LESBIAN/GAY/BISEXUAL/TRANSGENDER STRATEGY SEMINAR
The Homosexual Question
(excerpts translated from Critique Communiste (Paris), no. 11/12, Dec. 1976 - Jan. 1977)
(Translation note - Nicolas uses the words homosexuel and homosexualité to refer to both sexual acts and people. This translation uses "homosexual" to refer to sexual acts and "gay" and/or "lesbian" to refer to people.)
1. The bourgeoisie's process of sexual normalization
Before examining the nature of the specific oppression of gay people, we would like to say a few words about the general process of normalization of sexuality that this specific oppression is part of. It seems better to us to speak of a process of normalization in sexual matters rather than of "the" sexual norm. Strictly speaking, we can speak of "the" norm in order to characterize the dominant behaviour imposed/proposed at a particular moment in a given society, for either a social class or a social layer. But the notion of a normalization process enables us to grasp much better, on the one hand, the co-existence of different norms corresponding to different social classes or layers in the same society, and on the other hand, the dominant class's constant capacity to adapt and recast behavioural norms according to the needs of the moment and the relationship of forces. The notion of normalization process also enables us to avoid posing the question of struggles on the terrain of sexuality in terms of a counter-norm or anti-norm.
Besides, we also need to distinguish the social discourse that is carried on about sexuality and the real sexual practices of different classes and layers in society. What is important is to grasp the linkages and contradictions that can exist between sexual practices and the social discourse about sexuality. In fact the social discourse determines how this or that sexual practice is experienced at a particular moment, and is essential to understanding how individual people are led to think about their own sexualities. If we take homosexuality for example, just making an inventory of homosexual practices in a given population is not enough. What is important is to determine how and why some of the people engaged in homosexual practices identify as gay, and the consequences that this has for their social relationships as a whole, while many other people who also engage in homosexual practices refuse to see themselves as gay and are even often among the most virulent practitioners of anti-gay oppression.
True, tendentially, the process of bourgeois sexual normalization aims to maintain the imposition of a heterosexual norm in the framework of the monogamous, patriarchal family. This ideal—and thus necessarily unrealizable—norm governs sexual practices narrowly defined (the ways in which people make love) as well as affectional behaviour (the ways in which people experience themselves as men or women) and cultural reference points (the way in which people think of themselves or portray themselves as men or women).
To begin with, this sexual norm establishes the set of social relationships corresponding in this society to the difference between the sexes as something natural, physiological and obvious. In fact the only thing that is objectively given is the existence of a difference between the sexes, and in no way the social relationships erected on this basis, which for their part are completely historical. Since the bourgeoisie perpetuates, while reshaping, the age-old domination of men over women, the sexual norm that it imposes is a phallocratic norm: the discourse about sexuality is a discourse forged by men about men's sexuality. Women, denied any power, are also cut off from knowledge. If a discourse is carried on about women's sexuality, it is derived from men's sexuality and the problems that women's sexuality can raise for men; it is never a discourse by women about their own sexuality. In this way women's sexuality is completely denied and negated.
Secondly, the bourgeois sexual norm posits that only relationships between the two sexes are suitable and natural, since only they are oriented towards procreation. The norm thus condemns relationships between two individuals of the same sex as abnormal and against nature.
The bourgeois sexual norm denies women's sexuality and rejects homosexuality; it is also the negation of children's sexuality. In any event the category of childhood is, if not created, at least reinforced by bourgeois social discourse, which makes it into a category that is excluded from society and closed up in the institutions of family and school. The myth of the "green paradise of childhood love" is a poor attempt to conceal the reality of children's prolonged dependence in capitalist society, their infantilization, as well as the negation of their sexuality. Children are thus subjected to a long, meticulous drilling of bodies and minds which is supposed to make them fit the space that has been assigned to them in the social machinery.
But while the sexual norm denies their desire in the present, while they are children, it prepares them to flow into the mould of a normal sexuality the day that they become adults. It turns them into girls and boys ready to live as future fathers and future mothers. Throughout their education they are endlessly presented with the single model of the heterosexual couple: "They lived happily ever after and had lots of children." And when reality turns out to rudely contradict the imposed, normative social discourse, when children expresses and experience their own desires, these desires are immediately denied and blamed on adults, who are accused of corrupting minors. This is why anti-gay legal repression is particularly harsh towards pedophiles. Pedophilia itself, marked by references to this practice in ancient Greece, also often contributes to keeping children in a position of inferiority, to the extent that it goes together with paternalistic relationships. For this reason new relationships between adults and children can only be built through a conscious struggle against all forms of domination, from the most blatant to the most cunning.
