Gay liberation

by the editors

from Jump Cut, no. 24-25, March 1981, p. 58
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1981, 2005

[We are reprinting excerpts from our editorial on Gay Liberation which appeared as part of a special section on Gay Men and Film in JUMP CUT No. 16 (November, 197?). To obtain a copy of this issue which is still available send $2.00 ($2.50 abroad) to us at P.O. Box 865, Berkeley, CA, 94701.]

From our first issue, JUMP CUT has defined itself as an actively anti-sexist publication. By sexism we mean the oppression of one group of people by another on the basis of sex (biology) and sexual identity (psychology) or sexual preference, activity, and lifestyle. Sexism oppresses women, gay men, and lesbians (a double oppression as women and homosexuals). The oppression of gays in our society is one aspect of sexism. Sexism plays a specific and indispensable role in maintaining capitalism and vice versa. To fight that system of oppression, to attack its props of labor exploitation, racism, sexism, and to challenge all the other dehumanizing aspects of bourgeois culture is the task of all progressive people.

Active support for lesbian and gay male liberation emerges as a logical concomitant of the feminist struggle against patriarchy. Patriarchy systematically divides power in society on the basis of sex. Specifically, it oppresses women as inferior within all classes and strata. Feminism politically analyzes and challenges patriarchy, recognizes the systematic oppression of women as a group, and fights for the liberation of all women, not simply for the individual advancement of a select few.

Patriarchy predates capitalism and still exists in contemporary socialist countries. However, patriarchy is not inherently necessary to socialism, while it is an indispensable structural feature of capitalism. Patriarchy is a way of organizing society to insure adult male dominance of institutions, privileges, and power. To justify this inequality, patriarchy asserts that norms of behavior are determined by clear-cut sexual differences. Therefore, patriarchy must link human sexuality directly to biological differences of species reproduction. To establish and preserve heterosexuality as an institution with the force of natural, moral, and social "normality," our society maintains a distinct category of non-heterosexuality and it constructs social distinctions on the basis of sexual practices which are not neutral but which serve to validate the dominant culture. Thus our society makes the straight lifestyle the norm and casts gays into the position of "outsider" or "deviant."

We acknowledge that different groups in society, particularly oppressed groups, have a unique subcultural experience and face the task of asserting their subcultural identity. One step in overcoming oppression is affirming the special and unique characteristics of the group because a distinct positive identity has often been denied and affirmation of sociocultural separatism is necessary to building group solidarity. At the same time we must be alert to negative aspects of subcultural identity, such as affirming gayness without attacking misogyny, racism, and ageism.

Feminists have analyzed the role of the nuclear family in maintaining capitalism. This analysis attacks the destructive split between the public sphere and the private sphere, between production and reproduction, between paid and unpaid social labor, and between Mother/Father/Girl/Boy roles and rewards. The division of life into paid and unpaid social labor, separating workplace and community, appears as a new feature under capitalism and is essential to maintaining it. The struggle against patriarchy is thus not subordinate to the class struggle but is itself a form of class struggle.

Gay men and lesbians affirm that sexuality is not linked to biological definitions of sex. Their stance threatens the ideological underpinnings of the nuclear family in capitalism. Lesbians, for example, as women-identified women who define themselves in terms of economic and emotional support independently of men, threaten the patriarchal hierarchy of the sexes, and all gays in society challenge the puritanical component of capitalist culture.

We do not ask for a sentimental support for gays or a liberal "let-them-do-their-own-thing" (often with an implied "elsewhere"). Our support comes from an analysis of a whole system of exploitation. Capitalism has used sexism to divide the working class by providing certain roles for men and women, by commodifying daily life and objectifying sexuality in advertising, and by atomizing people's lives and thus giving them a sense of powerlessness. Capitalism depends on sexism. It is a system of production that has long used and very much needs highly differentiated sex roles, and sex role stereotypes, objectified human sexuality, and alienated human relations to prop itself up. For that reason, although gayness challenges many of the basic tenets of capitalism and sexism, gay and lesbian liberation is not complete without overthrowing this system of production. Equally, any true socialist system must also challenge the manifestations of patriarchy's — and particularly capitalism's — outworn sexism such as highly differentiated sex roles.

Gay liberation is more than a matter of civil rights or lifestyle or private choice. In advanced capitalist countries, direct economic exploitation in the production sector is the fundamental form of class oppression. Yet increasingly in the logic of capitalist development, with its insatiable appetite for profits, such a development turns the "private" and the "personal" into the political. Capitalism has invaded and tried to commodify daily life. The fight against capitalism takes many forms, and key arenas of struggle today include daily life, personal relations, sexuality, and the family.