Britain’s National Union of Students recently claimed that LGBT student societies affiliated with the NUS should not have specific gay male representatives on the grounds that gay males are not oppressed within LGBT culture (http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2016/03/22/nus-tells-lgbt-societies-to-abolish-gay-mens-reps-because-they-dont-face-oppression/). Many people took this article and misinterpeted it as a claim that gay men are not oppressed at all, but this article is still telling of a great shift within the Social Justice crowd.
Gay men are, to the SJWs, no longer “oppressed.” They are “part of the problem.” They are “part of the patriarchy” and “perpetuators of institutionalized oppression.” Therefore they’re losing their position on the Progressive Stack.
Sure, gay men aren’t actually oppressed within LGBT culture. Why? They created LGBT culture and institutions for the most part, and provide the majority of its staffing and funding. They created the gay rights movement so of course this movement generally sees gay men as the “typical” LGBT person (this is true of mainstream society also). But the NUS argues that gay men are actively oppressive to other parts of the LGBT continuum; trans and bisexual persons in particular.
Yes, there are gay male transphobes and biphobes. Guess what? There are lesbians who are exactly the same. In addition, it is radical second wave feminism which often embraced political lesbianism and the accompanying strain of virulent transphobia we now know as Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism. But is the NUS holding lesbians to account for TERFism and the biphobia perpetuated by lesbians? Of course not.
In addition, the fact that gay men aren’t oppressed within LGBT culture is no justification to deny them a representative within LGBT organizations. Gay men did most of the funding and heavy lifting to create the modern gay rights movement, and they did so because straight culture excluded them. It is not being alienated by gay culture which justifies a gay male representative in gay spaces, but rather being alienated by straight culture. To claim gay men shouldn’t be represented within gay culture is no different to claiming that women shouldn’t be represented within women’s spaces, because women aren’t oppressed in these spaces. Even by Social Justice reasoning (or any basic sociological reasoning), the NUS logic is entirely flawed. Should transgender spaces have no transgender representatives, yet have representatives for cisgender people? Of course not. These spaces exist in relation to a broader culture; this is what it means to be a “subculture.” Subcultures are inexorably defined by their relationship to the broader culture they are situated within.
So the NUS position is absolutely idiotic. Their logic simply doesn’t follow, and if they were consistent about it they’d ban lesbian representatives as well as gay male representatives. But in this article, I wish to contest the point which most people misinterpreted the article to be promoting; I wish to contest the proposition that gay men are not oppressed. Indeed, I will argue that gay men (or, more accurately, male same-sex attractions) are more oppressed than gay women and that males are by far the most common targets of homophobia. I will even argue that a lot of homophobia is specifically a revulsion towards male homosexuality rather than against homosexuality in general, thus implying that most homophobia is in fact homomisandry (just as revulsion towards transmen is transmisandry) specifically.
But in this article, I wish to contest the point which most people misinterpreted the article to be promoting; I wish to contest the proposition that gay men are not oppressed. Indeed, I will argue that gay men (or, more accurately, male same-sex attractions) are more oppressed than gay women and that males are by far the most common targets of homophobia. I will even argue that a lot of homophobia is specifically a revulsion towards male homosexuality rather than against homosexuality in general, thus implying that most homophobia is in fact homomisandry (just as revulsion towards transmen is transmisandry) specifically.
Gay/Same-Sex-Attracted Men Are More Oppressed Than Gay Women: The Evidence
Reigning orthodoxy about the oppression of gay men comes directly from Radical Second Wave Feminism as well as Cultural Feminism (both of which are direct intellectual ancestors of Third Wave Feminism) – according to the orthodoxy, gay men are culturally hated because they are seen as effeminate/feminine. As such, gay men fall afoul of the patriarchy, and/or patriarchal values or patriarchal sex roles; the result is that gay men are (according to the feminist theory) classified as “honorary women” by society in general. Ergo, the discrimination and hatred and oppression they endure is merely a derivative of the oppression endured by women. The implication of this view is that if gay men want to end homophobia, they should strive to end anti-feminine, misogynist ideals.