Finally, the sexual norm oppresses even those who seem to accept the flowing of their sexuality through the narrow channel that the norm confines it to. There is in fact a permanent gap between individuals' aspirations to flourish in social as well as sexual life and the roles in which social discourse seeks to enclose them, by presenting a series of static models that tend to impose the norm of the heterosexual couple legitimized by the institution of marriage for the purpose of procreation. In this way a continual social pressure weighs down on single people, but also on childless married couples. The petrification of roles shows clearly how the different levels on which the imposition of the norm takes place are intertwined, and underscores the global character of men's domination over women. The codification of individuals' sexual and affectional life by bourgeois social discourse thus extends its effects to all aspects of daily life, which it impregnates from end to end.
The sexual norm, like any other form of ideology, does not exist as a separate entity. It is materialized in a whole series of social institutions which fulfill other functions as well. It is above all in the three main institutions that are in charge of individuals' education—family, school and church—that the inculcation of the sexual norm is carried out. The relations among these institutions evolve over time, and each one's specific weight changes. For example, the role of the church has considerably diminished with the secularization of social life, its institutional weight is less and less, but Judeo-Christian ideology keeps a tight hold, albeit under the various avatars of humanist ideology. Inversely, with the socialization of education, the school has taken a preponderant place, nonetheless without this socialization of education being sufficiently developed within the capitalist system to reduce in a decisive way the role of the family, which remains an indispensable pillar for the inculcation of the norm. In the case of men the army "finishes off" their education with its cult of virility and contempt for women.
Nevertheless these institutions do not manage to catch everyone in their net. Many people cannot endure this recruitment network. The institutions responsible for the inculcation of the sexual norm thus have a relay: the repressive institutions, such as psychiatry and prisons, which take charge of deviants.
Sexuality in a capitalist society is not only the object of a normative, codified discourse; it is also a source of profit through its commercialization. The sexual norm thus has the function of channelling demand towards the commercial circuits created for this end. Pornography and prostitution batten on sexual fantasy and deprivation.
Finally, the sexual norm, however specific it may be, is integrated into a social discourse which is itself normative, in the sense that it transmits the values specific to the dominant class: to begin with, respect for private property and the work ethic. But there is also linguistic normality: the reduction of language to its communicative function, adequate for the expression of market relations, and the enclosure of other forms of language in the realm of art—or of insanity; and normality in dress, which both constrains the body and indicates individuals' assigned social places. This is how social discourse tends to codify all relationships, so that the dominant ideology stamps them all permanently with its mark.
This codification and normalization, which penetrate all of everyday life, constitute what one could call a "process of subjection", whose goal is to forge individuals suitable for integration into capitalist relations of production and for their perpetuation. In this sense the process of subjection constitutes a fundamental element of the reproduction of capital, inasmuch as it is indispensable to shaping and maintaining social agents in the framework of capitalist relations of production. It is organically woven into the process of valorization of capital, of capitalist exploitation narrowly defined (extraction of surplus-value through exploitation of human surplus labour). In addition, the proletariat's class consciousness, which is directly rooted in the struggle against capitalist exploitation, must be extended to the analysis of all the extremely diverse forms of this subjection process. In particular, the revolutionary vanguard must make an effort to integrate analysis of the subjection process, as it manifests itself today, into Marxism's theoretical arsenal and redeploy this analysis on the various battlefronts.
This does not mean erecting a revolutionary strategy focussed on a struggle against normality (in a broad sense) that would bring together all oppressions and revolts. It means, starting from an awareness of the imbrication between the process of capitalist exploitation and the process of subjection, integrating the various struggles against all forms of normality into the anti-capitalist struggle. A strategy centred purely on the terrain of the struggle against normality would be doomed to endlessly cutting off the constantly regenerated heads of an ungraspable Medusa, without ever being able to strike it dead with a blow to its heart. Inversely, an anti-capitalist strategy hemmed in within an economist struggle, not allowing itself the means to intervene on the many battlefronts that have to do with the subjection process, would meet enormous difficulties in starting from the masses' radicalization and in mobilizing them in the struggle against capitalist exploitation. This would in any case profoundly distort the dynamic of a society in transition to socialism, which cannot content itself with overturning the relations of production but aims to transform the whole of social relations.
