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Jan 30, 2014

Razer's class warfare: homosexuality a dangerous Western invention

Sexuality doesn't exist; it's a Western construct. The human rights framework that we should all love who we love is a solution to a Western problem -- and not a very good one.


The truth is rarely pure and never simple. So says Algy Moncrieff, Oscar Wilde’s impure instrument of truth in The Importance of Being Earnest. Wilde was as certain about the difficult nature of truth as he was of his own genius and of the need for restraint in home furnishings. He was, as you probably agree, right on all counts …

Oscar Wilde

Wilde would have been pleased with the rustic minimalism in which the middle class now prefers to deck its homes; it seems we finally took his decor advice. Many have failed, however, to understand his explicit advice on the nature of truth.

“It’s so simple,” said Stephen Fry on ABC1 last Sunday. This statement, made by a man sufficiently familiar with Wilde as to play him in a feature film, is a general worry as much as it was a particular concern when it had as its object global homophobia.

As Fry had it on the two-part documentary Out There, the disdain for what he calls “gay” makes as much sense as an objection to “red telephone boxes”. Why, asks Fry, are people struggling to accept how “some of us love”?

The answer is that the truth is difficult. Of course, disdain for homosexual practice or identity is stupid but that doesn’t mean that it is also simple. Just as many struggle to accept how “some of us love” (Fry doesn’t care to mention how some of us have sex — a topic all-but-forbidden in an era where even the Sydney Mardi Gras uses Parental Advisory warnings), Fry struggles to understand how Some of Us Think. Which is not exactly as he, a fairly standard liberal humanist, does.

Fry believes that homophobia, like the gay identity it opposes, is universal — that it comes from the same simple impulse of fear. This is even despite evidence from a Sri Lankan chap he interviews. “There was no law against it until you British enforced it,” he says, and, still Fry is unable to see that the very idea of homosexual identity, first codified and medicalised by European democracy, is one that he continues to export.

Homosexual identity is not the same thing as homosexual practice. Gore Vidal, who never supposed the truth to be simple or pure, said it crisply:

“Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people.”

But the real-world “truth” is that homosexual people are an innovation of liberal democracy. Homosexual acts, of course, are just natural and normal, but homosexual people and the laws against them are one of the West’s many unpleasant and dangerous exports.

Fry’s “simple” human rights framework that we should “all just love” is a Western solution to a Western problem. And one that ignores the many reasons for global persecution of people who perform homosexual acts.  Currently in Nigeria, for example, embattled President Goodluck Jonathan is strategically opposing homosexuality as a Western value. Post-colonial scholars point out the arrogance of universalised rights for “gays” who never existed with a separate identity in many Islamic nations before the ever-helpful West franchised first a legal system to condemn and then a human rights agenda to liberate.

I do understand that this can be a difficult and confusing argument; I was a queer studies student for years, and I continue to find the separation of homosexual identity and homosexual practice an intellectual challenge. But things to do with the truth are difficult, and Stephen Fry, an intelligent Wildean man, should know this. But he didn’t, or at least, pretends not to, and I found myself so frustrated with his belief that the West is a model for tolerance and not, in fact, the effing starting point for intolerance that has led directly to the persecution of people who do homosexual things in Africa, I turned over to the Grammys.

I was just in time to see the egregious “hip-hop” “artist” Macklemore win a number of awards for genuinely terrible music and perform the hideous anthem to marriage, Same Love.

Macklemore, who has been at previous pains to point out that he is not A Gay …

… did a good job of showing us by means of a terrible oeuvre that he is also not a guy who cares to think of the truth as anything more than pure and simple.

The white Macklemore, who blames hip-hop and, by extension, African-American men for homophobia, is not only purely and simply wrong about the world in Same Love. He is also wrong about it Thrift Shop, where he seems to be blaming African-American men for consumerism. I do not care to provide an exegesis for the song Can’t Hold Us. But I will say that it reminds me of the Christian hip-hop fusion of DC Talk.

As Slate’s Jack Hamilton reminds us, we should not hate Macklemore because he is white. Rather, we should abhor him for the same reasons we do Stephen Fry. That is, for his habit of pointing to the world’s most disenfranchised and, as it happens, darkest people as the source and not as the target of injustice.

If only those Ugandans would do things as we do! If only that Kanye West would think as Macklemore does! Then, the pure and simple truth would RISE and we could all get married to Madonna by Queen Latifah because, after all, we are One World!

But we are not one world. There is not one truth. There are multiple injustices to which a single salve is not just the pure and simple idea, shared by political leaders, well-regarded BBC television stars and hip-hop artists alike, that LOVE is the answer.