The obvious fault of this theory is that our society does not treat gay men as if they were honorary women; gay men have no access to female privileges. The clearest evidence of this is that “Don’t Hit A Girl” didn’t save the life of any gay male victim of gay bashing. The vast majority of gay bashing is directed against men who are (or perceived to be) non-heterosexual, rather than women who are/are perceived as non-heterosexual. Clearly, gay men are not being treated like women.
Let us go back to one of the most influential texts upon our society: the bible. The famous “clobber verses” against homosexuals are directed almost exclusively against male homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 describe it as an “abomination” when a man lies with mankind (and 20:13 prescribes the death penalty). Female homosexuality is not mentioned (albeit this is somewhat understandable given that Leviticus is an holiness code for the Jewish clergy at the time, and that was an exclusively-male caste). The story of Sodom (Genesis, chapter 19) doesn’t exactly specify what “sodomy” precisely amounts to, although legally speaking it has usually been conceptualized as anal sex (something which lesbians cannot have without the assistance of adult novelties that probably did not exist in Old Testament times). In addition, the gang of rapists featured in the story are all men, which further cements the insinuation that sodomy requires a penis. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 explicitly condemns “men who have sex with men” yet not women who have sex with women.
1 Timothy 1:9-10 does seem to make a gender-neutral reference to “those practicing homosexuality,” yet this passage has translation issues from the original Greek; the Greek script used words like “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai,” which are generally considered references to male effeminacy (often equated to homosexuality), and arguably the pederastic practices of Greek society at the time. The targets of this practice are still exclusively male since Greek pederasty was a male-male institution.
Only when we come to Romans 1:26 do we have an explicit attack on female homosexual conduct; verse 27 conjoins this with an equal condemnation on male homosexual conduct. Yes, interpretation and translation issues are all citable, but the bible evidently contains more anti-gay-male verses than anti-lesbian ones.
I will not deal with the issue of Islam substantially (as I am not well-read on the subject), but the story of Sodom seems to be the basis of Quranic views of the subject (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_in_Islam#The_Quran). The Sodomites are referred to as the “People of Lut” (Lut being Arabic for Lot) and the sin which they are condemned for is generally described in terms of male homosexuality; even today, the Arabic words for homosexual conduct and homosexual person are both derived from “Lut.” And of course, the treatment of gay people within the contemporary Arab world says all that needs to be said, but given how male homosexuality seems to be the most actively stigmatized by the Quran, I would predict that the Islamic world is crueller to gay men than lesbians. I’ll let others more informed on the subject discuss it further.
As stated above, the story of Sodom has often been read to imply that “Sodomy” is something which requires a penis. The most common understanding of “sodomy” in general language is “anal sex.” This alone is enough to give sodomy laws a disproportionate impact against male queers relative to female queers. That said, the history of the criminalizing of “sodomy” is a little more complicated; Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England defined sodomy as the “abominable and detestable crime against nature,” which led to variation as to what “sodomy” legally entailed. England’s 1533 Buggery Act predated Blackstone’s work, yet contained no prohibition against any female-female sex acts; the Buggery Act prohibited (via precedent) male-male and male-female anal sex, heterosexual oral sex, and vaginal bestiality. The stereotypically-emblematic act of lesbianism (colloquially described as “eating pussy” or “munching rug” or “licking carpet”) was not prohibited (nor, for that matter, were anal or oral bestiality), whilst the stereotypically-emblematic act of male homosexuality was a capital crime (and remained that way for a very long time). Indeed, a view of Wikipedia’s article on sodomy laws (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_law) makes it clear that sodomy laws have almost always been about male homosexuality; when these laws were struck down, one of the primary reasons for doing so was that these laws were discriminatory against gay males.