Between these two extreme scenarios, we should not confuse the level of analyzing the subjection process with the level of strategic inferences. The subjection process has in our opinion a coherence, whose logic we have tried to sketch on the basis of the normalization process at work throughout bourgeois social discourse (which because of this requires a global approach). On the level of strategic inferences, on the other hand, we are not trying to build a unified struggle against normality in all its forms. Rather we are trying to intervene in a specific way on each terrain constituted by this or that particular form of normality. At the same time we are trying to link this struggle to the working class's struggle against capitalist exploitation.
So while we need to understand the fundamental mechanism by which the dominant norm functions in a capitalist society, we must avoid restricting ourselves to this analysis alone, which is far too schematic. We need to study how the normalization process takes place in practice in a much more supple way: how it adapts itself to the requirements of the economic system at various moments, to demographic needs (whether it is a period of policies favouring higher birth rates or a period of Malthusian policies), to new historical requirements (shifts in mores, which begin in certain layers of the bourgeoisie and then spread little by little, and in a diversified way, to all other social classes and strata), and to different relationships of class forces. In short, it is necessary to historicize the functioning of the bourgeois sexual norm through perpetual rearrangements carried out by the normalization process.
2. The nature and history of the specific oppression of homosexuality
1. Preliminary remark on male and female homosexuality
Our analytical approach in terms of social relations leads us first of all to make a clear distinction between male and female homosexuality. The nature of oppression, the experiences and social attitudes are substantially different in the two different cases. Male homosexuality is recognized, but thrown out of society (often legally repressed and considered in France as a "social plague"). As for lesbians, they are subject to all aspects of women's oppression, to which an additional discrimination is added because of their sexual orientation. But this additional discrimination (which can be seen for example in lesbians' losing custody of the children they are raising) seems to us to come second to the oppression they experience as women. Besides, the dominant social discourse on sexuality, which is essentially a male discourse about male sexuality, tends in general to deny women's sexuality and consequently to consider lesbianism as having no social importance, while male homosexuality is seen as a threat to the family.
While this is the social attitude today towards male homosexuality and lesbianism, this is no way means that one form of sexuality is in our eyes more or less subversive than the other. No form of sexuality is subversive in itself. Simply, because of the fact that oppression is experienced in given conditions, this or that sexual behaviour can come into conflict with the reigning sexual norms. Thus male homosexuality is today, in most advanced capitalist countries and workers' states, objectively in conflict with sexual norms, although this conflict is experienced subjectively in a very different way in different social classes and layers and results in very diversified levels and modes of radicalization.
As for female homosexuality, we must doubtless make a distinction between those women who are still seen as gay and those who, as they begin to arrive at a feminist consciousness, sometimes experience homosexual relationships among them as new forms of inter-individual relationship. In the latter case, the socially subversive impact does not come so much from the homosexual relationship as from the challenge to the relations of domination among individuals engendered by class society—although this challenge only takes on its full force in the context of collective struggle. For women who see themselves as gay, oppression as women goes together with oppression as gay people. But their consciousness takes different forms depending on which aspect of oppression is emphasized more: feminist consciousness can be held back among some gay women by the feeling that their specific oppression is not taken into account by the women's movement. This nonetheless does not change the fact that these two forms of oppression are closely linked. It is preferable to encourage combining feminist consciousness with radicalization starting from specific oppression as a gay woman, rather than accentuating differentiation by grafting the issue of female homosexuality onto the issue of male homosexuality.
The distinction we are making between male homosexuality and female homosexuality thus derives essentially from an analysis from the standpoint of oppression. This is the only at all solid analytical approach that we think we have at our disposal today. One could conceive of an approach starting from an enquiry into what homosexual desire means and questioning at the same time the nature of heterosexuality. For our part, without rejecting that approach, we will not venture to undertake it. For one thing, we have not mastered the theoretical tools necessary for such an approach (among which we would put first of all the conceptual apparatuses of psychoanalysis and anthropology). For another thing, questioning the nature of heterosexuality and homosexuality does not seem immediately indispensable to us for an initial discussion of oppression, which aims above all to pose the problems of revolutionary Marxists' intervention on a specific terrain of struggle. This conscious limitation does not preclude developing more deepgoing theoretical work on the nature of homosexuality and heterosexuality, and on the functioning of sexuality in general, later on, starting particularly from our practical experience in the gay movement's struggle.
