexuality' as the height of sexual relations, and
homosexuality is seen as a falling from this. The work of
Wilhelm Reich is the locus for much of this attitude.
Juliet Mitchell has shown the way in which his values were
a reaction against the decadence of pre-Nazi Berlin :
With chronic unemployment the mass of the people had
little left to sell but their bodies. It is against this
bourgeois decadence and working class wretchedness that
the moral tone of Reich's sexual theories must be set
his predilection for hetero and healthy sexuality, his wish
for men to be men and women, women.'(14)
Reich was clearly trapped within gender stereotypes, but
his view of heterosexual fucking as the height of sexual
health recurred again in the early counter culture of the
1960s, which, at first at least, was extremely hostile to
gay sexuality. In the case of Reich it came from an
inability to historicise the question of sexuality, which,
following nineteenth century convention he saw as a fixed
quantity of energy. However, in his attemptnot the last
by any meansto synthesise the works of Marx and
Freud he had little guidance in the classical Marxist texts.

In the coming period of economic turmoil and class
conflict it is quite possible that Marxist tendencies will
again fail to respond to the questions of so called 'personal
politics' with the seriousness they demand. David
Thorstad's experiences in the American Socialist Workers'
Party (S.W.P.) has shown clearly the limits of even an
apparently 'sympathetic' Trotskyist group. Its policy, he
wrote :
`reduced the gay liberation struggle to a struggle for gay
rights ; it refused to see it as a struggle against the
exclusive heterosexual norm of capitalist society, as a
struggle for a society in which the suppressed homosexual
potential of everybody could be liberated.' (15)
Compared with the refusal of various British socialist
tendencies to contemplate even . a. gay rights position, this
might seem an advance. But a Marxist analysis of sexuality
cannot stand still on outmoded positions, which have
been superseded by the self activity of gay people
themselves. However understandable the narrowness of
Trotskyist groups in particular when seen in the historic
context of capitalist and Stalinist terror, they have a duty

now to realise the potential fullness of Marxist theory.

As Thorstad's article suggests, a Marxist analysis must
begin with an awareness of the function of the bourgeois
family in defining rigid gender roles, and in delimiting the
expression of sexuality. The women's movement and the
gay movement have made considerable theoretical strides
in exploring these areas, but the understanding of sexuality
as such, and its social determinants, is as yet in its infancy.
However, as a document in the S.W.P. controversy made
very clear :
'The ultimate impact and appeal of the gay liberation
movement can only be understood on the basis of the
fact that it involves a struggle not merely for the rights
of a presently constituted minority who are defined as
gay, but for an end to the built in need of capitalist
society to suppress homosexual behaviour in all of its
It is in such an analysis that we can begin to see the
inter-connection between the 'personal' and the 'political'.
And their merger into a common revolutionary practice
is a task for the immediate, not the post revolutionary

Notes and references

1 F. Engels, quoted in Eli Zaretsky, Capitalism, the

Family, and Personal Life (A Canadian Dimension
Pamphlet) P 70. This is a very useful study of the
question. A slightly different version of the translation of
this quote can be found in Engels, The Origin of the
Family, Private Property and the State edited by Eleanor
Burke Leacock (Lawrence and Wishart) P 145. I have
generally used this edition for quotations.
2 Engels, Origins, P 140.
3 Engels, op cit.
4 Ibid P 128.
5 Lenin, On the Emancipation of W omen (Progress
Publishers, Moscow) P 101.
6 See Socialist Press No. 7 (published by the Workers'
Socialist League) May 1, 1975 P 5.
I understand that this quote has also been bandied about
in debates in the International Marxist Group.
7 Quoted in H. Montgomery Hyde, The Other Love
( Mayflower Books 1970) P 169.
8 Ibid.
9 The sources for the following information are: John
Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual
Rights Movement (Times Change Press, 1974) ; and the
articles by Jim Steakly in Body Politic Nos 9, 10, 11, on
the early German gay movement.
10 The source of this information is the Edward
Carpenter Collection in Sheffield City Library ; see
particularly the letter from Blatchford to Carpenter
dated 11 Jan 1894.
11 Belfort Bax, Ethics of Socialism, P 126.
12 See W. Reich, The Sexual Revolution.
13 Ibid. See also Zaretsky, op cit P 76.
14 Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism (Allen
Lane 1974), P 141.
15 David Thorstad, 'Gays vs SWP', Gay Liberator No 42.

Gay Left 5

Gays and the Trade Union

By Bob Cant
The idea of gay work in the Trade Unions seems to many
people absurd and irrelevant. Traditionally, most gays in
this society have accepted the division of life into private
and public, home and work, and they have been only too
keen to conceal their homosexuality from the people they
work with. When the gay movement was at its height
there was a strong spontaneist element in it which tended
to be opposed to work but which, more importantly, saw
the Trade Unions as part of the anti-gay mafia which
included the family, the education system, the media, the
bosses, the police and so on.
Now the situation is somewhat different in that many
more gays are no longer prepared to hide their
homosexuality and the economic situation does not really
allow for the existence of a free-wheeling-peace-and-lovelet's-all-make-love-in-the-streets-mass-gay-movement.
As I see it, most gays who have been influenced by the
movement are working in jobs which they do not wish to
lose ; their social life is likely to be more open and
fulfilling than it would have been several years ago but
they still feel a great deal of unease and/ or oppression
at work about how far it is possible to express their
It is as an expression of this unease/oppression that
groups of gay workers have been formed in the past two
years. Many of these have been among workers whose
job actually makes their sexuality an issue such as teachers,
social workers, journalists. But there have been other
attempts to form gay groups , among workers whose
sexuality would not seem to be so immediately important
to their jobsuch as printworkers. It is interesting that
those gays whose jobs have a strong ideological role tend
to have formed themselves into groups outside their
unions whereas the others tend to relate much more closely
to their union. No doubt, this is a reflection on the lower
level of union consciousness which exists among the more
middle-class, white-collar workers. But it also raises
questions about the nature of trade unionism.
Many people see trade unions simply as bodies which
negotiate wages with employers. But this is, of course, a
very narrow interpretation and also one which suits the
employers. Increasingly, the union comes to be identified
with the negotiatorsi.e. usually full-time appointed
officialsand the worker adopts an apathetic, passive
attitude to his membership. Revolutionary socialists argue
that the union is much more than this, that the
membership of the union must be actively involved in
decision making, that officials must be regularly elected
and recallable by the members and that the union should
protect the workers in all aspects of their lives.
In the early decades of this century British Trade
Unionists did, on occasions, act to protect their members
and their communities in such a way. The fact that unions
have now declined to the extent where they are seen as
bodies for the negotiation of wages for mostly white,
mostly male, mostly heterosexual workers is just one of
the effects of social democracy on our society. The only
people to benefit from this are the capitalist class.

Nature of Trade Unionism

Let us take the issue of rents, for example. Revolutionary
socialists would argue that this is an issue which is basic
to the living standards of the working class whereas most
Trade Union officials would now argue that it was outside
their realm of interest. But in Glasgow in 1915 the rentstrike there was won only with the vital support of the
trade unions. Many men were away fighting in the First
World War and the resistance to the enormous rent
increases was organized by women led by Mrs. Barbour.
They seemed to be winning when the landlords struck on
a device whereby they could have the increases deducted
from wages. At this point, the workers from the factories
and shipyards came out on strike. The landlords' scheme
crumbled and the Government was forced to introduce a
Rent Restriction Act.
Gay Left 6

Compare this with the attitude of the Trade Unions to

the rent strike in 1972/3 by the tenants of Tower Hill,
Kirkby. When two of the leading strikers were imprisoned
the only unions who took any action were from one paper
factory. The rent strike was defeated through the failure
of local Trade Unions to understand their wider role as
protectors of the working class. They ignored the fact that
unions as the most powerful form of working class
organization have a responsibility to protect less powerful
sections of the same class.
In recent years, however, there have been signs of
change in this attitude among rank and file trade unionists.
In July of last year 1,000 miners from Swansea came
out on strike in support of the nurses' pay claim for they
saw, quite clearly, that failure to increase nurses' wages
would lead to mass resignations and a further deterioration
in standards in the National Health Service.

Women and Blacks

The two groups of workers, however, whose situation is
nearest that of gays are women and blacks. Ten years ago
if anyone had suggested that they should get any special
protection from the unions they would have been laughed
at. ' Women only work for pin money,' and, 'Blacks don't
belong hereso they don't deserve as much as the rest of
us,' are the best of the comments that might have been
made at the time. Basically, both groups were expected
to put up with less money, more tedious and menial work
because of who they were outside their place of work.
Now the situation has changed. Women and blacks are
tired of waiting for action from hostile Trade Union
officials and have begun to take action themselves.
Women workers have long been thought of as not
proper workers. The fact that they became pregnant and
were expected to do housework put them in a weak
positionthey were not able to attend union meetings in
the evening, they were usually on the lower grades, they
were laid off first, maternity leave was seen as a privilege,
the demand for creches was a joke. Since the strike of
women textile workers at Leeds in 1969 there have been
more and more examples of militant action by women.
Most of these recently have been over the implementation
of the Equal Pay Act. Many women began to realize that
employers planned to make use of job evaluation schemes
to create a category of badly-paid jobs which would leave
them as badly off as ever.
The ten week strike in 1974 by the women at Salford
Electrical Instruments in Heywood, Lancs. showed how
well women were prepared to fight. S.E.I. is part of the
massive G.E.C. combineand if other G.E.C. workers,
and especially the male workers at S.E.I., had come out
in their support there is no doubt they would have been
victorious. As it was, Trade Union officials persuaded them
to accept a confused settlement which did little to improve
their position.
In this atmosphere of increasing militancy, the fact that
many union branches and Trades Councils have adopted
the Working Women's Charter (which includes abortion
on demand, maternity leave as a right and free nurseries)
hopefully points to further action by all trade unionists
to win these demands for women.
Black workers have met the same kind of hostile inertia
from Trade Union officials. Two examples of this are the
strike at Imperial Typewriters, Leicester and the Sikh
turbans dispute among Leeds busmen. In both cases, the
Trade Union officials gave little help and did nothing to
prevent a great flare-up of racism among white workers.
Indeed, at Imperials, where the blacks had been prevented
from electing their own shop stewards, the strikers felt
they were being opposed by a united front of management
and Trade Union officials. The fact that the unions have
been allowed to run down in this way so that white
workers do not see blacks as their fellow workers is
tragic. The only solution is an active union with full
participation by all members.
So, we can see from the struggles of blacks and women
that the way ahead in Trade Unions is not an easy one.
1.Their problems can probably be summarized as follows: 1
Hostility from Trade Union officials ;
2. Hostility or apathy from many male workers (in the
case of women) and white workers (in the case of blacks);
3. Exploitation of these confused feelings by the
management to keep their work force divided ;

4. Lack of self-confidence.
Anyone who raises the gay issue in a Trade Union can
expect to meet all these problems and, at least, two
a Accusations of perversioneither jeers every time you
speak or more vicious slanders behind your back.
b Suggestion that one's gayness is not an issue at work.
Women and blacks are paid less because they are women
and blacks, but that is not true of gays. Gays can be found
in all grades of work.
The most important lesson that women and blacks have
learned from their recent struggles is about the nature
of trade unionism. If unions remain as they are, controlled
by a handful of overpaid, appointed bureaucratsthen
they will get nowhere. The workers will remain divided
among themselves and they will continue to be additionally
oppressed. Only where the union is its membership will
these divisions endall decisions must be democratic,
negotiators must be elected, recallable and paid the same
as the average member. Only such a union will fight for
its membershipand that will include its gay membership.
...and Gays?
So what demands do we raise in our
unions and how do we go about it? The National Union of
Journalists (N.U.J.) seems to have gone further than any
other union in that its annual conference at Swansea this
year passed a motion against discrimination on grounds of
sexual orientation. In view of the fact that most of the
country's newspapers are written by members of the N.U.J.
this should augur well for press treatment of stories
concerning homosexuals. Perhaps. The Gay Rights Media
Group points out that the T.U.C. circular no. 100 which is
concerned with equal opportunity in employment and
discrimination, mentions sex, marital status, creed, colour,
race and ethnic origin, but, not sexual orientation. It would
clearly be in the interests of gay trade unionists to
campaign for the inclusion of sexual orientation in this
circularas well as being very educative for their fellow
trade unionists.
However, even if it were included it doesn't mean the
end of problems for the gay trade unionists. In the
S.O.G.A.T. (Society of Graphical and Allied Trades)
Journal for September 1974, John McPhail of Glasgow
wrote of the need to support homosexual law reform in
Scotland where all male homosexual activity is still
criminal. He went on to say, `To my mind, the union has
an obligation for the welfare of its members not just in
their working lives but also in the social sphere. The
problems of the homosexual may not be your problems
but that does not mean they are unimportant. One of your
workmates may be homosexual ; if so, he or she will need
your understandingnot hostility.' A gay printworker is
unlikely to be paid less than other workers because he is
gay but he is entitled not to expect attacks from his fellow
workers. An active union would make sure such attacks
did not happenbecause it would realize the dangers of
dividing one worker from another and it would understand
the tragedy of worker oppressing worker.
Such hostility does exist as any gay worker knows but
this hostility was, for once, expressed in print in Public
Service, the N.A.L.G.O. (National and Local Government
Officers Association) Journal following a letter which gave
details of a self-help homosexual group in N.A.L,G.O.
One member felt that reading the letter was like being
importuned a public lavatory ; another seemed to think
that homosexuals should not be admitted to N.A.L.G.O. ;
and another said sodomy was indirectly responsible for
bombing of property, hi-jacking, murder, and various other
evils, right down to empty churches. If this is the response
that comes to the setting-up of a union gay group, there
can surely be little doubt of the atmosphere in which most
gay people have to work. Most of us don't expect to be
faced with the above kind of hostility but we all know the
hypocrisy and the condescending smiles and the
demoralizing effect they have.
Raising the matter openly in the context of a union is
really the only way to deal with this prejudice at work
but this can only be done if we have a support group
which understands the meaning of the phrase, 'Glad To
Be Gay'. If you have come out then this is the most
important thing to do for other gays in your union. Set
up a gay group which will act as a focus for them and
enable them to withstand the hostility and hypocrisy of
other trade unionists and draw on the support of those
who accept gayness.

The other problem about a 'sexual orientation'

agreement is that it is not specific enough. It is quite easy
for an employer to say that he will not discriminate against
anyone who is gay but in practice to do just that. The
cases of John Warburton and Veronica Pickles are good
examples of that. John Warburton was taunted by his
pupils about being queer so he spoke to them about it and
answered their questions. He was then banned from
teaching in Inner London Education Authority schools
although the leader of I.L.E.A., Ashley Bramall, had said
he would not discriminate against gay teachers. Likewise,
Veronica Pickles, a Buckinghamshire midwife, found
herself withdrawn from an assisted training scheme for
health visitors. Bucks Area Health Authority denied this
was because of her homosexuality but because of the
publicity which her gay activity had involved her in. Both
authorities were quite adamant in their denials of anti-gay
discrimination but both also seemed to expect their gay
employees to keep absolutely silent about their sexual
orientation and even lie about it. So, clearly, any clause
which opposes discrimination must be very specific. Once
again, this depends very much on an active union which
is concerned about the real interests of its members and
not just in passing token resolutions.
The idea of a Gay Workers' Charteralong the lines of the
Working Women's Charterhas been raised recently. This
would provide a focus of specific demands around which
we could organize. This is clearly an excellent plan
although I will be accused of being too cautious when I
say that it seems to me too early to do this.
At the moment, the crucial task is the organization of
gay groups within the unions such as those in N.A.L.G.O.
and N.U.P.E. Only with this kind of support can most
gays hope to come out and win support for our demands
support for victimized gays, a real end to discrimination
at work, support for gay workers harassed by landlords
and the police. Each group should draw up specific
demands as they relate to their situation and the kind of
problems that are likely to arise. This will be particularly
important in the so-called caring professions where people
are expected to support and propagate the ideology of the
ruling class.
The proposal by Alan Clarke of C.H.E. for a union of
professional homosexuals which would then affiliate to the
T.U.C. and raise gay demands is a nonsense. Not only is it
a ghetto approach to politics but it is also the kind of
manoeuvre that eases the passing of token resolutions. It
is only by sheer hard slog in our own unions that we can
achieve anything meaningful. For it is only with a strong
base of support in an active trade union movement that
we will move anywhere. Of course it is only in that
situation that the whole working class can move anywhere.
Our interests are one.
We must not, however, expect everyone to understand it
immediately. Few non-gay trade unionists bothered to
turn up at a lobby in support of the gay teacher, John
Warburton. Presumably they failed to see that the case of
a victimized gay worker is just as significant as the case of
any other victimized worker. If he is re-instated, it is a
victory for all workers ; if he is not, it is a victory for the
bosses. We have a hard task ahead of us to educate the
Trade Union movement but it is only by being part of it
that we can do so.
Gay workers will meet all the hostility and prejudice
and morethat has faced militant women and blacks over
the past few years. There is no point in kidding ourselves
that it will be an easy fightbut there are no easy
alternatives. Our task at the moment is twofold:-1
1.We must build union gay groups to provide confidence
and solidarity to gays and to encourage others to come
out ;
2. We must support the reconstruction of a strong active
Trade Union movement which will defend all its members
wherever and whenever they are attacked.
Acknowledgments to Socialist W orker, Gay News,
Red Rag, Case Con (Gay Issue).

Gay Left 7

Gays in Cuba
By Keith Birch
Gay people who support the cause of revolutionary
socialism are often confronted by other gays with the fact
that in all the countries that have achieved some form of
socialist system, homosexuals are still discriminated
against or even quite harshly persecuted. On the contrary,
I want to stress that socialism does offer a possible solution
to the sexism inherent in our present capitalist society as
well as involving an economic revolution. This is made
clear by the situation in Russia after the 1917 revolution.
Abortion and contraception were legalized and made
available to the masses. Anti-homosexual laws were
removed. The role of the family in a socialist society was
questioned. Both women and gays gained important
advances in these first few years but the growth of the
Stalinist bureaucracy brought all this to a close and in
1934 punitive laws were introduced against homosexuality,
shortly followed by measures against abortion and a
renewed stress on the family unit as the basis of society.
In order to see why the existing socialist(1) countries have
treated gay people so badly, let us take a closer look at one
of the more recent revolutions, that of Cuba, where there
has been rather more publicity about the position of gay
people in society. The Cuban revolution in 1959 was not
just a victory of socialist forces over the exploitation and
repression of the Batista regime but was also a strongly
nationalist reaction to the long period of domination by
the United States. The aim was to build a new society
based on socialist principles, not in the image of the
Soviet Union, but instead taking regard of Cuba's
individual situation and history. The ideal was the creation
of the 'New Socialist Man', free from the contamination
of capitalism and monetary incentives, a model for other
countries to follow.
What then has happened to the gay people of Cuba since
that time? All that the majority of people know are the
stories about work camps for male homosexuals that made
a few headlines in the late 1960s and little else. The two
main questions that concern us, therefore, are how gay
people have actually been treated in the sixteen years of
the revolution and what were the main causes of this state
of affairs.
First of all, an outline of the oppression of gays from the
sketchy information available to us. No actual laws against
homosexuality were enacted by the new Government under
Castro and no official statements were made at that time.
However, unofficially gays were treated as being sick or
criminal but were not thought a major problem as we
would soon disappear with the dawn of the new society.
One of the first acts after the revolution was the clean up
of the cities. This meant the closing down of the brothels
and clubs and the removal of the prostitutes and
homosexuals from the streets, especially in Havana, which
was little more than a playground for American tourists
and a centre for all kinds of crime.
The first hard news of systematic persecution of gay
people came in 1965 when the U.M.A.P. camps (Military
Units for the Aid of Production) were set up. These were
ostensibly places for young men who were not suitable for
the army because of their 'moral outlook' or lack of
commitment to the revolution. In practice they were little
better than concentration camps (a description which Castro
himself used after visiting one in late 1966) occupied by
anti-revolutionaries, thieves and a very large number of
homosexuals who were there for that 'crime' alone. In
1966 several prominent artists, writers and actors were
told to report to these camps and this brought official
protest from the Cuban Writers' and Artists' Union and the
round-up was called off on Castro's orders. The U.M.A.P.
camps were the cause of a very rare event, an international
outcry at the treatment of homosexuals, although it only
really gathered force when gay intellectuals started to be
persecuted, and then the protest largely came from other
artists and intellectuals. However, at the end of 1966
these camps were officially closed but work camps in
various forms continued, as shown by a quote from a
Minister, Risquet, in 1971 when he said that 'loafers
needing re-education should not be sent to institutions for
thieves and homosexuals'(2) . The general attitude was first
Gay Left 8

expressed in 1971 at the First National Congress on

Education and Culture. Gay people were said to be sick
and homosexuality was an unnatural hangover of
bourgeois society, which is the usual communist line, and
it would disappear with the achievement of socialism.
Until that time, homosexuals should be kept out of
positions of influence over young people, in education
and the arts particularly, so as not to infect them. Before
this there had been purges of the more openly gay
teachers, students, soldiers and so on but it was now
carried out with more vigour for a time. Individual gay
people, women and men, workers and soldiers were
publicly exposed, denounced and usually dismissed to
be sent away for re-education. The last few years have
seen rather less activity against homosexuals, although
there have been no official statements of a change in
policy. The immediate future does not hold much hope of
any radical change, but the situation is still open to
influences, both internal and external, so there should not
be complete despair.
Now we come to the causes of the oppression of gays in
a society which was trying for such a radical break with
the past. Firstly, there was the over reaction to the
previous situation in Cuba which suffered from sexual
exploitation, as well as economic, by the United States.
Havana was almost one large brothel, both for women and
men. Gay people were associated with this old society
and its regime in the minds of many people and with the
need to sell one's body in order to stay alive. The
Revolutionary Government thus took a very puritanical
line in sexual matters and gays suffered from this
`clean-up'. Secondly, the sexual culture in Cuba is that of
machismo, the cult of male virility, a latin kind of male
chauvinism. This entails living up to a kind of ultra
masculine ideal, male friendship being prized, but also a
high degree of sexual competition regarding women. In
this atmosphere women had a very inferior status and their
virginity on marriage and faithfulness afterwards was
demanded. Homosexuals in this society were even more
despised than in our own. The revolution has failed to
challenge this area of life to any great extent. A large
amount has been done towards gaining economic equality
for women. Education and many jobs are open to both
sexes and reforms affecting the family, like easier divorce
and widespread birth control facilities, have been
i mplemented. However, the function of the family as the
basic unit of society and the male dominance have not
been questioned as yet very deeply.
We now come to the more overtly economic and political
causes for gay oppression. The struggle for power of the
Cuban Communist Party and others who hoped to model
Cuba along the lines laid down by the Soviet Union,
against those like Castro who wanted a Cuban road to
socialism fitted to its needs and not falling into the
mistakes of Soviet society. Since the revolution this
struggle has been played out against a background of great
economic difficulties due to the U.S. blockade. The
resulting dependence on massive aid from the Soviet Union
has influenced the power of the different factions and thus
the social policies that have been implemented. In the early
1960s the old Communist Party members tried to gain
control of the leadership. They were largely responsible
for the setting up of the U.M.A.P. camps which they used
as a base to attack libertarian tendencies amongst the
intellectuals and the young citing homosexuality as a
reason. However, they lost out in this bid for power and
were themselves purged from the leadership and in 1968
Escalante, their leader, and others were put on trial. Also,
with the failure of the Cuban economy in the late 1960s
to reach the targets hoped for, especially in sugar
production, Cuba became more and more dependent on
Soviet support and followed its line much more closely,
the decree from the Congress of Education and Culture(3)
in 1971 being a symptom of this.
The economic situation and fear of aggression from the
United States meant the need for the people to be unified
and to work together for the continuance of the
revolution and thus no opposition and very little
questioning of the leadership was allowed. As an official
statement said, the people must 'struggle against all forms
of deviation amongst the young'(4) This included influences
of American culture such as drugs and pop music, an
awakening Black Power movement which was quickly

suppressed and the 'counter revolutionary sentiment of

homosexuality'. Gay people in particular became
scapegoats, a group already despised, who could be made
an example of in this period of establishing unity and
social control.
There has been a general failure to democratize the
revolution, for example, no workers' control but instead
administrators appointed by the Government. The
formation of Committees for the defence of the
Revolution as a mass organization of the ordinary people
in a democratic way has been valuable in the housing,
education and health areas but they do not have power
to make decisions of fundamental importance to the
nation and are used as a rubber stamp for decisions
already made higher up and as a means of social control
at a local level. The Cuban situation shows some of the
possible failings of a socialist revolution. It also shows the
need for gay people to take part in the revolutionary
process and to fight for their rights at every level of the
struggle. Revolutionary socialists must realize from the
previous failures the vital part sexism plays in the old
order and unless combatted as part of the revolution, true
socialism will not be achieved.

Notes 1 Conventional usage.

2 Quote from Gramna, official Government
paper 3.9.71.
3 The Declaration is reproduced in Out of the
Closets .
4 Gramna 9.5.71.
Further sources of information
Social Control in Cuba Martin Loney from Politics and
In the Fist of the Revolution Jose Iglesias.
The Cuban Revolution and Gay Liberation Allen Young
from Out of the Closets
Cuba Hugh. Thomas

The Case of John Warburton

By Nigel Young
This article analyses the way in which a group of gay
teachers fought the banning from employment of a
gay teacher in London. In our fight with the local
education authority different people within the gay
teachers' group took up different positions. The
attitudes which arose depended both upon people's
political beliefs and the degree to which we were able
to openly discuss our own gayness and related issues of
sexuality in our work place. I have attempted to show
the confusion and inadequacy of the fight by
highlighting these various factions. I hope that any
further struggle by gays to defend a victimized gay
worker will not make the same mistakes.
In November 1974 John Warburton, a gay teacher, went
on a gay rights demonstration in Trafalgar Square. He was
seen on the demonstration by one of his pupils. On his
return to school the following week he was confronted
by taunts of 'poof' and 'queer' from the girls.
Unable to teach constructively in this atmosphere, he
stopped the lesson. He explained to the girls what being
gay meant to him, and answered their questions. This
situation arose several times over a period of six weeks,
but it was only on the last occasion that the girls' form
mistress heard of the discussion. Horrified by it she
reported the incident to her head teacher who in turn
reported it to the Inner London Education Authority
Within twenty-four hours John Warburton was brought
before the Authority (his employer) and asked to sign a
piece of paper demanding that he never discuss
homosexuality in the classroom again unless within a

structured sex education programme, and with the full

permission of the head teacher. He felt unable to sign this
additional contract which no other teacher had been asked
to sign. Consequently he was banned from taking any
employment with the ILEA.
The ILEA have always claimed that the banning of
John Warburton was not gay discrimination. They have
always stated that they are not concerned with the private
lives of teachers, and that they employ many known
homosexuals ; even some who have been convicted of
offences. However, when trying to discover why John
was banned, it was difficult for the Authority to decide
upon the central issue.
At first they insisted that he only had to sign the piece
of paper. There was no explanation as to why only he
should be asked to sign this additional contract. There
was also an implication that John's discipline was suspect,
although that was hard to substantiate. John only
discussed homosexuality once with several classes, and a
creative atmosphere was maintained. John was then
accused of campaigning and crusading on behalf of gays.
However, we all know that no one ever campaigns or
crusades on behalf of heterosexual norms and values in
The ILEA eventually decided that the real crime was
John not teaching the subject lesson through all the taunts
about his gayness. The question iswas it an accident
that the ILEA changed its attitude so often? For two
reasons I would say definitely not.
First : by failing to state clearly what their objections
were, they clouded the central issue. This is the right a
gay teacher has to talk about his/her gayness, and the
right to encourage children to critically examine
heterosexual norms and values.
Secondly: by clouding this issue the ILEA have
attempted to confuse the direction of the struggle
involved, which is to obtain the reinstatement of John
In January 1975 I went to a Gay Teachers' Group
meeting convened especially to discuss the ways in which
the fight could be carried on. There were two approaches
to the problem. The first I shall call the liberal approach.
This involved the writing of letters to the ILEA,
telephoning, and getting together a petition.
The Authority must have hoped for this response. They
could write devious, obscure letters in reply to individuals ;
they could happily listen to telephone conversations ; they
could smile politely at the petitioners, and gracefully
acknowledge their views.
The ILEA assumption was correct. Although the
petition was invaluable as a means of spreading
information, and starting discussions on the issue, it
ultimately lacked power. Our energies should have been
directed to making sure our unions circulated a petition.
In political terms it is they who have the necessary power
to force the Authority to change its attitude.
However, to return to the Gay Teachers' Group, we
were using the liberal processes for dissent and discussion,
which doesn't affect the status quo. It is also true to say
that when carrying on this liberal dialogue with the
Authority, our aims were not made clear. We should have
asserted the right of gay teachers to talk about their
gayness, and discuss sexuality openly. If we had won on
this demand, all the other ILEA charades would have
fallen away, and John would have automatically been
The second approach adopted by the Gay Teachers'
Group was socialist in its attitude. A small group of us
decided that although we would support the liberals in the
group, the most important aspect of the struggle was to
raise the issue with our unions. After all, here was a clear
case of victimization, and we would expect our union to
support a worker regardless of union officials' own views
on homosexuality. We also saw it as an opportunity to
raise issues which had never been discussed before at
union meetings.
However, most people in the Gay Teachers' Group
seemed disinterested, not to say hostile towards the union.
' What has the union ever done for us?' was the cry from
the floor. There was a gulf in understanding the politics
involved between socialists and liberals within the group,
and the relationship of these politics to the stand of the
Left on issues of sexuality.
Gay Left 9

Within straight Left groups or trade unions there has

never been much ground for discussions on sexuality.
Thus the anti-union and anti-left cries seemed appropriate
to the callers. But this attitude ignores the development
of the women's movement, and its critique of sexuality
from a Marxist standpoint. It also ignores the attempts
by gay trade unionists to raise similar issues in their
unions ; trade unionists in the past have rarely discussed
the issue. Their sexist attitudes are unrelated to their
socialism or to being a member of a trade union. For the
socialists in the Gay Teachers' Group it was a perfect
opportunity to take the issue of a victimized worker who
in this case was also gay to the unions. The majority of
the Gay Teachers' Group seemed unable to see these
issues, and firmly stuck to letters, phone calls, and
John Warburton had already highlighted the politics of
homosexuality when he went on the gay rights
demonstration. Were we in the Gay Teachers' Group only
concerned to get him reinstated without rocking the sexual
apple cart? Let's keep the rosy normal apples on top, and
the rotten gay ones underneath seemed to be the attitude
of some gay teachers.
It was these same teachers who wanted to get John
reinstated, but didn't want to discuss the issues of sexuality
which arose from the case. Those of us in the unions
wanted to broaden the discussion on sexuality and force
other teachers in school to discuss the subject. Thus no
longer would trade unionists and straight teachers be able
to ignore our gayness. We could talk about ourselves as
well as John. It was an ideal platform on which gay trade
unionists could come out.
The draft motion which arose out of these conflicts was
unfortunately unclear in its aim. In it we asked the ILEA
to lift the ban on John Warburton and to give the right to
teachers to discuss all controversial subjects when they
arose. But this obscured our real purpose which was to
enable gay teachers to discuss gay issues openly.
In retrospect, this was a weakness in our motion. It
highlighted our confusion when trying to clarify the
central issues involved. By framing the motion broadly
we allowed people to talk about the issue of freedom of
speecha nebulous liberal concept instead of the issue
with which we were directly concerned. Our aim should
have been to direct the discussion solely to the issue of
gay rights. The motion was further weakened because we
in no way outlined a campaign of action which we wished
the unions to adopt. We had framed a motion with no
The response of the rank and file union members to the
motion was excellent. Generally it was passed with very
little opposition. Subsequently the motion was sent to the
executive of the National Union of Teachers.
As I have already stated, one might have expected our
union Executive to have supported a victimized teacher
regardless of its views on the subject of homosexuality.
Their attitude towards the case of John Warburton was
disgusting. They sent him a letter stating that no teacher,
including one who is homosexual, had the right to
`instigate' a discussion on sex. They conveniently forgot
that John did not 'instigate' the discussion, but that it was
done so by his pupils. They also advised John to sign the
piece of paper issued by the ILEA.
The last turn of the screw came when the Executive
claimed that the position of the ILEA in relation to the
discussion of sexual matters in the classroom was union
policy. Not surprisingly no teacher I have spoken to in the
union had ever heard this was the case. Union branches
when also receiving this letter were appalled, and asked
for a clarification of the so called 'policy'.
The response of the Executive of the union was one we
should have expected. They are not likely to support
teachers who become involved in issues which question
the social fabric of society. The Executive is dominated
by head teachers, and they see the prime role of the
educational system to support existing norms and values.
They wish to run schools where these values are
exemplified and upheld.
The Executive represents very much the attitude of
many trade unionists in matters involving sexuality. The
family is still upheld as a positive social asset. Thus the
union Executive was hardly likely to encourage a
discussion of sexism and male chauvinism which
dominates the working class.
Gay Left 10

The prime function of the Gay Teachers' Group should

have been to encourage members to carry the issues to the
union movement. This could have been done by analysing
the relationship between John's case, the oppression of
gays, and workers. Whatever a trade unionist's feelings
on homosexuality, they would at least have to think about
the oppression of gays, and the way it is tied to capitalism.
In schools gay teachers should have centred the
discussion on issues of sexuality which arise out of being
gay. By so doing we would have avoided the irrelevant
issue of freedom of speech. If gay teachers chose the latter
cause to fight on, we could go through the whole incident
without making any personal statement about our own
The difficulty with the Gay Teachers' Group was that
many of its members had not come out at school with
other teachers. Some felt it wasn't necessary. In these
circumstances it was hard to see how the Gay Teachers'
Group could isolate the central issue, and bring about a
discussion on sexuality in staff rooms and union branches
where it is unlikely to have been discussed before.
I would like to end by saying that although we made
many mistakes within the Gay Teachers' Group, many of
us learnt a great deal about the local education authority
and the union bureaucracy. For the first time a group of
gays confronted the bureaucracies of our employer and
union. We are still involved in the struggle to get John
Warburton reinstated.
As we progress we are confronting many faceless
bureaucrats, and a lot of teachers and trade unionists
with issues of sexuality. Such confrontations can only help
to destroy the oppression which gays have to suffer in most
work situations.
I feel sure that in any future clash which a gay worker
has with the ILEA, they will think very carefully before
assuming they can ban or dismiss him/her in such a
dictatorial manner. If they do not act justly there will be
a great deal of anger and political opposition from
increasingly politicized gay workers.

Coming Out Politically

By R. Kincaid
It could be said that until recently gay men and women
had no politics which related directly to their sexuality. To
take up any political causecertainly if it required a
public commitmenthomosexual men and women had to
present a front which ignored their own deep feelings
and may even have misrepresented them. Although the
Gay Liberation Movement has brought with it the
possibility for homosexuals to be actively and totally
involved politically in their own right, in reality for most
gay people the situation has not changed. More and more
gays are coming out, but are they coming out politically?
It would seem that they are not. This is an attempt to
understand why and to do this the possible nature of
meaningful political action for gay people must be
For gays to act politically in their own interests they
must have some concept of their own position in the
community and how their situation relates to the
production of resources needed, or seen to be needed,
by that community. This will help towards an
understanding of their own oppressed situation. It is only
then that an overall policy of action can be formulated.
Gays must not be taken in by the idea that choosing a
political allegiance is a matter of selecting the party with
the 'right' set of principles in the same way as one might
choose a new pair of trousers. The main political parties
in this country represent different coalitions of interests
and do not acknowledge the existence of gays except in a
negative and repressive way. It is to be a different sort
of political platform that gay people should turnone
that recognizes that different groups or classes have
interests that may be conflicting ; one that recognizes the

interests of gay people as a group.

There are two aspects of gay politics to be considered:
the public and the personal. The former is concerned
with a manifesto, with a political platform, with
concerted public action ; the latter is concerned with the
sort of action that can be taken at an individual level that
may throw into high relief the sort of value assumptions
that are generally made about sex roles and, in particular,
about the nature of homosexuality. These two facets of
political action are interconnected. The nature of one
closely affects the nature of the other. A movement
involving a public assertion of existence, of values, the
development of a public attitude, can provide a framework
within which the individual is given greater freedom to
make his own statement.
In our present position it is worth looking at the
influence of the Gay Liberation Movement, the first
manifestation of a public gay movement, in opening up
possibilities for gays, particularly young gays, to develop
a new concept of themselves. The most important
development, historically, was the emergence of GLF in
London in 1970. GLF introduced gay activism and a
radical new approach to the situation of gay people. It is
too easy to forget that before this event the public face of
homosexuality was dominantly middle-class and
self-oppressive and, except for the one central fact of
being gay, tended to be ultra-conformist. GLF was the
antithesis of this sort of gay scene and provided the
opportunity for a different kind of public identity and an
acknowledgement of a gay life-style. Let us consider the
possibilities for political action that it generated.
The effectiveness of GLF arose from the stark contrast
that it presented against the old style. It attempted to
develop its own conventions and let its structure grow in
answer to the needs of the moment rather than be
borrowed from the straight world. It was understood that
to adopt a conventional organization structure would risk
influence from the all-pervasive values associated with
straight organizations. If a chairman is appointed he or
she will tend to look at the only available model of how
`chairmen' behave, that found in the straight world.
Likewise, a `committee' will tend to consider that
'appointment' carries the sort of `rights' given to
conventional committees. Other values creep in and
eventually a complete set of straight values infiltrate the
movement, including those values oppressive to gays.
Though the avoidance of creating an elite set of officers
brought problems with it, the experience of having to
explore new ways of relating and coming to agreement
helped to develop a separate identity for those of us
involved at the beginning of GLF and thus created the
most dynamic aspect of the present movement. For those
of us who took part in this initial phase, it was not
possible to continue to hold conventional views about the
need for an authority structure or about what was
appropriate for public discussion. The constraints which
most of the participants had previously felt about talking
through their own deep feelings disappeared. The need on
the part of everyone at these meetings to heighten their
sensitivity towards the feelings of the others present was
demanding. It was also intellectually stimulating and
exciting. One was aware that a new culture was forming
and being recognized. New words and phrases came into
use: `sexism', 'ego-trip', `putting people down'though
at the time they sounded flip, they contained ideas that
generated much thought and have philosophical
i mplications that extend outside the gay world.
GLF in 1971 and 1972 had many of the features of a
successful gay political movement. But the quality of the
early movement was not sustained and it is worth
considering now why it lost much of its initial promise.
Size had something to do with itit was not possible to
keep up the particular feeling of unity and purpose that
had been such an important part of the early meetings.
There was, too, the `super-gay' syndrome: a tendency on
the part of some to prescribe narrow and arbitrary rules.
Most would agree, however, that the greatest reverse
suffered by GLF at this time was the departure of the
women members from the central movement. The contrast
of before and after this happening emphasizes the initial
contribution made by the women. This event coincided
with a shift towards parochialism where meetings held in
different parts of London or different parts of the

country tended to reflect the personalities of the dominant

gays involved rather than any overriding ethic. There
were exceptions to this and many of these smaller groups
have been successful in their own terms, but a general
criticism of groups at this time was that the social aspects
of coming together became more important than the
political aspects of coming out. It is to another movement
altogether, the women's movement, that we need to look
for some indication of the lines along which a broader
concept of the gay movement could develop.
The public revolt of women to their oppressed role has
a longer history than that of gays. `Women's Lib' has a
clearly defined public image accepted, though grudgingly,
by the media. There are also the `stars'those who are
widely known and who are given the opportunity to put
forward the women's Lib line and who do so frequently
and uncompromisingly. There is more to be said about
the women's movement. It is mentioned here mainly to
emphasize the point that it is much further on the way
to being a full-fledged political movement than the Gay
Liberation Movement.
The GLM only receives general support from gays when
it deals with specific issues such as police harassment or
the lowering of the age limit. In evolving policy on wider
and, perhaps, more important issues the movement is still
in an embryonic phase and it may well be that individual
gays are unable directly to take part in developing a
political platform. It is in this situation that personal
politics become important. A political action, whether it is
taken by an individual in isolation or by a group, must
have relevence outside the individual situation. Gay
oppression can take many forms from simple `putting
down' to severe legal sanctions. In confronting such
situations passively or actively a statement is made that
has political relevance. A gay person should understand,
however, that his own oppression relates to all situations
of oppression, gay or otherwise. It is partly in realizing
this that the individual becomes aware of his political
identity and is able to become involved in the political
action of a group.
It is difficult to make any general statement about the
techniques and strategies of personal politics. An effective
political statement can be made by the individual acting
in such a way that assumptions and values in straight
society are questioned. For example, transvestism may
help to raise awareness of false assumptions made about
sex roles and gender roles.The political effectiveness of
actions such as those involving transvestism depends much
on the timing and the way it is done. There are dangers
here. Such actions create anxiety and embarrassment and,
unless the setting is right, can be counter-productive.
There is also the danger of such actions becoming clichs
or simply an excuse for ego-tripping, but, nevertheless, it
is an effective way of making a political point, especially
if it can be related to wider situations of oppression.
Understanding our relationship with the rest of society
and being able to express this understanding within a group
is part of the process of personal intellectual growth, the
process of 'becoming'. We are all to an extent surrounded
by an intellectual fog generated by other people, by past
groups and their oppressive views of history. The nature
of this fog is to cause us to have a view of reality
determined, or at least affected, by what these other people
want us to see. The process of 'becoming' involves us in
dispersing this fog of false consciousness and being able to
identify the 'substance' of the world we live in and
distinguish it from reifications resulting from situations and
events in the past. Gay men and women share a particular
kind of oppression. If they can jointly learn new ways of
relating in this process of self-liberation, their experience
could benefit others outside their own world. But to get
out of the prison created by other people's interpretations
of reality we must begin to move forward collectively in a
political way. In this context an analysis of our present
roles in society and a conscious political strategy are both
vitally important.

Gay Left 11

CHE in Close-up
By Emmanuel Cooper

Integration rather than rebellion is the message of CHE,

and this reflects the liberal hope that homosexuals will
come to merge imperceptibly into society as it exists now.
Gay pairbonds and marriages, with in-laws welcoming
both partners to dinner, is the suggested norm. It is a
gloomy picture for gays who have developed a critical
awareness of roles learnt in a family situation and who
do not want to ape heterosexual stereotypes and the
relationships which arise from them. In suggesting
integration, CHE is offering no analysis of our position
as gays in society, firmly buries its head in the sand and
refuses to see that it is aiming to integrate us into the
heart of our oppressors.
With a national membership of about 5,000, CHE would
seem to be in a strong position to enact its plans for
integration which follow two major methodslaw reform
by using parliamentary democracy and an education
campaign which tries to ensure that sex education includes
an unbiased account of what homosexuality is by providing
study kits and gay speakers. That law reform and a fair
educational hearing are essential is accepted by most
gays, at whichever end of the political spectrum they sit,
yet even on these issues few new members are recruited
and support from grass roots members is minimal.
Here an analysis of the organization of CHE is useful.
At national level, there is the Executive Council on which
elected members sit for two years ; the E.C. is responsible
for the national 'image' of CHE and attempt to provide
a list of recognized activist speakers who have come out
publicly and are willing to address any meeting and work
openly to further the aims of CHE.
On a regional level CHE consists of many small local
groups, the majority of whose members want an active
social life which pays only lip-service to its CHE
allegiance. In fact, until recently, when a new method of
paying subscriptions was introduced, members of CHE
local groups did not have to be members of the national
organization, and there were members who knew little of
what CHE stood for.
In many ways, the fairly radical Executive Council of
CHE seems divorced from the membership it represents.
E.C. members, all of whom work hard and voluntarily
for CHE, have openly come out as gays and put forward
a positive position of a gay life style quite independent of
traditional heterosexual relationships. CHE organizes
conferences like the one at Sheffield this year, where, for
example, a unique civic reception gives open and official
recognition of the delegates' homosexuality. Yet despite
this lead, few gays seem encouraged to follow.
Why is it then that CHE gives the overwhelming
i mpression that its members want to remain closed and
closetedsafely wrapped-up and cared for in the arms
of a parental E.C.? This point was emphasizzed in a recent
recruitment drive in which CHE was advertized as the
biggest gay club in the country. Basically it is because
CHE accepts society as it is now, and its priorities for
integration are, in order of importance, law reform,
education campaign and 'coming out'.
'Coming out' is something to be admired and hoped for,
but it attracts little importance maybe because it questions
too violently the accepted norms of our society. Here a
distinction must be drawn between individual and
collective effort. The individual, by coming out, performs
little that can be construed as a political act, however much
courage it requires. On the other hand, coming out
collectively, with its defiance of heterosexual values,
could provide a concerted challenge to the structure of
societya structure in which the basic unit of socialization
is a nuclear family which oppresses and excludes gays,
and, unless changed, will continue to do so. Law reform,
though long overdue, will not alter by one jot the feelings
of most gays of inadequacy because they will always be
outside the family unit structured to meet the needs of a
capitalist society.
Local CHE groups also reflect the bureaucratic
Gay Left 12

organization of society. Three or four elected officers

devise and run a mainly social programme for gays who
want to meet outside the commercial scene. Some groups
conduct limited campaignssending speakers to schools,
addressing public meetings and so on, but support from
within the group is often poor. Local groups achieve their
highest success on a social levellarge attendances are
regularly reported for discos, boat trips, parties, coffee
evenings, gay bingo and the like, events which build up a
gay community in which some gays, for the first time,
attend a group which is specifically for gays and in which
they are accepted without question. However, the mere
mention of the word campaign at one of these socials
brings despairing looks to faces which have long ago
decided not to rock the boat, either socially or politically.
No one seeks to question why, in life outside of the gay
community, he feels isolated and forced to conceal his
own homosexuality behind a veneer of heterosexual
pretence. They are unable to relate their oppression to the
same system which oppresses the mass of people. With
such an uncritical rank and file membership, there is
little wonder that CHE advertizes itself as the biggest club
in the country. 'Walk the corridors of power with CHE'
ran one adit omitted to mention that to enter these
corridors you had to take a vow of secrecy.
Not all CHE members feel that either secrecy or lack
of a determination to develop a critical political analysis
is right. Some local groups have attempted to work on a
more libertarian basis by organizing themselves outside
bureaucratic lines. They feel that the nomination of
officers who run the group reflects too closely the
employer-employee situations of a capitalist system, and
have abandoned officers altogether, except for that of
treasurer. They operate through a rotating chairperson
and interest groupsCampaign, Social Newsletter and
Care are typical. The structure is slow and clumsy to
operate and works only on a local level, yet within it a
greater number of members feel able to participate in
the group's activities and at the same time develop the
confidence necessary to reject heterosexual norms.
Of what value is CHE to radical gays? Should we ignore
it, join it or fight against it as a piece of liberal whitewash?
As our only national gay organization, it would be
unrealistic of us to either ignore its existence or the need
for reforms of the present punitive law and an honest
and fair educational programme. We must therefore
accept the value it has by giving it our support and
working for its aims, while at the same time stressing the
li mitations of such reforms and argue at every opportunity
that a fundamental change in society is necessary. CHE
is made up of many lonely and oppressed people whose
needs will only be met when they have fuller understanding
of their present roles in our society.

Gay Workers' Conference
Leeds Polytechnic
10 - 11 May 1975
By Gregg Blachford
After months of hopeful anticipation, I heard a rumour
that the Gay Workers' Conference was actually going to
take place. For details, I checked with Gay News and Gay
Switchboard asking them if they could verify this
information. No, they hadn't heard a word. That was the
first sign that things were going to be rather disorganized
at this Conference. I mean, really, if two of the most
i mportant avenues of gay communication don't know
about it, then who will? As it turned out, a small, very
unrepresentative sample turned up ; mostly from the local
area, mostly from white-collar trade unions, and, mostly

Arriving on Friday night, we met others who assumed,

as we did, that International Marxist Group (I.M.G.)
members had organised this meeting. It had already been
labelled by Red Weekly as 'the most important gay
conference this year'. This feeling was further reinforced
when we saw the supposed organizer of the conference
and well-known member of the I.M.G. sitting in caucus
in the corner of a pub with other I.M.G.'ers. This was
the grouping that was to become so familiar to many of
us by the end of the conference.
The next morning, after sleeping on the floor with ten
beautiful men but, of course, no one touching each other,
we arrived at the delightful Leeds Polytechnic. There were
no signs anywhere to direct us to the meeting rooms. After
much searching, we arrived at the steepest lecture hall
imaginable (just right for intimate and meaningful
discussion) and came across a Red Weekly vendor. More
evidence of the I.M.G. presence?
After lowering ourselves into our seats, we listened to
Martin O'Leary give a half hour talk on `The Law and
Beyond'. It was a clear and concise account of the
i mportance of law reform for gays. He included a
discussion of the false ways out of our oppressed
situation such as those who believe that all we need to do
is to get all gays to come out or all we have to do is
subordinate our concerns to 'some other struggle'. He
refuted both these points, quite correctly, as being the sole
Britain's crises and growing instability mean that it
cannot afford to be liberal anymore, he also explained. The
worsening situation is indicated by examples such as Jill
Knight, M.P. asking for the removal of homosexuals from
the Social Services, the John Warburton case and the
increased police harassment at Earl's Court. He said that
this conference must discuss how to defend gays from
these attacks and those to come and also how we can
avoid the mistakes of the old British gay movements.
This well-put-together talk that had, though, few
revelations, drew little response and discussion quickly
came around to the inadequacy of this ugly lecture room
(where we couldn't even see the people in the row in front
of us) and to the inadequacy of the publicity which,
generally speaking, only reached the radical gays. It was
suggested that we move to a more pleasant room. This
was agreed but we spent the next twenty minutes standing
in hallways looking for guidance but getting none. It was
suggested that we go for lunch while a room was sought.
So, after only one hour, we were out on the street again.
Enthusiasm was beginning to wane.
Fifty people reassembled in a much more suitable room
after lunch to listen to Ellie Burns, Bradford A.U.E.W.
Shop Steward, talk about her experiences in the W.R.A.F.
several years ago and also the problems of coming out in
the television factory where she now works. It made
fascinating listening and I'm sure we wished we could have
been as brave as she had been in our own work situations.
The main problem seemed to be her isolation. Her trade
union was beginning to tell her to stop going on about her
gayness because they all accepted it and they couldn't see
that anything more had to be done. As well as this, the
local International Socialists' (I.S.) branch had not
responded to the Bradford's G.L.F.'s offer of help.
This led to a most useful discussion of our own personal
experiences with respect to how we dealt with our
homosexuality at work and in our unions. This allowed us
to see our individual problems in a much broader context.
Afterwards, we broke into three workshops that were to
discuss the eternal problem, 'What is to be Done?' After
reassembling, a problem of leadership again arose because
someone needed to bring together the various threads. In
everyone's head was the fear of being called a 'bureaucrat'
or 'on an ego trip' as used to happen in G.L.F. circa 1970.
Finally, a Communist Party comrade from Edinburgh
began to ask if it was generally agreed that there was a
need for some sort of Gay Workers' Charter along the
line of the Working Women's Charter. This was agreed,
but it was not just to be a piece of paper to be passed at
high-level Trade Union conferences. It must be used as a
discussion document by ourselves at branch level. There,
other homosexuals who hadn't come out, might feel much
freer about being open about their homosexuality without
fear of reprisals.

As to what the Charter would have to include, several

suggestions were made. There must be a commitment on
the part of employers and trade unions to end all
discrimination against all gays with respect to hiring and
promotion. At this point, a proposition was put forward
that we could not support anyone's desire for promotion.
But it was pointed out that however much we may object
to people becoming bosses, not all promotions mean one
becomes a member of the management.
Secondly, it must commit the Trade Union Movement
to support homosexual law reform and to the removal of
all laws discriminating against homosexuals. It was
questioned whether this should lead to an elimination of
all ages of consent legislation or not.
Workers should also be educated to help eliminate their
sexist attitudes and anti-gay remarks and viewpoints.
We reached a dilemma over whether to include
transexuals and transvestites at the risk of lessening our
chances of success. Do we preserve our respectability or
be honest to our analysis? This was not resolved, but the
latter was preferred by most. Perhaps `sexual orientation
and style of dress' would cover all possibilities.
That ended the day's work. The night brought a fabulous
and friendly disco. A real feeling of unity was built up and
expressed when we held each other and sang 'United We
Stand, Divided We Fall'. A drunken `het' took the violent
side of these proud feelings when he started a fight which
led to several gays being seriously hurt and having to go
to hospital. This brought everyone right back down with
a thump.
Sunday's session scheduled to start at 10 a.m. eventually
began at 12.15 with about thirty people. We had to sit in
the foyer on the floor and it was obvious that the
scheduled speakers and workshops were just not going to
come off. We were left on our own again to make some
meaning out of all of us coming together from all over
England and Scotland.
The main point to come out of this was that there must
be another conference soon where much more preliminary
work would have to be done. Representatives from as
many trade unions as possible must be contacted as well as
all gay groups in the country. It was felt that a newsletter
would have to be set up to disseminate the information
re the next conference which Leeds G.L.F. agreed to
I sincerely hope that this newsletter and conference do
come into being as I feel that the trade unions are vital in
our battle to have a less split lifewhere we are 'ordinary'
people during the day and homosexuals at home. It will
also encourage more people to come out which, although
it is definitely not the only answer to homosexual
oppression, will go some way to changing the attitudes of
the people whom we have to work with every day.
A link should also be established more directly with
working class gays who, so far, have been under
represented in gay groups mainly because of most groups'
middle-class emphasis and bias.
Finally, as is stated in the collective statement, the
question of sexuality must be confronted by the labour
movement. I believe that this conference and others like
it will lead to the fulfilment of this aim.

The first newsletter has been published! Information
regarding the conference, which is now going to be held in
Leeds, is available from: Gay Information Centre,
Gay Working Peoples Collective,
153a Woodhouse Lane,
Leeds 2
Tel 39071 X57
Those interested should also send financial contributions
to that address as money is desperately needed.

Gay Left 13

David Widgery writes:
The following review was written, on request, for the
theoretical journal of the International Socialists'
International Socialism in Autumn 1973.. It was rejected by
Chris Harman, then editor, because 'he had not read the
pamphlet' and supposedly was not in a position to tell me
if I'd got the line wrong. He presumably never did because
the review 'got lost', a euphemism I have experienced
several times on socialist papers when the editor wants to
reject something but has not the courage to say so. At the
ti me the leadership of I.S. were conducting a political
campaign against Don Milligan and the I.S. Gay Group
which was by and large successful. For the record, one of
the leading lights in that campaign was responsible for
the classic line "I.S. does not have a line on what you call
sexism and has not found it a phenomenon which exists
in the working class."
I am glad of this chance to eventually publish the
article: not because of any grand idea of the review's
worth, but because of what the suppression of its fairly
tentative contents reveals about the political context in
which Don Milligan wrote his pamphlet.

The Politics of Homosexuality'

Don Milligan 20p Pluto Press
Homosexuality has been a taboo subject on the Left for
100 years. It's always been somebody else's problem ;
something to do with bourgeois degenerates or Stalinist
spies. Socialists who wanted to go to bed with lovers of
their own sex have done so in great secrecy or simply
become celibate and submerged their sexual longings in
political activity. Although homosexual writers like Edward
Carpenter, active in the Sheffield labour movement early
this century, were very widely read in the movement
(Love's Coming of Age went through twelve editions),
their analysis could never advance beyond a desperate
pleading for their form of love to be tolerated.
Radical homosexual writers who were drawn towards
socialist ideas because of their own experience of the
hypocrisy of capitalism were seldom welcomed. Oscar
Wilde, openly prosecuted in an atmosphere of pre-Boer
War patriotic hysteria was unmentioned by the socialist
press of the day. Walt Whitman, the American left-wing
poet, whose proleterian following in Yorkshire
corresponded and sent money to their hero, was never
able to openly link his homosexuality to his political
feelings, although privately they were inseparable.
Of female homosexuals we know only sneers and silence.
The Left has occasionally included homosexuals
somewhere in its list of oppressed minorities but the
perspective has been reformist and legislative. For example
a warm-hearted article in Socialist Review, commenting on
the Wolfenden Report which made homosexuality legal
between consenting adults, still saw homosexuality as an
evil and perverted form of love, a product of capitalist
society which would be cleansed after-the-Revolution. In
the meantime queers are supposed to keep their heads well
down and wait for more tolerant laws to be passed from
above. And although the Bolsheviks acted to legalize
homosexuality, since 1934 in Russia and in most of the
state-capitalist regimes, especially Cuba, homosexuals have
been singled out for the most vigorous prosecution.
The emergence, out of the political Pandora's Box of
1968, of the Gay Liberation Movement has altered the
whole terms of the discussion. A movement of
homosexuals of an entirely new kind was born in collective
struggle (literally in a fist fight with New York cops
attempting to make arrests in a New York homosexual
bar). They asked not for integration and tolerance but
shouted defiance and challenged heterosexual society to
examine the seamy side of its own 'normality'. A sexual
minority, apparently contained in their own guilt-ridden
ghettoised sub-society, suddenly in the late sixties began
to organize politically and look for radical explanations
Gay Left 14

of their own situation. Seldom has Engel's remark that 'in

the fore of every great revolution the question of free love
is bound to arise' proved truer. The reaction of socialists
has been embarrassed and uncertain. At one extreme the
freak left by giving uncritical support to every whim of
Gay Liberation (and they have been many) in fact took
a liberal and also a rather patronizing attitude.
At the other extreme those socialists who denied that
homosexuals were a 'genuine' minority, and suspect it's all
a middle-class problem anyhow, ended up utilizing
revolutionary phrases to cloak straightforward prejudice
(at the World Youth Festival 1973, for example, socialist
homosexuals were beaten up when they attempted to raise
a G.L.F. banner). Milligan's pamphlet documents quite
clearly how homosexuals are oppressed by law prejudice,
the specific physical attacks made by psychiatrists and
queer-bashers and, most importantly, the personal selfdenial of a life of furtiveness and enforced secrecy. In
reply to those who argue that this oppression has no
relation to the class struggle he quotes the words of the
Bolshevik Central Committee member Alexandra
Kollontai who wrote in 1919 'the problems of sex concern
the largest section of societythey concern the working
class in its daily life.'
It is hard to understand why this vital and urgent subject
is treated with such indifference. The indifference is
unforgiveable. Milligan argues that homosexuals are an
affront to capitalism because they challenge the system's
division of people into small competitive family units of
obedient producers and cons umers house-trained in
obedience and rigid sex-roles. For, like the Women's
Question, any adequate Marxist analysis of homosexuality
is bound to deal with sexuality, child-rearing and
psychology, topics not raised within the Marxist movement
since the late 1920s. These questions are not being raised
again in the working class movement by accident ; it is
inevitable they will be asked once again in new guises as
we transform our revolutionary socialism from the dogma
of the few into the faith of the multitude. Indeed a
modern revolutionary party unable to come to terms with
feminism and the gay movement is storing up trouble
for itself.
The struggle for a Marxist theory of homosexuality will
continue and will only finally be made by working class
homosexuals themselves. As Connolly says it is those who
wear the chains who are most qualified to begin throwing
them off. In the meantime socialist homosexuals are
entitled to expect the active support of their heterosexual
comrades. Socialists who are weak on this question will
undoubtedly show themselves weak on other perhaps
more important questions of principle. For it is not a
question of moralism but one of class solidarity. For a
male worker who sneers at queers, just like one who talks
of niggers and slags, is finally only sneering at himself
and his class.

"Dangerous Deviants . . ."
Who Screws Who? by Frank Pearce and Andy Roberts
Funny Farm Publications 35p
This is an interesting and relevant pamphlet despite its
journalistic title and demands close examination. It has
been sown togetherwith stitches occasionally showing
from two previously published articles, one on the
regulation of sexuality under capitalism, the other on the
role of the media in creating images of homosexuals. Both
together form an attempt to locate attitudes to
homosexuality in the changing needs, economic and
ideological, of British capitalism. This present pamphlet
therefore sets out to demonstrate the social significance of
homosexual oppression.

Before we can start to analyse gayness historically we

must be clear as to our approach. Much of current gay
historiography (or more appropriately, hagiography)
whether intentionally or not, falls within a 'third sex'
tradition. This was the dominant tendency in the early
German and British gay movements at the beginning of
the century and assumes that gay people form a separate,
usually biologically determined group, constant throughout
history and more or less ill-treated and oppressed. It is
inadequate for two reasons: (a) it does nothing to
challenge current social definitions of masculinity and
femininity: rather it fully accepts them, and tries to fit
homosexuals in between. (b) it leads to absurd chauvinistic
conclusionsas if gay liberation was a national liberation
struggleand to reformist politics 'All we want is our
Pearce and Roberts start out with a more radical and
useful assumption: that individuals are born with a
fundamentally bisexual constitution, with a sexual
expression which is moulded according to social influences
and social needs. This implies firstly, that homosexuality is
a natural part of everyone's sexual make upand the wide
range of anthropological and sociological evidence about
different people's different sexual norms suports this ; and
secondly, that different cultures endeavour to suppress this
homosexual component, in differing degrees, to conform
to the heterosexual norms that have been socially created.
This implies the concept of social 'role'. The most
commonly recognized roles are those of 'men' and
`women', and their sexual behaviour is expected to
conform to their role expectations: the man active and
aggressive, the female passive and responsive. Mary
McIntosh in the late 1960s developed the concept of a
`homosexual role', present in some cultures and not in
others. In our own culture the male homosexual role is
clearly and sharply defined. It is a deviant role, despised
and punished, and socially defined in order to bolster up
the socially acceptable heterosexual roles. This is a
valuable approach because it explicitly links changing
attitudes to homosexual behaviour to changes in concepts
of socially desirable heterosexual behaviour. In other
words, homosexuals are oppressed in our society because
they pose a threat to the socially sanctioned 'proper'
male / female roles. Attitudes to male homosexuality can
therefore be used as a 'manageable indicator' of attitudes
to changing heterosexual roles ; and conversely, changing
economic and social heterosexual roles can be used as
an analytical tool to help explain new attitudes to
This is the approach Pearce and Roberts adopt,
theoretically at least. They follow Mary McIntosh in
seeing the emergence of a distinctive male homosexual
role as a product of the early 18th century. It is not
until the late 19th century, however, that it becomes
widely recognized, both by Church and State and by
homosexuals themselves. The 1885 Labouchere
Amendment is a crucial landmark here, for for the first
ti me, it makes all male homosexual acts illegal. And by
sharpening the divide between acceptable and unacceptable
male emotional and sexual behaviour it created an almost
i mpassable barrier, to be crossed only at the risk of
blackmail, notoriety and social ostracism.
The late 19th century sees a consistent attempt to
socially suppress the homosexual component in the male's
sexual make up ; the corollary of this is the emergence of
the concept of the exclusive homosexual, which acts both
as a protection for the heterosexual norm, and by a
dialectical process, as a coherent identity for the
homosexual. It is no accident, therefore, that the period
which sees the harshest oppression of homosexuals sees
also the beginnings of a gay rights movement.
Although Pearce and Roberts suggest these changes they
are less clear in explaining them. They retreat, as many
others have done, to a facile reliance on the JudaoChristian tradition's hostility to homosexuality.
Unfortunately, an explanation which can explain
everything, explains nothing. Christianity is an ideology
which to a certain degree has a life of its own, supported
as it is by highly organised structures and bureaucracies.
But the success of the social purity Evangelical movement
in the 1880s can only be explained by its relevance to
the 1880s, as determined by the needs of the ruling class.

The pamphlet offers a series of impressionistic

connections which do not fully explain this relevance.
The clue again lies in the 1885 Act. For the Act which
outlawed male homosexual behaviour was tagged on to
an apparently unconnected Act to raise the age of consent
for girls to sixteen. This itself was a product of pressure
from the social purity campaign. The connection between
these two apparently unconnected enactments lies in their
function: they both had the effect of controlling sexual
relations outside the family, while strengthening them
within the family. For the age of consent clause which was
centrally related to control of prostitution, like the
homosexual clause, was instrumental in closing the doors
to socially acceptable sex outside the family.
This emphasis on the family must be seen in the context
of sharpening definitions of male and female roles, itself
linked to changes in the economy ; and to the need to
socially integrate sections of the industrial working class
into bourgeois society. This in turn must be set against a
background of increased inter-imperialist competition,
with the growing might of Germany and America ; and
the consequent fear of imperial decline. It is surely
significant that it was precisely in the last decades of the
19th century that the supposed link between homosexuality
and the decline of great civiliations was made explicit by
ideologists of the ruling class.
The family as a 'natural community' was seen as a
haven from the conflicts of class society, as a natural
microcosm of the national community. As Pearce and
Roberts put it:
When the family becomes a universal interpretative
image for the whole of society, homosexuality is
repressed as dangerous because it questions the role
The increased intervention of the bourgeois state
throughout the 20th century in bolstering the family
through social security, family welfare provisions etchas
provided the material basis for the spontaneous
reproduction of male and female roles. The state has been
able, therefore, to partially withdraw from the direct
regulation of sexual behaviour. But the repeal of the 1885
law relating to male homosexuality did not lead to the
social sanctioning of male homosexual behaviour: it was
merely a rationalization of the status quo, a recognition
of the existence and sexual needs of a deviant minority :
no more. Above all, of course, mere legal changes ignore
the existence of female homosexuality.
This is the most glaring omission in the pamphlet. There
is no proper discussion of the logical corollary of the
19th century worry about male sexuality : the down
grading of female sexuality. Attempts to incorporate
female homosexuals within the scope of the 1885 Act
were dropped in the 1920s explicitly because this would
give publicity to something best left unmentioned and
unknown. Lesbianism is ignored because it poses a
challenge to the social image of women as dependent and
responsive to men. The late 19th century reassertion of
the male role, protected by harsh laws from falling into
homosexual ways, was accompanied by a sharper
definition of the female role, hailed as the mother of
Empire. Though the language and terminology may have
changed, the images are still before us, in a society where
a higher proportion of people get married than ever
before. The greater sexual freedom of the 20th century
is still defined in relation to the family unit, which,
bursting at the seams, still works to present its stifling
role models.
One of the ways these models are perpetuated is through
the press, which by the 1930s had for the first time
become a 'mass media'. The second part of the pamphlet
is less speculative than the first and is a sober and
valuable description of the ways in which the popular
press creates and perpetuates stereotypes of 'deviant'
behaviour ; 'Evil Man' ; 'The Sick Men of Hampstead
Heath' ; 'Twilight Traitors' ; they are all headlines from
popular Sunday newspapers of the liberal 60s. They
should now be like garish nightmares, thankfully in the
past. But of course the assumed moral outrage, the
careful glossing over of facts, the distortion of tone, are
still with us, witness the Sunday People of Spring Bank
Holiday, 1975.
`The vilest men in Britain.' Who are they? Murderers,
Gay Left 15

rapists, property speculators? No! Homosexual

paedophiles. The oppression of sexual minorities still sells
newspapers and still acts as a guardian for the 'righteous'.
A proper understanding of this pamphlet should help us to
understand why: and suggest the relevant political
conclusions to be drawn from that knowledge.

Guttersnips Guttersnips Gut

Readers are invited to contribute their own selections
from the press.

Jeffrey Weeks

Book Review
Forward Steps
Homosexual Oppression and Liberation by
Dennis Altman
Allen Lane 1974 First Published 1971
Dennis Altman set out to identify the many strands of the
gay liberation movement and the success of his work can
be judged by its widespread approval and acceptance
since it was first published four years ago. To take such
a loosely woven movement and link historical and
contemporary threads with the work of gay writers and
activists into a unified and readable account is no mean
achievement. It says much for Altman's tenacity that he
searched out and examined gay liberation in his native
Australia, in the U.S.A. and in Britain.
It is also a book very much of its time, belonging firmly
to the gay liberation movement. Having argued the case
for gay liberation, Altman goes on to look at gay liberation
and the left--toward human liberation. The argument
that liberation from self-oppression must come before any
real political understanding is one which many of us
accept, as we do the argument that our ultimate aim is
human liberation. What is curious, however, is that Altman
gives no analysis of our present situation in society, nor
does he offer any way of achieving 'human liberation'.
He has little time for the traditional left, which has
either dismissed the gay movement, oppressed it or tried
to politicize it by infiltration. Altman goes on to resist
attempts to identify gay liberation with the left. 'Political
movements, all of them attract people who are insecure,
confused, sexually uncertain'. This is a fairly damning
dismissal and one which suggests that it is a convenient
rationale for his own apolitical feelings. If Altman is
referring to traditional party politics in this quote then
it may well he true, but it is a narrow view of politics
which have in any case offered nothing to the oppressed
Altman offers clearer and more positive aims in other
fields--the need to break down sexual types, for example.
Also, Altman does not accept the liberal view of merely
integrating gays as equal members of society, but rather
wants the full spectrum of sexual feelings to be recognized
and so avoid the polarization of gays and hets. High and
admirable ideals, but without any analysis of the economic
(capitalism) and social (family) basis of our present
society, they remain fairly romantic aims. The liberation
of sexual feelings will come from a change in society,
whose power and responsibility lies with the workers, who
control the means of production.
What is required is someone with the broad sweep
displayed by Altman to outline the methods by which the
liberation of gays and all oppressed peoples may be
achieved. Marxists have had little or nothing to say
directly about the oppression of gaysthey have only
written about the oppression of people in general, hence
the insistence by the traditional left that all will he cured
by the revolution. With our present state of liberation and
our basic mistrust of the bureaucracy the established left
seem to want to set up, we must ourselves examine the
total structure of society in order to understand our
position, and, as gays, work to ensure that the revolution
achieves the aims of sexual and human liberation.
Altman's book is a lucid and convincing account of our
first steps, but in 1975 we want the next steps to be given
equally serious thought.

Emmanuel Cooper

SOME OF our best friends in

these liberated days are,
doubtless, gay. But would
you let a limp-wristed lad
teach Your daughter ? Would
you indeed allow a gay to tell
the kiddies the facts of life ?
Spurred on by the National
Council of Civil Liberties,
which reported this week that
one-third of local authorities
are " . bigoted or confused" in
their attitude to homosexual
teachers, our Dawdle pollster
slower than Galluphas
been at it again, this time
accousting working mums &
others outside the Tesco
supermarket in down town
(and down market) Camden
How would they feel about
their friendly neighbourhood
school hiring a gay ? And
the kids finding out about it ?
And teacher explaining his
way of life to the little
darlings ? (It's a problem that
has been disturbing the
Inner London Education
Authority of late where just
such an issue arose.) And
how about Communists or
members of the National
Front standing up at the
blackboard to be counted?
Toughest response came
from David and Mary Willes,
a pram-pushing couple with
two pre-school kids. "I'd
smack him in the mouth," said
Dave cheerfully when
presented with the prospect of a
gay teacher explaining his sex
life to the young. He didn't
think much of Reds or antiReds in the classroom either.
"Children should he brought
up with their own points of
viewor their parents'," he
added sternly.
Gladys Heath, a stocky, 50
year-old redhead. wasn't
playing. Asked how many children
she had, Gladys snapped back:
" That's a personal question.
Don't ask me anything like.
that. Anything polite, yes.
But not that."
Undeterred, Dawdle turned
to a 32-year-old ex-town
planner with a six-month-old
under her arm. She hadn't
thought the thing through
yet, but she did a lot of
street surveys for pin money
and was delighted to help
out. No objection on the gay
front. In fact, delig hted if
things were explained to teenagers. "They'll run into
queers eventually anyway."
But she'd be mildly annoyed
if political extremists got

AT WHAT point do you climb

off the trendy liberal bus?
When do you ring the bell
and tell the conductor "Thus
far and no further "? For me
it came this week when I read
Michael Parkin's decidedly
cool piece on the . Campaign
for Homosexual Equality conference in Sheffield last weekend. Seems the gay delegates
censured their own organising
committee for not treating
sufficiently seriously the problems of " paedophiles "child
molesters to you and me.
To make sure we hadn't got
it all wrong London Letter
collected the pamphlet
successfully pushed round the
gays' conference by Mr Keith
llose and others from the
Paedophile Information Exchange. Founded in October
1974 this worthy organisation
looks after the interests of
" those men and women who
are sexually and otherwise
attracted to young people
below the age of 17."
To make the point still
stronger their conference
pamphlet carries a picture of
a couple of jolly, innocent 10
year olds on the beach. It's
hard to tell from the text
just how sexual " relationships " with the kids really
But a few discreet
phrases give the clue.
We are talking, apparently
about "mutually pleasurable"
relationships and the recognition of children's "sexuality,"
"the removal from the statute
books of the 'unjust laws
which define mutual and
loving relationships' as
assaults." PIE exists, among
other reasons, to look after
members " in legal difficulties concerning sexual acts
with consenting ' under age'
In short we are talking
about poor sad perverted
adults who take pleasure in
having it off with children
too young to know what they
are doing and why. People
who need medical treatment
rather than sneering persecution, no doubt. But, above
all, people who need to he
kept away from your kids
and mine. And these are the
people who gained the blessing of the Campaign for
Homosexual Equality. It's
enough to give gays a bad
For good measure those

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Within These Walls...

