Pro-Gay and Anti-Sex. Sexual Politics at a Turning Point in The Netherlands (2008)

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Pro-Gay and Anti-Sex. Sexual Politics at a Turning Point in The Netherlands
Paper for Symposion “Sex, Politics, and Culture in Contemporary Europe”, Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard, April 25, 2008.(work in progress)

The sexopolitical landscape of the Netherlands has completely changed over the last few years. From a country with a liberal reputation, it has become illiberal in many respects. This development I will discuss in this lecture/article mainly focusing on the sexual aspect. It must however be clear that this development is strongly connected with anxieties about national identity, and in particular about immigration. There is a great fear that the new Dutch, and among them mainly the Muslims, don’t accept or even reject Dutch norms, also those that impose equality for men and women and for hetero and homo. At the same time, the Dutch started to worry about their sexual freedoms, and have started to limit these. The question has become what this Dutch sexual liberalism factually means (see Hekma 2005; 2006).

The Sexual Revolution

Since the 1970s the Netherlands can be regarded as one of the most liberal countries with regard to sexual politics. It transformed from a country that was strongly religious and conservative in sexual morals to one that is highly secular and liberal in affairs of sexual morality. Politics were dominated in the nineteenth century by liberal and in the twentieth century by Christian politics. The liberals inherited a French political structure that was sexually tolerant as it was strongly based in separation of church and state but the Christians amended it in 1911 in a restrictive direction and introduced new laws on homosexuality, abortion, contraceptives and pornography. Around 1970, the Dutch changed again from positions that rejected divorce, pornography, prostitution, homosexuality, contraception, teenage sexuality to more liberal views on all these topics. The change of climate was followed by a change in laws. Divorce was made easier, pornography and prostitution were decriminalized. Contraception was made generally available also for adolescent women and became part of medical care provisions. The criminal law, containing different ages of consent for homosexual and heterosexual sex (21 versus 16 years), was changed in 1971; both were set at 16. The final stage of legal sexual liberalization was the decriminalization of prostitution in 2000 and the opening of marriage for same-sex couples in 2001.

Amsterdam has known a vibrant gay culture since the 1950s and its Red Light District has become a major tourist attraction in the 1960s. In 1973, gays and lesbians were allowed to serve in the army. An Equal Rights Law including issue of ethnicity, gender and sexual preference was introduced in 1993. Prostitution became legal in 2000 and marriage was opened for same-sex couples in 2001, the Netherlands being in both cases the first country to do so. However, street prostitution is strictly controlled in the towns where it is permitted, and many city councils have forbidden it. The existing bordellos are regulated for reasons of safety, health, policing and taxing. Cities cannot outlaw them, as prostitution is regarded normal labor.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s had a powerful impact on the Netherlands. In part, this relates to a broad change that occurred in the Netherlands, the so called depillarization of society. From the late nineteenth century until the 1960s, the Netherlands had a type of social organization in which all citizens were members of a distinct community or “pillar”--Roman Catholic, Protestant or Humanist divided again between Social-Democrats and Liberals. These “pillars” were encompassing for the individual. For example, each had its own schools, churches, media, political parties, and cultural organizations. This community-based social order collapsed in the 1960s as a result of processes of individualization, secularization, democratization, greater social and spatial mobility and the rise of national media. The two social groups (pillars) that had been most in favor of a strict sexual morality, the Catholics and the orthodox Reformed Calvinists, were influenced in the 1950s by psychiatrists and social workers to reconsider their sexual beliefs and values. In the course of the 1960s, these religious orthodox groups became more tolerant of sexual variation including masturbation, homosexuality and premarital sex. This change of opinion among the more orthodox groups made that a majority of the population became supportive of a more liberal sexual morality.

The 1960s also witnessed the rise of the youth, student and feminist movements that supported by and large sexual liberalism. The relative strength of the sexual reform movement, and the lack of resistance by religious and political authorities resulted in a rather easy transition to a more liberal sexual culture. Parallel to this development, Dutch society became highly secular (nowadays 50% of the population are non-believers and 20% visits church more than once a month) while the religious pillars and parties lost their predominant position. A fundamental value change occurred, resulting in the fact that since the 1980s the Dutch are among the most liberal people of the world. A new moral majority of progressive signature began to set the tone.

The Rise of a Gay and Lesbian Movement

In 1969, psychiatrist Wijnand Sengers declared that homosexuality was not a pathological problem, but that homosexuals nevertheless could have psychological problems just like heterosexuals, and also because of social rejection of their preferences. His research concluded that he could not find one convincing case of a homosexual whose sexual orientation had been changed to heterosexual. It would be better and cheaper to help homosexuals to adapt to their preferences and social situation, which included referring them to gay organizations. He was not the first to declare that homosexuality was not a disease, but this time his profession accepted this position. He set out to help, not heal homosexuals.

At the same time, priests and clergymen began to tell the public that the homosexual should be accepted. There was still a discussion whether homosexuals should live a chaste life, repeating the old discussion over being it and doing it, but the general feeling among clergy was that they should be accepted as individuals. In 1971, the parliament decided to get rid of the only existing criminal law targeting homosexuals. Until the sixties homosexuality was generally considered to be a sin, crime, and disease and now, within 10 years, it was none of these things. This was a radical change.

These changes led to discussions in the gay and lesbian movement about their social and political goals. Generally, the movement favored the aim of social integration and acceptance. However, the Federation of Student Working Groups on Homosexuality and later the lesbian groups Purple September and Lesbian Nation and the male group Red Faggots, criticized integration as the chief goal of the movement. These more radical groups advocated that society be changed allowing for greater visibility and acceptance of sexual and gender variation. The issue of whether gays and lesbians should seek assimilation or social change remains a point of debate to this day. The heterosexual population may have embraced gays and lesbians in their roles as sons and daughters, and as comedians on television but for radicals Holland remains overwhelmingly heterosexual.

