Give Me Back My Closet


There seems to be a general understanding these days that homosexuals have won. I get this from my students. They mention equality. Most profess to know somebody who is gay, and all claim they don’t care. When I quiz them on what they honestly think of homosexuals, they inevitably reply: ‘They’re just like us. They’re normal.’ They smile, pleased with their level of cultural sophistication.

But their response pains me. ‘Normal?’ I reply. ‘What a great relief that must be for you!’

Jane Caro’s self-outing in last week’s New Matilda (‘No More Closets’) as a ‘social progressive’ offers a further example of this unquestioned attitude that tolerance is somehow enough. Caro expresses a sense of pride in not being shocked on hearing that somebody (from another family) has come out as gay. I want to laugh at her alignment of male homosexuality with long hair, crying, softness and femininity. But her argument is no laughing matter. T here is something seriously disturbing about this current social ‘tolerance’ of gays.

Over the past few decades, the advances of the gay rights movement have undoubtedly made significant impacts on the lives of many individuals and on the wider culture. Not so long ago, anyone seen to be or suspected of being a homosexual faced eviction from their home, dismissal, and/or verbal and physical harassment. And there were few legal or social imperatives to prevent such things from occurring.

For the most part, this is all in past. Gay people have had an impact in all sectors of society, in all professions and, generally, they can now get on with their lives.

But the aim of gay liberation was never simply to establish homosexuals as ‘normal.’ Of course, there was a desire to get the wider culture to accept that they weren’t evil, sick or a social threat. Homosexuals wanted to be accepted. But as ‘normal’? As normal as what?

‘Normal’ implies there is already an agreed upon standard and this is what we all aspire to. When it comes to matters of sex and sexuality, ‘normal’ means love, marriage, monogamy and settling down until death us do part. These are dominant understandings of sexual normality, but they were never what gay liberation desired.

The US gay rights campaigner Carl Wittman warned against the dangers of assimilation into heterosexual culture. In his A Gay Manifesto (1969), he wrote: ‘ To accept that happiness comes through finding a groovy spouse and settling down, showing the world that œwe’re just the same as you  is avoiding the real issues, and is an expression of self-hatred.’

Two years later, the Australian academic Dennis Altman insisted that any ‘liberation of the homosexual can only be achieved within the context of a much broader sexual liberation.’

David Emerson illustration

Thanks to Emo

Gay liberation did not simply wish to rock the heterosexual boat it wanted to tip it over and sink everybody on board. Today, however, we hear that the movement has been a ‘success’ because gays are able to live with their partners, have and raise children, share their economic wealth, and participate in the kind of lifestyle that, despite decades of feminist, socialist and queer struggles, continues to be promoted as the right dream for all. And when a gay person achieves this, they are rewarded with ‘tolerance’ because they too are now ‘normal.’

So what happens to all the men who fuck strangers at beats? Or lesbians who like to strap on dildos and participate in sadomasochistic pleasures over men? What about the trannies, gender benders, transsexuals, intersexers, and anyone else who doesn’t do sex and gender the ‘normal’ way? What about the teenagers who already know what they want but can’t legally get it? Where is the space for all these ‘queers’ in this realm of the ‘normal’?

Sure, gay liberation has been a success, but only for a particular kind of homosexual. Get yourself a steady partner, go shopping, buy a house together, adopt a few kids, and society will ‘tolerate’ you too. But try coming out to your family or workmates about your fondness for orgies, online masturbation or sex saunas, and see how much tolerance you get then.

To speak of gayness (or straightness) as something that is a part of a person’s genuine self as Caro does ignores the history of sexuality. The suggestion that we all possess a true self, and that we will be happy once we find it, is simply a regurgitation of pop psychology. It is a way of reassuring us of our uniqueness without considering the importance of cultural and social influences on how we act and how we understand ourselves.

Sexuality (straight, gay, or wonderfully otherwise) has not been lurking deep down inside us until we, the enlightened ones, finally discover it. It is a specifically Western interpretation of why we have sex in the ways we do. The concept of a sexual identity was developed in the late 19th century because it suited this particular culture’s desire to contain and control the body.

If being ‘socially progressive’ today means you no longer feel disappointed in the Australian culture because somebody can safely come out as gay, then I am a radical terrorist and proud of it. When I can stop hearing about heterosexuals who tolerate gays, when I can live in a world where monogamy and marriage are not given preference over fist-fucking and polyamour, then I will know I am truly living in a queerly progressive world.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.