The Gay World Today
The early gay liberation movement saw a sustained attack
on what we liked to call the 'gay ghetto'. This was seen
both as a state of mind (closeted, narrow, fashion conscious,
objectifying) and as a geographical place (the 'meat-markets'
and 'rip-off joints' of Earls Court and Chelsea). Gay
liberation offered a creative alternative: community instead
of alienation, comradeship instead of isolation, love instead
of competition, the struggle against sexism and ageism
instead of enslavement to commercialism and the latest
fashion. But early gay liberation had only a limited direct
impact on the gay world; its promise of personal liberation
now seemed vapid when compared with the depth of
external prejudice, the persistence of internal barriers, the
strength of our ingrained (and often sexist) emotional
structures, and the need to earn our daily bread. Moreover,
on an external level the gay ghetto was not resistant to
change. The closeted atmosphere of gay bars dissolved into
gold dust as the proprietors realised that they could allow
gays to dance together without the (legal) heavens falling in.
The Gay Sweatshop play 'Mr. X' has a moving scene where
the hero is introduced to the gay ghetto, and presented with
a list of 'don'ts': don't give your true name, don't kiss in
public, don't touch your partner when you're dancing .. .
It is effective because, still, for most of the audience it was
their experience. But to a generation reaching the gay world
now, it must seem like the faint echo of a bad dream. The
gay commercial scene has proved elastic to a fault. If gay
liberation could set up a 'people's disco', so could Tricky
Dicky. If gay liberation could publish gay magazines, so
could Don Busby; bigger and glossier, if rather less liberated.
Gay liberation prized open the crack, but gay commercial
interests rushed to pour in.
The result is that increasingly the gay world is moulded
and defined explicitly by the values of capitalism. As a
group of gay men we need what the gay world can offer.
Friendships, love, sexual contact do not drop out of empty
skies, or confront us daily on the bus into work. They have
to be sought in a world still largely hostile or alien, if in a
more subtle way than previously, to free gay sexuality and
honest and open gay relationships. This is not, of course, to
deny that the gay movement has achieved a better
community than existed before. On the one hand we do
have more open dances and discos, better lighted pubs and
clubs, more accessible cruising areas (how did we manage
without Gay News and the Spartacus Gay Guide?). And on
the other we now have genuine, and growing, gay
community services, which help the isolated and promote
genuine self help and growth of confidence and personal
stability. That's our achievement.
But despite what many say (usually the better off and
glamorous, or the politically naive) the golden age has not
yet started, nor are further improvements under capitalism
inevitable. In the first place, of course, the benefits of
recent changes are unevenly spread, both geographically and
socially. Capitalism, by its anarchic and unplanned nature,

by Gay Left Collective

is incapable of resolving any social question evenly and

smoothly. Secondly, and this is more difficult to grasp, the
changes have occurred often at the expense of any genuine
release from the pressures of a competitive, commercialised
and sexist scene. We have been offered an improved
situation only if we surrender to it completely. The gay
subculture is riven with clashes and illusions. The women
tend to be split off from the men, butch men from fem,
leather queens from drag queens, and so on. Many of these
attitudes are themselves reflections of heterosexual values;
others of the pervasive cash nexus.
In this gay world it is all too easy for people to lose their
individualities, sex becomes the aim of life; individuals
become things.
What we want to do in this article is look at some aspects
of the present male gay world, its history and most common
forms, the impact of the gay movement on it, and then
tentatively look at the way forward. We come up with no
startling suggestions. Mao Tse Tung once said, "to investigate a problem is to solve it". This is certainly the first
step; the rest is up to us and you.
The Subculture
What we have seen in recent years is essentially a massive

growth of a homosexual subculture. A subculture represents

an attempt to provide a group solution to particular
problems within the confines of a given society. In our case
a homosexual subculture attempts to resolve certain of the
problems that a hostile environment dictates for homosexuals. Although homosexuality exists in all societies, it is
only in certain types of culture that it becomes structured
into a distinctive subculture. And it is so structured when
no generally acceptable social outlet is allowed for it. The
subculture thus acts both to provide social intercourse for
the stigmatised; and to segregate the 'deviants' from the
population at large. This dual character seems to have been
common from the first appearance of a male gay subculture
in England in the early 18th century. A writer speaks of the
Mollies club in 1709 which had parties and regular gatherings,
and another writer in 1729 mentions 'Walks and Appartments', picking-up areas, mainly around the Covent Garden
area of London (ironically, or perhaps not, this is where the
G.L.F. started 250 years later!). These clubs and meeting
places are associated with a culture we would now regard as
transvestite and 'effeminate', suggesting it was this initially,
together with the traditional taboos against sodomy
(remember the 'buggers clubs' of post Wolfenden debates?)
which generated most hostility. By the mid 19th century
the subculture becomes a much more defined and recognisable entity. Its development is associated with increasing
hostility to gay sex in society at large and a heightened
homosexual identity, which, in turn, is largely a product of
the redefinition of social roles within the family and society
that is characteristic of the 19th century triumph of
industrial capitalism. Urbanisation in particular allowed
the development of relatively anonymous meeting places,
and made possible a rapid move between the 'normal' and
'deviant' cultures. A young man of the upper classes might
move from schoolboy sex in his public school to casual sex
with guardsmen (a notorious source of rent); to familiarity
with well known cruising areas in London; to cross-class
liaisons with the working class (sometimes rent, sometimes
not), all without sacrificing his well-connected marriage and
social prospects: unless of course he was caught.
The working class was often seen by middle class
romantics as a reservoir of healthy young love, untrammelled
by bourgeois values. A whole tradition of gay radicals from
Whitman, through J.A. Symonds and Edward Carpenter to
E.M. Forster and beyond dreamt of healthy bodies and
rough minds. The reality of working class gay life was
perhaps less romantic. There is some evidence that as the
nuclear family model spread through the class, the pressure
on working class male gays sharply intensified. Young
working class boys pop up in the notorious scandals (e.g.
the messenger boys in the Cleveland St. scandal of 1888,
the rent in the Wilde case); and harsher legal penalties that
followed the 1885 Labouchere amendment ground particularly on the male working class homosexual. These
tendencies recur constantly in the 20th century development of the subculture, up to its apotheosis in the swinging
sixties and seventies. One or two generalisations can be
1 The subculture is overwhelmingly male. There are very
few signs of lesbian clubs before the 1960s, none of female
cruising areas. Individual lesbians there were, and small
lesbian coteries, but no structured 'underground'.
2 It is a part-time subculture. Few live in it all the time; its
nature is defined by the gay's ability to switch from it to
straight society almost invisibly. The cottage (public
lavatory) was thus more than the most common form of
the culture; it was its symbol. It is significant that as we
male gays became more visible in the 70s, so the authorities
find urgent reasons to close down conveniences.
3 It is largely urban; cottage networks exist in almost all
medium sized towns; but it is the large urban centres that
have most clearly defined, complex subcultures.
4 It is a sexual subculture organised essentially around
sexual contacts.
Sex In The Mind
The fragmentation of life into separate parts and particularly the separation of sex from 'life' is not a product of
homosexual characteristics whatever they may be but
a typical example of the way in which capitalism distorts
and fragments relationships. People are encouraged to
define themselves in terms of particular qualities rather
than as whole personalities. When one quality is particularly
prized the lack of that quality becomes an obsession. Black

people feel intensely the fact that they are not white,
women feel intensely the fact that they are not men, gay
people feel intensely the fact that they are not heterosexual.
People react in many different ways to the lack of these
prized attributes by despair, by pretending they are
irrelevant, by defiance, by assertion of the qualities which
are not regarded as acceptable and eventually hopefully
by organising themselves.
Gay people until recently have felt their lives are divided
into the 'normal' part and the sexual part. Traditionally, the
sexual part has been hidden, secret. Gays, when they have
not repressed their sexuality altogether, have generally
sought one of these two solutions:1 Since sexuality in our society has been so closely bound
up with supposedly stable, emotional relationships leading
to marriage and family life, some gays have aped that and
tried to find a suitable partner for a pseudo-marriage. This
often turns into an endless search for an ideal person who
does not exist and even if he did exist, would be unlikely
to be recognised in the shadows of a cottage. Disappointment is the norm and is followed by an even more frenzied
search for this ideal partner;
2 Some gays realise the futility of such a search and,
apparently casting aside their emotional needs, exalt their
sexuality into a prime position. They have accepted
society's definition of them in sexual terms and glorify that
aspect of themselves which is socially repugnant. Since
there can be no link between this feature of their lives and
the rest of their lives they must give it some coherence by
perpetually repeating the whole process. The need to pick
up is no longer simply sexual but has become a major
feature of their whole emotional being. It both strengthens
by virtue of its frequency and weakens by virtue of the
fact that it reminds one constantly of one's position outside the norms of bourgeois society.
In both cases the result is a compulsive search which in
fact only accentuates the fragmentation which society
imposes. This does not mean we share the views of those
bourgeois moralists (doctors, psychiatrists, judges) who
attack homosexuals for their 'promiscuity'. There is
nothing 'immoral' in freely choosing and changing partners
for mutually satisfying sex. One of the greatest assets of
being homosexual is that we can more easily free ourselves
from moralistic labelling of sexual behaviour, and we can
begin to explore our sexuality in a way untrammelled by
stereotyped norms. But the point is that often 'promiscuity'
is not an act of liberating sexuality but of tying it to
unrealistic expectations and wants. We have to break away
from a 'compulsiveness' which is imprisoning, without
surrendering to rigid bourgeois norms. This is one of the
deep ambivalences of cottaging.
A recent piece on sexism in the CHE newsletter tartly
warned its male readers that cottaging was NOT an act of
liberation. Of course it is not. And yet it has a basic directness which often puts to shame the more salubrious parts
of the gay scene. It is basically about sex, and in its various
forms, its own intricate codes and uses, it reveals a lot
about gay oppression.
Almost certainly most gay men and quite a lot of others
use cottages (public lavatories) for making sexual contacts.
For many gays cottages are the first introduction to homosexual expression. This is especially so for young people
whose alternative outlets are few, e.g. in small towns.
Outside the cities and large towns, lavatories are often the
only places where gay encounters can be made. There is a
whole unwritten history of gay men's initiation to sex in
public places (perhaps this adds another dimension to W.H.
Auden's phrase about "private faces in public places") and
it will not do to moralistically condemn. Many people use
cottages because they have no choice in the matter as there
is no other available sexual outlet. Others find it difficult to
function in the more public gay scene. This is dictated in
large part by the sexism of the gay world, with its premium
on youth and good looks and money. The more direct
sexuality of the cottage sometimes (not always) transcends
age. For others, again, cottaging offers an alternative for
open avowal of their homosexuality you can have regular
sex with members of the same sex for years, and never
openly admit to yourself your sexual orientation. Here
casual sex of this sort merges into that described by Laud
Humphreys in Tearoom Trade speedy, anonymous sex,
perhaps between married men, who then return to the

comfort of their wives and families.

But cottaging offers not only the possibility of casual
sex in 'public places', but an opportunity to pick up a wide
range of partners, taken back to one of the partner's nearby
flat or bedsitter, for quick mutual satisfaction. Cottaging
thus offers the possibility of sexual contact without
emotional commitment; perhaps for variety within a stable
relationship. On the other hand, out of such casual beginnings many close friendships have developed. Cottaging is
thus a highly ambiguous activity, and for this reason it
often has a strong fantasy element. Many men get
tremendous excitement out of the repetition of the activity
and its varied associations. In a society which has so harshly
oppressed gay sexuality, gays cannot simply condemn all
this. It is a central part of our experience. In the beginning
of the modern gay liberation movement, the use of cottages
was bitterly attacked by militant gays; now it is sniffed at
by respectable elements. But until society deems fit to
allow the open expression of our sexual needs cottaging or
its equivalents (cruising open spaces, etc.) is likely to
survive. It represents above all the ineradicability of gay
sexuality, a sexuality which our society either prefers to
pretend doesn't exist, or strives to channel into respectable
Clubs and Pubs
Clubs, pubs, etc., are less ambiguous as meeting places.
They conform more closely to the heterosexual norm of
sexual contact. They demand, probably, a more urgent
need to identify oneself as gay, though this is often not the
case. Their atmosphere, of course, is healthier, cleaner and
cheerier than toilets (but not always!). Chances of police
harassment are less. There is a better chance of meeting on
a social level, of establishing friendships and emotional
commitments. People meet socially and not always for
sexual reasons. Nevertheless, because more identifiable,
clubs and pubs are often, in a paradoxical way, more
contained and more open to social moulding. There is, for
instance, the stress on looking 'good' according to that
place's particular sexual stereotype, e.g. young and dolly
or butch and tough. Competition for your man is rife. Of
course this is again part of the continuum with heterosexual
maleness. But that, surely, is the point. Many of the clubs
and pubs offer useful services. Others are highly exploitative. They feel in a position to be able to ask what they
want and get away with it. Pubs and clubs often charge
exorbitant prices for shabby services and premises and
provide little in return. This is why other countries seem
like El Dorados in comparison with Britain. Some gay
facilities in USA, Canada, Holland actually seem to want
your custom.
Nevertheless, conditions have improved and are likely to
go on improving. What we need to pinpoint are the dangers
as well as the advantages of this happening.
The dichotomy seems then to be between casual sex,
where nothing is defined or determined and a rigidly
defined scene, where everything is more or less open, but
no one is fully satisfied. Neither is finally adequate, for all
the time they work within the narrow confines allowed by
our society.

discriminatory. For example, entrapment methods are used

to entice gays to commit offences so that they may then be
smartly arrested by the 'innocent' policeman. An equally
common example is the patrolling of gay meeting places on
the pretext that in law the blocking of public footpaths is
illegal. Though footpaths outside gay pubs are kept clear,
it is rare to see footpaths outside straight pubs, churches,
chapels or cinemas, etc., so patrolled and cleared. Policemen, in these 'liberal' days make a tremendous public
relations effort to convince the gay community that they
are not against us. They are only against public indecency,
they say. They don't care what you do in private. But
beware of the police when they come bearing gifts. The
reality of oppression is here around us; in Brighton today,
where 15 arrests a week are made to guard public decency;
in your town tomorrow.
Public attitudes are equally ambiguous, as the recent
Gay News survey of public opinion suggested. Stereotypes
of homosexual behaviour (seen as a largely male activity,
associated with effeminacy and mental derangement) are
deeply imbued in the public mind. At best we can expect a
patronising toleration. Generally the public reads in the
press and sees in plays and films the stereotyped ideas that
gays are unhappy paedophiles with suicidal tendencies, and
few people have any opportunity or even interest in seeing
that this is rubbish and that gays can have a fulfilling and
enjoyable life-style -- such evidence directly challenges the
basic belief in the rightness of the family situation.
With such defining and limiting attitudes from the law
and the public in general, it is little wonder that most gays
feel that they can only function in a gay ghetto; this
concept has been adopted by many gays to the point where
the ghetto is seen a: a natural and right part of society. Not
only, however, do many gays operate only as gays inside
the ghetto, but also, after suffering years of oppression and
prejudice, they subconsciously adopt these attitudes and
loathe themselves for being gay. Such gays often see the
ghettos as being sad and boring places, yet cannot operate
outside them hating themselves and yet unable to see, let
alone identify, the cause of their oppression.
Dancing the Gay Lib Blues
Gay Liberation sought to challenge these attitudes, but as
its sun fades in the West, we can begin to see them in a
more objective perspective. The movement, which arose in
the early 1970s, drew many of its original members from
people who were dissatisfied with the gay sub-culture in a
variety of ways those who knew the gay scene who were
sick of it, followers of the counter-culture, radicals and
student activists. Although there were many twists and
turns in the attitude of the Gay Liberation Movement
(GLM) to the gay ghetto, the predominant attitude was

The Subculture Contained

The walls around the subculture/ghetto are invisible; they
are, nevertheless, effective in containing us. Three aspects
can be identified. Firstly, the state, with the main agency
being the officers of law enforcement. Second is the public
whose attitudes are moulded by social, legal, medical and
religious concepts. Third are gays themselves, who internalise the values and prejudices of the oppressor.
The state has partially withdrawn from the regulation of
sexual behaviour over the past decade and has granted a
free space for gay men, over 21, in England and Wales, in
private, to express their desires. But the bourgeois state
still practises active discrimination. Many state jobs are
closed to known homosexuals for example, the diplimatic
service, branches of the civil service, the armed forces, etc.
Except for sex acts which take place between two consenting adults over 21 in private, much other male homosexual
behaviour is classified as criminal. Many popular gay
meeting places are heavily patrolled by the police a
constant reminder that toleration is strictly limited.
Above all, as the major agents of law enforcement, it is
the job of the police to seek out gay 'crimes'. It is, of
course, blatantly untrue that police behaviour is not

that of the counter-culture the ghetto was a part of

straight society and must, therefore, be fought. We held
people who were part of it as being responsible for their
own oppression. Cottages, pubs and clubs were put down
as manifestations of self-oppression; casual sex was alright
as long as it wasn't anonymous; the need for relationships
was recognised but monogamy was condemned. The whole
thing was based almost entirely on feelings and any wider
analysis of the reasons for the existence of the ghetto was
lacking. This lack of analysis was inevitably accompanied
by a lack of strategy. Leafletting and demos took place
outside gay pubs (e.g. Gay Pride Week demo through Earl's
Court with shouts of "Come Out" to the gay patrons) and
an atmosphere of confrontation was generated. But, there
was no strategy for alternative social and sexual outlets for
the majority of gays.
For a time the GLM did offer an alternative to the
ghetto for some with meetings, group activities, discos and
dances all enveloped in an atmosphere of openness and
togetherness. This began to develop into a new ghetto due
to the gulf between us and those who we classed as the
'straight' gays. This was compounded when the split
occurred between the women and the men in the movement. The gay women worked with the women's movement
while the gay men became more isolated into the new
After this, much of the serious questioning of gender
roles disappeared. Such discussions became less honest and
more ritualistic. The male gay movement, instead of
challenging and confronting sexism, became increasingly
defensive. The right to be openly gay was seen only as a
great gain which must not be lost; less and less was it seen
as a first small step in a new era of sexual politics. The gay
movement, particularly through offshoot organizations like
Icebreakers, acted as an important support group for people
coming out. But because it had abandoned wider political
objectives it now tended to glorify what already existed.
The slogan "Glad to be Gay" now became much more like
"Whatever is Gay is Good". Coming out no longer involved
rejection of the ghetto but rather an open assertion of one's
membership of it.
The need for a double life was being destroyed. It was
now much more possible to be open about one's homosexuality. The appearance of a gay community newspaper
helped strengthen this trend. The news items about anyone
and anything gay, the interviews with rich and famous gays,
the lists of gay clubs and pubs, the contact ads all helped
confirm the view that one was not just an isolated individual.
One was now part of a community, but one which remained
conservative and largely impenetrable. We could join local
gay groups or gaysocs, if we were students, where we could
openly meet our 'own kind'. The ghetto, in fact, had come
out. Without the ghetto all the new publications and groups
were meaningless. They were simply new cosmetics for the
tired old faces of the ghetto.
The experience of the women has been different inasmuch as their ghetto was smaller and weaker. But it seems
clear that they have become much more integrated into the
women's movement and have developed politically much
more than the men from the GLM. The lack of a strong
political men's movement is, no doubt, one reason for the
re-emergence of ghetto values in the male gay movement.
The pattern, nationally, has been one of radical groups
being replaced by more conservative social groups with
close links to the ghetto. This experience does have many
variations, however, and some places, e.g. Birmingham,
Bradford, have established longer lasting, more radical gay
groups with a wider base in the community which have
attempted to do more than just play sexual bingo. Gay
centres have been established in many cities. Although
these have tried to establish an alternative to the gay
commercial scene, they have appalling financial problems.
This was made-clear most recently when the South London
Gay Centre was refused a Community Aid Grant by the
London Borough of Lambeth.
The emergence of a few nationally known gay leaders
and the continued submergence of the vast majority of gays
brings to mind the experience of the first British Labour
Government in 1924. As Ramsay MacDonald said of it:
"This extraordinary phenomenon of a Labour Government
that has met kings and rulers of the earth, that has
conducted itself with distinction and with dignity; this
Labour Government that has met ambassadors, that has
faced the rulers of Europe in terms of equality; this Labour

Government that has sent representatives forth and its

representatives have been held as statesmen ..."
There are now powerful and busy leaders from the gay
ghetto just as there were powerful and busy leaders from
the working class in 1924. But neither group made any
basic challenge at the structure or values of society. The
leaders have been accepted by society but the base from
which they arose remains unaltered except in the smallest
Cracking the Walls
Elizabeth Wilson recently remarked that we must not
suppose "that by some well-meant effort of will we can
here and now transcend our society and miraculously have
new and unalienated forms of sexual love relationships".
(Red Rag No.10, p.9). The failure of many gay communes
illustrates very clearly the great difficulties of escaping from
capitalist values and of creating viable alternatives. Gay
community services in part try to offer non-commercial
services but even they cannot fully avoid the pervasive
sexist and commercialised values around them. Without
being despairingly deterministic then, we have to record our
belief that genuinely full, non-sexist, equal relationships can
only be rare within capitalist society (for a comment on
this see the review of Fox). They will all the time be subject
to the pull and push of capitalist values.
But this does not mean we can do nothing. Moreover,
some of the steps forward in breaking down existing value
structures have to take account of the existing state of the
gay world. Despite its expansion of late, gay women and
men are still open to oppression and exploitation within
the ghetto, and this is accentuated by the continuing split
for most between the gay scene and work and home. A
discussion in the gay movement of this split and of the
continuing relevance of 'coming out' in combatting it
would be a necessary starting point. It could lead on to a
continuing discussion of the nature and relevance of the gay
scene which would pinpoint the areas of exploitation
which would have to be fought, and underline the areas of
warmth which have to be encourag ed. What is necessary is
that gays should begin to strive for control over their own
lives. This means campaigning around a series of issues
which can unite the gay world. First, the demand for the
removal of all police harassment at gay establishments and
meeting places. A slogan arising from this demand could
be "no crimes without victims". Secondly, we could
express our consumer-strength by not taking bad facilities,
high prices, hostile atmospheres, just because we are gay.
Thirdly, we must demand the right to freedom of access to
facilities, regardless of the way we dress or look. Fourthly,
and most important, we must create and support as far as
we can, alternatives to the commercial scene. The most
important gain of the gay movement over the past two or
three years has been the development of support groups
such as gay teachers, gay social workers, gay trade union
groups, lesbian groups, and the gay community centres,
such as those in South London and Bradford. These
support groups provide a milieu in which gays can explore
the roots of their oppression in direct relationship to their
i mmediate social or work situations, and at the same time
enable women and men to develop awareness and confidence in their own abilities. These growth points are the
platforms from which to launch a concerted attack on the
values and assumptions of a heterosexual society.
But these are only partial steps. As socialists we believe
that the only way to eliminate sexism is by breaking the
economic and social conditions for its existence in
capitalist society. This means, above all, continuing our
dialogue with the socialist and labour movements. It means
us taking seriously the need to struggle against capitalism
and sexism. It means them beginning to recognise, what was
commonplace to the pioneering revolutionary socialists,
that socialism is not merely the transfer of economic power.
That must be only the first step in a constant struggle to
transform all relationships. The socialist movement must
recapture again the buried tradition of seeing socialism as a
whole way of life.
We regard it as vital that this dialogue be continued:
through discussion and study groups, through gay trade
union groups, through gay fractions in the organisations of
the left. We need all the time to develop a better understanding of the links between sexual oppression and the
exploitation of people as workers. A start has been made in
this direction with the Gay Workers Conference held in

Leeds in February 1976. Out of this conference, and similar

moves, should flow an awareness of the need not only to
confront 'straight society', but also the economic structures

which underpin it. Only in this struggle will the true

alternatives to manipulative sexuality and endemic sexism

From Latent To Blatant

A personal account by Angus Suttie

In the beginning there was me, my mother, father, two

brothers and two sisters. I was much the youngest and when
I was one year old my father gave up being a ploughman
to set up his own dairy business. We moved to a little, tight,
narrow, puritan Scottish town, set on a little hill in a valley
surrounded by bigger hills. This was 1947.
The whole family except me and my elder sister who
was eight years older, was involved in helping to start up
and run the business; it must have been especially hard for.
my mother. She not only did housework, cooking four
meals a day for seven people, washing up, laundry, cleaning,
shopping, tending the numerous pets, looking after me,
etc., but she did a day's work, seven days a week, unpaid in
the dairy. This is fact is what most of her life, as long as
I have been alive and before that, has been made up of
two jobs, one in the home and one outside. I spent most
of my time on my own until I started school. I have little
or no memories of my father until I was eleven when I
worked on a milk van with him, but even then I never got
to know him. So my father is a complete unknown to me,
a mystery, a stranger; a figure who was spoken about and
whom I could see and touch, but someone that I had no
real contact with. As my mother spent most of her time
working, I therefore wasn't actually very close to her, but

she was my main source of emotional comfort and it was

she who had the job of bringing me up.
There wasn't an age at which I didn't prefer playing
with dolls or dressing up to playing football or playing
with toy cars and tractors. Gifts of toy guns were left unused. This was punished by ridicule and being called jessie
and cissy and so I would only do these things in secret.
Instead I took to reading a lot which was more acceptable
but still not as good as playing with other boys. As often
as not though I would play with the girls. "Why aren't you
outside?" I was often asked and attempts by my brothers,
who were back from National Service in the army, to
toughen me up by mock fighting and rough games would
end with me in tears and them in laughter.
The attempts to mould me to what was expected of a
boy growing to be a man were as persistent at school as at
home and games in particular became something which I
dreaded. Football was compulsory and for boys such as me
who were not good at it, we were made to feel not only
that we were personally worthless but aberrant and morally
wanting. "You're a waster" I was told once when I had
'forgotten' to bring my football boots "and I hope
you're not returning next year." The effort made to form
me as a male made me realise that certain gestures were

okay if they were done by a man and others were not. So

I consciously watched myself and if I caught myself sitting
with my legs together I would spread them apart; also
crossing my legs at the thighs was more un-male than
stretching them out before me and crossing them at the
ankle; it was also more male when yawning to stretch back
and with one's arms bent and sticking out at the side to
push one's chest forward; when bending down it was male
to bend from the waist, and so on. I became gesture
conscious and practised different ways of walking and
chose one where I swayed slightly from side to side.
Growing up was painful and I sometimes felt like a
jam-pot cover that was being stretched to fit over a jam-pot
that was too big. I often thought of running away or doing
myself an injury just so that my family would accept me as
I was and not keep trying to change me. I never came up
to what was expected of me and what was expected was
that I should be playing football, scraping my knees, rough,
tough and hard enough to fight back. Instead I cried a lot
which I shouldn't have done and took my frustrations
out on the cat. I got on best with the younger of my two
sisters. She would bully me, but she didn't mind me
dressing up and while I played with her toys she played
with mine. So she was the one in the family to whom I
felt closest and apart from my mother, she had most
influence on my earliest years.
It is strange that I who didn't fit the masculine/boy role
that was ascribed to 'me, I who was closer to my mother
than anyone else, should turn against her, but I did. And
I can remember the exact moment when it happened, it
was that sudden. I was coming home from school and was
jumping on another boy's back to make him carry me,
when I saw my mother across the street watching me. She
said hello but a feeling of annoyance, anger and resentment
that she was watching me filled my head and I ran as fast
as I could up the street. I was about eight at the time and
before then we had had what I expect was a usual mother/
son relationship, but after that I would judge her and she
failed. I was jealous of time she spent away from me but
felt stifled and smothered if she bothered too much about
what I was doing. I would be annoyed if she asked too
many questions and resented her intrusion into my life.
I was angry and humiliated if she hit me and I wouldn't sit
on her knee or let her cuddle me. This episode which
marked a change in my relationship with my mother made
a great impression on me and years later I would wake up
having dreamt about it.
Writing this has made me realise that though I have come
through to what I feel is a better relationship with my
mother than ever, the attitudes of my two brothers
towards her and towards women in general appear to be
based on hatred and critical judgement. Their treatment of
women implies that women are to be used for serving them
with comforts and sex and that they ar inferior, by far,
to men. This is particularly true of the elder of my two
brothers and is summed up by something he said. When I
told him that I am gay, he was disgusted and when I added
that there would be gay men working in London Transport
(he works for the buses) he strongly denied that there were
any male homosexuals in L.T. I carried on to say that there
would also be lesbians working in L.T. to which he replied
"Oh, I ken that. All the bloody women are lesbians." These
same attitudes of women's inequality had been in our
parents' relationship. My mother served the family for
years in the home and when the marriage, which has the
home as its centre, broke up, it was my mother who, as the
keeper of the home, bore the blame. One evening after
there had been a row and my father had gone to the pub,
my mother had broken down and cried "I've failed, I've
failed, I've failed, I've failed" over and over again.
So anyway, there I was at ten years old, a spoilt (as I
was often told) introverted boy with an inferiority complex
and a stutter, who got on with the younger of his two
sisters but who got on better with the dog, when something
called sex entered my life. In my family there wasn't much
emotional or physical warmth or tenderness. No one called
anyone names of endearment and we didn't kiss each other
or touch one another in a loving way. And the culture
around us of course was like this. In this emotional/physical
desert, sex was something dirty and to be ashamed of. For
a woman (married of course) the physical visibility of her
pregnancy was an embarrassment and she would have jokes
made about her because everyone could see what she had
been up to.

So when the scoutmaster took me aside tp go over the

scout laws with me and put his hand up my shorts, it was
no wonder that I felt alarm and guilt. I also felt pleasure
and excitement and told the other scouts that the scoutmaster had a cock like a huge sausage. Their reaction
seemed to be one of titillation as well as that it was wrong.
One or two of them called me poof, but I hadn't a clue
what it meant. I at this time hadn't reached puberty yet
and all that was involved was tickling and stroking one
another's genitals, but on every occasion I felt dirty and
guilty, so much so that I left the scouts and joined another
troup. I had received enjoyment from the contact but I
felt no attraction from the scoutmaster and I would think
longingly of some of the other scouts with whom I would
have much preferred a mutually pleasing sexual relationship.
Where I am from, all moral issues were dealt with as a
cleaver deals with meat and to have sex outside marriage
was scandalous. For example in a shop where I worked,
a boy and a girl were sacked after they were discovered
having sex in the stockroom. And to be gay or paedophile
was to be a pariah and delight would be taken in making
one aware of one's outcastness. Living near me was an
elderly, single man who was rumoured to fancy little boys
whether he did or not, I don't know but pre-teenage
boys would throw stones at his door and chant "Pete the
snecker, Pete the snecker". The scoutmaster as long as I
was in the town didn't have his paedophile activities
brought to light, and if he had, as he was married with two
daughters and had quite a high position in the council
administration, it would have meant social ruin. His feelings
of guilt though were shown by the fact that when we went
over the scout laws together, he always left out the law
which says 'A scout is clean in thought, mind and deed'.
This of course had increased my guilt feelings that we were
doing something 'dirty'.
At 15 I felt the pressure to ask girls out but didn't have
the courage or sufficient desire, so when a girl asked me out
my problem was solved and we went to see a film. The fact
that she had asked me out and made it easy for me to get
over the initial step of dating her, made me try to cling to
her as a safe entry to social conformity. However she soon
gave me up and this was the end of attempts at heterosexual
courtship. I did make forays into dance halls frequented by
heterosexuals but stayed pretty much aloof and tried
smoking to keep me interested. From then on I had to do
a balancing act with girls. I tried to keep girls as friends
without actually telling them I wasn't interested in courtship or petting; but as soon as any girl made demands that
the relationship should be on a more regular basis, I ran
scared and avoided her from then on. On only two
occasions have I ended up in bed with a girl, and both times
I was able to avoid fucking with them. The first time by
pretending I was too tired and sleepy and the second time
by saying that I didn't want to take her virginity as she
was too nice a girl and I thought too highly of her. My
attraction to the same sex however took a positive turn
when I had my knee rubbed continuously for half an hour
in a cinema by an older man. It was electrifying and
startling too. I soon discovered that in the next large town
men could be met in toilets or cinemas who enjoyed
touching and wanking off male youths and so from spending
most of my free time at the swimming baths I became a
film freak. Previously masturbation had been my sole
release; with my total lack of sex education and ignorance
I had often been scared that this would lead to impotence.
This seeking for contacts in cinemas and toilets, the only
places I knew where to meet other homosexuals was new
and exciting at first, but later became very unsatisfactory.
However it was my only outlet (and sporadically at that)
until I was 21 (I am now 29), when, living in Ayrshire at
the time, I entered my first gay bar.
It was nerve wracking. I had heard about this bar which
was in Glasgow in an anti-gay joke and it took me a week
of standing in the street, every evening where the bar was,
for me to build up the courage to go in. I was so nervous
and guilty about being gay, and going into this gay bar
seemed to be a public declaration of my gayness, so that
when I had gone there once it became easier to go there
again. It was here that I met a guy with whom I had my
first really pleasant homosexual experience; we had sex in
a bed instead of a toilet. But I had been expecting more
from a gay bar. After all here we were, homosexual men
who were hated and despised, ridiculed and denied a decent
existence, who came to meet one another in this bar, but

instead of a relaxed friendly atmosphere, I found it cold

and chilling. The atmosphere and attitudes of the world
outside were brought into the pub and unless one was in a
group or coterie of gay friends, the situation could lead to
desperation and a feeling of just as great isolation as
Soon afterwards I left Scotland for London and the
bright lights of Earls Court. I became an habitue of the
Coleherne and learned to function adeptly in this gay bar
in the rituals of picking up and being picked up of
making contact with the eyes and then carrying out a
duologue to find out whether we fancied each other: then
perhaps a tentative question such as "It's crowded in here
tonight, isn't it?" or "Can I buy a drink?" Or else further
communication with the eyes to discover whose place we
could go back to. I went there for two years and mostly
found it quite depressing. However it was my lifeline to
my gayness and I needed it and so tried to adapt to its
conventions as easily as I could. I would equate my enjoyment of the evening with whether I managed to pick up
anyone but most probably if I did, I wouldn't see him
again as I only saw people once and that usually was it
finished. I would look out for someone who would suit me
as a permanent lover a kind of ideal, but of course as I
only saw people once I didn't give that a chance. It was a
vicious treadmill.
I was not heterosexual, I was a homosexual, and a
homosexual is defined by society as someone who has sex
with people of the same sex. So I had sex with gay men
but my emotional relationships were always with heterosexual men. My emotions were split off from my physical
needs. Society told me that I was a queer and a queen and
bent and a poof and a fairy and a faggot and I was despic
able and so I thought everyone like me was also despicable.
So I despised them as I despised myself. It was each gay
for, as in my case, himself. I didn't fit in with heterosexuals
but the homosexual subculture was ridden with their the
heterosexuals view of what we were. And so we gays
were split and fragmented and it was very difficult to break
this pattern and achieve any lasting friendship with other
gay people.
I failed completely to make gay friends because of my
loneliness and frustrations at being gay. I remember I once
said to someone that if there was a pill which would make
me heterosexual I would take it. Because I hated living in
a bedsitter, and hated the dull, repetitious work I was doing;
because there seemed to be no way out of all this, I
attempted suicide. I firstly took care to destroy the copies
of a gay magazine I owned called Jeremy in case my family
should find out that I was gay. The jobs I had had were
mostly unskilled labouring jobs and in them it had become
obvious that I was not the same as the other men. I didn't
have their toughness in speech and gesture, I didn't drink
pints of beer or bet on horses or follow football; I wasn't
interested in cars and I didn't speak about women as bits,
chicks, that, cunt, pussy, piece, talent, etc. In fact I didn't
actually talk about women a great deal. And of course my
'difference' was sometimes hinted at or spoken about. One
man had his three-year-old son run after me to call me
queer. Mostly though I was left on my own. I got on much
better with women in the jobs I had, especially older
women. The younger women I always felt were a threat
as they might see themselves as potential girlfriends.


The Early Homosexual Rights Movement

By John Lauritsen and David Thorstad

Times Change Press, New York, 1974. 91 pages, price 1.00.
This is a very useful book, the first produced in the gay
movement which attempts to outline the general trends of
past struggles for homosexual rights. In an earlier form it
was written as an internal educational document in the
American Socialist Workers Party. Its central involvement
is thus with the connections between socialism and the gay
movement. Its detail can still provide valuable ammunition
in the present struggles of gay socialists.
The book's first concern is to suggest the continuity of
the present gay liberation struggles with those of the past.
The section on 'The Early Homosexual Rights Movement',

Then a short while after my suicide attempt, while I

was crossing the road from The Coleherne to go into The
Boltons I was handed a leaflet about a group which had
just started called the Gay Liberation Front (G.L.F.). So I
went to a meeting. At this time I had been in London for
two years and it is an odd reflection that during this period
I had never heard of the Albany Trust or the Committee
for Homosexual Equality (as it was then called). G.L.F.
challenged and questioned the images and names that
heterosexuals had heaped on us challenged and questioned
the male/female stereotype roles that led to such rigid
definitions and polarisations of sexual tendencies. G.L.F.
questioned the whole male power structure of capitalist
society and challenged the gays in the subculture to come
out. A feeling of gay pride and gay solidarity was
developed. We shouted that gay is good, and that
two four six eight
gay is just as good as straight
three five seven nine
lesbians are mighty fine.
We were encouraged to come out and tell our family and
people at work that we were gay and that it was great.
Discos and dances were set up as alternatives to the subculture. It was a revolution in my life from being secretive,
afraid and guilty to being proud and glad to be gay. Coming
out at work proved to be less of a trauma than I had
thought it would be. Now that I'm a full-time student
still have a feeling of being separate from the other students
because of my gayness, but however, if the other students
do oppress me they will do it knowing that there's a ' poof '
around who's going to answer back. As for my family, my
gayness is an embarrassment and it is a subject which is not
mentioned. They won't acknowledge my gayness in any
other way than that they never now ask if I'm going steady
with a girl or when I'm going to get married. The only
concession is that they ask how Jeff (my boyfriend) is
And that's it. I've managed to come through the
oppression surrounding us gays, though not unscathed.
I've come through the tight, all-embracing hug of the
ideology of the family, school and the social pressure at
work, in the media and elsewhere, and through the failed
chase for something better in the gay subculture. And I've
come through it to a tenuous hold on to a society which is
still basically anti-gay. But I know that I am lucky and
fortunate that I was in a large city and came in contact
with G.L.F. and people who helped me. Few of the
conditions which I came up against have changed much or
at all. Thousands of gay people live in other parts of these
islands still oppressed, repressed and depressed by the
prevailing culture; in the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland and Scotland, where homosexuality is yet illegal, in Wales
and England where our rights are minimal. Everywhere the
male ethic is dominant. Gays all over the country live lives
completely untouched by G.L.F. or the 'sexual revolution'
as it is called. And while some gays fight for further rights,
it is necessary too to fight for a basic feeling of gay pride
for our sisters and brothers everywhere. Only with a
feeling of gay pride and solidarity can we go on to challenge
sexual stereotyping and the male-dominated culture which
oppress us.

from 1864 to 1935 is effective in tracing many of the

forgotten campaigns, particularly those waged in Germany
by the pioneering student of homosexuality, Magnus
Hirschfeld (himself known as Aunty Magnesia in the
German gay world) and his followers. The work of the
Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, the struggle against
the notorious anti-homosexual Paragraph 175 of the
German penal code, the rivalries with the cultural emphasis
of the 'Community of the Special', the eventual establishment of the Institute for Sexual Science, and the World
Congresses for Sex Reform are fascinating stories. They
particularly throw into relief the more muted (if nevertheless still traceable) campaigns in Britain and the USA.
There is a danger, though, of overstressing the elements
of continuity between the past movements and the present.

In the first place it ignores the specific forms of oppression

that gave rise to both the early campaigns and the particular
shapes they adopted. The history of the early homosexual
rights movement would make more sense if located in the
threefold development of new legal controls on sexuality
(not just homosexuality); new ideological forms adopted as
the 'medical model' of homosexuality; and the growth of a
relatively complex and recognisably 'modern' type of
This threefold development can be traced not only in
Germany but in Britain and the USA and forms the
essential framework for understanding the gay rights
campaigns. Secondly, it is wrong, I think, to underemphasise what was new in the Gay Liberation Movement
that burst on us in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This
obviously grew out of past campaigns in various ways, but
for those who took part in the early movement it was a
qualitative leap: almost it seemed at the time from 'the
realms of necessity to the realms of freedom'. This latter
view was, as it turned out, an illusion, but the 'leap' was
significant enough, and it is still working out its consequences within the gay community.
The differences between the implications of the two
movements can be detected in the section of the book
describing 'Scientific and Theoretical Issues'. What most of
the early theorists attempted to do was find a role for
homosexuality within existing concepts of gender roles and
sexual differentiation. This can be understood clearly
enough when placed in the context of the practical and
'scientific' concerns of the early twentieth century but it is
obviously sharply different from our own preoccupations
with gender roles and the family. And this precisely underlines the advance, both in theory and practice, that has
taken place. The early movement's chief concerns were to
establish the existence of homosexuality, the identity and
role of homosexuals (Inverts', `Uranians ', 'the Intermediate
Sex', or whatever) and the removal of penal sanctions from
it. The central involvement (though not always the day to

day concern) of the present movement is with the causes of

oppression, the pervasiveness of sexism, and the meanings
of the movement against them. The differences can be
summed up in the comparison between 'campaign', the
key word of the early struggles, and 'movement', the key
word of the present phase.
What is significant about the early campaigns is the close
connection with the political left. This says a great deal
about the quality of these early campaigners and about the
left at that time. It was still the bearer, to put it bluntly, of
a concept of socialism which saw it as a whole way of life,
not just a series of economic arrangements. The social
revolution was seen by many of the socialists who
supported homosexual rights as a transformation, not only
of the political but of the personal too. This is an emphasis
that has been almost entirely lost in socialist movements.
This book should thus have a salutary effect on those nongay socialists who read it. But what the section on
'Socialism and the early Gay Movement' also underlines is
the ways in which ideological and pseudo-scientific
definitions of sexuality and gender roles vitiated the
apparent liberalism of even the most sympathetic of
socialists, such as the early Bolsheviks, and paved the way
for the rapid back-tracking from the 1930s, onwards (for
more on this see my Where Engels feared to tread in issue
No 1). Gay socialists could do worse than ponder on the
lessons and implications of this section.
The book ends with notes on a number of pioneers,
including Edward Carpenter, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs , Magnus
Hirschfeld and Walt Whitman. These are sketchy, but often
illuminating. The book, as might be expected, only begins
to scrape the surface. But the soil it reveals is very fertile.
Some interesting crops might yet grow from it.*
Jeffrey Weeks

The book can be obtained from most Left bookshops in

Britain. In London, Compendium, Colletts, Housemans and
Rising Free bookshops stock it..

Gays In Films
by Richard Dyer
Since the gay movement began we have insisted on the
centrality of the media (understood in its widest sense) as a
carrier, reinforcer or shaper of our oppression. Sometimes
we have gone overboard in blaming the mass media they
are only one of the instruments of oppression. More
important, we have tended to condemn images of gayness
in the name of aesthetic concepts and values that are highly
problematic. We've tended to demand that gay characters
and themes be represented according to certain ideas and
ideals about what art is, without seeing that such ideas and
ideals are straight ones, not neutral or transparent but
imbued with a sexual ideology that has anti-gayness as one
of its cornerstones. I want in this article to look at some of
these notions as they apply to films, to argue that what
appear to be 'given' aesthetic principles are, in however
ambiguous a way, also principles of heterosexual hegemony.
1 "Gayness should express itself on film"
Many critics, especially in gay publications, are concerned
with how gayness expresses itself on film. I am thinking
particularly of Jack Babuscio's articles in Gay News (and
let me make it clear right now that what follows is not an
'attack'; Jack's articles raise central issues in the most
widely available non-pornographic forum there is for gays
in this country, and his articles have helped me enormously
in trying to think these issues). Running through all of
these articles is the notion of the 'gay sensibility', which
he defines as
'a creative energy reflecting a consciousness different
from the mainstream, a heightened awareness of certain
human complications of feeling that spring from the
fact of social oppression; in fact, a perception of the
world which is coloured, shaped, directed and defined
by the fact of one's homosexuality.' (GN 82; p.15).
Many of his articles are concerned with the way this
sensibility 'surfaces' in films for example, his pieces on
John Schlesinger (GN 74) and James Dean (GN 79).

There is already a problem here with the notion of a gay

sensibility. Jack tends to write as if the very fact of being
oppressed, and of being able to pass because one's stigma
need not show, automatically produces the gay sensibility.
I am certainly happy to acknowledge the fact of the gay
sensibility, but it has to be understood as something that
has been and is produced and practised in history and
culture it is the specific way we (or rather, a relatively
'out' minority) have found of coping with and resisting our
oppression and our peculiar situation as 'invisible' stigmatised people. Oppression does not just 'produce' a subcultural sensibility; it merely provides the conditions in
relation to which oppressed people create their own subculture and attendant sensibility.
A second problem is that it is in fact rather hard for an
individual sensibility to surface in a film. This is partly
because of the sheer numbers of people who work on a
film, in an often fragmented and long-drawn-out
organisation of production; even the director has limited
room for manoeuvre.(1)But it is more importantly because
any artist in any medium whatsoever is working with a
tradition, a set of conventions, that are imbued with
meanings that she or he cannot change, and indeed of
which she or he is most likely not aware. Even if films did
have individual authors (as most 'underground' films do(2)),
it would still not alter the problem. The author may have
any qualities you like; but the cinematic language has
connotations and conventions that escape the author. Take
a film like The Detective, which sets out to be sympathetic,
puts a major star (Frank Sinatra) as a defender of gays and
details some of the forms our oppression (and selfoppression) takes, but cannot all the same help but
reproduce the dominant image of gays the actual
conventions of the film are more powerful than the
intentions of scriptwriter and star. Thus the star's
unassailable heterosexuality and centrality to the action
enforce a narrative function of gay passivity, requiring a

straight to act for us; the bleak view of sexual relations in

American thrillers like this means that gayness is seen as
part of a web of sexual sickness, equated especially with
the hero's wife's nymphomania (i.e. she fancies men other
than him!); the gay scene can only legitimately be shown
at points in the plot relating to crime (why else would
Sinatra be interested?), and so enforces the link between
gayness, deviancy and crime; and the actual visualisation
of the gay scene can find no way round the impression of
the grotesque ( the milieu is sketched in by cutting from
bizarre face to bizarre face, accompanied by snatches of
dialogue lifted out of context, as the protagonist
supposedly looks round and takes in the gay environment;
this is a convention of representing the gay scene
compare similar scenes in The Killing of Sister George,
New Face in Hell, The Naked Civil Servant, etc.).
Nor is this problem confined to commercial cinema.
(Indeed, as Claire Johnson has pointed out(3) , the very
obviousness of the conventions in commercial cinema may
mean that it is easier to manipulate in progressive ways
than the hidden conventions of 'art cinema'). Thus in
contemporary French cinema there is really little to choose
between the lesbian in Emmanuelle, an obvious exploitation film, and those in Les Biches, directed by critically
acclaimed Claude Chabrol, and the feminist film La Fiance
du Pirate ( except that she is actually rather nicer in
Emmanuelle). This is because in every case the film is made
within a straight framework, women seen only in relation
to men, and the lesbianism is there as a facet of the het
world-view. In the case of the first two, the attraction of
lesbianism is evoked the better to assert the superiority of
hetness; in the case of La Fiance du Pirate, the lesbian
seems to represent a 'sick' way of being an independent
woman over against the heroine's independence via
prostitution (which both allows her to revenge herself on
men and gives her enough money to leave the village). In
no case is lesbianism expressing itself.
In this perspective, Jack Babuscio's article on James
Dean is instructive. He argues that Dean's gayness informs
his three screen roles, giving them 'depth', 'warmth' and
'sensitivity'. Thus Giant for instance allowed him to express
'the inability of adolescents to relate to the sexual roles
played out by parents'. Now in terms of how a particular
screen image happened to come about, the role of Dean's
gay sensibility in modifying and shaping it may well have
been crucial, and it is polemically important to say so. But
at the same time one has to see that, as an expression of
gayness, it is deformed. There is never the slighest suggestion in any of his roles that Dean is gay; Plato's 'crush' on
him in Rebel Without a Cause is by no flicker of recognition
reciprocated by him, and there is no other such attachment
in the other two films. At one level of course, Dean, quite
possibly through his gayness, did help launch a way of
being human and male without being particularly
' masculine' (cf. also Montgomery Clift and Anthony
Perkins) and that is a contribution to the struggle against
the sex roles. But this struggle could only be showed at the
expense of the character's gayness he had to be seen as
emphatically heterosexual. Moreover the narrative frameworks of the films implicitly reinforce the heterosexual,
sex-role norms. The point about Dean's roles as roles
(rather than the qualities his performance suggests, which
may well be in contradiction with the roles), is that he is,
in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, the son of, in
the first case, a strong mother, and, in the second, a weak
father. The stress on the 'extraordinary' quality of these
parents (Jo Van Fleet in Eden always photographed in
shadow and with dramatic 'expressionist' techniques of
lighting and camera angle; Jim Backus played for laughs and
pathos in Rebel) implies the properness of the ordinary
parental roles of 'weak' mothers and 'strong' fathers. Dean
of course had a following, and it was undoubtedly linked to
the kind of non-butch image of being a man that he
incarnated; an image that gay men have been in a particularly good position to imagine and define I don't want to
deny his contribution nor its gay roots. But this contribution is, inevitably, at the expense of gayness, and it is
moreover in an artistic form where his roles' function in the
narrative, and the construction of other characters through
performance and filming, contradict the implications of his
image. People may have taken away an image of gentle
sensitive ways of being a man, but they may also have taken
away a sense of neuroticism born of inadequately
performed sex roles. Films, and most art, are usually as
contradictory and open to alternative interpretations as

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant

this; and as long as it is a question of inserting gayness into
films as they are, any full, undeformed expression of the
gay sensibility will tend within any film to offer a weak
counterpoint to the reinforcement of heterosexual and
sex-role norms.
2 "Gays as ordinary human beings"
A very common stance of straight critics, and alas many
within the gay movement (for we so easily take over
straight notions without realising how inapplicable they
are to our situation), is that films should show that gay
people are just ordinary human beings. In this line of
thought, highest praise is granted to those films where it is
apparently 'incidental' that the characters and milieu are
Now it may be true that we are still at the stage where
we need to assert, to others and to ourselves, that we are
part of the human race. But such assumptions assume that
there is no real difference between being gay and being
straight. Yet, from a materialist standpoint, gayness is
different physically, emotionally and socially from hetness.
It is physically different not in the sense of involving
different genetic factors (the equivalent sexist argument for
the facist arguments of behavioural psychology) but in the
sense of being a different physical activity two women in
bed together is not the same as a man and a woman
together or two men. It is different emotionally because it
involves two people who have received broadly the same
socialisation (being both of the same gender) and have thus
formed their personalities in relation to the same pressures
and experiences. It is socially different because it is
oppressed oppression enters into straight relationships of
course, partly through the legacy of puritanism in its various
forms and partly through the oppression within straight
relationships of women by men. But the heterosexual
i mpulse is not of itself condemned (except in extreme
instances) and a space is allowed for it in marriage. We, on
the other hand, have nearly always been condemned even
for having gay desires, and no real social legitimacy (in a
wider sense than mere lack of legal constraints) has ever
been allowed us. I don't wish to imply that we are different
in every way from hets in terms of aspects of our lives
not directly involving relationships, we are, clearly, the
same as hets. Our bodily functions, how we do our work,
our intellectual and creative abilities, all these are in no way
different from straights ... except in so far as they involve

relationships. The trouble is of course that they do so

much of life is relationships and even where no physical
sexual expression is given to them the sexual reality of our
lives necessarily informs them.
What this boils down to in terms of films is that if you
are representing sexual and emotional relationships on
screen, it does make a difference whether they are gay or
straight. One will not do as a metaphor for the other,
neither will either do as general metaphors for human
sexuality and relationships. In assessing, for instance, the
kind of power struggles and games portrayed in The Killing
of Sister George, Staircase, The Bitter Tears of Petra von
Kant, The Boys in the Band, one has to decide whether
these are the power games going on in gay relationships
(formed and practised in a situation of oppression) or
whether these are the power games going on in straight
relationships (formed and practised in a situation where
men oppress women) transposed to ostensibly gay characters in order to give the verdict of 'sick' and 'neurotic' to
heterosexual hang-ups by ascribing them to homosexual
people. The films mentioned seem to me to be so lacking in
any sense of the reality of oppression (the social situation
of gayness) and of gay sexuality (the physical activity of
gayness) as to make the second interpretation the more
A further reason for accepting this interpretation is that
it is a characteristic of some, a minority, gay relationships,
to imitate straight 'marriages'. Thus superficially, seen from
the outside, gay relationships can be reduced to the forms
of conflict of straight ones, whilst at the same time implying that it is the 'tragic' impossibility of gays actually
being married straights that accounts for the conflicts. In
this way, such domestic dramas of 'gay' life are doubly
reassuring for the straight audience they allow it to view
problems of heterosexuality (which psychologically they
no doubt need to) without being shown these problems as
by showing how tragically impossible they are for gays. All
this is confirmed by the way straight critics, presented
with a similar drama involving het people, Who's Afraid of
Virginia Woolf?, promptly turned round and asserted,
despite Albee's assurances to the contrary, that it was really
a disguised homosexual play!
3 Realism
Lingering behind much of the criticism of the representation of gays in films is the feeling that it is not real, it does
not show gay people as they really are.
Realism is one of the trickiest terms in the whole critical
vocabulary yet it is endlessly evoked, often with recourse
to synonyms like 'convincing', 'true-to-life', 'plausible' and
so on. What this means is that we require films to present
us with settings, people, events that as closely as possible
resemble day-to-day life, granted a little artistic licence. We
tend not to recognise how conventional realism is, although
one only has to look at the realism of earlier periods
(British 30s documentary, Italian neo-realism, 'Method'
acting) to see both how stylised all realisms actually are
and how each realist style carries all sorts of cultural,
historical connotations with it.
However the problem with realism is not so much our
blindness to the conventionality of the realism of our own
times, but the fact that realism is really only capable of
capturing the surface of life it cannot 'capture' what is
going on inside people's heads nor can it capture the social
forces that determine the surface of life.
In fact it is very hard for 'realism' to do anything but
reproduce dominant ideology. That is in everyday life
objects and appearances have, first, an objective status in
the bio-physical world, and second, a range of potential
significances for us individually, although dominant in that
range is what our culture has taught us to associate with
them. But once objects and appearances are filmed they
can only mean to us what they mean in the film. They are
signs whose only bio-physical status is celluloid. It then
becomes exceedingly difficult for them to mean anything
but what they predominantly mean in culture. Thus to
show gay people 'realistically' on the screen means to show
them in the conventions of the prevailing cinematic
realism; which in turn means to reproduce the ideas and
assumptions about how gays really are which prevail in
society. Whatever its intentions (and the intentions of
realist film-makers are seldom anything but generous), a
'realist' film about gays is unlikely to challenge the
assumptions of most of the audience about what gays are

like for whilst we as gays may read the everyday surface

represented (perhaps quite accurately) according to our
sub-cultural understandings, the rest of the audience is
perfectly free to read it according to its dominant cultural
Realism can, within its conventions, show the look of
gay life, but it cannot show what it feels and what it means
to gay people, nor can it show the social pressures that act
on gay people and so produce the look of gay life. This I
think is neatly shown up by the film Victim, which is a
mixture of liberal realism and crime thriller. The notion of
oppression comes across in the film certainly, but only
because of the nonrealist elements that is, that it is a
major star (Dirk Bogarde, then a pin-up) who is got at for
being gay and that the thriller narrative clearly assigns
villainy to the blackmailers not the gays ( remembering
that this is the sort of thriller in which there is no moral
ambiguity about who the goodies and the baddies are). On
the other hand, the depiction of gay life is, in the conventions of the time, realistic enough but the conventions of
the time are such that real can only mean the kind of 'sickness' view of homosexuality that the film's title's emphasis
would suggest. Thus whilst it does not reproduce the 'evil'
connotation of gayness, it does reproduce the 'sickness'
connotation that the Wolfenden report was to reveal as the
dominant bourgeois view of us.
4 Stereotypes
No term is more frequent in gay criticism of the cinema
than 'stereotype'. Certainly we are right to be angry about
the succession of pathetic, ridiculous and grotesque figures
that are supposed to be us up there on the screen.
We may define stereotype as a method of onedimensional characterisation that is, constructing a
total character by the very mention of one dimension of
her or his characteristics. Thus to know that a character
is lesbian is immediately to know that she is aggressive,
frustrated, loud-mouthed, big-boned and perverse. All art,
indeed all our thoughts about the world, uses typecasting
but when we label someone a 'grocer' or a 'doctor', we
usually assume that that does not tell us all we need to
know about him (and we usually assume it is a man).
Whereas it is assumed by stereotypes such as the dumb
blonde, the happy nigger, the bull dyke and the camp
queen that we know all we need to.
Thus far we can agree that stereotyping is a Bad Thing.
However behind this notion of stereotypes there lingers
another notion which may be equally undesirable
this is the idea of the "rounded" character, the type
of character-construction practised by nineteenth century
novelists and advocated by theorists such as E.M. Forster.
This is not the 'natural' way of 'depicting people' in art,
but a particular artistic method for constructing protagonists
in a particular narrative tradition. It is a method that has
inscribed in it certain of the dominant values of Western
society above all, individualism, the belief that an
individual is above all important in and for himself, rather
than a belief in the importance of the individual for her or
The Killing of Sister George

his class, community or sisters and brothers. This cardinal

precept of bourgeois ideology as against feudal or socialist
ideology is built right into the notion of the 'rounded
character', who may well feel some pulls of allegiance to
groups with whom she or he identifies, but who is ultimately seen as distinct and separate from the group, and in
many cases, antagonistic to it. Rounded characterisation is
then far from ideal when you need (as we do) expressions
of solidarity, common cause, class consciousness, fraternity
and sorority.
What we need is not the replacement of stereotypes by
rounded gay characters (though it would I think be wrong
to underestimate the temporarily progressive impact of films
which do use rounded characterisation for gay characters;
this breaks the rules it is a surprise to find Peter Finch in
Sunday Bloody Sunday treated with the same trappings of
'roundness' as Glenda Jackson), but rather the development
of positively valued gay types. That is representation of gay
people which, on the one hand, unlike stereotypes proper,
does not function to deny individual differences from the
broad category to which the character belongs. But it, on
the other hand, does not, unlike rounded characters,
function to diminish the sense of a character's belonging
and acting in solidarity with her or his social group.
What the positions just discussed seem to lack is any
concept of the operation of ideology in art. Films are
treated as transparent, neutral, a mere medium, and the
distorted representation of gayness as a correctable,
regrettable fault. As long as the mesh between artistic form
and dominant ideology is ignored, no radical critique of
gays in films can be accomplished.
Where gayness occurs in films it does so as part of
dominant ideology. It is not there to express itself, but
rather to express something about sexuality in general as
understood by hets. Gayness is used to define the parameters of normality, to suggest the thrill and/or terror of

decadence, to embody neurotic sexuality, or to perform

various artisticideological functions that in the end assert
the superiority of heterosexuality. We are wrong to assume
that anti-gayness in films is a mere aberration on the part
of straight society how homosexuality is thought and
felt by hets is part and parcel of the way the culture teaches
them (and us) to think and feel about their heterosexuality.
Anti-gayness is not a discrete ideological system, but part
of the overall sexual ideology of our culture.
This ideology is complicated. There are many inflections
of the het norms, and much of the analysis of images of
gayness has to take this into account. Two examples gayness in the American thriller tradition called 'film noir' (e.g.
The Maltese Falcon, In a Lonely Place, Gilda, and also
arguable later cases such as Gunn and New Face in Hell),
where gayness is part of a web of sexual fear and anxiety
(especially in the form of sexually potent women who
endanger the hero); Victim is one example of a whole series
of British films treating sexual-social issues (such as prostitution, child-molesting, adultery) as 'problems' and 'sickness'. How the gayness is represented derives from the
particular inflection of the ideology of the time.
Moreover, and here we can take hope, ideology is contradictory, ambiguous, full of gaps and fissures. Straight
culture is attracted as well as repelled by gayness, and films
do show the differing pressures of these responses. Gay
culture, although itself formed and deformed in the
shadow of straight culture, does contain oppositional
elements within it gayness always at the very least raises
the spectre of alternatives to the family, the sex-roles, male
dominance. Thus to take an example of an extremely
conventional, bourgeois, 'well-made' film, Summer Wishes,
Winter Dreams, a film in which the very briefly shown gay
characters are presented as performing ballet grotesques.
Not on the face of it a positive assertion of gayness. Yet
the film centres on the rifts and cruelties of a heterosexual
relationship, and, at the end of the picture, the gay relationship, although not shown, is evoked as a positive, happymaking one ( the fact that it is off screen suggests how
hard it is to find images to evoke this). Moreover, the
central character's dilemma is structured in the film (as the
title indicates) in terms of dreams (the nightmare of the
ballet-gay) and wishes (sentimental reconciliation of son
within the family unit). Her anguish is shown to stem not
from realities themselves but from how she thinks realities.
There is thus an undertow to the film which does begin to
raise questions and intuitions about the whole edifice of
marriage, sexual relationships and so on. It is to such undertows that we should look, for they are the most likely
sources of a cinema which undermines heterosexual artistic
hegemony from within and may in the process create a
form of artistic language which comprehends all of human
sexuality and relationships.*
1 See Ed Buscombe: 'Ideas of authorship' in Screen,
Vol 14, No 3 pp. 75-85 .
2 Gays have been particularly influential in the development of underground cinema; e.g. the work of Kenneth
Anger, Constance Beeson, Jack Smigh, Gregory
3 See Claire Johnson: Notes on Women's Cinema, S.E.F. T.,

A Commune Experience
By Keith Birch
The commune movement was an important aspect of the
alternative society in the early 1970s. Even though the
number of people who actually set up communes together
may have been quite small, the interest in the movement
and its underlying ideology was widespread, especially
amongst the young and middle class idealists.
The relevance of this movement to gay people now may
seem very slight, but in many ways it did question the
structure and functions of the family in modern society
as the women's movement and revolutionary gay people do
today. There were attempts to put into practice many of
the propositions for alternative living structures and
relationships. From analysing the practical failure of the
movement in general and from personal experience of living
in a commune, some of the contradictory aspects and the
incompleteness of the movement's ideological foundations

become apparent.
I was amongst a group of gay people who were all
members of the Gay Liberation Movement in 1971 who
wanted to form a commune. The attraction of living
together in this way for gays had several specific causes.
Gay people are excluded from the family unit or feel
alienated from it in many cases. The socially prescribed
roles of mother, father, etc., are not possible or are forced
onto us and so the nuclear family cannot fulfill our needs.
Therefore, the prospect of a loving extended 'family' is
particularly appealing. A communal situation had the
chance of serving the emotional needs of people who are
made to feel isolated by this society, as many gays are.
This feeling was probably true for most of the commune.
A communal situation encourages the questioning of the
roles that are allotted to us by this society. Ours was, of

course, a rather unique group, in that we were all gay men

at the start though later on some women did become
members. Also, there were no children in the commune.
This meant that many problems were not confronted by us.
One of the central concepts of the commune movement,
with which we agreed, was the stress put upon personal
change as being a key factor for wider social changes in the
future; if the whole of society would not change, we were
going to build an alternative society, side by side with it.
The writings of Cooper and Laing were widely read and
approved of. There was much criticism of family life and
the bad effects it had on the individual. Great faith was put
on alternative group structures to produce a better
emotional environment. There was little thought given to
the economic and social background which forces people
into their present circumstances. Economic problems were
only considered in relation to the financial stability of the
commune. If individuals could solve their personal problems
and learn to relate fully with other people, sometime in the
future, society would become a loving utopia.
Our group had been meeting together for some time to
discuss our ideas and to get to know one another. We all
came from very different backgrounds, both in class and
nationality. About the only things we had in common were
being gay and wanting to live in a commune. The first major
problem was to get somewhere for us all to live but
suddenly there was an opportunity for those who wished
to move into a flat and so about seven of us actually took
it up. The first few months were a period of great change
and excitement for us. It was a matter of confronting the
problem of a group of almost total strangers living together
in a very small space. The decision to have a communal
bedroom was forced on us for reasons of space as well as
ideology. New people came along who were interested in
joining and after the first six months we moved to another
flat with some change in membership and a growth in
numbers to about 12. The number of members was to
remain fairly constant until the end, although some people
moved on while others joined us.
Some of the first disagreements had occurred because of
a feeling of domination that some of us felt from those who
seemed to speak most and take the decisions. This initial
problem was resolved when the majority of us moved,
leaving the others behind. It was the first failure that we
had to admit from our original theorising. Our often
repeated belief had been that it was possible for any people
to live together and through the continual interaction,
confrontation and mutual change in character, conflicts
would resolve themselves. However, this was not the case on
this occasion and later ones.
The ideology of the G.L.M. at the time against monogamous couples was carried into our beliefs concerning our
living situation. At the start there were two couples,
though not monogamous, but by the end of the two year
period the number had increased. It could be said that we
entered the group from isolated backgrounds and went
through a living process which gave us the personal confidence (or need) to enter couple relationships. Some felt free
enough to relate to several others in the commune sexually
and most of us had sexual relationships with people outside
the group and visitors. However, the underlying tensions
that wider sexual expression amongst the commune
members ourselves caused, became too great for it to
happen frequently or for too long. The subject was not
often discussed and a satisfactory understanding of our
feelings was never worked out. There was a sense of guilt
about being jealous, so instead of open confrontation,
pressures were put on in more subtle ways. Sexual relationships with people outside the group somehow felt less
threatening and were more open to discussion and so
problems could find some resolution.
House meetings were held regularly at the start in which
we would try to sort out all the general financial and
material problems. There is a joke that people part over
who does the washing-up. When 12 people live together
that chore grows to amazing proportions and it caused
many arguments when people did not make their contribution. Finance was always a problem. Communes, by
their nature, stress the 'living' situation but those in cities,
unless based on some sort of craft production or business,
find it necessary for members to undertake wage labour
outside. At first most of us had full-time jobs but these
were gradually given up in favour of part-time occupations,
cleaning or claiming Social Security in order to give us
freedom and time to spend together. Projects for us all to

produce crafts within the commune were often considered

and attempts were made but without success. Differences
arose between those who wanted to move to the country
so the commune could be self-supporting and others who
wanted to remain in London where they felt work within
the G.L.M. and greater social contact more important.
Another feature which affected the way in which the
commune progressed was the fact that we were used by the
G.L.F. office as a place for people, who were on holiday or
in trouble, to stay. The result of this was that we were
always overcrowded (at one point there were 20 people
staying in a flat meant for six). We were confronted with
many people's problems, emotional, legal and others, and
had less time to sort out our own. There were occasional
rip-offs. However, this continuous stream of people
provided us with contacts with the outside. Some became
members of the commune after spending a period of time
to find out whether we were mutually suitable. Also it
served an important role for sexual relationships.
Every member of the commune was expected to pay an
equal share towards the rent bills and kitty for food. This
was agreed after much discussion because the differences in
employment and the level of each person's wages meant
that for some it was easy while for others it could be a
problem. However, it was felt that if everyone contributed,
it would not lead to situations of dependence or ill-feeling
and it would show committment and responsibility towards
the rest. Even so, it did not always work out like this.
For some of the time we did the cooking, shopping and
cleaning by rota with the intention of us all being together
at least for a main communal meal each day. The rota
system did not last as its formality led to inconveniences
and an oppressive feeling to conform, although at times
things became so chaotic that it was returned to for short
periods. We continued to have a communal bedroom until
the last few months, although it seemed to surprise visitors,
as did the fact that the bathroom had no door. It was
recognized that people need to be alone at times and so a
room was set aside for this purpose.
After almost two years the commune began to disintegrate. It is impossible to identify one particular cause;
rather it was through various personal and political
differences combined with feelings of frustration and
emotional exhaustion.
Although I have rather dismissed the relevance of
personal change through communal living as a way of
changing our society, most of us feel that it was a very
i mportant experience and we discovered a great deal about
ourselves, our feelings and hang-ups, etc. We had to
confront things that in other circumstances could have
been avoided and therefore not resolved. In many ways I
believe that I was one of those who gained the most from
living in the commune, particularly in being able to relate
with others and in self-confidence.
Research on other communes, backed up by personal
observations, shows the failure in the vast majority of
cases to bring about equal relationships between the sexes.
What tended to happen was that the women communally
did what has been labelled 'women's' work, bringing up
the children, cooking, cleaning, etc. Some change did
occur because the whole group would be centered on the
home and greater value put upon domestic work and
increased interaction of all members. I visited several
communes in the country where the women looked after
the children, cared for the animals and gardens, made things
to sell and did the cooking and cleaning. The men seemed
to just do a few of the heavier jobs, chop wood, drive and
occasionally play with the children; the rest of the time
they spent smoking dope. Many of the groups broke up in
a fairly short time. Relationships between adults and
children again focussed on the mother/child axis, though
now with a group of women and children. The father may
have been around more but the basic roles did not alter.
There is nothing inherent in the structure of a commune to
bring about changed relationships and except for a few
politically aware groups, most returned to the old patterns
without much thought.
Economically and socially the theories of the movement
were utopian and backward looking, to an age of crafts
and simplicity which was impossible to attain and could
not offer a way out for the masses of people from our
present society. However, it did point to the possibilities
of different bases for relationships which could exist in a
future socialist society, having destroyed the economic and
ideological obstacles presented by the capitalist system.*

Eros And
An Introduction to Marcuse's Essay on Freud

by Ronald L. Peck

Marcuse's 'Philosophical Inquiry Into Freud' is an analysis of

sexual repression in present day technological societies.
Although the emphasis is upon the repressive character of
capitalist societies, it is clear that miracles are not expected
of socialist societies before socialist ideas have been revised
and enlarged to take into account psychoanalytical interpretations of history. In Marcuse's analysis, sexual and
economic repression are understood as part of the same
order of repression and the liberation of one sphere does
not make any sense without the liberation of the other. His
stress on the centrality of sexual liberation perhaps
accounts for the marginal interest in his work expressed by
orthodox Marxist theorists and for its being virtually
ignored by active political groups of the Left. Though
groups have taken up some of the concerns of the Women's
Movement, and marched in solidarity in National Abortion
Campaign rallies, the support has been for women as an
oppressed social group. Sexual liberation as it is understood
by Marcuse, one can't help feeling, would be rejected as
libertine, individualistic, romantically hedonistic. The socioeconomic/sexual divide seems as large now,as it ever was.
Gays on the Left must be particularly aware of this.
Marcuse's work is recommended because it does attempt to
pull things together coherently, to construct a model of
society in which sexual repression is contextualised. A
number of gays, including Dennis Altman, have found Eros
and Civilisation worth grappling with.
Marcuse is not at all concerned with homosexuality as
such; there are only two brief references to homosexuality
in the book, but both are very positive. He has coined a
term which includes homosexuality: "polymorphous
sexuality". What is meant by it is an expansive and receptive
sexuality, freed from the notion of usefulness or "end". He
refers several times to "pre-genital polymorphous sexuality",
a condition obtaining, briefly, in the earliest stages of
infancy, when sexuality is not localised or separated off as
a genital function, when the erotic is larger and less distinct.
As we 'grow up', we grow into a world of sharp differentiations in which sexuality is located in genital contact with
the opposite sex. 'Normal' sexuality becomes procreative
sexuality, narrowed spatially (genitally) and temporally
(between periods of work), leaving most of the body free

to function as an instrument of labour. Against this,

Marcuse asserts (quoting Freud) "the primary context of
sexuality is the function of obtaining pleasure from zones
of the body; this function is only subsequently brought
into the service of that of reproduction." Polymorphous
sexuality survives in maturity tabooed as perversions the
greater their degree of deviation from procreative sexuality.
The perversions posit a threat: "Against a society which
employs sexuality as means for a useful end, the perversions
uphold sexuality as an end in itself ...." Marcuse writes
positively of the "perversions" because they reassert claims
made and denied in early infancy; through their virility
the 'norm' of sexuality as inherently procreative might be
broken. If they are to redefine sexuality as polymorphous,
'the guilt associated with them has also to be broken, or, as
Nietzsche said, reversed. Marcuse paraphrases Nietzsche:
"mankind must come to associate the bad conscience not
with the affirmation but with the denial of the life instincts,
not with the rebellion but with the acceptance of the.
repressive ideals".
Polymorphous sexuality
As I understand Marcuse's notion of polymorphous
sexuality, homosexuality is a part of it; what Marcuse
believes is fundamental is a form of androgyny. Within this
wide definition of sexual possibility, homosexual behaviour
is an immediate and spontaneous and positive element.
Separated off and tabooed in maturity, it is identified as
perverse, and rejected, because unproductive. The perversions, like the arts, are marginal because, in presenting
alternatives to the norm, they are of no use to the society
that operates from the stability of unchanging norms. For
Marcuse, they hint at the possibilities of what he calls the
"Great Refusal". A norm of sexuality that is so defined, so
limited, so adapted to the needs of a consumer society is a
functioning part of that society, a support of it. By implication, homosexuality, as one of the perversions, challenges
that norm. It harbours potential rebellion. By pushing
homosexuals to the edge of society, a vantage point on that
society is unwittingly given us. But most homosexuals take
no advantage of their 'outsideness' to analyse the reasons
for their oppression within the context of the society; they
want nothing more than to reintegrate themselves into that
society, which they believe is capable of reforming itself to
include them. Marcuse himself came to recognise the
apparently infinite capacity of society to absorb potential
rebellion: he writes of it in his 'Political Preface' to the
1966 reprint of Eros and Civilisation (first published in
1955), in his Critique of Pure Tolerance (1967) and in An
Essay On Liberation (1969). "It makes no sense to talk
about liberation to free men . . .", and yet it is that notion
of freedom that has to be exploded, articulated anew and
strengthened against the whitewash of the catchphrase and
the jingle.
But one cannot properly understand and appreciate the
importance Marcuse gives sexual freedom outside his
reconstruction and modification of Freud's model of the
dynamics of civilisation. His starting point is a restatement
of some of Freud's essential propositions. Civilisation
depends upon the permanent repression of the instincts,
which, if relaxed, would pull out the centre and dissolve
civilisation into barbarism. Repression of the instincts
operates under the reality principle, which, through the ego,
mediates between the desires of the instincts (characterised
collectively as the id and safeguarded by the pleasure
principle) and the reality of the external world. Out of the
long dependence of the infant on its parents develops the
superego, which guides the ego to act in accord with
established morality. The repression of the instincts is
necessitated by universal scarcity, which will not be overcome even by the maturest level of civilisation. It is with
Freud's notion of 'eternal' scarcity that Marcuse first takes
issue. For Freud, it was part of the "terrible reality" of
life. For Marcuse, it is part of an organised reality which can
be altered through redistribution. In other words, scarcity
exists in the present only because it is being perpetuated in
the interests of the dominating class. When Freud proposes
that the desires of the instincts must be modified in the face
of a harsh reality, no distinction is made between a
biological/phylogenetic reality and a historical reality. But
it is that distinction that Marcuse argues is critical. Biological
repression is accepted as an essential precondition of
societal relations. Over and above that, at any particular
historical moment, any given society is characterised by the
degree of its "surplus repression"; it is this variable that

makes it possible to make comparisons between societies.