There certainly have been historic sodomy laws in Western nations which discriminated against homosexual couples of both sexes, particularly in the United States (through specifically referring to “homosexual” couples – a gender-neutral term), yet these laws arose only as the lesbian community began to gain visibility. The gay male community did not need to gain visibility in order to trigger explicit laws against (at least some of) their particular sexual practices. What does that say about which is seen as a greater “threat” to “society”? And of course, whilst many sodomy laws have historically applied to both same and opposite-sex couples, the last eras of sodomy laws in the United States were rife with unequal enforcement and, in some cases at least, explicitly discriminatory statutory language (see Andrew Sullivan’s article Unnatural Law here: https://newrepublic.com/article/64542/unnatural-law).
Nazi Germany did persecute lesbians, however gay men were persecuted with much more force. Even legally, the Nazis defined homosexuality in male-exclusive terms (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_homosexuals_in_Nazi_Germany_and_the_Holocaust#Definition_of_homosexuality). Even the pink triangle, the badge that homosexuals were forced to wear in concentration camps, was exclusively assigned to male homosexuals rather than female homosexuals. Lesbians were not even considered homosexual; they were classified as “asocials” and very few were arrested for their sexuality alone. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum even states, rather unambiguously, that “the Nazis did not systematically persecute” lesbians (https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005478).
Even though the contemporary US is much more free than Nazi Germany (thankfully), we can see one attitude that reminds us all of the Nazi’s male-centric understanding of homosexuality; what does the average person think of when they’re asked to imagine a “gay person” or “homosexual person”? Most likely, they’d imagine a male person who is completely fabulous! A gay wedding or same-sex wedding? Its most likely that the average person will think of this in terms of two dudes marrying.
Take for example this rather infamous advertisement from the anti-same-sex-marriage group Americans For Marriage when campaigning for a “yes” vote on California’s Proposition 8 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfJEsd2rl8A). Whilst female-female marriage is mentioned once in the advertisement (when the little girl says “and I can marry a princess!”), the object of horror which the ad holds up is clearly male-male marriage. The book the little girl brings home is entitled “King and King” (and the mother has a shocked reaction to the book). The little girl’s full line of dialogue begins with her announcing how she learned that “a prince can marry a prince.” When Professor Richard Peterson of Pepperdine University’s School of Law comes on to make his argument, he only mentions how Massachusetts schools began (in the wake of Massachusetts’ legalization of same-sex marriage) to teach students that “boys can marry boys.” Professor Peterson does not mention girls marrying girls or any variation of lesbianism. The allusions to male-male marriage outstrip the allusions to female-female marriage by a ratio of 3 to 1; what does that say about which eventuality is more feared?
Although bisexuals are not homosexuals, it is male bisexuality which is far more subject to bisexual erasure than female bisexuality. Of course one of the obvious reasons for this is the fetish that many opposite-sex-attracted males have towards women having sex with one another, but this doesn’t alter the underlying point. Female bisexuals are far more likely to have their bisexuality accepted, whereas male bisexuals are far more likely to be strapped into a penile plethysmograph to see whether or not they’re telling the truth (on the other hand, some recent studies measuring genital response show that almost all humans have a “non-zero” response to all kinds of pornography, so the plethysmography method may actually end up validating the idea that most people are some shade of bisexual). Female bisexuals are considered almost an ideal, whereas male bisexuals are either STD factories or “gay and in denial.” As Mark Simpson (the gay British journalist who coined the term “metrosexual”) pointed out (http://www.marksimpson.com/blog/2006/04/26/curiouser-and-curiouser-the-strange-disappearance-of-male-bisexuality/), “Woman-on-woman love action wasn’t legislated against because, unlike male homosex, it simply wasn’t considered of much consequence. It may be difficult for feminists to grasp, but ‘patriarchy’ was always much more concerned about where men’s penises went than women’s tongues.”
