Homosexual Oppression: Does Capitalism Really Affect It? [The following paper was presented at a forum organised by the Sydney Socialist Homosexuals, held on the 12th September 1976 at 33A Glebe Point Road, Glebe. The paper was prepared and presented by Jeff Hayler.]
I shall begin with a quote from an article by Dennis Altman which appeared in Gay Liberation Press, nr 3. “A relatively small group of white middle-aged males are in a position to take the major decisions to define the boundaries within which all of us must function. It is by and large this group who benefit from the existing distribution of resources; the productivity of American Capitalism and the success of the ideological persuasion are such that the gr eat majority of persons rally to defend the system that enables this minority to maintain their dominance.” The word “heterosexual” could well be added to the description of this group.
An economic system must have an ideological justification and for the system to remain as it is (more or less), this must be the ideology of a class which benefits from the particular system. The capitalist class promulgate very successfully their ideology in this society – it is the dominant ideology and is reflected in institutions in this society. It is, amongst other things, anti-homosexual.
This analysis is, of course, not just restricted to capitalist societies. Repression of homosexuality in China, the Soviet Union and so on, does not negate the argument that the fight for homosexual liberation challenges capitalism.
It should be pointed out here that individual homosexuals are members of the capitalist class. This is not at variance with the dominant ideology being anti-homosexual. Such homosexuals are coopted into accepting the ideology of the dominant class and coset themselves accordingly. An obvious example would be Nazi Germany, where extermination of homosexuals was accompanied by significant homosexual activity amongst the regime’s military and political establishment.
We are only too familiar with the oppression of homosexuality emanating from various institutions in this society – the family; the legislature and legal system; the education system; the media; psychiatry; religion. All of these institutions have been coopted into propagating and serving the dominant ideology. A point that I will return to later is that Gay Liberation itself is in danger of being coopted in this way.
Why is the dominant ideology – capitalism, anti-homosexual? Let us briefly look at the institutions that I have just mentioned, their current roles and the possibility of changes coming about through changes in attitudes towards sexuality.
A critical role of the family has been procreation – the breeding of more labour power. However, as birth control is removing this basis for heterosexual sex and as capitalism has moved from a production orientation to a consumerist orientation, the taboos against homosexuality from this direction have declined. Instead, sex has become a commodity and incorporated into the consumption pattern.
Indeed some people have hypothesized that technology may well develop to the extent that this role of procreation can even be taken away from the family. The role of the family as educator has already been largely taken away and the State has intervened. Thus, one can foresee that the oppression of homosexuality, based on ti being unnatural and non-reproductive, may well continue to decline.
The family is also the critical consumption unit. But we are also witnessing changes here. Sex is becoming a commodity and being single, as a heterosexual, is becoming more respectable. We have specialised swingers’ apartments and so on, as capitalists start realising that single people can be a very attractive market and good consumers of luxury products – clothes, travel, etc. The benign tolerance and protection of the commercial homosexual ghetto reflects the growing awareness that homosexuals can be very good consumers. The recognition of homosexual marriages is not an unforeseeable possibility as homosexuals are increasingly coopted into the consumption pattern. Such marriages would also legitimize and provide a means for the transmission of inheritance of property. Most importantly, it would support the property concept of relationships.
The family is also, to quote from the manifesto of the Socialist Homosexuals, “the prime socializing force aimed at creating docile workers for capitalism, who accept such structures and values as male supremacy, racism and authoritarianism.” This is absolutely critical and the education system plays an increasing role in this area. Although one can foresee the State, through the education system, taking over more completely this function, it is necessary that these structures and values are reflected not only in the overall social structure, but also in personal relations. I will return to this point later.
The inculcation of sex gender roles is the most important function of the family and is only reinforced by the education system. These roles are very important as they determine the way in which we perceive ourselves and others. Categorizations of individuals and conception of their roles by stereotype is vital if individuals are to cope with the range and number of social contacts. In a society where everyone is a competitor, it is therefore essential that interactions not be on a real personal level as this endangers one’s power position with respect to others. Thus, social interaction must be divided into automatic responses to particular categories of people. So we learn to react to and interact with women, blacks, homosexuals, migrants, people over whom we have power, people who power over us, etc. The basis of personal relations must reflect the basis of the social relations or conflict arises.
State intervention in the education system was a response to the increasingly complex technological demands of this society and the need to train workers in a broader and more sophisticated manner. Importantly, it reinforces the indoctrination provided by the family and provides a safeguard against any mishaps in that area. It is no coincidence that the capitalist class perceives the importance of the education system as such as [so much as?] in the tertiary sector it directly intervenes, not being prepared to leave this in the hands of the state apparatus. Thus, we see the preponderance of business men on university an college of advanced education Council, governing boards and their rights to control what is going on is protected under the guise of university or college autonomy. It is also no accident that teacher training institutions suffer most from this control and that the Fraser Government has instituted an Enquiry to make recommendations on the rationalisation of education to ensure that tertiary institutions are serving the needs of the capitalist class.
What prospects are there for change in this area? The current attitude towards homosexual teachers is illuminating. State Governments are well aware that their education systems would be decimated were homosexual teachers all to be sacked. They merely take action against those who come out, that is, those homosexuals who are sufficiently coopted do not pose a threat.