Correspondingly, Marcuse also distinguishes between the
reality principle as Freud used the term and the present
historical form of it, the performance principle. Under the
performance principle, all men's activities are measured and
valued accordin g t o their degree of social usefulness.
Performance principle
In its present form as the performance principle, the
reality principle has extended itself so far that the realm of
the pleasure principle has become marginal and ineffective.
Each man's "performance" commits him to between eight
and twelve hours of largely alienated labour each working
day. Upon his performance depends his standard of living.
Production depends upon consumption, consumption on
production, in a cycle maintained by the insatiability of the
demand for consumer goods, transformed into objects of
libido by advertising so saturating as to be unavoidable.
Sexuality is 'useful' insofar as it guarantees the maintenance
of what has become the 'system'; insofar as the body is
reconditioned as an instrument of labour, a certain
"permissiveness" is allowed. What is "socially useful" is
confused with what is "good for society" which in turn is
confused with what is "normal", and these become the
descriptive terms of more and more areas of experience.
Even the hours free from labour are evaluated in terms of
the performance principle:
The individual is not to be left alone. For left to itself,
and supported by a free intelligence aware of the potentialities of liberation from the reality of repression, the
libidinal energy generated by the id would thrust against
its ever more extraneous limitations to strive to engulf an
ever larger field of existential relations, thereby exploding
the reality ego and its repressive performances.
Marcuse's point is that the reality principle, as
characterised in the present by the performance principle,
is increasing its control over our lives at the very historical
moment when it could be relaxed. The necessities of life
are no longer scarce; technological development (which
Marcuse does not celebrate but accepts as a fact) has created
sufficient abundance to provide for everyone. But the
"necessities" are no longer clear-cut. In an age of mass
production and consumption, under capitalism particularly,
everything is necessary, and desire for everything
engineered. Satisfaction is always at the stage of catching
up. If it could be generally recognised that the necessities
. of life which truly are necesssary to life involve only a
minimum of labour (and would involve even less if the
alienation of labour were 'completed' by more extensive
automation), then a correlation could be made with the
actual time men and women spend working. The greater
part of production is the generation of "waste" (Marcuse
includes armaments), of unnecessary consumer goods
which have been turned into objects of libido. It is the
organised scarcity of these which maintains the apparatus
of production. Within this coherence, labour time itself is
one of the false necessities. In his contention that the
working class itself is one of the central supports of this
system, Marcuse has alienated himself from most activists
in the labour movement. His insistence on the possibility
of a civilisation based upon minimum necessities of labour
is dismissed as utopian, and it is in the interests of the
ruling class that it should continue to be so dismissed.
Archaic heritage
Through the symbolic parable of the archaic heritage
and the myth of the primal father, Marcuse seeks to explain
fu rther the common defence of the performance principle
in which opposing class interests act unitedly. This most
rejected of Freud's ideas assumed the origin of civilisation
to be marked by the rise to power of the father, whose
monopoly of pleasure was 'justified' to the sons by his
protection, security and love. "The father establishes
domination in his own interest but in doing so he is
justified by his age, by his biological function, and (most of
all) by his success: he creates that 'order' without which the
group would immediately dissolve." But the relation of the
sons to the father is one of ambivalent love-hate, expressed
in the wish to replace and to imitate the father. The father
is killed only to be deified, introducing taboos and
restraints that become the established morality and law.
"The annihilation of his person threatens to annihilate
lasting group life itself and to preserve the prehistoric and
suhhistoric destructive force of the pleasure principle. But

the sons want the same thing as the father: they want
lasting satisfaction of their needs. They can obtain this
objective only by repeating, in a new form, the order of
domination which had controlled pleasure and thereby
preserved the group. The father survives as the god ..."
"The function of the father is gradually transferred from
his individual person to his social position, to his image in
the son (conscience), to God, to the various agencies and
agents which teach the son to become a mature and
restrained member of his society."
But there has been an important change in the "classic
form" of the id-ego-superego dynamic as a result of the
growth of paternal institutions. The reality principle used
to be tangibly embodied in individuals fathers, captains,
chiefs but "these personal father-images have gradually
disappeared behind the institutions. With the rationalisation
of the productive apparatus, with the multiplication of
functions, all domination assumes the form of administration. The pain, frustration, impotence of the individual
derive from a highly productive and efficiently functioning
system in which he makes a better living than ever before.
Responsibility for the organisation of his life lies with the
whole, the 'system', the sum total of the institutions that
determine, satisfy and control his needs. The aggressive
i mpulse plunges into a void ..." Increasingly, administration and the law appear as the ultimate guarantors of
liberty. Rebellion appears "as the crime against the whole
of human society and therefore as beyond reward and
beyond redemption", an omnipresent threat that the crime
against the father dare not be repeated. As the 'system'
enlarges its coherence, "the interactions between ego,
superego, and id congeal into automatic reactions" and
consciousness, "increasingly less burdened by autonomy,
tends to be reduced to the task of regulating the coordination of the individual with the whole". The aggressive
instincts are moved against those who do not belong to the
whole; the foe is characterised as omnipresent, justifying
the total mobilisation of society.
Pleasure principle
How shrunken, then, is the scope of the pleasure
principle? Where are the desires of the instincts safeguarded? According to Marcuse, in phantasy. Andre
Breton's Surrealist Manifesto is quoted: "in its refusal to
forget what can be, lies the critical function of phantasy".
Which becomes also, for Marcuse, the critical function of
art. At this point, one should break away from the delineation of Marcuse's model to return to the importance of the
"perversions" within it, and its relation to the gay left.
In upholding sexuality as an end in itself, the perversions
demonstrate an active opposition to the rule of the
performance principle. The opposition is represented in
mythological archetypes whose images recur through the
ages: Prometheus, the producer, as against Orpheus, the
singer. Orpheus, according to classical mythology, introduced homosexuality to the people of Thrace, rejecting the
"normal Eros" for a "fuller Eros". The age of the performance principle is the age of Prometheus; all evaluation is
in terms of production; all else is marginal. I don't think
that Marcuse is being fanciful when he writes of
"productivity", "The very word came to smack of
repression or its philistine glorification: it connotes the
resentful defamation of rest, indulgence, receptivity the
triumph over the 'lower depths' of the mind and body . . ."
It is not, therefore, the transfer of the productive apparatus
from the control of the ruling class to the control of the
working class at least, not that alone that Marcuse
looks to for a revolutionary 'solution', but a turning away
from the emphasis on production altogether. Through the
liberation of men's time might be created 'mental space'
necessary to reflect upon the necessity to work. The
centrifugal forces of the performance principle, re-enforced
from within and without, have to be loosened. Wherever
possible, space must be created. In fighting for his homosexual rights, the oppressed gay is grinding against the
norms that sustain the system and helping to wear them
down. The gay who parades his sexuality and publically
celebrates his enjoyment of it, who is able to reverse the
feelings of guilt that society plays upon to limit that
enjoyment, is doing much more than fighting the war of
gay liberation; he is upholding the enjoyment of sexuality
for its own sake. He provides a sharp focus. In itself it is not
enough. It's a starting point only. Marcuse's analysis
describes a world of toil being sold, and bought, as paradise

on earth; the reality principle masquerading as the pleasure

principle. If gay liberationists are really to contribute to
the Great Refusal, the struggle must be part of the fight to
recover, and enlarge, the realm of the pleasure principle
and to weaken the control of the reality principle.*
Eros and Civilisation by Herbert Marcuse. Available in the
Abacus series published by Sphere Books Ltd. 1972.


by John Lindsay

The following incident happened at the Sheffield

Conference of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality,
August 1975. This description and analysis of the event also
points out some general tactical points.
On the Friday evening a large number of the delegates
attended the reception given by the Lord Mayor of
Sheffield. At the end of his opening remarks a woman took
the microphone and said that the waitresses were being
paid somewhat less than the waiters and appealed for a
collection to augment their wages. The Mayor, apparently
disturbed, left the reception at that point. Later in the
evening at the entertainment provided by the City a folk
group from the West Country was singing a collection of
traditional country songs with banter in between. The songs
tended to be of the "boy chases girl, boy catches girl, boy
fucks girl" type, with the banter along the lines of "we
four don't need groupies for we have a big round one who
is good enough for all of us". After the first song there
were a couple of cries of "sexist"; after the first verse of the
second cries of "boy" when "girlfriend" was sung, at which
the group laughed. At the end of the second some people
walked out, during the third there was some intermittent
heckling and by the end of the third quite a number of
people had left although it was difficult to estimate propor-

tions. In the foyer a group of about 25, mainly women,

decided that the performance should be stopped. We went
back into the hall and started barracking, some went on to
the stage and unplugged the microphone and a chaos
situation lasted for about ten minutes. The group attempted
to continue with their singing, being applauded vociferously
by a large number of the people in the hall; attempts to
explain the reason for the intervention were shouted down.
The group left the stage to considerable applause and an
interval was called. After the interval a "big-band" group
played "hits of the past" to a diminishing audience until
the concert and the bar closed.
In the foyer and at the bar discussion continued until
the building closed. At the various venues of the conference
debate waged, and in many ways the tone of the conference
was set. Throughout the weekend the role of women in
CHE and the importance of sexism came under analysis;
from this came debate on the role of CHE in general and on
its structure and administration. The implications of that
one incident need to be analysed in detail both in terms of
their immediate effect, in terms of their effects by the end
of the weekend and in the longer term. The main areas in
which they need to be considered, I suggest, are the
consciousness of the people involved in initiating the
demonstration, the consciousness of the rest of the
delegates, the leadership of CHE and the press/general
public who will gain information only at nth hand. The
questions rising are whether the conflict nature of the
intervention was politically wise, whether there might have
been alternative methods of intervention, whether the show
should have in itself been allowed to continue and whether
we can learn any tactical lessons from the evening?
First of all the alternatives. These could have included
one or two people going onto the stage, asking the group to
stop, and then explaining their objections. Thereafter the
group might or might not have continued singing the same
type of songs, in which case another event would have
occurred. No notice could have been taken, people walking
out when they felt they could take no more. Again it
cannot be determined what would have resulted. Both these
were suggested as "correct" actions by those who said that
the conflict intervention was "incorrect". Now for the
event. I would suggest that it could not be allowed to
continue for two reasons: firstly the content of the songs
was insulting to the women for it presented them as sex
objects whose existence was defined by the satisfaction of
the requirements of men; secondly, the nature of the songs
was insulting to all the gay people who had travelled to
Sheffield to celebrate their homosexuality for it consisted
of the socially dominant stereotype notions of human
relations, reflecting the culture usually available from radio,
television and newspapers, in many ways that culture at its
worst. On the basis of this argument alone the intervention
was "correct" for that performance had to be stopped. The
spokespeople for CHE did not appear to fully grasp this
however, for they suggested that the audience was not
suitable rather than that the "institution" was not suitable.
One said that it was fit for a men's pub but not a CHE
conference and this was so quoted in a local newspaper. The
point of the intervention however is that that sort of
entertainment is not suitable anywhere. This however raises
a very interesting question to which we will have to give a
lot of consideration. If facets of culture are part of the
ideological armoury of the dominant class then is it at times
either "justifiable" or "necessary" to destroy that culture in
order that the emerging class may be released from the
self-oppression which that culture gives rise to?
Now for the analysis. In the immediate instance first.
For the people who took part in initiating the demonstration it was an immediate and unanalysed reaction to an
oppressive situation. That they were capable of acting
together was a demonstration to themselves of their
consciousness and collective power which I suspect gave
them strength; their perception of the reaction gave them
further anger and determination for the rest of the weekend.
For them the incident set the tone of the weekend, defined
the problem and indicated their methodology. (It must be
pointed out that this group did not consist of all the
women at conference, nor did it consist only of women.)
For the rest of the audience puzzlement was the first
reaction for they were being entertained by the civic
authority and did not understand the point of the rumpus.
Their immediate reaction was annoyance that their entertainment was being disturbed and annoyance at the bad
manners of a small group in interrupting the singers who

were "only celebrating their heterosexuality after all". The

liberal idea of everybody allowed to do his own thing
appears to be the main identifying feature of this group.
Their applause seems to have arisen from a right of speech
position rather than from positive support for the group.
The antagonism towards the intervenors however was
The leadership of CHE appears to have been mainly
concerned with the effect on the civic authorities and the
press, apologising to the group for the disturbance,
explaining to the Lord Mayor and the press although
admitting at the same time that the entertainment had not
been wisely chosen. It has been suggested that they had
already had the opportunity to examine the material and
had selected this particular group, and had already censored
the 'sexist' element from their songs. However as it is
difficult to determine the nature of even the individuals
concerned in the leadership without a complicated analysis,
I shall leave further comment on this group.
The press in Sheffield covered the event remarkably
objectively women reading the report could only have
gained a positive idea, some of the local officials certainly
gained some understanding but whether the incidents in
themselves will have produced any change in individuals, in
the civic authority or in the people cannot be determined.
In the long run it is unlikely. As the Mayor pointed out we
were being welcomed for our money not our gayness.
(Those weren't quite his words but certainly his intent.)
Over the short term (i.e. the remainder of the weekend)
the group involved became the centre for most of the
criticism of the conference as a "male", "tory party type"
event, of the structure of CHE, and generally feelings were
polarised with the group distinctly as one pole. In the main
they felt justified in their actions and used the event as a
practical example of the position of women in CHE, the
nature of sexism and the general organisation of both the
conference and the CHE itself. The group acted on divided
over the weekend into three: those who agreed with the
intervention and who generally came to be identified with
the intervenors; those who agreed about the nature of
sexism but who disagreed with the method of the intervention, mainly taking the position that people should have
left and allowed the songs in an almost empty hall; and
those who were directly antagonistic towards the intervention and the thinking behind it. They saw CHE as a
single undivided body providing a pleasant weekend and
felt the intervention to be a threat "splitting CHE", not
understanding what "this sexism business is all about" with
an articulated misogeny as the other pole. The main
advantage of the incident was that it gave a clear example
of the sort of thing that needed to be talked about
discussion did not have to be theoretical but instead every
debate could be grounded in this practical example and
this came in many ways to dominate the weekend.
For the leadership it showed them that there was a
minority which could not be baffled by supposedly
democratic structuring of procedures, nor by defining
areas of debate, although the militant group was generally
outmanoeuvred during the rest of the conference when it
came to plenary sessions. Until some idea can be gained
however of the nature of the leadership as a group and of
their individual and shared expectations no further analysis
is possible.
For the press and the public it cannot be determined
whether this increased interest or changed opinions. The
National Front and the Ratepayers Association which had


threatened intervention did not appear. Possibly to some

extent the stereotype of the limp-wristed handbag was
counterposed but there is no available data. Long term
events, particularly in the experience of the Sheffield group
of CHE, might yield some evidence.
The major question is whether there is any advantage to
he gained from involvement with CHE either for the left as
left, or for gay liberation as a whole? The other questions
are on the role of gay culture and on the tactical issue.
The first group gained the impression over the weekend
that if there was a role for women in CHE it would emerge
after a long struggle, some feeling that CHE was not worth
the effort, others that there was little else. The second
group in some cases threatened to leave or did leave, feeling
that CHE was not what they wanted, the "biggest gay club
in Britain" obviously intended as a cheaper Catacombs
without the police. In some cases however a definite
understanding of sexism developed and a new realisation of
the position of women in society was given. Generally,
nowever, there seems to have been a sense of disappointment
that the euphoria of Malvern (1974) was not recaptured; some
disappointed because no significant progress has been made
in the consciousness of the bulk of the members, others
because the weekend turned out to have something to do
with politics. The bulk of the motions passed were general
and unimplementable although their tenor was far to the
left of the behaviour of the bulk of the members. 100 was
voted for a conference to organise a gay rights movement
in the trade unions for example; a bunch of militant
unionists the delegates did not appear to be. Neither did
they accept in principle that the trade union fight might be
more important to gay liberation than the Houses of
Parliament. It would appear therefore that there is some
advantage to be gained from involvement although it is not
clear what that advantage will be. Certainly much more
work will have to be done in gaining an understanding of
what gay liberation involves, what we can contribute to
CHE and the general question of the relationship between
our homosexuality and our involvement on the left.
Secondly it would appear that there remains a lot to be
done in writing, composing and creating a gay culture for
we cannot oppose a dominant superstructure with nothing,
we cannot take gay pride in shouting down oppressive
songs until we have something else to sing; we cannot fight
Williams' limp wrist or Mary Renault's limp mind until we
have something to put in their place. The beginnings are
there in the Gay Sweatshop possibly, in Tom Robinson's
songs and in some of the pamphlets but if they are then it
is only the beginning and there is no indication that they
will give our gayness the revolutionary perspective we
require. Left-handed heterosexuals society will tolerate,
left-minded gays will not be allowed to write, sing, act,
paint, nor fight unless we prove ourselves strong enough.
Finally on the tactical issue I would suggest that from
all points of the analysis the action was a right action and
our praxis advanced by it. People were given a practical
base for the debate; individuals gained a consciousness
through corporate action; the dangerous enemy within the
gay society was identified in those men who do not understand that being gay makes being male questionable; the
limitations of our understanding of our political role were
highlighted and our lack of sophistication in our analyses
illuminated. The next time an event occurs we should be
able to seize it, the next time an event does not occur we
should be able to create it: the gay left can only benefit
from action.*

Notes on a Russian Journey
by Sue Bruley
One measure of the degeneration of the Russian revolution
is the Communist Party's complete reversal on the question
of homosexuality. In 1917 it was abolished as a legal
offence, but by 1934 it had become punishable by up to
eight years in prison. The Bolsheviks renounced the right of
the state to interfere in sexual matters. They abolished all
laws with regard to sexual behaviour except in cases where
consent was absent or injury had occurred. But under
Stalinist dictatorship homosexuality came to be regarded
as a threat to the moral fabric of society. Homosexuals
were counter-revolutionaries, per se, because they
challenged that great institution, the 'Soviet family'. The
implication was even made that men who remained single
could not possibly be good workers and were not, therefore
doing their best to 'build communism'. (1)
When I visited the Soviet Union in August 1975 (2) I was
determined to find out what changes had been made, both
legally and in terms of social attitudes to homosexuality,
since the dark days of Stalinist repression. Fortunately my
task was made easier by the fact that another gay woman
(Gully) was in the same party. She was as inquisitive as I and
was quite willing to 'come out'. We decided to collaborate
and find out as much as we could, even if it meant
embarrassing the other members of the group by asking
very direct questions to the Russians.
On one of our evenings in Moscow a visit to the local
'Cultural and Pleasure Centre' was arranged so that we
could meet some members of Kommsomol (Young
Communists). This turned out to be a joint meeting with
two other English speaking groups (one from NUS) of
thirty each. One hundred and twenty of us sat in neat rows
in the theatre part of the centre and were asked to pose
questions to the five members of Kommsomol who sat
facing us with very serious faces. In the S.U. it is a rare
privilege to be allowed to meet foreigners and obviously
only the most trustworthy of party hacks were permitted
to reply to our questions. We quickly became accustomed
to the dreary uniformity and predictability of their
We were encouraged to ask questions of an informative
nature rather than political questions. As a result our
meetings with Kommsomol members were very dull, with
people asking questions such as 'What is the price of a
haircut in Moscow?' The Russians delighted in answering
such mundane questions and made detailed and lengthy
replies. I tried to inject some debate into the proceedings
by asking for their views on such questions as: the
relationship between the working class, the party and the
state; internationalism etc ., but the only response was one
or two hack phrases such as, 'the people and the party live
in harmony'.
After about 40 minutes of this Gilly and I decided that
the time was right to attempt an intervention on the gay
question. I asked for the microphone, stood up and
announced that I was going to raise the subject of homosexuality. I stated that I was a homosexual and that the
woman sitting next to me was too. An embarrassed silence
suddenly fell on the hall. I took a deep breath and
continued. I described the gay scene in the UK and the
increasing tendency of homosexuals to refuse to hide their
sexual orientation as if it were something to be ashamed
of. I referred to the attitude of the leftgroups and told
them that even the British C.P. now had it's gay caucus
(gasps of horror from the Russians at this point). Finally I
asked them to describe to me the probable life style of a
homosexual in the S.U. and what the attitude of the
authorities would be.
Even after I had finished speaking the audience continued
to stare in my direction. The Russians too remained glazed
and seemed to have an air of disbelief. Eventually one of
them took the initiative and went to the microphone.
He said that no one had ever asked a question of this sort
and that they needed to talk amongst themselves before
replying. After a few minutes one of them pushed another

forward, he squirmed in the other direction. It was obvious

that none of them wanted to bear the responsibility of
having to guess what the appropriate reply should be.
Finally a young man in his early 20s took the microphone
and said in my direction, 'It is a criminal offence.'
I stood up and asked him to explain in more detail and
to state the usual length of prison sentences. He replied
that two years was the normal term. They would say no
more and asked the audience to continue the meeting by
asking questions of a more 'general' nature about Soviet
After the Kommsomol meeting we approached one of
our guides, Olga, in an attempt to obtain more information.
She was quite responsive and promised to contact a 'friend
of a friend' at the university (she was studying English at
Moscow University), whom she thought to be a homosexual. But, as she said, she couldn't be absolutely sure as
no one would ever admit to such a thing in public. In fact,
we discovered, Moscow has a community of homosexuals
who meet in an upstairs bar of a very well known cafe in
Gorky St. (the main shopping area in Moscow). These
gatherings were apparently tolerated by the police,
probably because they do not attempt any sort of political
activity the USSR definitely has no equivalent of GLF.
Gilly and I visited the Cafe Lira and, predictably, found the
scene very closeted. The men at the bar were not in the
least camp, although perhaps they were by Russian
standards we couldn't tell! We couldn't find any women
there at all, but more about lesbians later .
Further discussions with Olga confirmed our suspicion
that conviction on a charge of homosexuality did not
merely result in a two year prison sentence. It was usual to
ensure that the person concerned became as isolated as
possible. If he had been working in a city, his permit (the
USSR has an internal pass system) would be automatically
withdrawn and he would only be offered another job in
some far flung province, which could be up to 200 miles
from the nearest town. Homosexuality meant certain disqualification from political office and even ordinary job
promotion, except perhaps in the arts, where, as in the
West, there is a much greater degree of tolerance.
In Leningrad another meeting with Kommsomol members
was arranged. Our guide assured us that this time it would
be a much more informal social gathering. We arrived at
the Locomotive Club to find four large tables arranged in
a square with beer, lemonade, cakes, sweets and fruit neatly
arranged on white tablecloths. We sat interspersed between
our Russian hosts, whom, the Chairman confidently
informed us, were 'the cream of Soviet youth'.
After the endless speeches of welcome we were left to
converse with our neighbouring Russians. Neither Gilly or
I spoke Russian so we quickly commandeered the services
of the group's interpreter and sat ourselves in front of
three naive looking Soviet women (one of whom was a
member of the Communist Party). Initially we talked
about the position of women in the S.U. They clearly had
the impression that full sexual equality was already a fact.
They could understand the reasons for the women's
movement in the West, but they thought such a thing was
unnecessary in their own country. We asked them about
the availability of contraception. Their reply, to our
amazement, was that they did not know much about it as
they weren't married, so they didn't have any reason to
seek contraceptive facilities.
When we raised the subject of homosexuality , they
couldn't understand what we were talking about. Becoming
very frustrated at their blank faces, I asked the interpreter
to repeat the question using the word 'lesbian' instead of
'homosexual'. 'Ah, lesbianka!' one of them said loudly. We
explained that we were lesbians and that we wanted to
know about lesbians in the USSR. They could not quite
get over the fact that we were completely open about our
homosexuality. They had never knowingly met a lesbian
before (they had learnt the word from a Swedish novel that
was on sale in the city) and were utterly intrigued by the
fact that we did not see it as anything to be ashamed of. It
is interesting to note that, unlike some members of the
British group, they were not openly disgusted by our statement and seemed very happy to continue talking to us,
although they did not have anything to say about lesbians
because the whole subject was a complete mystery to them.
They seemed very puzzled throughout and one said that
she was not aware that sex between two women was

After an hour or so we were shown into another room
and records were played so that we could dance. Our three
Soviet sisters were keen to dance with us and showed no
signs of physical unease. Again, this contrasts strongly with
the behaviour of the other women in the British group who
by this time had become almost paranoid about Gully and
myself. We were amazed to learn from one of the
sympathetic men in our group that the women had been
sleeping with their clothes on and had come to an agreement to stay in pairs at all times. They were apparently
under the impression that one of us would leap on them at
the slightest opportunity!
The evening at the Locomotive Club was a very jovial
occasion. Although obviously the 'Soviet youth' we had
met had been a heavily scrutinized bunch, we still felt that
we had got much closer to the opinions of ordinary
Russians than we had in Moscow. As we were leaving we
noticed that the women had begun clearing the tables
whilst the men were just idly standing by.
Riga is the capital of Latvia, one of the three Baltic
Republics. As our guides were not familiar with the region
and the language (Latvian is similar to German) the group
was 'handed over' to a woman, Anita, who taught English
at the university. She was an extraordinary Anglophile,
seizing every opportunity to meet English people and talk
to them, as she had never been able to travel to the UK
herself (foreign travel for all citizens of the USSR is an
exceptionally rare privilege).
Anita's husband, Jarnis, who accompanied us on most of
the official programme, was a lawyer. Gilly and myself
jumped at the chance to find out more about the legal
codes concerning homosexuality. He looked it up specially
for us ... yes, the 1934 Act was still in use and homosexuals were regularly sentenced under it. In contrast to
what we had been told in Moscow, he stated that the usual
prison term was five years for adults and eight years if a
male under 18 was involved (this is the legal definition of
pederasty in the S.U.).
We asked why did the law ban male homosexuality and
not mention female homosexuality? He could not understand our question at first. It seemed that for him the very
term 'female homosexuality' was a contradiction. Finally,
he came up with, 'The state thinks that women can't do as
men do in bed, so there is no need for a law against it.'
As we talked to Anita and Jarnis it became clear that they
were in full agreement with these disgusting prison sentences
for homosexuals. They saw the state as having a right to

regulate sexual conduct because homosexuality is, 'an

unnatural practise and must be stamped out' (Anita).
It is sad to report that in the country of the October
Revolution homosexuals are persecuted even more viciously
than they are in the west, but unfortunately this is the case.
The triumph of Stalinism enabled the state to consciously enter the personal sphere and rigidly transform it into
what it regarded as the appropriate form. With this
immensely powerful backing, the status of the family was
elevated and motherhood redefined as a patriotic act. In
the USSR an attack on the family is regarded as an
indirect attack on the state.
Through complete control over economic resources, the
government has ensured, in the crudest possible way, that
any deviation from heterosexual monogamous marriage is
not tolerated. Single people are not even permitted to join
the housing list. Gay people are condemned to spend their
lives in their parental home or to marry and attempt to
mould themselves into heterosexuality, which contradicts
all their feelings and desires.
For lesbians, the situation appears to be similar to that
in western countries oppression by invisibility. The rest
of society merely refuse to acknowledge their existence.
Sexuality is a male phenomena, therefore, women cannot
by definition be sexual with each other. The complete
denial of female sexuality is a tragedy not just for lesbians
but for all women in the USSR. It is a strange kind of
sexual equality if the sexual rights of women are not even
thought to exist.
There is not enough space to analyse the reasons for the
complete negation of all the sexual freedoms won during
the revolutionary period. It does seem necessary, however,
to point out that sexuality and the family are not
autonomous strata in society. The form that they take is
inextricably bound up with the structure of society as a
whole. The promise of a new era of sexual freedom was lost
with the retreat of the revolution. Today, visitors to the
USSR can only witness the high price of that failure.*
1 For more details see J. Lauritsen & D. Thorstad The
Early Homosexual Rights Movement 1864-1935, Times
Change Press. 1974, pp 62-70.
2 We travelled with the 'Educational Interchange Council'.
This is a government sponsored organisation which arranges
visits to East European countries for young working people
(i.e. no students). Three groups of thirty go to the USSR for
two weeks every year.

The Gay Workers' Movement

by Bob Cant and Nigel Young
The Gay Workers' Movement (GWM) could not, at present,
be described as a powerful mass movement. Most of us who
belong to it have come under the influence of the Gay
Liberation Movement (GLM) at some point in the last five
years. Many of us have also been deeply involved in trade
union work. We have often felt, however, that there has
been a great split between the two the fact that we have
come out as gay is often seen as something separate from
our struggle in the workplace. What the GWM must do is to
fuse these two struggles, organize gays at their place of work
and develop an analysis which is applicable to the position
of gay workers. This article will discuss the present state of
the movement, describe and analyse the beginnings that
have been made towards the building of the movement and
suggest strategies for building it further.
One of the phrases which came out of the early Gay
Liberation Front was the "tyranny of structure". A feeling
which summed up the dramatic content of most meetings
where to call for a chairperson or some structure to a
meeting was an invitation to be put down as a male chauvinist, an ego tripper or a power mad freak. However, out of
the anarchy of those meetings arose a situation in which
those who could voice their emotions most loudly dominated the vast majority of us who were unable to raise any
issues we considered important. General meetings with 200
people at them became a private theatre show where

individuals harangued others over issues most of us were

ignorant about. Few dared to ask what the meaning of such
new concepts as radical feminism or sexism meant, for fear
of being screamed at as "backward", "closet queen" or any
other convenient put-down. But the structurelessness of the
meetings became a tyranny for most of us and at the same
time were used as emotional platforms by the few.
We have briefly raised the past because the Leeds Gay
Workers Conference in May 1975 (see issue no.1 for a
report) was like a flashback to the halcyon days of the early
GLM, but this time without any willing participants. There
was a general feeling of frustration at Leeds for all the
reasons which the early GLM was put on a pedestal. The
mood of the Leeds conference was such that we wanted
speakers who had something to say on particular issues
confronting gay workers at the time; we wanted people to
chair meetings or take some initiative in small groups; we
wanted to clarify major issues and go away with some sense
of direction in which to place our energies before any future
conference took place. Yet for most of the conference there
was none of this, no one wanted to say, "This conference is
a mess because it lacks direction, it lacks purpose." We were
seemingly trapped by the structurelessness, which in the
early GLM was so highly praised and which certainly did
have some value in experimentation with meetings. It was
not until the last two hours of the conference that someone

had the strength to risk appearing authoritarian and

demanded we structured a meeting around plans for the
year ahead. Out of the discussion which arose was a proposed long term debate for Leeds 1976. The main points
we came away with were:
i) a commitment to hold a better organized conference in
Leeds in 1976.
ii) a proposal to set up a newsletter committee which
would act as a channel for people's ideas. At the same time
the committee would be an information outlet through
which we could be informed of news and views throughout
the country.
iii) we would use the draft gay workers charter as a discussion document rather than as a paper motion being passed
willy nilly at union meetings, a somewhat optimistic
thought anyway!
Back in London, one again felt frustration. Away from
the excitement of the last two hours at Leeds, we were
faced with the reality of no organization within which to
discuss issues confronting Gay Workers. The GWM was
virtually non-existent, and what did exist had no power.
Experience in the Gay Teachers' Group of fighting the
victimization of John Warburton (see issue No.1) taught us
how difficult it was to fight the specific victimization of a
worker who was also gay, let alone raising the hoary spectre
of gay oppression which we saw as a symptom of the
economic system which both exploited us as workers and
oppressed our sexuality.
Out of the frustration which members of the Gay
Teachers' Group felt, arose a meeting in London to clarify
what the aims and direction of the GWM were.
First London meeting
The first London meeting was held in October 1975. By
11 a.m., its advertised starting time, about 10 people were
there, by mid-day the number was 30. At first, one was
irritated by the impromptness of everyone. There seemed
to be a lack of urgency on their part. But on reflection, the
most likely reason for the general impromptness stems from
most gay people's lack of experience of attending working
meetings. After all, the early GLM flourished in a period
when counter-culture philosophies prevailed; to expect
people to be on time for anything was to be classed as
"heavy", "into organizations" or "institutionalized".
Certainly these experiments with structures helped many
gays come to meetings and encouraged them to speak in
small groups. The past, therefore, appeared in London as it
had done in Leeds.
When the London meeting eventually started, we did the
usual thing of sitting in a circle. Someone one day might
explain what is so cohesive about sitting in large circles,
especially when the majority, who turn up late, sit in an
outer circle. Huddled together and taking turns to describe
our union experiences, it soon became clear that there was
no obvious role for gay trade unionists. Two points
emerged strongly. First was that most of us operated in
unions as individual gay members and secondly there was
no contact between one union member and another across
unions. One felt the level of activism was bound to be
depressingly low in such circumstances.
One thing which did become clear from the morning
session was that a large number of people were involved in
struggles over the gay issue in'their own union. Members
of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and
the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and
Computer Staff (APEX) spoke of their attempts to get their
unions to change their position on the Trades Union
Congress (TUC) Circular 100 and include "sexual
orientation" as one of the grounds on which it was
unacceptable to discriminate. Some groups had been
concerned with getting recognition in their union for the
gay group this included the National Association of Local
Government Officers (NALGO), the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT) and
NUPE again. In some cases leading union officials had
expressed some support for those groups but it seemed
clear that they would not do so more openly until
pressured by a number of their branches. The secret
attempts by some members of the Association of Scientific,
Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS) in collusion with
full-time officials to set up a group unbeknown to most
other gay members of the union seemed a sure recipe for
confusion. The essence of any such group must be openness
and this was quite distinctly missing. A motion on Gay

Rights submitted to the Civil and Public Servants Association (CPSA) Conference had not been discussed and a
leading official of the union had said that the draft Sexual
Offences Bill was not a trade union issue. Someone spoke
of several instances in the Transport and General Workers
Union (TGWU) where action had been taken or threatened
in support of victimized gay workers. A Scottish member of
the Society of Graphic and Allied Trades (SOGAT) had
written in his union's journal of the discrimination facing
all gay workers, even when they were not being victimized.
Branches of both the National Union of Teachers (NUT)
and the Association of Teachers in Technical Institutions
(ATTI) had passed motions calling for the reinstatement of
John Warburton. Although this had met with no positive
response from the leadership of either of these unions and
Warburton had not been reinstated, the debate over his
case had, at least, raised the consciousness of some sections
of these unions.

In the afternoon session 60 people by now we again

sat in a circle and for about two hours people talked about
their personal experiences as gays at work. We had no chair,
we had no cohesion, no direction. Trade unionists we might
have been, disciplined in our approach to the task ahead we
never were. Eventually the meeting was saved from hopeless
confusion by it deciding we needed a chairperson.
In response to the bureaucratic and reformist attitudes
of some of those present, Martin O'Leary of the International Marxist Group made a major contribution to the
meeting. He emphasized the importance of Gay trade
unionists raising a series of demands centered on the
questions of economic exploitation and sexual oppression
over which we should not be prepared to compromise in
order to gain "acceptance" in the trade union movement.
The importance of the speech lay not so much in its
denunciation of reformist tactics, but in its clarification of
some of the knottier problems of gays in relation to the
work place: what were the major issues? How did they
relate to the present economic crisis? What should our
demands be as gay workers? Were these demands incorporated clearly and effectively in the Gay Workers Charter?
Within the speech lay the basis for a more directed, cohesive
second meeting.


Another issue which arose in the afternoon session was
the domination of the conference by men. This had arisen
partly because the meeting had not been advertised in the
lesbian movement and partly through the organization of
the conference, which made no attempt to raise the issue of
lesbian workers as central to any struggle against sexism. A
decision was taken at the meeting to get in touch with the
organizing committee of the Working Women's Charter.
Although we realized that the conditions of lesbians at
work were not covered specifically by the charter, it was
the first time in post-war years that women had gathered
together to organize and politicize around a set of demands
worked out by them and specifically for women. We in the
GWM could only learn from those experiences and hopefully utilize them in organization around a Gay Workers
Accordingly the second London meeting appeared to
have a unification which the previous meetings so obviously
lacked. Women spoke to us on the development of the
Charter: the organization around it and some of the
difficulties encountered with aspects of it. We were able to
look at the Gay Workers Charter within a new framework
and highlight some of its more obvious weaknesses.
With a refreshing rapidity the meeting centred around
three issues. First, would the Gay Workers Conference
benefit more from a Sexual Rights Charter instead of a Gay
Workers Charter. It could be seen as more closely relating
to gay women and men, or would this be taken as reformist
in relationship to the demands of the Gay Workers Charter,
a step away from the broader struggles of sexual oppression
in relation to work in a capitalist society?
Secondly, had the GWM looked closely enough at the
concept of sexism as it affects people in their families, with
their friends, and at the workplace? Often sexism has been
analysed as it affects us in the roles we play within our
relationships, but rarely is it talked about in a way which
unifies the separate elements of society which makes the
total sum of our lives.
Thirdly, we felt that too often assumptions were made
about working with the Trade Union Movement on the
basis of very little knowledge. What is the function of the
Trade Union Movement in relation to the struggle against
sexism? What is the best means of raising the issue within
our unions?
It became obvious that we would only be able to discuss
all of these issues in a third meeting where three papers
would be presented on sexism in its widest context, a sexual
rights charter and the Trade Union Movement. One felt a
quiet satisfaction that out of all the disorganization, and the
chat which many had put down as "emotional", "apolitical"
etc., we had arrived at a stage where a meeting would be
held to specifically discuss three papers.


Combining the personal and the political

What is an essential part of the GWM is the ability of its
meetings to encompass people's personal traits and still
come out with a political framework. The GWM is young, it
is not a hardened straight revolutionary group with welldefined economic issues to struggle over. The GWM is not
even clear over its ideology yet and as Mary McIntosh
commented at one meeting, the function of the gay movement (mostly male) will be to carry on an ideological
debate, to draw gays into an area of thought which will
move away from the idea that being gay is purely a sexual
preference for one's own sex to a position where gay people
will understand that what underpins their sexuality is the
exploitative economic system under which at present we all
must operate. The struggle against sexual oppression must
therefore be centered firmly around the struggle against
economic exploitation.
The need for ideological debate is clear but this can only
really begin in conjunction with the mobilization of more
gay workers particularly those who have not been
involved in the GLM. But the very issue of mobilization is
faced with three difficult problems the isolation of the
gay groups, the lack of much positive support from other
trade unionists and the apparent lack of involvement by
The isolation is exacerbated by the fact that most gay
groups are not even allowed to advertise in their union's
journals. Most existing groups seemed to have found their
members by advertising in Gay News. And people who buy

Gay News are likely to have some kind of consciousness

about their gayness already. The lesbian textile worker
from Slaithwaite or the gay carworker from Linwood are
less likely to buy Gay News. If they could see an ad for the
gay group and an article about homosexuality in their own
union's paper, it would be much easier for them to consider
joining the group. The right to advertise must be one of the
immediate aims of any union gay group.
Joining gay groups would also be easier if people could
meet local contacts. If they could meet someone for a drink
in a pub round the corner they would be much likelier to
see their own gayness as something which was not alien or
unnatural. There is a very strong need for local cross-union
groupings of gay workers. So, for example, if a gay printworker were to become interested in the GWM, even if
there were no other gay printworkers where he lived he
could still be put into contact with other gay workers.

Reproduced from 'Craft'

None of this can really be done only by gay trade
unionists. Some support must be won from other trade
unionists. This may seem impossible but the problems faced
by us, in this respect, are the same as those faced by anyone
who tries to take politics into the union. It involves being
concerned with issues related to aspects of one's life other
than sexuality; nothing is more likely to antagonize people
who are, after all, subject to much abuse for their union
activity more than the feeling that the union is being
used as a bandwagon for some separate cause. It involves
explaining to people who have always separated their
private lives from their lives at work why sexuality is an
issue relevant to trade unions. It involves one constantly
raising the question of sexual politics in conversation at
work e.g. when jokes are made about women, gays or
older people, then one has to explain why you think it is
important not to talk like that. It involves patient, hard
slog combined with a spark of passion and the ability to
choose the right moment. It requires qualities never known
to survive in one isolated person but only in someone
who belongs to a group of like-minded people. The task of
politicization is always hard but it often produces results
when least expected. Imagine how we would all feel if
everyone came out of a comprehensive school when one of
their gay colleagues was victimized or if unloading came to
a halt at London Docks because of a victimized gay worker.
That is what we are working for and it will come if we work
together and work hard.
The third problem is in many ways the most difficult
how does a group of gay men persuade lesbians to work
with them. Many lesbians find gay men as oppressive as
straight men. We, after all, have experienced years of male
conditioning and if we are active in our unions we may
even have strengthened our male characteristics in the
way we argue and so on. We may even find it easier to
connect with straight women their demands, e.g.
nurseries, abortions, are much easier to organize around.
But with lesbianism we find ourselves confronted much
more directly with the deep-rooted nature of sexism in our
society. Gay groups, therefore, that are set up must make

it their primary duty to welcome lesbians. Probably, the

single most important thing that can be done at such
meetings is for gay men to reflect on their style of talking
and to curb the male chauvinist features. Men must also
actually take over in a positive way the kind of tasks that
often fall on women, e.g. minding the creche, baby-sitting
for people who otherwise could not go to evening meetings.
Links with Working Women's Charter groups are fine but,
as men, we must work harder to integrate women into the
GWM. If the movement is allowed to drift into being an allmale movement, then we might be better employed going
to the pictures.
There are enormously difficult political tasks ahead, but
the one thing which makes them possible to contemplate is
the way in which we have begun to come together already.

For, despite the isolation and the lack of much support

from other committed trade unionists, a movement has
already begun to grow. And the success of any campaign,
whether or not it be around a charter, will depend on the
continuation of this coming together. We must form gay
groups in our own unions and, locally, we must form crossunion groups of gay workers. In both cases, we must
operate a positive discrimination in favour of lesbians. With
this double network of solidarity, we can then hope to
build a Gay Workers Movement. In the current economic
situation we should not fool ourselves that it will be easy
but, with the confidence that we gain from the GWM and
its sub-groups, we can soon begin to take the question of
sexuality into the heart of the labour movement.*


A review by Bob Cant


Fassbinder's Fox is a film about the corruptive nature of

capitalism. The fact that the main characters are gay men
does of course make it interesting for gay men but it is not
primarily a film which attempts to Deal With The Problem
Of Homosexuality.
The story is about a gay fairground worker, Fox, who
wins a lottery and comes into contact with a group of rich
fashionable gay men. He begins an affair with one of them,
Eugen, whose father is the owner of a long established print
works. Eugen and his family proceed to exploit Fox until
all his money is finished and then they reject him. The last
shot is of the dead Fox lying in a railway station with an
empty Valium bottle beside him as two youths go through
his clothes. The major theme of the film is the way in
which money corrupts all relationships Eugen exploits
Fox's feelings for him because Fox's money can get him
and his family out of their financial difficulties; Eugen also
debases his relationship with Philip by rejecting him till his
financial problems are solved; in the final scene too there is
the mysterious conversation between Fox's previous lover
and his antique dealer friend about some financial transaction this is never fully explained but simply reinforces
Fassbinder's point that in a bourgeois society all relationships have economic overtones. In many ways one has to see
the film as a fable with Fox as the innocent abroad in an
evil world in the tradition of Bunyan's Pilgrim, Voltaire's
Candide, and Dostoyevsky's Prince Mishkin.
However to treat the film as though it were just a fable
is to underestimate its complexity. There are many scenes
in the film which acknowledge Fassbinder's debt to Hollywood such as the scene by the french windows with the
lace curtains (with all its implications of property and
exclusion) and the conversations in the car (creating an
atmosphere of growing intimacy between two characters).
These scenes are significant not only in a cinematic sense
but also in a sense that they indicate the dependence of
post-war West Germany on USA. This can be further seen
in the bar scene when Fox talks to the two GIs who are
only interested in having drinks bought for them and fucks
supplied for them. We are reminded that West Germany
like most of Western Europe is a neo-colony of American
imperialism. The lack of choice that Fox has in most of his
relationships is as limited as the choice that most Western

Europeans have over the economic destiny of the countries

they live in. Lest this be seen as crude European nationalism
the point is further developed in the scenes in Morocco.
Fox, the innocent, and Eugen, the symbol of a European
bourgeoisie dying in the face of American domination, are
only too ready to become the exploiters in relation to a
man from a less developed country. Relationships are more
than just a matter of good individuals and bad individuals
they are a clear reflection of the economic structure of a
society and are no doubt intended here to be seen as an
allegory of such.
Many gay people have seen this film as a put-down of
gays. It is quite true that people who know nothing of gay
life are unlikely to be attracted by the scenes of the gay
ghetto as it is portrayed in the film. But then one must
recognise that the gay ghetto is not a pleasant place and
those who succeed in its jungle-like atmosphere are likely
to be either young and beautiful or just plain rich. The
rather nasty group of people who are Eugen's friends seem
to me to be a fairly accurate picture of one part of the gay
world, claustrophobic and bitchy. Philip's boutique (where
there is no natural light and lots of mirrors) and the antique
shop (encouraging buyers to imitate living in another age
just as the ghetto encourages gays to imitate others' life
styles) portray a world which is self conscious and yet
desperate not to face up to its own reality. As gay people
we have nothing to gain by pretending our lives are heroic
and free from group imposed destructiveness.
Fassbinder does offer some little hope in the bar scenes
where Fox meets his friends from the time before his
lottery win. Their's too is an unreal world with the flower
sellers, the drag and the woman consciously trying to look
like Marlene Dietrich and singing of Shanghai (a city which
no longer exists as it was in the song). But there is some
comradeship the people in that bar are not free from the
pressures of capitalism but they do not forget the need to
help each other and they are even prepared to help Fox
when he moves away from them.
This is an excellent film as damning as Bunuel or
Chabrol with its comments on bourgeois society. But if
anyone wants to see a gay chauvinist film which papers over
the cracks then they should go elsewhere. This is a film that
must be seen with a socialist perspective.*

minority sexual rights. (Specifically, this would mean

refusing to work for a mere lowering of the age of consent,
or a mere handing-over of control of the young, from the
courts to parents.)
May I invite anyone who is concerned in tackling these
issues to contact me as soon as possible.
Roger Moody, 123 Dartmouth Park Hill, London N19.

Dear Gay Left, Dear Gay Left, Dear Gay Left, Dear
The Struggle
Number one excellent, I thought. But, my God, you do
have an uphill battle a task not only of political, but of
psychological education of highly recalcitrant potential
Colin McInnes, Hythe, Kent.
Comment on G.L. No 1
I've sold 20 copies of G.L.; mainly to heterosexual politicos
in fact -- at Spare Rib and Hackney Abortion Campaign.
Some people have needed persuading; one woman saw the
price and said 'But it costs the same as Spare Rib and that's
a glossy magazine.' I explained about it being financed out
of your own pockets. No one seemed to mind it being
produced only by men I've sold it about equally to men
and women.
I thought it would have been useful to have carried a
review of Don Milligan's pamphlet that placed the piece in a
historical context; not so much of I.S. anti-gay politics but
of the women's movement and its development of politics
of the family and women's domestic labour. E.g. there's a
bit where Don says the family doesn't have an economic
role in capitalism, only an ideological one. That statement
could be a bit misleading given current socialist feminist
Ann Scott, London N16.
Paedophile Politics
Paedophiles, as you briefly mentioned (in No 1), have
begun to organise. Inevitably the organisation at present has
no clear picture of itself or its objectives, and is not even
sufficiently together for the establishment to seek to divide
et imperat. Paedophile politics, such as they are, consist of
wagon-hitching to the mainstream gay movement a
strategy which may embarrass paedophiles as much as it has
already inconvenienced Peter Hain and some members of


It may well be that what inspires widespread feeling

against child and adolescent lovers is not so much sexism as
ageism. (Boy lovers are often guilty of sexism in my
experience.) Certainly we cannot hope for our liberation,
without actively supporting children's rights, both sexual
and political. But is this fated to be vicarious struggle? Can
an adult objectify sexual relationships with children if the
child cannot objectify his/her own? And how does the male
boy lover really make common cause with the male girl
lover? (How in fact, can a fundamentally gay minority
share the same assumptions as a fundamentally heterosexual
one?) These are difficult questions to answer. Internal
suppression and external oppression are more closely
meshed for the boy lover, than for most other sexual
minorities. Neither 'coming out' in the conventional sense,
nor middle-of-the-road campaigning for acceptance, will
liberate the paedophile. Indeed, I think current strategies
for converting the compact majority are more dangerous
than helpful. What is required is:
1) a very careful analysis of the role we paedophiles play
in bulwarking repression (if all boy lovers in approved
schools and private boarding schools were to strike, how
many would be forced to close?)
2) a building of solidarity in struggle which is woefully
lacking at present (has any paedophile in this country really
fought on behalf of an imprisoned fellow paedophile?) and
3) a revolutionary, perspective on social change and

Question and Comment

I have a question for you, which no doubt will be answered
in future issues of Gay Left. Your statements suggest that
you take a view of 'reform' struggles (civil rights laws,
repeal of sodomy statutes, etc.) that I do not entirely share.
I believe differences over what the gay movement's approach
to struggle on these questions should be must be aired
within the gay movement. There has been a very negative
( mostly in the past) attitude on the part of ultra-leftists
toward struggles for civil rights and law reform. On the
other hand, many reformists speak of such aims and gains
in this field as if it alone would bring about gay liberation
and sexual freedom. Are these two views incompatible? Are
they useful in terms of setting gay liberation strategy? I
think struggle for reform is essential at this stage of the gay
movement. And I think real gains can be (and have been
in the U.S. especially) made in this area real improvements in the legal status of gays can be achieved, a better
self-view among gays fostered, the hypocrisy of the
capitalist system's 'justice' and 'freedom' exposed, and the
vast public reached and touched in terms of our struggle. I
consider 'leftists' (often police agents posing, I am
convinced I doubt that there is a really genuine ultraleftist phenomenon in the gay movement at all) who
belittle these 'reformist' struggles to be a real obstacle in
the effort to bring Marxism to gay people, and a Marxist
outlook to the left groups in the area of sexuality. Moreover, I think struggle for such reforms is revolutionary or
can be if it utilises mass means of struggle, remains
independent of bourgeois class forces (politicians, etc.) and
uses these struggles as a vehicle to
1) bring gay people into active struggle;
2) educate the public, and, yes, raise public consciousness,
through leafletting, publishing of pamphlets, use of the
mass media, street demonstrations, etc. There's nothing at
all wrong with reforms, or struggling for them so long as
they are used to mobilise and educate the masses of gay
people. One other gain from civil rights reforms: gay people
will find that their ability to use the (bourgeois) law against
the bourgeoisie, and against their oppressor, has increased
appreciably. They will be more likely to 'come out' openly
than they will be without legal protections. And, convincing
other gay people to come out is really the first step toward
building a gay liberation movement with mass social impact.
Don't forget: the first gay liberation movement achieved no
lasting gains (unlike the women's movement, which at least,
got the right to vote). Our movement today has already
achieved much more in this area of reforms, and once
achieved, it will be that much harder to revoke them. In
addition, a struggle will be necessary to implement them
and that too will provide a concrete issue around which
the gay movement, and its supporters from other sectors of
society, will be able to mobilise and struggle.
David Thorstad, New York
The only gay socialist?
Congratulations on Issue No 1 of Gay Left I have
witnessed the embourgeoisement of Gay News over the
years, and with it the decline of its ability to be taken
seriously as a radical publication. Examples from the
current issue are too numerous to catalogue; 'Gay Hero
saves President Ford' screams the Page One Daily Expresstype headline; its inside pages include a disgustingly sexist
(I always find that when I leave people I have to destroy
them') interview with the self-opinionated Disco Tex.
I can't be the only gay socialist in London who would
really like to get together as often as possible with other
gay socialists is there anyway you could expand from the
magazine to holding 'Gay Left Readers Meetings'? How
about it?
Geoff Francis, London N16.
The collective reserves the right to shorten letters. All
letters published in this issue have been abbreviated for
reasons of space.



Within These Walls ... Gay Left Collective
From Latent To Blatant Angus Suttie
Book Review Jeffrey Weeks
Gays In Films Richard Dyer
A Commune Experience Keith Birch
Eros and Civilisation Ronald L. Peck
Sheffield Incident John Lindsay
Ah, lesbianka! Sue Bruley
The Gay Workers Movement Bob Cant and Nigel Young 19
Review of 'Fox' Bob Cant
Editorial Note

This is our second issue of Gay Left and we plan to bring

out the journal three or four times a year. Response to issue
no 1 has been good with many helpful comments and
suggestions as well as articles. We see Gay Left as a starting
point for discussion and analysis of sexual politics within a
Marxist framework. When reaction indicates this has begun,
we feel part of our aim has been achieved.
In this issue we have increased the number of pages from
16 to 24 and aimed for a more visual presentation. Many
readers thought the first issue looked too 'butch', or was
too heavy to wade through without the pages being broken
up by making it more visually exciting. We still welcome
written or visual contributions. The journal and the gay
socialist movement will grow stronger through this continuing debate concerning the purpose and function of sexism
in a capitalist society. Only by a thorough understanding of
the sexually and economically oppressive nature of
capitalist society can the gay socialist movement work out
strategies for destroying that structure. In order to critically
examine some of the questions raised in issue no 1, we held
a readers' meeting. As this proved a very successful venture,
we are planning to hold another readers' meeting in April/
May. Any comrades interested in attending it please write
for details (with S.A.E.).
Criticism has been made of the cost of Gay Left 30p.
Alas, this is the lowest economic cost we can negotiate on
a small print run (2,000 copies) and only the cost of typesetting and printing is covered in this price. Artwork,
articles and distribution is done by the Gay Left collective
and friends. Comrades who would like to sell a few copies
of Gay Left have only to write to us at 36a Craven Road,
London W2 for details.
We do not yet have the facilities for opening a subscription list. Readers who would like notification of the next
issue can send us a stamped addressed envelope and this
will be sent back to you when issue no 3 is ready all
being well in the summer.*

Members of the Gay Left collective are:

Keith Birch, Gregg Blachford, Bob Cant, Derek Cohen,
Emmanuel Cooper, Randal Kincaid, Ron Peck, Angus
Suttie, Jeffrey Weeks, Nigel Young.

Gay Left Rates

United Kingdom by post
1 9 copies
40p each
over 9 copies
25p each (includes bookshops)
1 9 copies
over 9 copies
over 9 copies

60p each (International Money Order

only) or $1.50 each (Canadian or
American cheque)
40p each (International Money Order
only) (includes bookstores) or $0.90
each (Canadian or American cheque)
30p each (International Money Order
only) (includes bookstores) or $0.70
each (Canadian or American cheque)

Between now and the end of May, Four Corner Films, a
film-making collective, will be drawing into its final stages
the shooting script for a narrative film about a gay teacher,
The film will describe, amongst other things, a teacher's
coming out at school, a process understood as political as
much as it is personal. It will be largely made with gay
people who will be playing themselves. A good deal of the
content of the film will be arrived at through a process of
discussion and through acting workshops with gays. Anyone
wanting to take part in these should contact me at Four
Corner Films, 113 Roman Road, Bethnal Green, London
E2. Suggestions are also welcome, particularly with regard
to locations. The film is scheduled to be shot through June
and July in the London area. Further details available from
the studio address.
Ronald L. Peck

Gay Left c/o 36a Craven Road, London W2

Special thanks to Ilrich Shetland and Naurika Lenner

All letters will be assumed to be for publication unless
otherwise stated.
ISSN: 0307-9813

Gay Left No 1
Gays in the Trade Unions, in Cuba, at Conference, at
politics and much more. Copies available: 30p, or 40p by
post from 36A Craven Road, London W2.
Typeset by Caroline MacKechnie.
Printed by SW Litho, London E2.
c Gay Left Collective 1976

Carrying on ...

This issue completes our first year of publication. For us on

the Collective it has been an exciting and a learning year. We
feel we have laid down a ground pattern on which, hopefully,
much can develop. We have tested the water, and found an
audience for a left wing gay journal of discussion. Much, of
course, remains to be done , and there are grey areas which
still need to be explored. We have to constantly define and
re-define our relationship with the gay movement, with
women, and with the left. They are not static relationships
but fluid, and developing. Several articles in this issue take
some of the essential discussions a few steps further. Sue
Bruley has raised important questions which we have talked
about at great length in the Collective and have replied to
individually. Bob Cant's article on International Socialists
raises a multitude of issues in our continuing problematical
relationship with the Left. These themes are also reflected in
other articles in this issue.
What we have to reject is the notion that Gay Left can
attain a sort of Platonic perfection, laying down in its wisdom
the road ahead for gay people. We have been variously seen as
the leadership in embryo of a new gay left movement, as
would-be-philosopher-queens, as elitists, as armchair gays. We
see ourselves rather more truthfully as a small group of
committed socialist gays who have established this journal as
a forum for discussion in the gay movement. We are an open
journal, willing to publish articles and contributions which
relate our own central concern: the relationship between gay
liberation and socialism. We do not consider it our duty to
publish material which does not touch on those themes; there
are other gay papers, and space is scarce. But neither do we
expect total agreement from our readers with all our views
which, like others, are constantly developing and changing.
Constructive criticism is welcome and will gain a response.
We do feel though that those who criticise could do so most
helpfully by directing it to us and by offering _contributions
to the journal. We hope to be able in future to discuss in
detail all articles with contributors before they are published.
Since the journal started there have been early signs of
changes in the attitudes of the socialist left to the gay issue.

The Communist Party now has a special commission preparing

a report, and the International Socialists have formally
adopted a policy of support for gay rights. Both these moves
have been on the level of support for 'gay rights' rather than
any deeper questioning of sexism, but they are small steps
forward. Even the ultra sectarian Workers' Revolutionary
Party's paper, Newsline, sent a reporter to this year's C.H.E.
conference, and the Workers Socialist League published a good
letter on the Gay Workers' Conference. The latter would
have been even more useful as an article but given the history
of the left's treatment of gay liberation it is all too easy to
believe that a vast amount of editorial heart searching went
on before even this modest contribution was finally published.
As we go to press the resignation of the Home Secretary,
Roy Jenkins, is expected as he moves on to greener fields in
Europe. We cannot lament his departure. His is a record of
right-wing labourite policies for the past two decades; a real
enemy of the working class and the Labour Movement. But
many gays will lament his going. In a world where few support
us, his record of supporting gay civil rights and sex reform is
reasonable. He was Home Secretary when both the Homosexual Law Reform and the Abortion Act were pushed through
and earlier he supported reform of the censorship laws. That
we are now aware of his going, and of the self-publicising
activities of the pseudo radical Young Liberals is in itself a
mark of the appalling record of the socialist left on these
issues. As the left now jump on the libertarian bandwagon, it
is worth them remembering that it is their duty not to catch
up with the liberals (who, as someone once said, see both sides
of the question and act accordingly) but to go beyond their
positions towards a socialist critique of the bourgeois norms
and bourgeois reforms. The left in Britain is in crisis and, with
the failure of revolutionary socialism, the threat of fascism
looms ever more threateningly. Fascism is triumphant invariably because of the failure of the left. But in reconstructing itself the left must not ignore the major issues raised by
the sexual liberation movements over the past six years or
so. Socialism and sexual liberation are complementary, and it
is towards the juncture of the two that Gay Left will continue
to work in its second year.*

Divided We Fail
by Nigel Young
The dawn of gay consciousness and the development of the
women's movement has made many of us realize how intricately sexism is in our personal lives and our work
situations. As gay men we have become aware of what are
sexist attitudes and roles, and in our political work we have
attempted to raise the issue of sexism as central to any revolutionary struggle. In this work, however, we are confronted by
a theory and practice which divides the struggle against
capitalism from the battle against sexism. The former is
obviously a priority, but sexism is regarded as a deviation
from the main struggle, a battle to be won after the revolution.
The highly impersonal structures in which we carry out our
political work militates against our raising either the political
or personal implications of sexism.
These two spheres are at the heart of the problem. We need
to analyse the oppressive nature of sexism as defined in our
personal relationships and secondly the relationship of this
type of sexism to exploitative/competitive work situations. We
have the unenviable task of fusing together two agents of
oppression: the controlling and defining nature of heterosexual
norms and values being highlighted in the gay liberation movement whilst conditions at work are of central importance to
This division was highlighted for me when I raised the gay
issue around the case of John Warburton (see Gay Left No.1)
in my own union. The left in my union branch a highly
politicized one -- were able to see the case as one of obvious
victimization but were unable to relate their analysis to a
broader discussion of gayness in which they might have
explored the relationship between the personal oppression of
a gay teacher and the ensuing political implications. What arose
was a situation in which I was constantly being asked to reaffirm the general nature of oppression in society and from
this commitment gay oppression could be added to the list.
This I feel is a dangerous divide and one which people who are
gay and Marxists working in unions will find it difficult to
avoid. The danger lies in the complete undervaluing of the role
of sexism in society as an oppressive force.
This situation applies equally to the women's issue as
raised by the straight left. It seems perfectly acceptable to
discuss the oppression of women in terms of maternity leave,
bad pay and conditions at work or lack of nursery facilities.
Or take up specific cases of the victimization of women
workers, but at the same time ignore the analysis of personal
relationships which the women's movement has put forward
as a prime agent in their oppression.
For gay men who are Marxists it is unavoidable that the
division between what is considered a personal situation as
opposed to a political one will arise both in their work in
unions and in their contact with the revolutionary left. It is a
tradition of the unions to raise political issues which highlight
exploitation as occurring solely at the point of production.
In these terms it is far easier to exemplify which class is most
oppressed. Consequently what has always been considered to
. be the most valuable work has been organisation in and
around factories. This attitude has spread through unions
regardless of the work situation, so we are constantly fighting
cases of wages, conditions at work and victimization of
workers. These issues are central but as we know through the
dissemination of literature from the women's movement, an
improvement in our material position bears little relationship
to the personal relationships we have and the ways in which
those relationships can be oppressive.
Also, for gay men the division is wider as we have no specific body of literature which analyses the way men oppress each
other and women. The nature of male oppression has been
clearly highlighted by the women's movement. We therefore
have no way inside or outside the traditional political structure within which we can operate to analyse the nature of
personal oppression. However we are able to draw upon the
2 Gay Left

analysis developed in the women's movement and it is from

it that gay men can begin to look at some of the dynamics of
our personal relationships. At the same time we can relate
those dynamics to the work situation where it is not enough
just to 'come out' by telling everyone 'I'm gay,' we must also
question the whole notion of 'masculine' and 'feminine' work
role situations. Put in another way sexism isn't something
which oppresses us only in terms of our personal relationships,
but it also enables society to define work roles which are
equally oppressive.
Kate Millet in Sexual Politics states that one's gender is 'a
status category with political implications'. She then defines
the components of one's sex as being role, status and temperament. Status is the political component, role the sociological
component and temperament the psychological component.
As an extension of this argument I want to analyse the ways
in which gay men fit into these structures. I also wish to look
at the way these categories have been central to my own
Status and Role
Politically the status of women in 19th century England was
always defined in a subservient, secondary manner to men.
This position was built upon a whole history of patriarchy
which denied the vote to women and gave married women no
legal rights to property or their children. Women were also
almost totally excluded from educational institutions and were
the subject of much protective, paternal legislation which took
them out of the factories and mines and into the home. Many
developments of the role of women as we know them today
came with the rise of the industrial revolution and the development of the nuclear family. The status of women, therefore,
became firmly linked to their two roles as a cheap pool of
secondary labour, and in terms of their role, as housewives and
mothers. The work of the latter role was considered non
productive labour. Women are supposed to do more boring,
repetitive work than men and are usually paid less for it;
they are also often the servants of men in industry having jobs
such as secretaries, cleaners and tea makers. Behind all this is
the assumption that this is 'feminine' work. And men who do
work in what are considered 'feminine' jobs are thought of as
odd or eccentric or, horror of horrors, even gay! The history
of women and work reads like an equation: woman =
housewife + mother + cheap labour + feminine = slave.
The political implications of this situation are enormous
especially in terms of role definition in work. So many jobs
are specified as being masculine or feminine; women being
typists or teaching young children, men being builders or
engineers. To change this type of sexist stereotyping would
demand those involved in traditional areas of political work
to question deeply what it is about masculinity and femininity
which requires men and women to do jobs considered
acceptable, what is oppressive about these roles, and what our
own attitudes as men would be to doing what was considered
'feminine' work.
Women who try to change their position in society in terms
of their work role often do so in traditional women's work.
Thus they may become head teachers more easily or run
secretarial agencies or start play groups, but would find severe
opposition in trying to break through the male preserves of
building workers, railway drivers or mechanics. The picture
becomes more complicated when one considers the barrage
of propaganda which states that being a mother and housewife are the pinnacles of all women's achievement; these are
the 'natural' preserves of women's role and status in a capitalist

As the 'natural' role of women is so closely tied to their being

seen as secondary and inferior to men, it is no accident that
their temperament as defined by men is also seen as weaker
and inferior to men. Women are considered weak, emotional,
sensitive, conformist, jealous. In turn these have been deemed
'feminine' qualities and therefore men should have none of
these attributes. Since Freud raised the hoary spectre of 'penis
envy' no woman can tread the ground of male preserve without

being accused of wanting to have a penis or wanting to be a

man. Although there has been a re-examination of what Freud
had to say concerning women (see Juliet Mitchell's Psychoanalysis and Feminism) no-one can deny the way which his
theories have had a monumental importance in maintaining
an image of women which totally represses their sexuality
unless it is prescribed 'feminine' behaviour.
Kate Millett's categories apply to the experiences of many
gay men though this must not be confused with the male
radical feminist position of the early 70s which said that men
have only to wear drag in public to know what it is like to he a
woman. The whole socializing processes for men and women
are so different that it is impossible for men to swap those
experiences simply by trying to look like women, but whom
the public perceive as men. It is futile to pretend that men
can know by being radical feminist what it is like to be an
oppressed woman.
The position of gay men in society, like that of women, is
considered a very dismal second to that of straight men. In a
recent legal case a high court judge reminded us that the 1967
Act did not entitle gays to think their lifestyle was an acceptable alternative to heterosexuality. In legal terms the range of
gay behaviour which we are allowed to indulge in would almost
require us to be hermits. Also, as gays, we find it hard to express
the full range of our gayness in our work through fears of losing
our jobs, or being ostracized by our fellow workers. In addition
we do not create nuclear families and we therefore pose a
threat to the conventional socialization patterns.
If we have an awareness of our gayness and reject heterosexual norms and values we will not relate to women as the
dominant partners in a relationship. Neither will we expect
women to be our domestic slaves or child rearers. In relation
to children we would not socialize them in the 'normal'
patterns of masculine and feminine behaviour and the associated roles. We therefore pose an added threat in terms of
our non-willingness to participate in the oppressive machine
which feeds future generations into capitalist society.
Our position in society is much more acceptable to that
society if we do not challenge its norms and values for example
by accepting the role of being straight, by covering up our
gayness, by marrying. Or if we pass for straight by trying to
look more butch than Mr Universe. It is in an appositional
way but precisely in this sphere that the position of gay men
relates closest to that of women. In order to change their
status in society women move away from the 'natural'
preserve of motherhood and domesticity and towards masculine roles, whilst gay men change their status by moving into
the 'normal' sphere of masculine heterosexual roles and also
by the adoption of heterosexual norms and values.
Thus to gain acceptance we are forced into adopting the
same position of women: adopting roles which are considered
masculine. The supposed temperament of gays has almost
been as closely defined as the temperament of women
'feminine' qualities plus weak wrists, lisps, mincing walks,
high voices, etc. Many straight gays put down gays who manifest these 'feminine' qualities as making them appear to be
like women. Thus if we wish to change our temperament for
the 'better' we must behave as though we were straight. In
the gay world there is something slightly superior about being
butch, aggressive, manly. The one is dominant the other
submissive and weak, just as straight men are supposed to
dominate and women are supposed to submit.
However, women are caught in a double bind situation here,
because though it is acceptable to change one's roles and status
in work terms by becoming a worker as well as a mother and
housewife, it is unacceptable to change one's temperament.
Women, we are told, succeed in a man's world because of their
feminine qualities. To adopt a masculine pose invites accusations of being too aggressive, of being like a lesbian. Gay men
must assert what is considered natural for men in order to
cover their gayness and lesbians must be feminine women to
cover theirs. Heterosexuals always find it confusing if gay
women and men fit straight women and men's stereotypes
temperamentally. What they never understand is the confusion
for us in terms of our sexuality, and the contradictions we have
to go through in conforming to heterosexual norms concerning
our temperaments.

The Status of my Relationships

My own relationships have been characterized by the inherent
contradictions which have confronted me concerning my gayness, my femininity, or in the past my desire to pass for straight.
There was also an uneasiness created by my social experience
of gayness with other gays and my political feelings. Although
I felt oppressed by my experiences in the gay world, regardless of the fact that I could operate quite easily in that world,
I could never relate that oppression to my political feelings
that capitalism exploited and oppressed people. I saw my gay
oppression as a feeling of personal inadequacy. These ideas
spread into my relationships through a nagging feeling that
there was something missing. Somewhere in the distance would
be the perfect situation, in the present I always put down my
relationships and consequently ran away from them. I had a
constant thought that somehow my relationships were second
best. This always struck me vividly when I saw heterosexual
couples walking in the street. Fantasy played an important
role here as I was always more envious of beautiful men and
women walking together for they appeared to be able to
express their emotions openly. I assumed that what was missing in my own relationships, an inability to commit my
emotions to anyone, was paramount in theirs. I felt unable to
tell anyone I loved them and found it impossible to deal with
anyone who expressed a positive emotional commitment to
me. With heterosexual couples I automatically assumed that
theirs was a life of bliss, a constant assertion of their feelings
for each other which they were able to accept.
When I was 23, I met a man who I decided to live with.
This was the 'real' thing and before we found a flat I was
desperately excited by the idea of being in love. Of course the
only way to express that feeling known to me then was to
live with someone. However the fantasy did not last long and
after a month of hating living together, of never wanting to be
in the flat, never wanting to see the person, never wanting to
Gay Left 3

accept him for what he was, I could not get out quickly
enough. Yet not for one moment did I question the validity
of wanting a monogamous relationship and neither did I see
that what was stifling and role playing for straights was
exactly what I was copying in my relationships. The end was
just seen as another personal failure.
My Role
At this time I very much played the role of being weak, passive
and coquettish. I always felt unequal to my friends whom I
considered my intellectual superiors, I was treated as the
bright butterfly which is turned to for amusement, but hardly
taken seriously. I played the game excellently of being a pretty
young thing and consequently met people who treated me as
a pretty ornament. This type of role playing in which I
assumed a stereotyped feminine attitude completely distorted
my relationships and my notion of gayness. There was no
sense of equality and the experience of liberation which can
come through an understanding of role playing was also lacking. What 1 had socially learnt I took for being natural and
consequently felt a bitterness about my own stereotype
femininity. I therefore always had to reject my relationships
and felt an increasing sadness as each one ended and another
took the familiar path.
Strangely it was not the advent of the Gay Liberation
Front which began to make me reappraise my attitude towards
the status of my relationships or the roles and temperament
which I expressed within them, but my involvement with
C.H.E. Here I felt I met the grassroots of gay people, a much
wider range than one saw in the gay clubs and pubs, some of
whom sought something in addition to sexual gratification.
Confronted by isolation and oppression far greater than mine,
I began to understand this was not a self-imposed individual
phenomenon, but a socially created situation which had its
roots in capitalist society. At the same time I was beginning
to have a relationship with someone with whom I felt a sense
of equality. I no longer seemed to be indulging myself in the
old roles, nor denigrating the relationship as being second
best. For the first time I was involved in a creative, expanding
relationship. It helped that we had similar political views
and a feeling that sexism represses gay people and makes
them try to ape heterosexual norms and values.
We tried to develop a relationship based upon no specified
roles and at last I found myself not playing any particular
part, and I was certainly not demeaning myself or the relationship. I was accepting all the facets of the relationship for what

4 Gay Left

I perceived them to be. It was this rejection of heterosexual

norms and values norms and values which had been so
central to all my previous relationships which enabled me
to continue this relationship. There have of course been many
contradictions in the relationship. For instance the development of friends on an emotional and physical level outside the
relationship. How does one do this without being competitive
or exploitative? Another problem arises in the creeping
institutionalization of roles over a period of time which can
so easily be internalized and at the same time resented. There
is also pressure from outside to react to situations as a couple.
One has a relationship and suddenly you lose your identity,
your individuality, you become the royal 'we'.
There are no simple answers or ideal solutions to these
problems, however an understanding of the ways in which
our emotions and attitudes are structured certainly helps to
counteract the years of heterosexual conditioning we have
all encountered within the nuclear family.
When I joined the present Gay Left collective, I had therefore a certain sense of personal awareness. In the months the
group met before we ever thought of producing a journal,
I learnt to link this personal discovery with a Marxist analysis
of homosexual oppression which firmly centred that oppression in the heart of capitalist society: it also made me realize
that any socialist revolution must include in its analysis a
thorough understanding of how sexism is endemic to capitalist
This brings me back to the starting point of this article
where I stated that merely tacking on to a revolutionary
programme aspects of sexual oppression was a dangerous
principle and one which we as gays and Marxists must not
accept. Revolutionary theory must relate material exploitation and oppression to the oppressive nature of relationships
encountered by women and gays. We must explore what it
is about role, status and temperament which defines sexuality
not purely as something which represses us in terms of our
personal relationships, but is also used as a method of reinforcing what is considered masculine and feminine work. If
we do not commit ourselves as gay men who are also Marxists
to this struggle, sexism will always be seen as secondary to the
economic analysis of exploitation. The consequences of this
position will be that after a revolution we will continue to
find ourselves struggling against oppressive relationships and
equally oppressive work roles. The combination of these
forces can only reinforce the stereotypes of masculinity and
femininity which are the fodder for sexism.*

Women in Gay Left

An Open Letter to the Collective from Sue Bruley

Whilst supporting the general aims of Gay Left, I am concerned

about your policy towards women joining the collective. This
letter is an attempt to persuade you to adopt a more positive
feminist approach.
When the first issue of GL appeared I thought, frankly, that
your opening line was appalling: "This is a socialist journal
edited by gay men." The announcement came as if you
considered your masculinity as something to be proud of.
Whilst selling GL to feminist friends I noticed that they also
regarded your heading and the opening line to he offensive.
It certainly did not encourage them to contribute to GL.
In the second issue, despite the change of heading, the
same misguided attitude was continued. You pretend to
examine 'The Gay World Today', but then it is made clear that
as far as you are concerned, gay men are the gay world. "What
we want to do in this article is look at some aspects of the
present male gay world ..." And then at the end of the
article you have the cheek to say that we must begin, "campaigning around a series of issues which can unite the gay
world." How can we? We are not even in it!
I know that you will say in reply that as men you could
only write about your experiences in the male part of the gay
world. But by equating the 'male gay world' with the 'gay
world' you are denying the very existence of a lesbian subculture. To have written about both parts of the gay world
would have been a much more complex task and one which is
beyond the scope of the present collective. You have attempted
to resolve the problem by taking a short cut, but in print it
appears as an overtly sexist gesture.
One attempt to justify your position appears in the
collective statement of the first issue when you say, "The present
collective, which has for some time been meeting regularly,
decided for the time being at least, that we could best explore
our sexist attitudes most truthfully, in an all male group."
What you are saying is that the collective acts as a consciousness
raising group and that this would he inhibited if women were
in it. I accept that men do not get many opportunities to do
CR, but this should not be a barrier to women who are
sympathetic with your objectives participating in the editing
and distributing of GL. Surely these two functions can, to
some extent, be separated?
GI. has set itself up as a theoretical journal with extremely
comprehensive objectives. "By working together, developing
our understanding of capitalism and sharing our experiences of
intolerance, we will attempt to draw the links between the
family, the oppression of women and gay people, and the class
structure of society." The fact that you apparently believe that
this can be achieved in an all male group seems to me to he
rather sexist. Inevitably, the experiences that the collective
will rest on for its theoretical statements will be one sided
and partial. As a feminist I am bound to argue that it is arrogant and patronising for a group of men to think that they can
write about the oppression of women in any meaningful
sense. There is not much point in making pious pronouncements about sexism if, in your own situation and everyday
practise, you cope with the problem by trying your hardest to
eliminate women from the scene.
You under-estimate GL's potential as a socialist journal for
the whole of the gay movement because it dismisses female
participation out of hand. I know that you want women to
contribute articles, but as 1 said earlier, your format and
composition does not encourage this. In addition, it is
patronising to decide, a priori, that women would not he
interested. Why can't they decide that for themselves'?
It has been said that GE is a 'closed group' and that
' membership is by invitation only'. But I notice that two new
names appear in the list of members in the second issue. Clearly, your doors are open to some men but firmly closed to all
women. I accept that you have the right to determine your
membership, but I do not accept that sex should be a valid
criteria in making this decision.

Obviously, there are difficulties. The presence of one or

two 'token' women is the greatest danger. But these problems
must be faced and do not, in themselves, constitute an argument against excluding women from the collective.
I agree with you that a socialist, anti-sexist, gay journal
is urgently needed, but I also feel that if GL is to live up to
this promise its editorial opinion must not only be aware of,
but contain within it and reflect, a knowledge of women's
oppression and of female sexual experience.*

Six Members of the Collective reply to Sue Bruley's

Sue Bruley's letter raises important issues, though not necessarily the ones she so forcibly articulates. But before tackling
the central question, I think we ought to put some of her
comments in a proper context. For instance, the by-line on
the first issue was not a declaration of male pride; it was a
statement of fact. It cannot be classed with the by-line of
another recent gay journal, After Lunch, which declared
itself to be for 'Men who like other men'. That is a declaration of separation; ours was an honest statement of the situation as it was. We decided to state this so that there could be
no possibility of assuming that what we said was anything
more than what we as a small group of people believe about
the gay world, and about socialism. The journal was an
intervention by a small all-male group into current debates
in the gay movement; no more, and no less. Similarly with
our collective article in GL No.2, we made some general
statements about the gay world, gave examples, as we
explicitly said, from the male gay subculture, then concluded with some general statements about tentative steps
forward. Neither justifies the tenor that Sue chooses to see
in them.
Sue Bruley describes in her new pamphlet, Women Awake
(advertised elsewhere in this issue), how she felt the need to
work in an all women's group after years of activity in mixed
groups. This was a valid decision, and we in no way criticise
her for it. But we had this experience very much in mind
when forming the Gay Left collective from a group that had
met for some time. Either as an all-male group, we invited
women to join, which for many feminists like Sue would
smart of tokenism; or we abandoned our own idea of preparing a journal, and merely invited all and sundry to join
( which on previous experience would still have been a predominantly male group): or we continued as an all-male
editorial collective for the moment declaring openly that
that was what we were and working out the consequences
of that.
The first option was out as far as we were concerned. The
second option was not seriously considered, because one of
the experiences that conditioned the working of Gay Left
was the dismal memory of some of us of being connected
with the earlier Gay Marxist. That was a shifting eclectic
group of people, of heterogeneous views, some scarcely
liberal, let alone Marxist. Each issue of the journal was
produced by a different group, with the result that there
was no continuity of policy, standards, production or distribution. We determined to do something different and hopefully better. That left the third option outlined above. It had
the added advantage that in the early stages it would provide
the context where we could examine from our own experiences the specific area of male gay sexuality (and I think
' Within These Walls...' GL No.2 was a useful start, flowing
as it did from intensive discussion of our experiences in the
male subculture).
We decided on a closed collective. This would enable us
to work together with reasonable stability over a long period.
It would give continuity of policy, argument, outlook and
administration. It did not mean that we were not prepared
to accept new members, but they would only be accepted on
the basis of broad agreement. That as such did not, and does
Gay Left 5

not as far as I am concerned, exclude women. The fact is

however that no woman has approached us to join, though
many women have expressed solidarity with our work. I think
it is still right to maintain a closed, relatively small collective.
The only valid alternative would be to dissolve ourselves and
the magazine and call for a new group to start a new journal
along different lines. We are not prepared to do that. Continuing as we are, however, does not mean excluding women as
such. It means giving priority to our own internal cohesion
and development, with or without wome n members. I think
each applicant should be considered on her or his merits.
The issue is an important one, which is why several
members of the collective have given separate replies. There
is no anti-female bias in the journal as Sue Bruley knows well
from personal contact, and the policy line is strongly profeminist. The question at issue is how best we can each
contribute to the goals we all share. The debate which Sue
Bruley's letter initiates will, we hope, clarify the road ahead.
The issues raised by Sue Bruley are certainly very important
the apparent exclusion of women from an all-male group
which alleges to be concerned with the question of sexuality.
Some of her criticisms, e.g. the attack on the opening line of
GL No.1, seem to me to be frankly trivial. But the key
question of the all-male nature of the group is by no means
trivial and cannot be answered simply by saying that there
are not many women interested in joining the collective.
The fact remains in our society that our sexuality is
developed in accordance with the needs of the dominant class
in that society. The women's movement has spent some time
exploring the ways in which female sexuality is oppressed and
controlled in this society and to what end. To do this many
of them seem to have spent some time in all-female groups.
Sue does not deny the value of such groups. What she
seems to forget is that male sexuality - although not in the
same way is also oppressed and controlled by the dominant
class forces in our society. If one is Marxist one does not
believe that men are the oppressive agency in society, although
we certainly have more privileges than women. What we have
to do now, as men, is to examine our own sexuality, how it
is developed, what is oppressive about its current social form,
what is positive about that social form. Perhaps one real
criticism that can be made of GL is that we have not yet
begun to do that seriously enough. This it seems to me can
only be done in an all-male group at present. This does not
mean that all-male groups can be justified indefinitely but
they do seem to have an important function now.
I consider there to be positive aspects to an all men's group.
Most important we can begin to explore our sexuality in a
way which has been open to women already in closed
women's groups. Through sharing our experiences as gay
men who relate to a subculture which largely excludes
women we can begin to understand what our sexist attitudes
However as a future position - when we have a thorough
understanding of sexism I see no reason why the group
should not include women, if they wish to join.
As an all men's group I feel we are able to talk about the
situation of lesbians or the 'gay world' as long as our statements relate to situations which exist as opposed to those we
feel might exist.
Gay Left is a collective which came about as a men only group,
and has since taken in new male members. We have to consider
whether to make a positive decision to recruit women and
therefore fundamentally change the collective or whether we
continue as we are. As a collective Gay Left produces its
journal and acts as a support and consciousness raising group
for its members. Gay Left journal represents only the collective's views and those of individual contributors. It does not
attempt to represent the views of the whole of gay left people
though it wants to publish their articles.
The different experiences of gay men and women may not
always help one to analyse the other and may in fact impede
the analysis made by a men only or a women only group. Gay
6 Gay Left

Left claims it wants to explore sexual politics and this we

started to do in the collective articles in No.1 and No.2
this I see as one of our main purposes. If this is best done by
a group of all men then we continue as we are: if a collective
of men and women would add breadth then we must expand
We have stated that the collective is attempting to work out
a marxist analysis of our sexuality and sexism and that we can
best do this at presen t in an all male group. If the group can
progress in this aim I agree in rejecting Sue's proposals at this
stage. Most of the group feel that we would be held back
from fully exploring our sexuality in a mixed group, as women
have found in the past. At our readers' meetings this has
been agreed with and encouraged by most women as being a
very important and urgent need within the movement.
I do not think that we could operate as two groups, one a
GL collective and the other a male CR. However, we should
have more readers meetings in order to have discussions about
the magazine's development and also encourage more contributions to the magazine and discuss them with the people
This situation should not be static arid if it is not productive
the present structure of the collective would have to change.
Sue Bruley has raised a most important issue. There is no
getting away from the fact that so far Gay Left has been
written mainly by gay men (the important exception is that
of Sue Bruley herself). To an extent this has been accidental
- the group that had the idea and got it going in the first
place all happened to be men. There is no reason why it
should necessarily continue that way and I would welcome
an extension of the representation of gay women's views in
the magazine.
Our aim is to produce a magazine written by gay people
and representing as wide a section of the committed gay left
as possible. But I am not sure that the numbers game -- i.e.
to expand the collective to contain an equal number of
women is the best way to achieve this. It seems somehow
to reinforce rather than get away from the idea of 'difference'.

