Sociologist, Oscar Guasch teaches sexual criminology and Sociology of Sexuality at the University of Barcelona. His activity articulates around the identification and reconstruction of the discourses and practices of ‘power’, the origins and political uses of heterosexuality, the social consequences of AIDS and the masculine identities and homophobia, among others. At present he is carrying out an investigation on prostitution among men in Barcelona.
In your writings you criticize the hegemonic gay movement basically for accepting to be tolerated at the price of laminating its diversity and for being incapable of legitimizing and exporting the love among men to the whole group of them.
There exist social processes that are born to free people but with the time become normalizers. The feminist movements, for instance, start to free women but certain feminisms becomes ‘state feminism’ or marxisism, which is born to free the proletariat but certain Marxism becomes proletariat dictatorship and real socialism. The gay movement is born to fight homophobia but in the end a certain part of it says exactly how homosexual people have to be. If you are poor, old and homosexual you do not have social visibility.
Why did the hegemonic gay movement become normalizer?
For a collection of factors. The ‘pink peseta’, that is the fact the ghetto, which is never volunteer but a strategy of the subordinate groups to survive in an hostile environment, generates an important market of consumption. The political context, which in Spain has surely to do with the ‘zapaterism’, that is with an attempt of redefinition of the left wing starting from social policies of visibility that cost no money such as the law regulating the homosexual marriage.
The existence of certain gay leaders who have used the movement to promote themselves, something that happens everywhere. A certain need of many homosexual people to be accepted, to be able to say ‘I am normal too, I can get married’ and a lot of well versed homophobia by many homosexuals, the fact of being able to say ‘I am a correct homosexual, I am not promiscuous, I am not effeminate, I am not a queen’. All this has created a context where a certain archetypal model of ‘gay to imitate’ was produced.
The crisis will change this all. Spain has passed in the last 15 years from the sheep to the convertible. In the next future we will become a modest country and this is going to create many social problems for what to acceptation is concerned. A lot of people will be demanding authoritarianism and order and there will be social rage casted on immigrants, probably on the homosexuals and trans they will find close because it is very complicated for a society to have its social status diminished.
What does it mean, as you state in ‘La sociedad rosa’ (the pink society) and in ‘Heroes, cientificos, heterosexuales y gays’, (Heroes, scientists, heterosexuals and gays) that ‘where the true men are defined as virile the fags reproduce themselves thanks to homophobia’?
The gay socially presentable is funny, nice, knows about fashion, is respectful, you can bring him to any party. Some accept the role of pleasant and friend of all the girls. I do not criticize the cabaret nor the irony but when this is done to fit in what the others expect from one.
In Spain HIV infections among homosexuals are increasing
It is because of a lack of historical memory. People from my generation, those who are between 45 and 60, do remember very well all the people who died but the youngsters, thanks to the antiretroviral treatment which has made AIDS a chronic illness do not have that sense of danger. I would say that somehow the Spanish gay movement has settled down in the success. A social feeling that thanks to the homosexual marriage homophobia disappears has been established. Nevertheless it is not so. Indeed a big international success of the gay movement was to segregate the HIV/AIDS from homosexuality, which before was called the ‘gay cancer’ while now it is a common belief that it can happen to anyone. Anyway even inside the homosexual movement there exist discrimination towards people who have HIV/AIDS.
If, as you wrote, during the XIX century the medical discourse turned into dissent the non reproductive and non heterosexual sexual practises replacing religion in the social control of sexuality.
Who replaces medicine nowadays?
Sexual behaviours are social behaviours and, as such, do have norms, rules and prohibitions. If Christianity defines sins, medicine, in collaboration with the law, characterizes from a medical point of view those who commit attacks against morality or decency. All those that were religious categories, not only the sexual ones, were replaced with pathologies. The ‘you won’t steal’ with kleptomania, the ‘Earn thy bread by the sweat of the brow’ with occupational therapy.
Today it is the market the one dictating the rules of the possible, the allowable and the recommendable through the dictatorship of image and consumption. Nowadays a healthy person is one who has purchasing power. Sexuality has become a product of consumption. The interchange couple’s clubs, prostitution, sexual tourism (not necessarily children’s nor only for men). The idea that we always have to be presentable for the eventuality of sex, especially women. It keeps being a sexuality viewed in a male perspective, where penetration and orgasm rule and where the stable couple is the desirable objective. Penetration is marvellous and so is if someone has a couple and enjoys it, what it is sad is to think one cannot be happy without achieving them.