Simpson continues, “straight women now have something to gain and little to lose by admitting an interest in other women. Rather than exile them to the acrylic mines of Planet Lesbo, it makes them more interesting, more adventurous, more modern… just more. For the most part, however, straight men still have nothing to gain and everything to lose by making a similar admission. It renders them considerably… less. Unlike women, men’s gender is immediately suspect if they express an interest in the same sex.” So, its kind of like being nerdy; bisexuality in men is a ticket to social emasculation, whereas bisexuality in women can (at least in many communities in the West) boost any particular woman’s social status and attractiveness. As Simpson continues when discussing a UK newspaper’s article about two bisexual English Premier League footballers getting it on, “The headline for the story used the word GAY in font so large it covered more than half the page. (The words ‘sordid’ and ‘perverted’ and ‘obscene’ were also much in evidence; in a story about bisexual women the words would be: ‘saucy’ ‘steamy’ and ‘sexy’.)”
Why Are Gay Men More Oppressed?
The feminist view has a grain of truth within it; homophobia against males is indeed rooted in the traditional gender system. However, feminism fails in truly understanding the nature of the gender system, which in turn leads them to misdiagnose the root of homophobia against males.
As I explained in my piece Summa Genderratica (http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/2014/02/27/summa-genderratica-the-anatomy-of-the-gender-system/), the gender system’s core premise is that men do, women are. Men are subjects, women are objects. Men are human doings, women are human beings. Men are moral agents, women are moral patients. But since both men and women need to act in order to provide for their survival needs, men are culturally expected to pick up the slack that women are presumed to not carry; the result is that men are burdened with the expectation of hyperagency (i.e. they have to provide for more than themselves) whilst women are saddled with the presumption of hypoagency.
In addition to this, males are expected to prove their value to society through living up to this hyperagential ideal, whereas females are considered as having an innate value to society simply for being able to bear children (and our society ascribes this value to all females in general, even though not all females can or do bear children). This creates a situation where males are seen as innately-expendable hyperagents who earn value through living up to that ideal, whereas females are seen as innately-valuable hypoagents who, like children, are the future and therefore precious but are also less competent and less able to deal with the challenges of life. In a previous article (http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/2014/05/23/a-useful-phrase-the-instrumentalization-infantilization-dichotomy/) I coined the phrase Instrumentalization-Infantilization Dichotomy to refer to the male and female gender roles respectively.
If this is true, then it is no wonder that gay men are more oppressed than gay women. Why? Because males are expected to act on behalf not only of themselves but on behalf of women, children and society in general. Because gender roles confine the duty of agency to males, when a male shirks this duty he is damaging not only himself but at least one woman and any potential (and sometimes actual) children, therefore damaging others. The traditional way by which males lived up to their hyperagential duty was to commit to a woman (or, in the ancient world and in some fringe religious communities, various women), and to provide for their wellbeing and the children they have together. Men were expected to marry, procreate and provide; they had to do things for their woman/women and children.
Male homosexuality means that instead of men doing things for women and children, men do each other. The mathematics are, at least in theory, obvious.
Of course these mathematics make little sense when one looks at things in a modern light; since males can in fact be bisexual, male/male sex doesn’t imply an inability to desire sex with women or even commit to a woman and raise children with her. And the experiences we’ve had over the decades (and arguably centuries) with closeted gay men make it pretty clear that many gay men are willing to at least try and fulfill their socially-assigned duties, even if they don’t find doing so particularly fulfilling. But these more rational considerations clearly didn’t inform society’s positions back in the days when the gender roles were economically necessary and having one or two children didn’t guarantee population growth (and, by extension in a low-technology world, economic growth), and the growing acceptance of non-heterosexuality means that non-heterosexual men are far less likely to accept living in The Closet for extended periods of their adult lives. Male queerness in today’s world is even more likely to result in less commitment, particularly if sexual economics concerns (i.e. the relative ease of getting sex from men relative to sex from women) are taken into account.
So gay men are victims of gay bashing whereas gay women rarely are? Well of course, because gay men are shirking their duty and thus letting women and children suffer and starve because they aren’t protecting and providing for them!
Gay men are the primary/default gay person and are treated as more dangerous and more threatening than gay women? Well of course, because one gay man is more of a loss to society than one gay woman!
