Homosexuality and What's in a Name

Philip Ferguson plf13 at SPAMit.canterbury.ac.nz
Mon Dec 4 23:54:07 MST 2000

Gary writes:

>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.

I would argue that we are doing the opposite.  That we are saying the
material conditions did not exist for a section of the population to lead
gay lives, therefore homosexuals and homosexuality as we know it today did
not and could not exist, and that explains why there were no words for it.

I don't think the 'linguistic fallacy' critique of what Yoshie and I are
saying holds up even at the most rudimentary level - after all, same-sex
sex has been a feature of all human history.  It is a bit unbelievable that
there were no words for a section of society (such as 'homosexuals) if such
a section of society (homosexuals) actually existed throughout all that

By the way, I'm not disputing, and I don't think Yoshie is either, that
there were a few individuals at the top of society, like kings, who could
live according to their own lights.  But this is entirely different from
the situation in industrial capitalist society in which *the mass of
people* can *exist as individuals* for the first time in history.  It is
only at this point that the homosexual, the heterosexual, the bisexual can
come into being as categories.

>As a gay male I am inclined to think that he should get a position
>with the NZ tourist board!

I think they make have affirmative action policies which means I would have
to be gay to get such a position.

Still, in New Zealand adopting a particular identity, one once associated
with oppression and disadvantage, can be a good career move these days.

(This is something that is often quite hard to get across to leftists in
the US, without being misunderstood as some kind of opponent of gay
liberation, women's liberation, anti-racism etc.)

At the same time, in parts of the US it can be a good career move in the
middle class as well.  It's interesting to see how this is reflected in
shows like 'Sex and the City', which US leftists would be well-advised to
watch and think about if they want to know where the ideology of the US
bourgeoisie, rather than Alabama firearms store owners, is at these days.
In one of these episodes a series or two back, Miranda, the high-flying
lawyer, is assumed by her boss to be gay.  She plays along with this for a
while because she thinks it will help her advance at work.  Eventually,
however, she tells her boss, a conservative Republican.  He looks rather
sad and says that his wife will be most disappointed because she was hoping
to add a lesbian couple to their dinner circle.

>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.

Yes, this last bit is, I think, an important insight.  We have banged on
about it in 'revolution' since the mag began, but a lot of the left here is
still stuck in the 1960s and 70s as well, fighting battles that are already
over or have been rendered obsolete by the way 'new right' modernisation
has opened up all kinds of spaces for once socially unacceptable and/or
repressed identities.

Back in 'revolution' #4 I wrote a feature on 'New Identities for Old?' and
looked at how once oppressed or marginalised identities have not only
become socially accpetable, but actually an important part of the social
order, helping strengthen capitalist social relations.

The United States, on the other hand, is a strange beast.  We tend to think
of uneven and combined development as a Third World feature (ie a feature
of imperialist domination of the Third World), but the US manages to
combine the most advanced elements of capitalism with a strong dose of the
most primitive elements of bourgeois ideology.  A twenty-first century
economy and a seventeenth century religiosity exist side by side.  To
Australians and New Zealanders, and probably to Europeans - ie to those of
us who live in countries with twenty-first century economies and ideologies
- it is bizarre indeed.

Philip Ferguson

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