Wilde would have despised the liberalism and the hideous anti-Kanye doggerel of Macklemore.  He would have questioned, as he did in Earnest, both his earnestness and idea of marriage as a moral solution.

As for the bland humanist decoration of Stephen Fry he might have said, as he reportedly did at his deathbed, either that wallpaper goes or I do.


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18 thoughts on “Razer’s class warfare: homosexuality a dangerous Western invention

  1. Catherine Scott

    Loved this. Humans can’t resist turning any old vague tendency into a Thing with a Label. Well maybe that’s westerners with their individualist culture. Helen’s evidence supports that.

    And then there’s wanting to be different anything but ordinary.

    And turning what looks like a stigma into a badge of distinction, as I rediscovered a few months back when I copped an online mobbing from people who apparently see their having had trouble with early literacy as a sign that their brain is different in a way that gives them a unique and special and valuable way of looking at the world. Pigs *rse. They had the common experience of falling foul of the messy English spelling system and really poor ways of teaching reading.

    Off topic except that people love to turn any old thing into a badge of distinction.

  2. Jan Forrester

    SPOT ON. Not only that but various cultures cope with the idea, if not always the reality (we ARE human) of bisexual relationships outside/inside relationships/marriage – and still have children who are loved. Westerners nastily outlawed and have now fetishised a part of human sexuality. Unfortunately this subject brings out the unctuous side of the ABC-sponsored ubiquitous Mr Fry.

  3. Dogs breakfast

    I had often wondered what was discussed in ‘queer studies’. Is ‘raging against not very much at all’ an integral part of the curriculum?

    It’s hard to tell exactly what Ms Razer is most upset about, that Stephen Fry didn’t ask the right questions, or that she doesn’t like Macklemore. Did I miss something.

    Or is it that western culture cyclically creates and then saves the ‘demons’ it creates. Of course it’s true, but what culture is that not true of? Culture is, by definition, conformity, and ultimately demonisation of those who do not conform. Just like people, I suppose. The chief skill for success in western culture, today more than ever, is looking like you are somehow an individual, while assuming complete conformity at every level.

    Interesting comment Ms Scott. I’m not sure the western culture is at all individualistic, although I recognise you may have been saying that ironically. If you had an opinion on how the illiterate, or reading-challenged, re-branding themselves as somehow ‘unique and special and valuable, you will enjoy following some of the discussions re ADHD children, and how gifted they are.

  4. Venise Alstergren

    Stephen Fry came across like a Walt Disney cartoon. Well meaning but hopeless and having brought up the subject to begin with he seemed too diffident to make his points-if he had any.

    He seems to be a nice sort of human being but he managed to get me off-side when he declared (all) women to be disinterested in sex. On the basis that females didn’t lurk in public lavatories waiting to gang-rape men!

    With that kind of reasoning I gave up on him.

  5. klewso

    I can’t understand the fascination for some in car racing – but I wouldn’t dream of trying to convert those so affected (and those with whom they congregate, of similar interest) to normal, no more than they would me, for what I’m “missing”?

  6. 64magpies

    Noooooooooooooo! Lay off Fry Razor, or else!!!!!

  7. Richard

    That Macklemore take-down was on point.

  8. Leroy

    “And one that ignores the many reasons for global persecution of people who perform homosexual acts. Currently in Nigeria, for example, embattled President Goodluck Jonathan is strategically opposing homosexuality as a Western value”

    It the same in Russia at the moment. The recent ABC doco “The Iron Closet” on the use of anti-gay laws as proxy for Nationalism & Anti Western-Liberalism is worth watching.


    On Putin’s Conservative strategy more generally, which this is a part of, see…

    “Vladimir Ilyich Putin, Conservative Icon”
    December 19, 2013

  9. sparky

    My friends from non-Western democracies (did you bother to speak to any)tell me that the acts and relationships exist in their countries as well and to a similar level as Australia, in parallel with marriages. Their countries just don’t like it being spoken about, it makes the cultures of deceit uncomfortable. Just like it does ours.

  10. Avril Hannah-Jones

    People are being imprisoned, beaten up, correctively raped and killed for their sexuality – and Razer is angry at ‘liberals’.

  11. Anon

    Enjoyed the article, Helen, but are you asserting/implying that homosexual exclusivity could be a Western creation? If so, that’s a fascinating topic—it doesn’t make intuitive sense to me that anyone is purely heterosexual or homosexual, but when I talk to gay men in particular most are quite clear that they’ve never felt any attraction to women. I don’t know if that’s another form of repression, or just the way they are.