Bisexual erasure disproportionately damages male bisexuals? Well of course, bisexual men can substitute sex with men over sex with women, which means they don’t have nearly the same incentive to provide/protect that straight men do! Plus, bisexual women can still be impregnated and pop out a child (not to mention the fact that many straight men would be very welcoming of a bisexual female partner for sexual-fetishization reasons).
Sure, lesbians are victims of the horrendous crime of “corrective” rape. But as atrocious as this crime is, it is premised on the idea that lesbians aren’t inherently defective (because they can be “cured”) and instead are just deluded or had a bad time with men or are being silly and immature. Gay men, on the other hand, often get beaten to death. They aren’t considered a “salvagable resource” in the same way as lesbians are (this is not to argue that corrective rape is somehow not an atrocity; merely that it is premised on a more optimistic basis than gay bashing is).
We live under a gender system where women are presumed as not being able to “do” stuff, but instead have stuff done to them. Their social value is not placed in what they “do” but rather in what they are. Ergo, when women do each other, it isn’t seen as endangering their value to society, whereas when men do each other they have no incentive to take care of women and children and therefore aren’t considered socially valuable.This broadly explains why society gender-polices males more severely than females (and homophobia is clearly a form of gender policing); since society implicitly places all of its fortunes in the hands of male actors, when a man isn’t acting “properly” more is at stake.
This broadly explains why society gender-polices males more severely than females (and homophobia is clearly a form of gender policing); since society implicitly places all of its fortunes in the hands of male actors, when a man isn’t acting “properly” more is at stake.
I find attempts to play “Oppression Olympics” distasteful, and I do not wish to give the impression that non-heterosexual women have it easy (clearly they do not). But historically speaking, most homophobia has been homomisandry, and lesbians have often been ignored or erased. Now erasure absolutely is not a good thing (as any bisexual, particularly a bisexual male, would be happy to point out), but being ignored is preferable to being killed.
Religiously, legally, historically and culturally, it is gay men who are the primary targets of homophobia. Gay men are the targets of gay bashing far more than gay women. Sodomy laws and passages from Abrahamic religious texts prohibit male homosexuality much more often than female homosexuality. Even in contemporary political campaigns against gay rights, gay males are seen as more threatening than gay females. Even the Nazis saw gay men as a bigger problem than gay women. And male bisexuality was hardly exempted from the religious and legal prohibitions of the past, since those prohibitions were based on sexual act rather than sexual desire. Indeed, some scholars argue the religious prohibitions actually apply more to male bisexuality than homosexuality; lying with a man as one lies with a woman (when taken in an absolutely literal fashion) arguably doesn’t apply to a gay man (who doesn’t sleep with women at all, presumably) but does apply to a bisexual one (who lies with both).
The UK’s NUS claims gay men aren’t oppressed within gay culture; that’s because gay men created gay culture as a ‘safe space’ away from the brutality they endured from straight culture. This brutality seems to be greater than that endured by gay women and almost certainly more than that endured by bisexual women (transgender issues are a different issue I lack experience with but given my above theory I’d suspect transwomen would be socially treated similarly to, and perhaps worse than, gay men). Gay men do need their positions in gay culture respected, for those spaces are where they can recover from the difficulties of dealing with straight culture. The same logic, by the way, validates the positions for representatives of all various LGBT subgroups since all of these subgroups have in some way dealt with difficulties from straight society.
But whilst the NUS didn’t argue that gay men don’t face oppression at all, the fact that gay men seem to be getting ‘thrown under the bus’ by multiple allegedly ‘anti-oppression’ groups is more than concerning, considering that gay men have historically been the explicit targets of the majority of sexuality-related bigotry. Surely, being ignored or not even discussed is a more pleasant fate than being executed.
Perhaps there is a bright side to this; if gay men begin to be treated as a second-tier priority within organizations that they primarily created, they may start to question whether or not intersectional feminism is truly an ally to their cause. Gay men may, as a result, begin to turn against the third wave feminist movement; as gay rights campaigner John Lauritsen has argued even back in the days of Radical Feminism (http://paganpressbooks.com/jpl/DTF.HTM), such a turn is quite overdue.