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Sexual democracy and the exclusion of boylovers

Gert Hekma, in KOINOS # 52, Winter 2006

Until recently, we were living in a sexual system in which the satisfaction of lust mainly took place among people in unequal social positions: man and woman, old and young, rich and poor, rich man’s son and housemaid, butch and femme, queen and trade (feminine homosexual and masculine heterosexual). Now, the world is converting to a different system which stresses the aspect of equality.

It is a turnover which started with romantic ideals about comradeship in marriage, and which is crowned by what the English sociologist Anthony Giddens calls ‘pure relations’: sexual relations which are evenly matched. Power imbalances in bed, which before had an erotic premium, have been handed in for ideals about sexual democracy. Especially gays and lesbians profit from this worldwide turnover, because nowadays their relationships are equal and interchangeable. Straight people face the problem of an inherent gender difference in their relations, which puts pressure on the conceptualisation of sexual equality and democracy.

There are various groups who suffer greatly under the ethics of equality. Sadomasochists try to escape it by arguing that their relations are reversible and grounded in mutual consent. In the business of prostitution, the only defence would be if the classical role of the ‘man who buys’ and the ‘woman who offers’ were to be reversed more often. But it doesn’t appear to be that way.

The two new big taboos to the fundamentalists of equality are bestiality and paedophilia, because in their view, these relations are unequal by definition. They are grounded in a power imbalance and, according to the prophets of erotic democracy, they always amount to abuse, all the more because the objects of desire are assumed to be voiceless and defenceless.

Looking at homosexual relations in other cultures and ages, we see two dominant forms which were often social institutions with their own fixed rules and locations.

The first form encompasses relations between a feminine, passive man on the one hand and a masculine, active type on the other hand, as in the relations between queens and trades.
The second form encompasses relations between men and boys. In this magazine, I do not have to list the numerous examples. Doubtless, men had sex with each other in different ways and in different roles as well, but such examples are much rarer. Moreover, those various types of relations were almost never social institutions in the way that the two aforementioned forms were.

If we examine global developments, we see that a new form of homosexual relationship has come into being in the Western world: that of the homosexual or gay, the man who has sex with another man, with both men assuming masculine roles and being of roughly the same age. This model is only very recent, but is fast gaining ground everywhere.

This relational ‘invention’ is on its way to becoming the global standard for homosexual behaviour. After half a century, gay marriage has been its definitive confirmation. Besides this model, there is still the form of homosexuality in which one of the partners changes sex, as it were. This form elicits little criticism. Society and the gay community do not see such gender inversions as seriously disrupting the ideals of sexual democracy.

It is very different for boy lovers. Wherever they become visible, they have a hard time. They have even been chucked out of the gay parades – the proud processions of sexual ‘diversity’. In some faraway places with traditional cultures, like Afghanistan, they are still completely in the game (and so it happens that Dutch soldiers are sent off to the Afghan province of Uruzgan to defend the ‘notorious pederast’ Jan Mohammed).

Wherever modernisation strikes, opposition grows against the ‘child abuse’ that paedophilia is taken to be. The critics of boy love have a broad range of arguments at their disposition.

Psychiatry sees it as a disease,
most religions see it as a severe sin, and
many modern people simply see it as the sexual abuse of innocent children.

In the past, sex between younger and older persons was at the most a faint concern; today people apparently feel a compelling need to intervene. Punitive laws are being tightened and interpreted more broadly, ages of consent are raised, and the prosecution of ‘offenders’ is becoming more fanatical. With women’s liberation, mothers are more successful in opposing the sexual habits of men who love boys. It is remarkable that a huge global panic is developing around sexual practices which once were, and in some places still are, the foundation of important social institutions.

It remains an unanswered question why virtually all cultures used to ground sexual desire in social inequality, while in a new, global sexual culture it is precisely equality which is the only acceptable engine of lust. However it may be, it is a worldwide trend which paedophiles cannot overcome.

We can only hope that people will start to recognise the insanity of such a one-dimensional view of pleasure. Or that the children who are being kept on a leash sexually will rise up massively against the notion that they are innocent and asexual. But I don’t really see this happening. I fear that we will have to live for the time being with a timid ideology of sexual equality which does not promote happiness.

Gert Hekma is a university lecturer in gay and lesbian studies at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

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