The Danger of Disintegration in Transglobal Political Movements for Sex, Gender and Sexuality Freedom

Dr Tracie O'Keefe


Issue 4
November 1998

Throughout history we can look at the kind of social and political change that has occurred in different societies regarding sex, gender and sexuality. Patterns can be clearly defined that show that movements responsible for the changes were propelled by certain groups or individuals who had common causes and motivation.

Emmeline Pankhurst remains in British history as a key woman who persevered and lobbied for women to get the vote and formed an organisation called The Women's Social and Political Union. Kate Millet was an American feminist bisexual who wrote and pushed forward ideas about women's right to define their own sexuality. Barbara Castle, the British politician, stood shoulder to shoulder with women in the 1960s as they striked in order to get equal pay and respect from men in the workplace. Quentin Crisp through his notoriety and book The Naked Civil Servant, caused a shift in the ideas of many people for the open and honest portrayal of the prejudice that he suffered as a gay man in the 1930's and throughout his life.

Presently John Shirley is lobbying in England for the rights of fathers to be awarded custody of and access to their children. Madonna, the singer and actress, desensitises Hollywood to public displays of bondage and bisexuality. Dr Tuppy Owens in England formed and promotes an organisation called Sexual Freedom Coalition, campaigning for the rights of each individual to define their own sexual tastes and the abolition of archaic and prejudicial laws against sex workers.

Rosalind Miles, in her book The Women's History of The World, writes about how our histories since the commencement of the written word have been formed through the eyes of men. Her point is that we do not have a true record of events but only those seen through men's eyes that have been coloured by the nature of their own sex, gender and sexuality perceptions. During much of history women were considered as chattels and property of lowly intellectual ability; therefore their ideas were not recorded. History is now being rewritten in many quarters by women to rebalance and redress the distortions that have accrued. Undoubtedly the physical strength and violence of men was used against women to divide and conquer them and their political power was, by the nature of segregation, diluted.

It is also important to note that the political and social emergence upon the world's stage of the transsexual, transgendered, intersexed, and sex, gender and sexuality fluid individual is also causing history to be written differently now.

Jane Sasson wrote the books Princess and Daughter's of Arabia about life, for a woman, in Saudi Arabia who is considered the property of the males of her family and how she is unable to be a person in her own right in society. Her portrayal of imprisonment was so complete that the manuscripts had to be smuggled out of country and the author lived in fear of male retaliation against her for revealing the truth about her life. The stories tells of the imprisonment of women at the hands of their male captors from birth to death and how women are subject to the whims and fancies of the perpetrators of such slavery.

Muslim women are covered from head to toe in garments that disempower them by taking away their presence in society, and most of all their sexual power which has often been women's strongest defence against male aggression. Whilst such women are herded together in their own family units under the pretence of protection, their economic and political power is culled and stolen by them being prevented from working, being independent or even simply running naked in the rain, for fear of being stoned to death.

For maximum political and social change it is always a matter of judging the right time and place to assert ideas, protestations and ride on the crest of a wave of social change. Some movements may continue for centuries to try to get the change required and others may be fortunate in capturing the mood of public events and achieve their goals in a very short time. More than anything though it is the unsung heroes who toil away in very perfunctory manner, sending out leaflets, lobbying politicians, giving talks, constantly writing letters and organising the movement that are the ones who truly make change happen. Strong and powerful movements do not necessarily have to have enormous amounts of people behind them, but they do need clear, concise, efficient and well-executed communications taking place within their ranks and with the general public.

Such movements need to present a public front suggesting solidarity. Fighting amongst the members of any political organisation undoubtedly undermines the public's confidence in that movement knowing what it is talking about. In-fighting and disagreement between members whilst trying to present a united front is no less than the kiss of death for any political and lobbying movement, as the radical feminist movement of the 1970s found to its cost. Division and subdivision into splinter groups or alternative pressure groups also weakens the structure and momentum of any political power that the original movement tried to assert upon the law-makers.

Although the occurrence of division and substructures is a natural process that takes place as any political lobbying movement gains momentum and grows, it can never be emphasised enough, that division will greatly weaken momentum as well as sometimes being a strength. It should be remembered that the force of political change is generally driven in democracy by the pressure of the many and not the aspirations of the few. What can also be said to be true that splinter groups bring new contributions to help the development of ideas and philosophies that are unable to grow and flourish within the structure of larger movements. Indeed subversion, at times, has as much of an honoured place in the structure of political change as unity does.

Historically, change of laws and social attitudes only becomes possible under the guidance of the those who know how to create unity, for whatever reason, and can circumnavigate dissent from within. Moses, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Boadicea, Genghis Khan, Mohammed, Elizabeth I of England, Oliver Cromwell, Robespierre, Abraham Lincoln, Lawrence of Arabia, Mao Tse Tung, Lenin, Golda Meir, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, John Lennon, Timothy Leary and Oprah Winfrey, all possess qualities that led and motivated people together in common causes. The ability to politically persuade not only led these people to be apart from previous ideas, but also to distil a consensus of opinions, ideals and aspirations of the masses at that particular moment in time. Such kinds of leaders are experts in backwards communication where an individual can lead a group of people to proffer a set of ideas that the individual has suggested to them, even though the group believes they are their own ideas.

Whilst many of the above moved social change and attitudes towards sex, gender and sexuality in their own way and preferred direction, they were always challenged and opposed by sects with differing philosophies. Such is the nature of evolution and survival of the fittest when one set of human beings finds fault with another to knock the opposition out of the food chain. No matter how sophisticated we may think we have become as a species we are still always subject to primal, base instincts of marking and protecting territories, whether they are a metre or a thousand square miles.

Movements that attempt to change social, political and legal attitudes to sex, gender and sexuality can have hidden, adjunctive or alternative agendas that both aid or sabotage their cause. Therefore it is imperative that those who structure such movements are ever vigilant for fractures in solidarity and do not allow personality clashes to cause rifts that will weaken the central political strength of numbers that can be the movement's greatest ally. The primary rule of any general going into battle is to divide and conquer and that is also the rule by which fascists, bigots, racists, homophobes, transphobes and the ignorant operate too when faced with calls for personal freedom. Finally, as important as constantly guarding against splits in solidarity, movements should also continue to seek and strengthen alliances, remembering that in a democracy it is generally numbers that count. The wooing of the masses needs to be constant, ever sweetening and a relentless attempt to educate and enthral the general public about the kind of philosophies the movement is putting forward. Liberty to define oneself is only liberty until it becomes someone else's prison, and having gained that liberty one should also remember it can so easily be eroded by those with different agendas.

Dr Tracie O'Keefe DCH is a clinical hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, and counsellor formerly practising at The London Medical Centre, Harley Street in the UK. Now the Director of the Sex, Gender, and Sexuality Identity Clinic, at The O'Keefe Institute, Sydney, Australia.
In asociation with Katrina Fox, she is the author of a number of books, details of which may be found on her website:
Their latest publication is Finding the Real Me: True Tales of Sex & Gender Diversity, published by Jossey Bass Wiley

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