Many people enjoy sexual intercourse with members of their own sex, either occasionally or frequently and, in some cases, even exclusively. However, in our particular culture such behavior is generally considered bad and may be severely punished. As a result, all those who feel an erotic attraction to the same sex (and they represent a sizable percentage of the population) find themselves restrained, frustrated, denounced, and persecuted - in short, oppressed.
This oppression already begins with our very language, which today refers to these people as "homosexuals". We have pointed out earlier that it is highly questionable to use this word for any human being, and that, in the present book, we do so only with very specific reservations. (See the introduction to "Homosexual Intercourse.") The fact of the matter is that the term prejudges the issue in the most fundamental way. The ancient and medieval terms for same-sex behavior (pederasty, Greek love, sodomy, buggery, etc,) had always referred to a form of conduct, not a condition. They described acts that might be committed by anybody and did not imply the existence of a particular type of person. In other words, when someone was called a pederast, Greek lover, sodomite, or bugger, he was thereby characterized as a man who did certain things, not as a man who suffered from some inherent peculiarity.
Thus, for example, one could not be a "latent pederast" or, in adolescence, go through a "sodomitic phase". Nor was there such a thing as "pseudo-buggery". However, our modern word "homosexual" is different. In its original German form it was coined in 1869 by the Austrian writer K. M. Kertbeny, (originally Benkert), who himself felt sexually attracted to men. He believed that the erotic attraction to the same sex was a mysterious condition typical of a certain small group of people, and that these people were therefore a breed apart from everyone else. In trying to name their condition, he hit upon the awkward, half-Greek and half-Latin "scientific" term Homosexualitšt. For the "normal" condition of the majority the antonym Heterosexualitšt then simply suggested itself, and since both words could easily be adapted to other languages, they soon became popular all over Europe.
However, today we know that the basic assumption behind these two categories is false. Homosexual and heterosexual preferences are matters of degree, and they are not mutually exclusive. "Homosexuals" do not suffer from an intrinsic condition, but play a particular social role. Not all societies recognize such a role, and even in our society same-sex behavior is not restricted to "homosexuals". In other words, real life is too varied for these simplistic divisions. There are countless gradations between the extremes, and many people are attracted to both sexes. Those who are singled out as "homosexuals" may have little in common besides this label. Thus, "homosexuality" is not an objective characteristic of certain persons, but rather a deviant status that is conferred upon them by others. By definition, this kind of deviance is possible only in cultures which perceive same-sex behavior as problematic.
Unfortunately, we continue to live in such a culture, and thus the obsolete Victorian medical terms are also still with us. Some contemporary writers try to give them a new meaning or to use them in a modern, less prejudicial fashion, but the misunderstandings persist. In view of this fact, nonprofessional libertarians who want social approval for same-sex behavior now often prefer to speak of "gay people" and "gayness". However, this is a rather dubious improvement. The word "gay" is, of course, older than "homosexual", since it dates back to the Middle Ages when it meant nothing more than "cheerful" or "colorful". Yet, beginning in the 17th century, it also denoted loose morals, and in the 19th century it further referred to a female prostitute (a "gay woman"). In America, the word had still another peculiar connotation. As Bertrand Russell reports in his Autobiography (Years 1872-1914), the Quakers in late 19th-century Philadelphia called "gay" any "meaningless" religious custom practiced by non-Quakers. This included all fixed formulas. Thus, for them the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments were "gay". It was not until our own century that the word also became synonymous with "homosexual", but at first this usage was restricted to the "gay" subculture. Its wider acceptance dates only from the last decade. However, short and simple as it may be, the term still draws an artificial dividing line between two sexual camps: "gay" and nongay (now usually called "straight"). Thus, the old pressures toward polarization continue.
Indeed, in recent decades there even has been a polarization between "gay" males and females. Until well into modern times, the same-sex behavior of women never attracted much religious, legal, or medical attention, and there was no special term for such behavior, except the word "tribadism" (from Greek tribein: to rub), which referred to mutual bodily friction or manual intercourse (masturbation) between women. Then, in the 19th century, oral intercourse (cunnilingus) between women was described with two new special terms: "sapphism" and "lesbianism" (after the ancient Greek poetess Sappho and the island of Lesbos where she lived). However, gradually all three terms broadened their meaning, and it became customary to call all sexual behavior between women either "tribadic", or "sapphic", or "lesbian". Finally, in our own century, the word "lesbian" replaced the two others, and today it is also used as a noun meaning "female homosexual". Thus, "lesbians" have now emerged as the female subgroup of the general category "homosexuals", i.e., as a special minority within a minority. (In Greek and Roman antiquity the terms "Lesbianist" and "to lesbianize" had already been well known, but had referred exclusively to the sucking of the penis ["active" and "passive" fellatio]. Thus, they had most often been applied to men.)
For several reasons, the modern semantic development was inevitable and even desirable, but before we discuss them, we should once more remind ourselves that all our current terms are based on obsolete, narrow concepts and are therefore essentially oppressive. If it is wrong to speak of "homosexuals" as a distinct and separate group of people, then it is equally wrong to speak of "lesbians" as a distinct and separate group of women. (Fortunately, no one has yet tried to label their male counterparts "Spartans" or "Athenians.") There can be only one justification for any such labels, and that is to identify certain victims of social discrimination. Once this discrimination has ended, the labels will automatically disappear with it.