Change will be slower here, but as homosexuals are recognised elsewhere in the society, then we can foresee homosexual teachers identified in the system. But what of the curriculum, particularly the sex and gender roles and the competitive nature of the system? The education system is already preparing to adapt to these changes by reinforcing the authoritarianism of the system and to eliminate personal interaction between teacher and pupil. In this regard it is interesting to note the reaction to motions passed at an AUS Conference on the rights of teachers to relate to students. This is a critical area as it threatens the propagation of power relationships.
The legislature and legal system are slowly changing and the obvious legal discrimination and penalties on male homosexuals will be eventually removed without threatening capitalism. But the legal system will retain its control over sexuality under various laws such as the Solicitation and Offensive Behaviour Acts. This has a basis in sex as a commodity. In Australia, the legal system does not yet claim power over relationships, and this, rather than fucking or genital sex, is the real area of threat. The apartheid laws in South Africa provide an interesting example. Relationships, not just genital sex, between members of different races is strictly prohibited. The South African regime, no doubt, realises that this is important in maintaining power differentials between the races.
The media sustain the oppression of homosexuality by supporting sex and gender roles in their programming and advertisements. It is interesting to note the inclusion of homosexuals in recent television programmes and advertisements, but in such a way as to reinforce sex roles and stereotyping. Thus, we can witness here the changing attitude towards homosexuals, but not towards homosexuality and not towards our sex and gender determined social role.
Psychiatry is also changing from its overt ole as oppressor (shock treatment, aversion therapy, lobotomy) to one of assisting homosexuals to cope with their oppression, to accept it and the values of this society and to be a good little worker.
Religion has been a bastion of oppression but what is happening now? We see the rise of homosexual religions, but based on patriarchy, power and submission to the system. This is a classic example of cooption and in no way challenges the basic power relationship in our society.
Now I would like to examine an institution which is not normally considered as being an institution of oppression of homosexuality. That institution is the homosexual movement itself. Gay Liberation, CAMP and such organisations, have been coopted into demanding the ‘right’ to fuck the person of your choice within the existing system in terms of existing power relationships. This is no threat. This perhaps explains why so many homosexuals aren’t into the gay movement as we’ve already the right to fuck who we want to, provided we are discreet and careful. Some homosexuals would even suggest we have more freedom in this area than heterosexuals who are bound by marriage, sexual morality and few outlets such as saunas and bars, which are explicitly places for easy sexual gratification. The homosexual movement, by concentrating on genital manifestations of homosexuality, largely misses the point.
As Dennis Altman has said, “Overt homosexual behaviour is now tolerated and accepted and occasionally encouraged to the extent that it is consumerist, competitive, genital and isolative.” The consumerist, competitive and genital aspects I have touched on previously.
The isolative aspect is significant as it is important for capitalism to keep us separate, individual, powerless. Tensions, energy and powerlessness can be dissipated by isolated sexual contact – one night stands, saunas, etc. Huxley’s Brave New World grasps this concept.
Isolated, anonymous genital contact allows us an outlet, an opportunity to act out power fantasies without having these contradictions confront us in terms of ongoing relationships. It does not impinge on male bonding.
Throughout this paper, I have carefully used the terms homosexual an homosexuality in different ways. My use of homosexuality extends beyond the categorisation of people by their sexual, genital activities, to include the concept of relationships and this is a critical distinction. This paper suggests, indeed argues, that homosexual behaviour can and will be accommodated within capitalism. This is not necessarily the case. It will be a long and hard fight, but I believe there are no inherent contradictions in it occurring.
Competition and the myth of equal opportunity is vital to capitalism to justify the very obvious distinctions between those who have power, wealth, etc. and those who do not. To return to the South African example, personal relations between whites and non-whites is forbidden because it jeopardises the overall power discrepancy between whites and non-whites.
Personal relationships between men and women in this society reflect the overall power relationships. Homosexuality calls into question the power differentials in personal relationships, as does the Women’s Movement. Female homosexuality, particularly undermines male-female power relations.
Taking a Freudian vies, libidinal energy is vital for the maintenance of the group and must not be dissipated in sexual interaction between members of the group. Emotional relationships between men undermine the essential competitiveness of social relations under capitalism and calls into questions, power differentials. On the other hand, they can potentially simply duplicate the power relationships and we witness this in many homosexual relationships, especially between men.
On a personal level, I am an open homosexual, and in some ways I can use this to protect myself. I do not suffer many of the manifestations of the homosexual oppression and yet I face a constant crisis with regard to my homosexuality. I find I cannot overcome the socialising effect of capitalism in my personal relationships – I suffer from competition, power games and power differentials. I am aware of this problem and fight it but cannot overcome it.
I can never completely overcome it, nor can I completely overcome my sexism in a social system such as capitalism that requires and is dependent upon power differentials in human relations. Capitalism also deliberately perpetuates prejudice against women homosexuals and other ‘minority’ groups, as a method of giving at least some power to people in an otherwise powerless position.
If we are to give up power in our personal relationships, this will expose our total powerlessness in this society. Homosexuality, to the extent that it challenges competitiveness, questions power differentials and is not coopted into perpetuating such aspects of relationships, indeed has a revolutionary potential.