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Michael Stevens: We're gay, and look how ordinary we are

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    Michael Stevens: We're gay, and look how ordinary we are - 6-Jul-2006
    Homosexuality ceased to be a criminal offence in this country in July 20 years ago. This anniversary will be marked with various celebrations around the country, and also with comments by some on how the country is daily further on the slippery slope to perdition.

    As a middle-aged gay man now, I can remember being a law-breaker in my teens and twenties, knowing that every time I had sex with another man, or expressed my love, I was a criminal in the eyes of the law.

    It never really worried me that much. It was such an obviously stupid law. I knew the law was wrong, unjust, and based on ignorance and prejudice. Any obviously unjust law only breeds disrespect for all law, and that attitude certainly held sway for me and my peers.

    The gay world then was very different from today's. We were forced to gather in secret for both protection and to meet others of our kind. People lost their jobs and homes for being gay, for being who they were.

    This forced us to unite to work for shared political and social ends.

    Going to a gay club or pub meant that you knew there was a good chance the police would raid it for no particular reason but that they had the time and the inclination. Verbal and at times physical abuse were not uncommon during these raids.

    Now we have gay community liaison officers in the police as well as a number of confident and capable out gay officers.

    While we all knew that certain MPs back then were "family" they were definitely not able to be open, and indeed there are still some MPs today who remain wedged in the closet.

    More positively, we have several openly homosexual MPs on either side of the House.

    Perhaps it is the nostalgia effect, but many people I have spoken to recall the pre-law reform world with fondness as one that was socially supportive, politicised and friendly. There is nothing like a shared sense of oppression to bond a group.

    But it is easy to overstate this effect. Many gay men and women were miserable, leading lives of fear and anxiety, trapped in unhappy marriages, unable to be true to themselves in one of the most important areas of life.

    Yet the paradoxical effect of homosexual law reform has been the mainstreaming of gays, and the slow but steady dissipation of the older sense of community.

    The goals of gay liberation were openly radical in their politics. Marriage was seen as an oppressive institution of a heterosexual, patriarchal world.

    The idea that so many gays would campaign for the right to have their relationships recognised by the state in the same way as our straight sisters and brothers would have been seen as a laughable and reactionary fantasy.

    The notions of radical sexuality that gay liberation espoused were dealt a nearly fatal blow by the concurrent advent of the Aids pandemic.

    The irony is not lost on those of us who have survived.

    Today, so many young gay women and men don't seek to change the world, but to profit from it as much as possible. Instead of being politically united in the drive for equality based on our standing as human beings, entitled by our shared humanity to the same rights and dignities as everyone else, now the commonly expressed attitude is "I'm a taxpayer! I'm a property owner! Therefore you must treat me the same as the others."

    This logic has a resonance and force that is hard to deny in today's user-pays era. Sexual identity has proved itself a very weak plank on which to build a coherent political identity.

    Now, as the old slogan said, "We are everywhere", and abuse and discrimination against people just for being gay is much less socially accepted.

    This has meant that many gay women and men no longer feel forced to move away, to start a new life, or to hide. So they slot in as farmers, as shop-owners, as tow-truck drivers, and are accepted.

    Some vote right, some vote left, some don't vote at all. The link between politics and sexuality is far less obvious to many younger people than it was in our time.

    I do not claim that all is wonderful now, neither am I one who looks back with nostalgia to the pre-law reform era. It was brutal and oppressive, and those attitudes have certainly not died out entirely.

    But if you are a young gay man or woman now, there are so many more avenues to reach and find support - not least the internet.

    We are no longer criminals, and we are no longer easy prey to blackmailers.

    We are able to stand up and be counted if we wish, but our increasing visibility has revealed that we come from all levels of society, all creeds and colours and all areas of the political spectrum.

    It is, in fact, our very ordinariness that has been revealed.

    * Michael Stevens is a PhD candidate at Auckland University, where he is studying the
    Ref: - NZ Herald

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