Our vision involved creating a new sexual democracy, without homophobia, misogyny, racism or class privilege. Erotic shame and repression would be banished, together with the privileging of monogamy, the traditional family and rigid male and female gender roles. There would be sexual freedom and human rights for everyone – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. And for straight, non-binary and cis gender people, too.
As well as opposing the way things were, GLF outlined an alternative imagining of how society and personal relationships could be. This included living communally and cooperatively, gender-subversive radical drag and non-possessive multi-partner open relationships. These were revolutionary ideas, and they still are.
But look what’s happened since then. Whereas GLF derided the family as a patriarchal prison that enslaved women, gay people and children, the biggest LGBT+ campaigns of recent years have been for marriage and parenting rights. The focus on these safe, cuddly issues (worthy though they are) suggests that queers are increasingly reluctant to rock the boat. Many of us would, it seems, prefer to embrace traditional heterosexual aspirations, rather than critique them and strive for a liberating alternative.
Today is the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, the riot that occurred outside a mafia-run gay club in New York in June 1969 that ignited the homosexual revolution that has been convulsing society ever since. Without that spark, we wouldn’t be where we are today, even though across most of the world, gay people are still persecuted.
Peter Tatchell is a revered veteran of those campaigns translated here. I lived through those times, though mostly oblivious – old though I am, Tatchell is a lot older. I think it’s fair to say that Tatchell’s complaint is justified. Stonewall and its aftermath did not result in the sexual and social revolution he wanted and expected. Instead, it resulted in the attempted integration of gay people into normative heterosexual society, mimicking existing heterosexual norms.
My answer would be, why is that so bad? Does he really yearn for a sexually libertine society where no relationship is stable and no family can hope to survive? Should society be perpetually chaotic?
“Traditional heterosexual aspirations” exist because they provide a framework for social stability. It’s not perfect, of course, and much has happened to loosen it up. But loosening it up is not a call for chaos, which seems to be what Tatchell is nostalgic about. A free-for-all or anything-goes is not a recipe for a stable society. While sanctions against those who trespass social norms is, as Tatchell might say, uncalled for, there is no reason to reject those norms as somehow unjust, unworkable, or worse, undesirable.
Tatchell wanted a revolution that upset everything. All in one. The slogan that “anything goes!!!” is just a slogan. It has no purchase on reality, where for most people, anything doesn’t really go. That’s not going to change. I think that we need to be more open to change, not excessively critical or fearful of it. But human nature isn’t capable of infinite change, not in any short run, at least.
So if gay people assimilate heterosexual norms and are accepted for it, that’s a good thing. If immediate social chaos isn’t accepted, even by the gay community, perhaps that’s because we simply aren’t programmed for it. Perhaps Tatchell’s views of human social horizons are possible. I wouldn’t bet on it.