A gayer place than you think: If homosexuals were afforded equal rights, bisexuality would be the norm in Britain, argues Peter Tatchell

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The Independent Online
THE controversy over the proportion of lesbians and gay men in the population is a huge irrelevance. Whether queers are 10 per cent or one per cent we are entitled to human rights. The current campaign for an equal age of consent

for gay men does not hinge on numbers. It is about the principle of equality and the right to sexual self-determination.

The age of consent debate is largely about the extent to which our society is prepared officially to sanction sexual diversity. The present law, which denies gay men under 21 the right to love the person of their choice, is symptomatic of a wider social homophobia which rejects erotic pluralism and demands conformity to exclusive heterosexuality.

It does not make sense automatically to exclude the possibility of sexual and emotional relationships with half the population. Nevertheless that is what a majority of people do, and it is lesbians and gay men who pay the price. Homosexuals have to suffer denigration so that those heterosexuals who are insecure about their sexual identity can feel superior in their relationships with the opposite sex.

Queers tend to be more generous than straight supremacists. Our suffering has taught us compassion and understanding. We are campaigning for homosexual equality not only for our sake, but for that of heterosexual men and women. They, too, are diminished by the system of sexual apartheid which proclaims the supposed superiority of straightness, and which seeks to justify itself as 'normality' and 'human nature'. Compulsory and exclusive heterosexuality is neither of these things. Nor is it humane or civilised. It requires the perverse suppression of all erotic feelings towards people of the same sex.

Instead of trying to force conformity to heterosexuality, society should be encouraging people to experience the full range of loving desires - both straight and queer - which are intrinsic to the human condition. As Freud and Kinsey found, nearly all of us are born with the potential to be queer. Whether we become heterosexual or homosexual seems to depend largely on early childhood experiences.

Few people are exclusively one way or the other. Most embody a mixture of hetero and homo feelings. The macho camaraderie and male bonding of a football team or army platoon has more than a whisper of displaced homo-eroticism.

If our society was a mature pluralist democracy, sexual difference, like racial difference, would be valued. People would no longer be pressured to repress their attraction to others of the same sex. Everyone would feel free to express their queer desires without fear.

Is acceptance of sexual diversity really so shocking an idea? If not, why is society so hung-up about people 'promoting' and 'flaunting' their homosexuality? Perhaps it is an implicit acknowledgement of the fragile and tenuous nature of exclusive heterosexuality.

If queer sex is so unnatural, why does it have to be denigrated and repressed by the combined forces of Parliament, police, press and pulpit? And why does heterosexuality have to be so vigorously promoted with special privileges, such as the monopoly of moral validity and the legal and financial advantages that go with marriage? The anti-gay bigots are right. A positive affirmation and acceptance of queer sexuality is likely to lead to an increase in the proportion of the population having same-sex relationships - not necessarily for their entire lives, but certainly for significant periods. The number of people who are exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual would probably decline. For the majority, bisexuality would become the norm.

Where is the evidence for this suggestion? Despite the heterosexual lobby, which vilifies homosexuality, same-sex relations are already common.

The latest sex survey, suggesting that queers are a tiny minority, seriously underestimates the incidence of homosexuality. It was based on a random geographic sample of the population. But homosexuals are not randomly distributed across the country. The random sampling fails to record adequately the much higher than average proportion of lesbians and gay men living in large cities, and in particular districts within those cities. The survey involved interviews in people's homes. Closeted queers are unlikely to admit their homosexuality to a stranger who knocks on their door; especially if they live with their families and fear exposure.

For these reasons, although Kinsey's research has some flaws, it is still the most authoritative. His findings indicate that about one in 10 of the population is exclusively or predominantly homosexual, and one in seven is bisexual for all or part of their lives. Furthermore, a third of all men and women have had gay sex at least once, and nearly half have experienced some form of homo-erotic arousal.

If queer desire is this widespread in a homophobic society - or even half as widespread - imagine how much more common it would be in a gay-positive culture. With the cultural taboos removed, nearly everyone would savour its delights. And why not? People should be free to explore and experiment with homosexuality. With artificial insemination by donor, the argument that we need straight sex to reproduce the human species is no longer tenable.

To change from a hetero-centric culture to a sexually pluralistic one is in everyone's interest. It is time Parliament accepted that, and reformed the law accordingly.

Peter Tatchell is a member of the lesbian and gay human rights campaign OutRage.