Tatchell: “Traditional hetero masculinity oppresses women and
gay people, with sexist jibes, domestic violence, rape, homophobic
taunts and queer-bashing assaults.”
Peter Tatchell, the gay
London-based international activist, argues that by challenging traditional
heterosexual masculinity, the queer emancipation movement can contribute to
the liberation of all of humanity. This is the text of his speech to the
European Feminist Summit held in London last month.
Queer liberation is not a mere
minority issue, nor purely a question of personal lifestyle, civil rights or
sexual freedom. It is, or can be, socially transformative, with the
potential to aid all emancipation struggles everywhere.
Queers deviate from traditional
masculinity. We reject the orthodox model of what it is to be a man. By so
doing, we are sexual subversives who unravel the straight machismo that
underpins all relations of oppression and exploitation.
Traditional hetero masculinity
oppresses women and gay people, with sexist jibes, domestic violence, rape,
homophobic taunts and queer-bashing assaults. It is also a source of the
toughness and aggression that makes possible the social violence of racist
attacks, police brutality, war and torture.
Not all straight men embrace this
macho mindset. Some rebel and dissent. Conversely, a few women and gay men
also adopt their oppressor's machismo. But on a global scale it is
predominantly heterosexual males who express violent masculinity and
perpetrate such crimes.
Macho ways of thinking and acting
are not, of course, biologically ordained and immutable. They are primarily
the socially-determined product of a specific set of culturally-constructed
institutions and ideologies.
In societies the world-over, these
institutions and ideologies continue to result in male children being reared
and socialised quite differently from female ones. They tend to be
conditioned to see rivalry, toughness, domination and even violence as
acceptable and normal attributes for young boys and real men.
During boyhood these harsh
masculine values often become internalised and machismo ends up being seen
as a routine, legitimate and even desirable mode of male behaviour.
In contrast, emotion, sensitivity,
gentleness, persuasion and conciliation tend to be looked upon with relative
disfavour amongst men. They are frequently depicted within our culture as
signs of weakness, typically associated with women and with gay men. We
queers risk disparagement for failing to conform to a rugged masculine
In this cultural context, from a
very early age many (not all) male children learn to be competitive, strong,
aggressive and unyielding. The idea that problems can be ultimately resolved
- and often validly resolved - by threats and violence becomes deeply etched
into their inner psyche.
Echoing the women's liberation
movement, the lesbian and gay liberation movement that emerged four decades
ago, following the Stonewall Riots in New York in June 1969, identified
straight machismo as a source of queer oppression and set out to challenge
In contrast to earlier, more
liberal-oriented movements for homosexual law reform and equality, the 1970s
Gay Liberation Fronts in New York and London did not seek to ape
heterosexual values or secure the acceptance of queers within the existing
Indeed, they repudiated the
prevailing sexual morality and institutions - rejecting not only
heterosexism but also orthodox heterosexual masculinity. Straight maleness
was seen as the oppressor of queers, as well as women; with its
predisposition to male rivalry, toughness and aggression symbolised most
potently by the rapist and the queer-basher.
The "radical drag" and
''gender-bender" politics of Gay Liberation Front politics glorified male
gentleness. It was a conscious, if sometimes exaggerated, attempt to
renounce the oppressiveness of masculinity and subvert the way traditional
masculinity functions to buttress the subordination of women and gay men.
Four decades on, we also need to
question male/female gender roles and straight patriarchy, and the
consequent macho cult of competitiveness, domination and violence –
including its gay and female imitators.
Let's reaffirm the worthwhileness
of male sensitivity and affection between men and, in the case of lesbians,
the intrinsic value of an eroticism and love independent of heterosexual
The social implications of this new
queer thinking are enormous. The bottom line is this:
The construction of a cult of
machismo and a mass of aggressive male egos is a precondition for sexual,
gender, class, species, ethnic and imperial oppression.
All forms of oppression depend on
two factors for their continued maintenance.
First, on specific economic,
political and ideological structures.
Second, on a significant proportion
of the population being socialised into the acceptance of harsh masculine
values which involve the legitimisation of aggression and the suppression of
gentleness and emotion.
The embracing of these
culturally-conditioned macho values is what makes millions of people -
mostly straight men, but some women and gay men too - able to participate in
This interaction between social
structures, ideology and individual psychology was a thesis which the
communist psychologist, Wilhelm Reich, was attempting to articulate six
decades ago in his book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism.
In the case of German fascism, what
Nazism did was merely awake and excite the latent brutality that is
intrinsic to the forms of heterosexual masculinity that are usually
characteristic of patriarchal class societies. It then systematically
manipulated and organised this machismo into a fascist regime of terror and
torture which culminated in the holocaust.
Since it is the internalisation of
the masculine cult of toughness and domination which makes people
psychologically suited and willing to be part of oppressive relations of
exploitation and subjection, repressive states invariably glorify masculine
"warrior" ideals, and persecute those men - mainly queers - who fail to
conform to them.
The embrace of masculine aggression
by sizable chunks of the male population is a prerequisite for injustice and
tyranny. Love and tenderness between men therefore ceases to be a purely
private matter or simply a question of personal lifestyle. Instead, it
objectively becomes an act of sexual and cultural subversion that undermines
the psychological foundations of oppression.
Hence the Nazi vilification of gay
men as "sexual subversives" and "sexual saboteurs" who, in the words of
Heinrich Himmler, had to be "exterminated root and branch."
The ending of tyranny, injustice
and exploitation therefore requires us to change both the social structures
and the individual personality to create people who, liberated from orthodox
masculinity, no longer psychologically crave the power to dominate and
exploit others and who are therefore unwilling to be the agents of
oppressive regimes - whether as soldiers, police, gaolers and censors or as
routine civil servants and state administrators who act as the passive
agents of repression by keeping the day-to-day machinery of unjust
government ticking over.
By challenging the cult of
heterosexual masculinity, queer liberation is about much more than the
limited agenda of equal rights. It offers a unique, revolutionary
contribution to the emancipation of the whole of humanity from all forms of
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Posted: 3 April 2008 at
14:00 (UK time)