Towards A Gay Culture

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.

Bisexuals – Oppressed And Oppressor

We don’t fit in — either with the gay or with the “straight” (hetero) communities. Both seem to regard us as some kind of freak. It seems as if it’s OK for us to love/fuck either women or men but not both. We know about the oppression of gays from personal experience and then we get into a women’s lib book (especially “Sisterhood is Powerful” — ed. Robin Morgan, Vintage books V-539 — probably the easiest to read and not so likely to bog down a new reader to the subject) and discover (if we don’t already know it) that we, bisexual males, are oppressing our ladies in the same way that society oppresses us/them.

The rest of this article will be written in the first person singular. I’d like to write ‘we’ all the way through, but everybody’s experiences are different (as are their attitudes, degree of gayness, etc, etc.)

My first problem is recognising the degree of my gayness. If I overdo the gayness, I lose my hetero love(s). So I can only come out to a certain degree, and if that certain degree isn’t enough I have to repress all my gayness which leaves me lonelier and angry with myself and with society for creating the situation in which I have to be either one or the other. I want my bread buttered on both sides, but can’t find the butter knife and so I just have bread and man cannot live on bread alone. Sometimes, from the looks I get from both sexes, it seems as if another Hitler movement’s starting. I should describe myself as a fur-coated, nail-varnished “hippie” for want of a better word, especially as somebody yelled ‘Bloody kinky hippie” after me about half an hour ago).

So what can I do? Become a radical gay and fight my oppression whilst at the same time knowing that I too am an oppressor? Everybody must come together – the gay movements (ALL OF THEM), the women’s movement, the black movement, the freak movement. Most of us (the above, not just bisexuals) are seeking reforms, either of laws or of society, and we probably can’t make it on our own. We’ve got to compromise on some things, and yet on others we agree.

Most of us want the removal of all forms of oppression – the break-up of the family, different or no politicians, the removal of the power of the church and less pollution so we can survive to see the things that we’re prepared to fight for.

The problem with revolutionary tracts is that there’s never any solution to the problems that cause the dissent in the first place. What’s the use of bombing buildings that can be used for a better purpose? Why use violence except in self-defence? Why don’t demonstrators prepare themselves for clubs and tear gas? Water cannons and rubber bullets are more difficult to overcome, but everybody can buy crash helmets and army surplus gas masks. I’m not trying to be a leader, or even an active revolutionary (at the moment at least) I just want people to think.

How do I see the future of society? Basically a non-capitalist society, money can be abolished if there is, at first, a system of credit control (people could go mad collecting everything they’ve dreamed of). Money can be done away with later. But all these things are minor compared with the immediate tasks. The actual state of “the nation” can be discussed and formulated at a later date, if and when people get themselves together. I’m neither a politician nor an economist, so there may be people better “qualified” than myself to get this together.

My thoughts at the moment are those of re-education. People must learn not to despise gays. Gays and ‘straights’ need equal opportunities for loving and making love. Both gays and straights must start to accept bisexuals, like me. Everybody has a degree of gayness which they are taught to repress – at least at my school. Active gays, when discovered, were publicly denounced by the boys and occasionally by the teachers. I had my first gay experience at school and because of public opinion have had to repress my gayness for the last nine or ten years. I’ve been shocked when approached by gays in the street, because I’ve repressed my gayness and they haven’t had to.

Ladies must learn that bisexuality is not wrong. There’s nothing bad about it. I had to denounce gays for nine months during one relationship with an American who hated “those queers”. Perhaps you, the readers, despise me for this, perhaps you know what it’s like to tell somebody you fancy that you are gay/bisexual and to be disliked/hated for it.

In my gay moments I must stop thinking of guys as sex objects and in my straight ones I must stop thinking of ladies in the same way. As the Virginia Slims ad in the States might say, “I’ve come a long way”, but I’m not there yet. I need to regard everybody as people. Men women and kids are all equal and vet we’re all taught to discriminate: “A man cannot love another man”, “A woman’s place is in the home”, “Oh, he’s just a kid”. We must stop thinking in terms of sex and age, forget the ads, be ourselves, not what others (society) want us to be.

To reduce this to a personal note, I’d like to see the break-up of the nuclear family and become part of a group one. My idea of perfection is four (at least, but preferably an even number, ie 2, 3 or 4 couples) living together, in an interchangeable bisexual relationship. The problem that I’ve come across in trio group relationships is that one person is liable to feel left out at times and so become jealous. That’s not a good idea, because the jealousy becomes fed back into the group and causes more dissent and hence the jealousy and bad feelings grow.

Before anything can be done to society in general, we shall all have to get our personal lives together. If it means breaking a few laws, that’s our problem. Eventually we’ll have no laws to break. All the repressive laws, church teachings and Mary Whitehouse/Councillor Kidd ideas will be broken. I suggest to all bisexuals that they leave their suburban homes and come out.

We can do something when we’re united. Perhaps you’re afraid that your wives/girl-friends will desert you (or come to that your husbands/boyfriends or any combination of the four). Don’t worry, you can fall in love more freely with others when you don’t need the ties of marriage/domesticity to keep you happy. If every Gay/Woman/Black/Freak went on strike our joint proposals for a new society would have to be listened to. If we all struck, we’d include the army, police and politicians, nothing could stop us being heard.

Perhaps some bisexuals don’t regard themselves as being gay. I know that I do and despite the fact that I don’t fit in with the communities of gays or ‘straights’, I find that I can co-operate with both.

I’m not suggesting a Bisexual Liberation Front, nor just a united Gay Force, I’m saying that all of us who are oppressed (and some of the oppressors, as all males involved in a male/female relationship oppress the females) must unite to get something done.

I’d like to hear from anybody with views on the oppression of bisexuals or getting all groups in favour of restructuring society together, but I can’t promise to write back unless you enclose a stamped addressed envelope (I can barely afford paper and biros) and can’t be prompt in answering if many people write. Let’s all get together and try to do something for once, it’d make a change from sitting on our arses and just talking.

Chris Robbins.
6 Morningside Place, Edinburgh, EH10 5ER