2. The objective and subjective genesis of gay identity
From the moment when the bourgeoisie has state power and extends its class hegemony to all of society, it imposes a remodelling of all social relationships in order to perpetuate its class domination. It also establishes a new social discourse in order to propagate its own values. This social discourse of course incorporates many elements from pre-capitalist ideological formations, but it inserts them into a new configuration, instituting a new modality of human existence.
The hierarchy of feudal relations had as its corollary the portrayal of human beings as God's creatures. Opposition to the existing social order was punished by excommunication, a simultaneous expulsion from the divine and human order—the human order being seen as only a reflection and symbol of the divine. Capitalist society by contrast establishes human beings as socio-economic agents, inserted into relations of production. This desacralization, this secularization of the world and society, still kept for a long time to the terms of the old social discourse that had ruled over all of feudal society, while emptying it of its content. The Jacobins' Supreme Being was no longer the sovereign God, guarantor both of the human order and of the communion of souls through his representatives on earth: the pope and emperor or king. He was much more the symbol of state power. Over time, with the spread of atheism among the bourgeoisie as well as proletariat, opposition to the existing social order would run more and more directly into the institution that had become its only guarantor: the state.
More and more, too, what the state would repress—despite its juridical discourse—was not so much this or that individual act as non-integration into the existing social order. In this way entire categories of excluded people, outside of society, would form on the system's margins, thrown out of production. Some elements of the bourgeoisie could dabble in this marginality for a time in search of adventure—without running great risks, since like the prodigal son they always had a place saved for them at the social banquet table. But it is a hell for those who are condemned to it. For the mass of workers, it serves as a deterrent and a warning: Watch out, if you don't stick to the straight and narrow, if you don't fit the place assigned to you, you will find yourselves among these wretched people.
Homosexuality appears as one of these factors of social non-integration in the eyes of the dominant class. It thus would both perpetuate the taboo on homosexuality inherited from Judeo-Christianity and establish homosexuality as a separate category, a homosexual identity. The anti-homosexual taboo thus manifests itself in two combined forms: the repression of the homosexual component of desire, and discrimination against gay people, which throws them out of the social organism as "deviants", "abnormal" or "sick". Any analysis that starts only from the oppression of gays as a sexually oppressed minority, without raising the issue of the latent, more or less repressed homosexuality in each individual, seems to us seriously reductionist.
The sharp separation between the categories of gay and straight crystallizes an arbitrary divide, which obscures the continuity among various sexual practices and denies the undifferentiated character of desire towards one sex or the other. As Freud shows, attraction to the other sex is not any more natural or spontaneous than attraction to the same sex. Reducing desire to a single component, the heterosexual one, is the result of a process of normalization of sexuality by bourgeois ideology, which aims, through education and the cultural models that it presents, to shape individuals suited to fulfilling their social role in the framework of the monogamous, patriarchal family.
We therefore oppose both the imposition of this heterosexual norm and any attempt to propose any kind of gay "anti-norm" or "counter-norm" that would tend to perpetuate the divide between homosexuality and heterosexuality or to present these categories as conflicting. Nevertheless we cannot overlook the fact that these categories do correspond today to a certain social functioning, and above all that one of them (homosexuality) is systematically devalued, leading to a specific oppression of gay people.
The repression of latent homosexuality is particularly noticeable in institutions that mainly bring together men (armies, police, the Church, sports teams, some schools, prisons). It generally goes together in these institutions with both an exclusion of and contempt for women, reinforced by the cult of virility, and with harsh oppression of those who announce their homosexuality, even though homosexual practices are often widespread there, though without any right to free and open expression.
The anti-homosexual taboo is also very strong in education, culture and the media, which either ban any reference to homosexuality or present a caricatured, twisted image of it. This particularly underhanded and insidious form of oppression means that gay people have great difficulty in finding role models, inasmuch as they cannot identify with the dominant social models. This, and not their homosexuality, is why many gay people experience difficulty in adjusting to the demands of social life (in particular at work). This (relative) social inadaptation is aggravated by other aspects of oppression: confinement in a ghetto, discrimination in employment and housing, police and youth gang attacks, and psychiatric repression.
