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GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 10.2 (2004) 276-280

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The Dutch Case

Gert Hekma

There is no doubt that gender and sexuality are separate but mutually dependent issues. That is clear from most transgender and polysexual theorizing, from the Marquis de Sade to Magnus Hirschfeld and Michel Foucault. Queer ideas on sexuality and gender began to acquire currency in the Netherlands in the late 1960s among groups that desired sociosexual change. Notwithstanding a tradition of gender and sexual radicalism, the political agenda became reform, not radical change. As in most revolutions, the exciting ideas and energy lost out against tradition and compromise. Nowadays not much of a Dutch queer movement or queer theorizing is left, while gender and sexual issues have remained separate.

In the late 1960s the Dutch Society for Sexual Reform (NVSH) endorsed a strategy aimed at the decriminalization of homosexuality, pornography, prostitution, and abortion and the legalization of divorce and homosexual visibility. The Society for Integration of Homophiles (COC) began to support similar goals. These organizations also suggested more radical objectives, such as the abolition of marriage, coupledom, and gender and sexual dichotomies. In the language of those times, they said that "homosexuality does not exist," meaning that there was neither a homosexual identity nor a heterosexual one. Androgyny was an alluring option. Both organizations supported diverse sexual practices, including pedophilia, sadomasochism, and exhibitionism. Heterosexual relations were attacked as oppressive, especially with regard to women. Only in the 1970s did rape in marriage become a crime. The COC combined its laudable goals with a strong suspicion of gay subculture and the queeny habits of "faggots" who frequented its bars, discos, and public cruising areas. The radical feminist groups of those times, Dolle Mina (Mad Dorothy) and MVM (Man-Woman-Society), struggled not only for women's rights but against repressive structures such as marriage.

The new militant groups of the 1970s, such as Purple September, Lesbian Nation, and Red Faggots, elaborated these issues but added the goal of lesbian and gay visibility to prevent homosexuality from vanishing into a "general" (straight) sexuality, as it would if the COC achieved the integration for which it strove. Against the rigidity of traditional sex dichotomies, the faggots experimented publicly with gender fuck (i.e., gender blending) and with a Deleuzian promotion of gay desires and cultures that was designed to make straight domination waver and to expand the fairies' queer world. The lesbian groups, moreover, criticized gay sexism and feminist homophobia, while racism became still another issue. Despite the resistant energies of these interventions, macho clones took precedence [End Page 276] over sissies, while lesbian separatism lost out against straight feminism. The failure of these radical groups emphasized that, however closely linked, issues of gender and sexuality often came unstuck.

In terms of original programs of sexual reform, the gay, lesbian, and feminist movements had a queer agenda that closely connected gender and sexual change. This radicalism, however, evaporated in daily political practices and in compromises reached with other political partners, such as the national government. Most legal prohibitions were abolished, and subsequently the radicalism dissipated. The government's concessions led to a diminishing interest in gender and sexual politics. Feminists entered positions of political influence and developed strategies that improved women's positions, but they maintained the gender dichotomy as the radical groups vanished. The political influence of the NVSH and the COC sharply decreased because the Dutch had come to think that their demands had been fulfilled. Indeed, most people now feel that sexual and women's movements are no longer needed. The membership of the NVSH, which had peaked at two hundred thousand, plummeted to several hundred after achieving its successes. The Netherlands, unlike other places, witnessed no resurgence of queer or gender radicalism in the 1990s.

Gay and lesbian rights were secured in an equal rights law (1993) and in the eligibility of same-sex couples for marriage (2001). In line with lesbian and gay initiatives, the government has extended support to gay and lesbian organizations in countries such as Romania...


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