Sing if you’re glad to be gay, sing if you’re happy that way. — the Tom Robinson Band


An accusation was levelled at me last year when I publicly rejected the notion that gay became “queer.” The charge, in short, is that I am a selfish gay man. Now that gay rights are secured–the removal of the stigma of being gay, the freedom to live openly, to participate fully in society, the right to marry among them–I am content to “pull the ladder up after me.” That I reject “queer theory” is true; I made no secret of that. In particular, I object to the conflation of the transgender ideology with male homosexuality–notably gay rights advocacy. In a recent essay, I discussed the emergence of a movement called the LGB Alliance–an initiative to separate the T from the LGB. The problem I found with the LGB Alliance is that it is part of a struggle among feminists–a quarrel over whether transgender women are women or not and if there is a place for transgender women in the feminist movement. I stand by what I wrote in my earlier essay: feminist causes have no bearing on gay men’s issues, no more than does the transgender ideology. The gay rights movement and transgender ideology are unrelated and neither the twain should meet.

The ascendancy of the transgender ideology is phenomenal. In 2012, an amendment to the Ontario Human Rights Code added gender identity and gender expression among the prohibited grounds for discrimination. The Ontario Human Rights Code defines gender identity and gender expression as follows:

Gender identity is each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is their sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth-assigned sex. Gender identity is fundamentally different from a person’s sexual orientation.

Gender expression is how a person publicly presents their gender. This can include behaviour and outward appearance such as dress, hair, make-up, body language and voice. A person’s chosen name and pronoun are also common ways of expressing gender. (Ontario Human Rights Commission)

In 2016 the passage of Bill C-16 amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination. The decision to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination is based on the narrative that “they are one of the most disadvantaged groups in society. Trans people routinely experience discrimination, harassment and even violence because their gender identity or gender expression is different from their birth-assigned sex.” (Ontario Human Rights Commission) How Trans people became one of the most disadvantaged groups in society in the 21st century is hard to fathom in that historically while it was controversial, it was never criminal, at least not in Western jurisdictions, for men to crossdress or to undergo sex reassignment treatments.

It was a German physician and gay rights advocate, Magnus Hirschfeld, who first conducted experiments in hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgeries at his clinic, the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. He founded the clinic in 1919. Before his trials in hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgeries, he established the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee in 1897 with Max Spohr, Franz Josef von Bülow, and Eduard Oberg. Its primary aim was to fight for the abolition of Paragraph 175 of the German Imperial Penal Code, which criminalized sexual contact between men. Yes, male homosexuality was criminalized in Germany. The law was repealed by the German government in 1994. Then as now, experiments in hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgeries carried risks, as Fara Naz Khan noted in 2016,

In 1922, Hirschfeld performed castration on Dora Richter, one of the institute’s employees who later went on to complete her sex reassignment in 1931 with further surgeries at the institute. The institute’s most famous patient was arguably Danish painter Lili Elbe (born Einar Wegener) whose life story has been fictionalized in the popular film The Danish Girl. Starting in 1930, Elbe had five surgeries performed as part of her male-to-female transition. Unfortunately, Elbe died from infection-related complications of her final surgery in 1931. (Scientific American)

Hirschfeld’s trials stopped when the Nazis rose to power in Germany, as Hirschfeld was Jewish. He lived out the last years of his life in exile. The Nazis destroyed his papers–those in which he documented his research and experiments in hormone therapy and sex reassignment in the burning of “non-German” texts beginning in 1933.

In 1952 Christian Hamburger, a Danish Endocrinologist, broke new ground in the transgender movement when he successfully treated George Jorgensen Jr., who transitioned and became Christine Jorgensen. I saw Christine Jorgensen appear as a guest on the Canadian television show Front Page Challenge. The panellists treated Jorgensen with due respect in the interview. Jorgensen enjoyed a career as an entertainer and lecturer. The notable legal roadblock Jorgensen faced was in the inability to get a marriage license in Massapequa Park in New York State in 1959. Jorgensen hoped to marry a man named Howard J. Knox. The marriage could not go forward as Jorgensen was born male–the fact duly noted on the birth certificate. Same-sex marriage was not legal in 1959 in the United States.