We therefore reject the idea that homosexuality is either "an unnatural act" (an idea inherited from medieval Christian prejudices), a "sickness" (a theory put forward by psychiatry, which tends to be taken up by for example some currents of the French CP), or a "mark of bourgeois decadence" (a theory passed on by traditional Stalinism). We also reject two theories encountered very often among gay people, which seem to us unwarranted theorizations from the social rejection and oppression of gays. The first, which served as a theoretical foundation for the first gay movement at the end of the 19th century, considers gays to be a "third sex". It seems to us without scientific foundation, avoiding the issue of the homosexual component of desire and latent homosexuality, theorizing the marginalization of gays in this society, and in fact limiting their struggle to defending the democratic rights of an oppressed minority. Although the "third sex" theory has been more or less abandoned today in its primitive form, it underlies the explicit or implicit references so widespread today to a gay "identity".
The second theory, linked to the wave of gay radicalization following May '68, posits that homosexuality is intrinsically revolutionary and subversive of any existing social order. This conception, theorized in France by Guy Hocquenghem and taken up more or less confusedly by the "current of desire", overlooks the social modelling of desire and the class lines that divide gay people. It ends up misdirecting the gay struggle against oppression into a struggle against straight people, often coloured by phallocracy and misogyny. This current also usually rejects any effort to ally with the workers' movement, using the betrayal of its bureaucratic leaderships as a pretext for dismissing the whole working class as reactionary.
The theories of homosexuality as a third sex or of revolutionary homosexuality have something in common: both accept and reinforce the divide between homosexuality and heterosexuality without critiquing its historical genesis. Each contributes in its own way to perpetuating the ideology of gay identity.
The ideology of gay identity, which consists in theorizing a supposed gay specificity based only on their sexuality, has its objective basis in the oppression of gay people in capitalist society, and constitutes the specific gay form of alienation from the dominant ideology. The ideology of gay identity has its material basis in the various forms of ghetto, which are so many places of confinement for gay people. Nonetheless, while we must wage an uncompromising ideological battle against the myth of gay identity, it is necessary to understand why and how this ideology is formed and maintained and how it is possible for the mass of gay people to move beyond it.
Historically, the ideology of gay identity was formed throughout the 19th century, mainly through the pseudo-scientific discourses of psychiatry and sexology, which ignored the Freudian contribution about the undifferentiated character of desire with respect to its object (the same sex or the other sex). This ideology has been internalized by gay people themselves to the extent that, when they become aware of their desire, they find no other way to express it than to identify with the caricatured model of homosexuals presented by bourgeois imagery. Either gay people identify with this model, and adapt their behaviour to the mutilating, limiting social role allowed them, or they reject it without finding another they can identify with and try to repress or deny their desire, which in many cases can lead to madness or suicide. We can therefore say that because of the anti-homosexual taboo there is a deep crisis of identification for all those who feel a strong (not necessarily exclusive) attraction to individuals of the same sex. We must note that this crisis of identification is felt particularly by workers inasmuch as, because the model of identity is the bourgeoisie's and adapted to the bourgeoisie's way of life, they are led all the more to reject it because of their class consciousness.
In this way the adolescent who discovers that his desire makes him different from other people does not understand at first what is going on. The education that has been drilled into him gives him no cultural reference point with which he could identify in a positive way. He can only live with the feeling of being different until the day when, if he does not completely repress his desire, he has the label thrown in his face that will brand him for life: Faggot! Faced with this social indictment, he can only retreat, try to deny and repress his desire, and try desperately to reconcile himself to the heterosexual norm (how many marriages are built on this lie!); withdraw into desolate chastity; or identify with the label that has been pasted onto him, to identify for better or for worse as a homosexual. In this case he finds himself caught, confined in the ghetto set aside for his kind.
3. The ghetto and various forms of gay oppression
We need to undertake an analysis of the gay ghetto starting from the material conditions it is founded on. On this basis we need to study the specific ideology that it secretes, which brings us back to the question of gay identity.