Reproduced from Gladrag Birmingham Gay Liberation Front

Gladrag is the GLF, Birmingham, magazine, price 10p.

A Grim Tale
The I.S. Gay Group 1972-75
by Bob Cant

One of the major problems facing all gay revolutionaries is the

relationship between sexual politics and working class politics.
This journal is just one of many attempts made over the last
few years to fuse these two traditions. In 1972 after the heyday of the Gay Liberation Front many of us who had been
active in G.L.F. joined revolutionary groups such as the
International Socialists or the International Marxist Group in
the belief that we could open a debate around the question of
sexuality in them. I joined I.S. in 1973 hoping that I could do
this and left earlier this year (1976) no longer believing this
was possible.
When I joined I.S. what most impressed me about them was
their approach to the real organisation of the working class.
They were not interested simply in winning elections to
parliament and trade union posts. They saw that the level at
which workers were really mobilized, after all these years of
social democracy, was on the shop floor. In that situation the
real leaders of the working class were not the union bureaucrats but the shop stewards and convenors. This must, therefore, be the starting point for any movement of the working
class towards revolutionary socialism. No other body could
emancipate the working class whether it was the Labour
Party or the Red Army. The emancipation of the working
class was the task of that class itself. It was a clear, honest
approach to class politics which seemed to me to epitomize
all that was best in the tradition of Marxism.
I.S. did not have as good a position on the gay question as
the I.M.G. appeared to, but they were the only group that put
a correct Marxist emphasis on the role of the working class
and therefore, they seemed to be the only group in which it
was worth raising the gay question. The traditions of the
group seemed questioning and undoctrinaire and I was hopeful that these traditions of open, lively debate would be
applied to the question of sexuality.
Homosexuality had first been raised in the group in 1957,
following the publication of the Wolfenden Report, in an
article in Socialist Review in December 1957. In this article
C. Dallas adopted a fairly patronising position towards homosexuality which saw homosexuality itself rather than homosexual oppression as a symptom of a class society. She argued:
"it is only when there is complete equality between the sexes
in all respects, beginning with economic equality and extending
throughout all aspects of life; when psychological development
will be more balanced through freedom from the struggle for
existence we fight today, and people more tolerant; when
submission for gain is unnecessary because the poisoning
effect of the money cancer is absent, that homosexuality
would disappear naturally. If nature then produced an
abnormality which it might do in a small number of cases,
medical treatment would take good care of it." Such a position
is of course, totally un-Marxist but nonetheless it was one held
by many Marxists prior to the rise of women's and gay movements in the late 60s. What became clear to me when I joined
I.S. however was that it was a position still held by many of
my worthy comrades.
The Question Raised
The gay question was next raised in 1972 by Don Milligan, a
long-time member of I.S., then a student in Lancaster. He
submitted a review of the London G.L.F. manifesto to
Socialist Worker, I.S.'s weekly newspaper, in February 1972.
Months passed and only after he circulated copies of his
correspondence with Socialist Worker was the article published
in Socialist Worker No.271, 13th May 1972. He concluded
the article by saying,
"The labour movement must be won over to support of the
G.L.F.'s basic demand - for total acceptance of homosexuality
in women and men as a good and natural way of loving."

But perhaps the most important thing about the article was
that it was written in the first person. Could there be a queer
in I.S.? Would the workers be scared off? They did not appear
to be scared off but the party hacks certainly were.
At the 1973 Annual Conference in March, Milligan proposed a motion on the gay question. It was opposed by the
Executive Committee. They assured the conference that they
were opposed to all homosexual oppression but they could
not accept the Lancaster motion something to do with the
ancient Greeks being homosexual. And so bedazzled by this
argument about a society 3000 years ago, the Conference
agreed to entrust the matter to the E.C. I had just recently
joined I.S. and this seemed to me to be a reasonable way of
handling the question.
Months passed however and the E.C. never seemed to find
the time to deal with the gay question. So in June of that
year a number of gay comrades met in Lancaster to decide
what to do. For two weeks an advertisement appeared in S.W.
for this meeting of the I.S. Gay Discussion Group. But then,
lo and behold, the National Secretary of the day decided it
was unconstitutional for us to advertise. In future, we had to
advertise on the Classified page as the Socialist Gay Group
thereby giving the impression that we had nothing to do with
I.S. Strangely enough, this constitutional rule did not seem
to apply to the I.S. History Group, the I.S. Science Group
and even the I.S. Brass Band.
Enter the Middle Class
There were over a dozen comrades, both women and men, at
the meeting from a wide variety of branches scattered all over
the country, some of whom felt unable to come out in their
branches. But it was a happy, constructive weekend and we
came away from it full of great hopes. Undeterred by the indifference shown by I.S., we laboriously and democratically
produced a document which we submitted to the Internal
Bulletin for publication, in the autumn of 1973. This document attempted to begin to discuss gay oppression in a
Marxist framework. It also raised a number of demands
concerned with discrimination, police harassment, custody of
children, medical treatment, sex education and age of consent.
It was a very modest beginning to a debate on sexual politics.
We waited and waited for it to appear or even for an acknowledgement but still we waited. Meanwhile Don Milligan
had moved to Bradford where he began to set up a G.L.F.
group. The I.S. branch committee there instructed him not
to. It was difficult for us in London to know what was really
going on but it became clear that there were some people in
I.S. who wanted to stamp out gay work altogether. This
should have come as no surprise to us, given I.S.'s then current
position on women which totally ignored questions relating
to the family, housework and sexuality and was only concerned with women at work. Nonetheless, we were surprised at the
underhand repressive way in which these people did act. The
E.C., having ignored our document on gay work, eventually
drew up a hasty, ill-informed statement on the gay question.
This document stated I.S.'s opposition to gay oppression but
made not even an attempt to analyse the politics of sexuality.
It fell into the old Stalinist trap of assuming that all gays are
middle-class, and, therefore, a bit perverted. It was based on
prejudice and gossip and, although it made an attack on
G.L.F. for its political mish-mash of ideas - it did not
mention the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, presumably
because it had never heard of it. It included statements such
as "Socialists who make 'gay work' the main arena of their
political activity tend quickly to exclude any other considerations and elevate the interests of the G.L.F. above that of the
political organisation of which they are nominal members."
What abusive rubbish.
This statement was presented to the October meeting of
the National Committee; one amendment was made; there was
no further discussion and the Document was approved. It
instructed I.S. members to withdraw from work in G.L.F . So
much for the open informed debate I had expected in I.S.
We were not consulted about this although we had submitted a document to the Internal Bulletin. We actually heard
Gay Left 7

about the decision at a meeting of the Women's Sub-Committee. Siri Lowe and Sue Bruley, who were both members , of the
I.S. Gay Group, had been asked by the convenor of the subcommittee to write an article on lesbianism for the I.S.
women's paper, Women's Voice. The three of us went with
copies of the article to the October meeting. It was, of course,
rejected -- too middle-class, although the writers were a
printworker and a student from a working-class family. This
was always to he a favourite line - attacking whatever disagreed with the hack line as being middle-class. The kind of
article they would have been prepared to accept would have
been about a victimized lesbian shop steward. The kind of
courage and support needed for a lesbian to become a shop
steward, let alone join a trade union, was not an issue that
interested these tough cadres.
Siri Lowe then arranged for some of us to meet the F.C.
on October 19 for them to clarity their position. It may seem
facetious to some, but I can still recall the feeling of walking
into that meeting and thinking I had walked into a Hollywood
set of a film about the Russian Revolution. A hunch of hardfaced men dressed in black, sitting round a table pretending to
be Bolsheviks while a woman took notes in shorthand. Or
perhaps I had entered a time-warp and found myself in 1917.
I did not feel as if I was in London in 1973. We got nowhere
at this meeting - one comrade accused us of wanting gay
branches and fractions, an absurd idea (given that gays, as gays,
have no social power) but one which was much used to discredit us. Another spoke of homosexuality as a 'cancerous
The Queers Fight Back
So we organised our comrades throughout the country and
seven local branches submitted motions to the N.C. opposing
the document. At the Decemher meeting of the N.C. there was
no change in their position. However, Tony Cliff said that it
was alright for us to be in G.L.F. as long as it was not regarded
as political activity. Presumably, sex with someone of the
same sex was fine as long as you did not talk politics. For a
revolutionary, particularly one of Cliff's experience, to talk
as though one area of your life could be separated from
politics is a nonsense - and a dangerous, conservative nonsense
:it that.
It may surprise many people that we continued to work in
8 Gay Left

I.S. Some, however, such as Milligan, did drop out, increasingly

disillusioned with the Leninist concept of the party. Its insistence on party discipline and concepts of leadership seemed as
oppressive as many of the things we were fighting against.
Those of us who did stay in were greatly encouraged by the
response of rank and file members. Although the leadership
was not listening to us, we seemed to be making an impact in
other places. We spoke at meetings at a number of I.S. branches
and student groups and, generally, we had a very good
response. People did want to know about sexual politics and
they did try to grapple with its difficulties. It was also encouraging to receive so many replies to our Socialist Gay Group
advert. They came from all over the country, mostly from
very isolated people and at one time amounted to as many as
three a week. Most of all this was a very important period
politically - what with the miners' strike, the three day week
and the collapse of the Heath Government. I became branch
secretary for a few weeks at this time. I was surprised that
another comrade had not been elected but I was told by the
district organizer that his name had not been put forward
because he did not have a girl-friend at the time and was
feeling rather unhappy. When I remarked on the fact that I
was not exactly in a stable emotional position myself, the
organizer seemed to find this strange and changed the topic.
The Gay Group's next plan was to widen the issue and
hold a conference on sexism in Birmingham in March 1974.
The aim of this conference was to raise the questions connected with socialism and the struggle for sexual liberation.
We saw it as our contribution to the process of political
education going on within I.S. Steve Smith who was
organizing this was instructed by the National Secretary to
cancel it. He did, however, suggest that the idea of such a
conference could be put to the Women's Sub-Committee or
the Publications and Training Committee. The W.S.C. was

unwilling to sponsor a national conference of this type. The

convenor said she thought regional conferences on such
topics were more useful than national ones which "tend to
attract mainly middle-class audiences and not the people
who are actually building the branches". Why she imagined
that an activist group like 1.S. tolerated lazy, middle-class
members, I am not sure. She went on to suggest that we
raise the issue at branches - not realizing, or ignoring, how
difficult that was when we were not allowed to advertise.
But the reply of the Publications and Training Committee
was particularly interesting. It said that "I.S. does not take
a position on what you describe as 'sexism', and also contrary
to your opinion we have not found the issue to cause any
concern amongst the working class members of I.S." The
ramifications of these statements arc enormous but, of course,
they were in the same mould as Cliff's remarks about gay sex.
Sexuality was not a political issue to them. Their politics
seemed to be economics and militancy, full stop. We were
furious at their mindless bigotry but we knew, without any
doubt, that they were wrong. Their mistake was a hangover
from the Stalinist past which in time would be corrected.
The next plan was to get official recognition for the subterranean 1.S: Gay Group. Such an officially recognized group,
we felt, would provide some solidarity for the gay comrades,
most of whom remained very isolated. It would be a starting
point for discussion on gay politics in I.S. in the way that the
West Indian Group was for West Indian politics in 1.S. It was
not to be a ghetto and it is in this aspect of a starting point
that its importance lay. After all, sexual politics should be of
concern to all I.S. members. The July 1974 meeting of the
National Committee was faced with five resolutions from
branches calling for the setting up of such a group. True to
form, it rejected them. At this point, our strength began to
diminish. Morale was low. One comrade in East Anglia
resigned because of the treatment he had received after he
made a pass at another male comrade at a party. 1.S. branches
are not renowned for concerning themselves with the way
women arc treated at their parties. Many comrades disappeared at this time - either not replying to letters or leaving the
organization or deciding not to make an issue of their sexuality.

Steve Smith and I decided to write something for the

Internal Bulletin but because our morale was low it was never
completed. In retrospect, this was a great error because there
were many branches which had heard nothing of our dispute
at all. The whole dispute had been conducted much too much
on the leadership's terms and on the leadership's territory.
By publishing an article in the Internal Bulletin we would
have opened things out much more and perhaps conducted
the debate on a political level, and got rid of the smears and
whispers which had characterized the whole thing. A great
deal of the responsibility for this is mine. I wrote an article
for Socialist Worker in July 1974 and allowed myself to
become obsessed with its publication. Little wonder that I
was obsessed since five months elapsed before it was published.
Over these five months I phoned S.W. on average three times
a week. In the end an article appeared by Laurie Flynn and
myself on the legal oppression of gays. This was fine so far as
it went but because it dealt with the law it totally ignored
lesbianism, and thereby the much deeper questions about the
historical oppression of all sexuality. Despite my insistence,
the word 'gay' was not used once in the entire article. The fact
that that article was not part of a series dealing with questions
of sexuality is an indication of I.S.'s civil rights approach to
this question. In my despair, however, I welcomed a civil rights
approach rather than the heavy-handed techniques of distortion and silence to which I had become accustomed.
Two motions on the gay question were submitted to the
1974 Annual Conference by Lancaster and Tottenham
branches --- but these were defeated without any discussion.
The one motion* to the 1975 Conference was likewise
defeated without any discussion. When we were selecting
delegates in the North London district for the 1975 Conference a comrade asked if these delegates would be prepared
to speak to the motion on sexuality. They refused.
For much of 1975 I believed I was the only gay person
prepared to raise questions of sexual politics. Three things
really kept me in the organization - the first that I.S. seemed
the only group capable of organizing the British working class
on revolutionary lines; the changing position of I.S. on
abortion; and my belief that the organization was still democratic enough to enable a real debate to take place sometime
in the future. But the personal strain was terrific - I was
often moody, irritable and ill. I left when I lost faith in the
organization's ability to function democratically.
Looking back I feel that our greatest mistake was not to
involve the whole membership of I.S. more. We should have
made use of the Internal Bulletin more than we ever did. That
way, the membership throughout the country would have
known what was going on and the leadership would have
found it more difficult to isolate us as they did. But more
significantly, I feel we made a great mistake in concentrating
on the gay question as such rather than sexuality as a whole.
Our strategy made it more difficult for people who were in the
process of coining out since people were identified as either
gay or not gay. It made it easier for people to opt out arguing
that it was up to gays themselves. It also made it easier for a
li mited civil rights approach to be adopted.
What we ought to have done was raise the question of
everyone's gender role. Sexual oppression is not something of
concern only to gays. Everyone is conditioned to follow a
particular role. But these roles are created by historical circumstances and need very serious consideration by Marxists. The
approach taken recently by the London Gay Workers' Group
in drawing up a Sexual Rights Charter for debate in the labour
movement is probably the correct one. I understand that a
new Gay Group has formed since I left I.S. and has successfully put forward demands to the 1976 Annual Conference.
I wish them luck but I will be very surprised if the organization has changed so much that it will support any real gay
There are things which I.S. can be criticized for. The most
basic one was their denial of our right to meet. They would of
course assert that they had never done this and that would
be formally correct. But in real terms they made no allow-

ance for the fact that most gay comrades were isolated and
could only meet each other through the agency of S.W. I
honestly believe they thought we could spot each other on
sight or by some secret sign. That they were not prepared to
consider the importance of gay comrades meeting together is
not surprising given the developments in their politics in the
early 1970s. In correctly putting the central emphasis of their
activity on the working class they often saw workers only as
workers and ignored other aspects of their lives. This is why
they ignored the oppression of women and the role of domestic labour and only struggled around their exploitation as
workers; it is also why for so long they failed to treat seriously
the racist oppression of black workers. Reality for them
seemed to have become contained on the shop-floor. The
ideological divisions within the working class were treated
as though they were so trivial as to be irrelevant. The refusal
to allow us to set up a gay group created difficulties of a kind
that did not exist for women and blacks - because no-one
could tell if a person was gay or not some gay comrades hid
their sexuality and added to their own oppression, courtesy
of I.S. They never recognised any of the problems that a gay
person might have in coming out at work, with his family
or in a political organization. They never recognized any of
the problems that this isolation might create in terms of
relating to people and becoming a socialist.
My second criticism of I.S. is for their failure to acknowledge the validity of sexual politics. Some people claimed that
Engels' Origin of the Family said all that needed to be said.
Apart from the fact that it treated homosexuality as a perversion, it had been written before most developments in
scientific birth control. Women now had, for the first time,
the possibility of a real choice about whether they became
pregnant, about when they became mothers, about whom
they related to. Although the State has denied this choice to
so many women, the possibilities now facing women can
totally transform all their expectations. The spin-off on men
has been enormous and many men, for the first time, are
faced with a whole series of problems about relationships,
housework and childcare that never existed while women
were dependent on them. Women of the Russian Revolution
such as Alexandra Kollantai could not begin to contemplate
the possibilities that face women, today. These technological
changes are given real political importance because of the
existence of a women's movement. One would have thought
that all this might have been worthy of some consideration
by I.S.
The whole concept of a private life has become very important in these hundred years since Engels wrote. This concept
has played an important part in the development of a whole
number of industries --- house-building, women's magazines,
fil ms, cosmetics, household goods and so on. But it seemed
that these links between ideology and developments in the
bourgeois economy were not that important as far as I.S. was
concerned. 'Come the revolution, it'll be alright on the night'
sums up the level of I.S.'s approach to sexual politics. The
strength of the National Abortion Campaign made I.S. alter
this position somewhat in 1975. Suddenly, Cliff was talking
about a woman's right to control her own body being analogous with the workers' right to control the means of production. This was, beyond doubt, a great leap forward but it was
not accompanied by any wider questioning of sexual politics.
However, had it come earlier some of us would still perhaps
be in I.S. By the time it came the weariness and isolation
was too far advanced.
The third criticism of I.S. is the one that has made me most
bitter - and that is the way our political arguments were
distorted. We were accused of being concerned only with
homosexuality -- but if that had been true why would we
have bothered to join a revolutionary working class organization? We demanded a gay group and the rumour went out
that we wanted branches and a fraction. We mentioned
housework and were said to support the reactionary 'Wages
for Housework' campaign. I could not have believed that such
ignorance, bigotry, prejudice and cowardice were possible in
a revolutionary organization.
I feel very sad to have to write these things about I.S.
Gay Left 9

because despite all this they are still the only group in this
country that is even beginning to organize the working class
on revolutionary lines. They revived the Marxist tradition in
this country at a time when Marxism seemed to he either
Stalinist manoeuvring or sectarian Trotskyist splitting. And
these factors are, of course, what make their treatment of
sexual politics so tragic. Were they a bunch of nut-cases or
Stalinist ogres it would matter less. The fact that they embody
much of the best of the working class tradition in this
country does not make one hopeful.
The dilemma I was faced with in 1972 still remains. How
does one raise sexual politics and take part in the organization of the working class along revolutionary lines? To my

knowledge, all the groups that I would regard as revolutionary have, at best, only taken up a civil rights approach to
sexuality. Membership of these groups for any gay person - particularly one without a gay support group - - becomes very
oppressive and warps all of one's political behaviour. On the
other hand, leaving these groups has enormous dangers. One
can develop one's sexual politics but the possibilities of
becoming isolated from the mainstream of left politics are
great. Where do we go from here, comrades?*
* This motion was passed, overwhelmingly, by North London

Was Marx Anti-Gay?

by Randal Kincaid

Almost the very first words written in the first issue of Gay
was the statement that one of the aims of the collective
was to contribute towards 'a marxist analysis of homosexual
oppression'. This stand and the commitment to an analysis of
gay oppression and its relationship to other forms of oppression and exploitation has drawn comments and criticisms.
Some of these should he aired. In this way we can work
towards a further definition of our position at least as it
appears to Inc.
A Letter From California
Craig Hanson, writing to us from California, approved of our
analysis of the gay ghetto in Gay Left No.2, but he also saw an
inherent incompatibility in being both marxist and gay. In this
article I am going to take up his major points and explore
some of the issues he has raised.
In recent years, the letter suggests, there has been a certain
disillusionment among segments of American radical gays
with the idea of marxism being the only ideological framework
in which a person can develop a coherent opposition to the
present form of capitalism. The experiences of American gays
in Cuba and information on the situation of gays in other
'communist' countries have contributed to this but the letter
goes on to suggest that there is an anti-gay element that is
fundamental not only to traditional 'communism' but to
marxism itself. The letter concludes with the tentative suggestion that anarchism may provide a less constricting theoretical
framework for gay activists.
Points of Agreement
First of all it should be said that there are points of agreement
between us and areas of mutual concern. For instance, we both
agree that as gays we wish integration with the larger society,
but not on terms that would diminish our identity and freedom as gays. I particularly liked one part of the passage Craig
Hanson quoted from David Darby's article:"Until straight
men become aware of their own homoerotic selves (the
repression of which produced their present mangled personalities) then gay liberation will be at most a matter of pleading
for tolerance in a straight defined framework.' (1) So neither
of us are interested in a special pleading for gays as a particular minority group but for a wider understanding of the nature
of sexuality itself that encourages a development of homosexual as well as heterosexual feelings. Where we differ is in
our approach towards understanding our identity as gays and
in the nature of the political choices that are open to us.
'Communist' Governments
Much of Craig Hanson's letter was taken up in describing the
situation of gays in Cuba, China, Russia and other 'communist'
countries. Some of this information was new to me, but Gay
Left has already given space to instances of gay oppression in
Cuba (Gay Left No. 1), and in Russia (Gay Left No.2). In this
issue, there is 'A Grim Tale', which highlights the problems of
gay activists within International Socialists. As socialists and
gays we are aware of the attitudes towards us of many people
who call themselves marxists. But do these sexist attitudes,
which arc directed towards women as well as towards gays,
have anything to do with marxism? It seems more likely that
it has more to do with the colonial past of some of these


10 Gay Left

countries and identifying homosexuality as an aspect of

'decadent' capitalism. But the idea of decadence is an example
of the kind of value-laden, non-materialistic term that Marx
was at pains to exclude from his writing, and such attitudes
tend to reflect the chauvinism of emerging nations and a need
to establish an identity that is different and 'better' than that
ascribed to them by former dominant powers.
Although there is no suggestion (at least by Marx) that
there are rigidly defined stages along the road to a 'higher form
of society', situations such as Cuba, China or Russia cannot
be given as text-book examples of the sort of development
that Marx had in mind. For one thing, these societies have not
really experienced the capitalist phase which Marx associated
with a necessary development of productive capacity and a
movement away from traditional customs and beliefs. In
Capital, Marx points to the revolutionary aspects of Modern
Industry, contrasting it with the conservatism of previous
social formations, that not only affects the social conditions
of production but also people's minds:
"The capitalist ... forces the human race to produce for
production's sake: he thus forces the development of productive powers of society and creates those material conditions
which alone can form the real basis of a higher form of
society, a society in which the full and free development of
every individual forms the ruling principle.


It would be completely consistent with a marxist analysis

to predict that more 'liberal' attitudes towards homosexuality
would be more likely to exist in advanced capitalist societies
than in countries where, despite a 'communist' revolution,
they were closer to a pre-industrial mode of production.
The Marxist Ethic?
"Because a gay consciousness is inherently incompatible with
the anti-sex puritanism of either capitalist Christianity or Communist Marxism, there can be no Christian Gays, and there
are no Marxist Gays. There are only confused homosexuals
who think they are Christian or Marxist."
Craig Hanson in this passage seems to be suggesting that
Marxists have the same approach to Marx's writing as
Jehovah's Witnesses or other fundamentalist groups have
towards the Bible. In Marx there is no statement of principles.
There are basic assumptions but I am unaware of any state-.
ment about how people should or should not behave in any
of Marx's important works. To deduce 'an anti-sex puritanism'
from the fact that Marx does not mention sex is, I think,
wrong. He does not mention sex because it is outside the
li mits he has drawn. In fact, the conceptual vocabulary to
enable rational discussion of sex did not exist in Marx's time.
Sex and gender inevitably went together and it is only
relatively recently that it has been possible, conceptually, to
separate the two. Marx does, however, link changes in social
relations with structural changes in society and thus provides
a framework for understanding the changing nature of sexual
Like some other observers of nineteenth century industrial
England Marx was filled with a sense of moral outrage at the
social conditions of the great mass of working people. His

particular approach to understanding this situation was an

attempt to analyse the basic tendencies in capitalism. He
viewed conventional ethics with considerable distrust as he
felt that these values tended to reflect the interests of the
dominant class. Marx's sense of justice revolves around the
individual's rights over his own labour power. Capitalism, as
he defines it, begins when the great mass of people are obliged
to sell their labour power on the market as a commodity. It is
in this situation as it develops that Marx uses value terms
such as 'exploitation' and 'appropriation'. Far from setting up
a universal ethic, Marx establishes a frame of reference within
which it is possible to examine sets of ethical assumptions.
Before Marx there was no non-metaphysical account as to
how and why societies or groups in societies developed
particular social values. Marx extended the possibility of a
materialist explanation to include areas which beforehand
could only be explained in metaphysical or moral terms:
This is not to say that Marx's account is necessarily true, but
it has a logical consistency and can, to some extent, be
tested and refined. It can also be set alongside other accounts
in such a way that rational judgements can be made regarding
relative merits.
"A final aspect of Marxism which I feel is counter to our needs
as gay people is their fascination with being scientific. Marxism
developed at a time in which there was still the hope that
science would provide some sort of definitive framework. This
has given rise to what seems to me a tragic aspect of Marxism
- their pseudo-objectivity. The myth has been that somehow
by proper analysis of society one could objectively determine
the proper course of action. This course would be objectively
valid by being scientifically determined and would be ordained
by history."
Craig Hanson is quoting again from David Darby's article.
It is, in my opinion, a valid criticism that could be applied to
many (perhaps most) marxist writers. It is, however, incorrect
if applied to Marx himself in his mature writings. The aim of
Capital is not "to determine a proper course of action". It is
an exercise in analysis and synthesis that people have found
useful in enabling them to make decisions about courses of
The point is taken, however. A sort of dogma has been
created by 'marxists' and 'anti-marxists' and this has often
little to do with what Marx actually wrote. Marx is either used
as an Aunt Sally or a battering ram and consequently the
wrong climate is created for the serious study that his work
requires. I would urge those interested enough to read Capital
(Vol. 1) which is regarded as the synthesis of everything he

wrote. There will be both 'marxists' and 'non-marxists' who

will approach this work with false preconceptions. To dispel
only two of these: revolution is never mentioned in a political
sense and the word 'communism' is never used.
Was Marx Anti-Gay?
Marx was a product of his own environment which was one
that reinforced 'traditional' elements in personal relations.
Craig Hanson suggests he would have considered homosexuality as unnatural. This may be true. Marx lived at a particular
point in time and belonged to a particular society, but he
predicted vast changes in the nature of social relations. A
particularly important concept for attempting to analyse the
changing nature of sexuality is that of Modern Industry.(3) In
Marxist terminology Modern Industry was introduced and
developed under Capitalism but extends beyond it. Unlike precapitalist modes of production where production tended to
reflect traditional, conservative forms, Modern Industry, as
Marx saw it in 1860, tended to be rational and revolutionary as
survival in such a system demanded continual change as competition threw up more rational forms of production. Such
changes reflect changes in social relations and hence changes in
social roles.
A change in social roles implies a movement away from
traditional sexual roles. There is evidence to suggest (see
` Where Engels Fears To Tread', Gay Left No.1) that this was
what was occurring towards the end of the nineteenth century
in industrialized European countries. Although the Victorians
were unequalled in their assertions of the value of traditional
family relations, this in itself might suggest that people were
beginning to be aware that these traditional forms of social and
sexual relations were for the first time being threatened. This
anxiety over homosexuality and prostitution that was such a
feature of this time, was articulated in legislation: an attempt,
no doubt, to shore up the flood gates.
A marxist analysis of sexuality provides a way out of a
situation where values are 'given' and any change in values is
looked upon as 'moral decline' or values being 'eroded'. The
world is changing. What was important before is not necessarily important now. It is perhaps time to attempt to understand the nature of sexuality and sexual roles and to consider
new ways of relating that are more in keeping with our present
1. David Darby. Article, joint issue 'Fag Rag and Gay
Sunshine', Summer. 1974.
2. Capital Vol.I. ed. Lawrence & Wishart . p.555 .
3. The concept of Modern Industry and the possible consequences for the family and relations between the sexes
see ibid. pp. 454-460.
Gay Left 11

All Worked Up
by Gregg Blachford

In the first two issues of Gay Left, we discussed different

aspects of the Gay Workers' Movement. This article looks at
the events that have occurred and the issues that have surfaced
since our last issue.
The basis on which the Gay Workers' Movement has acted is
on an agreement that any struggle of gay people for an end to
oppression and discrimination must, in the present economic
climate especially, seek a base for action within the organised
labour movement. Discussion must be initiated in and between
the gay and labour movements on how best this can be done.
Many Gay Workers' Collectives have been set up since the
first National Conference in May 1975. The collective in Leeds
committed itself to produce a newsletter to keep us informed
of the activities of others and to assist the organisation of
another Gay Workers' Conference. By the end of that summer,
a nine page newsletter had been produced which included
news on the CHE Conference that had been held in Sheffield,
the Conspiracy Laws, the tentative Gay Workers' Charter and
information on the next Gay Workers' Conference to be held
in Leeds in February 1976. The organisation of the conference
was taken on by the Leeds group with the responsibility for
the newsletter being shifted to another Gay Workers' Collective in Nottingham.
The Nottingham group produced a second newsletter
towards the end of the year. It included useful articles on
some of the practical problems of bringing up the gay question
in one's trade union branch. The events that had occurred in
London were documented along with a list of issues, besides
gay ones, around which gay workers could organise: Working
Women's Charter, unemployment, abortion, sex discrimination,
equal pay, conspiracy laws, etc.
The Second National Conference
The conference began with a bang on Friday, 13th February,
1976 at a reception at the Wellesley Hotel in Leeds. The
Bradford GLF group put on a play called "All Worked Up"
about some of the problems that gay people face at work.
Well, the hotel manager got all worked up himself and called
the police, allegedly because the room was overcrowded. They
came, the play was stopped and everyone was asked to leave.
A confrontation had occurred within an hour of the conference opening! Everyone, though, sat tight and eventually the
police and manager retreated and the play continued. This
created a very good feeling of togetherness which, to a large
extent, was to last through most of the conference.
The next morning, people began wandering into Leeds
Polytechnic to begin the discussions. Registration and accommodation seemed much more organised than last May's
conference. Workshops began on the following areas: Lesbians
and Work, Gays in the Trade Unions, and Cuts in Social
Expenditure. I went to the latter one which had few people
and no leader which resulted in no conversation for a while.
The main question to arise here was whether we should fight
the massive cuts in public expenditure as gay people on our
own or as workers in the larger anti-cuts campaigns already
in existence? Those who had fought as gays had been criticised
by the straight left for bringing sexual politics into an area
where it did not belong. Also, gays have been verbally and
physically abused at larger Trade Union demonstrations, such
as the North West T.U.C. lobby of Parliament in November
There was a feeling that you had to "prove" yourself as a
good union member before the branch would tolerate you as
gay or allow you to bring up gay issues. But it was stressed
that gays must operate as such in unions as well as working in
autonomous gay groups. We must remember, though, the
many gay people who do not belong to any trade union or
have lost their union membership because of unemployment.
These people are less likely to be protected from the full
effects of the cuts.

12 Gay Left

The workshops continued after lunch with most of the men

in the session on "Gay Workers and the Gay Scene" and the
women continuing their morning workshop on the specific
problems of lesbians in the work situation. It began by looking
at whether lesbians were in a better situation at work vis a vis
other women because they were more independent and less
economically tied to men or whether things were worse for
lesbians because they tended to feel isolated from the other
women who were in different social situations than themselves.
Women on estates and in factories tended to be physically,
mentally and emotionally close but there is a definite line over

which one must not cross or the label of "lesbian" is attached

to one's behaviour. Most women cannot afford to or do not
want to have this label pinned to them so "come-out" or
"upfront" lesbians are isolated and "closet" lesbians continue
to repress their feelings.
Because of the lack of any chairperson, this workshop discussion began to wander and eventually came to be dominated
by the Power of Women (POW) Collective whose entire theme
is a reformist campaign to get wages for housework paid for by
the state. The workshop gradually disintegrated as tea-break
time arrived.
The Working Women's Charter
By 4 p.m., when someone finally dared to call everyone
together, all 75 of us reconvened and started a discussion
around possible amendments to the Working Women's Charter
which has been in existence for two years and has been
adopted by 12 unions at their national conferences and by 33
trades councils throughout Britain. It is a charter of rights for
women with demands relating to both work and home. It has
provided the basis for a campaign around women's social and
economic situations within trade unions, tenants' associations,
etc. But it includes no provision for sexual orientation. The
conference agreed that it should send amendments forward
to the Working Women's Conference to be held in April 1976
at Coventry. The POW Collective again began to turn the
discussion to the "Wages for Housework" campaign and argued
that the W.W.C. does not say anything for those women who
work at home without a wage. Therefore they suggested that
we should put to the W.W.C. Conference that the title of the
charter should be changed to "The Women Wage-Workers
Charter". This motion was defeated. Their domination of the
discussion was pointed out by several angry women who felt
that they were using this conference for their own ends instead
of concentrating on the issue of sexuality at work which was
the theme of the conference. In the end, several women went
off to word amendments to the charter for discussion at a later
point in the day.
The Gay Workers' Charter
The question arose as to what had happened to the Gay Workers' Charter (GWC) and were we to discuss it? The Nottingham Collective answered that they had decided, in organising
this conference, that we were not strong enough as a movement to even begin to take this charter to our branches. We
would find ourselves isolated and depressed perhaps leading
to a lowering of morale. What they suggested should happen
was that our energies should be directed into taking specifically gay issues to our unions which were relevant to our own
particular work situations. Examples would include getting
support in branches of teaching unions for a gay teacher who
was sacked or warned because he or she had discussed homosexuality in the classroom or, more generally, for any gay
worker who had been sacked because of his/her openness
regarding his/her homosexuality. These arguments were
accepted without debate (a result of exhaustion?) and the Gay
Workers' Charter was shelved until an unspecified time in the
The final event of the day was the acceptance of the amendments to the Working Women's Charter proposed by some of
the women. They felt that a separate "sexual freedom for all
women" clause was too general and would be too different
from the other more concrete demands in the Charter. Therefore, they suggested amendments to the existing clauses which
are italicized below:

At the Working Women's Charter Conference held in

Coventry on 10th/11th April 1976, these proposals were
drafted into a revised charter which is to go to the unions that
have accepted it for further amendments and suggestions. Then
at a future Conference, the democratically revised Charter will
he adopted as a whole for further action.
The evening saw us at the Guildford Hotel watching the
General Will Company present their "I Don't Like Apples"
play about the multitude of problems faced by a married
woman who decides to leave her husband and "go it alone".
This was followed by a crowded disco which everyone had
looked forward to and seemed to enjoy. We were so different
from what we were like during the day. Many of us tend to
split our behaviour into "serious, heavy conference-type
actions" and "fun, frivolous and camp actions" at the disco.
But, then again, we are very well rehearsed at this as most of
us still live split lives to one degree or another every day. As
one person commented, perhaps the importance of discos at
conferences reflects the social isolation of gays.
The Sunday session was set to start at 10 a.m. but by 11.30
there were only 30 people a perennial problem at two-day
gay conferences. We eventually began by breaking up into
smaller groups to discuss the document prepared by the
Nottingham Gay Workers' Collective on the perspectives and
proposals for the campaign which we would later discuss
together in the large group. Some of the questions raised were:
What are the significant differences between middle class and
working class gays and is it possible to get more working class
gays involved in this campaign?
Should we confine ourselves to developing the consciousness
of a small group of gays or should we concentrate our efforts
on involving many "straight " gays at a more basic level which
might involve a dilution of the struggle?
Can gay groups in unions become too personal, not concentrating on organisation and action?
Should we be campaigning within revolutionary socialist
groups to get them to make political statements about sexuality
and act on them?
The plenary session after lunch was attended by about 55
people which steadily declined as the afternoon crept on. In
fact, some members of the Bradford and Leeds G.L.F. groups
walked out during this session without commenting on their
reasons for doing so.
It has been suggested that the omnipresence of the I.M.G.
(International Marxist Group) put some people off because
they were suspected of opportunism using the emerging Gay
Workers' Movement to their own advantage. Whether this is
true or not is difficult to say but what it does illustrate is the
differing orientations of the different groups and collectives
within the G.W.M. For example, Brixton and Bradford seem
to have a local, anarchist-type approach compared to the more
national orientation of the Nottingham group. Perhaps these
differences may cause splits in the future as the movement

The Gay Workers' Handbook

It was felt that the most realistic and worthwhile way forward
at this time for the Gay Workers' Movement was if we could
produce a Gay Workers' Handbook that could be used by gay
people to help them raise gay issues at their place of work. The
afternoon was spent organising the production of the handbook. The items that needed to be included were discussed
and individuals and groups volunteered to write a section.
Then we would all come together again on April 4th in London
Point 2: Equal opportunity of entry into occupations, in
promotion and defence of jobs, regardless of sex, marital status to discuss further details.
That ended the second British Gay Workers' Conference. In
or sexual orientation or hours worked.
Point 3: Equal education and training, regardless of sex, marital my view, it was superior to the first conference in that the
status or sexual orientation. Compulsory day release for all and organisation was of a higher standard (food, agenda, entertainment, accommodation, etc.), there was a more unified idea as
the opportunity for all women for further training.
Point 5: The removal of all legal and bureaucratic impediments to what direction the movement should take and finally,
concrete things emerged from the conference, that is, the
to equality, regardless of sex, marital status or sexual orientation, e.g. with regard to tenancies, mortgages, pension schemes, proposed amendments to the Working Women's Charter and
definite plans for the production of a Gay Workers' Handbook.
taxation, passports, custody and care of children, social
Hopefully, the spirit of this conference would not die
security payments, hire purchase agreements.
Gay Left 13

i mmediately at its end and that people actually would go back

and write the pieces that they offered to do. For the most part ,
as it turned out, people did fulfil their obligations. The meeting on April 4th at the South London Gay Community Centre
was well attended (about 35 people) and we spent most of
the time discussing the articles that had been submitted.
But, first, it was necessary to further clarify exactly at
whom this handbook is aimed. It was decided that the best
target would be gays at work who would, in most cases, be
unpoliticised and who would feel that they wanted to come
out at work but did not know how to go about it. As little
jargon as possible must be used and there should be no presumption about the amount of previous knowledge that the
readers have about the present gay political scene.
One of the issues that arose concerned the personal
experiences of gay people at work. One person's experience (a
public school Londoner) raised a lot of controversy as the
writer was not at all aware of the political implications of his
homosexuality and he did not see his gayness at work as at all
problematic. Were we looking only for certain types of
experiences that fitted into our analysis? Were we only going
to take manual workers' experiences as valid? Is there a
'typical' experience? General agreement was reached on the
idea that we must not edit any contributions we get or take
out the sections that some of us may not agree with. They
must be accepted or rejected as a whole. Many more offers
came to write about coming out at work and variety, it was
felt, was necessary in this section of the handbook so as many
readers as possible could find some experience with which to
Birmingham G.L.F. organised the latest meeting to discuss
the organisation of the handbook held on the weekend of _

5th/6th June 1976. Numbers were way down -- only seven

attended from outside Birmingham but more articles were discussed as well as methods of production. Nottingham Gay
Workers' Collective has taken on the responsibility for the
editing and production of the handbook with assistance from
others on working weekends in Nottingham in July. Hopefully
by Gay Left No.4 we will be able to report that the handbook
has been completed.
At all of these meetings there has been a feeling of togetherness
despite the disagreements and it seems as if something is
actually going to be published. The Gay Workers' Movement
seems to progress fastest when there is something around
which to organise. But we must not become over-confident.
We are small in numbers with little evidence of growth, isolated at work and often at home as well. We lack much widespread support. In fact, often other gays are totally against us
and we are ignored by most of the revolutionary left. But
despite this, it is vital for us to develop a situation where it is
possible for more and more gays to come out at their place of
work. This process is an important factor in generating selfrespect and ending the lies, hypocrisy and deceptions that
most gay people have to live. It also has the function of
challenging traditional gender roles by bringing others to question the sexist nature of society. At least they will be compelled to realise that an alternative lifestyle is both possible and
acceptable. Perhaps they will even be challenged into thinking
about their own sexuality.
Gay Left can play a role as a documentor of the on-going
events that occur in the Gay Workers' Movement. We will
watch and record what goes on as well as individually continuing to work within the movement.*

Gay Community Centres

Beyond the fence is the sky

Beyond the role is the individual
Beyond isolation is community
Slowly, Gay Community Centres are being started by gay
people seeking to form non-commercial meeting places where
gay women and men can feel completely free to express
themselves through dress, discussions or discos and generally
enjoy the company of each other. Most are established in
houses scheduled for demolition and redevelopment and are
set up with the most meagre financial resources and not
without protests from some local inhabitants. Centres usually
organize regular weekly meetings and are open regular hours.
14 Gay Left

The addresses of UK centres are given below. We apologise

for any centres not included and would like to hear from
Current details from Gay Switchboard: 01-837 7324.
North London (Finsbury Park) Gay Centre for women and
men. London N4. (check address). Wed. evening meeting.
Tues. GLF open eves. and weekend.
West London Gay Centre, "The Point" at the corner of
Tavistock Crescent and Portobello Road.
South London Gay Community Centre, 78 Railton Road,
Brixton SE24. Tel: 01-274 7921.

East London Gay Centre, 19 Redmans Road, El. Tel: 01790 2454.
S.M.G., 15 Broadley Terrace, Edinburgh
Most centres are for women and men, often local women's
centres have gay women's meetings. Check Switchboards or
Women's Workshop, 38 Earlham Street, London WCI. Tel:
01-836 6081 for details.

Centres in other towns and cities are hopefully being set up.
Phone Switchboards for details:
Bristol: 0272-712621 (8-10.30pm)
Manchester: 061-273 3725 (7-9.30pm)
Brighton: 0273 27878 (8-10pm)
West Midland: 021-449 8312 (7-10pm)
Oxford 0865-45301 (7-9 p.m.)
Glasgow: 041-204 1292 (7- 9pm)
Dublin: 0001-764240 (ThursFri 7.30-9.30pm, Sat 3-6pm)

Gays and Class

Notes on Gays and Class, by Richard Dyer

One of the good things about the film 'Fox' is that it has
made people talk about the question of gays and class. But is
the film's basic point -- that gay subculture is a mirror of
straight culture, simply reproducing its class divisions and
exploitation really true? I would like to suggest and it
really can only be suggestion, because we simply do not know
enough in hard facts about the lives of most gay people - that
(i) the class cultures are to a certain extent reproduced in gay
subcultures; (ii) but the larger part of the gay culture is male
bourgeois; (iii) but that it is male and bourgeois in a far from
si mple way. Let me take each of these points in turn.
(i) The gay scene in Birmingham, where I live, can be broken
down in social class terms. The four pubs and two clubs can
be divided into the posh and the common, the smart and the
rough. The small towns of industrial Lancashire (e.g. Blackburn, Preston, Bolton, Wigan) where there is a small
bourgeoisie, have distinctively working class gay pubs, as have
parts of South London and the East End. Equally, there are
gay clubs in London and Manchester almost as exclusive as
the gentlemen's clubs of Pall Mall.
How far does this pattern, and its extremes, extend over
the country as a whole? I cannot say for sure, but my guess
is -- not very far. It seems to me that whilst there are
different class emphases from pub to pub, club to club, the
distinctions are far more blurred than has so far been
suggested. The actual class position of the clientele of a
particular place may not tally with the vague class tone of
that club -- you get for instance the middle class gay
'slumming' in 'rough' pubs, and the working class gay
escaping the 'masculinity' of his class background amidst the
chi-chi of a club.
The ritualised forms of promiscuity -- cottaging, baths,
trolling are of interest here, for they seem to be further
'outside' of class, participated in fairly equally by all classes
(and races). By reducing all interchange to the sexual,
promiscuity strips them of class connotations. If class does
operate here, it does so not in terms of differentiation of
locale (though there are opera-trolling and expensive Turkish
baths ...), but in terms of the sexual fantasies people from
one class (or race) have about people from the other.
(ii) There is then some class differentiation within gay culture
- yet I feel the tone that dominates is male and middle class.
Of course, gay activity is no less widespread in one class than
any other (as far as I can make out) but the way it is sociallyculturally patterned seems to show a greater influence of
male, middle class norms. (Especially where, as in the majority
of cases, there is only one pub.)
This becomes more evident if one goes beyond pubs and
clubs to include the gay movement (C.H.E., G.L.F., etc.) and
gay publications (Gay News, Sappho, Playguy ). It is interesting
to note how right from the start gay magazines aiming at
providing more than just porn (Timm, Spartacus, Jeremy) all
just took it for granted that the readership would be interested
in high fashion, the Arts, cookery and foreign travel. Now
obviously there are reasons in addition to class why these
magazines (and their successors) should have assumed that
these were the things to sandwich between the pix fashion
and cookery are 'feminine' and so fit many gay men's sense of
themselves as 'feminine'; the arts are supposedly traditionally
tolerant to gayness and besides provide (especially ballet and

films) voyeur's bonuses; foreign travel represented a chance to

escape prying eyes in the pursuit of love and sex. Yet despite
that, fashion, art, cookery (as hobby rather than necessity)
and foreign travel (until recently) are indelibly middle class
interests. I can't really demonstrate it, but I also feel that the
way they were written about, the particular taste that
governs the dress and decor concerns, is also essentially middle
class. (One way of putting that is to say that gay men have
more 'taste --- providing you remember that 'taste' is not an
absolute, but rather a set of criteria largely established by the
class that dominates a society.)
I do not think all this is because the straight middle class
is more 'liberal' or 'tolerant' than the working class. Endless
discussions with gay people about their backgrounds suggests
that acceptance and tolerance are equally to be found (or
not) in both working class and middle class contexts. The
explanation has more to do with the fact that gay culture has
hitherto always developed in the relatively anonymous setting
of city or town centres, away from gay people's immediate
neighbourhood and family, away from the group activities of
one's peers. Yet neighbourhood and group affiliations are far
more typical of working class culture than the individuated,
mobile, adaptive life styles of the middle class. This means that
it was easier for middle class men to establish a gay culture in
their own image, into which working class men would make
an at times very awkward and difficult entry.
Of course participation in the development of this was
even more difficult for gay women, who, brought up as
'women', had to negotiate the isolation of domesticity. It is
interesting however to note that the only really working class
gay pub that I know in Birmingham is a lesbian pub (it's in
West Bromwich actually); and that the lesbian scene in general
is far more working class in tone than the gay male scene. It is
of course smaller, because most women still have to shake free
the career of being a family-person, but where it does occur
it does seem to be more 'working class', perhaps as a combination of (a) the fact that most lesbians have to be working
people (that is, going out and doing paid work, not staying in
and doing unpaid work); (b) the traditional collectivity of
working class women's 'street culture', which establishes the
possibility of cultural patterns of interaction more effectively
than the double isolation (class and family) of middle class
women; (c) maybe the identification of 'butchness' with
working class style (and the converse identification of the
middle class with effeminacy). This being the only available
model of not being 'feminine' in the culture as a whole.
(iii) Yet if gay culture is predominantly male and bourgeois,
that does not mean that it is simply so. Aspects of gay culture
can be seen as, implicitly, ambiguously, inflections of the
dominant culture that may even run counter to it.
First, the fact that it is gay is already counter to the
dominant culture, by which it is oppressed ( Fox is notably
short on the specificity of gay oppression). Second, gay culture
does offer the experience of group identity (instead of
magnificent individualism), something which the gay movement has been able sometimes to develop into powerful
feelings of solidarity and collectivity. Third, camp, however
much it can be used against us as stereotype, does also
contain elements of send-up, exaggeration of straight roles,
awareness of the artifice of social forms that pass for 'natural'
Gay Left 15

in the straight world. Four, many of the forms of gay

relationships - the succession of brief affaires, cottaging, the
relaxed sexual exchanges at conferences - run directly
counter to the compulsive monogamy of straight society
(though here again we have to be aware of the ambiguities -promiscuity has always been kind of OK for men; 'permissiveness' is one of the biggest new markets of recent years for an
ailing capitalism; the notion of 'responsibility' enshrined in
monogamy has a lot to be said for it, but is not always transferred to shorter-term contacts).
It is the contradictoriness of our situation, especially when
you try to think it in class terms, that makes it both very
difficult to think about, and also encouraging. A contradiction
always implies a looser, more open situation, a situation in
which struggle is still possible. The success of the gay movement
weakens the hold of bourgeois-patriarchal norms on the culture
as a whole. At the same time there are enough features of the
gay culture which could unite with the more positive features

Of working class culture. (A major problem in the latter is

the importance of the family as a place to live [rather than as
'lineage' ] ; and where I have met husband-and-wife role
playing gay couples they have been working class and/or
lesbian.) From the outside some such new creation seems to
be part of the project of community centres developing not
just as centres for gay people but as gay centres inextricably
located in specific wider working class communities. The aim
of a far closer involvement in the union movement - meaning
both raising gay issues through the unions, but also raising
gayness in the work place (as heterosexuality is endlessly) is another such project. Another may be working against
fascism in genuinely working class, multi-racial organisations.
In all cases, sisterhood and brotherhood, camp, responsible
promiscuity, have a role to play. That is a difficult practice about it we need, as someone once said, pessimism of the
intellect but -- and how - optimism of the will.*


A Critique of 'Fox' by Andrew Britton

It was very illuminating - if disconcerting - to see Bob Cant's
review of Fox appearing in the same issue of Gay Left (No.2)
as Richard Dyer's admirable analysis of Gays in Films. On page
ten, in discussing, amongst other works, The Bitter Tears of
Petra Von Kant - also by Fassbinder - Mr Dyer seems to me
to have said very pointedly what also needs to be said about
Fox: the film tries to suggest that gay relationships can be
taken as a valid metaphor for the exploitativeness of bourgeoiscapitalist society as a whole. I found the film offensive in the
extreme; and since it is possible, apparently, for a popular
audience - let alone a gay socialist - to read it as a "damning"
indictment of the bourgeoisie, I feel it is important to raise
one or two points in reply.
1. There is no mention in the article of the reception of the
fil m in the bourgeois press. David Robinson's remarks in the
Times, to the effect that the chronicle of exploitation is all the
more convincing for being set in a "homosexual milieu", and
that it represents an "honest" and ,"realistic" picture of gay
relationships, are typical of what has been the general emphasis.
This would seem to suggest both that a concern "With The
Problem Of Homosexuality", as Mr Cant puts it, is rather
more central to the film - and to its reception by the audience
- than he tries to imply; and that its supposed subversion of
bourgeois assumptions is rather less so.
2. The film's German title, Faustrecht der Freiheit (literally,
Fist-Right of Freedom), carries connotations of 'the survival
of the fittest', which, indeed, is the English title provided by
Peter Cowie in his International Film Guide for 1976. Clearly,
Social Darwinism has been crucial for capitalist ideology, and
a film concerned with its ramifications within institutions and
personal relationships might be interesting and valuable. What
is objectionable in Fox is that the notion is introduced not as
an ideological category, but as the inevitable order of the
reality depicted. In other words, the ideology is reinforced. A
Fate motif is introduced in the opening scenes in the fairground (consider the obtrusive emphasis on the deserted Big
Wheel, revolving inexorably like the Wheel of Fortune), in
the dialogue ("That's Fate!"), and in the device of the lottery,
on which the plot turns. One can, perhaps, attribute part of
the film's critical success to this carefully contrived impression
of 'tragic' necessity. Insofar as Fox portrays 'the homosexual
predicament', and reinforces deep-rooted preconceptions about
it, it allows the spectator to sit back and think, "God! What
awful lives they lead!" Insofar as it permits identification with
the 'dumb loser', and enforces the generalisation that "That is
how things are in this world", it encourages acquiescence in
the movement of the narrative and, ultimately, in the status
quo. The spectator can leave the cinema filled with an ennobling compassion for a despised and rather pathetic minority
group, and a complacent conviction of his own, and everybody else's, helplessness. Fox is, in fact, the least ideologically
subversive of films.
16 Gay Left

Mr Cant talks about Fox's "lack of choice", in a context

which implies that there is a direct analogy between choice in
immediate personal relationships and our lack of control "over
the economic destiny of the countries" we live in. This is a
fatuous equation; it is difficult to see how any individual
movement towards self-determination, or any radical political
action could begin, or even be conceived, if it were true. It is
deeply significant that there is not the slightest mention of
Gay Liberation in the film, not a glimpse of a character, gay
or straight, who either wants or knows how to break out of the
repressive environment. The only characters who are permitted
any degree of distance from the central action either observe
it in a spirit compounded of self-interest and resignation (Uncle
Max, Eugen's father) or are provided with sterile, bitter tirades
of disgust and self-disgust (Fox's sister). The film concludes
that one is "inside the whale", in Orwell's phrase, and one can't
do anything about it. The "lack of choice", the 'downhill-allthe way' structure, in which everything goes wrong with
somewhat facile regularity, depends upon the deliberate
choice of an ineffectual protagonist, whose defeat is inscribed
from the start. The Merchant of Four Seasons, another Fassbinder film, works in the same way, and in both cases there

is an attempt to immerse the spectator in the process of disintegration.

3. Bob Cant suggests that Fox is "about the corruptive nature
of capitalism", and that the film is seriously concerned with
the economic determination of human relationships. This
formula seems to me objectionable on several counts. Unless
one is willing to accept that 'filthy lucre' is a subversive
concept, and that 'people with money tend to be unpleasant'
is a significant judgement on"the pressures of capitalism", it
is difficult to point to any coherent, serious awareness of the
"economic structure of a society". Bourgeois audiences find
no difficulty in accepting the proposition that "money
corrupts all relationships", and the victimisation of the loser
by rapacious hangers-on has become a staple narrative-structure
precisely because it so emphatically confirms complacency,
allowing us to feel outraged by a collection of vultures who
are very definitely not us.
If the film were really concerned with the perversion of
human relationships under capitalism as that is reflected in
the lives of a particular group of people (in this case, homosexuals -- and if that is not the concern, then the use of gayness is superfluous) one would require (a) an exploration of
what it means to be gay in a working class environment, and
how this differs from what it means to be gay in an upper
middle class environment. As it is, Fox-as-proletarian does not
exist in the film beyond such qualities as bad table manners
and the bourgeois myth that sees the proletarian hero as
slightly (or, as here, exceptionally) stupid, gullibly generous,
emotionally sincere (as opposed to the affectation and superficiality of the bourgeoisie -- consider Fugen's "We're not
starry-eyed lovers anymore") and sexually potent, in a
modern variation on the 'close-to-the-earth' syndrome. The
class theme is, in fact, only trivially present, and the film's
central conflict would remain if Fox were an aristocratic gay
visitor from Mars. Mr Cant does seem aware of this at some
level, since he can talk at one point about relationships being
"more than just a matter of good individuals and bad indivi- duals", and at another about the fable of "the innocent abroad
in an evil world", without any acknowledgement that there
might be some contradiction between the two. (b) An
exploration of why and how the bourgeois gays depicted have
come to acquiesce in the institutions of the society which
oppresses them. As it is, there is no sense whatever in the film
that gayness and bourgeois ideology are in any way incompatible. Indeed, as the action progresses, and the bourgeois gays
whom Fox has met at the beginning appear one by one in
positions of exploitative power, any distinction between
victimisation by predatory homosexuals and victimisation by
a predatory bourgeoisie becomes so blurred that we are left
with, at least, the impression of an alliance for mutual benefit.
It clearly needs to be said that although gay relationships may
become exploitative under capitalism, as any relationships
may, the attempt to elide the two is pernicious. (c) A sense of
gay oppression. There is nothing in Fox to show that gayness
is subject to ideological, social or legal constraints. Why no
awareness of the economic and ideological factors which
determine the existence of, say, the gay bar? Why no mention
of the social stereotyping which associates gayness with
interior decorating and sultry boutiques? Why is gayness taken
as paradigmatic of "a world which is self-conscious and yet
desperate not to face up to its own reality"? I quite agree with
Mr Cant about the symbolism of boutique and antique-shop,
but that symbolism has nothing essentially to do with gayness
at all. Instead of exploring gay life-styles in terms of their
various, complex determinants, Fassbinder presents them as a
kind of existential metaphor, an image (deprived of any
ideological context) of 'exploitativeness' which perpetuates
every received idea about homosexuality its squalor, its
ephemerality ("one affair after another"), its triviality, its
decadence (the scene with the singer, an imitation-Dietrich
backed by an enormous photograph of a naked muscleman),
its inhumanity. Unlike Mr Cant, I feel that the inhabitants of
the bar are consistently portrayed as callous, petty and
malicious, and I found the use of the plump flower-seller's
attempted seduction of Fox to arouse an automatic response
of revulsion from the grotesque quite intolerable. Once all the

stereotypes and the finality of 'the predicament' have been

affirmed, the spectator can he invited to feel pity. One can
point to a comparable procedure in The Tenderness of Wolves
( which Fassbinder produced), where, after all the fuss and
bother about the activities of the murder reflecting the
viciousness of capitalist society (a theme which, again, is
not significantly there in the film, but which has earned it
considerable praise including that of Gay News), we come
back, through the use of Bach's "Have mercy, Lord, on me"
for the opening and closing titles, to the real business of 'grief
for sin' and the pitiable pervert. Fassbinder seems to me, in
fact, the archetypal watered-down radical, whose extraordinary current popularity with bourgeois critics can be
associated with the opportunity his films provide for
becoming aware of, and condemning, sonic of the more
obvious unpleasantnesses of the middle class without having
too many basic assumptions disturbed in the process. The
recurrent tone of rather frigid irony, shading at times into
the misanthropic, is admirably suited to this purpose, as to
the enrolment of the spectator in a stable position from which
the inevitability of the action can be observed.
4. Many of the film's targets are reassuringly non-controversial, and curiously anachronistic. Elegant table manners, a
familiarity with French cuisine, cultural philistinism and the
"family tradition" of Chateauneuf de Pape are easy, comfortable foes, from which we can dissociate ourselves without
difficulty and to gauge the thinness of Fassbinder's conception, one has only to place these scenes beside, say, the
Christmas scenes in All That Heaven Allows a film made in
Hollywood in 1955 by Douglas Sirk, for whom Fassbinder is
always declaring his admiration, but who is completely
without Fassbinder's rather glib fatalism (consider, as an
example of it, the way in which Fox and Fugen come across
their Arab pick-up in 'The Meeting-Place of the Dead'). In
Sirk's film, the insidiousness of the oppression of bourgeois
good manners is felt and conveyed with a subtlety and insight
besides which the meal scenes in Fox seem dismally obvious
and crude.
5. Bob Cant implies that there is no alternative to "gay
chauvinism" on the one hand and the "fairly accurate picture
of one part of the gay world" which he claims Fox to be on
the other. One can readily agree that "the gay ghetto is not
a pleasant place", that it is inadvisable to pretend that our
lives are "heroic" (do we pretend that?) and that we, like
everyone else, are subject to social and ideological determination in various ways, some of which are beyond our immediate control. This is not the same thing as saying that we
should countenance a film such as Fox, whose unawareness
of ideology is quite staggering, and which attempts, in a most
si mplistic and destructive way, to appropriate what it calls
'the gay world' as an all-purpose metaphor for a rotten
civilisation. There seems to be a widely-held belief
attributable, presumably, to fear of a charge of "gay
chauvinism" - that we should commend and applaud every
"exposure" of the "jungle-like atmosphere" (Mr Cant's fine
phrase), which we, more than any other class of people, are
thought to breathe. "Chauvinism" is now, of course, a loaded
word, and probably, in the present context, an inappropriate
one, if all that is meant is a degree of enthusiasm for Gay
Liberation which various bourgeois/liberal observers feel to
be 'excessive'. I think that "proper pride" is admirable, and
sorely needed, especially at the present time. On the other
hand, a clear, honest, coherent portrayal of the ways in
which gay relationships are repressed, perverted, curtailed in
bourgeois-capitalist society might be equally admirable. This
is not what Fox is. Its version of homosexuality degrades us
all, and should be roundly denounced.*

Gay Left 17

To have not or not to have

Sexual Offences. Evidence to the Criminal Law
Committee. NCCL Report 1976, 20p

Review by Emmanuel Cooper

The myth of the 'permissive' society is one commonly put

forward in direct contradiction to known facts - Antony
Grey's description 'repressive society' is more accurate. The
NCCL Report deals with the main areas where law limits sexual
freedom or puts them into separate categories with moral
overtones and emotive criteria - areas which very much outline
society's attitudes to sex and sexual freedom. Main headings of
the report are: age of consent, rape, homosexuality, homosexual and heterosexual offences, importuning, prostitution,
incest, paedophilia, privacy and transvestites all of which
are examined in a straightforward, clear way which cuts
through cant and prejudice and reveals the law for what it is
biased and moralistic.
The Report quickly gets to the main areas of disagreement
and weakness in the present situation where 'sex crimes' are
given a separate and emotionally charged category. It also
points out offences against the status quo of what is or is
not allowed in terms of sexual relationships and illustrates
the different extent of punishments meted out for 'acceptable'
and unacceptable offences. For instance, a man molesting a
girl will get a far less serious sentence than a man 'molesting'
a boy.
The recommendations the Report puts forward can
generally be accepted without reservation for they eliminate
discrimination and attempt to diffuse some present moral
attitudes. Moreover the recommendations could easily be
incorporated within the present legal code.
The central point of the report -- the age at which young
people can consent and how valid this criterion is for determining crime, is the nettle that is not grasped. This may be
for practical reasons that it would involve a discussion
rather than merely legislative suggestions, but while the
Report's reformist approach can be welcomed as a short term
measure, it misses the opportunity to suggest that a radical
rethink of our whole attitude to our sexuality is the only real
Consent is very much a legal term with definitions that
can do little to help, insisting as the law does that age is the
main criterion for giving or withholding consent. While discussion concentrates on age it will always be tangential to the
subject. The Report's suggestion that there should be different
ages for different activities and 'partial' consent for some
offences highlights the problems involved, for it accepts that
criteria relating to consent based on age. Surely debate about
consent must be allied to whether hurt or harm has been
sustained, for any young person cannot, in any legal sense,
consent, yet they can be willing to enjoy sexual activity. It
must also be accepted that, in many cases, sexual interest
does not start at puberty or pre-puberty, which is roughly
the present age used by the law (for historical reasons) and the
.NCCL, but sexuality is an ongoing, developing state that
does not necessarily involve anal, oral or vaginal contact.
Expressions of sexuality are not confined to specific sorts of
contact between people.
Consent allied with age implies that the individual must
have a full understanding of the situation and the ability and
strength to decline as well as accept; therefore the question
must be asked whether consent, in these terms, is a meaningful concept in a society where men dominate women and the
whole of society dominates children to the extent that they
have no legal rights at all. Under these circumstances does a
child have the authority to consent or say 'no'? Children
explore their own sexuality, in spite of forbidding adults,
through play and fantasy situations, but how far can this be
explored and developed with older partners? In relationships
with older people it must be recognised that children have a
sexuality to express and, if no physical damage has been
18 Gay Left

sustained, are unlikely to be hurt by any sexual encounter.

However, if such cases are brought to the attention of disapproving adults or the law, then immeasurable damage can
be done to the child 'damaged goods', 'spoilt', 'used',
etc. Where there is cause to suspect that force or pressure
has been used then each case must he treated an an individual
basis with informal enquiries. No legal 'consent' definition
will be of much help. More useful, perhaps, is the concept
of harm.
A very relevant example is incest which in our patriarchal
society cannot be seen as an objective activity which can or
cannot be consented to. With the full weight of society
behind the father, how far does his daughter feel able to
resist his sexual demands? With our present state of awareness and knowledge and inbuilt social taboos, these are
extremely important questions. The Report's answer is to
say that there should be no sex under ten, but this just
will not do. Consent is a concept that cannot easily or readily
be applied to the innocent and inexperienced of any age;
fixing an arbitrary age of consent is to put emphasis where
none should be and to suggest physical and emotional
changes which just do not occur. Victims of sexual assault
of any age should have full legal protection.
What we have to return to time and time again is an
examination of contemporary attitudes to our sexuality and
to the rights, or the lack of them, we give children and young
people. At present the law upholds society's taboos and
moral codes and punishes transgressors. Sex starts at sixteen
(for most), at 21 for others. Until there is a gender revolution backed by a full awareness of the range of our sexuality,
we will have to use the law as best we can. The NCCL
Report is right in saying the law should not uphold moral
codes and is clear in putting forward arguments and suggestions for reforms. The Report's recommendations are
necessarily defined by the present laws surrounding sex. What
is absent from the Report is any indication or analysis
showing the ways those laws have shaped people's attitudes
towards sex and their developing awareness of sexuality.
Much of the rationale behind the laws relating to sexual
behaviour are rooted in people's repression and their
ignorance about developing sexuality and failure to see its
fullest expression as something enjoyable rather than
functional. Without this critique there seems little likelihood
that demands for radical changes in the law will be implemented.*


Working Papers in Sex, Science and Culture, Vold,

No.1, Jan. 1976

Review by Jeffrey Weeks

Working Papers is a continuation of G.L.P.: A Journal of

Sexual Politics, a magazine published during 1974 and 1975
in Sydney, Australia. G.L.P. in turn was a development of the
earlier Gay Liberation Press, a magazine that grew out of the
fragmentation of the early Australian gay liberation movement. In that trajectory we can learn a great deal about the
development of homosexual politics over the past few years,
and in particular we can see a growth from the simple pieties
of the earlier days, to the problematical theoretical issues
of the present.
G.L.P. was distinguished by a lively eclecticism. Its articles
covered a wide, and often interesting range of subjects, from
sodomy in the early settlements to Denis Altman's latest
reflections on the modern movement. That eclecticism was, as
the editors recognised, both its distinguishing element, and its
bugbear. As a result, the editorial collective has made a turn
towards Theory and that Theory, as any reader of some
modern French Marxist philosophers will recognise, has a
capital T.

My feelings on reading the articles were mixed. The enterprise in itself is an essential one, and one in which Gay Left
has every sympathy: to explore the ways in which sexual and
cultural norms are internalised and perpetuated within a
particular form of society (social formation). One of the outstanding unexplored problems in Marxist theory is precisely
this one: of how the social relations of capitalist society are
reproduced and perpetuated. It is appropriate therefore that
-the first issue of the journal should concern itself with one of
the major modern texts in this field, Julet Mitchell's Psychoanalysis and Feminism. Mitchell's book is a courageous
attempt to recover Freud from his detractors, particularly
many feminists who see him as the arch male chauvinist and
to discover the core of his scientific effort, and his relevance
to a theory of female oppression in a capitalist and patriarchal
society. In the process she describes how the biological determinism, which is often seen as the heart of Freudianism, is
really a discardable husk. An interview with Mitchell in the
. Working Papers brings this out very well. As she says, Freud's
"work is just permeated with the sort of ideologies of the

Capitalism, the Family and Personal Relationships by

Eli Zaretsky, Pluto Press, 1.00

Review by Bob Cant

It is widely recognized that the women's movement has
opened up whole areas of political debate long ignored by the
traditional left. The debt that people, such as this collective,
owe to the women's movement is enormous. That debt is also
recognized by Zaretsky and indeed without their contribution,
books such as this which attempt to fuse the politics of the
personal with Marxism would not have been possible.
Zaretsky begins his discussion by referring to the issues
raised by three feminists, in particular Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone and Juliet Mitchell. Millett and Firestone are
especially concerned with male supremacy and while they both
see themselves as socialists, socialism is for them an economic
matter. Firestone is probably best known for her exposition of
a radical feminist theory which saw the family as the primary
area of oppression within society. Followers of this have been
involved in the setting up of many communes and feminist
groups, often of a radical lesbian nature. Such has been their
attitude to men that they have often become obsessed with
personal solutions at the expense of any wider political movement.
It is with Mitchell that Zaretsky's sympathies are strongest
and he draws attention to her statement: 'We should ask the
feminist questions, but try to come up with some Marxist
answers.' Developing her theories, he shows how historically
the family had functions of production of food and shelter,

biological sciences from which he had to come. In that sense,

I think, we have to read back that biological phraseology into
the non-biological concepts which he was actually trying to
But as Mitchell would be the first to admit, her book states
the problem rather than satisfactorily resolves it, and there is
still a gap where the real theoretical exploration of sexuality
and particularly gay sexuality should be. Working Papers begins
on this assumption. The articles in it range from a "Marxist
Critique" of Psychoanalysis and Feminism to a study of
"Patriarchy" and "A Theory of Reading."
In this latter are some rich examples of the defects of a
certain approach: "The object of this text is to explore the
idea of Reading. I use Reading instead of 'reading' in order to
differentiate between reading as a theoretical activity and
reading as a descriptive term of the type 'She is reading' and
'Bill is reading a newspaper'." The articles are, inevitably, of
mixed quality; the best are those that advertise themselves as
"tentative" rather than conclusive. An obsession with the
Theory of theory can lead to a sort of paralysis of the mind
and the will, which is why I welcome the political conclusions
that appear at the end of the "Marxist Critique" of Mitchell's
book. "Its significance is that it attempts to integrate Freudian
theory into an understanding of women's oppression. Its
danger is that it isolates the feminist struggle from the class
I think that this conclusion is misleading, given Mitchell's
own declared ambition, but it at least keeps alive a concept
of the union between theory and practice, which many of the
other articles strive to lose. Nevertheless, the themes they
adumbrate are central ones, and Gay Left hopes to explore
them further in future issues. In the meantime, we can
welcome the most recent metamorphosis of this journal,
while regretting its occasional obscurity, and hope to engage
in debate with it in the coming months.*
Working Papers in Sex, Science and Culture
Box 83 Wentworth Building, 174 City Road, Darlington 2008,
Subscriptions $6.00 for 4 issues ($A7.50 overseas by surface
mail); libraries and institutions $15.00. Single copies from the
publishers $1.00 plus postage.
Copies can be obtained in London from Compendium Bookshop, Camden High Street, London NW1, price 1.00.

sexuality, reproduction as well as the material production

that has now been socialized in factories, etc. The effect of
the split between socialized production and the other functions
of the family has been to obscure the economic role of the
family and so generate a number of further splits between
men and women, between public and personal.
These splits ensured that (pre-capitalist) male supremacy
was absorbed into the capitalist system. Male supremacy
existed not only in the family but was reinforced by its links
with material production. The remaining functions of the
family were assigned to the woman and since they did not
directly produce surplus value were soon less highly regarded
than the functions carried out by the man.
Increasingly, too, the area of the family has been seen as
'life'. People have seen this as something they have the right to
control. A whole new subjectivity has arisen from the emergence of a proletarian family which allegedly can satisfy the
need for 'happiness, love and individual freedom'. The tensions
and the contradictions of this split-life have played a part in
the development of bourgeois psychology which has usually
failed to relate this personal inner world to the public outer
The traditional Left has not really grappled with this split.
Zaretsky argues that both the Russian and Chinese revolutions have taken the Engels line that a new form of production
would draw women into industry and thereby liberate them
from their backward role in the family. The American C.P .
(like so many other groups nearer home) has taken the line
that such personal matters are petit-bourgeois and diversionary.
Gay Left 19

But Zaretsky finishes on a more optimistic note and sees

the emergence of the new left, the women's movement and
the black movement as signs that the old promises of the left
are being challenged in a way that will result in a richer socialist movement which is not only concerned with overt wage
labour. He takes his argument further and says, 'The potential
point of contact between Marxism and psychoanalysis lies in
a conception of the family and of personal life as concrete
social institutions, integral to and shaped by the prevailing
mode of production.' And it is clear that this is the area that
anti-sexist revolutionaries must be looking to now. The
women's movement has done a great deal to draw our attention to the nature of domestic labour and its function in the
economy and ideology of a capitalist society. What we should

A Lasting Relationship: Homosexuals and Society
by Jeremy Seabrook, Allen Lane, 1976, 4.50

Review by Jeffrey Weeks

The title of Jeremy Seabrook's latest book, despite its

calculated ambiguity, suggests clearly enough the themes.
First, there is a suggestion of the inextricable involvement
of homosexuals - often against their will
in and with their
society (hence the sub-title). Second, and ironically, there
is the hope, usually unfulfilled by the characters portrayed
in this book (ostensibly a documentary, but half a novelmanque), of a 'lasting relationship', a permanent and
supportive pair-bond that will follow the contours of the
heterosexual relationships that many gays still prefer, or ape.
What the hook reveals, however, is the real divorce of most
of the gay people described here , , from their society. And
unfortunately also it often suggests the divorce of the author
from his subject matter. Many of the portraitures are onesided and caricatured, and one of the unfortunate victims has
already written to Gay News stating that Jeremy Seabrook
shall never cross his threshold again. Other characters in this
work might rue the day they met Mr Seabrook.
Jeremy Seabrook's basic thesis is close enough to Gay Left's
own concerns to make the book deserve a reading, but there
are real differences between us. His argument, baldly stated,
is that as soon as gay people (by which he means homosexual
males -- women only make guest appearancesin the book)
become visible, they become exploitable. Indeed, he goes
further than this; he argues that in their subcultural history,
with its avid consumerism, obsession with immediate satisfaction and aping of aristocratic style, gay men are actual prototypes of consumerist man. 'Consumerism' is Mr Seabrook's
enemy. The culture of poverty has become the culture of
consumerism; the supportive working class home has become
the anonymous housing estate; the web of communal values
20 Gay Left

be doing now is working around the functions of the family

described by Mitchell and Zaretsky as 'sexuality'. This question
remains as problematic as ever. The part it plays in character
formation, its relationship to other, more clearly understood
roles --- these are all questions that come to mind. They are
questions that Zaretsky doesn't begin to answer -- and in some
cases hardly raises. He does, however, provide an excellent
contemporary analysis of the family and personal relations as
a starting point for debate. It is a debate in which gay men
have a particularly important part to play along with the
women's movement and the rest of the left in a way that has
not always been true. Our analysis of our experience of the
socialization of sexuality can only strengthen this attempt to
fuse the personal and the political within a Marxist framework.*

has become the nexus of greed. This picture of capitalist

society (ignoring class exploitation, the inextricable linking
of production and consumption that Marx describes, the real
contradictions of advanced capitalism) provides the theoretical
framework of the hook. The method of presentation is a
bizarre mixture of impressionistic petit point portraiture,
based on recorded interviews, and editorial comments made
in rich socialogese. The form of the hook is a series of short
chapters, recording people
from Bill Wexford, 62, to Raoul
Schwartz, 30, to Mark Moynihan, 24; places - Amsterdam,
Hampstead Heath; and events - a gay party, a meeting of a
G.L. F. group, a west London disco; with a brief Postscript
in which Jeremy Seabrook abandons his 'I am a Camera' (or
in this case a tape recorder) approach and comes out as gay.
The trouble with the book is that it is selective, and
selective in a way which underlines Seabrook's gloomy philosophy. Surely, one thinks, the gay world cannot be as unreservedly dreary as the book suggests. And of course we know
that it is not. Mr Seabrook has interviewed diligently but has
left out of his transcripts the hits that would round out a
person or a situation. This comes out particularly in the
section on 'An Evening in Windermere Avenue'. In this wouldbe elegant dinner party Brian, Alan, Simon and Roddy dine
comfortably, bitch sweetly, reveal their fears, obsessions,
weaknesses -- it seems like a scene from a novel in progress.
It comes as a shock, therefore, to realise at the end that the
author was there, listening to every. word, and surely participating in it. Scarcely a word of his conversation comes
through. And the omission of the thinking makes one doubt
the whole. It makes us think: perhaps he has cut out everything else that he does not regard as relevant. And what is
relevant? Well, all that supports his thesis: that the gay world
is dreary, commercial, and above all infinitely absorbable.
Consumerism for Jeremy Seabrook is more than an
economic relationship. It is a moral (or immoral) system,
a miasma that envelopes and chokes the individual. There is

no way out: we struggle for our rights (in CHE, GLF or

whatever) and immediately find that our successes turn to
ashes; they are only the successes that consumerism allows
us. We are all puppets of fate, passive before the never ending
circularity of hopes lit, and hopes extinguished. The result
is a panegyric of anguish and pain, an urn of burnt out
aspirations and beliefs.
The common ground between Seabrook and Gay Left lies
in our shared awareness of the fragility of our freedom in a
capitalist society. But after that we part company. For Mr
Seabrook seems to believe that nothing is worth struggling
for, nothing worthwhile can be achieved; we win only to lose.
This perfumed despair is the negation of political action. To
counter this position, of course, is not to fall into the opposite
trap of believing that all we have to do to change our situation is to will it (the evangelical 'upward gaze'). Political
struggle can only begin with the situation as it is, and that
means recognising the unevenness of the changes that have
taken part between classes, in geographical area and the
ambiguities of the gay movement, the subculture, etc. If we
look at these we get neither unbounded hope nor spiralling
despair. We get a sense of what has been achieved, a feeling of
what still needs to be done, and of some of the ways in which
we can begin to do them.
This book, despite its ambitions, provides no way forward.*

Women Awake, The Experience of Consciousness


Come Clean.
`Saturday Night at the Baths'

Review by Bob Cant

The final credit of this film is one of 'special thanks to Professor Gregory Batcock just because'. And this final note of
coyness is not untypical of a film which fails to come to grips
with its subject.
Doubtless, many readers are already well aware of the story
of the film given the massive coverage it has received in some
parts of the bourgeois press. A gay film must be news! A piano
player from Montana, Michael, comes to New York with his
girlfriend, Tracy, in search of work. He is employed at the
Continental Baths, a famous gay meeting place apparently
frequented largely by beautiful young men who do not work.
He is befriended by the manager of the baths, Scotti. As they
become closer, Michael finds Scotti's interest in him more than
he can handle. Despite a few setbacks, all ends well and the
two get off together. Tracy is rather upset but the film ends
with the two, apparently reconciled, going home together. And
this ending is, of course, a terrible cop-out. Do Michael and
Scotti continue to have an affair? Does Tracy leave Michael or
does she smile bravely through it all? Does Scotti get screwed
up by being 'the guy Michael once laid'? There are all kinds of
possible developments which the film never considers. It may
be valid to leave the subject in the air but these problems were
never even considered by the film. It's amazingly bland
approach so reminiscent of 'Love Story' and other sugary crap,
leaves one wondering what the problem is. If a guy can change
within a week from seeing homosexuality as 'abnormal' to
being a practising bisexual then really there's not much to
worry about.
The film has been said to be in praise of bisexuality but, if
that is so, it fails to present its case very clearly. The two love
scenes, both straight and gay, are filmed sympathetically
although only the gay one blacks out in the middle. But there
is only one real discussion which begins to consider the nature
of sexism and poses questions about the nature of normality.
Something as complex as bisexuality which terrifies so many
people, which is seen by some as a cop-out needs more subtle
handling than it receives in this film.
What this film is really in praise of is one section of male
gay life in Manhattan. Women only seem to appear in the film
for tokenistic reasons why any woman, gay or not, would
want to go to the Continental Baths is a mystery. Tracy, the
only woman with a major part in the film, is treated in much
the same way as Sidney Poitier was in his earlier films in the
1950s 'a bit different but really just like one of the boys'.
The fact, too, that most of the men in the film seemed not to
work or to work only very few hours may be an accurate
reflection of the social reality of Manhattan gays but is
certainly far from the reality of most gays who are caught in a
trap of a life divided between our work and our gayness.
There are some good scenes in this film such as the football match between hets and gays and the marvellously
decadent atmosphere of the Saturday night gig at the baths.
And Don Scotti, in the role of Scotti, is superb. And, on the
whole, I suppose one is glad that this film has been made at
all. But the fact that such a bland little film can be seen as a
breakthrough shows what a long way we still have to go.*

by Sue Bruley

This is a personalised account of one woman's disillusionment

with the straight left, her decision to join a Consciousness
Raising group and all that followed. It is the first detailed
account of the workings of a British CR group. At the end
there is an attempt to evaluate the contribution of CR on
the women's liberation movement as a whole.
Price 25p (send 33p to cover p& p)
Orders to Sue Bruley, 38 Hillfield Ave., London N8. (After
Nov '76, to 38d Clapham Rd, London SW8.)
Bulk rates available on request. Also available in left/feminist


Gay Left 21


Gay Left c/o 36a Craven Road, London W2

Letters are welcomed for publication and all letters received
will be assumed to be for publication unless otherwise stated.
The Collective reserves the right to shorten letters unless
contributors state otherwise.

