It’s Just a Phase

Why Homosexuality Is Doomed


Peter Tatchell


(chapter 4 of Anti-Gay, ed. Mark Simpson, London: Freedom Editions)





Those who advocate gay rights alone, without any deeper commitment to the transformation of sexua1ity, are concerned only with removing homophobic discrimination. They want to reform society, not fundamentally change it. Their insistence on nothing more than equal rights for queers, and their typical view of lesbians and gay men as a distinct class of people who are destined to remain forever a sexual minority separate from the straight majority, have the effect of reinforcing the divisions between hetero and homo. It encourages the false essentialist idea that gay and straight are two preordained, irreconcilable sexual orientations characteristic of two totally different types of people. Such attitudes preserve society as it is, inhibiting the movement for greater sexual choice and freedom.


While the conservative gay rights agenda is restricted to law reform to win equal rights, the more visionary queer emancipation project seeks a far-reaching sexual revolution to transform sexuality in ways that ultimately benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals. It has an agenda beyond equality. Instead of merely securing equality within the pre-existing parameters of straight society, there is the more radical aim of a broader sexual liberation that expands erotic boundaries in sex-positive directions, such as the reduction of the age of consent to fourteen for everyone, the repeal of the puritanical laws against prostitution and pornography, and the introduction of explicit sex education in schools from primary classes onwards. Thus, as well as undermining heterosexual hegemony, the queer emancipation project sets its sights on subverting the whole sexphobic nature of contemporary culture. By so doing, it contributes to the diminution of all erotic guilt and repression, gay and straight.


Moderate, accommodationist gay rights politics is, ironically, solely concerned with winning rights for homosexuals. It offers nothing to heterosexual people. Whereas strident, anti-assimilationist queer activists seek the extension of sexual freedom in ways that ultimately benefit everyone. The radical queer activists who are so often derided as separatists are, on the contrary, the proponents of a form of sexual liberation that is, in the end, more in tune with the common interests of gays, straights and bisexuals than any purely gay rights agenda could ever be.


Should that come as a surprise? If everyone is born with the potential to be queer, as the evidence suggests, then the struggle for queer freedom is obviously in everyone's interest and we should all be working for that freedom side by side, regardless of our sexuality or gender.


Given that each of us have hetero and homo potentialities within us, the straight versus gay conflict is destructive and futile. It is a declaration of war not only against the ‘other’, but also against part of the self that embodies, often in repressed form, the 'otherness' we purport to reject and despise. Maintaining a 'them-and-us' antagonism simply doesn't make sense when it is so clearly in the mutual interest of queers and straights to move beyond the artificial and constricting divisions that centuries of homophobia and puritanism have imposed upon us all.


Heterosexuals are the ones who initiated the them-and-us conflict, and who continue to perpetuate it with their enforcement of homophobic intolerance. They see a very important difference between themselves and ourselves. Because of that difference, straight people claim a privileged social status, robbing queers of dignity and equality. The contrasting moral values and social rights ascribed to the differences between hetero and homo are what sustains straight supremacism. Our queer interests therefore lie in undermining the them-and-us mentality and breaking down the differences that straights use to justify our unequal treatment.


That, then, is the ultimate aspiration. The here and now practical need is often something else. So long as straight people refuse to curb their homophobia, and continue to incite tension between diverse sexualities, no one should be surprised that lesbians and gay men respond by defending 'us' against 'them'. When having a different sexual orientation is the basis for the denial of rights, queers will always need to defend their right to be different. We must insist, in the face of bigotry, that difference is not a legitimate reason for treatment as inferiors.


This defiant affirmation of sexual diversity is necessary in the short term, even if it contradicts the long-term objective of breaking down barriers. When queers are under attack, queers have a right to self-defence. Although the immediate effect of rebelling against straight hegemony is to heighten the them-and-us polarization, the eventual consequence of securing queer human rights is to subvert that polarity by eroding the heterosexism that is the ideological cement of the straight/gay division. Surprisingly, it is the assertion of the right to sexual difference that creates the conditions for the dissolution of homophobia and the evolution of a new eroticism that transgresses the boundaries of traditional heterosexuality and homosexuality.


Within the lesbian and gay community, there is enormous resistance to the idea that sexuality can and should change. The dominant 'born gay' argument, with its premise of innate and fundamental biological differences between heteros and homos, presupposes that the queer/straight split is here to stay. This biological determinist explanation of queerness has recently been given a new boost by a spate of scientific research which posits the existence of gay genes and gay brains. Unfortunately, these lacuna-riddled theories arc unable to explain bisexuality or the experiences of people who, suddenly in middle age, switch from heterosexuality to homosexuality (or vice versa). What's more, the alleged differences in genetic and brain structures identified by the studies could be entirely incidental and irrelevant to the origins of homosexuality. They might just as easily be a mere correlate of sexual orientation rather than the cause.


Despite obvious theoretical and empirical weaknesses, the claims that certain genes and brain structures cause homosexuality have been seized upon and vigorously promoted by much of the lesbian and gay movement. The haste with which these unproven, question- able theories have been embraced is suggestive of a terrible lack of self-confidence and a rather sad, desperate need to justify queer desire.