The first thing to note is that there is not strictly speaking a gay ghetto, but several forms of enclosure which are not homogeneous. Nonetheless, all these forms respond to a specific need (rather than a desire): the hunt for partners, either the occasional search for a nice quick fuck or the great search for Mr. Right/Prince Charming—often in fact both at once. The various forms of ghetto correspond, though in a non-mechanical way, to various social classes and layers. We can distinguish two major categories: the commercialized ghetto (bars, bathhouses, private clubs) and the non-market ghetto (tearooms and parks). In normal times repression is directed at the latter, uncontrolled cruising grounds, and serves to channel the hunt for partners into the commercial circuit.
The different lived experiences of these two forms of ghetto lead to different ideologies. In the non-market ghetto, the omnipresent threat of repression by the cops or fag-bashing gangs engenders a great measure of guilt, and the tension prevailing there fosters an aggressiveness that makes any form of communication other than a hasty, once-off sexual consummation very difficult. Over time this state of tension fosters a dependency among some gay men comparable to drug addiction. They rationalize this as the thrill of danger and taste for adventure, while recognizing in their hearts the sordid nature of this adventure.
In the commercialized ghetto, relationships are marked fundamentally by their commodified character, ruling out any communication among individuals other than those based on appearance: extreme attention to clothes, the cult of beauty (limited to narrow stereotypes), and affectation. The ideology that results is that you check everything at the door that reminds anyone of the individual's insertion into his usual social relationships, keeping only the signs bearing witness that you are a fag. This is the form of ghetto where the ideology of gay identity is most deeply rooted. It creates a sort of weird universe, where the only people who can feel fully at home are those who do not feel too deeply the contradiction between this closed world and their social life elsewhere. This is why here too one can find men who pretend to be very much at ease in this milieu, although many men experience it as suffocating.
The commercialized ghetto tends more and more towards a hierarchy between "select" clubs for a refined public and more lower-class clubs that cater to gays chased out of the non-market ghetto. We can foresee that, if the current tendency to relative "banalization" of homosexuality continues, the authorities will try to suppress the non-market ghetto and clean up public spaces, while favouring the extension of the commercialized ghetto, which in addition is easier for them to control.
It goes without saying that while we are for the disappearance of the ghetto, as a particularly disfiguring system of alienation of the human relations that it establishes, we know at the same time that the ghetto exists because of the rejection of homosexuality from the larger society. The ghetto will exist as long as gay people are oppressed. Our main responsibility is also to condemn all repression directed at gays who hang out in the ghetto, whether by the cops or anyone else. On the basis of solidarity in the struggle against repression, we can help radicalize gay people who feel obliged to hang out in the ghetto. We can make them little by little become conscious of how alienated the relationships they experience in the ghetto are, and we can gradually bring them to break with the ideology of gay identity.
The forms of anti-gay oppression are multiple and varied. For us it is the taboo against homosexuality that is at the root all the other manifestations of anti-gay oppression. But it is impossible to attack the taboo against homosexuality directly as long as it pervades all bourgeois institutions and all individual behaviour, in the same way that phallocracy does. The struggle for the liquidation of the taboo against homosexuality also must be waged through a struggle against all the specific forms of oppression that result from it.
Unlike women's oppression, which is rooted both in relations of capitalist exploitation (the double work day, unequal pay, cut-rate education) and in the age-old heritage of phallocracy, the anti-gay taboo has essentially ideological roots. It is also as a secondary effect that gays are victims of discrimination in employment and housing. We must nonetheless note that oppression often leads to a kind of "natural selection", a channelling of gay people towards certain jobs (the civil service and intellectual and artistic professions) rather than towards direct production, because of the difficulties of adaptation to work requirements.
The most current form of oppression today seems to us to be the state's attempts to control gay people by means of medical and psychiatric institutions as well as by means of their channelling and enclosure in the commercialized ghetto. Psychiatric repression is all the more dangerous in that it can be presented as a form of help to gay people who are asking to be treated because they consider themselves as "sick". Channelling into the gay ghetto can also be served up as a liberal measure, although it makes it easier to reinforce repression against the non-commercialized ghetto.
