SO… we have come out from under our stones. Some of us are now satisfied with what we are. Others of us still feel the urge to push the gay movement forward – but in what direction? At this moment in time, two approaches dominate.
The first, deriving partly out of the liberal-reformist elements of GLF, and the activist elements of CHE, focusses on the issues of civil rights. Not one of the minimal demands of the GLF Manifesto has yet been realised. It is obvious that where we do not simply fake them, as when we ignore the antiquated age of consent, and thumb our noses at the law, then a lot of work has got to go on pursuading those who make the laws and determine the policies that derive from them, to take gay people seriously into account. This needs to go on at all levels of society.
The second, deriving mainly out of the more radical elements of GLF, focusses on what we can call ‘the politics of experience’ as they are manifested in the interpersonal relations of a small group. The importance of the latest edition of Come Together (no 14) is that there is here a serious attempt to report on a sustained effort to explore in actual behaviour some of the further-reaching conclusions of the Manifesto. But this is an introverted trend. It moves further and further away from what most gay people – most people, even – are willing to attempt.
The demands it makes lead almost necessarily to a total exclusion of other concerns which, while not bearing in any sense on gay liberation, have their own importance for those involved in them.
The significance of these trends must not be minimised, either by invidious comparison of one from the standpoint of the other, or by a cynical debunking, from the sidelines, which may give the illusion of being above any shit-work, but serves in the main to demonstrate a crass and insensitive complacency
These two categories correspond more or less to two of the three categories outlined by Jeff Weeks in his article on the GLF movement some weeks ago (GN6). His third category, Gay Socialism, has yet to make itself felt, even though it transcends both the others, as far as he is concerned. The people who could be to us what Juliet Mitchell and Shulameth Firestone are to the Women’s Movement are around – we can only suggest they get on with the job of providing us with our own definitive texts.
But what Jeff Weeks’ analysis missed is another trend which has yet to be named. This is a broad trend which shows itself in the accumulating written week-to-week, month-to-month experience of an increasing number of people who neither identify nor wish to identify with any of the particular dominant strands that can be discerned in the gay movement. It is beginning to fill the great vacuum between the limiting rip-off porn, and the limiting technicalese of certain professions which do well out of calling us deviant, examples of it are the less specifically committed articles to be found in back numbers of Come Together, in Gay News as a whole, and in Lunch.
They document the immediate past and the ongoing present. They represent a self-pronounced perspective on ourselves which does not so much seek identity, as assumes it. We no longer have to preface what we say with any remarks of justification addressed to some named or nameless majority. This in itself is an immense step forward.
But all of these journals tend to evoke a sense of transitoriness. The necessary brevity of each item in their contents is a major factor, flashes of occasional insight incapable of being transformed into sustained exploration.
Interestingly enough, there are stirrings elsewhere, that seem to be a response to recent changes in the gay sense of self. Over Christmas I came across and read a book by Dirk Vanden (‘All Is Well’ Olympia Press), a self-confessed gay-pulp author, which seems to be a prelude to what is to come.
‘All Is Well’ is basically concerned with the progression of one man from a state of extreme sexual repression to a form of liberation. The first state has introduced tremendous mental blocks which effectively divide the man’s consciousness into two parts. The first rigidly defines the limits of his sexual-emotional life – even his masturbatory fantasies are confined to memories of sex with his estranged wife. His relations with his son are distant and authoritarian.
On the other hand, a frustrated unconscious side begins to emerge from the first page in the form of apparently external threats to the man’s life-style – poison pen notes, later combined with pornographic photographs and actual threats on his life. Certain key events lead to an integration of these two partial personalities. The puritan Robert fuses with the immature sexually destructive Bobby to become the liberated Bob.
Vanden’s idea of liberation leaves a great deal to be desired. It is a variation on the theme of prick-power, coupled with a curiously amorphous mysticism which envelopes the final pages. The latter can be criticised both for its failure to recognise a continuing context of oppression – all is not well, insofar as this is ignored, and its lack of general viability. Finally the book is a very patchy literary product.
But what is important is the altogether positive stance it ends on. Contrast this with the end of ‘The Boys In The Band’, for example, where the principal character sidles off to early morning mass. Nemesis, in the form of the knowledge that deep down he is not ‘glad to be gay’, has caught up with him, and he makes appropriate reparation. Vanden’s character is moving onward when the book ends.
There needs to be more, and better examples of this longer-term stuff, since it so effectively extends the difference already demonstrated by current short-term journalism between what we thought we were, and what we think we can be.
If the work is a play, there can be interesting side-effects. Bruce Bayley recently wrote and directed a play at Kingston Polytechnic which deals in a surrealist manner with gay issues. From his account of the difficulties of production and their gradual resolution, it is quite clear that there were valuable outcomes before the first night. The very act of needing to play roles which went against cast-members’ assumptions of personhood and sexuality proved a useful consciousness-raising experience for them.
Vanden’s book and Bayley’s play provide just two examples of where energies can be usefully directed. Both are additions to the developing gay sense of self. It seems to me that we need to aim consciously at creating a gay culture which not only differentiates and sensitises our responsiveness to what we are and can become, but also augments straightforward political statements and activities.
A contemporary gay culture also needs to discover and understand its roots. Most of us know nothing of homophile movements in the past or their articulate representatives. In the present, extensive critiques of the treatment of homosexuality by writers, filmmakers etc, just do not exist. We need to start up historical and cultural studies of this kind. We need to find whatever there is to find, and make it readily available.
In practical terms, this would be possible in very small groups – the current standard unit of the gay movement.
University gay groups at a loss what to do might consider these suggestions seriously. They have the access to materials, and, at least in principle, the time to pass them on. But for other groups there are other sources of information – the local library used effectively can be one of them. Finally, no group whatever its size or location has a monopoly on creative skills, though making a film is obviously a highly specialist activity.
Every movement in the past – and Black Liberation is a recent example – has recognised the need to create and elaborate an authentic culture where only distortion and/or ignorance has prevailed before. It is needed as a primary basis for a real and continuing awareness among members of that movement. It is this superordinate task which defines the essential unity of the gay movement, whatever internal differences of opinion may exist. Recognising this as a conscious aim will make us generally more positive towards, though not necessarily less critical of, those activities or ideas which we would not carry out or hold ourselves. It will redefine the apparently divisive tendencies that seem to be generated as different paths taken in essentially the same direction.