The Paradox Of How Anti-Gay Prejudices Favor Lesbians
As a Colombian gay marriage debate illustrates, Western societies have historically despised male homosexuality more than lesbianism. Why is that?
BOGOTA — Nobody in Colombia paid much attention when a Colombian senator, exhorting the evils of gay marriage, revealed that he found gay men more offensive than lesbians. This uneven, "asymmetrical" homophobia — generally targeting men — is as common as it is ancient.
Pornography for men and erotic art of many periods and societies are filled with depictions of women caressing and kissing each other, while experimental sexology has declared that men are "spontaneously" excited by seeing two women together. Nineteenth century "hygienists" observed a relatively high incidence of bisexuality among female prostitutes, which apparently is welcome in the sex market among libertines and in male fantasies. To find the female version of this attraction for two men, you would have to seek out an independent film such as Bigas Luna's The Ages of Lulu (1990). Again, clashes between feminists and lesbians on one side and transvestites or transsexuals on the other tend to confirm this discrepancy in aversions.
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Still, polls on discrimination against sexual minorities in Europe show that reported attacks on lesbians are almost as frequent as those on gay men. Perhaps this equalizing trend suggests that LGBT activism, by publicly associating traditionally despised male homosexuality with the more tolerated lesbianism, has turned out to be detrimental to women.
In the 19th century, many European cities actively persecuted cross-dressing. The crusade against the feminization of men preceded the trial of Oscar Wilde, whose problems began when he fell in love with Lord Alfred Douglas. Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, threatened them and sought to impose a boycott of one of Wilde's plays, which led Wilde to take him to court.
But as cross-examinations began to reveal the playwright's lifestyle, he had to withdraw his lawsuit and was soon facing prosecution himself. He was jailed pursuant to an 1885 law that punished sodomy and homosexual practices — the very ones most recently denounced by our conservative Sen. Roberto Gerlein.
In the same period, French courtesan Liane de Pougy attended to the needs of powerful men while having passionate affairs on the side with women.
French courtesan Liane de Pougy — Photo: Celithemis
Her lesbian adventures were reported in the press and seemed not to perturb the authorities or public opinion, or to damage her profession — on the contrary, her male lovers liked to fancy that their embrace would "rob Lesbos of a delectable captive." Magnates sought to seduce her with jewels, but she maintained her freedom to return to female lovers.
One such lover was American writer Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972), dubbed the "Sappho of Washington." Invited to dinner at the White House, she reportedly could not "take her eyes off" the First Lady. When in Paris, Barney and de Pougy went to the theater to see actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was often seen with "a number of surprising ladies with short hair and clad in men's jackets and collars." The two women found the manly attire ridiculous, though even these apparently didn't bother the public, press or the police.
These "public" lesbians were activists in defense of their own rights, though it never occurred to them to gang up with gays being persecuted then in many places for their illicit activities. Two world wars, a drag queen riot, AIDS and the extravagant writings of female U.S. academics had to happen before a fragile coalition called LGBT emerged.
And frankly, so far it has been more beneficial to the Gs and Ts than the L crowd.