The Unconventional Wisdom

04-197208XX 04Dr John Loraine has recently published a book entitled “The Death of To-morrow”. It caused considerable excitement in that it has a foreword by the Duke of Edinburgh which could be taken as condoning the view expressed by the author that “unless reproductive activities are controlled there can be no future for mankind”. This relates directly to family planning and, by implication, to abortion. In the chapter of the book which deals with the subject and which is headed “Reproduction and the Conventional Wisdom” Dr Loraine also touches on homosexuality although very briefly. He states: “For homosexuality in men and women the conventional wisdom has no truck”. This is somewhat sweeping generalisation although it can be said to be true of a high percentage of public opinion. He is, of course, a Scot working in Edinburgh and the Sexual Offences Act does not run in Scotland. That is something which ought to be put right and it is reasonable to ask what Dr Loraine and others are going to do about it in the light of his fears about reproductive activities. The one thing that homosexuals cannot be accused of, even by the most prejudiced and uninformed of their critics, is increasing the population by over-production.

Dr Loraine asserts that “the monolithic pose of the conventional wisdom with respect to homosexuality will not endure indefinitely. The obsolescency of the approach will eventually become self-evident…”. Here again the relevant word is eventually – when is that to be? Dr Loraine indicates that he is not prepared to predict when he declares “It is evident that a fog of bigotry and prejudice surrounds adult homosexuality. What period of time must elapse before the winds of change finally disperse it?” But winds of change do not blow of their own accord: they have to be stirred up.

In this context it is worth remembering that the Wolfenden Report was published in 1957. That part of it which concerned prostitution was accepted without delay : the part dealing with homosexuality did not receive legislative approval until 1967. Ten years is a long time even in the life of politics. Even then it was left to the back-benchers to initiate that legislation. The Conservatives, on the advice of the late Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe ‘the hammer of homosexuals’ and later of R.A. Butler, expressed the view that public opinion was not ripe for such a change. The Socialists expressed no opinion but were prepared to allow time for the Bill. It is, let it be affirmed, the function of politicians and particularly governments, to guide public opinion and not to be guided by it. And, in this direction, there is still work to be done.

For those who took the trouble to study it the Wolfenden Report effectively destroyed the popular misconception that all homosexuals were, to put it crudely “queers” and “pansies” who tended to model themselves on Oscar Wilde and to dress and behave in an effeminate manner. Society was made to realise that many of the people whom it regarded as ‘regular guys’ in the office, commuting, in the golf club, in the pub, at football matches and who even played games, were addicted to homosexual practices or were complete homosexuals. It also realised that its children could be either homosexual or bi-sexual; which for most parents was a nasty shock.

Opposition to changing the law centred around the declared menace to the health of society, the damaging effect on family life and the suggestion that men who indulged in homosexual practices would instinctively thereafter turn their attention to boys. It was all summed up under the umbrella title of undermining the moral fibre of the nation. After hearing all the evidence the Wolfenden Committee rightly rejected all these arguments and went so far as to say “We have had no reasons shown to us that lead us to believe that homosexual behaviour between males inflicts any greater damage on family life than adultery, fornication and lesbian behaviour”. This led them, amongst other things, to recommend that it should cease to be classified as a criminal offence.

But although the law has been changed, the position of the homosexual, after five years, has not changed commensurately in society. There is still ostracism, harassment, oppression and consequent repression. Beyond the political sphere education in its fullest form is the key to reform. The Wolfenden Committee indicated the true nature of homosexuality and expressed its views as to what should be the position of the homosexual in society. Although these were ultimately accepted by Parliament they have not been reflected in the attitudes of a great many parents nor by the majority of educationalists. Until this state of affairs is rectified there will continue to be hostility and indifference on the one hand and guilt-complex and depression on the other. Education never ceases in life but for some, so far as sex is concerned, it never seems to begin. Consequently fathers feel that it is an attribute unworthy of their progeny and an insult to themselves. Mothers take it as a contribution against their own sex and resent it. There is none of the sympathy nor the affection which is given to mongols and to children who are mentally or physically handicapped. All this is alarming because it illustrates the magnitude of the problems which confront those who want to put matters right and it also explains why society, from a basis of ignorance and prejudice, is still reluctant to accept the homosexual as a first-class citizen.

Sexually we are what we are. How we behave sexually depends to a large extent on upbringing, environment, and our own capacity to exercise self-discipline. Being treated initially as people whose parents are ashamed of them and subsequently as social outcasts is the surest way of increasing the problems of homosexuals and tends to reduce their usefulness to society and, in many cases, induces an unjustified inferiority complex and a sense of hostility to others.

It is time for parents and teachers to face up to realities. Homosexuals are not perverts they are simply different. And there is nothing wrong in being different. Society through its leaders must accept this. The politicians must continue to rectify the position first of all by changing the age of consent which at 21 is absurd. Scotland and Northern Ireland must be brought into line with the rest of the country. The exclusion of the Armed Forces and Merchant Navy from the terms of the Sexual Offences Act must cease. In addition a clear directive must be given to the police with regard to the intentions of that Act. The religious leaders must accept the fact that homosexuality is not a sin and act accordingly towards the homosexual members of their congregations. The Medical profession must carry out the recommendations of Wolfenden that they should study homosexuality more deeply and instruct medical students with regard to it. C.H.E. and G.L.F. must pursue these objectives and seek to influence public opinion in order that they may be achieved.

