Note from the Editors: we the current editorship of Get Real (as of November 2015) do not in any way endorse this article or its author. We apologise sincerely for the content of this article and for the oppressive attitudes it perpetuates. We are leaving it here for accountability purposes, but we hope that readers will not take it as representative of Get Real and its ethos whatsoever.
390 CE marks an important turning point in queer history, arguably the most important in the history of male homosexuality. Theodosius, the last emperor to rule over both eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire, issued an edict making male homosexuality punishable by death.
Christianity triumphed over male homosexuality; a sort of sordid victory very similar to the one it had over paganism. Indeed whenever the new Christian Roman Empire waged war against paganism, accusations of sexual vice soon followed. Fermicus Maternus in his Errors of the Pagan Religions, often dubbed a handbook of intolerance, overtly associates pagan faiths with homosexuality. We trace this tradition to Paul, who in Romans 1:26-7, tells us “For this cause [their idolatry] God gave them up unto vile affections. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
It was Fermicus, Paul and Theodosius who, with intolerance as their weapon, introduced two thousand years of persecution and savagery into our history. Their mission was hardly a difficult one; after all, pagan Rome had done half the work for them anyway.
For the sake of accuracy, the edict of 390 CE did not persecute all male homosexuals. It put passive homosexual men to death while leaving their active partners unscathed. Theodosius’ concern in the edict was that male “effeminacy” would weaken his Empire. Associating male homosexuality with effeminacy was not an invention of Theodosius, however.
When pagan Rome took the traditions of the Greeks and became socially bisexual, they did so with a pinch of salt. While the Greeks understood male homosexuality to be something consensual and treated both men with equal respect, the Romans imposed their misogynistic gender roles onto male homosexual relationships. Freeborn men who submitted themselves to other men risked losing their dignity and status. The history books are full of men whose relationships went on to haunt them in their political careers. Cicero’s accusations that Mark Antony sold himself to older men while still a youth are particularly vile “You assumed a man’s gown [at 17], and at once turned it into a harlot’s. At first you were a common prostitute…” Mark Antony was not alone, public accusations were common in the Senate. Sulla, Pompey, Catiline, Caesar and Octavius suffered the worst. In gender obsessed Rome, it seems that submission was a thing reserved for women and slave boys.
Male homosexuality had its detractors, even in pagan Rome. One argument which is often used to question it, relies on preexisting misogynistic attitudes. Several thinkers of the time felt an endorsement of male homosexual behavior would only facilitate acceptance for female homosexuality, something that was both unthinkable and disgusting to Romans. The general feeling among those thinkers was that it was best to criminalise both forms to preserve traditional gender roles.
The attitudes of the Romans were the ones which lasted. Gay men became, throughout history, subject to the same misogyny (though dubbed homophobia) women faced, if they revealed their sexuality. Persecution, in its various forms, often followed.
Old attitudes never die, however. The misogynistic roots of homophobia become easier to see now that homosexuality and same sex marriage are legal in Britain. Why is it that homosexual men today are called ‘sluts’ very much like women, while heterosexual men are celebrated for their conquests? I sometimes get called a slut, often it’s by heterosexual people; sometimes it’s by women and sometimes it’s followed up by the bizarre suggestion I probably have AIDS. Thank you by the way, but I’ve never had unprotected sex and I get tested regularly. I doubt the same can be said about you, dear straight person. This reminds me too well of some of the comments made last year in response to The Tab’s Sex in the Cam column in which a female student retold her sexual adventures anonymously.
Indeed, recently in the news we saw a sexuality pay gap where gay men in Britain earned 5% less (16% less in the United States) than their heterosexual colleagues. Again, this sexuality pay gap reminds me of the gender pay gap in this country. I also sometimes wonder why gay men are as likely as women to experience mental health issues.
Once in Cindies I felt a hand squeezing my bum. Turning around, I see a straight male friend who justifies his non-consensual actions thus; “but surely you like it – being gay.” He’s right, I do – he was better looking than any man in the club; “but I still like consent more.” The next morning, eating breakfast sober, he explained to me that nowadays, in this new ‘feminist’ age, it is unacceptable to touch a girl. So he’ll touch a gay man instead. He wasn’t even apologetic.
At another occasion, drinking with some people I’d recently met, I was bent over and thrust into by a ‘straight’ lad. It wasn’t sexual attraction, the clothes stayed on. It was for public show – a display of proud dominance in front of his friends. This would be misogyny if I were female and the CUSU Women’s Campaign would wage war against the whole drinking society burning it to the ground.
But right now misogyny burns me each and every day – like any other woman.
I’m not female though and the CUSU Women’s Campaign won’t stand up for me.
So surely, CUSU LGBT+ would? After all, I’m on the committee…
Misogyny isn’t a specialty of LGBT+ campaigns, however.
Who will stand up for me then?
Gay men need feminism.
And feminism has a duty to them.
Hesham Mashhour (GR. Chief Editor & Director)
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