From: GLH - PQ. Groupe de liberation homosexuals

tendance politique et quotidien. Paris.
We saw the first issue of Gay Left ( Autumn 1975) and we
were very pleased to see that we seem to have a lot of ideas in
common, especially the key point of the centrality of the fight
for sexual liberation to the general struggle of all oppressed
peoples for their liberation from the exploitation and
repression of the capitalist system. Thus, in a fairly brief
although probably not very concise way, we herein reply
trying to specify the areas of agreement we find in relation
to your collective statement.
In the space of a small letter it's not possible to elaborate
a historical account of the homosexual movements in France
we're now in the process of doing this since we believe that
at this moment the junction of radical homosexuals and
revolutionary Marxism is of essential importance and will
provide the basis of the future mass revolutionary trend but
it is fairly true to say that the French, as always, were more
highly politicised than their English counterparts who
continually emphasised reformist law amendments which at
best enabled the heightening of a certain sort of diffuse gay
political consciousness, but which at worst deviated the debate
along a totally false and misleading, and we believe ultimately
irresponsible path towards the total recuperation and integration of the homosexual, thus not only by-passing but also
conveniently camouflaging any profound political analysis,
any consideration of the tactical and political advantages
offered by a homosexual Marxist analysis.
As in England, French revolutionary groups have seldom
been prepared to consider the sexual question in a significant,
critical and political manner. Naturally, the revolutionary
wing of the women's movement has galvanized this discussion,
and so in a general way the women's struggle has achieved
official recognition as a worthwhile element in the class
struggle. In France, though to a much lesser extent than in
England, homosexuals and women have often come together
as natural allies in different struggles, but up to this time
there has been no really clear formulation of this solidarity,
it being frequently regarded as a phenomenon which automatically justifies itself thus occasionally the demands of
women have often grudgingly been viewed as partially valuable
to homosexuals, by extension of the idea of those 'sexually
not quite all there'. It is evident to us, however, that this
nexus, often unconscious, is of vital importance in the
elaboration of our political platform, and the time is now
ripe for the correct theorization of a global Marxist analysis
which roots itself in the dialectic of masculine-feminine
Integral to an analysis of this sort is the need for a social
and psychological analysis of the internalization of the binary
opposition upon which exploitation depends, and especially
of the specific relationship, established by the women's
movement, of power/phallocratism, which places the homosexual male in a fundamental contradiction if one follows the
bourgeois psychoanalysists, even if only at a symbollic/
phantasmatic level, in that the phallus is the focus of pleasure
in a genital society. For if in our personal practice we perpetuate oppression, re-establishing in the bed the very roles which
in theory we fight against, problems arise. But most essentially
we start with a questioning of the fundamental theses. Thus,
our name, "politique et quotidien" the recognition that
the personal is political.
We recruit only on the basis of anti-capitalist homosexuals,
and will denounce those bourgeois homosexuals who are just
as much the enemy as the bourgeoisie. We fight with women,
with the workers against reformism wherever it is to be
found, and as revolutionary homosexuals we will make public
22 Gay Left

appearances in support of free abortion, against unemployment, against fascism, etc.

Until now we've had brief mentions in the press of the
extreme-left (far more widely read here than in England)
and we are in contact with a dozen or so newspapers, and have
contributed many articles to reviews, etc. Needless to say,
certain of our members are in revolutionary organizations, but
G.L.H. (P.Q.) is unaligned with any of the established groups,
whilst we inevitably subscribe to the general politics of
certain ones.
We hope that this letter heralds a long and fruitful
Bises Rouges et Fraternelles
Poncin, B.P. 631, 75160 Paris, Cedex 04.
I was interested to discover ( Gay Left No.1) that gay militants
in Britain have the same difficulties relating to the left as we
in Canada experience. All the left groupings here either ignore
the 'gay question' or use it opportunistically: whenever they
feel they have to make an impact within the gay movement.
For example, the Revolutionary Marxist Group (sister
organisation of the I.M.G.) occasionally covers gay struggles in
their press, but when they fielded candidates in the recent
B.C. election they made no mention of the gay struggle whatsoever in their widely distributed election materials. When
this was brought up at one of their public meetings by several
gay activists, they justified it by saying it was forgotten. They
also forgot to send a candidate to an all candidates' meeting
sponsored by a gay group, although at least one left group
was there as well as social democrats and liberals. This in the
face of a major struggle against the major Vancouver paper
which refuses to take an advertisement from the Gay Alliance
Towards Equality (GATE). The R.M.G. will come and
demonstrate with us, but when it comes to exposing the
struggle of gay people to the workers at election time it is
consistently forgotten. Is it an 'issue' the workers will not
understand? Or are we an 'issue' too hot to handle? They
don't say!
Brian Caines, Vancouver
Congratulations on both issues 1 and 2. It's good (and encouraging) to see a paper approaching the gay movement with
intelligence and insight. How about future articles on Gay
Teenagers and Gays in a Consumer Society?
John Gill, London, SE15
Gay Left Collective welcomes articles long or short -- from
all readers.
I am writing for advice on how I should go about raising the
question of gay rights with my own Trade Union. I belong
to a relatively new organization which goes under the title
of Association of Professional Scientists and Technologists
(APST). I am a scientist by training but now work as a
managing editor for a large group of science journals. The
organisation I work for is a so-called Learned Society and
since I've come out at work I've had no hassle on that score.
Unfortunately we have very few members within the
organization but I see that as a relatively irrelevant matter
since I do have the ear of one of the full time officials of the
Union. What I want to avoid is letting things go off at halfcock; in other words, I'd value some advice as to how I go
about setting the situation up for discussion.
Ed Smith, 48 Rosemont Road, Richmond, Surrey
Bob Cant and Nigel Young reply: The gay TU groups which
haye been most successful seem initially to have got their
membership through gay publications and particularly Gay
News rather than through union publications. Perhaps a
letter to Gay News might produce another gay scientist or two.
Once you've got this nucleus of people, who've probably
already come out to a certain extent if they read Gay News,
then you can start raising the question in your union. One

approach is to write a collective letter just to make contact

with other gay members. A number of signatures is obviously
better than one. Another approach is to write an article
about discriminaton gays experience at work. A few examples
of victimization make some people take it seriously, but I can
hardly imagine a John Warburton type situation in your job.
What is probably more important and harder is to write about
the sexist and male chauvinist attitudes that we have to put up
I wish you luck with your full time official but it's much more
important to win support from other rank and file members - by,
say, passing anti-discrimination motions at meetings. Women's
groups are often very helpful with this kind of of activity. It is
important to get open support from people who are not gay to prevent
the development of a ghetto mentality and the feeling that "it's all
their problem". It also of course makes makes it easier for people
who are confused to raise the question of their sexuality.
The above group has been established to gather information on
the availability of materials (magazines, books, press cuttings,
posters, pamphlets, etc.) on all aspects of homosexuality.
Such documentation will prove of immense value to a wide
range of researchers in the field. In addition, we are also
hoping to provide a pool of information about undergraduate,
postgraduate and general research being developed in this
We would be very grateful if any readers possessing such
information or material would contact us, at 13 Endsleigh
Street, London WCI (c/o The British Sociological Association).
Gay Research Group

In our last issue there was an announcement about the film

Nighthawks which is about and by gay people. Finance had
been expected from the British Film Institute but at their
final meeting it was refused.

Ron Peck now writes:

The British Film Institute's Production Board Selection Panel
never issued any collective statement as to why the application
for a grant to make Nighthawks was ever turned down. No
criteria for selection have ever been made public and therefore
it is unuseful to say, simply, that the application failed to meet
those criteria. Unofficially, it was suggested that the expense
of the project (of any full-length project) would not help the
application in a year when the Production Board was under
Some questions about gay liberation organization keep jumppressure both from applications (there were rumoured to be
ing up in my life over the last ten years I have been
200) and when inflation meant that the annual grant from the
developing politically within the socialist movement and am
government would have to be substantially increased just to
now working with a M.L. (Marxist-Leninist) organization in
keep up with rising costs. The original application was for
preparation for forming and building a party. But as a gay I
22,000, to make a 2-hour film in 16mm colour. Of course, the
find many contradictions such as in Cuba, China and
BFI is not the only body giving out money to independent
Russia concerning sexuality and how do we build for
fil m making, although it is almost the only one now that the
the revolution.
Greater London Arts Association has had its film budget axed
Class being the primary contradiction, the need to build
altogether this year. The problem is that the BFI is the only
and strengthen working class consciousness is vital to build
body with sufficient funds to cover the cost of a
a proletariate revolution so, is there any strategies,
full-length narrative film.
experiences, etc. of gay revolutionaries working in plants and
For those of us working on Nighthawks, there were very
factories doing workplace organizing and integrating the
few options once the BFI had made its decision: one was to
cultural/superstructure aspects of sexuality into their work
abandon the project altogether and try to work out a very
that you know of?
small-scale project that could be done for about 1,000;
The need to bring with us the cultural aspects into organianother was to try to raise the money from donations from
zing is very important - but not primary for we must keep
members of the "gay community"; the last was to try to set
politics in command and that we will not recruit each and
every person personally into the movement is reality, but that the film up as a commercial production.
The first option was never taken very seriously. Not because
people will join the revolutionary forces because of politics
we had any contempt for the notion of a short film rather
not to join a 'groovy-goodvibes community' social unity
than a long one, but because the kind of time-and-space scale
is not strong enough to wage a revolutionary war alone but
of Nighthawks required length -- it had been conceived from
those aspects are also important but secondary.
the beginning as a film of episodes strung out over a period of
L. Kelly, Minnesota
five months.
The second option is still an option. An article appeared in
Gay News briefly explaining the financial situation of the
production. Some contributions were made and these were a
great help. They were supplemented by contributions from
friends and from gay men working in the arts who were
interested in the project. In all, about 900 has been raised;
And most of it has been spent on the material costs of the
past five months, covering the costs of postage, telephone,
sound and videotape, stills film stock, paper, photocopying,
etc. It does not include wages: the four men working full-time
on the production are all "unemployed" and surviving on
social security payments.
It is just possible that a more concentrated drive to raise
money through donation could raise another thousand pounds,
but, set against the present budget for the film, 36,000, it
could not even cover the cost of the filmstock. What it has
Gay Left 23

covered and does cover is the running cost of production,

of keeping the option of the project open. An immense
amount of work has already been done on the script, which
a dozen people have worked on. Most of the characters have
been cast and locations been found.
The third option is the only realistic one left to realise the
film as we want to realise it. We have done all of the "right"
things: we have approached distributors and lined up possible
distribution patterns in Britain, the USA and Australia; we
have had the budget checked by producers and members of
the film union (ACTT); and we have researched the success of
past films with gay subject-matter. Of necessity, we have had
to project a movie "product" with a "gay angle", for these are
the only terms of negotiation in commercial film production.
Fortunately, we can play the game with detachment, even
amusement, since it is a question of representing the project
a thousand different ways to a thousand potential backers, but
at no point losing touch with the project as we have conceived
We are still fighting the financial battle, submitting an
application now to the National Film Finance Corporation,
whose interest is in profitability (the NFFC is part of the
Board of Trade). We have already raised 4,000 of free
facilities. But, without "stars" (the actors in the film are all
gay men and women holding down 'ordinary' employments),
it is not easy.
In the meantime, the various drafts of the script remain
open texts for anyone interested in the project to drop into
the studio and read and comment upon and comments are
taken seriously and discussed whenever the group goes through
the script. We are still aiming to have the film ready for
screening in April at the National Film Theatre's season of
fil ms representing homosexuality. If anyone can help us get
there, contact us at
Four Corner Films, 113 Roman Road, Bethnal Green, London
E2. (01-981 4243).


Lesbian Left is a newly formed grouping of lesbian feminists

who are socialist in outlook. By means of collective discussion

and action, we aim to examine and deepen socialist theory as
it relates to us as women and lesbians. In examining, discussing
and clarifying these questions we hope to counter the inadequacies of existing theory and so contribute to the ongoing
debates and struggles, both by our personal presences and by
i theoretical contribution. Sexuality, lesbianism and personal
'life have traditionally been seen by the left as matters simply
of personal concern at an individual level rather than integral
to political struggle. We recognise that the revolutionary
process for change must extend in all aspects of our lives,
fusing the personal with the political. The group is hoping to
produce a clearer and more comprehensive statement of our
aims in the near future.
Any woman interested in finding out more about the group
should contact us through the Women's Liberation Workshop
in Earlham Street, WC1. Tel: 01-836 6081. At present we are
meeting at 7.30pm every third Thursday at this address.


ICEBREAKERS needs more Icebreakers.
If you are gay, think coming out is important, and want to
help isolated gay people, write to us at BM/Gaylib, London
'WC1V 6XX. Women and teenagers especially needed.

Contributions to Gay Left

Contributions, written or visual (cartoons, strips, etc.) are

invited from readers. Articles can be any length and preferably
should be typed with double spacing on one side of the paper.
All contributions will be discussed by the Collective and
contributors may be invited to come and discuss their ideas
with us.

With help from Friends

Special thanks from Gay Left Collective to Ilric Shetland for

help with illustrations and layout. Also to sellers of the
journal. It would be very helpful if readers would be prepared
to sell copies of Gay Left to friends, this would help with the
difficult task of distribution. Just write to Gay Left, 36a
Craven Road, London W2, for details.

Readers Meeting -- Tues. Nov 2 7 - 9 p.m.

Gay Left Collective have held two readers meetings which

brought a large and enthusiastic response at the second

meeting over 40 readers attended, bringing much useful
discussion and comment. The next readers meeting will be
held at the London School of Economics, Houghton Street,
London WC2. Full details with Gay Switchboard, tel: 01837 7324.

Gay Left Rates

United Kingdom by post
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only) or $1.50 each (Canadian or
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Gays in the Trade Unions, in Cuba, at Conference.
Copies 40p each by post from 36a Craven Road, London W2.

Carrying On ...
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Divided We Fail
Women in Gay Left ...
A Grim Tale ...
Was Marx Anti-Gay?
All Worked Up
Gay Community Centres ...
Notes on Gays and Class ...
Foxed A Critique of Fox
Reviews ...
Letters ...
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Members of the Gay Left collective are:

Keith Birch, Gregg Blachford, Bob Cant, Derek Cohen,

Emmanuel Cooper, Randal Kincaid, Ron Peck, Angus
Suttie, Jeffrey Weeks, Nigel Young.

Gay Left Collective 1976

Typeset by Caroline MacKechnie.
Printed by SW Litho, London E2.
24 Gay Left

ISSN: 0307-9813

Love, Sex and Maleness

In the latter part of the 19th Century Friederich Engels
noted the 'curious fact ... a phenomenon common to all
times of great agitation, that the traditional bonds of
sexual relations, like all fetters, are shaken off'. We are
living in a time of 'great agitation' and many of the sexual
chains that once enwrapped us like swaddling clothes are
relaxing, giving many of us the opportunity to breathe a
little more freely. The much touted 'sexual revolution' of
the boom years after World War II saw a partial redefinition
of sexuality, with the family firmly supported by the apparatus of the Welfare State, with women ideologically and
economically subordinated within a consumer oriented
capitalism but with the technology of birth control spreading -- unevenly, but still spreading and allowing women to
begin to assume control of their own fertility, the state
began to relax its grip of sexuality, and opened up a 'free
The 1960s saw a series of measures which 'liberalised' (a
key word) attitudes towards a number of 'deviant' forms of
sexual behaviour. Abortion was not legalised, but within
certain narrowly defined limits (limits now being even more
closely defined with the connivance of some Labour MPs)
it was decriminalised. Similarly male homosexuality was not
made legal, but you could now do it if you were over 21,
in private, in England and Wales. These were concessions,
liberalisations not liberation, but they opened the sluices.
The women's movement and the gay liberation movement,
simultaneously products and challenges to the sexual liberalism of the 1960s, are a result.
But despite all the changes that have taken place,
no challenge has been made to conventional gender role
stereotypes. Homosexuality has expanded its free space
within existing conceptions and behaviour patterns. Some
of the fringes are now tinted a faint pink. Some straight
men wear earrings in their left (and right) ears just like
some gay men. But essentially, images of maleness, ideologies of masculinity, remain unchallenged. Male homosexuals, no less than women, gay or straight, have to define
themselves in relationship to their stereotypes, either by
outright acceptance of male stereotypes or by challenge
and criticism. For a male homosexual has to find an identity both in terms of a sexuality which is still only partially
condoned, and in terms of a male gender identity which
carries with it strong ideological presumptions about how
a man should behave, socially and sexually.
Gay Left over the past few months has in group discussions been attempting to locate the problems. This
collective article is not a programme for action but an
agenda for debate. It concentrates on 'maleness' both
because the writers are men and because this is an area that
has been almost ignored. In the early part of the century
the sex psychologist Havelock Ellis commented that male
sexuality was not a problem, because it was direct and
forceful. It was female sexuality that needed to be explored. Today we can no longer say that with his sublime certainty. The challenges posed by the women's movement
and the gay movement have opened up a new area for men
to debate -- the question of their own 'masculinity', social
and sexual.
The first division of labour, as Engels noted, was between
the sexes. This was probably based on a simple biological
fact: that women bore children, and men did not. Engels
and most theorists, even on the left, have almost to the
present erected upon this a massive ideological framework,
based on a form of biological determinism: the belief that
the social characteristics of the male and the female are inherent, physiologically predetermined, 'natural'. This view
was as true of Engels as of Herbert Spencer, of Havelock
Ellis as of the most conservative psychologist. What recent
2 Gay Left

by the Gay Left Collective

studies (as summed up in Ann Oakley's Sex, Gender and

Society), not to say the practice of the gay and women's
movement, have suggested is an alternative approach: a
more materialist and potentially socialist approach. Gender,
the social characteristics we define as masculine or feminine, is a cultural creation. Conceptions of masculinity and
femininity, of motherhood and fatherhood, have varied
enormously in different cultures. In our own they are
highly articulated, ideologically fixed, and economically
and socially buttressed. But they are, nonetheless, historical creations.
Patriarchy has taken various forms in different societies
and has now been largely moulded to meet the specific
needs of capitalism, though some inevitable contradictions
remain. Under capitalism certain gender characteristics are
spotlighted those which are seen as central to the functioning and continuation of the system. For instance ideologies of motherhood and theories of maternal deprivation
serve to narrowly define a woman's role. Bourgeois ideology and the socialisation process strive to make all gender
characteristics appear natural. Men have the dominant role
in the production of commodities and the characteristics
which are seen as central to the needs of capitalism have
become 'male' ones, market relations imply competition,
aggression and extreme individualism, qualities that are
defined as 'male'. These same characteristics and actions
extend into sexuality. Men are expected to dominate. Men
are considered to have a sexual drive while women are expected to have more emotional needs. Men take the initiative in sexual encounters. Men need to prove themselves
through repeated sexual activity. Men learn to compete
with one another for women. Men are socialised to be
sexual predators.
An ideology that explains behaviour in terms of naturalness or instincts implies that behaviour or attitudes or ways
of doing things are unchanging and permanent. Therefore,
we are told that any attempt to change 'natural' behaviour
through conscious collective behaviour is futile. We believe
that many forms of our behaviour are not natural but
learned through a complicated process of interaction with
other groups and individuals who, themselves, take as given
a set of beliefs designed to preserve the status quo.
At no point is the belief in the natural and universal
human more entrenched than in the study of sexuality. In
studying the sexual there has been an overwhelming concern with the power of biology and nature. We would like
to challenge this belief by the concept of sexualisation. At
its simplest, it describes the process by which an individual
comes to learn about sex and sexuality. We want to investigate the meanings that are attached to sex organs and to
sexual conduct.
Two or more people cannot have sex together unless
they recognise that the physical acts that they perform are
sexual and that they are performing a 'sexual act'. The
social meaning given to the physical acts stimulate biological events, not the other way around. For example, being
examined by a nurse in a VD clinic or by a gynaecologist or
practising mouth-to-mouth resuscitation all involve physical
activities similar to those that take place in sex. But the
social situation and the people concerned do not define it
as sexual and, therefore, no excitement occurs.
This process of sexualisation occurs throughout our
lives in all the areas where the more general socialisation
takes place: the family, friends and peers, school and the
mass media. The crucial point is that sexualisation revolves
around the general socialising process whereby girls learn to
be feminine and boys masculine. But the linkage is not
automatic; otherwise there could never be such a thing as
a homosexual. The socialisation process is strong but the

multifaced possibilities of sexualisation are even stronger.

The Process Of Becoming Sexual
Young children experiment with many different kinds of
behaviour whenever it is physically possible for them to
do so. They do not differentiate their behaviour into
sexual and non-sexual categories because they have not
learned what those terms mean. Children play with their
own or other children's penises, vaginas or anuses as casually as they play with their toes, a toy bear or the cat.
Pleasure is the criterion which dictates their actions. But
the child does not operate in a vacuum. Parents or guardians will react in different ways to the child's behaviour
using their own adult experience and attach their own meanings of it to the child's behaviour. Certain acts and forms
of behaviour will be described as sexual by the adult not
because of the child's sense of experience, but because
of the meanings attached to those acts by adult observers
whose only available language is that of adult sexual
Parents or adults react so that the child learns what acts
are sexual and what acts are not. This can be a very subtle
process or a harsh one according to the type of 'discipline'
preferred by the adult. Punishments can take many forms
and will be incurred by the child if it enters into the realm
of what the adult considers to be 'improper' behaviour.
Children soon learn that certain types of behaviour with
regard to their own and other children's genitals are very
different from other types of behaviour that may get little
or no reaction. For example, when a boy touches his penis,
the adult will often impute to the child motivations that
are generally associated with adult masturbation, but
which to the child is not a sexual activity in the adult
sense, but merely a diffusely pleasurable activity, like many
others. As the children grow up, they may not stop masturbating, but they will certainly learn to restrict that activity
to certain times and places. Most sexual activity will he restricted by a strong sense of guilt. Punishment and the instilling of guilt are important ways of teaching a child
what is sexually permissable and what is not. The imposition of guilt and the creation of taboos reinforce each

success are also linked up with the fear that he may become
a homosexual. Parents often see the development of this in
their sons as a stigma that reflects back to them.
The heterosexual ideal is further reinforced by the boy's
peers. All of us are judged by friends according to how
neatly we fit into the gender stereotype of our sex. Even
adolescent boys who enter into homosexual behaviour will
be seen to reinforce ideals of proper male behaviour, for
example in mutual masturbation over the pictures in Play-


Sex Education
Men are often assumed to know instinctively about sex,
especially how to 'do it'. Not only is this an expectation we
have of ourselves and other men, but something women
expect of us as well. Sex education rarely discusses technique. If men are supposed to know it all then there is little
need for men to be taught. Contained in sex education
material is an assumption that the man must have an
orgasm. As a person whose role is defined in terms of
achievement and production, a man will look for achievement and production in his sex life. The ejaculate is a
product; it is a sign, like the experiencing of an orgasm,
that the man has achieved something. In the face of these
sorts of gratifications being sought by men from sex it is
little wonder that sex-education material limits itself to
describing sex acts that are male orgasmic and potentially
Talking About Sex
As men our sexual prowess is an assumed part of our identity. In competing with other men we will use a form of

The Learning Of Heterosexuality

As well as learning what constitutes sexual behaviour, does
a child also learn who and what to find sexually attractive
and desirable? We believe that, to a large degree, we learn
our sexual orientation which, in our society means to learn
how to be heterosexual. We are not born with heterosexual,
homosexual or bisexual drives but with the potential of experiencing physical pleasure, finding many different people,
activities, things exciting, all of which at times may be
orgasmic. We reject the theory which states that the innate
sexuality of humans leads them automatically to express it
with the oppsite sex, so that anything other than this means
that the non-conforming individual is abnormal.
The family, as a basic unit of social life, is founded on
the heterosexual couple. History, literature, art and the mass
media all are based on the normality of heterosexuality.
There are few references to any other forms of sexual behaviour. The few that are, are couched in terms of sin, madness, sickness, immature development or deviancy.
The family monitors very carefully the personalities,
interests and behaviour patterns of their sons and daughters.
The presence of 'sissie' characteristics in a boy is viewed
much more seriously than the 'tomboy' activities of girls
a sissie being a much more contemptuous and derisory
label than tomboy. Many aspects of 'masculinity' are synonymous with the personal elements necessary to succeed
within capitalism so if a boy lacks in these traits his future
success is potentially jeopardised. So subtle and sometimes
not so subtle hints are thrown his way: 'Surely you wouldn't
want to grow up to be a sissie?' The expression of feminine
characteristics runs counter to male supremacy, the family
and fundamental values of capitalism. Fears for the boy's
3 Gay Left

language to boost our maleness. Our conversations with

other men are likely to be totally based around asserting
our competence and these communcations will always be
couched in slang. Moreover the only words in this vocabulary are assertive or descriptive of parts of people's bodies.
We cannot talk to other men about our sexual weaknesses. Firstly this is because men are taught to compete
with each other not to show weakness. Secondly the male
slang vocabulary does not contain words for what many
men feel to be problems. There is no slang word for premature ejaculation for example. Men use slang to degrade
other people or assert themselves by boasting about their
sexual prowess but cannot speak with one another on a
factual basis about their weaknesses.
There are other reasons why men talk about sex in the
way they do. In our society sex is seen as a private intimate matter between two people. Personal sex experiences
are not openly talked about. We are unlikely to have heard
our parents talk about sex. Children asking about sex are
likely to be greeted with embarrassed silences. In some
ways sex has become like work, a routine part of our lives,
our service to the state, and talking about it is a nonessential. If people did talk honestly about their
personal sexual experiences they may develop new ideas,
may discover that sex need not be the way we were taught.
In the sense that talking about anything spreads information and increases the level of knowledge of the people,
talking about sex may divert people from the 'normal'
method of sex, procreative 'work' sex.
Homosexuality and Maleness
Attitudes to homosexuality are set within this general
framework. The different cultural histories of lesbians and
male homosexuals are built around gender divisions. Gay
men are socialised from birth as men. The conflicts and
guilt in many of our lives stem from the fact that our
homosexuality is in conflict with our gender assumptions.
Our learnt 'maleness' is carried into our social behaviour
with women as well as our sexual with other men. The
problems raised by this are whether we maintain the basic
characteristics of heterosexual maleness or recognise that
the contradictions caused by our sexuality mean that our
masculine conditioning is fundamentally questioned and
Homosexual Maleness
The growing awareness of our homosexuality leads to
enormous conflicts. For those who accept some part of
their gay selves, social pressures and the desire to fit within the heterosexual framework mean that many gay men
view their homosexuality as simply a matter of sexual preference, concerning what is done in bed, with little or no
relevance to the rest of our lives. In towns and cities it is
easier for gay men to express themselves purely in a sexual
way through the gay subculture. The open expression of a
gay lifestyle at home, at work, and in public has little social
legitimacy and meets with strong prohibitions both social
and legal.
Sexual And Emotional Divisions
The effect of these prohibitions is to make most gay men
split their gay life from other parts of their lives. Such
splitting is not strange to men for we are all conditioned to

4 Gay Left

Perhaps one day . .

divide our lives into different compartments. But there is a

particular intensity surrounding the split in gay men's lives
by virtue of the fact that some compartments are socially
acceptable and others are not. The nature of the split varies
from person to person and whilst some are crushed by it
others negotiate livable compromises with it.
Some men lead lives which are apparently totally
straight they may be married, ogle over page 3 in The
Sun and so on but every so often they will go in search
of gay sex perhaps in a cottage or in Hampstead Heath or
some other fairly anonymous place. For some it will simply
be a pleasant experience but for others it will be a torment
which dominates the rest of their lives. Another group of
gay men live out the split in a different way they have
two circles of acquaintances, one gay, one straight. The gay
acquaintances are never given a phone number at work and
the straight acquaintances are never asked to do anything
socially at the weekends. The two worlds are quite exclusive. Another group are those whose lifestyle is openly
gay but yet separate their sexual activity from their emotional relationships. Their gayness is publicly integrated into
the rest of their lives, they write letters as openly declared
gays to The Times and Socialist Worker, they form close
friendships with gays and straights but that stability is
absent from their sexual relationships. Most of these are
casual and although they may be affectionate, they remain
The split takes many other forms than these and, in
itself, is not necessarily harmful. The harm lies in the fact
that it is imposed and, therefore, restricts all our potential
for relating to others. The restrictions on the way we can
assert our gay identity make it difficult not to have great
expectations about sexual activity which make it either very
aggressive or perceived to be a failure of some kind. Male
conditioning provides a model for the values and expectations of gay men. It also has a strong competitive element
and puts a strong emphasis on genital sex and fucking.
Sexual activity is then seen in terms of the number of
orgasms, time spent on it, the size of erection and so on.
Lack of erection is a major humiliating disaster if sexual
performance is the sole basis of our gay identity. Not only
do we feel a sexual failure but the whole of our life seems
less than satisfactory. Often when the so-called 'sexual
problem' is explored clinically it is discussed in terms of
inadequacy or deviancy, or both, and thus the whole
syndrome is reinforced.
The concept of 'potency' is the result of the imposed
' masculine' role which concentrates on genital centred
sex, orgasm and the whole performance ethic which surrounds it.
In discussing in the collective what we thought our
own sexual hang-ups were, we quickly realised that there
was no easy definition of even what 'having sex' constituted. No one felt it had to relate to fucking or genital
centred sex and there was no consensus that orgasm was
necessary. At the same time we discovered that many of
us had similar fears about maintaining erection, nonorgasm and the whole nature of the sexual performance
syndrome. For all of us it was a positive experience to find
that our fears and doubts were not individual nor exceptional. This individualising of a 'problem' is encouraged in

conventional psychiatric approaches to the question of

sexual performance and being a man.
As long as gay men continue to view 'masculinity' and
sexual role playing as being prime aspects of their personality, they are likely to substantially restrict the development of an identity which is free from bourgeois divisions
between masculine and feminine.
Sexual Objectification
Because the sexual aspect of our gayness is so strongly emphasised we are likely to view other men as sex objects. In
the gay subculture there are often distinct hierarchies of
sexual idolatory. For example active, butch men are often
seen as the most desirable. Initial appearance and style are
excessively important as the goal is largely that of sexual
Gay men can meet each other for mainly sexual reasons
in pubs, clubs, sauna baths and 'cottages'. Choices may be
even further narrowed by men responding to specific sexual
signals such as leather and denim, coloured hankies, keys
and earrings. The framework of these ways of meeting is
highly structured and reflects many elements of capitalist
society and male role playing. For example, competitiveness is rife in terms of looks, age, money and style; whilst
another element, aggression, is also a useful attribute in
making particular sexual sorties.
In this kind of situation sexual objectification brings out
some of the worst aspects of male conditioning. The turnover of people as commodities, sexual objects to be discarded when used, is very high. We are confronted by the competitive nature of capitalism coupled with the manly role
of aggression but it does not wear the camouflage that is
built around the supposedly 'natural' predatoriness of
heterosexual men in their relationships to women.
Human beings need contact with each other. This is obviously true of the productive work that they engage in
and it is just as true of other parts of their lives. People
relate to one another in many different ways, whether
through sexual, emotional, physical or intellectual contact.
Despite the so-called sexual revolution of recent years, a
stable monogamous relationship is still seen as the right
place for most sexual contact to happen. Just as there are
pressures on heterosexual women and men to form loving
stable relationships (acceptable outside marriage nowadays)
so for gay people there is a pressure to form comparable
relationships with others, despite the remaining taboos
against homosexuality. Relationships between gay men
tend to fluctuate between casual sex and more sustained
relations ranging from a short while to many years.
It is in the areas of short term sexual relationships that
we can identify what is most male in gay men's attitudes
to sex. We do not deny that for many of us short term
sexual encounters are stimulating and pleasurable. However, frequent sex and sexual objectification have always
been the prerogative of men in bourgeois society, and as
gay men we are part of this syndrome. For a man to like
sex and pursue it with many partners is considered a sign
of virility while for a woman to do the same is to invite the
label of nymphomaniac.
Another reflection of gay men's attitudes towards sex

I'll have the strength ..

and relationships is the question of 'ending' as opposed to

'change' in both short term and long term relationships.
Because men are encouraged to see their lives as a series of
tasks which are completed in themselves (ie boyhood
manhood worker family man careerist managing
director ) so they view relationships in a more rigid manner
than women. Gay men seem to end relationships more
rapidly when they do not fulfil their expectations and to
start up new ones with equal rapidity. Change is a process
of growth and development which is absent from this
For many gay men casual sex always remains important,
even when relationships and friendships have been established with other gay men. This is partly because of the
male attitude towards separating things, partly because of
the identity-giving nature of casual sex and partly because
of the sheer pleasure involved.
Long Term Relationships
Long term relationships may develop from sexual encounters and, as with heterosexual women and men, they are
centred on a wider series of shared interests. Three main
areas in gay male relationships show the influence of heterosexual norms and values. The first is role playing which
structures gay men's attitudes. Within gay relationships,
role playing can occur as in heterosexual ones, with one
person taking on 'feminine' roles and the other 'masculine'.
The second aspect is that of monogamy and faithfulness.
With heterosexual men and women sex outside is someti mes allowed as long as it is not publicised and only
happens occasionally. With gay men involved in long term
relationships a similar situation arises whereby it is often
permissible to have casual sex and go to cottages and go
to saunas. Each partner is allowed to be sexually promiscuous as long as he is emotionally monogamous. The
third aspect is centred around buying or sharing property
such as a house. This becomes a symbol of a shared possession. For example through the home people are able to
relate to the couple and it is an important expression of
their relationship.
Many aspects of gay male relationships reflect their
heterosexual counterparts but it is too deterministic to say
that they are total reflections. We have a much greater area
of freedom for our relationships to develop outside the confines of these roles. The possibility exists in relationships
between people of the same sex of a questioning of such
'natural' roles. For example, there is more likelihood of a
greater degree of economic equality and independence.
Long term relationships provide a centre to life and way
of living which enables many of us to stand back from the
constant seeking of one night stands. We realise that for
many men the gay commercial scene is totally unacceptable
and the only way they can relate to people is in terms of
long standing relationships which place sex in the perspective of a loving relationship.
Romantic Love And Emotions
Some gay men place greater emphasis on their emotional
rather than sexual needs. They may take part in as much
casual sex as anyone else but pickups are seen not just as
sexual partners but as potential affairs and lovers. Gay
coupling does not have as strong a materialist base as
heterosexual coupling. But our emotional structuring,

5 Gay Left

buttressed by a powerful ideology, is so strong that many

of us come to believe that such a relationship is the only
way to find 'real personal fulfilment'. The concept of
romantic love is given great importance in our society and
is closely tied to the way our emotional needs have been
moulded. Ideas can become real, material forces. The reification of the concept of romantic love has made it an
integral part of our socialised emotions and needs. It is
the foundation on which many couple relationships are
built and gay people are as likely to experience it as anyone
else. After one or two meetings people will be talking about
themselves as an affair or couple and the relationship is
likely to be very intense. Feelings are powerful, expectations
are high and the strain on both people is great. Some relationships may become long-lasting and mutually supportive but often they are destroyed by the weight of their own
expectations and the search begins once again.
Romantic love can be very real, it is not a mere fantasy.
The frequency with which these romantic feelings occur
arises out of its ideological strength and the way relationships are defined in our society. Given that our sexual and
emotional needs as gay men are so repressed and hidden it
is hardly surprising that they become distorted and that
we behave in a frenetic way when there seems any possibility of these needs being met.
Many gay men believe that if we set up one to one
relationships modelled on bourgeois, heterosexual assumptions about monogamy, emotions and romance, we will
succeed. Our needs and desires will be satisfied and we will
be content. The fact that so often we fail is seen as a personal failure or a gay failure. Experiences of relationships rarely
measure up to our expectations because of the distortions
created by a capitalist patriarchal society of all relationships
and the very formation of the expectations themselves. Relationships become deformed by feelings of jealousy, possession, competitiveness, insecurity and inadequacy which are
not individual failings but are bound up within the whole
socio-sexual structure.
On Myths And Maleness
How do we as gay socialist men deal with love, sex and
maleness in a society which has so many built-in preconceptions of our gender roles and sexuality? The three
major areas of relationships with friends, with lovers
and with women all pose different aspects of the same
problem. As well as looking at relationships, we must, as
men, continually question our attitudes, assumptions and
expressions of our maleness. We need consciously to avoid
using it either in group situations or in our day to day or
personal relationships.
The question of relationships with lovers and with
friends is one of the major problems we must confront
although there is a limit to what small groups or individuals
can achieve, for we cannot isolate ourselves. In this period
of sexual flux, we have greater freedom to choose our
sexual lives, but in the absence of received and acceptable
guidelines the state of flux can lead to insecurity, a new
form of isolation, uncharted problems. In this situation
new prescriptions can be as imprisoning as the old mores.
Earlier we stressed the importance of what are usually
described as casual affairs because they are so demeaned.
We need to counterbalance the strong ideological pull

to no longer play at being a man

6 Gay Left

(common even in the gay world) which asserts that only

long lasting relationships can validate homosexual love.
But none of us deny or demean the needs of individuals
to build up relationships of whatever types they find fulfilling and conducive to their individual needs. Nor are
we unaware of the dangers of exclusivity.
Out of the women's movement and the gay liberation
movement have come some of the ideas which have guided
and no doubt will continue to guide us in confronting our
uncertainties. The most important of these is our awareness
of sexism.
A recognition of the concept has not, of course, prevented its continued existence, even among gay liberationist men. We have been socialised as men and often display a
form of sexism where it is important to assert our masculinity in relationship to women as well as to gay men. One
of the prime aspects of the oppression of women is their
portrayal as a 'feminine' sex object ready to fall at the feet
of any man. Men express their masculinity in terms of
domination and initiative over women and many women
feel that gay men can oppress women by this same open
expression of masculinity even when it is directed towards
other men. We have, too, the social advantage that all men
have by the very fact of being men, whatever our sexuality.
Our position towards women at work and socially is often
the same as that of heterosexual men. We learn quickly to
be forceful and dominant.
Sexism must be confronted in all our relationships as
well as in our political activity, in comradeship with
socialist feminist women. We cannot culturally de-man
ourselves; nor should we deny the validity of our own
love for our own sex; but we can reject the rigid stereotypes that imprison us as men and distort our attitudes
towards both women and men.
Building up a gay subculture in which we can construct
a gay identity free of rigid stereotyping, in which we can
relate to other gays without, for example, the overriding
limits of the commercial gay scene or the formality of a
CHE group is an important step. Interest groups, gay
caucuses in unions, gay centres and so on are positive moves
in this direction.
In the end we come back to the problematic relationship
suggested by our title: love, sex and maleness. Having rejected utopia now, new prescriptions and an unlikely demanning, there are only short term perspectives. A commitment, firstly, to a continuing exploration, in a scientific
manner, of the material roots of maleness and, secondly, to
building our own lives and all our relationships on a basis of
trust, openness, flexibility and respect for human sensibilities and feelings. If love and sex are problematic notions to
describe and write about, they are even more difficult relationships to live. But whatever their final meaning, we
feel committed to exploring them; in theory, but above all
in the way we live our lives. The use of terms like exploring, building trust, suggest the basis of what we can do.
That must be, ultimately, to participate in an ideological
offensive which not only questions traditional bourgeois
notions of sex, love and gender, but also their bastard offspring, in the post-permissive and would-be liberated society
in which we live.

Reprinted by permission from


Come All You Gay Women,

Come All You Gay Men
"Come all you gay women,
Come all you gay men,
Come Together,
Stand together,
And each other's rights defend."
The rallying call to solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood,
comradeship, has been a vital unifying force in the gay
liberation movement. If the early GLF left a quantifiable
legacy it was in the twin themes of coming out, and coming
together. "We speak for ourselves," as Jack Babuscio's
book proclaims, the collective open-ness is the source of
our collective strength. And this collectivity, as the whole
ideology of gay liberation has proclaimed, is across and not
along gender lines. Gay women and gay men must stand
together, not only to defend their rights (a spurious notion,
anyway, as we have precious few 'rights') but to fight a
.common enemy in sexism. Sexism, the stereotyped
assumptions about an individual's gender-based social and
sexual behaviour that bourgeois society structures, reinforces and perpetuates (though always in ever changing,
alluringly clad, guises) is at the heart of the oppression of
female and male homosexuality, and the source of the
glorification of heterosexual norms.
But the rally call to solidarity is always posed as an
ought; it is a categoric imperative, not an empirical reality.
Gay men and gay women rarely stand together, and even
along the fractures of the gender divide there is precious
little male or female solidarity. Juliet Mitchell and Ann
Oakley in their editorial introduction to The Rights and
Wrongs of Women i mply that in the women's movement
the rhetorical evocation of 'sisterhood' has exhausted its
historic role. Its
"implications were not thought out and it seems to us
now to mark both an absence of any real unity beneath
it and to ignore the highly problematic relationships
that in itself it implies."
Such a casual dismissal of what many women have gained
from the movement has produced a whirlwind of criticism;
quite rightly, in many ways. But I am left with an uneasy
feeling, as a male outsider, that there might be an element
of truth in it, because I can sense a similar unease in my
attitude to the gay movement. When one of its institutions
such as Gay News is attacked, my consciousness of the
need for common endeavour is enhanced. But when I read
other gay papers, or hear of yet another gay Giro group
my heart sinks into a grey twilight; another world, another
Solidarity, in other words, is not something to be proclaimed; it is something that has to be struggled for. It is a
vital ingredient for our success, but it can also be the
source of illusions which can hinder our cause, becoming,
if we are not careful, a mirage whose pursuit can be at the
expense of any real and lasting achievement.
Specifically, I want to offer two personal judgements;
firstly that the call to solidarity, especially between men
and women in the gay movement (which I regard as
essential in the struggle against sexism, and a potential
source of strength and growth for both men and women)
has not been based on any real consideration of the basic,
and often different needs of gay women and men. And
secondly, that our willingness to embrace an ideology of
solidarity has prevented us from actually working out a
means of achieving it. And to he even more specific, I
believe the existing organisations of the (predominantly
male) gay world are a positive hindrance to its achievement.

by Jeffrey Weeks

Two Worlds
Gay men and women have worked together throughout the
history of the homosexual movement. Radclyffe Hall and
Una Troubridge, the most famous lesbians of the inter-war
period, were in close touch with the (mainly homosexual)
sex reformers of the 1920s and 1930s; and during the
1950s and 1960s lesbians like Charlotte Wolff gave their
support to the Homosexual Law Reform Society and the
Albany Trust, whose main constituency was bound to be
male. Indeed, the Campaign of the HLRS and law change
of the 1960s probably gave as much stimulus to lesbian
self organisation as to male homosexuals. Lesbian groups
such as the Minorities Research Group, Arena Three, and
Kenric, developed in the 1960s partly out of the new
atmosphere created by the post-Wolfenden reform
activities. Similarly, in the early days of GLF, gay women
worked with gay men, though the women were invariably
in a minority of perhaps 1 to 5. A similar alliance can be
seen today in CHE.
But there were always acute tensions. When the women
walked out of the London GLF in 1972 to set up an
autonomous organisation, they gave three reasons: the
drain on their energy caused by the endless fight against the
men's sexism; the unradical nature of GLF politics
generally; and the need to provide a "viable alternative to
the exploitative 'straight' gay ghetto". These reasons
encapsulate the whole problem, and pinpoint the real
difficulties of collaboration. The male gay organisations
have been essentially instrumental in political thrust; the
HLRS of the 1960s was designed to change the law; the
Campaign for Homosexual Equality, despite the proliferation of other aims, intends to do the same. Most of the
lesbian organisations on the other hand have been primarily
explicitly social. Kenric was founded in the 1960s specifically because a group of lesbians were dissatisfied with the
abandonment by the Minorities Research Group of its
social meetings. And Sappho, the largest lesbian organisation
today, is primarily social in its impact, the magazine of
that name being chiefly a grassroots contact keeper rather
than a vehicle of political propaganda.
Boy meets Boy ...
There is an obvious and central reason for the difficulty
in forming a united gay movement. Gay men essentially
want to meet other gay men, gay women other gay
women. This is not a simple chauvinism but a basic
problem. Gay people, by definition, need emotional and
sexual contact with their own sex. This does not mean, as
the old theory that homosexual men are basically
misogynists would suggest, that cross-gender relationships
are difficult or impossible, but it does mean that they
cannot carry the same emotional current.
The reasons for this are not simply sexual. Beyond it is
the whole cultural weight and baggage which defines us
differently as men and women. The authors of the
important book, Sexual Conduct, John Gagnon and William
Simon remind us that
"the patterns of overt sexual behaviour on the part of
homosexual females tend to resemble closely those of
heterosexual females and to differ radically from the
sexual patterns of both heterosexual and homosexual
This is not surprising given the massive socialisation process
we all undergo. Our sexuality revolves around our gender
identity. But it is more than just an individual socialisation
7 Gay Left

which affects overt social and sexual behaviour. There is also

the central problem of the different social positions of
men and women in a patriarchal society. It is no accident
that the male homosexual identity developed earlier than
the lesbian, nor that the male gay subculture is massive
and varied compared to the female. Male homosexuals in
their sexual and social characteristics express traditional
male characteristics. The phenomenon of male cruising is
after all a direct parallel of the traditional and ideologically
approved form of the male taking the sexual initiative. The
middle class males yearning for liaisons with working class
youths (J A Symonds, the Uranian poets of the turn of the
century, E M Forster, J R Ackerely, Christopher Isherwood) is a resounding echo of the 19th century male
reality of easy sexual contact with working class girls
(often servants).
This means that the social needs of male and female
homosexuals are different. Where a male gay liberationist
sounds against the commercial gay world and yearns for a
better community it is a political protest against an
existing reality. When a gay woman talks of building a
community, she is talking basically of building from
scratch (except for isolated outposts of commercialism
such as The Gateways in London). The struggle of lesbians
for an autonomous identity is that much harder because
they are brought up as women in a male-dominated society.
Not only the ideology of sex, but the material reality of
most women's lives still perpetuates a subordinate
position for most women, and the effort needed to break
away can be searing (even as compared to men, hard
enough as their struggle for identity can be). When
Charlotte Wolff was examining the lesbian organisations
in the late 1960s she noted the high degree of discretion:
"Almost all of them spoke to me of their terror of
being recognised as lesbians and of the subterfuges they
had to make in order to hide the fact."
This reflected the real, felt absence, of a viable, socially
accepted or recognised identity. That the situation has
changed at all is largely a result of the gay liberation and
women's movement, especially of the latter. For a general
movement to challenge the subordinate social position of
women inevitably brings to the fore questions of sexuality,
and not surprisingly many lesbians find that they can work
most easily in the women's movement rather than in the
gay movement. Working in the women's movement does not
remove the problem; lesbians still feel the necessity to
organise autonomously around their specific areas of
concern. But the women's movement provides an arena,
and a political dynamic, which potentially unites the social
and the sexual, the material and the ideological. The gay
movement itself has failed to do this.
The truth is that lesbians and gay men have found it very
difficult to work together continuously in gay organisations.
This was true of G LF and it is true of the Campaign for
Homosexual Equality. CHE has two constant strands,
evident since its foundation in 1969; first, to take up the
banner of law reform; second, to expound the social
8 Gay Left

facilities of gay people (crystallised in the scheme for

Esquire Clubs in the early 1970s). Neither (given the male
dominance in the social bias of CHE) had much to offer
women. Many women, indeed, felt deeply alienated in
CHE; that they stayed at all is an index of the absence of
any lesbian alternative rather than of positive feeling.
Sappho called the 1975 Sheffield Conference "an example
of the oppression of lesbians within the gay movement".
There was no creche, no organisational provision for a
women's caucus, little interest in women's motions. After
the Malvern and Sheffield annual conferences in 1974 and
1975, where anti-sexist talk was much to the fore, there
was a token integration of women into the top structures
of CHE. Five women sat on the EC, 1975- 6. But by 1977
only one remained: the rest had left, through alienation,
boredom, exhaustion, or political disagreement. Beyond
this was the question which was rarely posed, let alone
confronted by CHE: of what, in the short term, the men
and women had in common in a single organisation like the
campaign. If CHE aimed to be an umbrella organisation,
then there was obvious room for a variety of groups,
male and female, social and political, cultural and activist,
beneath its generous shade. But if it was a unitary organisation, as it claimed to be, then it had to forge aims that
united and involved its membership. CHE attempted this
-- with its sex education campaign (a bureaucratic disaster),
its youth activities, its (usually late and ineffective) support
of particular cases, its slowly developing trade union work.
All of these were essential, but by their nature they were
low key and specialist campaigns, and not often very
successfully executed. CHE was becoming a way of life for
many of its leaders, a round of essential meetings, key
committees, vital minorities, efficient paper chases -- and
no political zap.
The only campaign that promised to arouse national
attention was over law reform: and that was of little
direct interest to women. At the 1976 annual conference
in Southampton out of some 700 people present, under 50
were women. The barriers to the integration of women in
CHE remained enormous.
New Starts
It seems to me that we have to start with the gay world as
it is, and not as it ought to be. That implies, firstly, building
on the diversity of the gay movement by encouraging its
inherent creativity. We should support groups, whether they
be all women, mixed, or all men, in pursuing their specific
interests and concerns, as long as they are inherently
committed to the basic anti-sexist attitudes of gay liberation. I fail to see what is inherently sexist in a group of
men working together on a topic of specific concern to
themselves (say cottaging, male sexuality) and I believe it
to be wrong for creative possibilities to be stamped on
because they do not conform to abstract slogans. Secondly,
though, it is possible to maximise the areas where men and
women can work together: in befriending activities, in
political discussions, in trade union campaigns, in socialist
gay groups, in functional or professional groups. The
i mportant task is to work out forms for activity which
conform to the precise needs of that activity.

Thirdly, all this pinpoints the sheer inadequacy of the

Campaign for Homosexual Equality as an organisation: a
massive apparatus of paper and committees erected on an
apolitical base. What is needed is an organisation which
can fulfil the useful functions of CHE: linking a series of
local groups which can satisfy a lot of specifically social
needs, with a number of special campaigns in a national
organisation, without an overweighted structure. This
could be done best, I believe, in an organisation which is
specifically a federation of campaigns and groups rather
than a unitary organisation. The national organisation
would coordinate and publicise a series of task forces: on
the law, on lesbianism, social facilities, employment,
befriending, etc., but the essential initiative, the basic
dynamic would flow from these campaigns themselves.
The grassroots would have an opportunity to grow, while
the centre would be energised.

based on a creative diversity.

The gay movement would then have a two tier structure
best adjusted to its present potentialities; a creative,
radical, flexible, grassroots movement, and a national outlet
which could concentrate on the issues which unite rather
than divide. The result would not be a panacea. But it
might ensure a more secure unity, based on differentiation
and specialisation in the first place. but working towards
a more secure sense of solidarity ultimately. Only in this
way shall we really be able to "stand together and each
other's rights defend".

Fourthly, as a step towards this, a national convention

should be called to establish an organisation to replace
CHE. Its organisation would be the last act a generous act
of hari-kiri by CHE. The new movement growing on its
embers would be explicitly anti-sexist; would invite the
affiliation of women's groups, and of anti-sexist groups on
the socialist left. But its prime function would be to provide
a focus for unity in thought and defence in a gay movement

Communists Comment
In Autumn of 1976 the Communist Party of Great Britain
produced an important statement on the oppression of
homosexuals following a decision of their annual conference. Nigel Young of Gay Left interviews Sarah Benton
and Bea Campbell, both members of the CPGB on some
of the major related questions confronting the CP today.
The views expressed are, of course, the personal views of
the two women and not necessarily official party policy.
How did the Statement arise and what were the processes
involved in the Party which led to the formulation and
production of the Statement?
Bea: At the last Party Congress in the autumn of 1975,
there were several gay resolutions from branches up and
down the country and there were several attempts to get
these included in the main resolutions. The executive of
the Communist Party knew of the existence of the gay
movement and that's as far as it went. In fact, it was the
first attempt by gays in the Party, at that level, to commit
the Party to a positive position on homosexuality. There
was a real problem because it had never been aired -- it had
never been discussed, and communists were bound to have
fairly predictable sorts of attitudes, just like the left has got
its predictable attitudes to women unless feminism confronts it.
So there was this very formal reference to homosexuality
in the main resolution which completely dissatisfied the
gays who were there, who, in fact, were the only people
who voted against the main resolution. The resolutions
were not rejected but there was an acknowledgment that
it wouldn't have made any sense to say 'Oh, yes, we'll
support homosexuals', never having discussed the subject.
So those resolutions were referred back to the new executive which was going to have discussions and try to work
something out. The Party's national organiser worked
together with a group of gays in the Party to prepare a
possible policy statement.
Sarah: There was also a general sense among gays that being
a gay in the CP would involve some people having political

rationalisations for an anti-gay attitude that there wouldn't

be anywhere else. It was, therefore, imperative for gays to
be enabled to come out in the Party as well as the Party
having an appropriate stance for a revolutionary organisation.
Will the Statement he discussed widely in the Party?
Bea: Yes because you now have the means for a big discussion in the Party. I heard, for example, that there were
Party miners who read the statement and really thought
they ought to talk about it and I thought that was great
because that was the very root of the heavy men who one
would imagine would be most defensive about stereotype
masculinity, who would be very dismissive of homosexuality as an issue ... that they actually moved to sort
it out amongst themselves is very positive. It is a question
of process ... a process has been undertaken in the Party
which is going to radially alter a lot of people's relationships, not just their attitude but their relationship to the
issue of homosexuality.
The gay movement has existed in this country since the
late 60s. Why has the gay question become an issue in the
CP only over the last two years?
Sarah: One reason is that people realised that you can
actually use the constitutional processes of the Party to get
a policy through, and I think it was realised that you could
actually get a policy on gays if you worked through the
procedures, ie putting up the resolution and demand to be
Do you think the socialist feminist movement affected
the consciousness of gay people in the CP?
Bea: The Party has demonstrated that it's prepared to argue
fairly contentious things out and it has done that with
feminism -- there has been a kind of uproar, in some
respects, for quite a long time and I think that was very
constructive for all sorts of other people who felt they'd
got a beef about something. Instead of assuming that the
Party was monolithic, it did enable people to see that the
organisation was open and perceptive about the possibilities
9 Gay Left

of being changed.
Sarah: I also think that it's not just that gay people's
political consciousness has changed as a result of their
experiences of the gay movement which leads them to
ask different questions about how you change things. It
is also, because the times have changed, because 1976/
1977 is the period of crisis, repression and depression, and
for anyone to operate politically is more difficult. There's
more fear and tension and conservatism around that
actually means that you have to think of different ways
of being political. Had anybody in 1970 believed, and I'm
not saying a lot of gay liberation people did, but had
people in 1970 believed that small groups and spontaneity
would effect a lot of changes, you certainly couldn't
believe that in 1976 because of things being much tighter
and much harder and demanding a different way of acting
politically for it to be effective.

Sarah: Strangely the question of the family has hardly

been raised in discussion and it has actually been, to a
greater extent, about sexuality as such and notions about
what is natural about masculinity and femininity. The
controversy has also been, while there is a crisis on, can we
afford to indulge ourselves in this sort of area.

Why did the Statement emphasise law reform and not deal
with the whole spectrum of sexuality?
Bea: There's no way that the statement could have been
representative of what it was known would be broadly
agreed in the Party if it would enter into arguments about
the politics of sexuality. That has to happen but I think
that can only happen by the issue being raised in a way
that makes it accessible to the majority of the Party members and actually makes them then feel 'yes, they're responsible' for supporting a positive policy for homosexuality and
affirming homosexual rights.
However the Statement did begin to talk about the
politics of sexism ... it tried to situate it in a sexual politics
so it's not as if the only thing people got delivered were
demands to change the law and give civil liberties ... the
point is the Statement is only the introduction to the argument; it's an entry into a whole new discussion about the
nature of sexual politics.
Sarah: Given that the existing Statement is already very
controversial then it wouldn't have helped us to have
something that would have been totally incomprehensible
for some of the members, who find it very difficult to get
their minds around the possibility that one can question the
naturalness and the rightness and the communist morality
of heterosexual intercourse.
There's a certain puritanism which is very strong on the
British left generally, which associates a strong family and
straightforward sex with a man and wife, with communist
morality. Bourgeois morality is seen as living in sin, promiscuity. Sexual athletics and bourgeois morality is not seen
as good family structure ... it isn't seen as a good solid
working class unit.
How compatible is the Statement with the CP line on the
Bea: Up until contemporary feminism hit the CP its
attitude to the family was completely conventional. When
feminism engaged in the Party, that immediately began to
change. First of all the Party quite explicitly supported
women's liberation. Some branches again agreed on national
resolutions in the last London district congress last autumn.
What was actually written was by no means a conventional
attitude to the family ... it was based on the assumption
that the family is a political institution and serves political
purposes. It's not a natural law of human organisation. It
was seen as an institution which oppresses women and,
furthermore, it's something which is open to political
I mean people are now being expected to change the
way they live in the family, so, I think that the kind of
conventional image of the cloth-capped Communist Party
which believes in defending the family and defending
bourgeois morality doesn't really stand up, given that the
CP has really been affected to its marrow by the new
sexual politics and has actually written that into its policy
statements -- that doesn't mean that it's not divided because it is.
10 Gay Left

The Statement suggests the CP has made a move away

from crude economism. How is this affecting the CP and
what are the feelings of those members who are essentially
Bea: I think there's a ruling consciousness about what a
revolutionary Party ought to be struggling over. At the same
ti me, an anti-economistic position was saying that trade
union demands ought to include more than wages and it's
clear as you get set on that road, that your criticism of
economism becomes much more comprehensive. We are
now beginning to have a sense of just how comprehensive
that criticism has got to be. We're not just saying there's a
broader spectrum of demands that we can make and areas
in which we can struggle, but we're also saying that the way
in which we struggle, the whole issue of self-determination,
the whole issue of how people are beginning to represent a
socialist alternative within the context of a capitalist life,
and all kinds of complicated arguments around the politics
of control is extremely important too.
The point I'm trying to make is that, as that issue or
as that sense of a commitment to anti-economism becomes
more sophisticated, it becomes clear that our initial concept of it was fantastically limited, so what we feel our
politics have got to represent is only tentatively understood
at the moment. What the shape of revolutionary politics
would be, the revolutionary movement would be, is still
only very tentatively understood. So, certainly a gay politic could be situated as part of an anti-economistic tendency.
Well, that was part of the question, the other part was to
do with the membership of the CP .. .

Bea: I think it has to be understood historically that the

Party's come out of a period of feeling completely besieged and in my view, out of a period where it was politically often very impoverished and certainly theoretically
i mpoverished. Now the Party is being renewed in a way
that won't just guarantee its survival but will actually
change it and that involves all sorts of battles.
There are those who believe that what you do if you
are a revolutionary, is you make demands of the state and
you make demands of an employer and that one day those
demands will become so intolerable and your mass support
will be so substantial that the kind of machinery that exists
will be shoved into ruin and from there we take over, right.
At the same time there's a very different sense growing out
of a different experience which has to do with, not the
politics of cataclysm, as some people have put it, but in the
way in which people have got to become different now, in
order to struggle for something which is something totally
different. That represents an otherness in the quality of
life, and that means that socialism isn't just more of the
same but something which goes beyond economism.
But I still think that's a very tentative business and I
think on the left it's quite interesting there's all sorts
of comings and goings on it -- people whose politics were
initially feminist, let's say, get confronted with the cuts
and capitalists crises and lose confidence in their feminism
and become unable to relate it to that kind of political
spectrum. Consequently they will adopt a kind of crude
economistic position in respect of those issues.
What does the Stalinist wing of the Party think of the

Bea: Firstly, you have to define what the Stalinist

element is. In the main, it's a solidly working-class part of
the Party which is called Stalinist because it's got a particular view of the Soviet Union. It also has a position that supports the Soviet invasion and the Russian invasion of
Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Now there are Stalinists in the Party who actually have
realised a position which is very comprehensive criticism of
where the leadership is going which is particularly vociferous about the Party's attempts to criticise anti-democratic
aspects of life in the Socialist countries. They also have a
much more comprehensive critique than that. Now that
position isn't one that would necessarily be shared by the
bulk of what would be called Stalinists in the Party, who
are called Stalinists only by virtue of the fact that they
think that the CIA was about to take over Czechoslovakia
and it was therefore politically correct that the Russians
moved in.
This last point is quite important because it means that
the actual practice in struggle of a lot of people who would
be called Stalinists in the Party isn't related to a general
theoretical position which, by any stretch of the imagination, could really be called Stalinist. However, some of the
really solid opposition to that statement has come from
people who are Stalinists, and in the main, they're Stalinists who've got a very comprehensive Stalinist position, and
who are theoretically and definitely self-confessed Stalinists.

I think the definition Bea was using was actually larger

and I think it's about a certain working-class tradition
which sees as the ideal of socialism, the absence of unemployment, the provision of cheap housing, the provision
of social services, the provision of free medical care, the
end of certain sorts of discrimination, hostility to American
imperialism and in their terms an accessible popular culture.
In these terms they think that's what's going on in the
Soviet Union. That makes other issues like intellectual
freedom to them seem less important because one particular notion of socialism has not only been partially achieved
but has got to be defended. In that sense, that was a very
broad way in which we were talking about a certain proSoviet Union position.
There's also a very strong feeling in the Party because of
the fifties that you can be critical of the Soviet Union but
not in public because you don't give the bourgeois enemy a
chance to knock it over the head.
I think there are also those people who wouldn't necessarily say that Stalin was particularly nice, indeed in private
they might think he was rather awful, they're the people
who want to say 'look, why are you discussing sex at the
time when we've got too many unemployed'. They would
therefore associate the discussion of sex with middle-class
politics because we seem to be unconcerned with the
material problems of life. We seem not to be worried about
what it means to be unemployed or what it means to have
cuts in social services.
In terms of the particular question and the position of
Stalinists in the Party, I think that's very clear in terms of
the Public Statements. Now you might think the Public
Statements of the CP are still too much having to address
themselves to a Stalinist opposition but the Stalinists are
in opposition, that's the salient point there and they are in
no way determining the position of the Party. I think that
what's happened in the short time I've been in the Party is
that feminist socialists and allies of feminist socialists in the
Party, in terms of a particular political tendency, it's not
just feminism, have grown much stronger because they are
in tune with the political developments on the left in
Britain in a way that Stalinists aren't or don't want to be
because those politics are seen as 'bourgeois' by Stalinists.
Why have so many socialist feminists joined the CP in the
last year or so?

Sarah: Well, for me, as a socialist . . . there was never any

question whether I should belong to a political party so,
having decided, at the end of the sixties, that I thought
that one couldn't be effective in a certain sort of politics,
which I wanted to be effective in, without belonging to a
party, that was never a question. The question was always
which party. The reason I ended up in the CP was not in
fact to do with my feminism, although had the Party been
clearly anti-feminist, then I wouldn't have joined. But I
didn't join it primarily because I thought what a wonderful
position it has on women, but much more because it seemed
to me to have a workable relationship with the Labour

Your definition of a Stalinist seems to me quite narrow.

Wouldn't Stalinists give support to Russian development
from the late 20's to the present day which would make
them anti the Statement and opposed to people who supported the Statement.

Sarah: I think Bea's definition is actually a very broad

one. There can be very few people in the Party who would
say that the methods that were used under Stalin were
actually the best that could obtain during that period. I
mean, no person is going to say that Stalin was wonderful.
But what committed Stalinists would say was that given a
situation, there was no alternative to what Stalin did, and
the number of people who would say that straightforwardly
is very small in the Party.
11 Gay Left

Why haven't these socialist feminists joined the Socialist

Workers' Party or the International Marxist Group when
they have well organised women's sections within their
Sarah: Most socialist feminists I know joined for a variety
of reasons and I think that in itself is a reason. The Party
is big enough to incorporate people who want to be engaged in a wide variety of activities, which I find, if you're
in a smaller group, you're either an industrial militant or
you're out there selling the newspaper. The CP I think is big
enough in size and big enough in cultural dimension to
allow people with a variety of particular interests to be
active. This, and the lack of dogmatism within the Party
means that it's possible for socialist feminists to join, given
the pre-condition that the Party wasn't anti-feminist and
given that we all knew a number of feminists in the Party.
Do you think then this does mean that there are less
demands made upon individuals who join the CP? I mean,
you can join the CP and in fact do very little conventional
political work .. .
Bea: No, I used to think that that might be the case but
now I think two things about the lack of dogmatism. One is
that often people will receive that as just the CP being
wishy-washy and without direction. What they don't see is
that the CP is wide open for all sorts of changes. Now the
ways that they're argued about is very tough, and it's not
wishy-washy, and there are all sorts of levels of sophistication theoretically, but the fact is that those arguments do
range within the Party.
There ' s another dimension to that which is that the
Party does have a long history and there's a sense in which
it's embedded in a working-class movement in a way that
none of the other revolutionary organisations actually are,
and, its composition is therefore quite explicitly and much
more in that working-class movement. It's also got a growing constituency of intellectuals, a growing constituency of
militant women ... it's branching into other areas of
politics. That means there are many areas and ways in
which you can work in the CP.
I think the really important thing is that the CP is in
the process of renewing itself, having gone through some
really bad times. The Party is answerable for its own
history in a way that the other organisations aren't. At the
same time it is drawing on constituencies that weren't
present in the early sixties or the late fifties. For example,
groups of women within the CP fought very hard for a
feminist position and won a feminist position which nobody else in the revolutionary left actually got. Consequently, socialist feminists identified with communist
women in a way that, despite whatever anti-communism
they felt, prompted all sorts of questions in their minds.
Therefore irrespective of what they felt about the CP,
there was no way that they could deny that our motivations vis-a-vis feminism was feminism. It wasn't moving
in on the women's movement with an agreed line worked
out by a lot of men.

Sarah: I think there is shared a growing sense which is

beginning to develop of what the new political party
working in a bourgeois democracy has got to be ... and
understanding that neither the mass Labour Party nor the
old Bolshevik style Communist Party is actually really appropriate in the struggle against capitalism. It's got to be a
political party which not only is working towards creating
a sense of a socialism, but one in which people's day to day
lives is a creative and personally enabling and consciousness
raising procedure, so that being in the Party is actually
something from which one personally gains strength. By
being in the Party you are able to work in it and not be
suffocated by it.

a Party that produces a statement on homosexuality, that

half his workmates would think was pie-eyed ... of course
there isn't. Organisations don't do things like that they
don't commit themselves to unpopular, uncomfortable
issues just because they think they're going to recruit a few
people from gay liberation.
Sarah: I think you can use the term opportunist of an
organisation that, if an organisation's political practice consisted of supporting the most prestigious campaign of the
day, and that was all its politics consisted of, then I think
you can say it's opportunistic, but I don't think you can
otherwise. I think parties are often caught in a difficult
position because if it doesn't support certain campaigns
everyone says 'why are you so reactionary?' and if you do
'why are you so opportunistic and support it?'.
Is the CPGB a revolutionary or reformist party?
Bea: Well, the CP believes that capitalism has to be
destroyed it doesn't believe that we the people will experience liberation within capitalism it wants to destroy
the system hopefully it will destroy the system or other
people will destroy the system. In that sense of course it's
revolutionary and in that sense, despite anybody's criticism
about the alleged rampant sell-out by the CP or the creeping
reformism of the CP, the fact is it's committed to that
position so there is no way that I think it's legitimate to say
that the Party isn't revolutionary. What's happened in
Russia doesn't make the CP in Britain not a revolutionary
party. What's happened in the conduct of all sorts of
Labour Movement struggles, the defeats, the comings and
goings doesn't make it an organisation that sells out the
Sarah: I also think they're terms that actually mean comparatively little because I think the way that they're used
is a technicist description which is describing the particular
technique with which you think change is going to be
effected, ie are you going to be prepared to take up arms
and violence which tells you absolutely nothing about the
sort of society you're going to have afterwards. I think,
therefore, the argument about revolutionary or reformist,
is people basically saying 'we're committed to this particular technique of change, this particular model of change'.
What you have to do is evolve the model of change which
is going to be most effective in terms of getting the sort of
society you want with the sort of people you want in it, ie
people who are able to take control over their lives and be
creative, etc, and having a band of dedicated revolutionaries
who can take over the state seems to me to say nothing.
Bea: There are some revolutionary parties and organisations
who can't accept that the working-class have constructed
forms which have long traditions and their sole practice
in those organisations is to say 'they're wrong, this doesn't
make sense, the structure's inappropriate, it's inherently
bad'. In other words, those organisations can't actually
understand historically why these forms have developed
the way that they have, what uses they serve, what their
li mits are and what their uses are. In a sense they're misunderstanding of something which is fundamental about
how the people struggle, learn, and why people create the
particular organisational forms that they do.

Is the CP being opportunistic by jumping on the gay


Now, I think that's both a strength and a weakness in the

CP's relationship to working-class organisations and I think
that the CP understands it, empathises with it, more than
anybody else on the left . . . it's of the working-class in a
way that the rest of the left actually isn't. Too often it's
been determined by those structures and the ideologies that
prevail in that it has not been able to distance itself, at times,
from what the limits of those institutions and forms are. But
then, given that acknowledgment, there's a movement by the
CP itself which is criticising itself for that failure, and it's beginning to re-assess what the limits of traditional organisations have been.

Bea: Ask yourself, does a miner in Durham . . . is there

any lesson for him, any kudos for him to be a member of

What is the CP's attitude towards sexual repression in

Russia and Cuba?

12 Gay Left

and a duty to say something about it, but I think you can't
unless there is a reason foi passing public judgment.
I mean, at what point in time do you publish on the
front page of your newspaper a public criticism of another
CP. When it comes up and you have a policy on it you do,
but you don't put a statement on the front page of the
Morning Star saying the Soviet Union represses homosexuals
and we condemn them.
Bea: But it's worth saying that when and if the British
movement on homosexuals actually says 'look, we've got
case histories of', and that includes people in the CP
when they are able to say 'look, this person's actually been
put in camp because he or she is a homosexual and we want
to have a campaign about it', then there's an imperative for
revolutionary organisations to engage in that. But that's
never happened and I think an initiative like that could
only come from contingents that really feel deeply offended by it, and in the case of homosexuality it's going to be
homosexuals themselves.
Why do you feel the Statement is important and more than
just a Statement?
Bea: I think it's important because it will change the life
of homosexuals in the CP. It actually means that they're in
a situation in which their right to be homosexual is affirmed
by the Party. Now you might think that's not very important in terms of whether life as lived in Stockport in the CP
is going to get transformed or not. But I bet that it qualitatively alters life in the CP for a lot of homosexuals and
that's really important.

Sarah: It disagrees with it. It's interesting that whenever

feminists visit socialist countries they always ask about
sexual repression. Apparently we're getting a bit of a reputation for always asking them about sex. But, interestingly,
I've heard three of the senior men in the Party who've been
to Cuba, all of whom have on their own asked about hornosexuality, ie they've felt concerned enough to ask. I think
they were told, 'no, gays are not put into concentration
camps, they don't have their balls cut off, but yes, homosexuality is unnatural'.
In what areas is the CPGB critical of Russia?
Sarah: I think the problem here is when and why a British
CP ever pass comment on another CP policy because you
have to say why does it pass comment at all. You can't go
around the world saying 'I think your CP is wrong because
it's not as good as ours'.
The reason why the British CP has come out with very '
direct statements about the lack of civil liberties for certain
people has been when it's become a news issue, and in
Czechoslovakia it's been even more direct about that. Now
if there were a news issue of a homosexual person being
known to be oppressed then the CP would have a reason

It's also very important that the Party takes such an

unusual step. It doesn't go about constructing these policies all over the place on things it's never thought about
before. It's important too because it's implicitly rejecting
the argument that, when we've got capitalism in ruins and
in a crisis whose got the right to talk about homosexuality.
It's implicitly saying, just by the fact that it's made the
Statement 'well, we do and there's an imperative'.
Sarah: It's also important, I think, because of the question about relationships between a movement and the
Party. The gay movement will finally discover a political
party making a statement about homosexuality which is
more radical than a lot of gays are prepared to state. I
think that brings into focus the question, what is a movement and what is a party. I think this means that certain
gays will ask themselves questions about political parties
which would have been completely irrelevant before. If
all the political parties you knew were all anti-homosexual
then the possibility of your involvement with a political
party would have been absolutely nil unless you were going
to be very secretive about it for it not to be important.
Whereas I think now that question has been brought up as
a valid one for discussion in the way that it wasn't a valid
one before the Statement.

