Adrienne Rich. Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.
Lesbians have historically been deprived of political existence through “inclusion’ as female versions of male homosexuality. To equate lesbian existence with male homosexuality because each is stigmatized is to deny and erase female reality once again. To separate those women stigmatized as “homosexual” or “gay” from the complex continuum of female resistance to enslavement, and attach them to a male pattern, is to falsify our history. Part of the history of lesbian existence is, obviously, to be found where lesbians, lacking a coherent female community, have shared a kind of social life and common cause with homosexual men. But this has to be seen against the differences: women’s lack of economic and cultural privilege relative to men; qualitative differences in female and male relationships, for example, the prevalence of anonymous sex and the justification of pederasty among male homosexuals, the pronounced ageism in male homosexual standards of sexual attractiveness, etc. […] the term “gay serves the purpose of blurring the very outlines we need to discern, which are of crucial value for feminism and for the freedom of women as a group.
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1980, vol. 5, no. 4 (1980); reprinted by Antelope Publications, in 1982, as a pamphlet; collected in The Signs reader : women, gender, & scholarship (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1983)
But in 1986 there is a shift. Mention of “pederasty” is dropped. “Serves” becomes “may serve” and a footnote is added. The revisions are to be found in in her 1986 book Blood, Bread, and Poetry.
Part of the history of lesbian existence is, obviously, to be found where lesbians, lacking a coherent female community, have shared a kind of social life and common cause with homosexual men. But there are differences: women’s lack of economic and cultural privilege relative to men; qualitative differences in female and male relationships — for example, and the patterns of anonymous sex among male homosexuals, and the pronounced ageism in male homosexual standards of sexual attractiveness. I perceive the lesbian experience as being, like motherhood, a profoundly female experience […] the term gay may serve the purpose of blurring the very outlines we need to discern, which are of crucial value for feminism and for the freedom of women as a group.*
* [A.R. 1986: The shared historical and spiritual “crossover” functions of lesbians and gay men in cultures past and present are traced by Judy Grahn in Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds (Boston: Beacon, 1984). I now think we have much to learn both from the uniquely female aspects of lesbian existence and from the complex “gay” identity we share with gay men.]
When I encountered Rich’s “In Memoriam” in Poets for Life: Seventy-six Poets Respond to AIDS (1989) and in a revised form in Time’s Power: Poems 1985-1988) where it appears with the initials D.K in its title [David Kalstone?], I thought that the apparent change in the view of gay men related to the AIDS crisis. But now in reviewing the evidence, I see that transhistorical studies such as Grahn’s played a part.
From far on the other side: Gerald Hannon ends the article “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” The Body Politic, Issue 39, December 1977/January 1978 with an appeal to consider the Anita Bryants of the world as the real child molesters.
“Save Our Children, Inc” is the name of the game, although the organizers seem to be cynically aware of just what that means: “The molestation tactic was the thing that particularly got the headlines. We now know how effectively it can be used,” said Robert Brake, one of the top officials of that organization. Who wouldn’t want to save our children, after all, save them from things like the Houston mass murder horrors, save them from being pawed by nasty old men? That’s what molestation means to most people, it’s what the media encourages them to believe, it’s a belief “Save Our Children” does nothing to discourage.
They’ve added a refinement. Recruitment. Because homosexuals can’t reproduce, they must recruit.
Anita should know. Because recruitment is what she is all about. She wants our children. And, yes, they’re our children too.
More on the charges and acquittal provoked by Men Loving Boys Loving Men see Queer Story video which features Jane Rule commenting. This from the Xtra! obituary by Marilyn Schuster
Rule, a lifelong opponent of censorship, wrote a bold column that condemned the police action and engaged the central issues of the offending article. In the column, called “Teaching Sexuality,” Rule acknowledged that the controversy raised difficult questions for her. “On the one hand I deplore repressive police action designed not only to stifle any discussion of… sexual activity across generations but to intimidate anyone even so involved with the paper as to be a subscriber,” she wrote. “On the other hand I understand the rage against sexual exploitation by men not only of children of both sexes but of women and other men, the pleasures of which The Body Politic can sometimes be accused of advertising.”
The real target of her essay was the hypocrisy of a society that is so fearful of sexual initiation that we deny that childhood sexuality exists. The taboo against sexual behaviour between children and adults, she argues, facilitates the exploitation of children. “Children are sexual,” she concluded, “and it is up to us to take responsibility for their real education. They have been exploited and betrayed long enough by our silence.” Her argument, bold in 2007, was unprecedented in 1978.
And so for day 2030