You also state that ‘the current gay trash-identity creates such an over-meaning around love between men that whoever loves another is immediately classified as gay (even if he doesn’t want to). It is an unstoppable and reductionist process that defines in an univocal and claustrophobic way people’s identity and that prevents and block the extension of love between men to the whole group of them’.
The original project of the gay movement was not to create ‘the gay’ but that all the men could be aware of the fact that they could love other men and that nothing would happen. Loving each other as men and fighting homophobia.
There exist two kinds of homophobia. The simple one, that is to hate homosexuals and the complex one, that is the problem that many men have to be treated as women or as not enough men. This is the real problem and it also affects many homosexual persons.
The fact is that being gays is absurd…or better said I understand the fact of being one as a form of resistance that has biographic context. If you are 12, 13 years old and recognize yourself as lesbian, for instance, there comes a time when you say ‘why am I being insulted?’ and as a strategy of resistance you need an identity to resist the oppression, to reconstruct yourself, to feel proud, but with 60 years of age in a democratic society such as Spain are we going to keep being gays? Well, I think we need to keep fighting homophobia but aren’t there other ways of doing it besides the gay identity? I think there are.
Throughout visibility of the diversity, by having people understand that minorities are very diverse, that there are homosexuals who do not know how to cook, there are intelligent and silly ones, there are lesbians who want to be mothers and others who hate maternity…
How can people see that?
It is already happening. The new homosexual generations are taking paternity as a real chance. This is an important change because it somehow free women from the social function of maternity. The woman, who has always been thought as biologically directed to education all of a sudden says ‘ah, maternity can be a social function, not a biological one and whoever can do it’. This kind of change makes it possible for people who stay out of the hegemonic model and who consider to become fathers through womb for rent or adoption, that is different life styles from those previewed for them, to start appearing.
Did you consider it for yourself?
I quit being gay long time ago. I was and I enjoyed it very much inside the ghetto but in my biography it had an expiration date. I am still against homophobia and for the respect of diversity but without labels.
Which differences were there between when you were and when you stopped being gay?
The way I think myself and the way I connect with the others. I was a young, gay, funny teacher and it came a time when I got sick of that role. I am a university teacher and I am many more things than gay.
What about being a father?
I have never considered it but I think it has much more to do with selfishness. It is true, though, that people of my generation were socialized with the idea that paternity was not proper of homosexuals.
When you were young did you feel you were discriminated against for being homosexual?
No but I was. Any teenager has to manage some king of strategy to survive. In my case I was not too effeminate and could hide it. The problem is not as much being gay as it is to look like one. There are effeminate kids who will never be homosexual but are treated as if they were and perhaps others who are but do not look like it can survive better at school for instance.
Why is classifying as gay whoever loves other men an unstoppable process?
Today any man who loves another is defined and treated as gay while there are many women who at some point love other women but this does not question their gender identity in the same way as it does with men. It is not as much a question of sexuality as it is of gender.
Women, with more or less success, have already done their devolution, men have not. The strategies of gender control for women, as the author Dolores Juliano says, is the whore, that is a whore is any woman who goes beyond the gender border. A woman at four in the morning in a bar with a whiskie in her hand from a male perspective is a whore and she won’t be treated as a respectable woman. The ‘political whores’ claim the category whore by saying ‘I define myself as a whore even if I don’t get paid for sex in order to be supportive with sexual workers and because I do not want the patriarchate to tell me what are my gender borders.
In the case of men perhaps we could claim ‘I am a faggoty, a wimpish, a loser, I am scared, so what? It would be to renounce masculinity. I believe there are two possible strategies. One is the reform, that is to reformulate masculinity to build a more empathic, affectionate and vulnerable one. The other is the renounce one.
How is it possible to make someone who has privileges see it is advantageous to lose them?
Mikel Kimmel explains that gender is invisible for men in the same way as race is for ‘white’ people. These are historical processes far to reach. Now with the new technologies things are changing. Muscles do for the industrial revolution, for war, factories, mines but with the new technologies what do they do for?
The new society is a subtle one and this is going to change masculinity because we will have to adapt to the new context. The last residue of the muscular man can be found only in soccer and at the gym.
In ‘Heroes’, that is in 2006, you said that it was too early to see what the consequences of the arrival in Spain of immigrants coming from countries where the gay identity coexisted with subordinate masculinities not eliminated by globalization could be but that its integration in the hegemonic gay culture was a question of time. What has happened meanwhile?