Legal anti-gay repression plays a relatively smaller role than in any other form of oppression. It would thus be as misguided to found gay struggles against oppression on this basis alone as it would be to neglect them as insignificant. In France legal anti-gay repression is relatively recent. The Constitution of 1791 abolished the Old Regime's laws against "sodomites", and there was no mention of gay people in the Napoleonic Code. An anti-gay law was decreed in 1942 under the Pétain regime and reaffirmed in 1946 under the first De Gaulle government. It was made worse in 1961 by the Mirguet amendment, which defined homosexual relations between an adult and a minor between 15 and 18 as a misdemeanour and relations with a minor under 15 as a felony. In recent years several hundred people from the working classes have been convicted for homosexual offenses. [...]
5. The changes under way in the status of homosexuality in France and the trap of gay integration into the bourgeois regime
Some representatives of the "current of desire" (Guy Hocquenghem and P. Hahn, for example) are putting forward today the idea of a "banalization" of homosexuality, i.e. its integration into bourgeois society. While we resolutely oppose all the illusions propagated by Hocquenghem about the revolutionary character of "gay desire", and in no way share his nostalgia for a mythical time when a gay man could be seen as a sort of adventuring hero moving from aristocratic salons to the lower depths (like Vautrin, for example), we can admit nonetheless that there is a kernel of truth in his theory of banalization of homosexuality. Only a kernel of truth, inasmuch as this integration of homosexuality into bourgeois society is far from being complete, and above all is extremely differentiated in different social classes and layers. In some layers of the bourgeoisie (artists and some intellectuals), the social integration of gay people has been an accomplished fact for a long time: this is in fact the only image of homosexuality that the bourgeoisie openly recognizes, which it diffuses in the dominated classes. Today, after the profound shaking of bourgeois values after May '68, and under the pressure of many social layers' (youth, women, gays) entry into struggle, it has set a real process in motion of broadening this integration of gays. It benefits from this both by defusing a terrain of struggle that could be inconvenient for it and by commercializing a fruitful market.
But this integration remains very limited. It consists much more in a relaxation and extension of the ghetto, and a partial lifting of the taboo imposed until now on homosexuality, than in a real launching of social integration. We cannot rule out the eventuality that such a real integration may be envisaged a few years from now, as is a little bit the case in certain countries today. In our opinion, however, a process of this kind would have to overcome some substantial ideological barriers, deeply rooted in French society, before reaching its conclusion.
Nevertheless, a modification, however limited it may still be, of the status of homosexuality is under way today in France. This can be seen in Baudry's constrained TV appearances as well as in the proliferation of magazines and movies on homosexuality, and even in the emergence of gay movements. But it is just this modification in the status of homosexuality that leads the most advanced gay activists to shift the terrain of struggle, staying one step ahead of events, in order to sound the alarm in advance about the trap of homosexuality's integration into the framework of bourgeois society. For even if the bourgeoisie can grant gays a status of formal equality with straights, and even go so far as to institutionalize gay couples—reinforcing in this way the illusion of gay identity—it would be infinitely more difficult for it to establish real equality. This would mean recognizing the homosexual component in the whole of the social organism: it would mean so radical a challenge to male status and virility that it would lead to a deep upheaval in the family and the whole of bourgeois culture.
We believe that this real integration—this assimilation—of homosexuality into the social organism is possible, but not under the capitalist system. Only in a socialist society, in a period of tumultuous overturning of all social relationships, can we imagine such a thing.
The critique of gay identity allows us to pose the issue of homosexuality not just in relation to the oppression of those who recognize and experience themselves as gay, but also in relation to homosexuality as an element of all sexuality and thus as an element of sexuality's repression in the whole of the social organism. This also allows us to glimpse the possible status of homosexuality in a socialist society, and to respond to those who think that the problem of homosexuality is linked essentially to bourgeois society and will not arise in a socialist society.
While we can assume that the problem as gays as an oppressed minority will disappear with the ending of oppression, we cannot conclude from this that the homosexual element of desire will disappear. On the contrary, a real ending of oppression will imply not only the abolition of all legal discrimination against gays, but also the social integration—assimilation—of homosexuality, which will require its materialized recognition in cultural reference points radically different from those in force today and its inclusion in children's upbringing. Such an upheaval can only result from profound changes in workers' consciousness around sexuality. The conscious struggle of women and gay people, which will be all the more powerful to the extent that they rid themselves of the myth of gay identity, will doubtless be necessary for a long time in order to bring about this consciousness-raising, notably inside the working class.