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Retiring "The Homosexual"

Sun 14 Nov 2004 In: Comment

I've never liked the term 'homosexual.' It's a medical-legal scotch tape concept that causes problems by defining us as 'problems.' I must admit, Peter Wells' recent Metro and Listener articles triggered this one. I respect and admire Peters' prodigious cinematic and literary output, which renders him our own master stylist and essayist, akin to Britain's Derek Jarman, before the tragic death of the latter from HIV/AIDS. But. In his recent articles, Wells overstates the case of an antigay backlash. I wonder if his particular generational perspective doesn't require a gentle challenge, so here it is. Wells is a gay man from a particular generation, which reached sexual and social maturity during the sixties, as I did during the social conservative backlash years of the seventies that followed. Forty years ago, New Zealand was a different world. In 1967, Britain finally enacted the recommendations of the Wolfenden Report 1956, which resulted in a highly discriminatory age of consent for gay men, sanctioned discrimination and explusion from the armed services, and criminalised multiple partner gay sex. In New Zealand, Norm Kirk and Rob Muldoon were proponents of bipartisan social conservatism and delayed British-style liberal (sic) legislation for a decade. By the time of gay law reform, HIV/AIDS had emerged, and decriminalisation of male homosexuality had become an urgent neccessity. By that time, too, fifteen years of LGBT scholarship, activism, lobbying and cultural expression had altered the terms of the New Zealand debate. We didn't accept the pathetic, twlight constricted compromise of the 'homosexual' - we were lesbian, gay and proud, self-assertive and unwilling to compromise. The New Zealand Christian Right of the eighties was unwilling to accept this. We fought long and hard, and eighteen months later, we won. Today, we don't hear the word "homosexual" within public debate much, apart from within Christian Right propaganda, suggesting that they have imbibed the model that we are pathetic and pathological from antiquated medical models. We refer to ourselves as gay, or lesbian and gay when there are issues of shared concern, such as same-sex parenting, that concern male and female members of our communities, or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) as the latter two communities have asserted their own allied political needs over time. To me, 'homosexual' is an obsolete term from the past, which doesn't reflect my current life, or that of our communities. Wells ignores the fact that in the early twenty-first century, we aren't that marginal any more. Yes, Phillip Edwards killed David McNee in cold blood - but the resultant furore seems to have led to reconsideration of the so-called 'homosexual panic defence.' Yes, Destiny Church made its "Enough is Enough" march, but Maori voters seem to have turned their back on this imported political movement, which polls at the bottom of most Maori-based opinion polls. He confuses ambiguity and marginality. Ambiguity is a sign that political debate is in progress, and that old cliches, maxims and dogmas are being deconstructed. In time, this may redefine the terms of current legal and social debate as a consequence. As with Canada before it, New Zealanders seem to have accepted the legitimacy of comprehensive relationship recognition and our need for some ceremonial recognition of that relationship, even if we don't use the M word for it. During the next parliamentary term, same-sex parenting and trans-inclusive antidiscrimination laws will become our final battlefields, apart from HIV/AIDS health promotion and treatment issues. When that happens, we will be a long way from Wolfenden. Thank goodness. Recommended Reading: Patrick Higgins: Heterosexual Dictatorship: London: Fourth Estate: 1995. Craig Young - 14th November 2004    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Sunday, 14th November 2004 - 12:00pm

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