Homosexuality from the inside
an essay by David Blamires
Published by the Social Responsibility Council of the
Religious Society of Friends
Friends House, Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ
The Social Responsibility Council of the Society of Friends is glad to have facilitated the publication of this essay, written by an active and concerned member of the Society in collaboration with a small group, the majority of whom are also Quakers.
We welcome the opportunity of putting before friends and others a sober and informed account of the position and feelings of some homosexual people in our midst.
It need hardly be added that an essay which is so clearly written on behalf of a minority group does not purport to represent the view of the Society of Friends as a whole nor of the Social Responsibility Council in particular.
However, this essay does represent both the spirit and the method in which we feel such a subject should be approached. In the first place it introduces candour to a subject where there is a history of concealment; and concealment, as we know, is a barrier to trust and thus to honest relationships between people. Secondly, as Friends who speak of "that of God in every man", we are invited to try and understand the problems of those who may not feel or act as the majority do and to try to meet the difficulties that such a minority group encounters.
Friends are accustomed to the attempt to reach out in understanding to minority group, sometimes to people who are fundamentally anti-social. In this instance we should remember that the homosexual minority amongst us often give, from deep conviction, most valuable service to our Society and to mankind at large. We should ask ourselves whether they might not be able to contribute more if the underlying fears, so clearly shown in this essay, could be removed.
We also record our sincere respect for David Blamires for putting his name to this essay; it is sad that this has to be labelled a courageous act.
We commend this essay for careful study, and as a basis for frank discussion. We believe that apart from its value in itself, it gives us all the opportunity to examine our own attitudes, whether of love, tolerance, antagonism or prejudice and through our examination of those attitudes the better to understand ourselves.
Chris Barber, Chairman
Leslie A. Smith, Secretary
This essay has been written in the first place for members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). Those who have contributed towards its being written hope that it will help Friends to understand better the situation of that minority of people, usually estimated at about five per cent of the population, who are homosexual. Since homosexuals, both male and female, are found in all walks of life, it is likely that of the 20,000 Quakers in Great Britain about one thousand will be homosexual. This fact alone should make Friends consider that they are able to do for this substantial group of people if, like most others, they need help in their spiritual and emotional lives. The burden guilt and repression which many may feel is a cause of great personal distress. It is not made any easier when some sections of the Christian community turn their backs on them unless they are prepared to suppress completely their affections for their own sex.
The homosexual--at least in the Western world--grows up into a society in which he feels he does not properly belong. Despite the considerable coverage which the media give to homosexuality in plays, films and news items, there are still very many people who do not realize at all clearly what it means to be a homosexual and yet functions as an ordinary human being. Hence this essay. Although what follows has been written largely by one person, it represents the outcome of extensive discussion between homosexual and heterosexual Friends and others close to them. It has grown out of the concern of a small group of homosexual Friends that a new and responsible exposition might help to overcome some of the misunderstandings that are apparent. We hope that it may also be of relevance outside the confines of Quakerism. The time has now come for society to make a positive move towards accepting the homosexual as a person with a pattern of experience that is authentic as that of the heterosexual and that can be discussed and worked out with the same degree of rationality and understanding as is the case with the heterosexual.
This is not the first time that Friends have attempted to make a contribution towards a contemporary understanding of homosexuality. In February 1963 the Home Service Committee of the Religious Society of Friends in Great Britain published an essay by a group of eleven Friends called Towards a Quaker View of Sex. This eighty-four page book immediately attracted a great deal of publicity. It was the subject of a television programme. It was quoted and misquoted in almost all the daily newspapers, as much as anything because here a group of people, explicitly identified with a part of the Christian Church, was prepared, after several years of study, discussion and prayer, to put forward an approach to sexuality--and in particular homosexuality--that was radically different from what had hitherto been expected from a Christian body.
The authors of Towards a Quaker View of Sex started with a consideration of homosexuality because this was a specific matter on which their guidance had been sought. But the more they went into the question, the more they felt compelled to extend their investigation beyond this narrow section of the sexual spectrum. It may well have been this extension to sexual attitudes generally that caused disquiet among certain sections of the Society of Friends, but on the whole the publication of Towards a Quaker View of Sex was a liberation. It was widely read and discussed, perhaps less among Quakers than in society at large, and it is not an exaggeration to claim that it has played a significant part in the change of social attitudes towards homosexuality.
Towards a Quaker View of Sex expressed the kind of approach to sexual relationships towards which many people, especially among the younger generation, had been striving for a long time. It refused to pass simple traditional judgements on such matters as extramarital sexual intercourse or homosexual relationships. Instead, it asked searching questions about the depth and tenderness of relationships, about caring for other people, about wholeness and integrity and about the exploitation of other people for one's own satisfaction. "Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters: one must not judge it by its outward appearance but by its inner worth. Homosexual affection can be as selfless as heterosexual affection, and therefore we cannot see that it is in some way morally worse" (Towards a Quaker View of Sex, p. 41). The authors were, quite rightly, not prepared to set up a precise moral code of what was permissible and what was not, but tried to provide a basis of judgement out of which the individual could develop an awareness of what was right in the particular situation in which he found himself. Its central chapter focussed on the issue of homosexuality, and there is a great deal of eminently good sense in what is written there.
Since 1963, however, there have been major changes in the law relating to homosexuality which have made certain sections of Towards a Quaker View of Sex out of date. With the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, homosexual relations between two consenting males over the age of 21 in private no longer constitute a criminal offence in England and Wales. This provision does not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland, and homosexual acts are still illegal in the Armed Forces and the Merchant Navy. But although the Sexual Offences Act has brought some change in the way in which homosexuals and homosexual behaviour are regarded by society at large, the peculiar situation in which the homosexual finds himself is still barely appreciated by the vast majority of heterosexuals.
One disability under which Towards a Quaker View of Sex labours it the fact that it was written largely "from the outside", as was perhaps inevitable at the time when it was written. More than is the case now, homosexuality was then in large measure regarded as a "problem", especially morally, but also socially and medically. It was then the particular province of doctors, lawyers and the Church to pronounce judgement, on behalf of society, on people who were never thought of as "us" but always "them". The present study is, therefore, an attempt to remedy this lack in Towards a Quaker View of Sex and to provide some insight into what the homosexual himself or herself really feels and how differently the world looks from his or her particular angle. It is not an official Quaker view, but is intended as a contribution towards an ongoing discussion.