I believe they have already been integrated. A friend of mine who had a Portuguese boyfriend recently showed me two pictures of him, one of when he had just moved to Barcelona and the other of six years after. The first one is the picture of a guy with short swimming trunks, sideburns, hairy. In the second one he is completely shaven with a really small swimming trunk of the kind that bring testicles up. My friend said ‘look Oscar, this is what Barcelona does’.
This is more a funfair than a city but in general as Europeans we consider contributions coming from immigrants as barbarities brought by people coming from backward countries instead of trying to understand its social potential.
For what to the gender discriminations men face, besides the issue of maternity as a biological function we were talking about, you underline the sexist language which brings henpecked husband to be an insult or paternalist to be perceived only as a way of deny the capacity of the others to choose instead of being seen a san attempt to take care of them, the stereotyped male sexuality according to which boys would be always looking for a whole to put their dick, the non consensual paternity and the scholastic failure, which affects mainly the boys…
The last one is clear. Boys fail more because a boy has to be a compulsory rebel and if he does not face up to the system he is a fag, a swot or a squealer. Why is not gender used to think scholastic failure? If it were girls failing it would certainly be done and it would be very good. The same does not happen for boys because our society has assumed they are noisy, how aren’t they supposed to fail? (on the issue see ‘Scholastic failure, The unexpected gender solution and co-education’ by Daniel Gabarró)
Another aspect you underline is that if a male stranger touches a child for a start he is considered a pervert, a pederast
There is a little of social panic on that and it is a shame because affection is castrated in the case of men.
Finally you consider it is discriminatory to create laws that define in a partial way mistreatments by stating that abusers are always men
In the current legal context men are defined in a partial way. Saying that in a couple relationship if the one who commits physical aggression is the woman it is a misdemeanour while if it is the man who commits it is a crime contravenes a principle of equality before the law.
But it is not true that we are all equal before the law…
You are right but what disgusts me is not the law since it is correct that it tries to protect those who are most vulnerable, but its consequences, that is to think men and women as homogeneous groups. Not all the men are executioners nor are all women victims. There are men who exert violence towards other men for instance. It should be seen case by case.
This is a very sensitive issue and a slippery ground where according to how things are said it might seem one is justifying mistreatments, which I do not want to do at all.
Couple relationship often includes power relationship and there are many ways of exerting it. Who does exert physical violence are almost always men against women. Does that mean men cannot suffer some kind of aggression or aggressiveness by women and that they do not suffer consequently to those aggressions?
Anyways for many aggressions a man can receive a violent response can never be justified. Ever. One thing is that men can suffer aggressions, another justifying violence.
So how could that be reflected in the laws?
Aggressions towards trans and homosexuals should be included in the laws.
My doubt is how to give a legal space to the discrimination suffered by men without putting it at the same level as the ones suffered by women since they are not at the same level
No, they are not at the same level since women hold a subordinate status. I do not know how the legislation should be but I do believe it should consider case by case.
The myth of the evil, sneaky, liar women is strongly alive. How to treat the issue without strengthen it?
‘Men for Equality’ of Jerez consider there should never exist an institute of men as it exists one of the women but yes specific programmes dedicated to men. Nevertheless there is a problem of resources. There are already few dedicated to the discriminations women face and there is a need to set priorities… Anyway, and I believe it was Hannah Arendt who said it, you cannot free the slave if you don’t free the executioner at the same time…
In any case I, compared to when I wrote on these matters, believe it is a mistake to pose the gender oppression we the men face taking women as reference. In a sense it is inevitable but we should analyze it among ourselves since we are the ones who mostly discriminate other men and the ones who need to generate a critical discourse. We can make alliances and use feminist theoretical tools but it has to be an internal process.
My opinion is that the key is for men to accept being treated as women. In class I do the complex homophobia test. You are fathers and have a four years old boy and a girl twin. It is carnival and you go to the nursery. There comes the girl dressed up as Johnny Depp in The Pirates of the Carribean. She has moustaches and a patch. What do you do? You take a picture. There comes the boy. He has a princess crown and a pink ballet dress. What do you do? Do not answer me, think about it. You are going to say ‘this is a joke, how could you dress mi boy like that?
What advantages does being treated as a woman have?
The thing is that being a macho kills.
This interview was also published in the Spanish online magazine Pikara