THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 47
The pink rouble
In today’s Times there is an article about the problems encountered by gay people in Russia. They are attempting to create a gay community in the country but are finding it difficult. There are gay clubs in the cities, but there is no sense of community among them apparently. The main problem is the opposition of a combination of the church and widespread homophobia generally.
The latest attempt to create a gay community is by the publication a magazine called ‘Queer’, which, in Russian, is translated as KVIR. This new magazine has yet to break even financially and it is encountering opposition, even when it is to be placed on shelves alongside heterosexual erotic magazines. The magazine contains some pictures of nude men and, of course, that is offensive to homophobic people – they would call such pictures pornographic, whereas similar pictures of women in a heterosexual magazine might not be so labelled by them. Apparently advertising is slow coming in for the magazine also – due to stereotyping.
The situation in Russian society is reported as being difficult for gay people - homophobia is rife and many gays still face, therefore, a lifetime of denial or discrimination. This is in spite of the law being changed in 1993 to allow relations between consenting males over 18. Gays and lesbians still cannot marry, adopt children or have parental rights over a partner’s child.
It is clear that we see in Russia a more overt demonstration of the church’s attitude to homosexuality than in this country. The church there deems it a deadly sin, bans homosexual priests and exhibits all the similar signs to conservative evangelicals in the West, but taken to greater lengths. I guess that some of the churches in the West that condemn homosexuality would probably like to go down the same route of demonisation, exclusion and eventual suppression of all that has to do with gay people.
I would say, however, that all over the world there is now the recognition by straight and gay people that the gay issue is far too alive and kicking to go away, however much opposition there may be. All over the world gay people are following the lead given by the gay people in the first Stonewall riot in the USA – asserting that gay people are ordinary and normal people. That they refuse to be vilified and suppressed any longer. In a very real sense their time has come. They are to be free – ‘free at last’. Down the centuries they have been oppressed, killed and tortured. They have been in fear of their lives, afraid of discrimination in all sorts of ways, often in life threatening ways. Now, their new age has dawned and although it may take decades or even longer to get full rights and to win their rightful place alongside heterosexual people, fully equal in the sight of the law and in popular acceptance, yet they are definitely on the road to where they should be. And this is so even in Russia, where at present gay people are in the closet in a big way across the country.
It therefore behoves us to remember that, just as homosexuality was a crime punishable by five years in prison under Soviet law until 1993, so a few decades ago it was the same in Britain. It is only in the very recent past that enlightenment has come in our country. And rights won can also be lost.
At present we are in a kind of half light. The open and legal acceptance of gay people is evident in some areas of society and in some circles of people. But full acceptance is very far from being achieved yet. In some societies and circles homosexuality is still very much an object of dislike, hate and scorn. For example, in some parts of the church. The tussles last year about gay bishops shows just how deep rooted is the opposition.
Would I be right and fair to label such opposition as homophobic? Am I exaggerating the situation? Or are there tens of thousands of Christians who genuinely believe that homosexuality is wrong, and who hold their view solely because of intellectual and theological beliefs? My personal belief is that it is perhaps more true to say that many of these people are tinged with some degree of homophobia.
I believe that many of those objecting to the very idea of a gay person being a Christian and indulging in gay practices with someone they love and with whom they have a mutual commitment, that many of those people have a deep root of ‘instinctive’ objection to homosexuality. In other words they have had an aversion to homosexuality trained into them from childhood by home, church and society. And what is ‘instinctive’ objection to someone being Christian and gay if not homophobia?
In other words I am saying that, in my opinion, there are probably relatively few people who can honestly base their objection on purely intellectual or spiritual objections. Most are tinged with homophobia. A strong feeling against a Christian being gay. I think you will find them in their thousands in the bible belt of America. Equally you will find them in the conservative evangelical and more fundamentalist churches across Britain.
And why are they thus tinged with homophobia? For the very same reason there is rampant homophobia in Russia – there has been a long tradition in society of demonising homosexuality, and this has received its power from the church over many centuries.
But the change is under way. Eventually gay people will be accepted as normal by the population generally – even in Russia. If it were not so, then we would indeed be in for a very dark time ahead.
If the forces of conservatism succeeded in trying to put the clock back and reintroducing anti-gay legislation, that would signify a backward step for humanity. Just when the human spirit is breaking free of the bonds of the past, there would be a possibility that progress would be interrupted or even reversed.
We would begin to see prosecutions of gay people again. We would begin to see heresy trials in the churches where pastors and teachers who strayed off the narrow line defined by conservatives were made to either toe the official line or be sacked. We would see a return to a literal interpretation of the bible. We would be going backwards.
Could such a thing happen? Of course it could. Similar things have happened in other countries – for example where dictators have introduced anti-gay legislation. Could it happen in Britain? I hope not, for that would indeed be a black day for humanity and freedom. Whether such repression would delay the general advance of human society worldwide by decades or centuries would have to be seen. Eventually one must believe that right will prevail and repressive Christians or others will be overcome and the human spirit will fly free again.
The owner of the magazine in Russia mentioned above also said that at present in Russia ‘gay people are all isolated and separated. It doesn’t feel like a community’
This is a very perceptive remark for it shows the root of the problem they have in Russia of getting the gay community to come out of their closets and enjoy and support each other.
What do I mean: enjoy and support each other?
I mean that gay people of whatever country are unable to realise their full personality and sexuality if they are continuously in the company of heterosexual people. Gay people need gay people at times to help them to fully realise their whole being. What do I mean by that?
I mean that most gay people, if they only ever meet heterosexual people, are unable to overcome the inhibitions against their sexuality imposed by the majority in the population: the heterosexuals. If you are gay and never meet a gay person, is it any wonder that you do not develop the gay side of your personhood? If you are inhibited by the predominant heterosexual values, ideas and concepts that surround you all the time, is it any wonder that you find it hard to accept yourself as a fully gay person?
If I am gay but I am constantly with heterosexual people, is it any wonder that I develop a kind of dual personality – heterosexual to deal with all the heterosexuals around me every day, and gay for when I am alone and in private?
Is it any wonder that for such a person there can come an abiding sense of guilt? A sense of being two people – of living a secret life? And all that follows from such a secret life? Such as fantasies, and unfulfilled longings. Such as attempts to find and establish contact with some other gay person who is acceptable as a friend? Perhaps a going out to visit public toilets where you know that other gays come? And so we have the phenomenon of cottaging – where gay men have anonymous encounters with other gay men. Why? Is it for the sex? It may seem so, but often it is because they are desperately lonely and want an affirmation of themselves as a gay person.
A normal heterosexual has absolutely no idea of the pressures on a bisexual or homosexual person who is unable to express his identity – an identity that he knows deep within himself is real, but an identity that is frowned upon by the surrounding heterosexual multitude.
Homosexuals in Russia have to learn discretion, else they get beaten up or worse. Gay people in Britain have to be guarded, else they get discriminated against or even suffer physical abuse.
When are we going to overthrow once and for all the homophobic objections of ‘biblical’ Christians who, extraordinarily, believe that their objections are purely theological? When are we going to recognize the objections put up against gay people for what they are? Why is it that many eminent biblical scholars do not go along with the literalist lobby? When are we all going to grow up about this subject?