The corollary of the 'born gay' idea is that no one can be 'made gay’. This defensive argument was repeatedly employed by lesbians and gay leaders duril1g the campaign against Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which bans the 'promotion' of homosexuality by local councils. It was also resurrected during the lobbying of Parliament for the equalization of the age of consent in 1994.


At one level this is correct. Sexual orientation appears to be shaped, and become fairly fixed, in the first few years of life. For most of us it is very difficult, if not impossible, subsequently to change our sexual orientation. However, what we certainly can change in later life is our willingness to accept and express formerly repressed sexual desires. It is possible to make latent blatant.


The homophobes are, paradoxically, closer to the truth than many gay activists. Removing the social opprobrium and penalties from queer relationships, and affirming gay love and lust, would allow more people to come to terms with presently inhibited homoerotic feelings. In this sense, it is perfectly feasible to 'promote' lesbian and gay sexuality and 'make' someone queer. Individuals who have a homosexual component in their character, but are disabled by repression or guilt, definitely can be encouraged to acknowledge their same-sex attraction and act upon it. It stands to reason that with less homophobia there would be more homosexuality. By removing the social pressure to repress attraction to others of the same sex, many more people would feel comfortable discovering and exploring queer feelings.


Contrary to what most gay rights campaigners claim, homophobia is not irrational. It's very logical. Homosexuality is attractive and that's why it has to be ridiculed, condemned and victimized. If queer sex were really unnatural and revolting, it wouldn't have to be denigrated and suppressed by the combined forces of Parliament, police, press, pulpit and prison. There would be no need for heterosexuals to trumpet their supposed normality and superiority, no reason for them to proselytize on behalf of their straight

life, and no justification for abrogating to themselves the exclusive legal right to marriage: and financial incentives for parenthood.


Indeed, to judge by the huge resources invested by society in the promotion of heterosexuality, one might be forgiven the conclusion that it is a rather dire, unattractive option, only to be sustained by endowing itself with privileges and by the handicapping of homosexuality with a mill-stone of disparagement and disadvantage. The hysteria against homosexuality is, surely, a tacit acknowledgement of the pervasive appeal of queerness and the precarious nature of exclusive heterosexuality.


All this leads to the conclusion that if society ended its favouritism towards straightness and its chastisement of gayness, same-sex desire, since it is an intrinsic human potentiality, would be much more commonplace. Sadly for queer chauvinists, this doesn't necessarily mean that more people would be lesbian and gay. In all likelihood, bisexuality would become the norm. The prevalence of both exclusive heterosexuality and exclusive homosexuality would diminish.


This poses a major challenge to those who cling to the notion of a fixed, everlasting gay identity. If sexual differentiation breaks down and hitherto distinct orientations become blurred, then the labels queer and straight lose their meaning and relevance. What is the point of striving to maintain a sense of being homosexual when the concept of a separate homosexuality is destined for extinction?


Gay identity certainly has had its historical value as a defence against compulsory heterosexuality. However, it is a passing phenomenon specific to the needs of a persecuted sexual minority in repressive societies. Once straight privilege and homophobia disappear, the need to assert a distinctive gayness wil1 decline. Strategies for queer 1iberation must look to future possibilities and not be imprisoned in the limitations of the past.


The questioning of sexual categories has a subversive flip-side that is rarely discussed by queers because of the importance attached to gay identity and the fear of undermining it: if everyone is born with the potential to be attracted to the same sex, then everyone equally comes into this world with the potential to be attracted to the opposite sex. That is the rubicon the lesbian and gay movement has yet to cross. Many of us love to say that inside every straight there is a queer bursting to come out. Few arc prepared to admit that inside every lesbian and gay man there might be an element of repressed straightness. To admit this does not devalue same-sex attraction or collude with homophobia. It simply concedes the liberating truth that sexuality can embody multiple, competing passions.


The possibility of one day transcending the chasm between sexual orientations is not as fanciful as some imagine. After all, the differences between gay and straight sex are, in certain respects, rather negligible.


Wi11iam Masters and Virginia Johnson highlighted this in their pioneering study, Homosexuality In Perspective (1979). Fourteen years of clinical research led them to conclude that at the level of psychosexual functioning ‘homosexuality and heterosexuality have far more similarities than differences ... The physical capacities of erection and lubrication and the inherent facility for orgasmic attainment ... function in identical ways, whether we are interacting heterosexuality or homosexuality. When a man or woman is orgasmic, he or she is responding to sexual stimuli in the same basic physiologic response patterns ... regardless of whether the sexual partner is of the same or the opposite gender’.


Whatever the precise outcome of the future cultural metamorphosis of sexuality, it is total1y implausible that homosexuality and heterosexuality will always stay the way they are now.  What will transform human sexuality more radically than anything else in the foreseeable future is the process of winning lesbian, gay and bisexual freedom. Overturning homophobia ends the need for heterosexual oppressors and homosexual victims, and subverts the whole rationale for the historic division between straight and gay.


The more we succeed in asserting our human rights as homosexuals, the sooner the differences between heteros and queers lose their significance. With no relevance or importance, the differences no longer have to be policed. Sexual boundaries become fuzzier. The need, and desire, to label behaviour and people disappears. The end result of this erosion of sexual difference will be the demise of distinct homosexual and heterosexual orientations and identities.