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By DAVID

L.

AIKEN

Det:hraninr:J

the

kinr:~

A

few weeks ago, three of the men with whom I

live in an

all-g~y

male

com~une

went to a new

bar that had JUSt opened m a predominantly

black area not far from Capitol Hill here in Washington,

D.C . At the door, they were asked for two identifi–

cation cards, both with photos. None had more than

one form of ID. They were turned away. They are

black. They watched as a stream of white men walked

in, casually flashed a draft card perhaps, and werr

admitted. When they asked to speak to the manager, he

came over, listened for a couple of minutes, then turned

away and said, " Better luck next time."

When I was talking recently about the possibility of gay

people picketing that bar, a gay acquaintance of mine said

"It's too bad that gay people have to fight

amon~

themselves, when they should be fighting the oppressor."

That's true enough, but we must not forget that for our

black gay brothers, they

were

fighting the oppressor -both

their oppressor

and

ours. White gay men are no less racist

than the rest of white America and must, consequently, be

confronted just as vigorously as any straight person when

they exhibit racism. Gay people, as a group which suffers

discrimination, prejudice, and mockery, must combat that

oppression - but only with a continuing consciousness of,

and concern for, the abuse suffered by other oppressed

groups.

On a practical level, it is true that gay people must

choose how to spend their energy, which is - of necessity -

limited. Someone holding down a full-time job and also

heavily committed to a gay group will have to fight the

oppressor in

that

group, since there is seldom enough time

left over to cook eggs for the Panther breakfast program,

run down to a meeting of a peace group, or join in a march

against the local polluter.

But I am not going to be talking about purely organiza–

tional ways of doing things. In this article, I'm not even

going to talk so much about actions, such as picketing. I'm

more interested in talking about peoples' attitudes, and

changes in them . On this level, I believe, what a black

person does to combat the sense of oppression he or she

suffers, what a woman does, what a gay person does - all

these efforts can work toward the same end. They will, in

fact, topple the same oppressor, if their aim is right. So,

you ask, just where is the target? Let's first figure out what

the animal looks like; then we can fix on the vital spot that

will let us get at him. To do this, we have to look at what

we mean by "oppression." The oppression which gays face

has often been compared to that of other groups, most

often balck people and women. Some say that gays aren't

really oppressed, at least by comparison with such groups,

?ecaus~

gays can "pass" for straight if they want. This

1gnores those of us who are considered by society to be so

effeminate that passing - for us - is impossible. It also

ignores the pain involved for those of us who can or try to

pass - the horrible suffering of constantly lying about

ourselves and our feelings. And then add to this the pain to

which the transvestite and transsexuai is inescapably

46

exposed. These people are just some of the gay people who

feel shitty about themselves because society tells them

they're shit.

I

sn't the essence of gay oppression the gay

person's feeling that he or she must shuffle

back into the closet the moment a straight

person comes around? Try

to

tell the person, troubled

by feelings of homosexuality and fears of rejection,

who is contemplatmg su1cide, that gays aren't as oppressed

as anybody else. Is there some kind of oppression worse

than the feeling of worthlessness that

make~

a person want

to commit suicide?

Yet various political factions go around making up just

such rankings : the workers are the most oppressed, or

blacks, or women, or Third World peoples. Some point to

those relatively few gay people who are well off economi–

cally as a way of putting us at the bottom of the list as "less

oppressed." This ignores the vast majority of gay people

who are working class or who live marginal existences, just

getting by, many of whom are in jail or who live as "street

people" because they have no other alternatives in a sexist

society.

But I think economism (the notion that all aspects of

life are determined by economic factors) is false. The fact

that gay people exist in every area of American society,

even including (occasionally) the higher levels of business

and government, should not obscure a more crucial fact:

Gay people owe whatever job security they have to their

ability

to

lead double lives- to mask their homosexuality.

This may be called "passing" but it also can be called

accepting one's oppression by hiding

par~

of one's person–

ality. There are some occupations which people ordinarily

expect to be filled by gay men; but hairdressing, interior

decoration, and the theater are not sufficient options for a

people with all the human aptitudes and resources of any

other group.

Of course, even some of those gays who work in one of

the stereotyped occupations must be careful to be "dis–

creet." I know a gay man, for example, who was fired from

his job as a salesman in an interior decorating shop when he

was flagrant enough to show up at work one day sporting a

"Gay is good" button. There are gay people in all social

classes, so oppression of gays consequently hits people in all

classes. Interestingly, however, the Kinsey study of "Sexual

Behavior in the Human Male"

(1948)

found that homo–

sexual activity is most frequent among working-class men

who stop their education after high school- the very group

which also shows the strongest negative feelings toward

homosexuality.

T

here are, then, some ways in which gay oppression

is similar to class oppression, in that those in

certain professions have an

easi.er

time of being gay

openly. This does not mean, however, that others in equally

upper-class occupations are any more able

to

be open about

their homosexuality. Likewise there are some aspects of the

motive