Beyond Straight Sex


The debate concerning the age of consent for gay men is largely a debate about the extent to which our society is prepared to officially sanction sexual diversity.

The present law denies gay men under 21 the right to love the person of their choice. It is symptomatic of a wider social homophobia which rejects erotic pluralism and demands conformity to exclusive heterosexuality. Why?

To reject out of hand the idea of ever falling in love with someone of the same sex is irrational and illogical. It does not make sense to automatically exclude the possibility of sexual and emotional relationships with half the population.

Nevertheless that is exactly what a majority of people do, and it is lesbians and gay men who pay the price for their sexual phobias and repressions. Homosexuals have to suffer the denigration of their lives in order that those heterosexuals who are insecure about their sexual identity can feel superior in their opposite-sex relationships.

Thankfully, queers tend to be more generous than straight supremacists. Our suffering has taught us the virtue of compassion and understanding. We are campaigning for homosexual equality not only for our own sake, but also for the sake of heterosexual men and women. They, too, are diminished by the system of sexual apartheid which proclaims the supposed superiority of straightness, and which seeks to justify itself as ‘normality’ and ‘human nature’. Compulsory and exclusive heterosexuality is neither of these things. Nor is it humane or civilised. It requires the perverse suppression of all erotic feelings towards people of the same sex. Straights are denied the joy of queer love.

Instead of trying to force conformity to heterosexuality, our society should be encouraging people to experience the full range of loving desires – both straight and queer – which are intrinsic to the human condition.

As Freud and Kinsey discovered long ago, nearly all of us are born with the potential to be queer. Whether we later become heterosexual or homosexual seems to largely depend on early childhood experiences.

Even in adult life, few people are exclusively one way or the other. Most embody a mixture of hetero and homo feelings. While some feelings get expressed, others are repressed. The macho camaraderie and male bonding of a football team or army platoon has more than a whisper of displaced homo-eroticism.

It is time parliament recognised that queerness is a part of the wonderful variety of human sexuality. Those of us who make a homosexual choice should not suffer legal discrimination on account of who we love.

If our society was a mature pluralist democracy, sexual difference, like racial difference, would be valued. People would no longer be pressured to repress their attraction to others of the same sex. Everyone would feel free to express their queer desires without fear of guilt or discrimination.

Is the acceptance of sexual diversity really such a shocking idea? If not, why is society so hung-up about people ‘promoting’ and ‘flaunting’ their homosexuality?

Perhaps it is because even arch homophobes recognise, deep down, that the human capacity for emotional tenderness and sexual fulfilment is not limited to male-female relationships. Indeed, the hysteria against homosexuality is an implicit acknowledgement of the fragile and tenuous nature of exclusive heterosexuality.

If queer sex is so unnatural and loathsome, why does it have to be denigrated and repressed by the combined forces of parliament, police, press, and pulpit? And why does heterosexuality have to be so vigorously promoted with special privileges, such as the monopoly of moral validity and the legal and financial advantages that go with marriage? – The anti-gay bigots are right. A positive affirmation and acceptance of queer sexuality is likely to lead to an increase in the proportion of the population having same-sex relationships – not necessarily for their entire lives, but certainly for significant periods. The number of people who are exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual would probably decline. For the majority, bisexuality would become the norm.

Where is the evidence for this suggestion? Despite heterosexual proselytising, and the vilification of homosexuality, same-sex relations are already incredibly common.

Recent sex surveys, suggesting that only a small percentage of the population is queer, have been methodologically flawed. Kinsey’s research is still the most comprehensive and authoritative. His findings indicate that about one in ten of the population is exclusively or predominantly homosexual, and one in seven is bisexual for all or part of their lives. Furthermore, a third of all men and women have had gay sex at least once, and nearly half have experienced some form of homoerotic arousal.

If queer desire is this widespread in a homophobic society, imagine how much more common it would be in a gay-positive culture. With the cultural taboos removed, nearly everyone would savour its delights.

And why not? People should be free to explore and experiment with, homosexuality. Their choice of partner, if it is someone of the same sex, should be respected. After all, there is no rational reason why exclusive heterosexuality should be the majority sexual practice. With artificial insemination by donor, the argument that we need straight sex to reproduce the human species is no longer tenable. Even if there was never again a single act of heterosexual intercourse anywhere in the world, the perpetuation of new generations could be readily assured by the technique of donor insemination.

The liberation of heterosexuality from the necessity of reproduction, together with the equal validation of homosexuality, would mean that sexual free will could, at last, triumph over biological necessity and social repression. As a result, male-female relationships would become more of a conscious choice and a rational pleasure, rather than a traditional expectation and moral obligation. Queer love would cease to be a minority desire and instead find expression in the lives of the majority.

To change from a hetero-centric culture to a sexually pluralistic one is in everyone’s interest. It is time parliament accepted that fact and reformed the law accordingly.


Peter Tatchell is a member of the lesbian and gay human rights campaign, OutRage.

An edited version of this article was published as “A gayer place than you think”, INDEPENDENT, 24 JANUARY 1994


© Copyright Peter Tatchell 1994