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Remembering the 1980s

by Hans Hafkamp in Columns & Opinions , 03 March 2016

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
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A study that was published just before the turn of the year, shows that adult Germans see the 1980s as the preferred decade to live in if they could choose from the post WW II decades. Almost a quarter (23%) preferred the 1980s in this survey by the Deutsche Presse-Agentur. The 1980s are followed by the 1970s with eighteen percent, and the 1990s and the current decade (from 2010) with the same percentage (13%).

In spite of its legendary reputation, only nine percent would prefer to live in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t mention the age distribution of the respondents. I wouldn’t be surprised if prevalence is partly determined by which period one reached adulthood and started to discover what life had in store for them. What the results would be in the Netherlands is hard to estimate, but I think it very likely that they would be similar.

Well, the 1980s, the decade of House music and ecstasy, but also the onset of AIDS, at the start of my (gay) journalistic endeavors, in which the gay and women’s liberation movements were in their heyday. Both emancipatory movements were held in a firm embrace by left wing politics.

This is strange when you think about it, because in those countries in which “true socialism” was still in power, the situation for homosexuals usually was not very rosy. The close ties between left wing politics and gay emancipation is a curious phenomenon in the first place. For those interested in history, it has been established since the Ernst Röhm case that sexual orientation does not determine political preference, which for others became clear in the days of Pim Fortuyn at the latest.

The 1980s were a turbulent but productive period, in which the connection between the left and the emancipation movements certainly booked results. What strikes the eye looking back at the 1980s is the internal struggle that had to be fought everywhere. Traditionally, left wing politics was divided between, for instance, social-democrats and (Stalinist) communists. At Gay Studies, which was in the ascendant at various Dutch universities, there was ideological strife between the Amsterdam School (of thought) at the University of Amsterdam, that was inspire by the French philosopher Michel Foucault who argued that the current form of homosexuality was mostly an “invention” of the nineteenth century.

On the other side was the Utrecht Block (Utrechtse Zuil). This block was named after the leading man at the University of Utrecht, who was of the opinion that compartmentalization along socio-political lines had been instrumental in gay emancipation in the Netherlands, and that same-sex eroticism, when and wherever it took place, can be lumped together, and therefore was not afraid of describing Greek Love in modern terms.

The gay movement itself was divided as well, especially in the fight between gay men and lesbians that had surprisingly fanatic aspects, as some lesbians found it hard to come to terms with the fact that gay men are men, and therefore are partly responsible for at least two thousand years of suppression.

But do not think for a moment that those lesbians single mindedly were loving their sisters. No, even in this group (and women’s lib in general), there were constant battles between the Sad Girls and the Bad Girls. The bad girls were of the opinion that the women’s movement also meant a liberation for female sexuality and lust, and for example published the SM magazine “Slechte Meiden.”

The sad girls on the other hand saw oppression and discrimination everywhere and were against everything; against male-to-female transsexuality (that was male infiltration into the world of women) and against sadomasochism. They were also against pornography, and especially gay pornography was the worst, as in this category of porn, masculinity was worshiped and women ignored.

The porn fight becoming so intense was also due to the fact that (filmed) pornography was released on video for home use for the first time in the 1980s. Previously, one had to visit dubious cinemas to watch a porn movie or watch it at a bar or at someone’s home. I remember that in the late 1970s the bar of the ITC Hotel on the Prinsengracht suddenly emptied out on Saturday nights because a porn screening had started in the basement. Ten years later, you did not depend on the choice of the bar manager anymore, but could rent whatever you wanted to see. In the 1980s, homosexuality also became a subject that could be openly addressed in mainstream culture without an abundance of prejudice and stereotypes. The popularity in music of Boy George, and in cinema of “My Beautiful Laundrette,” are just two random examples of this.

For gay men, the liberation of lust and the possibility to explore sexuality in relative freedom, was an important one-up for emancipation. Even though the gay movement as a whole was willing to endorse a number of goals of women’s lib, such as the fight against “patriarchy” and traditional gender roles, they saw nothing in the feminist lust animosity, although that entered the gay rights movement after the terrifying onset of AIDS when some mediagenic spokespersons loudly began fulminating against promiscuous behavior.

Meanwhile, these discussions have become a thing of the past, but sometimes it is interesting recalling them.



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