When we think about the word ‘minority’ the word ‘oppression’ often follows close behind. History would certainly support this relationship. Gender, race, and sexuality are just some of the big names in oppression from the last 100 years, but fortunately, during this time, a lot of incredible progress has been made by many brave individuals who put their name, freedom, or even life on the line on the never ending treadmill of equality.
'85% of men who identify as gay agree that their family is mostly ok with their sexuality mostly of the time.'
But for a lot of Australians who identify as gay in 2019, especially very young Australians, oppression based on their sexuality simply isn’t a part of their reality. At all. Ever. Even within their family, around 85% of men who identify as gay agree that their family is mostly ok with their sexuality mostly of the time (see: '80% of gay men wouldn't go straight if they could'). While the external fight rages on for the unfortunate 15% - all of whom are far worse off than guys like me - for the purposes of this article I’d like to bring your attention to what I’d call the majority of the minority. While they’ve been lucky enough to be presented with a life that has transcended the external oppression of the past, I believe the internal repression lives on, almost untouched.
But, just as when the oxygen masks drop from above, we should get the 85% sorted so that we can effectively aid the other passengers. We need to deal with our repressive tendencies.
Oppression usually involves an excessive and pervasive authority ‘holding down’ a person or group. This is what most people think of when they think back on the social injustices of the past. Repression, although similar in definition, tends to lack some of the political innuendo. For the purposes of this article, oppression will be considered the external pressure on a person or group, and repression the internal, self-structured pressure.
For males who enjoy sexual activity with other males, and for those who identify as gay, repression might involve rejecting some aspect of their sexuality. But repression isn’t just reserved for the stereotype of the star school athlete who likes to sleep with other guys on the sly - it’s not just about sexuality.
'We really want ‘mates’, ‘blokes’ and other ‘guys’ with whom we can act out the sacred aspects of our innate masculinity.'
I believe males chemically carry with us an extraordinary desire to be a part of a group that goes beyond the general human desire to belong. We really want ‘mates’, ‘blokes’ and other ‘guys’ with whom we can act out the sacred aspects of our innate masculinity. The 12 year olds inside all men are relentless like that. And just like a 12 year old, if you believe that something you did or something you value doesn’t align with the rest of ‘the boys’, then your favoured repression reaction (repraction?) might kick into gear. Whether it’s a gay identifying man needing to hang out exclusively with other gay identifying men, or the footy boys needing to meet at the pub to watch ‘the game’, men know what they want and they get itchy without it.
‘Repraction’ is an old friend of most males. It is the conscious changes we make to our thoughts, actions, values, and beliefs - often involving the omission or rejection of a reality - that we hope will achieve one of three outcomes: belonging, empathy, or organisation.
I should reiterate: I’m not just talking about sexuality here.
The situations that trigger these modern day ‘episodes’ of repression may be highly individual and complex, but I believe there are three categories that accurately capture the gist of it.
This is the ‘repraction’ scenario that all humans know very well. Adding or omitting details about ourselves to increase our chances of fitting into a group.
The first example that comes to mind for me is how I expressed myself while a part of a soccer team this past year. I would tip toe around any mention of girls or going out, or anything to do with relationships in general. Even in 2019, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the guys on that team knowing my sexuality. But it wasn’t because I was worried about what they’d think of me (that era is on its last legs), it was because I knew it would mean that they may not understand that part of me. As a result, it might have driven an insidious wedge between them and I, based entirely on ignorance.
The other scenario that comes to mind is when one of the guys on the team was first telling us about himself, and he mentioned how he really likes to dance. This was quickly followed by ‘oh, but I’m not gay or anything’.
Interesting, don’t you think? Him and I both wanted to belong with ‘the guys’, so it was important that whoever we presented to them made sense to them. Again, men are simple like that.
This is when you might omit something about yourself because you believe that piece of information will make the other person feel bad or uncomfortable. This immediately brings to mind a 20 year old gay guy I spoke with just last week. His parents are muslim and moderately religious, so he was hoping to keep his sexuality from them for as long as possible. He knew his mother wouldn’t understand. And she didn’t.
She did, however, come around within 5 months because someone helped her to understand - in her native tongue - what it actually means to be a gay man.
This last one tends to pop up in men who don’t fully understand who they are. I draw on an example of an ex boyfriend who would often say how much he hates gay men and the flamboyant, camp stereotype, but then when Mardi Gras rolled around he would get into a pair of shorty shorts and go to ‘werk’. This type of man tends to present in mismatched pieces and be riddled with stark inconsistencies.
'Over the past four decades it has become apparent that greater acceptance does not necessarily mean a declining sense of identity. Indeed, in some ways the two seem to be interrelated, which is a conundrum worth exploring.' (The End of the Homosexual, p 27)
There is a simple trend between these three motives for repression: a lack of understanding. The guys on the soccer team just wouldn’t ‘get me’ if they found out, right? That 20 year old’s mother simply couldn’t make sense of what it meant to be gay, and so it tore her up on the inside. And the disorganised man? He just wants to know who the hell he is, because even he doesn’t understand it yet.
Dennis Altman (author of 'The End of the Homosexual') might agree that this is where projects like ‘I’m Not Gay’ can make a difference. If we help society, gay and straight, understand what it actually means to be gay in 2019 and beyond, if we tighten up and seriously evaluate the state of a grossly misunderstood identity, just imagine the consistent sense of contentment and esteem that could be granted to the young gay men of tomorrow.
Atlman, D. (2013) The End of the Homosexual?. Queensland, University of Queensland Press
Nathan helps people to express themselves at home, at school, and in the workplace, all around the world. He's passionate about thinking, and engages in it regularly. He's not overly fond of writing in the third person though. It's weird. Connect with him on Facebook to continue the conversation, make a video at colourbeat.com, or even share a dance with him at movewithcolour.com!
Gay men today are arguably more accepted yet maintain a sense of repression.
This repression is enacted out of a desire to belong, empathy for another person, or from the disorganisation of self.
We should help straight and gay people understand what it really means to be gay in 2019 to help ease the repression.