Non-Gay Men Working on Gay Oppression and Male Domination

I recently met with a small group of men who are leading RC men’s workshops. The meeting was a follow-up to an article I wrote in Present Time about successfully including Gay, Bisexual, and Queer men in RC men’s work. I had already done some work with non-Gay men on this topic, and I wanted to do some more with men who were leading men.

I reminded the men that Gay oppression is an “enforcer” oppression—it enforces and holds in place men’s oppression and sexism. All men (like all people in current societies) are on the receiving end of Gay oppression from early on. This is part of how men “learn” about domination and about the price men pay if they are not dominant.

When not “dominant,” men are more likely to be dominated themselves—to be bullied, insulted, physically abused, not taken seriously—and to experience the other things that happen to any man who steps outside of the rigid socially defined gender-role stereotype. It starts early in men’s lives—on playgrounds, in sports, and in other kinds of play. And much of it still happens to Gay, Bisexual, and Queer men today.

I asked the men a series of questions that would be good for all men to discharge on. The questions touch on experiences and hurts that are often uncomfortable and difficult for men to work on. Because of how much humiliation, shame, and violence men have experienced as men, certain distresses may not “come up” to be worked on without a strong invitation. I did a demonstration on each question, followed by a mini-session. The following are the questions and my thinking behind them:

How did you handle life on the playground growing up? What role(s) did you take?

A key element of Gay oppression is exclusion, and for many boys it begins in play. If we are not actively excluded, we watch others being excluded—and judged, teased, and humiliated. There is much to face and work on here.

Did you ever dominate or were you ever dominated by another male? How was that?

Much of what we “learn” about male domination comes from how we were treated by other males or from watching what males do to other males. Gay oppression labels males and puts a wedge between them. It sets up one group—the non-Gay males—as dominant and the other as dominated. As we tackle Gay oppression, men’s oppression, and sexism, we need to work openly on dominating, being dominated, and having watched domination happen without interrupting it.

What has been your experience of Gay oppression? How has Gay oppression affected you? How does it affect you today?

Gay oppression affects everyone. It affects how close we males can be to other males. It affects how we act (so we won’t be humiliated). It enforces rigid gender-role stereotypes for both those born male and those born female. “Coming out” (adopting a Gay, Bisexual, or Queer identity in one’s own mind and/or with others) to some extent forces Gay, Bisexual, and Queer men to face how Gay oppression has limited us.

Non-Gay men have mostly not worked on what Gay oppression has done to them. This may keep them from thinking well about or wanting to be around Gay, Bisexual, or Queer men. It can also paralyze them in the face of Gay oppression. Old terror, instilled from watching men’s violence and domination, can make them just want Gay oppression to go away, to not be talked about, to not be noticed. If they were to notice it, they would have to look at what it has done to them.

Did you ever watch another male dominating a male? What is your earliest memory of this? How did you feel? What did you do? What did you want to do but couldn’t? Why couldn’t you?

Gay oppression can have the same effect on non-Gay men as not being directly targeted has on a child in a violent family. Those who are the target learn that they can live through it. Those who have to watch it can end up terrified of it and without the knowledge that they can survive it.

What would it look like if you were open about your struggles with sex and closeness?

The isolation of Gay, Bisexual, and Queer men comes in part from the assumption (our own internalized assumption as well as the message of Gay oppression) that we are the only ones who struggle with sex and closeness. In RC we Gay, Bisexual, and Queer men have tended to be more open about our struggles in these areas. For non-Gay men to be open about their struggles there is a huge contradiction to Gay oppression as well as a step toward liberation for the non-Gay men.

What happens if you take off the heterosexual identity? What happens if you try on one of the other sexual identities, as a direction in a counseling session?

Every “identity” is a package of human qualities and distress patterns. Although, as an identity, “heterosexual” is every bit as rigid a box as “Gay” or “Queer,” it is seen as normal. People have done much less work on it in Co-Counseling.

Both males and females are born with the ability to procreate, but no one is born with the heterosexual identity as we know it today. Looking at this and discharging on it can free up non-Gay men and lead to greater understanding and flexibility around Gay, Bisexual, and Queer men.

These questions led the men to face uncomfortable material that at least some of them had not worked on much. There was lots of discharge. I am hopeful that more work in this direction will move forward not only the thinking about and inclusion of Gay, Bisexual, and Queer men but also the work on male domination, men’s oppression, and the ending of sexism.

“David Nijinsky”

Assistant International Liberation Reference Person for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, and Transgender People

(Present Time 189, October 2017)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00