13 Gay Left

Five And A Half

by Bob Cant
Coming out is probably the key unifying feature of the gay
movement. Everyone- from gay Trotskyists to gay
Conservatives-seems to be agreed on the point that all gays
should break out of the closet and declare themselves. The
last two issues of Gay Left have contained discussions of
coming out experiences by two members of the collective.
They wrote of the earlier oppression they suffered at home,
it school, in the ghetto and so on and explained the factors
which had led them to come out. But, of course, it doesn't end
there. The fairy story ending ('As our eyes met across
the crowded bar of the Boltons, we knew ... ') is as false
is any other fairy story ending. For the society that we live
in is still much as it was before-what was a revolutionary
upheaval for the gay who came out is of little or no importance to most of the other 50 million people on this
Gayness is now talked about in intelligent ways but no
major inroads have been made into society's assumptions of
what is normal. We ourselves still struggle with these deeply
rooted assumptions. Society still seldom allows gay parents
to keep their children. Wearing a gay badge to work where
I might offend customers and therefore cause the collapse
of the pound is held by the law to be fair ground for dismissal. So how do we manage with the new more subtle
form of oppression-'Some of my best friends are gay but
the children/Arabs/appointment committee aren't so broadminded'- not forgetting 'I used to be bi myself but it freaked my girl out too much'- and then, of course, 'I met such a
lovely gay couple from Milton Keynes at the local church
and they've really got it together-perhaps you should meet
them.' All of which makes my wrist about as limp as a steel
I am a 32 year old teacher, a socialist, and not involved
in a relationship. What I intend to do is discuss how I've
handled the last five and a half years, some of my relationships and friendships, the problems of activity on the left
and also the constant strain of feeling yourself a political
After New York
The thing that forced me into coming out was New York. I
was visiting a gay friend in the summer of 1971 and found
that I was taken for gay. Everyone I met regarded coming
out as so obviously right that discretion or pretence would
have been really stupid. None of them was particularly
political in a traditional sense but their gay identity was
something they were political about in a way I had never
encountered before. I was only there a few weeks but when
I returned to London I had no choice but to join the Gay
Liberation Front. There I met all kinds of women and men
engaged in a real debate about their liberation from sexual
stereotyping and committed to activity towards that end.
My personal problem disappeared and I saw that my sexual
identity was oppressed by the society I lived in. With the
support of this movement I began to feel I could make my
own decisions.
I had long had vague socialist sympathies which took the

14 Gay Left

form of campaigning for Labour at election times, wearing

anti-apartheid badges and arguing in pubs. I had taught in
Tanzania for two years and that made me understand the
desperate poverty of the Third World and the meaning of
i mperialism. But all of this had been very inarticulate and
disparate, the sexual politics of GLF helped bring it all
together. Previously, my socialism had consisted of supporting someone else's activity and moaning helplessly when
that came to nothing. Through GLF not only did I come to
see that all oppression was one-that all oppression was part
of the ideological support of the exploiting class, but I also
began to understand the importance of self-emancipation.
All the law reforms in the world would not free gays-or
blacks or the working-class until we began to free ourselves. No one else could come out for me. The only agency
for the removal of any oppressive force had to be the
oppressed people themselves. I later began to realise it was
more complex than that but by coming out I had thrown
off so much terror that self-emancipation then seemed the
only thing that mattered. I was on the way to becoming
a revolutionary socialist.
My life then had such unity it now seems unreal. The
sexual, the emotional, the political aspects of my life all
flowed together. I came out with all my friends and
although I lost a couple in the process it was hard for
people to reject someone who was so happy even although
they might have been a bit confused about sexual politics.
A chronic illness I suffer from which is caused by anxiety
vanished for these months. It was really all so wonderful
that a cynic would have said it couldn't last. It didn't last.
One problem was that I had forgotten who I had been
for the previous 26 years--I was a Scottish history graduate,
brought up in an isolated, restrained atmosphere with the
expectation that I would marry a woman I loved and have
children. Such deeply rooted expectations were unlikely to
disappear overnight. I had occasonal pangs of regret about
the children I would never have but there seemed no problem about the lasting one-to-one relationship. Now it
would be with a man instead of a woman.
But the whole ideology of GLF was against possessive
relationships and although I could speak intensely no doubt
about the need for free, growing relationships operating on
many levels that was far from what I felt. When I began a
relationship with the most beautiful man in the world after
meeting him at GLF I thought I was in heaven. Everyone
and everything else of importance to me was nearly
abandoned. I would have gone to the other side of the
world for him. It was the kind of relationship that most
heterosexuals have when they're about 15. And there I was
-27, with a whole set of adult experiences behind merunning through the long grass, so to speak. When it ended,
after a month, I was desolate. I thought there was nothing
left to live for-but I went back to the friends I had forgotten and soon even developed a warm lasting friendship
with the man himself. So eager had I been for this total,
all-embracing monogamous relationship that I had not
seen the affair for what it was and I had put at risk both
that relationship itself and many of my other friendships.
Grim Days

This confusion between new ideas and old assumntions con-

tinued to take its toll and by the summer of 1972 I was

leading for a crack-up just as London GLF was disintegrating. I think it would not be wrong to suggest that the
reasons for these two processes were very similar. My own
involvement with the movement was based very much on
feelingsto be with other people who had also experienced
all these years of hiding and lying and who were also experiencing a release from that was very exhilarating. To feel
sure of one's own sexuality and to explore and develop it
along with other like-minded people was a fantastic high. It
was a high too for most people in GLFbut one with great
dangers. The explosive nature of the movement meant that
we were news-worthy materialand therefore it was quite
easy to believe that whatever we did, because it was covered
by the media, was important in itself. Style took over and
content was often forgotten. It was much easier to say,
'Right on, man' than struggle with the implications of the
new liberation.
Splits soon began to occur. Many gay women, with the
experience of a much more developed women's movement
behind them, felt that GLF was male-dominated and as
oppressive to women as any group in society. There was a
lot in what they said and when they left we were confused
and unable, as a movement, to develop something from
their criticisms. The attitude to gay Marxists is a fairly good
example of the paralysis that had hit the movement. Marxist
attempts to analyse gay oppression, and liberation were
denounced as 'male'. No more needed to be said than that
the use of the new anti-sexist four letter word was enough.
It was a denunciation that arose from guilt about women
and it spread lethargy.
More and more people drifted back to the straight gay
scene and most of us stagnated. People then appeared in
our midst who regarded this stagnation as a virtue and
warned about the dangers of going too far. We ducked the
issue and the movement became a network of social groups.
Coming out after 1972 was quite different from what it
had been before. Instead of being part of a movement that
helped you develop politically, you joined the group that
you were interested in (Gay Fencers, Gay Bridge Players or
whatever) and pursued your interest with new gay friends.
There's nothing wrong in this but it now became less likely
that any wider consciousness would developyou came
out as gay but nothing else changed.
I found myself at this time in a very difficult position
I was half a couple with only a handful of acquaintances. I
found it difficult to make gay friends because there was too
much sex in the air; and I found it difficult to make straight
friends because they seemed oppressive. The man I lived
with was a chubby, bearded South American upper middle
class drop-out. We were together for about 18 months. We
exercised our traditional male rights to be sexually promiscuous but otherwise we were faithful to each other. In
fact, we had both broken very little from our male conditioning. Although we were fascinated by GLF ideas we
still saw them as ideas rather than guides to live by. We
both began more and more to go off on our own when it
suited us but we became very jealous when the other one
did so. We developed different interests toohe moved
towards mysticism and I towards socialism. So we had
different groups of friends which was another cause for
jealousy. Had there still been a gay movement it might have
been possible for us to work out another way of relating to
each other. But in our isolation, we were afraid to do this
and the relationship froze. It was like a historic shrine that
we bowed down to every night.
Better Days
Consecutive bouts of hepatitis were the kiss of death for
the relationship and we parted in the spring of '73. I have
never felt so low as I did at this time and had a fellow
socialist at work not asked me to live at his house I could
easily have jumped down the Victoria line. For two years
I lived with three other adults and a child and it was here
that I learned to trust people again. There didn't seem to

be any need to prove myselfI felt accepted for who I was,

depressed or not. And, through this acceptance I managed
to work towards some kind of self-respect and thus towards
the potential of loving others.
The child was particularly important inasmuch as he
seemed to like me most of the time. I had hesitated to be
friendly with children since I had come out because a bit of
me was still afraid of being accused of being a child
molester. I have never been sexually interested in children
but the public image of gays as child molesters was so
strong that I wanted to ensure beyond any doubt that it
was not part of my image. So I had kept clear of children
as much as I could. My relationship with this particular
child made me see the absurdity of my position and I was
soon able to relax with him and in turn with other people.
He played a great part in helping me destroy my own selfoppressive image.
No-one else in the house, however, was gay and I was
eager to make contact with other gay lefties. I had joined
a Gay Marxist Group late in 1972 but it was never a very
warm group. I stayed in it because there seemed to be
nothing else. After about nine months another Trotskyisttype joined and I felt happier in the group. However, I have
no doubt that my own Scottish reserve made it difficult for
other people to approach me.
By the spring of 1974 things were definitely much
better. I lived in a friendly house, I could now make
relationships on a number of levels, I belonged and contributed to several different groups. My involvement in
groups has been particularly important to my whole
development. The GMG, IS, Gay Teachers Group and
the Rank and File group of my union have all helped give
. me confidence to argue my case, intervene in politics
generally and just live as a human being who is not totally
These groups have also helped me to cope at work. The
department I work in has a reputation for progressive education and liberal attitudes towards relationships. But gayness was not part of their world and for about two years it
was an unmentionable topic to most people. This silence
was very oppressive to me but looking back I can see that
more of it was caused by ignorance than by hostility.
People eventually began to ask questions and make friendly
jokes about gayness. Then I felt secure enough to become,
first, chairperson and now secretary of my union branch.
The strains of being both the only out gay at work and one
of the leading militants are potentially dangerous but have
not proved unmanageable so far. But when I am low I feel
isolated at work because I'm gay, and isolated in the gay
movement because I'm a militant trade unionist.
Being a gay teacher is also difficult in the classroom
situation. Gayness doesn't often come up but when it does
I probably sound more like a liberal straight than a gay. I
have come out with some students individually but coming
out in a classroom situation is just another strain I have not
yet felt able to take.
But these groups, however important they may be to
me, are still tiny and only of significance to a small number
of people. Despite recent statements by the CP and IS it is
still the case that much of the left does not take sexism
seriously. Many individuals on the left can pay lip-service,
like all good hacks, to the need to struggle against sexism
but they usually have a reason why they themselves don't
become involved now. I would remind them of the following passage in Lenin's 'What Is To Be Done?'.

`And inasmuch as this [the Tsarist] oppression affects the

most diverse classes of society, inasmuch as it manifests
itself in the most varied spheres of life and activity, industrial, civic, personal, family, religious, scientific, etc, etc, is
it not evident that we shall not be fulfilling our task of
developing the political consciousness of the workers if we
do not undertake the organisation of the political exposure
of the autocracy in all its aspects?'

The women's movement and the gay movement have begun

15 Gay Left

to raise fundamental questions of sexism but there has been

little response, as yet, from socialist straight men. I realise
that many of them are actually terrified of having to explore
their own sexuality with other men, but if they, as socialists,
are interested in the creation of a new society then they
must do this. Otherwise, it becomes much harder for any of
us to escape from the roles we have been given by bourgeois
ideology and so to work towards a new consciousness of
gender and new un-oppressive ways of living together.
Couples, etc
Important as the gay movement has been for helping me
to understand my position, to shake off many fears and to
integrate my public politics with my personal politics it
would be wrong to suggest that it has 'solved all my problems'. So-called personal problems are not like the measles
something that bothers you for a time but goes away. As
children we all learned how to relate to other people.
These learned patterns develop and are reinforced as we
grow up-- by our peers, by school, by advertising, by the
media and so on. But we also shape these patterns to a
certain extent ourselvesby our emotional needs, our
sexual needs, our political will. One can be in a constant
state of struggle trying to control one's own ways of relating
as opposed to meeting the demands of conformity. This
struggle is particularly likely in anyone who has been influenced by the women's and gay movements.
The struggle comes to the fore when I go anywhere in the
gay ghetto. The atmosphere there is predatory--speaking to
someone is the prelude to a pick-up. The whole scene is
based on instant attractiveness and the ability to sell oneself.
Failure to do so can leave one feeling totally dejected even
although you can see through the whole thing. Success
doesn't always lead to total joy either. There's nothing
worse than being in bed with a pig of a man in Putney at
3.30. He wants you to go, you want to go but can't afford
a taxi and don't intend to spend the night walking back to
N. London. You lie there detesting each other, swearing
you'll never do this again. He might actually be quite a nice
person but because the gay scene defines people primarily
as sexual objects that's the way you tend to relate to
people you meet on it. Some people have told me that I
have too many expectations about these experiences and
that I should just see them as sexual encounters and no
more. But although I can do this it seldom brings any kind
of satisfaction because it seems to preclude the possibility
of any other contact. Despite the expansion of the London
gay scene in the last few years, I still prefer to meet my
sexual partners in an atmosphere that is not that of a meat
All the men I have been involved with I have met
through some part of the gay movement-GLF , Gay
Teachers Group and so on. The fact that there was a

common interest, as well as sexual interest helped me see

the person in quite a different way. And if I have any
choice, I prefer things to develop that wayfor the sexual
interest to grow along with everything else.
No doubt this was partly why the two people I was most
involved with recently were a woman and a straight man.
Because of circumstances it was possible to develop reationships with both these people gradually and at our own
pace. All three of us are committed Marxists of varying
kinds, and we met in a milieu where there is less concern
than usual about conventional relationships. What is
attractive to me about both these people is the way in
which they seem to combine what are traditionally called
male and female qualitiesthey are both assertive and
vulnerable. In both cases there was no obvious leader--we
tried to mould the relationships on our own terms. There
were no norms at all for us to follow, or so it seemed. But
to think we could create these gender-free relationships in
isolation was, of course, an illusion. The labels that we had
as gay man, straight woman, straight man were too strong
for us to break altogether. We had all adopted the roles
that presumably suited us best in this society. To break out
of them in a particular situation like this would have meant
that we were, in fact, taking on new roles and thereby
throwing ourselves adrift. So we do all remain good friends
and feel a lot of warmth towards one another.
It is, in fact, nearly four years now since I had a sexual/
emotional relationship with a man which lasted longer than
about two months. There are general reasons one can give
about the great strain on all gay relationships but, to a
certain extent, that's avoiding the particular reasons that
apply to me. I feel that I suffer from enormous and unreal
expectations about most things --politics, relationships,
my own abilities. I am usually disappointed- and, therefore,
become highly defensive. This defensiveness can make me
seem distant and sometimes frightening. My political commitments have not made things easy. It is very isolated to
be a gay person in the traditional left. I found it particularly
difficult in IS and my continued trade union activity also
exhausts me and reduces the chances of meeting other gays.
Even in one's social life on the straight left, when one is
supposed to be more relaxed, the solitary gay still has to
live out a political message. It's a big problem for all political gays (and it ought to be a problem worthy of consideration by all socialists) and the chances of making a
relationship are few.
I think it is important to ask myself why I should still
want a relationship with one other person, as I do. I no
longer have expectations about fulfilling myself through
someone else; I don't see life without a spouse as being in
itself barren. However, none of us can manage on our own
we all need contact with other people and that contact
enriches all our lives. And it is certainly the case that my
living has been much more creative because of the
emotional contact I have with friends. But these friendships
stop short of long term sexual contact. I feel as if there is
usually a divide between the people with whom I have
sexual contact and those with whom I have emotional
1 am aware that searching for more integration can lead
one into a couple situation but as things are I feel my life is
fragmented and I am prepared to risk the threat of coupledom. These are the pressures that drive all too many
heterosexuals into marriages and pseudo-marriages although
they may have begun their relationships in experimental
and non-exclusive ways. Stable emotional/sexual relationships would, hopefully, give my life a security it lacks at
present. (I have no ideological objection to more than one
such relationship at a time but the demands of work and
politics make such plurality unlikely.) In addition such a
stable relationship would enable us to have some interest
in and respect for each other's past. That, in turn, creates
more respect for the present and makes the relationship
still more creative. But I must stress that I would not want
under any circumstances such a relationship to be totally

16 Gay Left

exclusive. Other contacts remain important for themselves.

And exclusivity also leads to its own destruction for no
two people can ever meet all the other's needs indefinitely.
One aspect of my life to which I can see no solution
relates to children. I spent over three years living in houses
where there were children but now I find myself living
alone. The contact with the children was very creative and
I still enjoy seeing them. I'm not interested in having my
own children because that implies a relationship with a
woman which I now feel I can never have. But I would like
to take part in bringing some children up. I don't mean just
baby-sitting now and again, remembering birthdays and
going to the zoo; I mean sharing real responsibility for
children being reliable about them, being bored by them,
cleaning up their shit as well as all the fun. There are two

main obstacles to this one is the way in which houses

are built so that it is difficult for a number of adults to live
under the same roof with a number of children; the other
is the ideology of the couple which makes many biological
parents unwilling and unable to fully trust anyone outside
the nuclear family unit.
This article doesn't really have an end. It would be false
to work up to a theoretical definition and/or a rallying cry
to the masses. In fact, it can't have an end unless the search
and the struggle have ended. And they go on. All that I can
really say is that although it is difficult to be out as gay,
although the political strains are great, although emotional
security is hard to come by, it is still infinitely more
preferable to struggle with your own destiny than to
remain in the closet. I remain, beyond any doubt, glad to
be gay.

Lesbians aren't oppressed by

the law...?
by Margaret Coulson

When Louise Boychuck was sacked for wearing a Lesbians

Ignite badge at work she appealed to an industrial tribunal
against unfair dismissal. Her employer claimed that Louise
was 'displaying a wording at our place of business which is
distasteful to others and which could be injurious to our
best interests if observed by clients, whose good will results
in the earning of large amounts of overseas currencies beneficial to our country.' The tribunal supported the employers and Louise Boychuck lost her case and her job.
(Spare Rib 54, January 1977)
(Gay News 110, January 1977)

A man brutally killed his wife and was sentenced to 30

months imprisonment for man(?)slaughter. On appeal he
was released from gaol because, the judge said, he had
been subjected to 'enormous provocation' his wife had
boasted to him about her relationship with another woman.
(Gay News 85, December 1 975)
In the first case in which a lesbian has won custody of her
children the appeal court judges condemned her 'obsessive
involvement in herself and in the feminist cause' and made
it clear that they were allowing her custody only because
the children's father could not provide a home for them
and the children would otherwise have been taken into
local authority care.
(Guardian, 12th November 1976)
(Spare Rib 54, January 1977)
and the law doesn't oppress lesbians ...
Well it's true that English law hasn't labelled lesbians as
criminal. Lesbians weren't included in the 1885 criminal
law amendment act because Queen Victoria's repressed
sexual consciousness excluded the possibility of women
loving women. And presumably masses of other women at
the time shared that repressed view seeing their own
sexuality only in terms of submission, male satisfaction and
childbearing. Another attempt to add lesbians to the law
condemning male homosexuality failed in 1921.
In a patriarchal society outlawing lesbianism as such has
been generally unnecessary and even undesirable in the
sense that it could give publicity to a possibility which,
like Victoria, most women might never have allowed themselves to dream of.
In Nazi Germany, for example, the national socialists
combined a vicious policy of persecution and extermination of male homosexuals with an almost total silence in
relation to lesbians. To the Nazis 'What mattered was man,
the warrior and begetter of children. In the blinkered view
of these reactionary sexual theorists woman, being subordinate to man, could not decline her role as begetter of
the species. Being equipped for motherhood by nature

even a lesbian could and must bear children at the behest

of her spouse. Lesbianism presented no practical reproductive problems of any consequence and that was what
counted.' ( H P Bleuch: Strength Through Joy - Sex And
Society In Nazi Germany, p 284). Where women are economically and ideologically subordinate to men, laws
criminalising lesbianism are superfluous. For one thing, it's
always assumed, especially by 'experts' (like A Storr in
Sexual Deviation, p 70 or R Pearsall in The Worm In The
Bud, p 284) that the 'problem' is much rarer than male
homosexuality. Phyllis Chessler indicates some of the
reasons why this appears to be the case: 'Lesbianism has
not been as legally punished as homosexuality. However it has
been "punished" by being completely legislated out of the
realm of possibility for most women ... Women are more
totally repressed, both sexually and economically, and are
therefore more sexually timid (with either women or men)
as well as more economically powerless than either homosexual or heterosexual men. In one sense it is more difficult for women to become and to survive as lesbians than
it is for men to survive as homosexuals. For example, men
either don't need -- or don't think they need --- women
for economic survival. Most women need and think they
need men in order to survive economically as well as
psychologically.' ( Women And Madness, p 187)
Economic inequalities between men and women help to
sustain this repression. Just to take the most obvious economic factor of earning power: women's average earnings
were still not much more than half of men's average earnings in 1976. Complete personal independence from men
and an average standard of living are virtually incompatible
for most women in this society at the present time and
especially for those who have children to support. Besides
the social/psychological barriers to independence are still
enormous. Dominant social definitions and self images of
women are still of women in (subordinate) relation to men:
daughters, wives, mothers, sex objects. (For example,
most people see the title Ms not as a replacement for Miss
and Mrs but as a euphemism to cover the embarrassment of
unmarried or no longer married women).
John Berger discusses one aspect of this: 'The social
presence of women is different in kind from that of a
man ... Men are and women appear. Men look at women.
Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines
not only most relations between men and women but also
the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of
woman in herself is male: the surveyed female.' ( Ways of
Seeing). A man unrelated to a woman is still a man but
what is a woman without reference to a man: as Phyllis
Chessler has said the possibility of avoiding or breaking
17 Gay Left

out of the conditioning which produces `women's social

presence' is 'legislated out' for most women.
And we should not delude ourselves that the ideas behind
the Nazi's silence about lesbianism are not alive in our
society now. The dominant stereotype of male sexuality
which is proclaimed and institutionalised stresses the
active, aggressive and once roused uncontrollable character
of man's sexual 'urges'. Woman as the sexual complement
to man is stereotyped as the passive or responsive dependent partner, available to be used or aroused but not to
initiate, and not to say no. According to this view a woman
without a man might as well be asexual. Rape is one
logical conclusion of this particular polarisation of male
and female sexuality and the concept of monogamous
marriage in which rape is impossible because the wife must
always be sexually available to her husband is another. The
message in either case is that women, whatever their stated
desires or preferences can be taken sexually by men illegally
in rape, legally in marriage. (Challenging these stereotypes
is always seen as damaging, especially to men; thus recently
psychiatrists have been very ready to blame 'aggressive'
women's liberationists for sexual impotence in men.)

family amongst others. For example, family law is committed to the maintenance of the heterosexual monogamous family unit as the basic unit within society. It
thus proclaims the normality and necessity of heterosexuality, preserves the subordination of women and
children within the family and helps to ensure that
those outside it shall suffer poverty, loneliness, insecurity,
social ostracisation (not only gay people, but single
parents, the elderly etc). Laws on pornography and
obscenity are used to define and re-define a repressive
sexual morality. Laws limiting access to abortion help
to maintain the 'moral' tie between sex and reproduction
and deny women's rights to control their own fertility
and sexuality.
Of course the law isn't oppressive by itself but because
it serves the economic-political system and as such helps
to keep us, more or less, in our oppressed places. Often we
may not notice how the law is operating against us until we
knock against the boundaries of its assumptions. Lesbian
mothers fighting for the custody of their children discover
that the 'welfare of the child' which is supposed to be the
paramount consideration in deciding custody is defined not
in terms of who will give the child the most love and support
but in terms of where s/he will be provided with the most
'normal' environment.
And yet the idea that lesbians aren't oppressed by the
law (because not defined as criminal) is widely accepted
in the gay movement. This seems to derive in part at least,
from the conservative view of law which reformist gay
organisations have adopted and the simplistic criticisms
which have been made of reformism from the left of the
gay movement. In effect, CHE seems to accept the reactionary 'commonsense' view of law which runs roughly as
follows: The law is a more or less neutral institution in
society which protects the honest and upright majority .
from the criminal and corrupt minority the national 'us'
from muggers and murderers, from bombers and bank
robbers, from shop lifters and sexual maniacs ... Of course
sometimes the law draws the line between the good `us'
and the bad 'them' in the wrong place. For example in the
past it hasn't always been very fair to women or to immigrants especially black people ... And the law still discriminated against homosexual men. But if we could shift
the line between criminal and non-criminal so that homosexual men had parity with heterosexual men then the main
barrier to homosexual equality would be removed.

These ideas about women's sexual vulnerability and

dependency combined with the holy trinity of marriage,
monogamy, maternity as the source of status and fulfilment for women in society have made it difficult for
lesbians to identify themselves with pride either to themselves or to others. Before the re-emergence of the current
women's movement and gay movement lesbians could see
themselves as 'unfeminine' beings trapped in female bodies
(like Radcliffe Hall's noble Stephen Gordon in The Well Of
Loneliness) or as women who couldn't make it through to
full heterosexual feminine 'maturity' or as odd unexplained
exceptions to some feminine rule. Those of us who have
come out within the orbit of the women's and gay movements or who have been able to re-define ourselves with
their support may be able, usually, to assert that and feel
that that has some truth for us. But that degree of male
irrelevance and female autonomy is still a long way from
most women and from most lesbians amongst them even
now. Lesbians are still being oppressed, almost to invisibility, even when they are not directly being attacked by
the law. Nevertheless, lesbians are oppressed by the law.
The examples quoted at the beginning of this article
show some of the direct attacks which the law is making
on lesbians as wives, mothers, workers. In addition the
law oppresses us indirectly continuously and inevitably
because it reflects and protects the relationships of the
existing social order those of a capitalist patriarchal
society. Thus it defends profit, god, the queen and the
18 Gay Left

Thus oppressive law is seen primarily in terms of the

Sexual Offences Act and thus mainly seems to be relevant
to men. Critics of reformism have tended not to challenge
this very clearly. For example Don Milligan making the
valid point that for the gay movement to centre its activity
on law reform mistakenly implies that the law causes gay
oppression, goes on to the amazing statement that 'gay
women are not oppressed by any laws' (Politics of Homosexuality, p 11). Apart from telling us that reform of the
Sexual Offences Act is not enough this criticism does nothing
to illuminate the connection between law and the total
system which oppresses us. CHE's reformism (though it
might reflect the immediate interests of an elite of wealthy
mysogynist male homosexuals) doesn't offer a sensible
strategy even in relation to the law. Because it believes in
the essential 'neutrality' of the law it can't even explain
why new legal issues arise besides the central question of
reform of the sexual offences act support for the
custody claims of homosexual parents, perhaps, or opposition to Mary Whitehouse's use of the Blasphemy Laws
against Gay News.
We need to make more sense of the law than that. Our
understanding of the law must recognise that the law often
oppresses us through the institutions and assumptions
which it defends as well as through the direct attacks which
it makes on our sex and our sexuality. We need to examine
the ways in which the law relates to the economic social
and psychological constraints which confine women to
'their place' and be aware of the way in which that relation-

ship shifts. As the women's movement develops and as it has

questioned and confronted more aspects of the subordination of women to men, the assumption of female dependency, we find that the law is used both to tame and crush
us. The Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act are both
heralded as victories by a government which at the same
time allows rising unemployment, inflation, cuts into social
and educational and health services, all of which add to the
insecurities and burdens of women as paid workers and
As the economic crisis grinds on the pressures against
women's independence - from church and state, in defence
of the family and traditional morality have grown clearer;
the abortion lobby has become more powerful and a second
anti-abortion bill is before parliament. As the women's movement has developed, as some lesbians have been more able to
come out so criticism from judges, psychiatrists and other
representatives of 'public order' have become more articulate. In the present situation the question of how to cam-

Film Review
At last a film we can call our own?
Directed by Derek Jarman
There's an ad on the Tube showing a chicly dressed woman
holding a Virginia Slim cigarette; the caption reads, "We've
come a long way, baby, at last a cigarette we can call our
own." The implicit message is that the women's movement
existed only to gain women the freedom to consume
another set of products; freedom is the power to exercise
choice as a consumer of commodities. As with women so
with gay men: our liberation is seen to consist in the power
to consume our own products. Sebastiane is just such a
commodity, on sale to the gay male public: if we are free
to go to our own films, discos, pubs, etc., what more do we
But it is a measure of our continued exploitation and
oppression that such a bad film as Sebastiane should receive
adulatory reviews from the straight and gay press and should
be a huge box office success at the Gate Cinema, and it is
a measure too of the continuing ineffectiveness of the gay
movement that Jarman's banal analysis of the connections
between sexual repression, mysticism and violence should
be applauded as courageous.
The film opens in Diocletian's court where decadence
abounds in the shape of Lindsay Kemp and assorted
exotically dressed actors, and our first sight of Sebastian
is as he falls from favour for objecting to the death of a
slave (because he has become a Christian). Already two
pervasive faults of the movie are apparent: the Latin
dialogue, translated in subtitles, is intensely distracting and
intensely limiting in that it throws all the weight of
meaning on to the visual images, and those images are far
too weak to take it. Derivative from Fellili and gay porn
they lack authentic sensuality and become high kitsch.
The subsequent tale of Severus' unrequited passion for
Sebastian, and of the latter's masochistic relationship to his
god thus becomes an unfolding of cliche image after cliche
i mage.
Sebastian showers, adored both by Severus and the
camera; two lovers romp in slow motion in a rock pool;
Severus' spleen is expressed by him stabbing an apple or
petulantly smashing up his room, etc. Even the violence
is prettified: Julian's mutilation becomes a parody of the
Pieta, and Sebastian's murder is shot in slow motion with
all the langorous fascination with death that Peckinpah
has shown.
Throughout the film Jarman is hopelessly caught
between trying to evoke a fantasy of stereotypically good-

paign on legal issues in the context of challenging our oppression as women and as lesbians is a crucial one. The
more individual we get as feminists in campaigns such
as those on abortion, rape, lesbians' rights to custody,
battered women, equal pay, nurseries and many others, the
more sensitive we have to become to the need to combine
i mmediate help with long term aims, pressure for legal and
administrative reform with the development of our own
understanding and strength; we have to resist the pressures
to play down less 'popular' causes (such as abortion, lesbian
rights) in order to establish greater influence, and still trying to move outwards to reach more women. It all seems
i mmensely complicated. But for women, and above all for
lesbians, there isn't a simple path, there isn't a reformist
option, in the struggle for our liberation. But that in itself
won't protect us from the traps of reformism.
Reprinted with permission from Outcome.
Outcome is produced by Lancaster University GaySoc on
behalf of the Northwest Gay Liberation Campaign of
looking men in exotic surrounds to titilate his audience,
and the attempting to give some intellectual body to his
meditation on sex and violence. He succeeds in doing
neither. We can neither wank successfully nor are we
provoked by his disarmingly trite conclusion that sexual
repression leads to violence. Yes, but how does repression
lead to violence? Without an examination of the mediations
of sexuality and power, without a sense of the reality of
the characters Jarman focuses on, we cannot make the
connection meaningful. Sebastian is a self-indulgent ascetic,
Severus a raging inferno of dammed passion, Max a sadistic
clown, Julian a sycophantic sidekick, all are two dimensional and ripped from context. Why Sebastian should become
a masochistic ascetic in search of mystical union, whilst
Julian, also a Christian, is a boring yes-man is unclear. Why
Antony and Adrian get it on, and what the implications
of their sexual relation are, all that is left unexplored.
The film purports to tackle avowedly difficult themes,
and does nothing of the sort; its maxim is that "to fuck is
good, and not to fuck makes you fucked up" but surely
more needs to be said than this vulgar Reichian homily.
The film is thus dishonest, and in so far as Jarman has not
reflected on the scarcity of movies that deal with gayness
and the whole problematic of sexual oppression and
liberation, other than to make a fast buck out of that
scarcity, he has made a reactionary movie contributing to
the absorption of the sexual liberation movement into
capitalism, contributing indeed to the continuing repressive
desublimation of sexuality under capitalism.
There is still a need for films that explore the area that
Jarman so resolutely skates round, as indeed there is still
a need for films that deal explicitly with the situation now
of gay men and women. Possibly the very success of
Sebastiane might make it easier for gay film-makers to
produce those films. My fear is that Sebastiane will serve as
a model for a whole train of gay exploitation movies that
will do nothing for the cause of sexual liberation. If that
were to be the case then Jarman would bear a great deal
of the responsibility.

Phil Derbyshire

19 Gay Left

Movement In Straight Circles

by Patrick Hughes and Teresa Savage

The Darwinian revolution in biology proposed to place

' man' firmly in a material reality. But the ways in which
Darwinism was perceived were mediated by the dominant
bourgeois ideology, so that 'science' came in to legitimate
the socially created differences between men and women,
and gave them an apparently biological justification. As a
result homosexuals were excluded as aberrant, 'unnatural'
Patrick Hughes and Teresa Savage explore the implications
of this for the gay person and an outline of an alternative
gender-free form of relating is proposed.
Definitions of "Man"
With the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, Man
was placed firmly in the realms of biology, and man-as-aspecies, defined through anatomical and physiological
characteristics, replaced man-as-an-abstract-notion, a
concept easily divorced from material reality. We are
interested in the Darwinian concept of man-as-a-species
because it is used to provide the 'scientific' basis on which
to impose a model of 'normal' sexuality and, furthermore,
to ascribe the status of 'normal' to heterosexuality. However, as a basis of sexual ideology, and as a way of
understanding the relationship between man and the rest
of the world, the concept of man-as-a-species has only
limited value, as does the whole science of taxonomy from
which it is derived. This is because the crux of the idea of
evolution is the notion of an ever-changing world, and yet
taxonomy, because of the limitations of its conceptual
base, can only try to freeze that process of change, take a
slice out of it and say "Here is the world." Further,
taxonomy deals only in majorities and thus, by its existence,
militates against the recognition of any new species "Since these aberrations are a minority, they are exceptions
to the still-standing rule."
Thus the existing notion of the species is retained, and
exceptions are defined as such through their being
negations of one or more of the definitive characteristics of
that species. This practice of transforming biological
phenomena into god-given laws, of labelling transient
characteristics as self-evident truths, is used in a social
sense too, in re-affirming 'natural' behaviour, 'normal'
development, etc. In this way, by divorcing even the
concept of man-as-a-species from the material world in
which that species is continuing to develop, one is, in fact,
still using an abstract notion of man as an unchanging
species characterised, finally, by some definitive 'nature' or
'essence'. In this way, real definite changes can be depicted
as almost irrelevant to the unchanging nature of humanity,
and all human progress is reduced to nought.
Hence, when we see man-as-a-species discussed, it is, in
fact, man-as-we-know-him that is meant, that is, contemporary man hence the use of a plethora of sub-species which
are used to separate contemporary man from our evolutionary ancestors. However, contemporary man is not just a
title relating to a particular archaeological epoch - it is
more urgent than that, because the way man is described is
a reflection of the way his nature is seen in different types
of society, since there are other criteria circumscribing
' man' (e.g. creativity, idealism) besides the biological ones.
These criteria vary as ideologies vary over time, since
ideologies mediate the human experience of itself in the
In Christian countries, it has always been thought that at
least part of that human nature consists of "free will" the
idea that each individual's actions are performed free of
any compulsion, and it is on this basis that Christianity has
held individuals to be accountable to God for their actions.
Freud, however, opposed this particular morality with the
notion of the unconscious, a dark and mysterious force
turning people's motives into echoes of their history and
20 Gay Left

depicting their actions as reflections of their world. No

longer was it possible to blithely talk of 'human nature'
without relating it to the material world, and thus we
moved away from a static conception of man, running like
a vein through history, and moved towards a recognition
that there is a continuing relationship between men and
their world. This relationship is expressed in the fact that
man's first historical act was the production of material
life (food, drink, clothing, habitation, etc.), and human
consciousness in this situation was merely of the immediate
sensual environment, i.e. only limited connections exist
with other persons and things.
It is the satisfaction of these first historical needs, an
action leading to the emergence of new needs, which
(together with increased population and productivity)
brought about the development of consciousness from its
sensuous state. This led Marx to propose in his German

Ideology that man is, in fact, the sum of the productive

forces, capital funds and social forms of intercourse, and
since the multitude of productive forces available determines the nature of society, the history of humanity must
always be seen in relation to the history of industry and
exchange or, as Sartre put it, "... man is the product of
his product". 1 He also says that "Man's essence is his
existence" 2 - in other words, man's categorical quality
is his ability to manipulate and modify his world: we are
what we do, and our actions are expressions of ourselves.
Ideology and Sexuality
Before examining the way a particular ideology (that of the
bourgeoisie) mediates one part of our experience of ourselves - our sexuality - and presents it as being within
species-prescriptive limits, let us look at the general issue
of the way different ideologies hold sway at different times,
and thus how the different interpretations of man-as-aspecies come and go. Marx suggested that ideology has its
roots in the division of labour, in that once a division into
physical and mental labour occurs, then human consciousness can be thought of as something other than consciousness of existing practice - ideas of 'pure' or 'abstract'
thought arise, e.g. 'pure' philosophy, 'pure' mathematics,
etc. Once this separation between thought and action has
been made, it is possible to talk of different ideas holding
sway at different times without relating those ideas to the
material conditions of those times.
Marx describes ideology being dragged in the wake of .
the ruling classes: "The ruling ideas are nothing more than
the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships,
the dominant material relationships expressed as ideas;
hence of the ideas which make one class the ruling one,
therefore the ideas of its dominance." 3 Those dominant
ideas imply different self-constructs, and thus different
interpretations of human nature. To take Marx's examples:
`honour', 'loyalty' etc. which were dominant in the rule of
the aristocracy, speak of a society in which the self is seen
in terms of others, i.e. one's sense of self is derived from
the types of relationships that one has with one's contemporaries, rather than being derived from reflection, introspection, etc. In the society ruled by an aristocracy, one
finds only a limited degree of social and geographical
mobility, i.e. individuals were described (and thus 'man' in
general was defined) through social categories, rather than
through individual personality, and through the values
associated with those categories - people were described
according to their class, race, family, etc., and were valued
according to the values associated with their feudal society
- honour, loyalty, etc.
The growth of private capital heralded the eventual rule
of the bourgeoisie, with their ruling, ideology of 'freedom'
and 'equality' etc. - ideas which had to be more general
than those of the aristocracy, in order that they should be
able to subsume the hitherto ruling ideas in the interests of
the new ruling class. Freedom and equality speak of a
society in which people's lives are lived in a situation other
than the suffocating conditions of home-bound feudalism;
a society with greater social and geographical mobility,
enabling individuals to be characterised in terms other than
those which spoke of their position and heritage in a static
community - in terms, thus, of themselves, rather than
their context. A corollary of this individual-orientated
ideology was a morality in which 'others' were less significant than previously, and in which each person was
responsible primarily to themselves for their actions
(although still strictly within the Christian tradition, of
course). Thus the proletariat, as it emerged, was a class
characterised not only by its lack of property but also by
the new way in which its members were conceptualised -as individuals.
It is against this explicitly class-based background that
the ideologies leading to the various interpretations of
'human nature' must be seen, whether in the form of the
abstract 'Man', or in the scientific form of 'Man-as-a-species '.

Rooted in this scientific context, heterosexuality assumes

the status of an inviolable biological law rather than simply
the norm of a particular society, with the result that
deviation from it is seen as a betrayal of the genes of manas-a-species, as 'unnatural'. Accordingly, anyone who is
not heterosexual is to that extent looked upon as inhuman.
This is a real example of the way our concept of 'man' is
a reflection of a particular ideology, in that a particular
sexual orientation is described as unnatural whereas another,
e.g. celibacy, is not; an example whose tangibility is the
day-to-day experience of being homosexual in a heterosexual world.
The conclusion we draw from this is that the concept of
such a genetic aberration is only as strong as the dominant
(bourgeois) ideology, since the idea of such an aberration
is dependent on that ideology which denies that man is
continuing to develop, and wishes to freeze man's development at a point which serves its interests. Thus acceptance
or rejection of certain phenomena as 'unnatural' can be
seen as a power struggle - the power of bourgeois ideology
to control the way people perceive and interpret their
world, as opposed to the power of an emerging proletarian
ideology with which to combat that control.
That abstract-sounding 'Darwinian model' presents itself
to us in a very practical way, through such statements as
"I relate differently to men than I do to women." That
statement shows how we place our social relations within a
biological framework, and let biological characteristics be
the determinants of those relations. This is not to deny
that the way we see both women and men is the result of
them being presented to us in terns of certain stereotypes;
to do so would be to deny that sexism exists at all, in any
form. All we are saying is that biological differences,
although mediated by societal and ideological definitions,
are allowed to become the basis of social relations, whereby
men and women are treated differently regardless of what
they are socially. In this way, although sex differences may
be biological facts, their expression is something which
varies with societal expectations. If one is relating to people
on this biological basis, then the notion of choosing the
gender with which one relates sexually is implicit and so the
implication of unisexuality (homosexual or heterosexual) is
We can see how Darwinism, founded on the idea that
species adapt themselves to their environment, can only be
useful in justifying the status quo if it is presented as a
path of development which results in a species which is the
most perfectly adapted to its environment - the crown of
creation. We are suggesting that 'man', far from being such
a climax, is a species capable of continuing its development,
not just in line with biological laws, but also in a dialectical
relation with a social world which man creates.
The alternative to such a biological basis to relationships
is a social basis, in which one endeavours to relate equally
to both genders. In view of our earlier comments about the
social nature of gender definition, we cannot stress that
word 'endeavour' too strongly - to relate in any depth to
members of one's own gender means overcoming, amongst
other things, the massive walls of competition which form
part of bourgeois sexual roles. We cannot completely
remove these walls, nor can we rid ourselves of the genderspecific behaviour which we, and millions before us, have
been taught to believe is inherent - is, in fact, what
constitutes 'us'.
We are, therefore, presented with two competing models
of sexual expression: one that says that people are unisexual
(either homosexual or heterosexual), and one that says that
people are capable of being bisexual, but with the homosexual element repressed in some and the heterosexual
element repressed in others. In the present period of rejection of sexual stereotypes and archetypes, when we are
fighting against the objectification of our relationships by
the petrifying hand of capital, we need alternative models
of relating to each other, towards which we can strive while
21 Gay Left

acknowledging that such ideological alternatives cannot be

attained within an alien ideology; that their complete
attainment needs a corresponding change in ideology.
The relevance of this assertion can be seen in the fact
that although the overt expression of their sexuality by gays
questions the raison d'etre of the nuclear family and
monogamy, and opens the door to alternative ways of
living together, gays rarely take up these alternatives. More
often than not, homosexual relationships slavishly imitate
heterosexual ones, e.g. the classic 'butch-femme' relationship. The 'social' model of relationships implies a situation
where individuals aren't ascribed a permanent sexual status,
i.e. homosexual or heterosexual, but in which these can be
seen as different modes of sexuality, to be expressed by the
individual according to their needs, and which includes, of
course, the possibility of expressing both simultaneously.
Within each mode, we would envisage differences in the
ways in which people relate to each other, according to the
degree of compatibility and according to the needs that
they are satisfying.
The move towards such bisexual pluralism (i.e. the
possibility of relating to as many people, of whatever sex,
as one wishes, at whatever degree of involvement one
desires) from unisexual monogamy poses the same problems
for both homosexuals and heterosexuals: organisational
alternatives to the nuclear family; 'jealousy' and the
commodity basis of sexual relationships; individual isolation
in situations creating insecurity dependence; and the
special problems of oppressed groups, e.g. gays and women.
We believe that the task of the revolutionary in this prerevolutionary period is to provide a political model of
sexuality under capitalism which tackles the sexual ideology which makes bisexual plurality so difficult to attain,
while taking account of the particular oppression of gays,
the repression of straight, and the socio-economic-sexual
oppression of women, and we hope that this article is
providing an approach to that model. Part of the process
of developing such a model is challenging the existing
notions of sexuality, which gays can do every time they
overtly express their own sexuality.

Lonely, frustrated Sexual Politicians

Challenging the gender-specific ideology which underpins
existing notions can, for gays more than straights, have selfdestructive effects, stemming, we believe, from the
isolation of being gay. Firstly, we mean far more than just
the inevitable social isolation, although this is in no way to
underestimate it. Although the range of social situations
explicitly open to gays is increasing, it must be emphasised
that, as things stand, for a gay person to have a 'social' life
takes a positive effort to involve themselves in specific
situations, whereas straights exist and operate in .those same
situations as part of their on-going identification with their
22 Gay Left

society. They do not feel that sense of sexual separation,

although they may feel a reaction against the commercial
exploitation and objectification of their sexuality. Straight
people can only feel that sense of sexual separation in
explicitly gay situations.
The second aspect of gay isolation has to do with one's
sense of being (ontology). Inasmuch as we live in an
explicitly heterosexually-orientated society, our selfconstructs tend towards that type of model, a fact underlying gay sexual guilt. We are not suggesting that heterosexuality is the only basis on which people in a
heterosexually-orientated society can build self-constructs
the sheer existence of self-proclaimed gays belies such an
idea. What we are saying is that the process of constructing
a sense of self is much more difficult if you are gay because
you do not have the continual self-affirming mechanisms
that heterosexual self-constructs do (advertising, child-care
legislation and housing policy are three examples that
spring to mind). So, as part of their socio-sexual isolation,
gays have to develop a sense of ontological security, as
have straights, but they do so without the massive,
continual societal affirmation that heterosexuals have. All
this gives gays a different perception of the world from
straights, and thus adds a cognitive barrier to the social
ones that already exist between us and straights. Finally,
since lesbians are likely to have a heightened awareness of
the likelihood of sexism and power-games forming part of
the social interaction of men (an awareness due precisely
to that altered perception), they are likely to shun social
situations in which they are likely to be caught up in such
Thus, not only do gays face the apparently universal
problem of finding compatible partners with which to
develop loving relationships, but also, having done so, it is
likely that those sexual relationships will be exclusive ones,
because of their heightened need for reciprocity, such as
can only be obtained in relationships with people who share
one's perception of the world. The need for reciprocity
exists in all of us, but is heightened in gays because we
cannot become involved as easily in the multitude of
partially-reciprocal , relationships which straights can. The
result is an 'artificial' separation in the people we meet into
'other gays' and 'the rest', in that what we all desire, surely,
is a situation in which we feel free to relate, at whatever
level we desire, to whoever we wish. The fact that we are
unable to do so at present is due to societal attitudes to
sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, as
part of the gender-specific ideology. Those attitudes don't,
of course, stop us from having that freedom to relate to
each other, but they make deviation from the norm, such
as a plurality of lovers, even more difficult for gays to
achieve than straights.
Within our loving relationships with other gays, there is
likely to be not only the affection, trust, love, etc. that
one would expect in any loving relationship, but also the
sort of solidarity that can only exist between members of
an oppressed group a solidarity heightened in lesbians,
since both our sexuality and our gender oppress us. Thus
relationships with other gays are intrinsically self-affirming,
as are all relationships with 'significant others', and they are
also buttresses against the external pressures we have
mentioned. This, we would suggest, is likely to be a very
effective counter-balance to the difficulties of maintaining
a loving gay relationship in a straight world, where to be
gay is to be anything from 'different' to 'abnormal'. Any
break-up in such a relationship, therefore, is more likely to
be because of 'internal' factors, e.g. the basis on which the
relationship is initiated; differing personal development;
changing interests; and, of course, monogamy.
Monogamy can be seen either as a desire to get totally
involved with one person (and thus a disinterest in others),
or as a desire to stop that one other person from getting
involved with anyone else. Obviously, the two motives are
related; the point is, which one has primacy in a particular
situation? Whatever its motive, monogamy as an expression

of a need for an exclusive sexual relationship introduces

another artificial separation in the people we meet, this
time between one's exclusive partner and 'the rest'. Once
again, we describe this separation as artificial because it
stops us and our partner from relating to whoever we
choose in whatever way we choose, and because we believe
that it is based on societal attitudes to sexuality in general
and its place within the nuclear family in particular. Also,
it is thought 'unusual' to relate closely to more than one
person simultaneously one has a best friend at a time; a
sexual partner at a time, but no more! All this doesn't stop
us from constructing non-monogamous situations, but it
does raise questions about them how realistic is it to
expect them to work in a monogamy-based society; and is
it at all realistic to expect an established relationship (even
though non-monogamous) to be able to offer sufficient
security and trust to an incoming member for them to
make the considerable investment in emotional energy
which is necessary to enable them to enter and broaden
that original relationship.
Having examined our relationships with other gays, let
us look at our relationships with 'the rest', i.e. heterosexuals
and bisexuals. We doubt whether there can, in capitalist
society at this stage, be that sense of shared perception we
mentioned earlier as a pre-requisite for closeness, in

Book Reviews
by Jack Babuscio

(SPCK, 1976 2.95)

'We Speak For Ourselves' is the first British book published

in this country about homosexuals by a gay man who has
been involved in the gay movement. Jack Babuscio has
chronicled the methods and the language which essentially
arise out of the tradition of the women's and gay movements. This tradition has asserted the need to talk openly
about the 'personal' in order that we may struggle to be
`open', 'honest' and 'self-accepting' about our gayness.
The major intention of this book is to enable nongay counsellors of gay women and men to come to an
understanding of 'what it means to be gay'. Jack Babuscio
has drawn together many gay people's experiences from his
work as a counsellor (he was at one time an organiser of
Friend) and, in so doing, he outlines the complex maze
which confronts any counsellor/befriender working with
gay women and men who come to talk about their fears,
rejection, isolation and misery.
Transcriptions of tape recordings form the largest part
of the book and have the positive effect of bringing to life,
in a moving way, terms which we usually associate with
conventional psychiatry and religion. This process enables
us to identify the 'problems' through gay people's experiences, rather than identifying gay women and men
through the 'problems'.
For gay liberationists and Marxists, however, this book
presents several dilemmas. It explores ways in which individuals may help gay women and men to overcome their
isolation and oppression something we all support.
However, Jack Babuscio says, 'Each individual represented
in these pages speaks for him or herself alone.' But it is
precisely through this individualising process that psychiatry, religion and the state have been able to isolate us in
our personal struggles for a social and sexual identity. We
need to look for common ground upon which to explore
this identity as one of the commentators in the book
says, 'In coming together with other gays who are also trying to raise their level of consciousness ... I feel I've come
much, much closer to understanding myself and others.'
In other words, the struggle against sexual oppression will

relations between gays and straights, and so the cognitive

barrier is. a barrier to close relationships too. This is also
the case with bisexuals; further, when a gay is in a loving
relationship with a bisexual, this is especially anxietyproducing, because the straight relationship(s) that the
bisexual may have will need less effort and commitment to
maintain, because they are acceptable and 'normal'. This
means that there is always a chance of a bisexual renouncing their gay lover(s) as needing too much time and
trouble, when similar rewards are to be had for less from
a straight person. There is also the possibility, of course,
that one's bisexual partner is affecting bisexuality either
to keep the option of 'normality' open while they flirt
with their homosexual propensities, or simply because it's
hip to say you're bisexual these days.
All these factors feed back to, and increase, that sense
of homosexual isolation which we introduced so long ago.
Will the circle stay unbroken . . . ?
1 Sartre, J-P. Search for a Method. Tr. Barnes. Random House.
New York. 1963. p92.

2 ibid.
3 Marx, K. The German Ideology. Lawrence & Wishart. 1965. p60.

necessitate us submerging some of our individualism and

recognising that it is only through collective action that
that we will eventually be able to explore our individual
Jack Babuscio also tends to argue that gay women and
men will have their lives validated solely by changes in nongay people's attitudes: 'Tolerance must be replaced by both
understanding and, most of all, by acceptance of homosexuality as a valid lifestyle. Until such times as attitudes
are substantively changed, however, gay people will continue to regard passing [as straight] as an attractive alternative to being open and self-accepting. And such a
decision . . . can only be accompanied by the most
unhappy consequences.'
What is missing in this statement is the anger, the
energy and pride which was generated through gay liberation and which shouted out 'We won't wait for heterosexuals to validate our lives, we'll do it for ourselves.' Jack
Babuscio, therefore, omits what can be gained from struggle
generated out of anger and oppression.
The final problem posed for Marxists is that attempting
to change people's consciousness without changing the
material base which shapes that consciousness will inevitably lead to a situation where we as gay women and men
have to validate our lives within the framework of bourgeois norms and values. As long as that framework continues to exist, the social relations between women and
men, gay and non-gay will always be unequal and will
therefore lead to the vast majority of us feeling oppressed
and exploited.
None of the problems which the book raises does Babuscio answer or even suggest that they exist. However, as a book
about personal discovery and self-acceptance, it is warm
and moving. Its case histories show the ways in which all
of us can begin to explore collectively areas of our lives
which were once considered only 'private and personal'.
Through this process we can begin to understand the importance of the personal-political and the role sexual
politics has to play in any revolutionary struggle.

Nigel Young

23 Gay Left

The Experience of Consciousness Raising
By Sue Bruley
Sue Bruley's pamphlet is a very interesting combination of
the 'personal' and 'political'. It is written as a personal
account of a woman's development out of the 'dogmatic'
politics of IS through the experience of a consciousnessraising group. The political issues raised by this experience
are arousing a great deal of interest not only in the women's
and gay movement, but throughout the left.
Sue Bruley's statement against "a dogmatic Leninist
position" should not, I think, be read as a rejection of
Leninism, of a democratic centralist form of organisation.
Many feminists who are committed to Leninism both
inside and outside left groups are also committed to
revolutionising our concept of what 'Leninism' has to
become to meet the new needs, experience and political
developments of the present period. The "basic inability of
the left to take sexism seriously" is a dangerous obstacle
to the whole movement, because it restricts our ability to
understand bourgeois ideology and to speak to the day-today experience of the oppressed. Consciousness-raising
itself provides an important model of politicisation of the
' personal' which none of the left can afford to ignore.
One of the most interesting issues raised by the group
described in this pamphlet is the following division: "The
group was basically split in its attitude towards men. On
one side their entire lives were directed by their involvement with men, on the other side, relationships with men
were not fundamental, had to be treated with great
suspicion, and were always of less importance than relationships with other women." This split is defined at an early
stage in the group's development, and seems to me to be
more than a question of sexual orientation. "Those in the
group who were gay thought that the basis for a distinction
between gay and straight women on the grounds of sexual
preference was wrong and that any woman who wanted to
relate to "other women in a serious way should be proud to
call herself a Lesbian." For women, the gay/straight
distinction is not definable in male terms. Many gay men
have made the mistake of thinking that it is. Female
sexuality has been so suppressed, repressed, abused and
denied for so long that the expression and liberation of our
sexuality is a more fundamental issue than 'gay or straight'.
Some of the group didn't think they had ever had an
orgasm. "Heterosexual sex is prick-centred and rarely takes
female needs into consideration . .." Few of us have found
it possible to regain control over our sexuality in relation
to men, for the simple reason that we are oppressed and
our sexuality-for-men is necessarily corrupted and distorted.
Is there a revolutionary feminist way of being heterosexual?
The discussion on 'love' and 'couples' is also interesting.
"This designation of some relationships as 'special'
necessarily subordinates all other relationships and therefore reinforces women's isolation and dependence (psychological as well as economic) on men." This problem of
exclusivity, whether in gay or 'straight' couples, is rooted
in the bourgeois institution of monogamy, which still
defines our practice in sexual relationships. Sex is a
commodity, and is split: either the 'real thing' or 'not' the
'real thing'. The double standard still imposes itself on all
kinds of relationships. Sue took the view "that the
women's movement would always be seriously handicapped
whilst women remained in couple relationships with men,
and therefore, one of the tasks of women's liberation must
be to make women both believe and feel that they can be
complete outside of a couple relationship". If we take this
statement as a practical proposal about what goes on in
left groups, for example, we get an idea of the extent of
the struggle this would involve, and its necessity. Women
cannot develop politically if they either remain psychologically dependent on men, or feel pressured into holding
up their development by forming the kind of relationships
they need not have chosen. The potential of gay relation24 Gay Left

ships is that, although many fall into the same trap, they
necessarily challenge conventional forms.
"CR can act as a bridge between the personal and the
political." The nature of women's politicisation is allimportant. Women who have not experienced "what sisterhood is all about ... putting women first" will learn the
type of 'political consciousness' which becomes a selfoppressive commitment to fighting others' oppression and
forgetting our own; a barrier not only to feminist awareness
but to the emergence of conscious, thinking, critical and
independent revolutionaries.

Celia Holt
Edited and Introduced by Juliet Mitchell and Ann

(Penguin 1.25)

This is a collection of twelve essays on topics ranging over

history, sociology and literature. The emergence of the
women's movement has resulted in feminists re-assessing
the ways in which women have been perceived if at all
in these areas of study in particular, challenging the
material and ideological basis on which male supremacy
is built. As the editors state, there is no overall political
perspective uniting the essays, rather they are a reflection
of the diverse ways in which women's lives and consciousness have been moulded and an attempt to reveal their
existence where history has ignored them. The essays
largely take the form of traditional academic studies in
which aspects of our social structure and the process of
male control are investigated. In the first, Oakley gives an
account of how the care and treatment of women during
childbirth was taken out of the hands of women themselves
and became controlled by the professional medical
establishment of men. Another gives a description of the
changing attitudes towards the education of girls which
now professes the aim of equality of opportunity with
boys, but this masks the sexism inherent in the educational
system and its role in the wider society.
Rosalind Delmar's essay is an examination of some of
the central points in Engels' analysis of the family; the
emergence of men's economic power, the transition from
mother-right and the institution of paternity and
monogamy. She then considers Engels' proposition that the
overturning of this oppression rests on women regaining
economic independence through entry into socialised
production and examines briefly the experience in China
since the revolution where this theory has been partially
realised. There have been enormous advances and changes
in women's role and a transformation of the family but the
limitations that exist are not just a result of China's backwardness but are due to the deficiencies of traditional
socialist analysis. This has now been extended by the
feminist movement in their critique of the sexual division
of labour and the monogamous family based on sex-love,
which, under both western capitalism and the 'socialist
states', are evidently central to the oppression of women's
and gay sexuality.
The intricate nature of sexism in our society affects
every aspect of our lives and becomes part of our individual
psychology. In the most interesting essay, Margaret Walters
illustrates this in the dilemmas encountered by three
women writers Wollstonecraft, Martineau and de Beauvoir
in their struggles as women with a feminist consciousness.
Their rejection of the traditional feminine role met with
wide criticism. The freedom they strove for was confounded
by the limitations of individual action in developing a
consciousness independent of the feminine stereotype without merely taking on a masculine identity to achieve a
supposed equality. It is only with the growth of the
women's movement that the roles of both femininity and
masculinity can be challenged and the rejection of the
confining stereotype of one does not mean the wholesale
subjugation to and restrictions of the other.

Although most of the essays are very interesting, few

cover ground that is new to people with a knowledge of the
feminist movement and there is little which touches on the
immediate problems which confront the movement at this
point. However, the tasks of rewriting history and interpreting the social world from a feminist perspective is a
valuable one.
An important point made by the editors is their shared
criticism of some aspects of the present women's movement,
in particular the concept of 'sisterhood'. Though useful as a
starting point in building a common awareness of oppression and showing the personal as political, they now feel
that it is blinding women to the absence of any real unity.
The same problem confronts the gay movement. As a quote
from Body Politic said recently, "For gay lib to pretend
that class loyalties within the gay community are not
stronger than gay brotherhood is fatuous and irresponsible."
Unity cannot be made by merely wishing it, it must be
based on the movement's analysis and actual struggle.

Keith Birch

Ideologues of Sex
by Paul A Robinson

(Paul Elek, London. 1976. 4.95)

There are many theoretical and practical problems in

writing historical studies of sex. There's the problem of
sources; the problem of interpretation; the problem of
what people understand by 'sex' at any particular time. As
a result historical studies often veer dangerously between
vulgar empiricism, where we are given 'facts' unadulterated
by interpretation; and a cosmic theorisation. what Ken
Plummer has called "metatheoretical excursions" where
facts are given short shrift. Most sexual historians take a
cautious way out: they look at the ideas on sexuality that
were generated at any particular time, and generalise backwards, seeing ideas as a direct reflection of behaviour. Thus
Victorian sexual ideology is seen as a mirror of Victorian
behaviour rather than what it almost certainly was, a
dialectical and contradictory response, partly reflection,
partly moral injunction, partly false consciousness. Paul
Robinson in this book takes another path: he treats the
work and writings of his 'modernisers', Havelock Ellis,
Alfred Kinsey and William Masters and Virginia Johnson,
as episodes in the history of ideas:
"It is the fundamental assumption of this book that
sexual thought is now an integral component of our
intellectual history, and accordingly that the most
i mportant modern sexual theorists deserve as much
attention from intellectual historians as the great
philosophers, theologists and social thinkers of the age."
This is a useful approach and the strength of the book
stems from it. The three major sections of the book clearly
examine the modes of thought, the central concepts of
each thinker (or in the case of Masters and Johnson, partnership), and examines them within their own terms to draw
out the strengths and weaknesses, the unifying consistencies
and the major inconsistencies. Robinson uses the traditional
methods of intellectual history and in doing so is able to
reveal the sinews of each work under review.
The weakness of the approach is the complement of the
strength. For in exploring them in their own terms Robinson loses a vital dimension by failing to locate them within
the structures and feelings of their time. This is particularly
true of Havelock Ellis, whose sexual writings from the
1890s to the 1930s are stretched dangerously between the
poles of revolt and conservatism. His writings on women
especially can only be understood by reference to the major
ideological offensive in the early part of the century which
stressed the role of motherhood and woman's traditional
sphere. He wrote with approval, "woman breeds and tends;
man provides, it remains so even when the spheres tend to

overlap". Ellis was a socialist, but he was also an enthusiastic eugenecist, who believed that in motherhood, the woman
"lifted above the level of ordinary humanity to become
the casket of an inestimable jewel".
Ellis' career is very instructive on the evolution of British
socialism, and the limitations of sexual liberalism, but this
can only be brought out by locating him in a specific social
and cultural milieu. Robinson argues that Ellis, Kinsey and
Masters and Johnson have contributed to a recognisably
modern way of looking at sex, as in many ways they have.
But the crucial question of why their ideas and influence
should have taken root is left unexplored.
Robinson formally links them by his use of the term
' modernisation'. Their contribution is assessed against the
yardstick of a postulated modernising enterprise, whose
central characteristics are revolt against 'Victorianism' a
new 'enthusiasm' for sex; a willingness to broaden the
definition of sexuality, and to explore 'deviant' sex; a
greater stress on female sexuality; and a questioning of the
traditional institutional framework for sexuality, marriage
and the family. But the notion of 'modernisation' has
unfortunate connotations; it implies a process (with strong
analogies to economic modernisation) whereby attitudes
have moved from a state of primitive ignorance to shining
freshness. Robinson is himself well aware of the limitations
of the concept he employs, but the form of the essays
prevent him from theorising these. I think a more useful
concept would be that of 'liberalisation', a political not
a technological process, which implies a loosening of the
bonds rather than a climb from darkness into light. But
the fact is that the essays are only loosely bound together
by the concept; they are basically selfcontained examinations of three different moments in the development of
sexual liberalism.
Not surprisingly the differing concerns of the four
people reflect this. Ellis was anxious to establish that
certain categories existed in a culture which only vaguely
accepted them (e.g. 'female sexuality', 'homosexuality',
etc.). In a sense he did not so much challenge 'Victorianism'
as create it as a coherent coconut shy to attack. His work
gained clarity as it attacked a well-lit enemy. Kinsey was
concerned with documenting sexual behaviour; his early
career as a student of insects was reflected in his later
endeavour as a chronicler of sexual behaviour. By massively
detailed questionnaires distributed to thousands of men
and women he hoped to build up a consensus of how
people actually behaved sexually in bed (and out of it). His
detractors, not surprisingly, felt he was revealing a can of
worms. But his determined materialism and naturalism,
and his concentration on behaviour as it was, helped undermine the pieties of received ideologies. By the 1960s
Masters and Johnson could safely assume the merits of
sexuality; they sought to make it function better by
developing techniques of sexual therapy. But implicit in
their determined efforts to help couples to fuck better is
an implied theory: that sex far from being a massively
threatening force can be the essential glue in keeping a
marriage intact.
The interesting element that Robinson's work reveals
is the severe limitations on the radicalism of each of the
people he studies. Ellis was trapped within gender role
assumptions as clearly as any of the Victorians he attacked.
Nor could Kinsey, despite his documentation of the widespread incidence of homosexual behaviour, quite escape
defending the superiority of heterosexuality and the
'natural' basis of male and female differences. And Masters
and Johnson, with their clinical encouragement of sex
technique learning, only treated couples (and usually rich
middle class couples at that) and ended up themselves
marrying one another. Far from challenging marriage or
the family their work explicitly elevated their significance.
Despite this, these three moments in sexual liberalisation
have had important effects on the development of contemporary attitudes to homosexuality. Ellis was a prime
25 Gay Left

mover in the conceptualisation of homosexuality-as a

'condition', a characteristic of certain types of individuals,
the 'invert' or 'homosexual', which dominated reformist
discussions up to the 1960s. Kinsey's methodology has
dominated most progressive thought on homosexuality
over the past decade; its documentation of the widespread
incidence of homosexuality, the emphasis on sexual
response rather than identity, and the use of analogies
from animal behaviour; all have had a real liberating effect
on the discussion of homosexuality. Their limitation is the
traditional one of most behaviourist tendencies: the failure
to explore the historical determinants of social behaviour
and consciousness.
Masters and Johnson have so far had less direct influence
on discussion of homosexuality (though a large scale
study is due to appear from them soon). But in their
examination of female sexuality, and in particular their
recognition of the central importance of the clitoral
orgasm. aspects of their work have been integrated into
feminist and lesbian debate.
The weakness of all these ideologies, however, is the
weakness also of Robinson's book: the failure to recognise
that not only are sexual attitudes received and learned,
they are also transformed by conscious political activity.
Robinson talks a little about the 'feminism' of Masters and
Johnson without any awareness of its limitations in their
work. And there is only a passing reference to the significance of the gay liberation movement. Yet whatever their
limitations as political movements there can be little doubt
that both the women's and the gay movements represent
the possibility of a conscious transformation not only of
sexual behaviour but also of sexual theory. That would
be a real 'modernisation', one that this book, despite its
many good qualities, does not anticipate.

Jeffrey Weeks

An essay on 'Havelock Ellis and the Politics of Sexual Reform' forms

part 2 of Sheila Rowbotham and Jeffrey Weeks' Socialism and The
New Life (Pluto Press, June 1977). Part 1 is an essay on 'Edward
Carpenter, Prophet of The New Life'.


A Closer Look at Sex Roles by Carol Adams and
Rae Laurikietis
Book 1: Education & Work; Book 2: Sex &
Marriage; Book 3: Messages & Images.

(Virago. 1976. 1.25 each)

These three books between them provide very clear, simple

but thorough coverage of the way gender roles permeate
different facets of our lives. Each book is split into two
units, and each unit into between six and nine sections
illustrating one particular aspect of the theme of the unit.
Thus the first unit in Book 1, 'The Best Years of Your Life',
includes sections on teachers, reading, choice of career and
toys. The books are very concisely written, with many
written and visual examples to illuminate the text. There
are questions posed and topics for further discussion raised
both within and at the end of most sections. It is in this
respect alone that one becomes aware that the books are
intended, to a large extent, for use in schools and colleges.
The books deal in a matter of fact way with traditionally
difficult topics for educational material such as homosexuality, pornography, abortion and rape. These and many
other topics are integrated into a work which shows that
gender role stereotypes pervade all aspects of our lives,
sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly. Many facts are
presented and few readers will find the books simplistic if
only because of the wealth of material that is presented,
enabling everyone to find at least some of the information
or examples new and refreshing.

Derek J. Cohen

26 Gay Left


How Girls Learn To Be Women
by Sue Sharpe

(Penguin 95p)

This is a book which could never have been written without

the Women's Movement. It is also an excellent informative
introduction to their ideas. Sue Sharpe begins by outlining
the historical changes which have affected women over the
past hundred years, particularly access to education and
absorption into the labour force. She goes on to look at the
processes of socialisation whereby parents, school, the
media and the rest of the world try to ensure that girls
become feminine.
The most interesting sections of the book are on the
realities that face girls at school, at work and at home. A
favourite bourgeois cliche is that women are equal nowadays thanks to legislation like the Equal Pay Act, the Sex
Discrimination Act and the Employment Protection Act.
The argument says that if they can't achieve equality now
then it must be their own fault. Sharpe exposes the fallacious nature of this argument by showing how girls are
trapped by the 'hidden curriculum' at school which pushes
them into traditional 'feminine' subjects and keeps them
away from scientific and technical ones; how careers advice
is biased towards lowering expectations so that a girl who
wants to be a doctor is recommended to do radiology; and
how most of the expectations of women are still curtailed
by the problems of what to do with their children. Saddest
of all is the fact that there is less resistance than one might
expect from the girls themselves because of the way they
have been socialised into having fewer and lower expectations of self-development.
The whole book, including an interesting section on
black girls in Britain, does not leave one with feelings of
joy or optimism. What is clear is that all the legislation in
the world will not fundamentally alter women's position
without a transformation of the material forces in society
and consequent transformation of attitudes by us all.

Bob Cant

by Victoria Greenwood and Jock Young

(Pluto Press 1976)

Abortion law reform in the 1960s was, like the reform of

the law relating to male homosexuality in England and
Wales, a product of a particular type of sexual liberalism. It
stressed not sexual freedom, or the right to choose one's
sexuality, but the need to remove certain glaring abuses. As
the authors of this book clearly underline, the aim in
abortion law reform was to help people who were seen as
marginal or inadequate. There was no emphasis at all on a
woman's right to control her own fertility. Similarly homosexual law reform was based on the assumption that homosexuality was an unfortunate condition, better controlled
by being conditionally approved. And yet both Acts had
unintended consequences. The opportunity was taken by
women and by gay men to use the Acts to extend their
freedom to choose. It was as a reaction against these unintended results that many of the liberal supporters of
abortion law reform in the 1960s now stand in the forefront of the parliamentary attempt (backed by reactionary
support nationally) to restrict abortion. Few voices have
yet been heard to say that homosexual reform went too
far (though the Festival of Light have suggested the age of
consent should be raised to 24) but we should draw the
consequences of the retreat on abortion. The struggle
for extending a woman's right to choose is part and
parcel of our struggle for sexual autonomy. This useful
and well argued book begins to show us why.

Jeffrey Weeks

The victory of Frelimo against the Portuguese in
Mozambique was welcomed by socialists all over the world.
To those of us who had supported the solidarity movements
such a victory had often seemed impossible and when it did
happen it was like a miracle. But it was no miracle it was
a victory based on over ten years' hard struggle and organisation. During the war of liberation, women and men had
played an equal part in the struggle to end Portuguese domination. But when the military struggle came to an end the
role of women was no longer so clear. Were they to go back
to their old roles? Was their revolutionary role to be the preparation of meals for male comrades? Were they to play an
equal and essential part with men in the creation of a new
society? Mozambican women were concerned about these
problems and called a conference in Maputo in November
1976 to discuss them and to plan how to combat them.
A report of the conference has recently been published
in English. Some sections of it deal with the problems
facing women still living a traditional life-style such as
initiation rites, bride price and polygamy. They recognise
that initation is designed to make girls submissive to men
and that education programmes are required to end it. The
relationship between this sexual submission and the general
passivity of women in Mozambican society is perceived, if
only on an elementary level. The problems of bride price
and polygamy, however, are much more rooted in the
poverty of the country. The involvement of women as
equals in the collective production of wealth will, hopefully,
play a great part in the abolition of these evils although
further education and consciousness raising are necessary.
Those who continue to practise these customs will be
denied access to positions of political responsibility.
The conference also recognised the way in which
bourgeois ideology, particularly in the form of liberalism,
affected the lives of many women in the cities. The structure of city life had been such that many women had been
abandoned with young children, had been unable to find
employment, had turned to prostitution, had become
alcoholics and so on. Once again the same kind of solutions
are proposed collective involvement in the process of
production, plus education.
Abortion is regarded as a 'grave social problem' and an
unwanted pregnancy as a sign that the woman has failed
to 'see the true meaning of love and the part played by
sexual relationship in love and life'. This is clearly different
from the attitude of the women's movement in industrialised countries but is hardly surprising in a society with
such a high incidence of infant mortality. Greater
emphasis is to be placed on spreading information about
family planning.
What is particularly impressive is the ideological perspective of the document on love. They believe that many
women are misled by ideas that they have found in 'rosycoloured films and literature such as magazines all spread
'by the colonial-bourgeois system'. They see that the privatisation and distortion of love and sexuality is a political
phenomenon which is not natural but a reflection of a particular society. They argue, therefore, that there must be a
spread of the concept of 'revolutionary and militant love'.
The whole document is fascinating, particularly in the
insight it provides into the attempt of a poor African
country to construct a socialist society. It raises many
important issues about the way sexual/emotional lives
would be changed in revolutionary situations. While they
hold with the traditional Marxist idea that the liberation
of women will come about through their involvement in the
economic process they go further and argue for more education to establish a new ideology of personal relationships.
It should be borne in mind too that these are formal conference decisions and the real practice may differ a great
deal from what was agreed in Maputo. But it is still much
too early to make any meaningful comment.

One important area where serious criticism must be

made, however, relates to the family and the roles within
it. They still see the family as the 'basic social cell'. They
nowhere define family as being either nuclear or extended
but this emphasis on the family of whatever size can only
be reactionary. Since there is no discussion of the allocation of housework or child care it must be assumed that it
will remain the primary responsibility of the woman.
Statements are made calling for the need for men to be
made 'conscious that as fathers they must take equal responsibility for the education of the children'. Little more
than this, however, is said on the role of fathers. In most
other areas of discussion the emphasis is on collective
involvement with women but the collective approach is
nowhere mentioned in relation to family life. And family
life based around a mother and a father is the place where
privatisation and roles are learned and consequently a seedbed for the growth of bourgeois ideology.
Finally, the point must be made that there is no reference of any sort to homosexuality either female or male.
Bearing in mind Mozambique's social formation this is
hardly surprising. Although there was, doubtless, male gay
prostitution in large coastal cities in the colonial period it is
probably the case that few Mozambicans see themselves as
gay in any way that we would understand. Such lack of
gay consciousness may be one of the main reasons for the
silence on the topic. There is, as yet, no reason to see the
silence as similar to the anti-gay hostility so vociferously
expressed by the Cuban regime. It is a situation about which
gay socialists must feel concern but one about which few of
us are qualified to make informed criticism.
None the less, although there may be little or no conscious gay self-identification, sexual activity betweeh
people of the same sex takes place in Mozambique as it
takes place everywhere. And the questions that we should
consider in relation to future debates on Mozambique are
firstly, how do people who take part in homosexual
activity see themselves and that sexual activity?; secondly,
how does Frelimo see these people and their sexual activity?
A full report of this conference is given in People's
Power No 6, obtainable from Mozambique, Angola and

Guine Information Centre (MAGIC), 12 Little Newport

Street, London WC2.

