Prisoner of a Western obsession
13-03-2009 by Ab Jansen
The Nederlands spends lots of money in campaigns in order to liberate the homosexuals in Eastern Europe from discrimination and oppression. Wasted money, says the Australian scientist Shannon Woodcock. By presenting themselves explicitly as ”gay” and ”lesbian”, these men and women suffer only more discrimination.
One day dr. Shannon Woodcock, employed by the La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia was stopped by a Dutch human rights activist in Tirana. She thought Woodcock was an Albanian lesbian and told her that she worked for the Dutch embassy in order to establish an organization for homosexuals and lesbians in Tirana that would be financed with Dutch money. Woodcock told her that she didn't believe such an organization would be beneficial and tanked her politely. "The woman became almost hysteric and argued that I obviously was prepared to spend my life in shame and secrecy, while it was time for lesbians to take courage and choose for freedom."
The work of the Dutch activist fits in a pattern that has been going on for 15 years: The spread of specific western ideas about homosexuality in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. According to these ideas men and women are encouraged to frankly admit their sexuality and even organise themselves.
Five years ago Woodstock published a study of this subject on the title ”Globalization of LGBT identities. Containment masquerading as salvation or why lesbians have less fun”. In that study she mainly discusses the position of lesbians in Romania and Albania, nut her criticism goes further than those countries. By the way: LGBT is abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. It is often used by NGOs and it concerns not only homosexuals.
According to Woodcock Romanian and Albanian lesbians are not happy about those liberation campaigns. They have obtained themselves a secure place in their homo-hostile society in a much more subtle way. The effect of the Western campaigns is that they destroy this delicate and subtle way of life. „In the end the effect is that what was meant as liberation results in more oppression for other-natured men and women.”
Homosexuals have special characteristics and behaviors with which they can recognize each other. These are different in every culture but they are there in Eastern Europe too.
In countries like Romania and Albania men and women live rather separate lives. This offers homosexuals a space where they can feel at ease without having to behave themselves explicitly like a homosexual or lesbian. „So many other-natured women have a circle of female friends around them and some are even married. Nobody in their family or wider circle makes a problem about that, even when they know that they are different. Although these are intense friendships they are not seen by the women and their environment as a deliberate choice for a lesbian way of life.”
Family and friends are much more open for this kind of relations, as long as they are not explicitly sexual and also are not explicitly presented that way. The brutal definition of these relations as lesbian – and thus as explicit and one-sided sexual - are very harmful for other natured men and women in those countries. Yet that is the aim of the Western campaigns with their call for “coming out”: tell openly that you are gay or lesbian. Woodcock: „Women with whom I talked about that reacted in horror. When they do that they will lose their freedom.”
The emergence of the internet has created another popular meeting space: online. It makes the EU-campaigns even more redundant. “Internet offers the choice to hide or show your sexual nature. That is real freedom. The West wants you to believe that you are only free when you tell everybody – preferably on television – that you are lesbian.”.
According to Woodcock the Western obsession with “coming out” has its origin with the French philosopher (and homosexual) Michel Foucault. He claimed that sexuality is a form of self-knowledge that is blocked in Western society by social taboos. Only a public confession that explicitly breaks the taboos of other people can learn you the truth. In this vision public confession of your sexual nature is a kind of healing.
Specially in the US there is w whole sub-culture around coming-out and there is applause when some boy or girl tells on television to be gay or lesbian. This typical Western culture about coming-out has been copied by Romanian and Albanian homosexual organizations, but the effects for the participants have been far from liberating. They see only more aversion and discrimination from the society.
Woodcock says that she has felt the harmful effect of the imported gay and lesbian culture herself: „Before 1999 it was rather easy in Romania to walk hand in hand with another woman on the street. People didn’t see it as sexual. The introduction of Western terms like ”gay” en ”lesbian” changed that and they soon became terms of abuse for harassing homosexuals. Women who didn’t want to be openly lesbian were scolded too. I can no longer walk hand in hand with a female friend in Bucharest without being aggressively approached by passerby’s.”
So why do the East-European gay organization (the so-called LGBT-ngo’s) support this approach? “The donor determines everything”, react Woodcock “The Netherlands for example spends a lot of money of LGBT-things and the consequence is that everybody in Eastern Europe copies the point of view of the embassies. They are free not to do so, but in that case they don’t get money.”. Woodcock tells that when she published her study 5 years ago she got reactions from over the world. “People from Romania, but also India, Sri Lanka and Brazil let me know that they totally agreed, but they added that they wouldn’t say so openly because it would cost them their job with a gay organization.”
Not everybody can be bought, according to Woodcock. She tells that the Dutch embassy subsidized the creation of discussion groups for lesbians in Romania. “They exist on paper, but when the members come together they talk about different things. Not so much about sexual nature and everything connected, but about practical things like applying for a visa.”.
The Australian scientist thinks that there is hardly any scientific research that justifies all those well–intentioned campaigns by Western governments and embassies. „They have all big ideals, but obviously no one among the policy makers wants to investigate the problems in the field.”
What would she advise them?
„Give more power and money to the local communities, so that they can choose for themselves what they do with it. The better ideas come from below and not from the people who give the money.” As an example she mentions ”Ladyfest”, a yearly festival that is organized by and for women and that purposely is not exclusively focused on sexuality, but is open to all women. „People have much more than sexuality? As long as ngo’s are focused on things like aids, discussion groups for lesbians and gay prides there is something thoroughly wrong in their approach.”
Woodcock points to recent EU reports that show that hate against homsexuals has increased a lot recently in countries like Romania. „Western terminology like ”lesbian” and ”gay” is nowadays widely used by right wing extremist groups that hunt for homosexuals. Five years after I published my study hate against homosexuals has become more widespread than hate against Roma, and that in a country like Romania.”