In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) Dr. Richard Ruth traces the convergence and subsequent divergence of the feminist movement and the gay liberation movement. He points out that, while both movements borrowed from each other in ways of consciousness-raising, the gay movement carries within it a strain that devalues women. This position would certainly not be universal but is still recognizable. Dr. Ruth presents a clinical case in which two gay men are raising a son who is the biological child of one the men while he was in a traditional marriage. His broader point is that when diverse groups become the “other” it is difficult for oppressed groups of all types to work together against oppression.
Dr. Ruth writes: From the beginning second wave femini while sm recognized, and taught the broader society and its social movements, about the intimate ways that oppression reaches deeply into subjective experience and personal, emotional realities. This was captured in the insight that “the personal is political” (Hanisch, 2006/1969) and in the methodology of consciousness-raising groups (Larson, 2014) that the women’s movement of the time practiced and spread widely.
In 1969, gay men and lesbians in the US were inspired by the example of the women’s movement, and other social movements of the time, to take a public stand for our right to live in freedom, and with pride. (While the gay movement included both gay men and lesbians, the alliances were loose, with more differences in focus than a common trajectory [Johnston, 1973]. Similarly, the distinct narratives and experiences of gay men of color [Beam, 1986; Brown, 2014; Hemphill, 1991; Leong, 2014; Marsiglia, 1998; Rodriguez, 2006] deserve separate treatment.) Beginning with a violent protest against police harassment at the Stonewall bar in New York, led by drag queens (Duberman, 2013), a movement that called itself the gay liberation movement arose (Cruikshank, 1992; Kissack, 1995; Thompson, 1994; Valocchi, 1999a). The movement named itself consciously paralleling the way feminism denominated itself as a women’s liberation movement, and the ways other radical social movements of the time in the US and the Third World named themselves, and framed itself intentionally not as a narrowly focused movement for civil rights, but as a movement with an ambitious broader scope – in its own conceptualization, liberation, with both personal and political dimensions (Valocchi, 2001).
The movement of gay men that began at Stonewall adopted the use of consciousness raising groups from the women’s movement (Jay & Young, 1992). Across the US, and in other countries in Europe and Latin America, small, intimate groups of gay men met to share our experiences, learning that our shame, inhibitions, and experiences of internalized homophobia were not private or unique experiences, but rather were the psychological expression of a collective oppression (Larson, 3014). The movement intentionally melded consciousness raising with other forms of political activity, following the vision and successful trajectory of the women’s movement of the time (Jay & Young, 1992; Teal, 1971).
In the next post Dr. Ruth describes his own poignant history of coming out as a gay man.