Bob Cant


Edited by Diana Leonard Barker and Sheila Allen

(Tavistock Publications, London. 1976. 3.25)

This is the first of two volumes of papers given at the

British Sociological Association's Conference on Sexual
Divisions and Society, held in April 1974 (the second
volume is published by Longmans). The papers deal, as the
editors put it, with "aspects of social relationships consistently neglected by sociologists and ridiculed or denigrated
by some". The papers are a creative resistance to this
denigration. They vary in quality, inevitably, but cover a
wide range: relationships among women in Morocco; sexual
bias in British community studies; the ideological and social
implications of divorce; the social construction of instincts;
the implications of birth control; the effect of the Chinese
revolution on women; the implications of communal living.
The editors offer a definition of sexism which is coherent
and worth noting: "We suggest that as a sociological
concept it indicates situations where the differences between
men and women are not only emphasised, but consistently
and systematically so, to the detriment of women, i.e. they
are institutionalised. Such differences are frequently, though
not exclusively legitimated by biological assumptions."
Mike Brake explores the implications of such a definition
in his paper, 'I May be a Queer, But at Least I am a Man'.
He demonstrates that not only gender definitions but
sexual meanings are socially constructed. He links together
27 Gay Left

heterosexuality and homosexuality in terms of an overall

male hegemony, so that even in gay relationships heterosexual male patterns are aped. He explores this theme in
terms of typical responses to transvestism and transsexuality,
and concludes with a rather cosmic hope that the radical
gay movement will offer a way out of the male created
i mpasse.
"Involvement in the gay struggle is understanding and
opposing sexism and supporting those who are sexually
oppressed ... the suffering of gay people is the result of
the oppression of prescribed gender with its appropriate
behaviour and psychology. It is not the fault of the
oppressed the screaming queens, butch dykes, transvestites, and transsexuals."
It is true, if not very generally recognised, that the
locus of sharpest oppression has shifted from homosexual
behaviour per se to the conceptually less clear cut areas of
transvestism, transsexuality and paedophilia. Mike Brake's
paper points the way to exploring these areas of sexuality
or sex related behaviour. He is over-optimistic at this stage,
however, in thinking that a large scale radical gay movement
is likely to exist to take them up.
The B.S.A. Conference was largely concerned with
gender divisions and the essays reflect this. Over the past
year or so, however, a group in the B.S.A. has set up a study
group on sexuality, which has so far had two conferences,
and a gay research group. Together they offer the opportunity to explore the theoretical and practical problems of
understanding sexual meanings in a manner influenced by a
feminist and a gay liberationist outlook. They can be
contacted through B.S.A., 13 Endsleigh Street, London

Jeffrey Weeks
by Ann Oakley

(Penguin Books 80p)

Ann Oakley's classic study first published in 1974, now in

paperback, describes how women's role developed in industrial society; how they become a source of cheap labour
and the part they played in the production of surplus
value. She also describes how the ideology of women's
role as a housewife occurred in the late nineteenth century
-- basically as unpaid servant and childminder (the period,
incidentally, in which current attitudes towards homosexuality developed). Case histories of four housewives
tell how women see themselves today. A final section outlines the need for a revolution in the ideology of gender
roles and the concepts of gender identity. An important
socialist feminist book for us all.

Emmanuel Cooper

Gay Left c/o 36a Craven Road, London W2
Dear Comrades,
I was rather disappointed that there has been no reply from
the Gay Group in SWP (formerly IS) to the article which I
wrote in Gay Left No 3 about my experiences in the IS
Gay Group between 1973 and 1975. It is true that an article
was received from an individual in the group but it was not
claimed that this was a reply and was, for other reasons,
People in SWP constantly tell me that the attitude
towards sexual politics has changed and there is now much
more discussion on the issue. That may be the case internally but one would certainly never guess it from reading
Socialist Worker, Women's Voice or International Socialist
Journal. There have, it is true, been occasional articles
about victimised gay workers but this is actually nothing
Paul Foot's book, Why You Should Be A Socialist,
makes several interesting points about women and the
family but nowhere does he call into question the roles
and heterosexual norms which are central to such oppression. There is not even a token line about sexism let
alone homosexuality.
I began to wonder what you were doing to change the
level of debate on sexism in SWP. I suspected, on the basis
of my own experience, that you were so eager to prove
yourselves good comrades that you only raised such questions in a way which would be acceptable to the existing
programme of the organisation.
When I saw a leaflet which you produced recently about
an anti-fascist demo in North London I felt I was correct.
You pointed out very clearly the links between gay oppression and fascism. But then, stuck on at the end of the
leaflet, without any explanation, there was the distinctive
SWP slogan 'Fight For The Right To Work'. This is not a
slogan with which I disagree, but given that you were
addressing yourselves to the gay community which often
has little knowledge of work-place politics it seems odd
that you did not clarify the links between this and the
rest of the leaflet.
There is no way that you can exist meaningfully in
the SWP without conflict. This is not because the leadership
of SWP is particularly sexist but because of the nature of
the demands that arise from sexual politics. Sexual politics
questions roles and the way people relate to each other.
These questions are threatening to everyone and Leninist parties (to my knowledge) have not yet found a way of
adequately dealing with them. They may deal with victimisations, police harassment and law reform but roles and
relationships are much, much harder. Taking them up
seriously will bring all sorts of accusations on you
'obsessed with sex', 'petit bourgeois wanker', 'unreliable'
to name but a few. Your past record and other revolutionary activity will be as nothing when you challenge such
deeply-rooted assumptions But if you are serious about
revolutionary sexual politics you must challenge these
assumptions now.

28 Gay Left

Your task is a hard one. I, like you, believe in both

the necessity for some kind of Leninist party and the
i mportance of sexual politics but I do not know how to
reconcile them. That process, whatever form it takes, will
be painful. If you think it can be done without conflict
you are deceiving yourselves.
So, comrades, what are you doing?
Fraternally and with love

Bob Cant
German Friends
We are a group of left gays, who have read your journal
Gay Left no.1 with great interest. Especially your article
about Cuba was quite good, so that it was translated into
German. It then was printed in Rosa, that's a journal of the
"Homosexuelle Aktion Hamburg" (HAH) and a few months
later in a journal of the "Kommunistischer Bund" which
was entitled with "Kampf der Schwulenunterdruckung".
(In English: "Against the Oppression of Gays"!)
We also would like to have other papers of your group,
if available. We can send you on the other side, that
material you want, from West Germany. Can someone
understand German? That would be good, for it's quite
difficult to translate things - as you see, our English is also
not brilliant.
We think that it would be useful to come in contact
with other left gays therefore this short letter. Perhaps
we can exchange information about GB and FRG and
write in our journals about important things. As you will
know things in Germany are becoming more and more
difficult. The "Modell Deutschland" (no.IV) has brought
a Climate of oppression and "Hexenjagd". Political oppression spreads out more and more. Also gays are of course
not excluded. The last stroke: in March 1976 there has
been a decision of the "highest court" in "matters of
administration" that can forbid gay activity groups all over
West Germany to address people with gay political papers.
That means, that such activities can be stopped by the
administration at each time they want. On the other hand,
they have developed "new methods" in medicine, to make
gays 'straight': they simply kill some spots in the brain! It
is practiced already in some cities.
G. S.
Readers who would like to write can do so c/o Gay Left,
36a Craven Rd, London W2.
Gays and the CPGB
In the last issue of your paper (no.3) which was sent to me
as usual from a friend in London, I found (on page 1) the
sentence that "The Communist Party now has a special
commission preparing a report" on homosexuality. As I
read in Gay News no.108 (page 15) in an anti-communist
article under the title "A day of shame", the CPGB edited
on the 12th of September 1976 a policy statement supporting gay rights. I write to you because this matter is of much
interest for me and some gay socialists here in Berlin/West.
We are in permanent discussion with members of the CP
of West Berlin about the ability to change the up to now
more or less anti-gay policy and statements of their party.
Too Complex, Too Jargonistic
The one criticism that I feel I must make about your
journal is that through its complex construction, and sheer
volume, it may well be ignored by those who, obviously,
it sets out to help in order that they may help themselves.
I am not implying that the working class people do not
wish to fight for what they rightly feel belongs to them
but sadly forms of suppression are often so effective that
they don't really grasp the seriousness of their situation.
If the various forms of abuse against the working class
people were presented to them in a strong, honest, perceptive way but in their own jargon then they may well see

the problem more clearly, often with a form of suppression

that formally had been accepted illuminated and shown in
its true light. Then hopefully, through the presentation,
motivation towards further inquiry is provoked.
When I first read your journal I must admit that I was
highly impressed by the forcefulness of it but I thought
that there was too much sociological jargon used too soon
I was grateful to sociology 'A' level.
Personally I am very aware of what I feel is wrong
within this society and structure of society, and of course
the problem is intensified for the gay person, not only does
it face vast difficulties with other political parties, but also
it faces problems within its own party. This in itself makes
the outlook for the individual bleak, and seemingly complex, I feel that it would help if the factual problems were
presented in as simple a way as possible.
Emotionally I am prepared to fight for my freedom as
an individual yet practically and in some aspects of the
legal side I am quite ignorant of the facts of the situation.
I do not feel in any way that I am the only one that has
this problem, for I have met people in the same state of
suppression, that have understood and seen even less than
E.F., London W4
Canadian Connection
The first three issues of Gay Left have been very useful to
us here in Canada. Lack of information and class analysis
has been one of the problems in developing an orientation
for the gay liberation movement here. Gay Left has begun
to bridge this gap for us, but much more work needs to be
done. The fragmented groups of lesbian and gay leftists
around the world should begin to share information and
ideas in an attempt to develop a sounder analysis (incorporating gay and women's liberation into Marxism) and to
develop a revolutionary strategy for the gay and lesbian
struggle. We hope Gay Left, which already plays a very
useful role, will become an important forum for this
interchange (as it has already begun to with the letter from
GLH[PQ] from France).
We are lesbian and gay members of the Revolutionary
Marxist Group, a Canadian sympathizing organization of
the Fourth International. We have fought inside our
organization for the adoption of a revolutionary position
on gay and sexual liberation. Some of the elements of this
are the recognition of gayness as a natural component of
human sexuality, a recognition that gay liberation is not
simply a fight for democratic rights but involves an attack
on capitalist sexual roles and the family, a recognition of
the need to build an autonomous gay movement which
will wage militant struggle for gay liberation but will also
support women and other oppressed groups, and a recognition that real socialism is impossible without full women's
and gay liberation and the transcending of the family and
sexual roles. This fight has not always been easy in a predominantly straight organization, but by and large we
have won.
Brian Caines, in his letter in Gay Left no.3, makes a
number of good criticisms of the Vancouver branch of the
RMG, and its relation to the gay question. However, we
feel his comments about our paper, the Old Mole, which
has had far more coverage of lesbian and gay struggles than
most left organizations around the world and his suggestion
that the RMG is "opportunistic" around gay liberation are
unjustified. What he doesn't cover, and possibly doesn't
know, is the role of RMG militants, both straight and gay,
across the country. For example, in the last federal
elections, our candidate in Toronto defended gay people
against several right-wing bourgeois and social democratic
politicians and spoke at a Gay Alliance Towards Equality
all-candidates meeting. Brian also does not mention the
activity of the RMG's trade union militants who have
fought in several trade union locals for support of gay
liberation. Finally, he does not cover the activity of lesbian
29 Gay Left

and gay militants of the RMG in the gay and lesbian

struggles, conferences and debates over the last couple of
years. We welcome Brian's criticism of our Vancouver
comrades because it raises some of the problems that our
organization faces in grappling with the gay and lesbian
question. He along with us can play a role in further
educating the straight comrades in our organization around
the importance of gay liberation,
In reference to Brian's last comments, the RMG does
not view gay liberation as something workers "can't
understand" but rather as an important radicalizing
question that must be raised in the working class. We also
don't view it as something "too hot" to handle but as a
question that has a political importance in the total
revolutionary process (in contributing to anti-sexist consciousness and the struggle against bureaucracy).

We are not intending to say that all gay and lesbian

leftists should be members of revolutionary organizations
at the present time. Far from it, for most of these organizations have very reactionary, opportunist or abstentionist
positions on gay and lesbian liberation. Independent gay
groups have a very important role to play right now in
building a militant gay movement. We are only trying to
point out that gay leftists who are members of revolutionary
organizations that don't defend the family and bureaucracy
can play a role in winning their organizations to support
gay liberation as well as playing a role in building lesbian
and gay struggles.
We look forward to continuing discussions.

Gay Left and Women

I bought Gay Left in Grass Roots Bookshop, Manchester.
It's about the best thing I've read on being gay and at the
same time wanting to change capitalist society. It's not
escapist or "fringe" and generally I want to be associated
with it.
I appreciate very much your response to Sue Bruley's
letter, and support your need for your own CR group,
which is strengthened in commitment by also being a group
to achieve a purpose, i.e. produce Gay Left. I expect it is
easier for men to be sure of staying committed if there is
also an objective purpose. I'm not being sexist. I just
recognise the realities of socialisation for males.
You write with real understanding of the women's movement, and recognise what it can teach you and how by
following its insights you can find ways into your own
realities. For that I want to call you brothers, not just
What I'm busy trying to find out is how the women's
movement can create its own structure as a body of
people, not just a chance collection of individuals but do
it without being infiltrated by ideas, oppressions and
attitudes carried in the institutions of the so-called democratic process. I think you may have something to teach me
if I keep in touch with you.
Beyond that still, I'm looking for how lesbians can act
together and as yet I see little sign of our ability to achieve
much on more than a personal level, and often not on that.
However, I know that determination and hope do achieve
results, when allied to real understanding of the situation.
It's undoubtedly something to do with the double oppression, with hopelessness, with a desperate reaction to it all.
When we do learn how to get together for action, I expect
we will be the most dynamic force of all. But I'm sure we
will do it by being and discovering ourselves, as you will,
and you will best help us by being and discovering yourselves and letting us see the result.

I am writing on behalf of my group in support of Sue

Bruley. It seems to be impossible for you to retain your
collective identity in the face of a critical analysis by a
feminist. Were six separate replies really crucial to get
across your points? Or was it that in your show of superior
( male) numbers you hoped to dilute the impact of perceptive (feminist) criticism?
30 Gay Left

Your response was a typical example of the inability of

men to share amongst themselves or to realise their
inadequacies as 'brothers' to your gay sisters.
CAROL LEE, Brighton Lesbian Group
I can understand why a group of men might want to get
together to discuss their sexuality and politics. However the
argument for men getting together is not the same as that
for women getting together because the oppression of men
in our society is not symmetrically comparable to that of
women. And it is sheer arrogance to imagine men can gain
a "thorough understanding of sexism" (GL no.3, N.Y.'s
reply to Sue Bruley's letter) by themselves. Pulling out
that magical 'Marxist' cliche "it's not men who oppress
women but the capitalist system" is a long-standing male
cop-out and a denial of your responsibility. Of course it's
the system of capitalism which oppresses us. But what do
you imagine this 'system' is if not a collection of people's
actions and attitudes?
Within this system it is you who oppress us as women
by your actions. You do so when as a collective of gay men
you presume to call your paper Gay Left, thereby reinforcing two prejudices: 1) that being homosexual is something
only men do, and 2) that being involved in left politics is
a male activity.

As a collective we decided to reply individually to Sue

Bruley's criticisms for two main reasons. First we did not
want to hide behind an anonymous collective identity.
Secondly we wanted to show the range of discussion within
the group. There was no intention to evade any of the
issues raised.
It needs to be emphasised that both the collective and
the journal have consistently acknowledged their debt
to the women's movement and have always stated their
opposition to sexism. This can be seen in the journal and
in its editorial policy. At no time has it been suggested that
Gay Left is only about gay men or for gay men. The
continuation of the journal depends on our maintaining
links and working with lesbians wherever this is possible.
It is hoped that we will start on-going discussions with
some of the women in Lesbian Left in order to develop
further a Marxist analysis which applies to gay women and
gay men.
Gay Left

What's Left....
THE GIRLS' GUIDE, Fourth Edition
now available from 1 North End Road, London W14.
Cost 2.00. This guide is the most widely distributed
lesbian publication in the world. It has over 3000
listings in 40 countries of gay organisations, bars, clubs
and restaurants.
now has a new address -- GERS, B.P.11, 75022 PARIS.
Their latest activity was 'la semaine homosexuelle' 2026 April 1977. Each day was organised around a separate
topic; transvestites, sexual and social roles, gay women,
homosexual struggles and the workers' movements, latent
homosexuality, the homosexual ghetto and pederasty and
children's sexuality. It included debates, films, theatre,
songs, exhibitions and books.
An Australian gay socialist contact. PO Box 153,
Broadway 2007, NSW.
3815 5th N.E., Seattle, WA 98105. Organised a 'Gays
At Work' conference early March 1977.
MAGNUS A Journal of Collective Faggotry
We have received issue No 1 of this new journal dated
Summer 1976. It is edited by a collective of 'six white
faggots' and published in San Francisco. The main article
asks what faggotry is and how does it fit into revolutionary
struggle. It is a 'beginning attempt to understand the relationship between gay people and imperialism'.
Further information from PO Box 40568, San Francisco,
California 94140, USA.
The second issue of this journal (dated November 1976) is
now on sale in Britain. (Price 1.35 from Compendium,
234 Camden High Street, London NW 1). It continues its
amibition of critically examining the 'function of language,
ideology and scientificity in the construction of sex theories', with articles on the-group TEL QUEL, Lacan, Psychoanalysis and Marxist Feminism, Althusser's Epistemology,
and Consciousness-Raising as Self Pity. Available also from
Box 83 Wentworth Building, 174 City Road, Darlington
2008, Australia.
BIG RED DIARY The 1977 edition is concerned with Law
and Order. A bit late as a Christmas present but a good May
Day gift. From Pluto Press, Unit 10, Spencer Court,
7 Chalcot Road, London NW1 8LH.


has now produced a bibliography of books, pamphlets,
essays, periodicals etc, relevant to socialist gays, coordinated by Jonathan Katz. Further information from
Apt 10, 51 Bank Street, New York, NY 10014, USA.
by Jonathan Katz
has now been published in the USA. It's a massive compendium of documents, with commentary and extensive
references. We hope to review the book in the next issue.
Lavender and Red Union, PO Box 3503, Hollywood,
California 90028 who publish the journal Come Out
Fighting have over the past year had an intensive period of
discussion and study and have adopted a Trotskyist position.
The paper on 'Permanent Revolution' has aroused a considerable debate among American gay socialists. Further
details from L & R U.
In Britain, the International Marxist Group has recently
been having an intensive discussion of the personal and the
political. The Personal/Political Grouping have recently
(March 1977) produced News from the Gyroscope, documents from the IMG debate.
Ron Moule, filmmaker, has prepared a series of working
notes If you read this you will read anything and Flicker
notes. Ron would be interested to hear from revolutionary
film makers at Top Flat, 58 Burford Road, Forest Fields,
LESBIAN LEFT are organising a week-end conference in
the autumn as a response to the interest shown at the
National Women's Conference. Details from Lesbian Left,
c/o Women's Workshop, 38 Earlham Street, London NW1.
01-836 6081.
Laurieston Hall, Castle Douglas, Kirkudbrightshire,
Scotland is having a 'Gay Week' at the end of May 1977
intended as a radical gay get together. For details send
SAE to the hall.
Watch out for Gay Pride Week in London, 25th June -- 2nd


Single Copies:

50p each

Overseas Airmail

80p each (IMO only)

or $2 US or Canadian Cheque

Overseas Surface

60p each (IMO only)

or $1.50 US or Canadian

Bulk Rates:
Inland, over 9 copies, 30p each
Overseas rates on application
Copies 50p each by post from
36a Craven Road, London W2
Gay Left No 1
Gays in the Trade Unions, in Cuba, at CHE Conference, in
Gay Left No 2
No longer available
Gay Left No ,3
Women in Gay Left, Gays and Class, IS Gay Group, Gay
Workers' Movement and much more.
Copies 40p each by post from 36A Craven Road,
London W2.
31 Gay Left

The fourth issue of Gay Left has taken longer in coming
out than the other three issues. This has been as a result of
a conscious decision on the part of the collective to spend
more time on group study, in meetings with other groups
and also in going to talk sessions with groups in different
parts of the country. We also decided that, despite the
problems involved, it was worth spending time in jointly
writing our third collective article. We feel generally that
our growth and development as a group takes priority over
producing the journal at strictly regular intervals.
It is not our aim to help gays to live more easily in the
society in which they find themselves. Nor is it to act as a
pressure group to further the sectional interests of gays,
although we do not necessarily see those activities as inappropriate. In the broadest terms we wish to explore the
implications of our identity as gays and its relationship to
the economic and political structures which dominate our
social life. In trying to understand this identity in its historical and cultural contexts we wish to link our situation
with gays elsewhere and with other oppressed groups. We
hope to join with those who wish social life to change so
that ways of relating become more honest, more enriching.
more satisfying not just for gays but for all people. Our perspective remains uncompromisingly marxist in so far as we
see consumerism and commodity dominated social life as
li miting factors in this development.
We are aware of the criticisms on the part of some of
our readers that we are an all male collective and in the last
issue we attempted to answer these criticisms. All of us as
individuals are involved in situations at work, in trade
unions or other political groups where, as gay men, we are
often in a minority of one, and the group that formed the
Gay Left collective arose originally from a need to be free
from the constraints of a straight dominated society to express ourselves and develop our thinking. In view of our
own experiences and given our commitment to the struggle
against sexism the suggestion that an all male editorial
collective implies a bias in favour of male gays cannot be
taken lightly. We must repeat that we do not claim to be
representative of all or indeed any sections that comprise
the gay left. Nevertheless, we realise that in order to
develop as a forum we must not only be open to contributions from all sections, but actively solicit such contributions and encourage those who are sympathetic to
become involved in the work of the collective.
An important part of this involvement so far has
been the readers' meetings (elsewhere we say how we want
to develop this next time). At the last readers' meeting we
had a discussion concerning women and Gay Left which
strongly influenced us. This is a continuing debate as letters
in this issue show. We are open to suggestions as to how we
might extend such forums of discussion.
Contributions to the journal can take the form of
illustrations as well as articles or letters. There is one
proviso. We do not publish articles which are antisocialist, anti-feminist or anti-gay. We would be grateful,
also, to those who would be prepared to undertake selling
Gay Left -- particularly in areas where there are no other

This was a difficult decision. We tried to work out ways of
keeping the price of this much larger Gay Left at 30p, hut
the position seemed to be this: if the price remained unchanged we would need to sell every copy printed in order
to get near the projected cost of the next issue. 40p seemed
the realistic price, particularly as we do not carry paid advertisements. The point needs to be made, too, that every
penny we get from sales goes into basic costs and making
for a bigger and, hopefully, a better journal.

32 Gay Left

Love, Sex and Maleness ..........................................................
Come All You Gay Women,
Come All You Gay Men ..........................................................
Communists Comment ..........................................................
Five And A Half ......................................................................
Lesbians Aren't Oppressed By The Law? .....................
Film Review ...............................................................................
Movement In Straight Circles ..............................................
Book Reviews .........................................................................
Letters ........................................................................................
What's Left ...............................................................................
Editorial Note


This issue was put together by Keith Birch, Gregg
Blachford, Bob Cant, Derek Cohen, Emmanuel Cooper,
Randal Kincaid, Jeffrey Weeks, Nigel Young.


The Gay Left Collective is organising a one day workshop
conference on 'Socialism and the Gay Movement'. The
conference will be at a venue in central London (to he
announced later) on July 2 nd , the Saturday ending Gay
Pride Week. Full details will be in Gay News, Time Out
and in the Gay Pride Week Publicity.

Typeset by Caroline McKechnie

Gay Left Collective 1977
Printed by S W Litho, London E2
ISSN: 0307 9813
Distributed by Publication Distribution Co-op, 27 Clerkenwell Close, London EC1.

In The Balance
by the Gay Left Collective

Effective political intervention demands clear political

analysis. To know where and how to intervene we must
understand as best we can the circumstances in which we
struggle. At certain points any struggle to keep the flame
burning is better than none at all. But in any political movement, and especially in the gay movement where our
resources are limited and our unity tenuous, it is all too easy
to dissipate energies in unco-ordinated activities. This
collective article will attempt to draw up a balance sheet of
the present situation of gay people in this country. We shall
try first to describe how the situation of gay people has
changed in recent years and then look at the overall direction
of the gay movement.

Oppression in Liberation

The ambivalence of these changes has led to a crisis in the

gay movement. Now, if you are out at all, you are liable to
be out in a reasonably comfortable ghetto, which tends to
blind you to the need for political activity. Only when a
major confrontation arises, such as the Gay News trial, are
people willing to become activist on the basis of a single issue.
Attitudes to sexuality have a certain autonomy, but they
are defined within a wider social context. Current attitudes
are thus complexly related to the current national social
crisis and in turn to the national and international economy.
The crisis of combined inflation and mass unemployment,
for instance, has almost certainly limited the possibilities of
women leading autonomous lives, for it seems probable that
one of the consequences of the economic crisis has been a
relatively larger increase in female unemployment. The cut
backs in the welfare state have also had an indirect but important part in reinforcing the traditional female role, e.g.
through the cut back of nursery provision and community
health care. Lesbian mothers are one group who will feel the
impact of this particularly sharply.

Despite the real advances of the gay movement since the late
1960s, most lesbians and gay men still experience difficulty
in being homosexual in this society. Although the gay world
is now bigger and more accessible than ever before, the problems confronting homosexuals in the rest of their lives
remain. Lesbians and gay men still face social ostracism,
harassment on the streets and the possibility of losing their
jobs. There is still a discriminatory legal situation in England
and Wales, and an even more oppressive one in Scotland and
Northern Ireland. Individuals are still harassed by police,
press and neighbours. And even when we manage to avoid the
excesses of law and prejudice, there is still the difficulty of
establishing an identity in a gay world riven by distrust and

Periods of economic crisis tend to be periods when the

emphasis on the family increasesboth out of economic
necessity and under moral pressure. There is a tendency not
to see the crisis as a crisis of capitalism. Instead 'lazy
workers', 'immigrants' and 'permissive moral values' are
lumped together with 'queers', 'reds' and 'women's libbers'
as the cause of all our ills. As conservative thought invariably
displaces the economic crisis from the reality of class struggle
to the moral sphere, so the family and its supposed traditional values assume a peculiar resonance. We can see this in the
campaigns of Mary Whitehouse and the National Viewers'
and Listeners' Association and the Society for the Protection
of the Unborn Child.

At the same time there are now better social facilities than
ever before. There are organisations which are able to help
lesbians and gay men in trouble with the law. There are
various gay self-help groups like FRIEND and Icebreakers,
gay switchboards and local gay groups. We now have a
flourishing gay press and more media publicity than in the
past. Even the negative factors, like the trial of Gay News for
blasphemous libel, or the press vilification of lesbian mothers,
do also have the effect of publicising the subject and giving
isolated individuals the possibility of realising that they are
not the only homosexuals in the world.

The crusades of the moral conservatives have had an

undeniable influence on the terms of the public debate on
sexuality. There has been an influence on the content of
television programmes and the controller of BBC Radio 4
banned a programme on lesbians because it was too positive.
In areas with conservative local councils there has been an
increase in censorship, for example of films in London,
against pornography in Manchester etc. In this city also there
has been an atavistic attack on men dancing together
('licentious dancing'), thus reviving another ancient law as
Whitehouse did with blasphemy.

These changes are rooted in two factors. First, the

liberalising sexual climate of the 1960s gradually led to
moderate but important legal changes (e.g. on divorce, abortion, male homosexuality) out of which a space was created
for a greater public openness about sexuality in the 1970s.
Secondly, the activities of the women's and gay movements
from the late 1960s expressed and encouraged a new sense of
sexual identity and autonomy.
Despite the importance of these developments, all sorts of
tensions have arisen, because these changes have taken place
within a limited framework. It is easier to be gay than
before, especially if you are white, male, metropolitan,
middle-class and over 21, although even here there is continuing harassment and stereotyping. But there has been an
increase in public hostility towards those whose lifestyles
pose any threat to the traditional values of the family. Lesbian mothers and paedophiles have recently been attacked
and pilloried in the press. What is happening is not so much a
'liberation', a transcendence of heterosexual or family norms,
as an increased sense of identity within society as it is--something early GLF believed was impossible. We are allowed to
do a lot of what we want, as long as it does not go across
certain intangible, shifting but very real barriers. The increasing police pressure on traditional forms of male gay promiscuity, such as cottaging, tends to sharpen the divide between
tolerated and deviant gay behaviour. As the space for gay
people becomes more clearly defined, it correspondingly
becomes narrower, more separate and moreover actually
reinforces the category of 'heterosexuality' which oppresses
Gay Left 2


Prospects for Change

All this has restricted the possibilities of further changes in
attitudes to homosexuality at the level of the state. Since
1967 no real parliamentary attempt has been made to iron
out the anomalies of the situations of gay men in England
and Wales (e.g. in the army, navy and merchant navy).
Efforts to harmonise the law in Scotland with that in
England and Wales have failed. Northern Ireland still remains
legally archaic. The Rev Ian Paisley has mounted a campaign
called Save Us from Sodomy which wants any manifestation
of homosexuality made illegal if the laws in Northern Ireland
are ever brought into line with those in England and Wales.
The Home Office Criminal Law Amendment Committee on
the laws relating to sexuality will probably recommend some
changes, but the likelihood of legal changes in the present
political climate is minimal. It took ten years between the

issuing of the Wolfenden Report in 1957 and homosexual

law reform. On another level the rising rate of convictions
suggests that the police are more anxious to harass gays than
everoften just to boost conviction rates. There seems to be
little Home Office direction of this harassment, but certainly
no Home Office efforts to reduce it. Efforts of local 'liberal'
police officers to liaise with the gay community are usually
aimed at persuading gay men to collude in the policing of
their own ghetto.
The media helps to foster this ambivalence. Press coverage
of homosexuality is wider now than everthirty years ago
the word could hardly be mentioned, now 'gay' is even used
in headlines. But we still have to contend with all the
salacious stories about the private lives of gay public figures.
Some media personalities are more willing to come out than
before, but the media still find it easier to accept a person as
bisexual. Homosexuality is slowly being treated more
positively in films and television, although most of the time
we are portrayed as limp-wristed caricatures by a whole breed
of camp comics. The assumption behind such images is that
feminine traits in men are inherently laughable.
There is now a greater public presence of gay people. We
have, because we have demanded it, some sort of identity,
especially in the world of leisure and culture. There has not
yet been a backlash. Gays are becoming more acceptable as
long as they do not threaten traditional values or the future
generation. But the word is: Thus far and no further. We have
not yet lost anything substantial of the gains made over the
past ten years. But it is still up to us; our future is very much
in our hands.

The Relevance of Women's Struggles

In concentrating most of our energies in campaigns about
law reform and in defence of Gay News there has been a tendency in the gay movement to forget the ideological advances
made by the various campaigns of the women's movement.
Campaigns such as the National Abortion Campaign bear a
direct relation to our own struggles. The women's movement
has made advances both theoretical and practical in the area
of sexual politics, an area neglected by traditional left
politics. In particular, it has posed the relation between the
personal and the political and the value of autonomous
groups, and has questioned the validity of traditional narrow
revolutionary organisation. One of the major unifying
features of all the campaigns of the women's movement is
their attack on the immutability and 'naturalness' of both
heterosexuality and the roles we learn in the nuclear family.
Thus women have demonstrated the possibility of alternative
lifestyles and different types of relationships to those of
marriage-and-family. The demand for comprehensive nursery
provision can challenge the idea that only biological parents
should be involved in child care. Groups such as Women
Against Racism and Fascism have demonstrated that the
fight against fascists is not an activity solely for street-fighting straight men, for fascism is centrally about the family and
women's place in it. Gay men have gained a great deal in the
recent past from these struggles. There is a common aim in
the struggles of gays and women in the claim we both make
for control of our own bodies. This does not mean that our
situations are identical. Gayness is 'invisible' in a way that
femaleness is not. We have to develop a theory and practice
that extends both into our own specific oppression and the
structuring of human sexuality in general.

Gays at Work
Since the early days of GLF there has been concern
expressed over the problems of being gay at work, and there
have been many attempts to set up gay groups in unions. The
aims of such groups are diverseproviding a social gathering
for gays in the same occupation; supporting the process of
coming out at work; educating the rest of the union membership. The bulk of such groups are in white collar unions
often in jobs such as teaching, child care, social work, which
are points of strong ideological sensitivity. Some groups have
been set up in manual unions but these have been exceptions.

Thames Television's Rock Follies'

Disunity in Unity
The gay movement today is composed of small self-help
groups, switchboards, political groups, action groups and
some centres. The only unifying factor of all these bodies is a
common gayness. A growing gay consciousness has enabled
us to develop a general organised response to the political
forces which are attempting to contain or push back the
social and sexual reforms of the 1960s.
It has only been with the setting up of specific defence
organisations around Gay News and the response to the
Evening News attacks on lesbian mothers that we have witnessed a coherent level of activity within the gay movement.
The problems of sustaining gay political activity are enormous and it is therefore much easier to organise defensive
campaigns around specific attacks. The Gay Activists'
Alliance, formed on the basis of the National Gay News
Defence Committee and relying on grassroots self-activity, is
an important new initiative which holds out the possibility of
for united action.

Gay groups within unions have been invaluable in promoting discussion of gay politics and beginning a shift among
other trade unionists. But many of those involved in gay
work in the trade unions are isolated and often find themselves lost in a bureaucratic morass. They are often prevented
by officialdom from contacting other gays. Gays and other
oppressed groups are particularly vulnerable in the face of an
economic policy that sees redundancies and cut-backs as a
solution to the crisis. It is important both that trades unions
recognise this vulnerability and that gays join the common
fight against the cuts.

Gays in the Left

Some advances have been made on a different political level
with the establishment of gay groups within the Communist
Party, the International Marxist Group, and the Socialist
Workers' Party. All these groups have made policy statements
of various lengths and depths on the gay question. Like
trade union work, these groups provide an important focus
for the task of raising issues not only of sexuality but also of
authority, emotions and the ideology of 'private life'. The
development and strengthening of such theory and practice
on the traditional left is of vital importance.
The real problem for us as gay socialists is that more and
more people identify themselves as gay but do not relate to
the gay struggle. And they certainly do not relate to the
world of the labour movement and the left. Given the nature
of the gay community to which they belong this is hardly
surprising. The terms of reference of that community are set
by fairly conservative or ostensibly apolitical forces such as,
at best, Gay News or, at worst, owners of gay facilities who
exploit the vulnerability of their clients. It seems to us that it
is a function of the gay movement to address itself to this
Gay Left 3

wider gay community in order to make the relevance of gayness move beyond the sphere of leisure and culture to which
it is often confined, to inform how we live all aspects of our

Gay Times

The gay scene is attractive and fun, partly because it has the
resources to make it so. But there could be more to gay life
than that. The success of the recent Gay Times Festival in
London makes it clear that many gay men welcomed the
opportunity to talk to other gay men in an atmosphere where
they were free to meet whether or not they wanted to pick
each other up. Centres such as that in Birmingham provide a
continuing social and political focus, and are of special
importance when the only available facilities for homosexuality are cottages and pubs.
Once gay groups and centres have been established they
begin to widen their horizons. The activities of Gay Sweatshop and of the Tom Robinson Band are examples. Just as
with the dominant media, these have their own contradictions there is no way an oppressed group can suddenly start
expressing itself shed of the scars of its oppression. Sweatshop's ambiguous use of camp, the male identification of
rock music (even with right-on lyrics) these require further
discussion. Yet these groups' public and unremitting commitment to gay liberation offer an alternative cultural framework. They suggest the possibility of relationships and life
styles created on our own terms.

Attempts to work on our own terms meet with opposition

from all kinds of 'conservatives'--gay and straight, left and
right. In these circumstances it is necessary to link forces
wth other groups. The recently established Gay Activists
Alliance may provide a campaigning national structure which
will co-ordinate campaigns around issues as they arise. The
affiliation of gay socialist groups, in for instance North London, Birmingham and Bradford, to anti-fascist groups provides a useful example of the way a gay group can strengthen
its collective links with the rest of the left on a local level.
But there is still the need for a national co-ordinated gay
socialist presence.
This leaves many questions unanswered. As we said at the
beginning, this has been an attempt to draw up a balance
sheet. We have had to keep saying 'on the other hand', 'but',
and using words like 'ambiguous', 'contradictory' and 'complex', because only such language accurately conveys the
present position. We have to end with questions. What are the
real sites of struggle, and are we fighting on them? What are
the points of influence and change? We seem to have made
some gains, but are we blind to what we have lost? Above all,
where do we go now? What is gay liberation? What do we
mean by 'gay'? What should we mean by 'liberation'?

The State, Repression and

Homosexuality and homosexuals

by Dennis Altman

This is an edited version of a paper prepared by Dennis

Attman in 1976. Although written before the appearance of
elements of what has been sometimes described as a 'backlash' it tackles many of the issues we must come to grips with
if we are to understand recent events.

Basically this paper addresses itself to the general question of
how far sexual liberation necessarily implies far-reaching
social change, how far, that is, contemporary capitalist
societies depend upon a certain regulation of sexuality
according to what Marcuse has called 'the performance principle'. 1 It concentrates on the deregulation of the taboo on
homosexuality which is a central part of the overall prescription of 'normal' sexuality in western societies.
Why argue for the centrality of the taboo on homosexuality? One could, after all, argue that sexual repression in
western society has much more basic factors, such as the
emphasis on genital sexuality and the restriction of sexual
expression to certain fixed times and places. But while this is
theoretically persuasive I would argue that it is the failure to
fully repress homosexuality that makes it so significant.
Despite the existence of the most severe sanctions which
identified homosexuality as a crime of unique horror
(western sexual morality culminating in the Nazi internment
of homosexuals in concentration camps along with Jews,
gypsies and communists) homosexuals have never been fully
suppressed in western history, and homosexuality is thus
more of an apparent threat to the existing sexual order than
the much more successfully repressed (and vague) areas of
'polymorphous perversity'.
In the last ten years there has been a dramatic change in
the capitalist state's attitude to homosexuality. Because this
has occurred simultaneously with new measures of repression
in non-advanced capitalist societies (e.g. Cuba and some Arab
states) it becomes possible to suggest the historically specific
nature of the taboo on homosexuality.
Gay Left 4

It becomes immediately necessary to distinguish between

homosexuality and homosexuals, and in the latter case
between males and females. The crucial point to insist on is
that homosexual behaviour and homosexual identity are distinct phenomena, the second existing in a much more
restricted number of societies than the first. Even in western
societies it is probably a safe generalisation that the majority
of homosexual behaviour is not engaged in by men, and even
less by women, whose self-identification is homosexual;
rather it is an experience of adolescence or of particular
single-sexed institutions (e.g. prisons, schools, the army) and
is not regarded by those involved as negating their heterosexual self-image. In many non-western societies temporary
homosexual behaviour is legitimated and given official social
recognition. Thus, writing of a visit to Morocco in 1952 Marc
Oraison says:
"The students of the islamic universitywhich I was able
to visitpractised homosexual relations openly and publicly. This did not prevent them, having finished their
studies, from marrying and settling down."2
Such students did not, quite clearly, define themselves as
homosexuals. To so define oneself implies more than just
sleeping with another woman or man, but rather the granting
of a particular meaning to the gender of one's sexual partners, which in western societies takes on considerable importance. In the majority of human societies it appears that
some form of homosexual behaviour is known. 3 Homosexuals, that is, persons identified as such because of their
sexual preference for members of their own sex, are far less
common, and societies that condone homosexual behaviour
in certain circumstances can he simultaneously very condemnatory of those who are identified as homosexuals.4
The existence of a considerable number of women and
men whose self-definition is homosexual, and who regard
homosexual relations as the primary ones in their lives, seems
largely the product of modern western societies, and must be
understood as possible only under the particular social formations of urbanisation and industrialisation. Traditional
societies are organised in such a way as not to allow the
possibility of a child choosing a way of life other than that

prescribed by tradition, thus exclusive homosexuals, where

they exist, take on particular roles, often religious (as in the
case of Amerindian 'berdaches') or become outcastes (which
appears, literally, to be the case among northwest Indian
Hindus). It is only with the breakdown of the ascriptive
family and the very narrowly defined social roles of traditional cultures that it becomes possible to live as a homosexual in other than this very rigid way. Only in urban
societies, where social institutions can develop independently
of the family and clan, can a homosexual sub-culture develop.
Such relative freedom has always been much less available
to women who have accordingly been far less likely to
'become' lesbians or to develop a female 'gay world'. Moreover, while in a male-dominated society homosexuality is a
way for women to assert their independence against the
dominant male ethos, it is for men rather a partial abdication
of male privilegessometimes compensated for by either a
super-butch persona, or the mocking of women through
'drag'. Lesbianism and male homosexuality, therefore, have
very different social meanings.
What biological evidence we have suggests that homosexual behaviour is as 'natural' a way for humans to respond
to certain situations as is heterosexual. But if Gagnon and
Simon are correct in arguing that 'the sexual area may be
precisely that realm wherein the superordinate position of
the sociocultural over the biological level is most complete',5
then for homosexuals to appear in a given society there need
exist conditions in which one can both imagine homosexual
activity and emotion, and then act them out. Where the latter
possibility exists it is likely that a gay subculture will emerge.
And it is precisely in the large cities of the west that one
finds the most open and structured set of institutions catering for homosexuals.
In its early stages this subculture will probably be very
closed and furtive. It will, moreover, tend to imitate the outside world, in particular to reproduce the assumption that
heterosexuality is 'natural' by creating effeminate 'queens'
and butch 'dykes'. This confusion between sex roles and
sexuality tends to break down, so that the contemporary gay
world of north America and northern Europe is far less likely
to exhibit the stereotype features than was true twenty years
ago 6 or is still true in less affluent and liberal societies.
More than purely socio-economic factors are involved.
Attitudes to sexuality, as to sex-roles, are the product of a
complex of factors. Thus, while a recognisable homosexual
subculture is the product of urban industrial society, variations between such societies are to be explained by other
factors. For example, although there are a number of selfidentified homosexuals in most Latin American countries,
even such major centres as Mexico City or Buenos Aires have
a very small and hidden homosexual subculture. This would
seem due to a combination of Catholic values and the
peculiar 'macho' traditions of Latin America, which seem
responsible for some of the most vicious contemporary
In an odd way the best evidence for the assertion that a
homosexual subculture is the product of modern urban and
industrial society is found in certain non-industrial societies
which have been exposed to the impact of western imperialism. In the large cities of the Third World one finds homosexual cultures that exist in a symbiotic relationship to the
dominant imperialist culture; pre-Castro Havana, San Juan
(Puerto Rico), Tangier, Bangkok all have their gay milieux,
which provide a transition for locals between the traditional
restraints of the national culture and the attractions of the
western gay world. That prostitution is often the result is
hardly surprisingthe 1975 Spartacus 'Gay Guide' refers to
boys at Kundu Beach, Bali, as 'available for a cigarette'nor
indeed does this differ from the normal heterosexual pattern
of interaction between western and non-western societies. It
does, however, help explain the hostility of many nonwestern revolutionaries towards homosexuality, just as the
experience of prison homosexuality helps explain much
opposition to homosexuals by black writers such as Eldridge
The so-called socialist countries of eastern Europe are a
special case. There the preconditions of urbanisation, industrialism and the breakdown of the extended family certainly
exist, but the homosexual world is very limited.9 Which

Photograph by
Alan Bistry

The Photographers' Gallery

8 Great Newport Street London WC 2

suggests that the explicitly political dimension of liberalism is

essential for a homosexual world to flourish. It is odd, but
perhaps not surprising, that Marxist puritanism is more
effectively enforced nowadays than that of judaeo-christianity.

Liberal advances
In the past ten years official prohibitions on homosexuality
have been drastically reduced in liberal capitalist societies. I
would argue that the change is in fact equivalent to the
triumph of the demands of a consumer-oriented capitalism
over one based on production and hence represents a more
efficient and modernbut not necessarily less repressiverole
for the state.
Obviously one of the key factors influencing changes in
sexual mores is the invention of adequate birth control
methods, which by breaking the link between sexuality and
procreation for women has, by extension, destroyed the basis
of the ideology that branded homosexuality as 'unnatural' by
virtue of its non-reproductive nature. Sex is now technologically 'freed' to become a commodity.
This thesis would suggest that the homosexual movement
can quite easily be contained within modern capitalist
society, and that those who argue it is no real threat to that
society are in fact accurate. Homophobia is undoubtedly a
dominant attitude in most western societies, 10 but changes
in the role of the state have come about remarkably fast in
the last twenty years. Just as the feminist struggle for abortion and adequate contraceptive services are likely to succeed
in capitalist countries, so is that for homosexual rights, and
for the same reason: the capitalist order no longer demands
that sexuality be bent to the needs of the reproduction of
labour power. Indeed the present requirements of capitalism
are for privatised hedonism to maintain the extensive consumerism on which the system rests, and here homosexuals
represent an attractive market rather than a social threat.
It is my guess that the stigma against homosexuals will
gradually decline, though upholders of the old ethos, will
still seek to enforce it. As part of the new permissiveness
Gay Left 5

homosexuals will no longer be branded criminals, and indeed

their 'right' to serve in the civil service and armed forces, to
marry and to adopt children will be recognised. That is, as it
is no longer necessary to force everyone into the role of
producing and raising children it will become possible for
people to both reject that role by open homosexuality and
to uphold it by parodying heterosexual marriage.

The GayMovement
In discussing the changing role of the state in regulating
homosexuality one need consider the role of the gay movement, at one and the same time a product and a cause of
change. It could arise, of course, only under certain conditions, but to recognise this is not to deny its importance in
helping produce both attitudinal and behavioural change.
The gay movement, as we know it, is essentially a product
of the sixties, and with individual variations has gone through
a three-stage development in North America, Western
Europe and Australasia. The earliest groupse.g. the Mattachine Society (USA), Arcadie (France), COC (Holland) were
low-key and deferential in style, aiming at gradual amelioration of the quite savage persecution that was the norm almost
everywhere in the west until ten years ago.
In the upsurge of radical energy of the late sixties, the
second wave of the gay liberation movement emerged. Unlike
their precursors, Gay Liberation demanded not tolerance but
a radical change in society so as to attain full equality for
homosexuals and recognition of homosexuality as part of the
human potential.11
We are now in a third wave, one that combines the overall
social moderation of the first with the direct political activity
of the second, and is much more disparate. It includes both
church groups and radical collectives; it has increasing links
with the commercial gay world which is for economic
reasons ambivalent in its attitudes to homosexual liberation.
These moves are predicated on the assumption, which gay
liberation rejected, that homosexuals can achieve equality
within society as presently constituted. Homosexual activists,
in fighting for their rights, are also fighting for the triumph
of 'modern' values over traditional ones. But they are not in
any fundamental way undermining the liberal capitalist state.

Only a small minority of homosexuals in any way become
involved in the gay movement. As the gay movement became
much more visible and aggressive in the late sixties/early
seventies there was considerable optimism about its ability to
expand and draw in the majority of homosexuals. Even the
great proliferation of organisations that went to make up the
movement could be seen as a sign of strength. The mid seventies have seen some consolidation of the movement, in particular the emergence of a few more structured and permanent
groups such as the American National Gay Task Force. By
and large, however, the gay movement has not become a
mass movement. In as far as one can disentangle the results
of movement activity from more general social change, the
gay movement has had some considerable successes. What it
has not succeeded in doing is involving in its activities the
majority of these people who identify themselves as homosexual.
Why this is so may throw light on something that we
know very little about, namely under what conditions people
come to perceive themselves as oppressed and to organise
against this oppression. The contemporary gay movement
began as part of a far wider socio-political movement. It was
the expression of homosexuals who felt both sufficiently
self-confident and sufficiently angry to make their sexuality
a basis for political action. That only a minority of homosexuals then and in the foreseeable future share these feelings
is a continuing problem for the gay movement.
It seemed self-evident to those homosexuals who became
involved that they were oppressed. It is not, however, selfevident to most homosexuals, many of whom, indeed, resist
this analysis very vigorously.
Two sorts of answer come to mind. The first is that homosexuals have been so badly oppressed, in particular have so
internalised the pejorative judgement of society, that they
Gay Left 6

fail to perceive themselves as oppressed. The best example of

this would be those homosexuals who seek 'treatment' to
'change' their sexual orientation. If one accepts homosexuality as a 'sickness' or a 'pathology' one is hardly likely to see
legal or social restraints as oppressive.
But far more common are those homosexuals who accept
their gay identity and yet reject the movement analysis that
their situation is so oppressive that it should form the basis
of a political movement. It is tempting to dismiss such persons as suffering from 'false consciousness', implying that we
(namely the radicals) understand their situation better than
they. To do this is to overlook one of the realities of social
structuring, namely that only in extreme cases do oppressed
groups not gain some benefits from their inferior position.
This is something that is rarely discussed, but it does seem to
play a role in explaining why groups do not always behave as
radicals would want.
Kate Millet has written in Sexual Politics:

. . . something in me never wants to relinquish what took

so many years hunting down ... I have borne this label so
long it is a victory to embrace it, a way of life accepted.. '
What Millett hints at, that the oppression experienced by
homosexuals and hence the furtiveness of the gay world are
an essential part of a gay identity, suggests that homosexuals
do indeed have something to lose if gay liberation were to
succeed. For the aims of gay liberation, as expressed in its
heyday, imply a fundamental assault on that identity, and
the possibility of, as I once put it, 'the end of the homosexual'. In modern western society, where being a Homo-.
sexual is a way of identifying oneself as a member of a
particular and somewhat exotic sub-culture, this is not
necessarily something to be desired. Like Jews, homosexuals
may choose to cling to their separateness, even if this provokes persecution from the dominant majority.
In its present stage, however, the gay movement aims at
far less than the radical restructuring of human sexuality that
that would mean an end to the homosexual. Rather it seeks,
as Gay Left (no. 2) put it, a situation in which the ghetto
can come out, and to this extent it may well succeed in
attracting a large number of homosexuals who will be able to
have their cock and eat it too. The implication of most current
activism is that homosexuals should define themselves as
another minority group sharing the dominant cultural values
of larger society while maintaining their right to a separate
and equal existence. Homosexuals thus become the equivalent of an ethnic group. This undoubtedly is preferable to
the present situation, but it hardly represents a radical
threat. Much of the contemporary gay movement can be
seen, indeed, as working for the better integration of homosexuals into the on-going society, even to the extent of
propping up such institutions as marriage and the army.

Partial integration
What is apparent, nevertheless, is that only a certain form of
homosexuality is accepted by society, and in so far as the
gay movement works within this framework it will be both
successful and no real threat whatsoever. Even in cities like
New York or Sydney where homosexuality remains technically illegal, there are vast and overt opportunities for
homosexual activity, and the growing numbers of those prepared to 'come out' publicly find that public sanctions
against homosexuals are declining. (Though, one must note,
at a very uneven rate.) The new 'permissiveness' has
undoubtedly benefited homosexuals, though it is questionable how far this 'freedom' could be extendedwhether, in
particular, armies and police forces, not to mention car
assembly lines, could tolerate open expression of homosexuality. Fairly clearly sex is 'free' only in times and
circumstances that are intended for consumption, rather
than production and regulation of the society. In the case of
homosexuality, it is the burgeoning ghetto that offers such
opportunities, just as heterosexuals find an increasing range
of travel and entertainment industries to cater for their new
freedom. But within these limits all forms of sexual expression are increasingly seen as equally valid.
This is the new, open 'pan-sexuality' of the 'liberated'
seventies. It is expressed almost too well by Steve Ostrow,
entrepreneur of New York's Continental Baths,
'In 14 years of marriage I'd never been with another
woman. Have never, because I'm still happily married to
my wife. Sex with another woman would have caused me
deep remorse, but sex at a bath with boys, that was
simple release. And I knew the country was full of men
like me. Sex, after all, is the most intense form of
communication, and this is a technological society built
upon expanding communication, much as capitalism was
built on expanding money; I sensed we'd need to expand
a sexual communication by promiscuity without guilt,
and that if I could create a place in which the middle class
could create its own values, instead of living by values
imposed upon it by the church, the state, as it always
had ...'12
Note that homosexuality is not seen as a full and valid way
of relating to others, nor as a real alternative to the heterosexual family. Its whole role is to provide safe release for
genital urges. Guilt persistsnot now about homosexual
encounters, but about homosexual relations, as any observer
of the current gay scene will notice. There is, clearly, a
parallel with heterosexual 'swingers', who take pride in their
The new freedom offers on one level considerable derepression, while on another promoting the continued
supremacy of the heterosexual norm which, it is now perceived, can tolerate far more 'deviance' than traditional
moralists argued. Indeed this example suggests that the contemporary tolerance of homosexuals can in some cases
extend to a tolerance of homosexuality among those otherwise seen as 'straight', and to this extent, as I shall argue, it
does contain a radical potential.

I want to conclude this paper with what is necessarily a

very speculative argument about the link between male
bonding, the repression of homosexuality and the perpetuation of certain sex-role characteristics among men. The
concentration on males is not meant to suggest that there is
not repression of female sexuality, but that, as Fernbach
argues, its repression is of a quite different nature.
Such an analysis bases itself on one of Freud's central
theses, namely that in individual development we all necessarily repress a large part of our sexual energy, which, nonetheless, persists in a transformed guise in everyone's behaviour.
The possibility of homosexual object choice (as of heterosexual) is something we all experience, even if awareness of
this is deeply repressed. 14 Thus real de-repression of homosexuality need extend through the whole population, and
will have an impact on social organisation far beyond the
acceptance of the homosexual's right to do his or her 'thing'.
This argument sees the repression of homosexuality as
essential in the formation of male bonding, itself the psychological basis for authoritarian and competitive relations in
virtually all existing societies. Both contemporary feminists
and ethnologists, despite their attacks on each other, accept
the thesis that male bonding is a dominant reality in social
organisation. This view is also apparent in Freud, except that
Freud sees libidinal energy as underlying such bonding, a
concept which the ethnologists tend to reject. How far the
libidinal energy which unites all-male groups is specifically
homosexual in nature is not clear in Freud's writings.
Yet while Freud rejects the idea of specifically homosexual urges as being sublimated into the maintenance of
group ties, it is not really apparent why 'there is scarcely any
sense in asking whether the libido which keeps groups
together is of a homosexual or a heterosexual nature' 15 ; the
libido itself is (and can be) neither, but the idea that male
bonding results from the sublimation of homo-erotic urges is
to be found elsewhere in Freud. It is suggested in the famous
myth of the brothers banding together to slay the primal
father; the brothers' ability to coalesce 'may have been based
on homosexual feelings and acts, originating perhaps during
the period of their expulsion from the horde.' 16 Most
specifically it is found in Freud's comments written in 1911
on the 'Schreber case', where Freud wrote:
'After the stage of heterosexual object-choice has been
reached, the homosexual tendencies are not, as might be
supposed, done away with or brought to a stop; they are
merely deflected from their sexual aim and applied to
fresh uses. They now combine with portions of the egoinstincts and, as "attached" components, help to constitute the social instincts, thus contributing an erotic
factor to friendship and comradeship, to "esprit de corps"
and to the love of mankind in general. How large a contribution is in fact derived from erotic sources (with the
sexual aim inhibited) could scarcely be guessed from the
normal social relations of mankind. ..'16

Radical potential
Where the de-repression of homosexuality does seem to me
to retain its radical potential is in terms of an argument
about the inter-relationship between sexual repression and
sex-roles. As David Fernbach has argued:
'The psychological production of masculinity and
femininity involves the repression of homosexual tendencies, but this process works differentially for each
sex. For the girl, it is not specifically lesbianism which
is repressed, but rather any claim to sexual autonomy
independent of the penis. For the boy, homosexuality
seems equivalent to castration, involving the loss of his
position as a sexual subject and becoming like women
the object of male sexual aggression . The famous "male
bond" serves to guard against this by harnessing male
penises in the parallel, so to speak, towards the penetration of female sexual objects.'13

Gay Left 7

If Freud is right then the full de-repression of homosexuality would seem to have very considerable consequences for social order. In a society which maintains
heterosexuality as the norm (even were it to grant full rights
to 'deviants'), the generalised de-repression of homosexuality
would, according to speculation of this sort, begin a process
of far more radical sexual release. Freed from guilt, the
discovery by men of sexual feelings for each other could
make it easier to break down hostility and aggression
between each otherand, by extension, make it easier for
them to relate as equals with women against whom
aggression is also often directedbut to do so homosexuality
would have to move beyond its current emphasis on genitality, often of an extremely aggressive sort, 17 to an
exploration of the tender dimensions of eroticism, the transformation, perhaps, of male bonding into a sisterhood of
The search for full sexual liberation, then, may need to
move in a direction quite opposite to that of the gay movement which, having accepted the need to be integrated into
the dominant heterosexual order, comes to support and
indeed bolster its values. Often there is no alternative; in
practice co-option is better than persecution. But it is not
revolutionary, nor is it necessarily linked to any real change
towards a less aggressive and more loving society. 'Make love,
not war' is an appealing slogan, but it forgets that through
history men have done both.

1 See H. Marcuse: Eros and Civilisation, N.Y. Vintage, 1961, ch. 2.
2 M. ()raison: La Question Homosexuelle (Paris 75) p.96.
3 See C. Ford and F. Beach: Patterns of Sexual Behaviour (London
1952), pp.132-42.
4 This seems to be the case in the modern arab world. See Karlen:


The prosecution of Gay News by Mary Whitehouse led to the
setting up of a National Committee to organise activities in
its defence. This culminated in the massive demonstration on
February 11th 1978 of over 5000 people through London,
the biggest gay march ever seen in this country.
In the present climate of attacks on lesbians and gay men,
many people felt that the Gay News Defence Committee
should continue in some form to respond to other events,
based on the successful local action groups that had come
together in several towns.
A conference was held in Birmingham on February 25th
when it was decided that continued links were necessary at a
national level for the local activist groups. The name Gay
Activists Alliance was chosen for the umbrella organisation.
A statement of aims was agreed as follows---"The aim of the
GAA is to co-ordinate at a national level the fight against the
increasing attacks being made on homosexuality and homosexuals. We see our struggle as part of that of other
oppressed people and therefore we seek to win the active
participation of the maximum number of gay and non-gay
individuals and organisations in this aim."
A second conference was held in Manchester on April
1st and 2nd in which information was exchanged and workshops were held on several issues the harassment of gay
people in Manchester with the threat of prosecution for
'licentious dancing', lesbians and the GAA, Law Reform in
Scotland, the threat of the National Front and the banning
of Gay News by W.H. Smiths.
The main discussion, however, centred on the organisation
of the GAA itself. First, should it have an explicit socialist
commitment or be a coalition of gay activist groups drawing
in as many people as possible. Secondly, should it be a
delegate conference or try to draw together what ever groups
and individuals who may wish to attend. The latter arguments won in both cases.
The address of the secretariat is
Brighton GAA/Lambda, Box 449, Ship Street, Brighton
BN I IUU. Tel. Brighton 202930.
Gay Left 8

Sexuality and Homosexuality, ch.26, pp.463-83.

5 J.H. Gagnon and W. Simon: Sexual Conduct: the Social Sources
of Human Sexuality, London, Hutchinson, 1973, p.15.
6 See L. Humphreys: 'New Styles in Homosexual Manliness',
Transaction, March/April, 1971.
7 See G. Hannon: 'Oppression in Mexico', Body Politic (Toronto)
N.13, May-June 1974 and the Latin American issue of Gay Sunshine (San Francisco) No.26/7, winter 1975-6 for an introduction
to this area.
8 Soul on Ice, N.Y., McGraw Hill, 1968. Juliet Mitchell suggests a
similar reason for Wilhelm Reich's homophobia. (See her Psychoanalysis and Feminism, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1975, p.141.)
9 See, e.g. Sue Bruley: 'Ah, lesbianka!' Gay Left (London) No. 2,
Spring, 1976, and Tom Reeves: 'Red and Gay', Fag Rag (Boston),
No. 6, Fall-Winter, 1973. It is however reputed that there is a
more overt gay world in both Warsaw and Budapest. There is also
some interest in changing western attitudes among eastern
European scientists.
10 For a discussion of this term see G. Weinberg: Society and the
Healthy Homosexual, N.Y., St. Martin's, 1971.
11 For a discussion of the emergence of a radical gay movement in
the late sixties see my: Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation,
New York, Avon, 1972.
12 Tom Burke: 'King Queen', Rolling Stone (English edition), May 6,
1976, p.13.
13 D. Fernbach: 'Towards a Marxist Theory of Gay Liberation', Gay
Marxist (London) No. 2, July 1973.
14 S. Freud: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, London,
Hogarth Press, 1962, p.11 (footnote).
15 Totem and Taboo, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1950,
16 S. Freud: 'Psycho-analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account
of a Case of Paranoia' in Complete Works (J. Strachey, ed.),
London, Hogarth Press, 1958, p.61.
17 For some interesting comments on homosexuality as a form of
aggression see T. Vanggaard: Phallos, London, Jonathan Cape,
1972, ch.8.


You may be interested in hearing about what's happening

here within the Gay Left movement, and sympathetic
straight movement. This sympathetic movement is small.
The largest political groups are hostile to gays, and to larger
sexual questions. Most of the 30 or so Trotskyist groups are
either ignorant of anything but the transitional programme,
or open to recruitment of gays, but not open to the independent organisation of gays.
The largest group of left gays was in Los Angeles--you've
probably heard of them, the Lavender & Red Union. Well,
the L&RU is no more. After spending a year or two studying
political questions (and nothing else), they decided that the
ultra-sectarian Spartacus League was the group for them. In
a large public meeting held in L.A., with all 30 of the L&RU
people on stage, they announced they wanted to build the
correct leadership. Now those members have been dispersed
throughout the country, and are discouraged from proclaiming their politics where they are. As long as everything
different about them is hidden under sheets, that's fine.
The right turn of events (Supreme Court rulings, Anita
Bryant, etc.) has made the largely male gay movement (the
lesbian movement appears, from the outside, to be fairly
hidden within separatism) more political--but not necessarily
more left wing. In San Francisco, where the male population
between the ages of 21-50 is estimated to be one-third gay,
many groups are operating within the Democratic Party.
I' m a member of the International Socialist Organisation,
the fraternal group of the British SWP. We haven't found the
same problems that Bob Cant has run up against, although
we're a much smaller group, with a very informal leadership
structure. An end to discrimination in all forms is one of our
political stands. Our paper, and I'd be blind to miss it, carries
little on gays other than workplace stuff which is tame. We
did carry an interview with Kate Millet, and why she is being
cast out for her sexual preferences by the Democratic wing
of the feminist movement.
The real trick is for us to translate our official stand into
our regular political work and into our personal lives, to
incorporate an understanding of sexual politics into our work.
Kent Worcester, 88 Fisher Ave, Boston, Ma. 02120, USA.

Lesbians SplAID
by Sue Cartledge
I was on my way to a Lesbian Left meeting one January
evening when suddenly the word that dare not speak its name
confronted me on every news-stand: LONDON'S LESBIAN
foot high letters.
Thus was the unsuspecting commuter introduced to a
story that seemed a winning gutter-press combination of perverted sex, shady medical ethics ("Dr. Strange Love"), and
innocent babies; with a dash of racism thrown in. In the
ensuing days the "extraordinary and disturbing case" of a
doctor (full name published to make sure everyone knew he
was Jewish), who had helped a handful of lesbians to have
children by artificial insemination, received extensive coverage in the press, on radio, and on television.

He Called Me Daddy
Few other papers descended to the level of the Evening News,
who not only engaged in extensive betrayals of confidence to
get the original story, but proceeded thereafter to adopt a
tone of high-minded self righteousness. They claimed they
had withheld the names and photographs of one household at
the request of the people concerned, but failed to mention
that the request had been backed up by the threat of a legal
injunction. There were, of course, the inevitable cartoons of
hefty tweed-suited ladies exclaiming "He called me Daddy!".
But the press generally chose to adopt the tone of reason
("cause for concern") rather than the original hysteria of the
Evening News ("BAN THESE BABIES"). However in many
ways the reasoned arguments of the liberal press are a clearer
reflection of the prevailing attitudes towards women, children, gays and the family, and a better guide to just what we
have to fight, than the prurient hypocrisy of the News.

Life Without Father

The nation's dial-an-expert service was on 24 hour standby
that week, breathlessly awaiting their chance to weigh in with
their opinions. Conservative Members of Parliament Jill
Knight and Rhodes Boyson ("This evil must stop") were predictable. But 'liberal' child expert Mia Kellmer Pringle put
her finger on the basic reason for all this fuss: "There is
evidence that some boys brought up without a father figure
have difficulty in establishing normal heterosexual relationships". Poor things, just think what they're missing ... and
note the greater importance of boys' sexuality. No one
seemed particularly worried about how the girls might grow
up. The Evening News stated clearly that its main objection
to lesbian mothers was that their children might not grow up
straight: "Will they too be likely to become homosexuals?
What are their prospects of security and happiness?" Even
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian closed a fairly sympathetic
article by quoting a researcher investigating lesbian parenthood: "There seems not to be any harmful effect on
children's psychosexual development". For 'psychosexual
development' read 'learning to be heterosexual'.

Grave Threat to Nation

One could search in vain through the columns of the press for
one person prepared to say: So what if the kids did grow up
to be homosexual? The message was, we may tolerate those
unfortunates who are already queer but for god's sake don't
let's have them breeding any more! Meanwhile a paradoxical
and vital statistic was overlooked: 99% of existing homosexuals have heterosexual parents! Perhaps the Evening News
could suggest what could be done about this grave threat to
the moral health of the nation ...?

Member of Parliament Drafts Eleventh

Sympathetic comment was largely confined to quoting cases
of happy, stable, well off lesbian households with happy,
stable, normal, blond, blue-eyed kids. Don't worry, folks,
these funny people also renovate marble fireplaces, just like
real families. And features of heterosexual nuclear family life,
like wife battering, child-battering, alcoholism and the rising
divorce rate, were suddenly and mysteriously forgotten. "A
child needs above all a normal and natural family environment", stated Jill Knight. While Rhodes Boyson considered
that "to bring children into this world without a natural
father is evil and selfish".

There was plenty of "concern" and "worry" about the
hostile attitudes the children could encounter at school and
in the outside world. But it didn't seem to occur to these
same concerned people that maybe they should be trying to
change these attitudes, rather than attempting the impossible
task of ensuring that no child ever grows up except in a
white, anglo-saxon, protestant, nuclear cornflakes packet
family. Likewise none of the experts thought to draw attention to society's signal failure to provide money and help for
children and their parents in the form of adequate child
benefits, nurseries etcetera, just so long as they grow up

Lesbian Knocks Sacred Cow

It was left to Pat Arrowsmith to make the bold suggestion
that the nuclear family may have its drawbacks: "Many
people argue that capitalism is based on the whole concept of
the family in manageable units. I think that this tight unit is
itself rather unhealthy ... there is far too much sense of
owning a child." But she was alone in putting forward a
socialist and feminist perspective. None of the other
commentators, except in the left press, seemed aware that
many women, and some men, are trying to bring up children
in a different way. The mother-child bond shone unquestioned. In the end, when you scratched the surface of the
quality press, it really looked quite like the gutter press
underneath"They might grow up queer" screeched the
reactionaries. "No, no it's O.K., they'll probably grow up
normal", reassured the liberals. Know your enemies.

Gay Left 9

Two Steps Forward

Coming Out Six Years On by John Shiers
There are an enormous number of areas in the experience of
being gay which have yet to be explored. Thus it is still
possible to find problems we experience in everyday life
continue to be non-issues. The barriers which are built up to
avoid raising certain kinds of questions are as great as they
ever were. There is a gap between how I believe I ought to
live, feel and act as a person committed to a broad socialistfeminist perspective, and how I actually do live, what I feel
inside and the things I do as a gay man in this society. Perhaps for the traditional left this is not an issue at all: it is
"idealist" to attempt to change your life, better to sublimate
all hang ups in working for the revolution. But once you
come to accept that "the personal is political", the way we
live as people cannot be ignored any longer. I want, in this
article, to write about my experiences not in coming out but
in being "out" because I feel, six years after openly defining
myself as gay, that a whole new series of issues, which I
define as "problems", have emerged so intensely that I have
longer and longer periods where I feel totally screwed up

What "coming out" did for me

Like many others who came out into GLF, I found the
initial experience tremendously liberating. My sexuality, the
part of me with which I most strongly identified and most
intensely denied, was no longer hidden, no longer even bad:
but something positive, good, perhaps even better than the
heterosexual, gender-defined norm. I threw myself rapidly
into GLF and its ideology because it seemed to relate to my
experience, to articulate my oppression. I particularly identified with feminist ideas because as well as my submerged
sexuality, I had always felt inadequate as a male; never found
myself able to play the role that most other blokes I met
before GLF played. Understanding sexism and the oppression
of women seemed like the key which unlocked the prison
GLF thus gave me confidence for the first time in my life:
the confidence to be proud of my sexuality. It also gave me
an ideology that located my oppressors: capitalism and maleness, and a movement in which I could work for change.
While I had previously agreed with socialist goals, I had never
been able to cope with the heaviness and severity of members
of revolutionary groups I had met and the whole "macho"
aura they exuded.
But years of self oppression, combined with my childhood experiences, had taken their toll in terms of my selfi mage and way of relating to others. These things I couldn't
explore in GLFand only dimly recognised at the time in
myself. While we constantly talked about "making the personal political", it was always easier to blow up enormous
personal conflicts between ourselves than it was to open up
about deeply rooted feelings and experiences.
I felt acutely unattractive: hideous even, right through the
year that I was a member of Lancaster GLF. I never dared
admit this to anyone yet it was one of the basic underlying
feelings that I took with me into every situation when I was
with gay people. I found it virtually impossible to envisage
that anyone towards whom I was attracted sexually could
ever feel the same way towards me. The costs of rejection
from people in the group were so great that I only dared risk
making any indications to people that I was attracted to
them outside of it. That meant at periodic visits to conferences or to London GLF where rejection mattered less since
I didn't have to see the person every day (and anyway the
people in these contexts were far more bold in telling you if
they fancied you than we were in Lancaster!) and at monthly
parties above a snack bar in Lancaster (the nearest thing to a
commercial scene which existed in that part of the North
The political and sexual parts of myself rapidly became
totally fragmented: I could unendingly argue about the
Gay Left 10

politics of gay liberation; support new people just coming

out and appear "sussed out", but at the same time feel inside
totally inadequate at actually having gay relationships. While
I overcame the worst feelings of self-disgust, purely because
people sometimes did seem interested in me for my body and
not just for my mind, I have still in no way gone beyond the
fragmentation: in some ways it is worse than ever.

Exploring the commercial gay scene

Throughout my time at Lancaster and the following year at
York I was scared of what we defined as the "gay ghetto"
gay bars and clubs. In the group we had a very ambiguous
attitude towards it. On the one hand, we condemned it
because of the money the owners and managers were making
out of gay people; for the values that developed in the people
who used it and for its sexism, ageism and commercialism.
On the other hand, many of us (particularly the men) were
fascinated by it and greatly tempted by it.
It wasn't until I moved to Manchester, the first place I'd
lived which actually had any sizable commercial scene, that I
really began to explore it in any serious way. I found that the
bars and clubs attracted me and repulsed me at the same
time. On the one hand it all seemed so exciting, a magic fantasy world where, for an hour or so on a club dance floor, I
could simply be, transcend all the hassles of the real world.
On the other hand it was all so uptight and unpolitical compared with GLF. I felt guilty going down to it: particularly
because I seemed to be going more often than my friends.
But I rationalised (of course!) that I was taking GLF ideas
into the grass roots from which it needed to build its base. I
was there not because I actually needed the company like
everyone else but because I could aid the politicisation of the
vast mass of gay people!
At some point which I can't clearly recall, I found the
reverse was happening. It wasn't me who was changing the
gay scene, but the gay scene which was changing me. It
happened first in quite subtle ways: I began to be concerned
about whether I was wearing 'suitable' clothes and whether I

Two lesbians being refused admission to Napoleon's club

during a picket by gay activists in April 1977.

.......... One Step Back

was parting my hair in the 'right' way. Then my absorption
became more self-evident: should I wear gay badges all the
ti me in pubs and clubs because they might put people off;
should I talk to anyone around whether or not I was attracted to them or would they get the 'wrong idea' from me being
friendly with them; how strongly should I argue with people
who said things I considered to be gross?
As the "alternative" gay lifestyle which GLF promised,
began to wither and decay, so my dependence on the commercial gay scene increased. The ideas that I felt so committed
towards became ideals, beliefs which seemed impossible to
live out. Gay men were not the potential revolutionaries just
waiting for the word of gay liberation to inspire them to
political struggle that I had, in my innocence, thought. Gay
women I met outside of lesbian groups and uninfluenced by
feminist ideas were no more likely to rise up in spontaneous
anger against male dominance either. The barriers in communication and lifestyle between "revolutionary" gays and
"ordinary" lesbians and gay men seemed more like a brick
wall. There was no way that in our role as gay liberationists
we could get through. Some people in the face of this had
withdrawn totally from the scene in disillusionment. I carried
on going to pubs and clubs mostly because, as I've said, I
needed the company: it was somewhere to go. I also have the
feeling however, that withdrawing can simply mean avoiding
confronting the reality which has to be changed. Keeping
"pure" ideologically and socially can easily end up as a new
form of elitism which judges and despises the way of life of
everyone else. The success rate that gay liberationists like me
have had simply in keeping our own lifestyle and values together is, however, hardly a model to inspire those who
regard it as a cop-out.

Copping out in clubs

What participating on the commerical scene showed me, too,
was that however much I have solidarity with the oppression
of lesbians, however much I enjoy the friendship of women,
I remain a man and as such need the company of other gay
men as well as close emotional relationships with women.
This really hit home when it became obvious that lesbians
were being discriminated against in admission to the two gay
clubs in Manchester. One club banned at the time all women
unless they looked "feminine" enough to satisfy the whims
of the management; the other has a male-only membership
and women are only allowed in if accompanied by a member
(read man). While a number of us protested frequently about
this, and some of us made token attempts to change their
policies, first by a picket and leafleting outside one of the
clubs, then by a petition. When it came to the crunch none
of us, including myself, was prepared to take action which
would result in our being expelled from the clubs, or to boycott them as an individual protest. We valued our gay social
lives more than the principle of outright opposition to
mysogynist male managements. The one disco per week
which comprises the sole remnant of an alternative gay scene
simply did not provide us with sufficient opportunities to
mix with other gay men. We could not cut ourselves off from
the only places where it is possible to meet and relax with
one another. We have completely accepted the terms laid
down for us by the rip-off club owners for relating to one

Coping with sexual needs

The fragmentation between my "political" self and my
"sexual" self which began in Lancaster has, of course, been
compounded a thousand times over since I've begun to go to
the commercial gay scene. I have never resolved my basic
self-disgust at myself; consequently I've never let anyone
relate sexually to me for more than a few weeks. My sexual
and emotional responses are totally disconnected from each
other. I have friends, women and men whom I care a lot for
and feel close to and casual sexual encounters with people

who then get to be defined as "friends" (and therefore not

sexual partners) or who disappear altogether from my life.
Sex becomes a means of affirming to myself that other
people can find me attractive; physically can like my body.
If I go for more than a month without any sexual encounter.
I just feel permanently depressed. I get deep feelings of selfworthlessness. That is how I've come to dabble with
cottaging (which is counter-productive because the guilt after
the encounter is worse than the depression which leads me to
go in the first place) and gay saunas (which are at least in
physically comfortable surroundings).
The other side of this inverse narcissism is that I can only
sexually relate to people who are socially defined as highly
physically attractive. I am relating to their bodies not to
them (which is why I can so often sleep with people with
whom I have nothing remotely in common): I would like my
body to be like theirs. Through sex I can, for a few moments,
"become" the body of someone who is not disgusting like
my internal self perceives me to be.
Basically, 1 would like my sexuality to be integrated into
my friendships and emotional relationships. Sex seems to
have a symbolic meaning inside my head which gives it little
or no connection at all with feelings of emotional commitment. So it becomes almost totally commoditised.

Living with the contradictions

It shocks me how well I can present a public image of being
"sorted out". I can function in daily life, I can participate in
the work routine and have close friendships with people, I
can belong to "Friend" and help some gays through the first
stages of accepting their seuxality. Yet I can't stand being on
my own for any length of time. I go through long periods of
feeling how meaningless everything is. I reject every attempt
anyone makes to have an ongoing sexual relationship with
me. My "public" and "private" lives seem totally divorced.
What is worst of all is that I experience discontent yet do
not know how to begin to change and however much I talk
to friends about things, analyse the problems, they still
remain. Yet I have the feeling that I'm not that peculiar.
Many others share similar feelings although their social
experiences and contexts are different. Perhaps in writing
this article I'm also asking whether it's time to move on in
gay liberation thinking. Shouldn't we start examining some
of the "internal" factors which generate our oppression, how
"the system" gets into our system. How to cope with and
change our psychic structures which have been shaped in a
sexist capitalist world that is also the world we have to survive in but at the same time work to transform. Where, in
brief, we go after we're out.

