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Number 1: Spring 2008

The Privacy of the Bedroom? Fifty Years on from The Wolfenden Report Reforms

Joanna Ryan

Things were however to change radically after 1967 in the terms of gay and lesbian politics, spearheaded by the Gay Liberation Front. Their theorising and campaigning offered severe challenges to the private/public distinction, to the need for discretion, and to the notion of liberal tolerance. The slogan ‘the personal is political’ which originated in feminism but spread to gay and lesbian and anti-racist politics, sought to demonstrate how, in many ways, there was no area of personal life untouched by the state or unformed by society. This was given added meaning by the notion of internalised oppression, originating in Frantz Fanon’s writings about the psychology of the colonised, and extended to the idea of internalised homophobia (Weinberg, 1972). The notion of internalised oppression challenges the idea that there is any absolute privacy of the self unstructured or unaffected by social forces. Vitally, the oppression of the closet–of the need to keep everything private and secret–was countered by the energetic political emphasis on coming out, with all its dynamic, radical and life-changing consequences. For present purposes, it is important to note that these radically new discourses of gay and lesbian politics were built on the liberal reforms that preceded them, but in many ways now familiar to us they have far exceeded them. The terrain of this dynamic tension has shifted in historic ways but the same arguments can be seen in the differences between, for example, the politics of the pressure group Stonewall, with its concern for law reform and equal civil rights, and the politics of queer positions where the different, questioning, queering status of homosexuality is seen as a vital parts of its value, to be asserted and celebrated.

I turn now to the role that psychoanalysis played in the deliberations of The Wolfenden Report, and to some further considerations on liberalism and privacy in relation to psychoanalysis. Part of The Report is taken up with formulating an understanding of homosexuality, drawing on the evidence of a wide variety of professionals, amongst them psychoanalysts from the Tavistock Institute, the British Psycho-Analytical Society and the authors of the 1948 Kinsey report (Kinsey himself was informally interviewed). The general tone of Wolfenden was a mixture of Kinsey’s notions with some liberal Freudianism, viz, that homosexuality was not an ‘all or nothing’ condition but rather a universal propensity, varying enormously in its behavioural expression.