In the meantime, of course, "homosexual" women do have special problems, because, in addition to being sexual deviants, they are females in a male-dominated culture. If, in general, their sexual behavior is more easily tolerated by the criminal law, it can nevertheless provide a pretext for other forms of official harassment. To cite only one example, in many American courts "lesbianism" is considered sufficient ground to deny mothers the custody of their own children. Needless to say, in housing, employment, military service, etc. they are subject to the same injustices as all "homosexuals". However, in all of these cases their plight is aggravated by the fact that they are female. In short, they suffer a double discrimination, and thus many of them feel that their struggle for sexual liberation is different from that of "gay" males.
We have described in another section how in the Western world religious beliefs, legal doctrines, and psychiatric theories have, for a long time, victimized many harmless sexual deviants and especially homosexuals. (See "Conformity and Deviance.") It is not necessary to repeat the details of this victimization here. May it suffice to say that in the present United States homosexuals are still one of the largest and most oppressed minorities. Since the term "homosexual" for a person is imprecise, misleading, and ultimately inappropriate, it is not possible to total up any meaningful numbers of homosexuals. Still, Kinsey's studies have shown that even by the narrowest and most conservative traditional definition we are talking about many millions of Americans who suffer because of our hatred and fear of same-sex behavior.
Neutral observers have often described this fear as a manifestation of the widespread, irrational fear of physical love in our culture, i.e., as a form of "erotophobia". In fact, recently some writers have used the.term "homoerotophobia," or "homophobia" for short, to refer specifically to the irrational fear of love between partners of the same sex. That many people are obsessed with this fear cannot be doubted. Typically, they do not know any homosexuals, do not want to meet them, see them, or hear about them, but would like them to be controlled, contained, put away, locked up, or eliminated. If they discover homosexuals in their own family, they disown them. Very often, however, they live for years very closely with homosexuals at home, at school, or at work without recognizing them. This can happen, because homophobia first creates and then feeds on a stereotype of the dreaded enemy that is completely unrealistic. For instance, in America today
FAMOUS "HOMOSEXUALS" As Alfred C. Kinsey has pointed out, it is problematical to use the word "homosexual" to describe a person. Such labeling is often arbitrary and over-broad. Especially in the United States today many people have unrealistic ideas about what "homosexuals" are or how they behave. However, throughout history a great number of men and women (many of them quite famous) have felt sexually attracted to members of their own sex either occasionally or frequently, or even exclusively. Some acted upon this feeling and were openly proud of it; others suppressed it and led very unhappy lives. Many were even persecuted by their contemporaries and came to a tragic end. The above portrait gallery shows some historical personalities who are known to have had strong homosexual leanings. Obviously, this list is not meant to prove that such leanings make people in any way superior. Still, it can perhaps help to counteract certain false current stereotypes.
the "typical" male homosexual (queer, faggot, sissie, pansy, etc.) is believed to be effeminate, weak, "artistic", and immature. However, in actual fact this type of person is rare among homosexuals. The majority are simply "average", i.e., they look and behave like everyone else, and thus, if they wish, they can remain undetected. Many of them, in fact, make that choice. They either "stay in the closet" or lead an elaborate double life. As a result they are never available to challenge the popular misconceptions.
We should understand, however, that this "straight" masquerade and enforced hypocrisy takes its toll on both the oppressed and the oppressors. The former must waste a great deal of energy on dissembling, and the latter are haunted by foolish fantasies and superfluous apprehensions. This, in turn, forces everyone into a stifling sexual rigidity. Such a state of affairs cannot be considered moral or wholesome by anyone's definition. Many thoughtful observers have therefore long advocated the emancipation of homosexuals. Indeed, in the meantime some vigorous "gay" civil rights organizations and lobbying groups have been formed which try to further this goal. In addition, a growing "gay" press is educating its special audience and the public at large about the realities of "gay" life. In some parts of the country homosexuals have also developed some political power as a voting block that can no longer be ignored. As a result of these and other efforts, much progress has already been made. A significant number of states in the United States have repealed their sodomy laws, the Civil Service no longer bars homosexuals from federal employment, and some local governments have even adopted civil rights ordinances protecting homosexuals against discrimination in housing, jobs, insurance, and other areas. A further boost to the homosexual civil rights struggle has been the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. This decision alone undercut much of the popular rationalization of homophobia.
It is to be hoped that, in the future, all discrimination against homosexuals will end. Sexual orientation, like sex, race, religious belief, and national origin, should not be grounds for denying anyone equal rights. Therefore, the civil rights struggle of homosexuals, like that of other oppressed people, deserves to succeed. However, it would be unfortunate if, in the course of this struggle a "gay" minority became more clearly defined and permanently established as a separate social group. A continued sexual separatism, even on the basis of full equality, would still be oppressive in itself, because it creates artificial lines of division and forces people into false alternatives. The ultimate liberation of both homosexuals and heterosexuals can lie only in the abandonment of all labels and in everyone's freedom to explore his own sexual potential, whatever it may be.