Making sense of it
This article has been highly personal and, at times, painful to
write because none of the issues it raises have been resolved.
But I think it is important to abstract from the personal and
see whether it has anything more general to say about both
the first phase of the gay liberation movement and directions
towards which we might be moving today.
Firstly it seems clear to me now that GLF ideology (I)
was rife with individualistic assumptions about the potential
of individuals to change by their own efforts. It assumed that
a lifetime of conditioning could be magically wisked away by
one simple act of coming out. While the analysis was of the
structural factors which generate oppression, the practice
was based on individual self-change as if this was boundless.
Changing our lifestyles and challenging ideologically the
gender role system is not going to make the revolution. This
is no reason not to attempt to make such changes and to
challenge sexist ideology, but it is reason to really take
account of the deep barriers both personal and social which
we have to confront and to examine ways of gradually
chipping down.
Gay Left 11

Equally there are dimensions of self which are rooted in

our underlying psychic structure: largely hidden from our
consciousness but powerful in motivating our actions and
shaping our feelings. Perhaps one task of gay socialists should
not be simply to keep the flame of gay liberation ideas alive
but to pioneer new kinds of group which do seek to reach
that underlying psychic structure. Maybe it is only from
beginning to bring that level to consciousness that the foundations for a revolutionary psychology can be built: one
from which we all could benefit.2
Secondly, my anxiety has been exacerbated by the lack of
any norms to provide me with guidelines as to what kind of
personal relations I "should" be working towards. Having
rejected the bourgeois norm of the happy heterosexist
couple, what kinds and quality of relationships are the goal
of gay liberation? In GLF there seemed to be a vague belief
in the "eroticisation of everyday life", of sex no longer being
a "special" act done in "special" places with "special"
people, but merely an extension of a general sensuality which
would be part of all relationships. I have never met anyone
who has achieved this goal. Few of us have even begun to
break down our stereotypes despite mouthing attacks on
"ageism", "sexual objectification" etc. The male gay scene
offers the possibility of sex disconnected in any meaningful
way from emotional relationships. This route is the route
which has been traditionally taken by probably the majority
of gay men who have got as far as meeting others socially at
all, but still at the back of their minds (and mine) there is
usually a strong desire for an intense one-to-one relationship.
Could we not be working out more clearly the kinds of
social/sexual relations which advance the development of a
gay liberationist consciousness and way of life, and which are
merely the result of a brutalisation of our lives under capitalism, a reduction of others to objects which we can consume
and a making of ourselves into objects for consumption? I
don't mean that this should be done in a moralistic way of
laying down new "you should's" and "you shouldn't's":
there was too much of that in GLF. But through thought,
discussion and sharing of experience, and probing of the
internal and external forces which keep us committed to lifestyles we feel discontent about, new possibilities may emerge.
At the moment, I am particularly vulnerable to whatever
norms get to be thrown up in the social groups of which I am
a member. Since I, like many others, have come to depend
on the gay scene, I am particularly likely to be influenced by
the norms which emerge "within the walls" of the scene
Thirdly, we grossly under-estimated in GLF the capacity
of capitalist enterprises to colonise gay men. We tried to
avoid confronting the gay scene altogether, hoping that some
mass conversion would turn out all its participants from the
bars and into our ranks. But the reality is that they can provide better facilities than we could in a material sense, more
regular meeting places and more exciting discos. Socially we
could not compete and little attempt was made in GLF to
welcome people who did not already have a fairly clearly
defined left-wing stance.
In many small towns up and down the country the bar is,
literally, all that there is for gays in the area (apart of course
for the public conveniences which become cottages for gay
men). Since commercial facilities are obviously going to he
the main places where gay men and probably lesbians too,
are going to meet for a long time to come, gay liberationists
in the gay movement ought to be starting to press organisations like CHE and NOOL to organise effective campaigns to
prevent at the very least sexual or racial or class discrimination in access to these facilities. How this is to be done in
local areas and nationally I don't know, but surely we should
immediately put it on the agenda both as a serious gay issue
and for action. 3 Maybe rip-off, mysogynist gay capitalists do
determine many of the places we meet, but why should they
have everything their own way?4
Fourthly, a lot more attention needs to be paid to the
provision of decent alternative social facilities in areas large
enough to sustain gay groups. The total inadequacy of gay
commercial facilities as genuine centres of gay community
can be seen by briefly looking round at the groups of people
who are absent from them, not by those who are present.
Gay Left 12

Places like the Birmingham Community Centre perhaps pave

the way for what could exist in a lot more areas. The problem is centrally to do with who does the work to get alternative facilities together. How much time is it reasonable to
expect individuals to give up in organising social events?
When they are provided without the hassle by private enterprise, it is tempting to give up the laborious process of hiring
rooms and equipment for discos; making sure Gay Centres
are adequately staffed etc. When the collective anger that
partially gave rise to GLF dissipated, did the desire to create
a radically different form of community life dissipate, too?
I would like to see local gay groups more concerned about
the kinds of community they wish to build in their areas and
the kind of facilities the members feel they need, just as
much as I want to see them working to prevent discrimination in commercial facilities.
I hope this article has not given the impression that here is
poor, weak, innocent John Shiers who has got sucked into a
nasty, horrible gay world which is fucking him up. I actively
sustain my lifestyle: I am not like a pinball being pushed
around without any power to stop the cycle. I choose to use
commercial gay facilities; I consent to the one night stands;
I also have a fairly satisfying and enjoyable social life quite
independent from all of this. Yet my choices are not "free":
I have needs which gnaw away under the surface and which
gay bars, clubs and sex do provide temporary relief for. But
it is temporary: the underlying issues remain and I have no
idea how to begin to go about fully understanding them, let
alone sorting them out in such a way as to give me a constant
feeling of personal integration.
Part of me says "be realistic; realise that personal integration is an illusion in this society. Accept yourself as you are
because it's not that terrible". Yet I can't totally accept that.
Another part of me says, "NOstruggle against your fragmentation", for it is the awareness of fragmentation that
sustains emotionally and not just intellectually my socialist
commitment". And perhaps after all that is the chief gain,
six years on.
My new ideology went something like this. Men oppress women
by their "maleness", by "machismo". Male dominance is structured into all the institutions of society; into our whole culture
and way of life and into our most intimate personal relations.
Heterosexual relations are the lynchpin which holds together the
gender role system. The rejection of heterosexuality is thus a
revolutionary act, particularly for women, but probably also for
men because it provides them with the possibility of developing
non-gender defined ways of relating both to themselves and to
women. GLF meant more than being simply a campaigning
organisation; it was a way of life which, alongside the Women's
Movement, was to revolutionise personal relationships. Through
the transformation of the "personal", the consciousness of the
necessity to transform the capitalist economic system would also
develop, since capitalism was built round sustaining the power,
wealth and status of a small number of white, economically
exploitative men. The rest of us were conned by the subtle kinds
of divisions which translated capitalist authority relations into all
social relations. This could be blown wide open by womengay
and straight and gay men collectively rejecting male power. The

result would be the rejection of all authority relations in capitalist

society since they are built round the "first" authority relation
the power of the man.
2 I think it is important not just to develop a psychological theory:
but also techniques of therapy. Even if (a big if) a revamped Freud
does have a contribution to make to understanding the human
psyche under patriarchy (as Keith Birch was suggesting in "Politics
and Ideology"/Gay Left 5, how can we go about beginning to
liberate ourselves from our pasts? By psychoanalysis?
3 An illustration of the lack of importance which this issue at
present merits can be seen in the refusal of Gay News to publish
either of the articles we sent it about our activities in relation to
the two, sexist, Manchester clubs. Any campaign would also have
to be properly co-ordinated. There was simply too few people
involved in ours and little enthusiasm from lesbians themselves to
participate. They either weren't interested in going to the clubs or
thought that it was impossible to change the clubs' policies anyway. The majority of gay men we talked to, while agreeing with


A Review by Bob Cant

Hollywood has been one of the major agencies in creating
images of women in the past half-century. The child like
qualities of Pickford in the 20s, the glamour of Dietrich and
and Garbo in the 30s, the toughness of Bacall, Davis and
Lupino in the 40s and the vulnerability of Monroe in the
50s were highly important in moulding images of women at
the time. These representations are also a useful indication
to us of the way in which Western society has altered its
perception of relationships as a whole. The disappearance
of women from many Hollywood films in the last decade
reflects the way in which the women's movement has
forced a re-examination of women's roles and the origins of
these roles. The production of films like Julia (and also the
The Turning Point) in which women are portrayed as active
and creative was a welcome end to this period of silence.
But welcome though this change is, how significant is it?
Firstly Julia was made for 20th Century Fox. Doubtless,
the directors of Fox have as little difficulty in accepting
the profits from this feminist film as they did in accepting
the profits made from the exploitation of Marilyn Monroe.
Secondly, the director of Julia is Fred Zinneman who is
not a woman. More importantly, he has also made films
like High Noon which preach good old American values
like individualism and renunciation. Thirdly, the stars of the
the film, Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, are world
famous not only for their screen performances but also for
their off-screen activities. The value, for Hollywood, of
Fonda's support for the struggle of the Vietnamese people
and Redgrave's Trotskyism, is that they are extra curiosity
factors in selling the film.

us that discrimination against lesbians was bad, were worried

about getting on bad terms with the management of the clubs.
Such is the power of club managements in their quasi-monopolistic
position in all parts of the country outside London.
4 There is also an important political point to bear in mind in such a
campaign: that in opposing discrimination in clubs, what is being
opposed is the right of men to restrict access from social facilities
to women. If women (or any other groups at present in the process of defining an autonomous identity for themselves from their
dominators) choose to set up their own clubs and restrict access to
them from men, this I consider to be quite acceptable. To refuse
to support male only gay clubs but to support the right of women
only clubs is a recognition of the specific oppression women
experience from men. If this view is generally accepted, it makes
the terms of such a campaign an important issue to discuss, particularly in organisations composed mainly or entirely of men such
as CHE.

not of a closet homosexual, but of a proud woman defending herself from the pathetic sneers of a man who cannot
conceive of any integrity in relationships which are lacking
heterosexual intercourse. In this context, it is a surprising
omission of the film that we are never told that the theme
of the play we see her writing, The Children's Hour, is
The rest of the film is pure Hollywood--the flashbacks to
to happy childhood memories, the first night success of the
new playwright, Americans in Paris, the Hitchcockian train
journey and the search for Julia's child around bakers'
shops of Alsace. All these are in the best entertainment
tradition of the Hollywood comedy/thriller--but really no
more. Hollywood has certainly not overturned its conventions in its acknowledgement of feminism.
Indeed, when we look at some of the other films
recently produced by Hollywood we see that its conventions as a whole remain unshaken. Bobby Deerfield is a
seductively made film about how a world famous racing
driver can only find himself through his love for a dying
heiress. Looking for Mr Goodbar relates how a teacher of
the deaf is killed by a bisexual hustler whom she meets in
a singles bar. Choirboys perpetuates the crude Hollywood
tradition of portraying women as either hysterical or
nymphomaniac, if they are portrayed at all; but then this
fil m also degrades gays, Vietnamese etc etc--something to
offend everyone.
Despite the fact that Julia is worth seeing it has to he
judged in the context of films produced by a profitoriented, long-established, patriarchally-dominated system.
That system is far from crumbling when it co-opts feminist
themes into its films. It is extending its terms of reference
and corrupting these themes in the process. Feminist films
can only be made by feminist teams of film makers.

Despite all this, I liked the film. It was good to leave the
the cinema with elderly women who, for once, were able
to see a screen representation of women of their generation
as something other than the butts of humour or pity.
The central relationship between Julia and Lilian
Hellman is depicted as a close, warm relationship between
two women who are attempting to have some control over
their own destinies. One is a doctor and the other a writer;
they are both involved with men without being dependent
on them. Their political involvement, and that of other
anti-fascist women, is a testimony to the activity of many
women against Hitler and Nazism. The images they project
of independence and creativity are powerful and welcome
despite their base in private incomes unavailable to most of
the population.
The two women work to develop their relationship on
their own terms away from traditional inhibiting stereotypes. The openness and warmth of their commitment to
each other is the single most validating feature of the film.
The attack which Hellman makes on the man who implies
that she has a lesbian relationship with Julia is the response
Gay Left 13

by Guy Hocquenghem
from Gaie Presse, numero 1, Paris, January 1978.
Edited, translated, and introduced by Simon Watney.
Guy Hocquenghem has been a leading member of the French
Gay Movement since the "events" of 1968. His first book,
Le Desir Homosexual, appears in an English translation later
this year. The present article, taken from the very welcome
new French radical gay paper, Gaie Presse, pursues some of
the themes dealt with in the book, namely, the sources of
anti-homosexual manifestations and the submission of gays
to dominant heterosexual models. He also examines some
aspects of gay politics in France in the context of the recent
elections, as well as the wider international situation, significantly, perhaps, ignoring the situation in the U.K.. I have
slightly shortened the original text and given it a title and
internal headings.

Morality and Consensus Politics

During the last six months to a year there has been a change
in the consensus of opinion regarding sexual liberties and, in
particular, the relations between children and adults. Up till
now we have all been living under the illusion that we were
following a continuous and progressive movement towards
greater sexual freedom, partly for the population as a whole,
and partly for children. It is this double illusion which we
now have to denounce.
There is one historical experience which it is important to
cite here, that of Hirschfeld in Germany, who achieved
massive and important results when the League for Sexual
Reform counted hundreds of thousands of followers.
Hirschfeld practically achieved the abolition of the Article
175 on the German penal code which condemned homosexuality. And at that very moment a very brutal reversal of
public opinion took place.
The illusion, that liberal positions can he bought and
provide us with new points of departure, is complete.
There is no area in which a more brutal reversal of ideology and consensus politics is being made than that of
morality. It is an extremely changeable area in which opinion
may completely alter within an year. I am not saying that
this is totally what is happening in France; but this tendency
is contradictory to the sexual liberation movements as they
have developed. Such a fluctuation has displaced the problem
of liberation. It has displaced it from the point where it was
situated in the period of Gay Liberation Fronts to another
problem, permitting many more severe and effective repressions the problem of the protection of childhood on
which the consensus is much more easy to realize.

The Role of the Press

In this sense we see that the Anita Bryant case was at first
treated as a joke (plaisanterie) and then effectively turned
into a populist movement. Anita Bryant's initial argument is
not to say that homosexuals are monsters, but to say 'Save
Our Children'.
A special kind of press campaign has developed, the
history of which is interesting since it began with the
American dispatch agencies and carried on with a big article
in the Springer group German newspaper, Der Spiegel, and
was taken up more recently in France with an article in Le
Monde and finally with a dossier in Le Nouvel Observateur
entitled 'Pornography and the Exploiters of Children'.
The Journalists are relaying a species of police scoop,
making it journalistic and extremely marketable of course,
Gay Left 14

since it is itself on the limits of pornography, and consists of

describing in detail the states of vice and depravity to which
the liberation of minors might lead, in particular the liberation of homosexuality, by the effect it has on children and,
in particular, on child prostitution and child pornography.
This campaign has even caught on in The East, since
Paradjanov 1 has been accused of child-rape after having been
accused for a long time of homosexuality; such is the
combative displacement. Firstly, one discovers child
prostitution. This is extremely astonishing if one considers
on the one hand the body of literature which has been
devoted to it, and on the other hand the fact that it has been
a massive and endemic evil since the Nineteenth Century
which, moreover, the principal laws of that period were
essentially aimed at.
As for the disquiet felt by the Nouvel Observateur journalist
at prostitution as such, she starts off from a 'given' that child
prostitution is 'particularly odious'. One must carefully
weigh up the sense of this 'particularly', for it is this that
permits the transference of meaning to different levels.

Child Prostitution and Child Pornography

Child prostitution is equated with child pornography. Both
are seen as 'particularly odious' because, with regard to children, all sexual acts or erotic relationships are seen as 'particularly odious'. In order to make the machinery which makes
children untouchable function, it is indispensible to associate
childhood sexuality with crime, drugs, pornography. It is a
method which, working by associations, is not particularly
new. But the organization of its discourse -- that is to say,
the way in which terms which have nothing to do with one
another are made to appear to follow on, the one from the
other, like homosexuality, prostitution, child pornography
and then sodomy (which is simply and solely a sexual act)
all that ends up creating a sort of unformulated evidential
base for public opinion which understands precisely what is
being driven at. Whether it is prostitution or pornography,
the issue is all sexual relations with children. And for that
unformulated position to be constituted satisfactorily it is
necessary that a certain number of archaic ideas such as
buggery are mixed up with very modern notions such as
interference with children, drugs, etc ...

The Monster on Everybody's Doorstep

One of the essential arguments of this new campaign is the
association with violence. It is necessary on the part of the
journalists to enlarge upon police communiques, to 'psychologize' them, to give them a human presence, so that the
monster must seem to be at the same time on everybody's
doorstep whilst at the same time he must be completely and
utterly unformulated. The method lies in the description of
the monster. One mustn't seek to know what he does or
what he might do; every detail one is given of him only
confirms that he is indeed the monster through and through.
Thus, at the end of the Nouvel Observateur article, the
journalist decides to actually 'meet' a paedophile and falls
upon this individual who appears as monstrous in making
love with kids (gosse) as in the strange blue glow behind his
eyes ... the ring on his finger ... All this is extremely

The Criminal without Crime

One more remark: the sado-masochist style, or the vogue in
leather in certain homosexual milieux, is systematically
associated with violence itself. In this same set of ideas one
can end up saying that a man in leather is a violent man, a
criminal, since he wears the signs of violence. The same thing
happens moreover with the Punks who wear Nazi insignia;

because they wear Nazi insignia they must be Nazis. Here an

extremely interesting criminal appears, since this is a criminal
without crime. But what has been made up by the papers
which press this particular campaign has a direct influence on
the men of the law. A consensus is established between
sexual morality and the elections in which even the ecologists
take their place along side of the Nouvel Observateur, The
Socialist Party, and Chirac2 who has renewed raids on the
public gardens and the saunas, by their very backwards
looking position on different kinds of sexuality. Certain of
them are not far from considering these as pollutants. Thus,
in the journal of the Ecologists Committee of St. Germain
one reads of 'certain ignoble scenes which carry on around
our public lavatories'.
The barristers are at enormous pains to defend their stated
case, that 'the turner aside of minors runs the risk of being
suspected of having a certain inclination for crime itself'. It is
easier today to defend a criminal responsible for the deaths of
of a dozen people than a homosexual or a pederast.
1. Paradjanov. Russian film director. Convicted in Kiev in 1974 of
'incitement to suicide' and sent to a Labour Camp. Recently


2. M. Jaques Chirac, the Gaullist Mayor of Paris.

Capitalism and the Family

Agenda Publishing Company. San Francisco, 90p.

Reviewed by Simon Watney

The Introduction to Capitalism and the Family notes, in

familiar reverential terms, the mutual influence of traditional
socialist theory and the critical self-analysis of the
women's movement on one another, concluding that this has
led to a more advanced understanding of contemporary
capitalism "as a complex social form". Unfortunately David
Fernbach's essay, 'Towards a Marxist Theory of Gay Liberation', does not fulfil this promise, largely due to its dogmatic
His analysis of the process of gender identification would,
for example, have us believe that all girls "have to repress
their autonomous clitoral sexuality ... seek satisfaction in
being penetrated by the penis"; and that all boys, regardless
of class or culture, are brought up to "devalue women", to
"cultivate an aggressive sexuality" etc. As in all such abstract
psychologysing, empirical observation is strained through an
inflexible model of child development which is believed to
obey its own "laws" which, in familiar Structuralist jargon,
are held to be "autonomous". Any empirical observations
which might seriously challenge the validity of such theories
are derided as "empiricist" and are, as such, rejected.
Fernbach rightly argues for separate understandings of the
genesis of female and male homosexuality, but locates them
solely on the terrain of some purely genital consciousness
penis envy etc. Like Lacan, he assumes a universality of
sexual forms which leads both into a similar a-social,
a-historical idealism. It is in this manner that we are told that
the traditional constraints upon pre-marital heterosexual
activity required equally strong constraints against any
temptations towards homosexual activity. The argument is
neat but spurious, since it confuses institutional proscriptions
on the part of both church and state with actual lived human
experience. Was pre-marital intercourse unheard of before
the pill? Is pre- and extra-marital homosexual activity not
successfully institutionalised and contained in many societies,
notably Islamic? This is just bad history.
Taboos against homosexuality then are seen as determined by the threat it poses to "the reproduction of labour
power". In this way an inflexible economism is operated
alongside an inflexible Freudianism. Where one breaks down
the other makes do. In this context we recognise the enormous convenience of the vague concept of "relative autonomy", current in so much contemporary "Marxist" thought.
For example, if the position of women or male homosexuals

is autonomous (or "semi-autonomous") from capitalism,

then their determinants are seen as psychological. Conversely, if the psychology of women or of male homosexuals is
seen as autonomous (or "semi-autonomous") then their
determinants are seen as economic. All this shows is two
inadequate and ostensibly exclusive interpretations of human
behaviour locked in circular, if mutually reinforcing, combat.
By far the strongest aspect of Fernbach's paper lies in his
insistence that "it is wrong to believe that gay people can be
organised against the capitalist state and for socialism on the
basis of civil rights". But for no apparent reason gays are
supposed, "by definition", to exist outside of the family, and
hence, we are told, that area of struggle is closed to us. This
seems to me to be an extremely contentious political reading
of the realities of most gay people's lived experience of this
society, a society which is as we know crucially arranged
around the family, for gays as for everybody else. He is thus
forced by the logic of his own position to criticise ALL civil
rights campaigns as being "non-revolutionary", and concludes
with depressing Leninist railings against "opportunism",
"reformism" etc.
It is perhaps a little unfair to criticise this essay so comparatively late in the day. It was, after all, first printed in
19 73. But in the light of so much contemporary theoreticism
it remains vitally important to challenge just this kind of
eclectic "fitting-together" of Marxism and psychoanalysis
which, in Fernbach's fairly representative case, succeeds only
in creating a kind of pseudo-materialist astrology of human
behaviour, rather than a dynamic theory of specific historical
functions and social formations.
In the last essay in this pamphlet Mina Davis Caulfield
argues that men are exploited as social labourers precisely
because they can "be more intensively exploited than
women, not having to nurse and rear children". It is along
these lines that we need to question the terms of our understanding of Gay Liberation, terms borrowed analogically
rather than analytically from other political struggles in the
19 60s. We need to reject all essentialist notions of homosexuality existing as some kind of quantity either above the
history of societies (Marxist Abstract Objectivism) or above
the history of specific individuals (Freudianism). We need
then to ask how we are constructed rather than how we are
supposedly "distorted" from some normative and unchanging gay "essence". At the same time we must not throw out
all notions of distortion from our political analysis in timid
fear of appearing elitist. For, as materialists, we do indeed
claim to "know better".
Gay Left 15

by Gregg Blachford
One of the main contributions of feminism to socialist
political practice is its stress on the necessity of taking the
ideas of our political activity and theory into all aspects of
our private lives. Feminism has stressed the importance of
breaking down the artificial barrier between the personal and
the political. We, as gay male socialists, have accepted the
validity of this. For us, many areas of our personal lives have
changed greatly over the last few years because of our
involvement in socialist and feminist political activity, such as
as how we relate to the people we live with, to our lovers, to
those we work with, etc. But many areas of our personal lives
still remain unexplored in terms of connecting them to our
political practice. They are mainly connected with sexual
behaviour and include masturbation, cruising, cottaging, S/M
sex and pornography, not unimportant parts of many gay
men's, including gay socialist men's, lives. Much work still has
to be done to analyse these activities from a gay socialist
perspective, especially since many of them are certainly

Looking At Pc

Having accepted the idea that 'the personal is the political'

it becomes necessary to evolve a socialist morality. The idea
of creating a morality (or passing judgement on what should
be considered as 'proper' or 'improper' behaviour) would
have been abhorred by the 'do your own thing' libertarians
of the '60s and early '70s counter-culture. Also, the strict,
anti-sex morality that is imposed in so-called socialist countries like those in Eastern Europe, Cuba and S.E. Asia tends
to make us wary of the whole concept of morality. But a
commitment to eliminating the personal/political split
requires an examination of our personal lives. We must consider the effect that our seemingly 'personal' behaviour has on
In this article, I want to examine how pornography can be
analysed from a socialist perspective. The definition of it
must come first before looking more concretely at the
attitudes of political groups to porn and their attempts to get
it on or off the shelves of bookshops. What should our
attitudes as gay male socialists be to these struggles and
especially to the perspective of many feminists? Can pornography have any place in our own lives as we are committed
politically to a fight against capitalism and its manifestations
in terms of economic exploitation and sexism?

Writing about pornography is difficult because of its problematic nature, its emotive connotations and because of the
many forms that it takes. What is considered to be pornographic varies from culture to culture and from time to time.
It cannot be analysed as a concept or as a reality on its own.
It must be placed firmly within the structural and historical
network of the economic and social relationships from which
it springs.
The term pornography itself was first used in the 1860s,
meaning literally the photography of prostitutes, but it has
its present origins in the 17th century and has persisted,
developed and flourished throughout the 19th century to the
present. Steven Marcus claims that the growth of porn is
inseparable from and dependent on the growth of the novel.
Both depended on urbanisation and industrialisation which
provided an audience of literate people (while England's
population grew fourfold in the 19th century, its literate
population grew 32 fold) and a process for mass printing and
distribution. During these times of rapid change, there was
also the possibility of increased privacy and private experience
(an essential element of porn) in the urban areas especially.
Sexuality, at the same time, was being confined to a separate
and insulated sphere of one's life.
A large part of pornography has to do with fantasy. But
how are images of sexual fantasy constructed in our minds?
People's fantasies do not materialise randomly, although
Gay Left 16

many people commonsensically , believe that their sexuality

(images and behaviour) are private and therefore under their
total control. But since all societies have to organise and
structure sexuality to some degree, values will emerge dealing
with how people should handle and think of sexuality. But
the exact relationship between these dominant values and the
actual behaviour and fantasy that people engage in is not a
direct one and quite complicated. Even the limits of acceptable behaviour are not clear-cut. Also, the extent to which
people feel guilty or embarrassed if their behaviour or fantasies go beyond that limit is unknown.
Despite the lack of biological limits at the level of imagination, it seems necessary that limits on the extent of our
sexual behaviour and imagery are set (by some unknown
extent) by the ideological values of society. If sexuality is
socially constructed at all, it will of necessity be culturally
li mited.
But saying that sexual fantasy and its concrete form,
pornography, are constructed within an ideology is not
enough to provide a full definition. It is also necessary to
note that the nature of pornography is inherently secret,
furtive, guilt-ridden and essentially private. Its subject matter
often involves power and violence in a sexual context.
It can be argued that erotica differs from porn in this
respect. Erotica can be what is defined as sexually exciting
but it may have little association with feelings of guilt or
degradation. Art in certain times and societies has been
blatantly pornographic by our cultural norms but there are
few indicators as to whether it would have been associated
with disgust or depravity in the society from which it came.
Nevertheless, the line between porn, erotica and art is not
clear and is problematic.

Objectification and Exploitation

The basic starting point of many feminists is that society is
sexist, a place where men and women are taught and
expected to behave differently in all matters and especially in
the sexual. Men are given the power to exploit women
economically, emotionally and sexually (although not all
men use this power). Socialist feminists go further and say
that the purpose of this relationship between women and
men is for the production and reproduction of social relations in the capitalist mode of production which leads to the
maintenance of the status quo. This perspective influences
the way in which some feminists view pornography. Their
argument can be divided into two sections.


1. Sexist elements of pornography

The publicly available content of sexual fantasy is almost
totally defined by male needs, as is the content of pornography. Porn is made by men and for men. Even depictions
of lesbian sexual behaviour is sold to men for their titillation.
It reinforces the male-dominated view of sexuality which sees
men as aggressive and active in sex and women as passive,
willing victims. Susan Brownmiller expresses a feminist contempt for porn by seeing it as a reflection of America's cultural output which gives an ideological base to the continuation of female oppression in promoting 'a climate in which
acts of sexual hostility directed against women are not only
tolerated but ideologically encouraged.' (p.395) She claims
that women are disgusted and offended by porn not because
they are sexually backward or more conservative by nature,
but because of 'the gut knowledge that we and our bodies are
being stripped, exposed and contorted for the purpose of
ridicule to bolster that "masculine esteem" which gets its
kick and sense of power from viewing females as anonymous,
panting playthings, adult toys, dehumanised objects to be
used, abused, broken and discarded.' (p.394)
Brownmiller links this to the philosophy of rape and says
that instead of porn being a 'safety valve', it in fact encourages men to rape or use women whom they have learned are
not 'real'. She would also reject the libertarian view and say
that individuals are not simply 'doing their own thing' when
masturbating to sexist images of women. They are, by extension, objectifying and therefore oppressing all women.

Attitudes to Pornography
Responses to porn vary considerably and are often related to
an individual's political perspective. The conservative, liberal
and libertarian arguments have been aired sufficiently and
don't need elaboration here. Suffice to say that, although
they may seem quite different, they all share the same notion
of a 'sex drive', of a biologically rooted 'sexual instinct'
which is fundamentally selfish, pleasure-seeking and anarchic.
Liberals think that only children and 'sick' individuals are apt
to give way to this 'beast' of anarchic selfishness, since
socialisation is usually a sufficient check. Therefore porn
should be available to those who have been insufficiently
socialised so as to provide a safe sexual outlet for them. Conservatives are less optimistic and see this beast lurking very
close to the surface in everyone and therefore it needs to be
kept closely and continually in check or the social order will
be threatened. Therefore porn must be carefully controlled
or eliminated if possible, or else it may act as a catalyst to
the release of the beast.
The libertarians see the sex drive riot as a beast but as a
means of creative self-fulfilment, if it was not twisted and
repressed by an oppressive state for its own ends. They
would advocate that porn should be published without
li mits, if there is a market for it, to allow the demand to be
satisfied. Whatever forms of sexual pleasure an individual
desires should be catered for.
The feminist attitude to pornography and sex is what I
want to investigate in most detail as I believe it raises issues
central to porn in particular and to "the socialist morality"
in general.

Men have recently been displayed as 'sex objects' in slick

American soft-porn magazines such as Playgirl and the early
Viva. One might conclude that the tables are turning. But
feminists point to the different ways in which men and
women are displayed in these heterosexual mags. The nude
men are personalised and their hopes, ambitions and dreams
are shown. They are sensitive, creative and deep, absorbed in
their own activities, thoughts and bodies. But, at all times,
their masculinity is reinforced by the text which underlines
the butch message. Stunt man Nick 'takes to chicks and
violence the way a duck takes to water.' Shep, a soccer goalkeeper, finds the joys of sex in sport'a climax and a feeling
of conquest'and vice versa. There is usually at least one outdoors shot to establish how healthy and natural, how basic
they really are.
Women, on the other hand, are most often displayed as
being conscious of being looked at by men, as being passive,
waiting for a man. Little is known or said about them personally and what is said is bland and mundane. 'Sexy Susan is
a secretary and loves looking after her boss. Her leisure
interests include sports, fun and sun.' Her personality is
relatively unimportant compared to her naked body with
breasts and genitals exposed. Therefore the way in which
women and men are shown in porn reflect the way in which
they are expected to behave in all other areas of their lives.
Gay porn is often no exception to this as it repeats the
pattern of one partner dominant; the other submissive:
"Eventually, he turned Marley onto his stomach and
pressed his lips into the crevice between the throbbing
cheeks. The whole frame of the smaller man began to
tremble, and he begged weakly for Dick to spare him.
'I hardly ever get fucked', he whispered, 'and by God,
baby, you're hung like a couple 'a horses...."
Gay Left 17

Dick held him firmly against the bed, removing his mouth
from the tender channel just long enough to answer.
'They all get fucked', he said simply. 'There hasn't been a
toy in this room that hasn't gotten this iron up his ass!' "
So, most porn, instead of challenging bourgeois notions of
sexuality, goes all the way in reinforcing the most traditional
views of sex and gender. 'Hard-core pornography is not a
celebration of sexual freedom; it is a cynical exploitation of
female sexual activity through the device of making all such
activity, and consequently all females, "dirty".' (p.393
2. Exploitative elements of pornography
The socialist feminists have not only argued against porn
from the sexist angle but have also been concerned with the
way in which porn exploits its consumers.
Porn has become a big, multi-million pound industry, It
has grown along with the development of capitalism. The
continual search goes on for higher profits. The method for
doing this has become quite sophisticated because what is
being sold, especially in soft-core, is more than sex as a
commodity itself, but sex as part of a whole lifestyle. A
world is conjured up in readers' minds that is slick, glamorous
and romantic. And that world is for sale. Sexual success is
linked with the professional or business success that is
necessary to finance a glamorous lifestyle that will attract the
beautiful people in these magazines to the bed of the reader.
America has seen a profusion of mags similar to Playboy
oriented to a gay market such as Blueboy, Mandate, In Touch
and Playguy. Homosexuals, feeling less self-oppressed than in
previous decades, have reached a point where they are 'open'
enough to purchase products that are being marketed exclusively for a gay market. As a result, 'Gay is Good' begins
to mean 'good for business'. The following are quotes from
advertising magazines:
"Gay money. Twenty-five thousand dollars. That's how
much your average gay worker earns in a year. Multiply
that by 20 million gay consumers, and you've got an
affluent and very powerful market. Gay dollars are just as
green as anyone else's. And West American Advertising
will help you make sure that they stack up in the right

suggested by both conservatives and some feminists. I want

to outline some problems that will inevitably follow this
course of action.
Firstly, efforts to legislate porn out of existence on the
grounds of obscenity have always failed, not least because of
the essentially subjective nature of all attempts to define it.
Secondly, attempting to enforce stronger obscenity laws
would necessitate stronger and more repressive state apparatuses such as the police, courts, stiffer sentences, etc. This
would he dangerous for the freedom of expression of ideas in
areas other than porn. If censorship becomes acceptable, it
will not be too difficult for the state to move it into political
areas as well. And when the state goes in for control of
sexual behaviour, it does not only centre on pornography.
Birth-control information, access to abortions, prostitution,
male homosexuality and the hard fought for rights of women
are attacked at the same time.
Thirdly, the ends of both the Whitehouse morality campaign and feminist campaigns are exactly the sameno porn
even if their reasons for doing so are opposite to each other.
Will the mass media be able to understand the differences in
the arguments? I doubt it. For example, the campaign by the
NUS against sexist student revues was reported by the Press
as a prudish anti-sex morals campaign.
Fourthly and finally, as with any commodity in short
supply, a black market is bound to emerge which will make
porn even more degraded and furtive and may even increase
the demand for it. And it will still be available to those with
money who will never question why it is being banned. The
real basis of sexism would remain untouched while the sex
shops in Soho have their front windows smashed.
If the existence of porn is to be threatened, then it must
be only part of a much wider campaign to alter sexist social
relations. Then men with some knowledge of what sexism
means might reflect on the implications of porn for the
situation of women and consider not buying it or using it.
The threat of a bar could become a form of consciousnessraising and could be more effective than an actual ban.

What people do in the privacy of their homes is their

businessbig business."
This gay lifestyle, though, does not speak to or for women or
third world peoples or drag queens or anyone else who does
not have the privileges needed to exist happily under capitalis m.
In conclusion, both the sexist and exploitative elements of
pornography set up an ideal world of objects that the readers
are expected to desire. Like advertising and the ideology
which encourages infinite expectations for 'valued' goods,
porn both sets the standards of the commodity market and
denies the satisfaction of needs by encouraging insatiable
wants and only temporary satisfactions through the creation
of an illusory facade of both material goods and physical
bodies, which is unobtainable, mystifying and alienating.
In this way capitalism, as it exists, comes under very little
real threat from the 'sexual freedom' advocated in porn.
Social relations remain stabilised. It shows the ability of
capitalism to co-opt potentially threatening groups or attitudes. Its markets can be expanded while ideological control
is kept over the thoughts and actions of those in the society.
Instead of liberating people sexually, as it claims to do, porn
manages to continue to influence sexual thoughts and fantasies which most people believe to be their most private
domain, under their own control.

What to do
Unfortunately, knowing the problems with porn does not
automatically tell us how to go about solving them, in the
same way in which knowing that the image you are masturbating to is sexist, does not stop it from being sexually
exciting. The immediate reaction is to ban all forms of pornography by having stronger obscenity laws, a proposal
Gay Left 18

Gay Male Pornography

Although gay porn has many similar elements to heterosexual
porn, there are differences that need to be examined. As I
mentioned earlier, gay porn includes the commercially slick
American magazines and the broadly similar British Q International and Him Exclusive. These are aimed primarily at
middle class gay men who have money to spare and who
want to buy all manner of things befitting a 'gay lifestyle'

much of it unnecessary. But many working class men who see

themselves as homosexual also buy them because it is through
these magazines that they find a very acceptable alternative
to the only other image of homosexuals that they have seen
in the past--the limp-wristed John Inman and Larry Grayson.
This may go part of the way in explaining why many working
class gay men become middle class in their behaviour and
attitudes if they get involved in the gay subculture. Therefore, I believe that these magazines cannot be dismissed so
easily out of hand as their heterosexual equivalents because,
although the context is clearly exploitative, the images presented are important to many gay men because they furnish
evidence that gay male sexuality actually exists! I remember
the very exciting feeling I got when I first saw one of these
magazines before I came out. There I saw men kissing and
holding and loving each other; something that I never
thought possible as the mainstream culture manifests itself in
overwhelmingly heterosexual and macho terms. It was proof
of a homosexual community and it was through porn that I
learned of its existence.
The opposite to this is a magazine called Straight to Hell:
The Manhattan Review of Unnatural Acts etc. It is published
periodically (over 37 issues to date), has a circulation of over
3,000, costs $1 and is definitely not slick. It is printed by just
one man in photo-offset on cheaply coloured paper. It has
two types of articles. In the first type, the anonymous editor
lists the crimes that straight men commit, sexually, in business and in politics. He sarcastically attacks their machismo
and bashes unmercifully at their hypocrisy and violence.
They are 'homo but not sexual', professing love for the
women they only use as trophies, hiding their fear of homosexuals in hatred of homosexuals.
The second part of the magazine consists of stories from
readers who write in and explicitly describe sexual situations
that they have been in and enjoyed. It probably can be
assumed that some exaggeration does occur in the telling of
these stories but it does not seem to matter. The editor continually compares the activities of straight men with these
self-reported sexual activities of homosexuals and asks how
you can feel S.T.H. dirty and sick in comparison to the 'real
filth from the straight world'. In an answer to a reader who
complains about 'too much politics' in S.T.H., the editor
answers that he 'must cater to both those who like to read
obscenity (the political news) and to those who like inspiration (the sex news)'.
But how inspiring are the stories? It's difficult to pick out
one that is representative, but an example follows:
It was a very hot, humid night in northern Indiana.
3.00 A.M. and still 94. And to top it off I was starving
for a load of hot come. While walking the streets in search
of some horny stud I came upon Jeff, Reggie, and Terry'straight' rough trade dudes that I bought grass from once
in a while. Reggie asked me if I'd like to take a ride with
them and try some of his new pot. I hopped in the car and
noticed that they are only wearing swimming suits....
By the time we got to the beach I was so high on pot and
horny from being with the guys that I was slobbering. We
went to a clearing. One of the guys told me to get down
on my knees. Terry looked at the other two and said,
' Hey man I gotta take a piss but there's no toilet around.
I'd sure hate to get this pretty sand all wet with my nasty
piss.' Jeff said, 'Man here's our fuckin' toilet right here.'"

men, but a large majority describe well-liked sexual

experiences with the same straight men that the editor castigates in the rest of the magazinethe 'straight rough trade
dudes'; the sweaty hardhats on the construction site; the
nice, humpy married Italian guy from down the street; the
East End Teddy Boys. This is a dilemma that clearly confronts us as gay, male, middle class socialists. We hate macho
behaviour and all its manifestations but like it as far as sex or
at least sexual fantasy is concerned. S.T.H. . is significantly
sub-titled 'Love and Hate for the American Straight'.
The class element of the stories cannot he ignored where
middle class men are still fantasizing about working class
straight lads. Why? Andrew Dvoisin gives his explanation in a
Gay Sunshine article when he says that 'each one wants what
the other has: faggot class and cultural superiority on the one
side; on the other, straight macho supremacy'. What possible
links with feminism and socialism could this attitude have?
So, although it vaguely links sex and politics, S.T.H. does
not have a vision of what structural changes are necessary to
bring about a society that does not have an ideology that is
anti-homosexual, anti-women and anti-children. Do readers
even begin to see that sex has something to do with politics?
S.T.H. is, as yet, crude propaganda for sexual tolerance and
awareness but it takes us nowhere in our struggle against
sexism and for socialism.

S.T.H., though, cannot he dismissed because it does show

us clearly what many gay men's sexual fantasies are and these
cannot he wished away. We may abhor them rationally hut
they continue to exist. Also, its importance, although not
primarily ideological, is structural as it has set up a production and distribution system quite independent of commercial interests. This advance is not at all unimportant.

Objectification and the Socialist Morality

Sexual objectification is a concept and a reality that has
come up very often in this article and is continually being
discussed in feminist and gay men's groups. In this final section. I want to examine it in more detail because it raises
broader issues beyond pornography about a socialist morality
and how men and men and women and women should form
relationships with each other.
As I have said, one of the strongest arguments against porn
is the feminists' claim that it objectifies and therefore
exploits women. It encourages men to think of women only
as bodies and not as whole individuals. The gay subculture
also stands continually accused of encouraging sexual objectification by putting stress on physical appearance and not on
'getting to know people as people'.
Inherent in the argument when presented as above is, I
believe, a moral implication about the way in which women
and men should relate to each other; that is, as whole or complete individuals: their personalities, ambitions, thoughts,
beliefs, etc. must he known before they can see each other as
possible sex partners. Sex only belongs within a relationship
built on a strong emotional base where people see each other
as equal individuals.

Is this liberating? It has been claimed that it offends and

therefore threatens bourgeois morality because it redefines
'sickness' and calls on us to celebrate sexual behaviour as a
mutual exploration of pleasure in the human body without
reference to marriage, property or 'social normality'. I question the strength of this claim because it ignores the question
of what makes these types of sexual fantasies exciting and,
more importantly, it doesn't ask whether we should he
challenging or attempting to change these fantasies.
But we can learn something about the nature of our fantasies by looking at the contradictions that are blatantly
evident in S.T.H. itself. Most of the stories are written by gay

Gay Left 19

To me, this argument has two implications.

Firstly, it seems too close to the absolutist notion of sex
that the conservatives have where they say that sex is only
allowed within the context of marriage and that any form of
sexuality outside of that framework is perverted or criminal
or sad: somehow degrading of `the real thing'.
It can also become a denial of the erotic, an eroticism
that, despite its problems, has only just been allowed to surface ever so slightly over the last 20 years. It denies that sex
can be a number of different things and used in a variety of
ways all of which have the potential of being non-exploitative
and mutually enjoyable if there is an understanding of the
meaning of the sex act to those who are involved. This means
that sex can vary from a brief encounter intitiated by an
erotic interest in each other's physical selves all the way to
sex being used as the basis of a long-term monogamous
It is clear that this is much easier for a gay man to say and
women, who have been treated exclusively and dishonestly as
sex objects, may find it difficult to understand the open and
prominent place that sex, especially casual sex, plays in many
gay men's lives. Carl Wittman in A Gay Manifesto attempts to
explain what sex means to us. 'Sex is precisely what we are
not supposed to have with each other. And to learn how to
be open and good with each other sexually is part of our
liberation ... Objectification of sex for us is something we
choose to do among us, while for women it is imposed by
their oppressors.'
A second implication of the argument is that objectification is inherently `bad' or 'wrong'. But in our highly specialised society. we objectify people all the time. When we
purchase goods, we make the sales clerk into an object to
satisfy our needs. Marx did not refer to objectification as
inherently bad but generally as man's natural means of porjecting himself through his productive activity into nature;
the production of the worker. But in wage-labour (that is,
labour in the capitalist mode of production), 'the object that
labour produces, its product, confronts it as an alien being, as
a power independent of the producer.' The worker has no
control over the created object because of the nature of the
capitalist relations of production.
Can we in the same way see sexual objectification as not
inherently bad in itself? Instead the problem could be seen as
resting in the power that men have been given over women
and the way in which that power is used in the daily contacts
and relationships between men and women institutionalised
as sexism in the structures of society. So, what is objectionable is not objectification itself but the power that exists in
one person (the male) to determine the nature of the sexual
and emotional relationship and retain control over it: in the
family (husband/wife): in the advertising business (adman/
nude women used to sell products); on the streets where men
feel justified in whistling at women or even in raping them.
This view of objectification is summarised by Carl Wittman when he says that the use of human bodies as sex
objects is legitimate (not harmful) only when it is reciprocal.
Objectification to work must be open and frank. People are
sexual objects, but they are also subjects, and are human
beings who appreciate themselves as object and subject.
What is reflected in pornography is the unequal distribution of men's power over women. Porn is a sympton and a
reflection of a sexist society characterised by its anti-women
bias and violence. This has to he the target of the attack, not
the emphasis in some porn on the potential for joy in sexuality.

Good Looks
But this view of objectification, while admitting the power
differential between men and women, ignores another form
of power that enters into relationships with regards to
differential physical attractiveness. Human beings in the
sexual market place are evaluated according to their
'exchange value' in the market, some being systematically
denied opportunities for sexual behaviour because of the
unequal distribution of the socially defined marketable
Gay Left 20

capacities. So even the 'honest' objectification as put forward

by Wittman may be seen as alienating because some may not
even get the opportunity to objectify someone else even if it
were to be on an equal basis.
A second criticism of Wittman's approach is that it has the
inherent assumption that both male and female sexuality
inherently needs an object. As Freud says, there is a need for
a detached object 'from whom sexual attraction proceeds'
(p.45). This assumption ignores the argument that since men
and women are socialised differently with respect to gender
expectations, then there is the possibility that it is only men
who need objects and that women may not need objects to
get sexually excited. If this is true it might explain women's
objection to being used as an object when they, in return, do
not receive any pleasure from a similar objectification of
men. Evidence pointing to this might be given by the
example whereby seeing more and more of the bodies of
naked women in men's porn mags was considered to be
better and more exciting whereas women seem to have less
need to see men copulating or with erections and may in fact
be able to achieve sexual satisfaction without reference to an
outside object or even an image. Kinsey reports that a
majority of males (77%) were 'aroused' by visual depiction of
explicit sex while a majority of females (68%) were not
aroused. Further, 'females more often than males reported
"disgust" and "offence".' (p.394 Brownmiller)
Objectification then, as a concept, needs further clarification and explication before moral conclusions can be drawn.
There needs to be continuing debate about the positive and
negative aspects of objectification in porn specifically and in
relationships generally.
At the present time in this society, a struggle is going on
over pornography on two levels. The first is within capitalism
itself where porn is consistent yet contradictory with
dominant values. As a commodity, it has exchange value
that is, surplus value can be extracted from its production.
But it also has a use value for its consumers that is contrary
to some aspects of ruling class ideology with respect to sexual
Secondly, there is a struggle going on in our lives as
socialists who may find certain aspects of porn exciting
despite the fact that the images are sexist and involve
exploitation that may carry over into the 'real world'. The
question remains, can we retain the erotic elements of sexual
i mages and eliminate the sexist and exploitative elements'?
Can we wrench porn from its ideological moorings? Can we
turn porn into art: that is, something that is utopian, ideal
and therefore anti-status quo? These are the questions that
must he tackled in our continuing struggle to integrate our
political theory and practice into our personal lives: an
evolution of a socialist morality.
Works referred to in writing this article:
1. M. Bronski, 'What Does Soft Core Porn Really Mean to the Gay
Male?' in Gay Community News, Boston, 28/1/78.
2. S. Brownmiller, Against Our Will, Penguin, 1975.
3. A. Dvoisin, 'A Personal View of Pornography' in Gay Sunshine,
no. 24.
4. S. Freud, On Sexuality, Penguin, 1977.
5. S. Marcus, The Other Victorians, Corgi, 1969.
6. J. Palmer & I. Manson, 'Solitary, Poor, Nasty, Brutish and Short',
Unpublished roneo.
7. Straight to Hell is available by subscription at $1 the copy. Make
cheques payable to Cash and mail to: Box 982, Radio City
Station, New York, N.Y. 10019.
8. Nigel Thomas, Carol Sarler, Russell Southwood and Tony
Nicholls, 'The Sex Mags' in The Leveller, no. 4.
9. Ruth Wallsgrove, 'Pornography' in Spare Rib, no. 65.
10. Margaret Walters, 'Play Males' in Spare Rib, no. 33.
11. Carl Wittman, Refugees from Amerika: A Gay Manifesto, San
Francisco, 1970.
This article ends with many questions and very few answers. The
issues of socialism, morality and objectification are just beginning to
be aired. More work must be done. In the formulation of these
questions, I want to thank Andrew Hodges, John Marshall, Frank
Pearce, Ken Plummer, Steve Smith and the Gay Left collective for
their assistance. Ideas from written sources are credited at the end of
the article.

Working Class Lesbians

In writing this article I don't know whether to describe
myself as a working class lesbian or not. Although I come
from a working class home I have had a middle class
education but I suppose a black lesbian with a middle class
education wouldn't and couldn't deny her blackness so I
don't and won't my working class roots.

Being a lesbian and working class is very confusing. Firstly

your sexuality is one of the main bases of working class
humour alongside blacks and "poufs" and your status in the
working class is that of a woman, not a very desirable situation to be in. Many working class lesbians see their primary
and only oppression coming from their being lesbians, many
are not aware of their oppression as women because to a
certain extent working class lesbians accept the cultural norm
- they do not see any way in which they could be making a
political statement through their sexuality.
An everyday working class lesbian in the North-East of
England, from where most of my experience is drawn,
usually works in a factory or an office (e.g. rather like her
straight working class sister). The majority of women work in
all-female factories and offices and feel it safer to keep quiet
about their lesbianism because, although anti-gayness doesn't
seem to be very strong or explicit, there would be a hard core
of misunderstanding and ignorance. This might make it
difficult for a lesbian to work with the other women. Also
lesbians have to hang on to their jobs for obvious economic
reasons and as the work is usually hard and boring anyway it
is important to keep the work relationships as easy and
happy as possible. So she can either state her sexuality which
means the other women accept her superficially but feel
guarded about what to say or how to act in her presence, or
deny her sexuality, keep in the closet at work while socially
she and her lover hang round with two gay men and pretend
to be straight. That is drinking in Workingmen's Clubs with
gay men so that workmates can see that they have blokes so
must be straight. From the workingmen's club the foursome
usually go on to a gay club/pub and get on with being
lesbians or gay men.
But even in the gay club/pub the working class lesbian still
has to crack down to gay male culture. A working class lesbian's only source of contact and the only way she can
socialise with other lesbians is through male dominated clubs/
pubs. The overwhelming presence of gay men and the power
which they hold within these social areas becomes oppressive.
In the North East there exist three gay clubs and about eight
bars -not much choice for an area of this size. In Newcastle
for example there are two pubs and one club and a normal
evening will consist of a drink in the pub and then on to the
club, something which begins to pall after five years of doing
the same thing every Friday and Saturday.
To a great extent the working class lesbian accepts and
indulges in the worst aspects of gay male culture and heterosexual working class attitudes. For example because a
working class lesbian is constantly bombarded in her workplace and family with rigid heterosexuality she feels the only
way of making her lesbianism acceptable is to fit lesbianism
into role playing etc. No relief or other answer is given in gay
club/pub culture where sexism and materialism are rampant.
When I first went into a gay club, I totally accepted the fact
that I had to be well dressed and quite trendy and went
through more insecurities about my physical shortcomings
than I ever did when I was heterosexual. The only other
acceptable alternative would be for me to be extremely
butch, wear 3-piece suits, have short hair, ties, pint glass and
a swagger. The two values, as directed by gay male culture
and heterosexuality are obvious here: if you want to be part
of the male dominated gay scene be hip and trendy; if you
want to take on heterosexual stereotyping of lesbians be
extremely butch or femme. To me there was no other way so
I became hip and trendy and just a trifle butch.
Because, generally speaking, the working class has such
rigid divisions of the sex roles it is easy to understand why
working class lesbians fall more easily into butch/femme

by Kay Young,

relationships. Although younger lesbians feel that the butch,

femme roles are not so important as they used to be for the
older women there is still evidence of its presence. Some feel
that it is easier to survive as lesbians within the working class
if they take on easily-identifiable heterosexual roles so that
heterosexuals can identify with them and accept them to
some extent. For most working class lesbians, women's
liberation/feminism is something very unreal and they are
very wary of it and who wouldn't be. In most cases they have
never analysed their lesbianism from a feminist point of view
hut have instead explained it in terms given by this male
dominated society
"I was born like this" or "I'm queer and
that's it!" To working class lesbians most feminists appear
posh talking, upper class women who eat funny "rabbit
food", dress "scruffy"'deliberately, and call their kids
Benjamin or Jane. They feel totally unable to relate to these
women and relate more to a working class man than a middle
class feminist. This sounds like a juicy bit of propaganda for
oppression lying only in class but this is not so. Women find
it so fucking hard to relate to each other in their own class.
how can you expect them to hit it off a treat with women
from a different class. Middle class lesbians, through
feminism, have found some form of unity and culture, but
working class lesbians have not. They have not the same
facility, education, or values as the middle class. How can
working class lesbians find common ground with each other
when they exist in a class which totally oppresses them as
opposed to the liberal values of the middle class. I believe
that until working class lesbians somehow get together with
themselves and other working class women, there will never
he a working communication with middle class lesbian women
women because the cultural differences are so strong.
Most working class lesbians I have spoken to say they feel
totally put down and patronised by middle class lesbians
This is directly caused by power relationships due to the
differing class values. It is hard for a middle class woman not
to dominate or monopolise a meeting, group or relationships
where working class women are involved. Alternatively it is
very difficult for a working class woman to feel confident
etc. where middle class women arc involved.
In my experience as a feminist I feel solidarity with my
middle class sisters as a lesbian, but as a working class
woman I feel separated and intimidated. I do not feel that I
am attacking middle-class women/lesbians but I am trying to
tell my sisters that there is a class difference which will have
to be overcome before we can unite. For example, I was at a
meeting on rape. The majority of women were middle class
lesbians and there were a few women from the local Women's
Aid Refuge. The middle class women did not want to talk
down to the women from the Refuge and so did not try to
explain the things they were saying which made it worse for
the refuge women who felt in turn that they could not ask.
At one point somebody suggested to try to think of ideas to
get the recognition from judges etc. of the brutality of rape.
Immediately a refuge woman said she would go out and get
raped and make a showcase trial. The middle class women
went silent with shock. Instead of explaining why she should
not get deliberately raped they said nothing. They were not
going to reprimand her in case they intimidated her but they ,
in fact put her down by treating her almost as a child who
makes an innocent/provocative remark and is ignored on the
basis of their naivety. So it seems like a vicious circle of misunderstanding through class and cultural power structures
Working class lesbians and middle class lesbians must contribute equally their values to each other, not the middle
class lesbian saying how one must dress, eat. smoke. and
enlighten one's consciousness. There must be a fair exchange
of relevant values between the two before lesbians as lesbians
not middle class or working class can really start doing things
together. We are not all women together because we live in a
class society. We are, though, definitely all women oppressed
together and it is from this oppression which we must fight
that our unity as a classless women's movement will come.
Gay Left 21

by Derek Cohen
Every lesbian and gay man, practically, starts her/his life in
isolation. Most of us developed our (homo)sexual awareness
in a situation where we, ourselves, were the only gay person
we knew. In my teens I was fascinated by some of the other
boys at school. It started out as a jealousy of their "attractiveness" rather than an actual attraction, and there was
certainly little sexual about that attraction. Nonetheless
most of my sexual phantasies were about men. My only
contact with other gay men was through the mediacamp
queens on television, documentaries featuring anonymous
"unhappy" homosexuals interviewed in shadow. Homosexual men were rarely shown positively and never as a
movement or expressing collective strength. Though often
portrayed in a better light now, we are still shown largely as
individuals. Gay women were not shown at all. On the basis
of my isolation and the isolated lives homosexuals were
presented as having, I saw my own homosexual feelings as
some sinister base part of my individual nature that I had to
exorcise in order to be "normal". This is a very common
experience yet I, like very many gay people, thought I was
one of very few. I felt I "shared" my feelings only in the
sense that patients in a doctor's waiting room share their
suffering. I never knowingly met any other gay people until
I was about 19 or 20. I saw my homosexual feelings as an
individual problem, as something that was wrong with me,
and as fault of my personality. I now see that being "a
homosexual" is more than a personal characteristic. It is the
result of an attempt to polarise human sexuality into two
clearly separate (and mutually exclusive) areas, only one
of which is deemed "normal".
I am going to use the term clienting to denote the process
whereby members of disadvantaged or oppressed groups
come to accept the conflicts and tensions of being a minority
group as individual personal internal problems rather then
collective experiences. The term "clienting" is derived from
social work and other "helping" professions where people
experiencing certain problems are treated as clients, objects
to be "helped", "treated" and dealt with so as to bring them
as individuals back into line with the rest of the world.
Clienting is when I come to think homosexuality is my
problem rather than seeing the unhappiness as the consequence of certain prejudices, role expectations and dynamics
between groups of people. The conflicts between my own
desire to explore the potential of my sexual attractions and
the limited (heterosexual) role expectations of being a man
are experienced not as role conflicts, as experiences common

Gay Left 22

to a group (and usually this is an other-defined group), not

as something with a root outside myself, but as personal
problems to be overcome by individual effort, personal
growth, personal treatment. The experiences "cliented"
individuals often have depression, low self esteem, a desire
to "get better and be normal", a jealousy of the majority
group's values and attributes.

Our History
There are any number of processes that lead us, in different
parts of our lives, to take an individualistic, cliented view of
ourselves, both in terms of our inner emotions and personality, and terms of our external relationships. Generally we see
our inner worlds as being the essence of our individualityif
all else I know what I feel and what I think. Emotions are
somehow meant to be more "real", somehow underneath
our skin and bone there is meant to be something different
more fundamental and lastingwhen in fact there is just
more blood and guts. Beneath the layers of conflict and
turbulent emotion is, supposedly, and essential "natural"
state of beingyet there are merely different sets of socially
constructed feelings and attitudes. Childhood innocence
and "spontaneous natural ways of being" are as socially
created and culturally specific as adult roles and adult
conflicts, as that magical state of flux termed adolescence.
In contrast by looking at our relationships with other people,
whether at work, in the family, in sex or whatever, collectively we can see our inner worlds as shared experiences
social entities rather than individual personal private items,
and usually problematic ones at that. If I discover that my
experiences, whether of early self hatred and distancing from
my homosexuality, or of finding that such things as sexual
satisfaction and the making of satisfactory non-exploitative
relationships are really difficult, what becomes of my
individual "pathology"? The common experiences that are
propogated are of heterosexuality, happy family life and an
ambitious self generated road from birth to sucess. We do
not easily perceive the complement of thisan excluded nonheterosexual preferenceas being a shared experience in the
same way.
It isn't hard for me to see why I developed this way of
seeing myself. From an early age I learned to relate primarily
on hierarchical lines. There was little emphasis on relating
"horizontally" on a peer basis. My first relationships were
with my parents and my relationships with my sister and
other children were given a lower priority. At my primary,
and later, grammar schools I competed or was put in a
competitive situation with other children for teachers'
attention, status positions, marks. How rarely were we
taught to solve problems collectively! I was never encouraged
to take notes on what other children said as opposed to what
the teacher or the books said. The whole concept of learning
from other "learners" was rarely stressed and is often put
down as cheating. Feeling different from other children,
though as yet without any clear reason, it was even harder
to relate to my p eers and relationships at home and with

teachers became even more important. Once I started

work I had great difficulty relating with fellow workers
except on a competitive individual basis. This competitive
atmosphere reinforced and was reinforced by both a hierarchical structure and an individualised privatised cliented
view of myself. I failed to work collectively with ease at
first; it took a positive change for me to see what I had in
common with other workers, to recognise how our roles
are externally defined. These processes pervaded not only
work, but my living situations, my close relationships, and
my politics.

Declienting: Forging The Links

The consequences of my inability to see myself, for us

to see ouselves, not as "individual homosexuals" but as
members of an "other-defined" group sharing a common
disapproved and supposedly minority sexual preference is a
failure to recognise and utilise the potential of our collective
strength. In sections of the amorphous huddle that is the
gay movement there are groups of lesbians and gay men that
meet and try to make use of their shared experiences.
Recognising the potential of collective strength is the first
step in declienting. My first experience of declienting was at
a CHE conference. I went as an individual homosexual
tentatively trying to come to terms with and accept my
homosexual feelings. I came away Gaya part of wider
identity; not something I could share but something I
blatantly did have in common with very many other people
independently of my will.
My early relationships with gay men showed me that my
insecurity about my homosexuality, my fears about and
ignorance of gay sex, the tentative way in which I felt able
to come out in different parts of my life, all were shared
experiences. I am not idealising my experiencesbut by
sharing them through the medium of this article I increase
the possibility of myself and other people recognising their
very "usual" nature.
In Gay Left meetings when we have talked about our
experiences, whether past or present, I have been surprised
and felt greatly assured by their similarity to my own. These
benefits were not directly my motives for joining a groupI
joined to end my isolationyet the benefits are far beyond
what I could hope to achieve alone.
In seeking to form new relationships or develop existing
ones I find myself with limited options. I can find someone
to "settle down with"; I can attempt to cruise the bars and
discos; I can attend the social millieu of CHE groups; I can
remain alone and isolated. On my own I can possibly increase
my ability to make use of these particular types of choices.
I can persevere longer in sustaining central relationships; I
can gain more confidence at approaching strange men; I
can become a better mixer in social groups; I can cope better
with loneliness. I may gain some benefits from these situations but increasing my options is something that I know I
cannot in any way do on my own. I cannot, on my own,
create new settings for contact with other people and

develop new forms of relationships,because those possibilities aren't created by my own act of will, but by a
continuing creative collective process.
At a meeting held as part of the recent Gay Times Festival
held in London a majority of the men expressed the need to
be part of a group; for the feeling of togetherness and solidarity experienced at the Festival to continue. They had, in
various groups, experienced new ways of relating that they
wished to develop. On their own, outside the Festival, they
would not have been able to create these opportunities, but
working within a group of other gay men made a creative
process possible.
I do not, though, want to give the impression that just by
meeting in groups we will necessarily develop greater options
or become more aware, or in achieving these things find the
going in any way easy and straight forward. Declienting
ourselves means not just sharing experiences but using those
insights to take action in our lives; to confront the group
pressures around us. Collective strength has enabled us to
walk, arm in arm, kissing and cuddling down Oxford Street
on a march; to join pickets at Grunwicks; to establish a gay
presence in many political settings. But it could easily lead
us to give better coffee mornings, perhaps set up more comfortable cruising areas and no more. Men's groups (whether gay
or non-gay or mixed) are particularly problematic
because they can so easily find themselves providing group
support to boulster male chauvinistic attitudes that are
under attack. We should be able to use collective strength, a
collective identity, to move out of rigid ways of relating
rather than to reinforce them.
Further dangers arise as self-defined groups get stronger.
Gay men can become more out of touch with lesbians and
other women, with racial minorities, with other classes, with
other age groups. I could extend my methods of relating
with other gay men and retain sexist racialist ageist and class
prejudices. These attitudes would inevitably produce limitations, and many gay groups have owed their demise or
disruption to conflicts over these issues.


Even allowing for these reservations change does not come

easily. Recognising socially structured emotions and the way
we are presented with limited options for development we
try to behave differently. Yet the past lingers on. How often
do the relationships we had with our parents, or we saw the
them having with each other, reappear in other guises in
different parts of our lives? It remains incredibly difficult
to hold on to new options. I often find myself in situations
eerily similar to past ones. I am tempted to say "how do I
set these things up? What am I doing that is an old habit?"
But I must resist. I am not the only person to experience
these conflicts. I know I share these experiences with others.
The resolution lies not in me, not even between myself and
my friends, but in a wider context. I spent six years as a
social worker treating other people as "clients". I have
stopped clienting other people. I must stop clienting myself.
Correction, We must stop clienting ourselves and each other.
We have collective problems and must not seek individual
Gay Left 23

Gays At Work - Boxed In

The main practical emphasis of the Gay Movement has
tended to be with alternative ways of living, construction of
relationships and social facilities. The workplace has not been
an area of major intervention. For while the gay worker's
experience of exploitation and alienation is not fundamentally different from that of any other worker, the gay
oppression which she/he experiences created a different perception of events from that of the stereotyped worker who is
white, male and heterosexual.
Most gays still endure the sexist language of the workplace
whether that is concerned with "knockers" or "engagement
rings", and allow their identities to be ignored and oppressed
Having met a member of Gay Left at the filming of Nighthawks, we fell into discussion in one of the long waits
between scenes. It arose that some of us felt that gay socialists intellectualise the problems and aspirations of the left
overmuch, causing a detachment from the more working class
members of the gay community. The chances of a left-wing
movement of this nature, be it straight or gay, influencing the
general body of union and non-union workers in industry is
sli m. Having said this, I was asked to put my pen where my
mouth was, so to speak; that is to write a non-intellectual
account of being gay in a very working class environment,
ie a paper and container factory.
My job is the printing of containers and boxes, my function is that of Machine Manager. This is considered a skilled
job, although the nature of the work does not demand much
of my actual skill. I served an apprenticeship in a very small
jobbing printers. Throughout this period of apprenticeship I
was not overtly gay in any way in my private life or at work,
although 1 always knew from an early age where my sexuality
was at. Consequently I was very frightened and confused
throughout this time.
Being in a very working class environment, reactions to
one's sexuality are very strong, they call a spade a spade, or a
poof a poof. This may be a very strong reaction but at least
you know where you stand. Of course the common view still
held is that all male homosexuals are effeminate and practise
buggery, although of late they seem to have caught onto the
idea of fellatio. Concerning lesbians they usually assume they
all use enormous dildos and are only indulging in lesbianism
because they can't find a man. Not necessarily an attractive
man, just any man. Although this rather belies the image
given to them in various pornographic magazines liberally
scattered around the firm, wherein the two women indulging
in the act of sexual intercourse are both nubile and the
heterosexual man's ideal. Of course these women are not considered to be really lesbians but just indulging in a little light
relief until the big 'fuck' comes along. As you can imagine
from this their sexual awareness is not very great. Being
presented with such blanket prejudice the obvious course of
action would be for me to refute it; alas here I feel I am sadly
lacking, usually falling into a safe non-committal stance. One
of the few times I made a stand I revealed my gayness to one
of my work-mates. This all started from a CHE programme
on the television the previous evening, and one particular
person's objections to it. His main reaction was disgust about
the outward show of affection between men taking part
although he seemed quite ready to accept the women doing
the same. I suggested that he was disgusted by it because he
equated affection between men as weakness and unmasculine
behaviour. Another work-mate agreed with me and since I
was so surprised at a supportive voice I confided in this person about my gayness. From that moment on he showed
great interest and much sympathy about my being gay. I
obviously raised his consciousness since he has now left the
firm, also leaving his wife and child, to live with another man.
Before doing this he revealed his growing awareness of his
Although I rarely admit my gayness at work I have never
made a secret of the fact that I live with a man or for that .
Gay Left 24

by John Quinn

by the verbal pre-occupations of their workmates, and the

sexism of their bosses.
This series, Gays at Work, is an attempt to examine some
of these problems. We hope that the experiences of the
people who write for us will be of use both to our individual
readers and the gay movement in its attempt to develop a
strategy for tackling gayness at work. Contributions will be
welcomed. We do not expect them to be in the vein of 'How
I came out at work and still became General Secretary of the
AUMGMW'. We will, however, welcome pieces which honestly discuss people's attempts to cope and struggle with the
problem of gayness at work.
matter that I share the same bedroom. Also I have never
made up false women friends for the benefit of their curiosity.
An interesting aspect of my work is the high percentage of
black people in the factory, the vast majority being West
Indian. When I arrived at the firm my experience of multiracial environments was very limited, having served my
apprenticeship in a new town where there are no coloured
immigrants at all. I think my being gay gives me an empathy
with them as a minority group and also I hope gives me a
more open attitude to accepting them on their own terms.
The most common prejudice towards them at work stems
from people expecting them to react to situations as if they
came from a European cultural background. The West Indian
attitude to gay people is strange in that they seem to think of
gayness as a complaint peculiar only to white people. They
also find it slightly amusing but no threat to their excessive
outward display of masculinity. This attitude coincides with
their attitude towards women which seems positively feudal
at times. Lately they seem to be realising the truth about me
with their references to 'batti-batti-man' (bum-man) and my
'friend' Dennis.
The white workforce are more vocal and aware of gay
people, they seem far less secure of their sexuality. As a
result they camp around far more, acting out their preconceived notions of what gay people are like. Larry Grayson
and the like have a lot to answer for on that score. The fact
that I do not conform to their stereotype confuses and
worries them, making them suspicious of my life style, but
dismissing my being gay, since I look and behave for the most
part like them.
Another aspect of working on the factory floor is the
amount of bodily contact encountered, the need to touch
one another seems to be extremely strong. An assumption
one could draw from this is that they are relieving their latent
homosexual urges. It would seem my arse is touched more at
work than it is at home. Most of this contact is done on a
very subconscious basis, and most of them would be very

affronted if you suggested it had any sexual connotation.

Their whole range of 'butch' mannerisms are at times as
affected as the most outrageous camp 'queen'. It is hard to
know how many of them feel about women as they rarely
drop their 'macho' front on this score. Surely they must have
other attitudes than sexual ones towards them. Women are
very rarely talked about as personalities in the all-male shop
floor environment. I get the impression that many of them
never actually talk to women at great length. The women
who actually work in the factory are reduced to doing
boring, menial labour and are given no incentive to improve
their lot.
The political stance of most people in the factory seems to
be apathetic or at best on an immediate and personal level; if
anything they veer more to the right than to the left. This
could be put down to a lack of information and reading the
Sun newspaper, which seems to amount to the same thing.

Their belief in everything the popular press writes as gospel

never ceases to amaze me.
When asked to write this article it annoyed and saddened
me to know that I'm still in my closet at work, it seemed to
be the last hurdle in my coming out. Having said this,
explaining my gayness to people so outwardly hostile to the
idea frightens me. A martyr eight hours a day is something I
cannot manage just now but perhaps one day. If this article
sounds like a total put-down of the working classes it isn't
intended. I realise that most of the people cannot be bothered
or even find the energy to worry overmuch about minorities,
sub-cultures etc, which do not strongly affect them. After
working long hours in a noisy, dirty, boring and relatively
poorly paid job their main pursuit outside seems to be to
escape from the constraints of their working life. To accuse
them of playing games is, on my part, rather hypocritical as
I am playing a bigger game in not admitting my gayness.

A Cure for Psychiatry?

by Chris Jones

In our last issue we suggested the potential importance of

recent developments of Freudian theory for an understanding
of sexual differences and oppression. This article approaches
the question from a slightly different position by examining
the limitations of current psychiatric practice as well as the
relevance for us now of Freudian concepts. We must neither
ignore nor be totally deterred by the development of psychiatric practice since Freud in appraising his importance.
"Healthiness is a purely conventional concept and has no
real scientific meaning. It simply means that a person gets
on well; it does not mean that person is particularly
worthy. (Freud uses the word 'wertsvoll'). There are
'healthy' people who are not worth anything, and on the
other hand there are 'unhealthy' neurotic people who are
very worthy individuals indeed."
These words of Freud stand in marked contrast to the practice
of psychiatry today. Psychiatry deals in terms of 'normality',
'abnormality', 'illness' and 'cure'. This article is concerned
with showing how the therapeutic judgement and treatment
helps to maintain, and indeed form, an oppressive ideological
superstructure, by ensuring that the dominant ideology is
successfully 'consumed' and internalised by us all, and in the
face of this practice, to see what credence we can lend
attempts to regard psychoanalytic theory as affording a
revolutionary analysis of ideology and sexuality (attempts
which at present are becoming fashionable in certain theoretical Marxist circles).

Bourgeois Psychiatric Practice

Bourgeois psychiatry (and psychology) takes the individual
as its unit of study and meaning (variously described as the
mind, mental processes, or behaviour). A strict dichotomy is
established between inner and outer, public and private,
society and the individual. The lack of an individual's power
over social reality and the meaning the individual gives to
this situation is converted into the language of unconscious
motives. The social order is reduced to a projection of a more
real world of inner psychic conflicts. The unconscious is seen
as separable from the social situation. The individual's
activity can thus be examined apart from the social relations,
of which he/she is a part. Yet psychiatrists cannot be neutral
when working within a mesh of power-structured relationships. The professional psychiatrist, enhanced by social and
'scientific' status along with technological advances, is faced
by the amateur patient/client, who is forced to rely on the
psychiatrist's wisdom. The psychiatrist produces treatment
which the patient/client consumes. The Marxist suspicion of
the expert can combine with the feminist attack on a male
authority figure (it is generally irrelevant whether the
psychiatrist is actually a man or a woman) in order to focus
criticism on this unequal active/passive relationship. Any far-

reaching attempt to democratise the National Health Service,

the relationship between treater and treated, treater and
treater, is inevitably thwarted by the structure itself, which is
a vast monolith of hierarchies within hierarchies.
It is in their roles as deceivers (though of course it may
often be necessary that psychiatrists do not see themselves as
such) that Donate Mabane Francescato, an Italian psychiatrist, has this to say:
"Psychiatrists (along with sociologists, psychologists and
social workers) have become the new administrators of
the violence of the power structure. In the measure that
they soothe conflicts, break down resistance and 'solve'
the problems created, they perpetuate the global violence
by convincing the individual to accommodate to the
oppressive conditions."
The process is simple. The psychiatrist gives an opinion that
someone is ill. This judgement becomes fact, in Marxist terms
a material condition, and once classified as mentally ill, the
person loses his/her subject-status and freedom (albeit a
li mited freedom). Any attempt by the amateur patient/client
to claim otherwise is simply treated as resistance (here used
as a term of psychiatric jargon) and a further symptom of the
illness itself.

The Ideology of Normality

The terms of 'adjustment' or 'treatment' are those of normal
behaviour, which are not measured by any neutral medical
standard (unless an illness is clearly organically caused, in
which case physical treatment is required) but by psycho,
social, legal and ethical standards mystified as medical
diagnosis and prognosis, that is definition and treatment.
Therapy inevitably deals with conflicting goals and values,
and plainly the distinction between normal (Moral) behaviour
and abnormal (emotionally disordered) behaviour rests on
ethical and moral judgement. It is in this manner that
psychiatry promotes the primary values of the community.
In Marxist terms, psychiatric treatment carries with it a
cultural/ideological significance. Thus the effectiveness of
treatment is measured by standards of performance at work/
school/sex etc.we get better by performing better (by
making the grade)we feel better (we feel placated)--we seek
employment (we are being worthwhile)we are getting/staying married or leaving a 'bad' marriage in order to enter a
'good' one (we are being normal). The psychiatric ideology is
simplified for consumption by the masses, endorsed by legislators, courts, churches etc. In the words of Thomas Szasz,
`sort of general ruling consensus as plain commonsense' is
Homosexuality offends this web of 'commonsense'. The
psychiatrist often bases his/her judgement on early familial
relationships-to put it baldly, good family structures produce 'normal' healthy people- faulty family structures proGay Left 25

duce 'abnormal' neurotics. Homosexuals are frequently

defined as necessarily neurotic, and cases of personality disorder. In this context the psychiatrist can explain away
homosexual relationships as inferior versions of their heterosexual counterparts. The man may only play wife, the other,
husband. The butch lesbian only pretends at 'real' masculinity. The femme role is only a charade of 'true' femininity,
and of course many homosexuals do conduct themselves in
this manner, because it is the only structure of relationships
they have learnt, and of which they can conceive, thus providing observation fodder for the psychiatrist.
The only real sign of health and normality is taken to be
the homosexual's desire not to be homosexual, not to exist
as the person he or she is. The conflicts of the gay in the
straight world have been well documented in many books
and articles, but the psychiatrist is inclined to disregard social
context, and reduces the problems a homosexual experiences
to her/his own condition, as a maladjusted/abnormal/deviant/
immature/neurotic etc. person. The psychiatrist when faced
with a homosexual who believes herself/himself to be ill, far
from eradicating the internalised feelings of self-hate,
inadequacy, guilt, respects the person's wish for 'treatment'
and oils the chains that bind a homosexual so that he or she
can move more comfortably, but on no account more freely.
The permeation of psychiatric ideology is extraordinarily
deep, and the problems for the gay in terms of resolving
emotional problems and ridding him/her self of the label
'unhealthy' are vast.

Power Relations in Therapy

The psychotherapist Karl Jaspers had no illusions about the
functions of the therapist. He said
"All therapy, psychotherapy and attitudes to patients
depend upon the State, religion, social conditions and
dominant cultural tendencies of the age and finally but
never solely on accepted scientific views . .."

And we must remember that psychiatry is broadly defined as

the science and practice of treating mental and emotional
behavioural disorders, and especially as originating in endogenous causes or resulting from faulty interpersonal relationships. Psychiatrists are cast and cast themselves in the role of
'scientific experts' on personal relations. The key concept of
mental health (normality) and sickness (abnormality) are
used as their own justification so that the psychiatrist
elevated into such a prestigious position may use his/her
power to discredit different forms of social challenge.
Plainly the ability to respond to this pressure, depends on
how articulate one is, how much influence one ha