I remember the case of Renée Richards in the 1970s. Richards, born Richard Raskin, underwent sex reassignment surgery under the supervision of surgeon Roberto C. Granato Sr. in 1975. Richards was an athlete and wanted to compete in the Women’s Tennis Association. At the time, competitors were required to take the Barr Body Test, a test used “to detect male athletes supposedly trying to “pass” as females to gain a competitive advantage.” (Barr Bodies) Richards was disqualified from taking part in the United States Open tennis championships in refusing to submit to the Barr Body Test. Richards challenged the refusal of the United States Tennis Association, the United States Open Tennis Championship Committee and the Women’s Tennis Association to allow Richards to participate. In 1977, State Supreme Court Justice Alfred M. Ascione ruled in favour of Richards, stating in part that United States Open was,

grossly unfair, discriminatory and inequitable, and violative of her rights under the Human Rights Law of this state. […]

It seems clear that defendants knowingly instituted this test for the sole purpose of preventing plaintiff from participating in the tournament,” he wrote. “The only justification ‐ for using a sex‐determination test in athletic competition is to prevent fraud, i.e., men masquerading as women competing against women. (New York Times)

The tennis associations named in the court challenge accepted the court’s ruling and Richards was allowed to compete in the women’s tournaments. In contrast, laws that proscribed private homosexual sex between consenting adults remained in force until 2003 when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Lawrence v. Texas, that these laws are unconstitutional.

Historically, male homosexuality was proscribed in British law. From 1885 to 1967 (until its repeal), the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 (48 & 49 Vict. c.69) was in effect. Section 11 of the Act, in particular, a clause known as the Labouchere Amendment applied to male homosexuality. In short, the clause provided for a term of imprisonment “not exceeding two years,” with or without hard labour, for any man found guilty of gross indecency with another male, whether “in public or in private.” Despite this proscription in law against male homosexuality, the law was enforced sparingly and selectively; however, the consequences of arrest and conviction could be devastating. In 1953 the Home Secretary, David Maxwell Fyffe, referred to male homosexuality as a “plague over England” and vowed to wipe it out. John Gielgud very nearly saw his career as an actor come to an abrupt end in 1953 when a scandal arose over his arrest for ‘persistently importuning male persons for immoral purposes’ (caught trying to pick up a man in a public washroom). He was fined £10, and news of the arrest found its way to the press, causing him a most personal humiliation and refusal of a visa to travel to the United States with his company to perform Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The theatre-going public saw fit to forgive his momentary indiscretion, and he continued his acting career both in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Happily, attitudes toward male homosexuality in England and Wales changed, and the Labouchere Amendment was repealed in 1967 with the passage of the Sexual Offences Act. Interestingly, Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative Party Member of Parliament from the backbenches, broke with the Conservative Party ranks and voted in favour of the passage of the Sexual Offences Act. Alan Turing may have foreseen this change in attitudes. However, unfortunately, he was open about his sexuality at a time when gay men were still convicted and imprisoned under the auspices of the Labouchere Amendment. He was arrested and charged for violation of the Labouchere Amendment in 1952. He revealed to police details of his relationship with Arnold Murray during the investigation of a burglary in his home. Alan Turing and Arnold Murray were brought to trial on 31 March 1952, where Turing was convicted, and Arnold Murray was granted a conditional discharge.

Turing was given a choice between imprisonment or probation conditional on his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment designed to cure him of his homosexuality. He accepted the option of treatment via injections of estrogen; this treatment continued for one year. The estrogen treatment, read quackery, notes David Leavitt in his book The man who knew too much: Alan Turing and the invention of the computer, “had the effect of chemical castration. Worse, there were the humiliating side effects. The lean runner got fat. He grew breasts.” (Leavitt (2006), p. 268) It was more than he could bear, and he took his own life, biting into an apple he laced with cyanide. His body was discovered on 8 June 1954. Andrew Hodges sums up Alan Turing’s character. He described him as “eccentric, solitary, gloomy, vivacious, resigned, angry, eager, dissatisfied — these had always been his ever-varying characteristics, and despite the strength he showed in coping with outrageous fortune, no-one could have safely predicted his future course.” (Alan Turing: a short biography)

Granted, my review of the historical record concerning the treatment of gay men and transgender individuals is cursory. Still, I think it is clear that the issues of gay rights and transgender ideology are unrelated. The gay rights movement succeeded in realizing its goal of the removal of the stigma of being a gay man. For this, I am ever grateful. I am mindful of the past–not to dwell on and wallow in emotion–but to remember it is crucial to be vigilant in the present. It was a tough and uphill effort for gay men to win their rights to participate fully and openly in Western society. Gay men as a demographic in the West need to stand up for themselves and for those gay men in jurisdictions outside the West who still face persecution. Lest we forget, there is the example of the pogrom against gay men underway in Chechnya. The treatment of gay men in the former East Bloc–though not as dire as the situation in Chechnya–is a concern for the gay rights movement. The ascendancy of the transgender ideology and the rancorous quarrel it generates among feminists has nothing to do with gay men and gay rights issues. For those who insist on conflating gender identity politics with gay rights issues, this brings us back to the underlying problem for gay men historically. All gay men want is to be left alone to get on with their lives and go about their business in peace.

Posted by Geoffrey


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