    If that’s not what you meant at all, and it’s simply the identity per se you’re arguing with, the answer seems pretty clear: homosexual identity exists because homosexuality has more often than not been criminalised and pathologised. That’s not just a European thing; many (though far from all) societies have oppressed people for homosexual acts. It’s kind of perfectly understandable that gay/lesbian identity should emerge as a way of coping with that oppression, and I’d hardly begrudge any person from claiming such an identity so long as it works for them. Identity can be healthy, after all, whether it’s being a leftist, a goth or a provocateur. There’s nothing so special or unique about homosexuality being included in that list.

  12. Blair Martin

    As Germaine Greer ages and passes into the sunset of memory, is Helen Razer attempting to take her place?

    Oh, and if you can’t quote something correctly, don’t quote it at all (“red telephones” not “red telephone boxes”). A pedant’s point to be sure, however Ms Razer appears to share pedantry as a virtue.

  13. linda

    Once again, probably not wrong, but such an odd target.
    I wish Razer would level her undoubted ability to turn a neat phrase & apply invective with humour to the real pricks of the world (one of whom Mr Fry – while vaguely annoying -is most definitely not. Instead she continues to hack away at ideologically-muddled but well-meaning folk.
    Razer is right about our refusal to acknowledge that the real problem is a triumphant global uber-capitalism BUT the people who are using that to do real harm are not usually gay rights activists!

  14. Matthew in Sydney

    Helen needs to get over this who-cares-about-gay-marriage-it’s-just-a-distraction-from-other-things-I’m-angry-about-though-I’m-not-talking-about-them-now-because-I-only-enjoy-talking-about-my-irritation stuff. She’s been going off on this tangent a bit lately. I haven’t actually seen an actual argument against or for marriage equality, just whinging over people who are going about trying to get it in a way that Helen wouldn’t have done, ranting at the do-gooders. A bit Miranda Devinish.
    Yes, Mr Fry can sometimes be irritatingly smug, but I don’t believe that would have gained any disapproval from Wilde (cruelty was a bigger beef with him). And while Macklemore’s Thrift Shop song is actually great (if you make the effort to watch it with it’s video – Wilde would have appreciated the outfits), that Same Love song always irritates me (the ‘I can’t change, even if I wanted to’ line isn’t a line any actual gay person I know would sing). But get over it Helen. Some feminists are humourless, maybe Nelson Mandela had a bad singing voice, so?
    Sure, Homosexuality and Gayness as we understand it is a Western invention, but why pick on it? Our vision of ‘Heterosexuality’ is no more universal. It’s a fun topic of discussion for uni students, but not really all that useful as a point of focus when actual people are affected by actual laws. A prison cell is a prison cell.
    If there’s no sexuality, just sexual activity, it doesn’t wipe away the issue – bigotry against people who are ‘gay’ is no worse or better than bigotry against people who have no western-style construction of their own sexuality, but happen to indulge in same-sex sex and have no interest in any other. If two men in Iran wish to have a sexual relationship, their government is completely fine with it – as long as one of them agrees to have a sex change. Couples who agree to go through this process, even though neither of them actually desired to be a different sex in the first place, can be irreparably damaged. That pisses me off. And the damage done isn’t merely a construction of the arrogant Western imagination.

  15. CathyS

    This is so good. Damned sharp, Razer.
    (I have never worked out why we are all supposed to adore everything that Fry says, even when it is so often overtly classist and colonialist.)

  16. Colin Smith

    Even if non-Western countries don’t acknowledge homosexual identity, there is still the injustice caused by their laws severely punishing same-sex activity. These laws result from fear of people who act differently (the “other”) and from condemnations in the Bible and the Qur’an. Perhaps Razer could tell us how non-Western countries can be persuaded that, in her words, homosexual acts are just natural and normal.

  17. klewso

    I found the basis of one of his assertions quite interesting – this “fear of compulsion”? Homosexuals aren’t trying to convert us that aren’t naturally interested in their natural inclinations and what tickles their fancies?
    We all click to different sheers.
    It would be as riveting and something to get euphoric about partaking in as attending a Nazi rally; or a shark cull; or being forced to sit through The Ring Cycle, when there was a Bruce Springsteen concert on next door?

    Such forced participation (the prospect of which homophobes seem obsessed with?) would be counter productive – and engender negativity?

  18. Will

    The broken record that is Razer on identity politics. Sigh.
    It is not enough to simply point out that sexual practice and sexual identity aren’t the same thing to say homosexuality doesn’t exist. Nor is such a sentiment warranted by the trite observation that the modern spectrum of sexual identity emerged from a specific cultural context. Humans are fundamentally creatures of social context, so to argue from some kind of Hobbesian state of nature about sexual orientation and identity is fundamentally asinine.


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