This is the unconventional wisdom which must prevail over the conventional wisdom which is prejudiced stupidity. To-day there are two societies – the heterosexual in the majority and the homosexual which is in the minority. The time has come to end this divisiveness so that the homosexual element can play its proper part in the daily ordering of things. It is not a question of adjusting the attitudes of two societies but of creating one society.

Mrs Gayle’s Diary

03-197207XX-09Goals for Gays: if I were asked to select the one most conspicuously missing from the current scene, I’d plump for Credibility. New gay groupings and ‘gay leaders’ mushroom these days who takes them seriously? How seriously do they take themselves? Occasionally, all too painfully so. But humourless solipsism (or ego-tripping run riot) isn’t any substitute for a cool, realistic look at where we are in mid-1972 and where we should be travelling to.

In the past decade and a half, life has improved for gay people, though by no means far enough. In the middle 1950s homosexuality was a taboo subject, save for court reports usually in the more lurid ‘Sundays’ with such typical headings as “Scoutmaster gaoled for serious offences”, or “‘You Are Filthy Beasts’ Judge tells men”. Since then, we’ve advanced, via the tepid 1967 “two-consenting-adults-in-private” law, from the hush-hush criminal bracket to ‘underprivileged minority’ status; a situation still legally and socially quite inadequate but giving real scope, at last, for some solid self-help. Which is what “the homophile movement” is about. The movement, inevitably, is a mosaic, a spectrum: not a monolith. To progress it must, surely, work as a coalition in which every element, from ‘radicals’ to ‘fabians’, does its own thing in its own style and reserves most (hopefully all) of its powder and shot for the anti-gay instead of sniping at other gays.

For what are the facts? The facts are that we are still a generally disregarded, disliked and misrepresented minority whose prime need is for increased public comprehension and awareness of what not merely ‘gayness’ but warm, responsive human living is all about. For such a mammoth task (which amounts to the reeducation of a whole generation) we are lacking in resources, manpower and. to some extent, the necessary self-insight. To succeed, we have to make universal sisterly and brotherly love the prime principle of our gay politics as well as of our gay living. As a friend who’s done some hard and courageous work for our cause in Northern Ireland said after hearing the Jimmy Saville “Speakeasy” programme, “All that talk about better social acceptance sounds fine, but when, oh when, are we going to start treating each other better? That’s where it all begins . . . One youngster I know is currently very depressed by the values he feels expected to adopt from people, even of about his own age, on recently encountering the gay scene a sort of environmental pollution.” Or as another fledgling put it on contrasting his ideals with the meat market, “If you can’t beat them join them” – and promptly did. There’s food for thought here.

But even when we’re not being our own worst enemies, we have some pretty complacent friends as anyone who watched the recent BBC2 “Measures of Conscience” series must have concluded. What was remarkable about this lengthily researched exploration into the roles of Parliament and pressure groups in achieving the death penalty, abortion, homosexual and other reforms of the latter 1960s was the politicians’ obvious sense of high adventurousness at having dared to tackle such “unpopular” subjects and their seemingly universal lack of recognition that anything further remains to be done. In the final programme that white hope of all small liberals, Roy Jenkins, seemed to feel that about the right balance between the claims of personal freedom and state-enforced morality had now been struck and was apparently oblivious to the remaining inequalities in the laws affecting gay people. (It was of course the same Roy Jenkins who in a 1960 Commons debate said: “I wish that people would not speak as though one were representing a pressure lobby of homosexuals. In considering this question, I am not concerned only with what homosexuals want or even primarily with what they want (boldface mine) I am concerned with what I think is a reasonable law for a civilised country.”) And the by now well-known Arran-Abse duo reeked of its usual paternalism in the earlier programme on the ‘Wolfenden’ reform. What is simply astonishing about the whole operation is that none of its political protagonists seem even in retrospect to have considered the propriety of legislating for a substantial minority of three or four million people without contemplating the desirability, let alone the necessity, of endeavouring to obtain some representative views from homosexuals as such. Would they have dared to treat issues of racial discrimination similarly?

Speaking of Lord Arran and Mr. Abse, one wonders whether either of them will care to expound to readers of GAY NEWS the precise grounds for their vehement opposition to the notion of social clubs run by gay people for gay people (and, of course their straight friends) on non-exploitative lines? Anyone who remembers the flurry of protest which the mere mention of COC brought forth after law reform from both its sponsors might conclude that they regard ‘club’ as a four-letter word. Or maybe they think ghettos are created by those who are pushed into them? Would the exclusive establishments to which they belong welcome (or elect) self-proclaimed homosexuals?

The most effective way to eliminate ghettos, of course, is to break down the thought-barriers erected by the prejudiced or unthinking majority. If there were no exclusively heterosexual life-style and culture, there would be no need for anyone to think in terms of gay counter-culture. Which reminds me: some people do play this game to excessive lengths. I was once entertaining an acquaintance to a – so far as I was concerned – totally unerotic tete-a-tete. I put on the first record which happened to come to hand; the Max Bruch G Minor violin concerto, if I recollect aright. Immediately his eyes lit up with anticipation. “Ah!” he said, “you’re playing homosexual music”.