Homosexuality and What's in a name?

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at SPAMqut.edu.au
Mon Dec 4 15:59:49 MST 2000

1. The current state of Gay politics

All the posts on this thread have been very thought provoking.  I agree
with much of what Phil has said about the current gay movement esp in
NZ.  As a gay male I am inclined to think that he should get a position
with the NZ tourist board! But I wanted to comment on his remarks on the
reluctance of NZ TV to show explicit same sex behaviour.  I use the gay
character in Dawson's Creek to show that what is being offered to gay
people here is tolerance and charity which can easily slip back into

Why so?  The answer is of course in the continuing presence of what Bloch
termed the non-synchronous and what Raymond Williams thought of as the
residual, that is modes of thought that belonged to previous social
formations. Bloch argued that many Marxists underestimated the strength of
the non-synchronous. Similarly I have often thought that the weakness of
the LM and those Marxist traditions, which base themselves too literally on
the Manifesto's proclamation of Capitalism' modernising mission, is that
they too underestimate the potential impact of the residual.

We are of course in a period when the relationship between tradition
(non-synchronous, residual) and capital is being rewritten.  Phil and I
agree on that certainly. The Cold War is over and capital no longer needs
the witch doctors. But why is tradition so weak in NZ and so strong in the
USA?  Why are all main stream politicians in the USA forced to declare for
God and Capital Punishment, when such a stance, as Phil has pointed out in
an earlier post, would be unthinkable for their counterparts in NZ and

Again I think that the answer lies in the dual function of Tradition.  It
both oppresses and also provides protection to some extent from the worst
excess of the market.  After all the emphasis on the importance of the
Sabbath gave workers at least some respite from the extraction of Absolute
Surplus Value.   However the basic formula that things are always tougher
on the periphery (internal and external)apply here.  NZ's experience of
modernisation was unbelievably brutal. The forces of tradition, which
included the "left" of the Labor Party, simply capitulated in front of the
neo-liberals with their slogan of, 'There is no alternative'. It is this
capitulation of tradition that has left a space for gays to emerge as    a
life style. But no one should exaggerate the meaning of all this.  Capital
could retreat to an earlier phase.

2.  Were there homosexuals back then?

I especially enjoyed the posts around the history of homosexuality and
homophobia.  I am vividly reminded about the first time I used the word
"homophobia" in a lecture sometime in the early 80s. The students stopped
me and asked me to explain it.  When I said "Intolerance of homosexuals"
they burst out laughing. It was as if I had said to a tiger it was wrong to
eat meat. Today of course students say, "I am no homophobe but..." and
proceed to air some foul prejudice.

But anecdotes apart there is a good deal at stake.  I have snipped what I
think is the crucial line from Lou's post.  Phil like the fine polemicist
that he is went straight to it.

'Odd that they 'lacked the vocabulary and the constructs necessary. . .'

It is my opinion that there can be behaviour, feelings etc without words
for them.  I think that Phil, Yoshie and others border on what Bhaskar
terms the linguistic fallacy, that is the claim that language calls the
world/reality into being.

Let us take the instance of a certain tribe in Papua New Guinea.  This is a
classic in the literature but I do not remember their names.  This tribe
apparently believes that to ejaculate causes one to lose power.  They
encourage preadolescent boys to suck off older boys so that they can become
strong.  So off in the bushes there are lots of boys sucking off
others.  (But "Are they happy?, I ask myself.)

At a certain age the older boys leave the bushes and get married.  The
whole practice is obviously designed to keep young males away from the
wives.  It is obvious that this behaviour cannot be covered by the words
homosexual, gay or bisexual.  It is a specific form of same sex behaviour.
By any standards it is normal within this community.

Now there is apparently an instance in the literature when a young man from
the same tribe, who had married, kept sneaking out to the bushes to indulge
in a spot of fellatio.  How does one describes this behaviour?  Is it
deviant? Is he a pervert? Or could he be a homosexual for whom the tribe
lacks the "vocabulary and the constructs"?   Carroll. Phil and Yoshie would
presumably argue that he could not be a homosexual because the word does
not exist for that tribe.  being good liberals of course they would not
describe him as a "deviated prevert". But what other explanation is
possible for them given their equation of "language = reality", with "the
corollary of "no language = no reality"?

I on the other hand reject this linguistic essentialism and recognize a
brother. Cultural differences aside I know that if he could he be brought
to Brisbane he would be a terrific hit at the Huntsman.

So then there is for me something essential in certain types of
sexuality.  I think of the term 'homosexual' and believe that it manifests
itself differently over the dimensions of time, culture and space.  One of
the contemporary manifestations is 'gay' and it is a homogenising
movement.  It is assimilating and by and large eliminating traditional
homosexual behaviour throughout the world. Gay Bars in Bangkok look
remarkably like Gay Bars in Brisbane.

Now I am not arguing that all people who indulge in same sex behaviour are
homosexuals.  Prisons are full of examples of heterosexual men who turn to
same sex behaviour because there is no alternative.   But I am saying that
there have always been men who however they indulged their sexual
preference, were homosexual whether the words  or concepts for their
preference existed or not.  And may I say that my position is just as
historical as that of my good friends Phil, Yoshie & Carroll.




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