Actually, a homosexual movement in Holland began as early as 1946, but it really took off in the 1960s. Initially, the major organization was the Culture and Recreation Center COC, which, in 1964, became Dutch Society for Homophiles COC and in 1971 Dutch Society for Integration of Homosexuality COC. It developed into a serious cultural and political force that attracted general attention. In 1967, the Schorer Foundation was established to provide psychological care for homosexuals. Before the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, the movement had already succeeded in becoming a part of society and governing. Gay and lesbian groups had been established in political parties, trade unions, universities, the army and the police, medical care, and the churches. With the AIDS crisis, and its rippling effects throughout society, the government, medical authorities and representatives of the gay movement met and set up a committee that would prepare medical care, prevention activities, individual support and research. Gays and lesbians began to participate in policy making. The first openly gay politicians were elected and the agenda of gay rights was now on the agenda of the state.

Since the early 1980s, the annual gay parade that started in Amsterdam in 1977 moved to other towns, following the logic that such a demonstration of gay and lesbian visibility was more important for people in the provinces. When it was held in 1982 in Amersfoort, centrally located on the Dutch Bible Belt, local youth attacked gays and lesbians and unprecedented violence broke out and several demonstrators were wounded. It created uproar in Dutch media and politics and led to the enactment of gay and lesbian anti-discrimination policies on a local and national level. After 16 years of deliberations, an Equal Rights Law was enacted in 1993 that extended equal legal, social and economic rights to gays and lesbians.

In many respects, AIDS proved a turning point. Cooperation between the gay and lesbian movement and local and national authorities was rare before and now became more common. This cooperation followed the Dutch “poldermodel” of discussions between representatives of “minority” groups (the pillars of the past) and the government with the aim of eliminating discrimination or establishing tolerance and equality. In this case, gays and lesbians started to share responsibility for political decisions regarding AIDS and gay/lesbian rights. The system worked generally well, but erased dissenting voices. Nonetheless, openly gay men and lesbians were represented in various political bodies. Eleven of the 150 Dutch MP’s (member of parliament) in 2000 were openly gay or lesbian. This is double the percentage that sexual surveys found for the general population (4-6%). The question remains though what this type of political representation means for establishing real equality and acceptance.

Since the early 1980s a strong subculture –more for gays than for lesbians – developed: gay and lesbian sport clubs got for instance a strong stimulus from the Gay Games that were held in Amsterdam in 1998. In general, it was non-political groups that flourished, such as organizations for hikers, traditional dancers, lovers of old timers, book clubbers, sexual specializations and so on. When the issue of homosexuality and marriage first hit the Dutch media in 1968, it was estimated that about 90.000 homosexuals were in straight marriages. Although doctors had often advised homosexuals to marry to get rid of their homosexual desires, this strategy was seen as wrong from the late 1960s on. Marriage would not change sexual orientation and married homosexuals made their partners, children and themselves unhappy. Many gays and lesbians that were aligned with radical groups, were opposed to marriage because they disliked its (hetero)sexism and rigid traditionalism.

Through AIDS and the urgent medical problems it created, gay men learned the importance of legal recognition for issues such as housing, social security, hospital visits, pensions, and inheritance. The growing number of lesbian families with children had a similar effect of demanding equal relationship rights. After several years of social and political pressure, “registered partnerships” were established for both same-sex and other-sex couples in 1997 by the “purple” government (the first that included no Christian parties since the First World War). Three years later its successor decided to open up marriage for same-sex couples and give them the same rights as other-sex couples. The first marriages of gays and lesbians were celebrated in Amsterdam on April 1, 2001. The large majority of the population now supports gay marriage, and even the Christian-democratic party, which initially opposed the law, now accepts it and has several gay and lesbian leaders who are in a same-sex marriage. But gays and lesbians are not so eager to marry and some 20.000 have been married, less than 5% of their estimated total number.

The Question of Identity and Community Today at the End of the 20th Century

When it comes to identity, most gays and lesbians in the Netherlands prefer to keep it low key. They will often say, “my homosexuality is just one part of my personality”. However, the attention in the media to critical pronouncements by imams on homosexuality, and a growing awareness of antigay violence, especially from recent immigrant communities, makes it clear that homosexual emancipation is an ongoing project: legal change has not guaranteed social change. Some gays and lesbians will now be open and visible, while, for example, teachers decide to stay in the closet out of fear of unwelcome consequences. Seen the recent media attention for antigay violence, many gays and lesbians decide to stay low-key to prevent unpleasant public encounters.

The absence of strong sexual identities parallels the lack of spatially concentrated gay and lesbian communities. The bigger towns in the Netherlands have their “gay districts”, mainly places where bars are located. These locations, however, are always used for other public functions as well. The Amsterdam leather district, for example, is in the Red Light District where British hooligans, tourists and the people who come for the world of prostitution sometimes mix uneasily with the leather men. Although many gay men live in the inner cities, they have not created “ghettos”. This is difficult because urban authorities distribute the larger part of housing. Most Dutch gays and lesbians also have little inclination to live in exclusively gay or lesbian neighborhoods. The same holds true for social life. But also in the Netherlands gays and lesbians tend to migrate from places where they face intolerance and discrimination to places that are more gay-friendly. This lessens the necessity for them to create their own organizations. The main field of special socializing, apart from the world of bars, has become sport. Even in this sphere, most gay sports organizations will proudly declare that they welcome straight people.

Also, gays and lesbians are under pressure from straight people and the media not to create separate organizations because ”we are so tolerant that you don’t need them”. This is the common line when gays and lesbians organize their own institutions and events, for example with the Gay Games in 1998. Since the decline of the time when the Dutch were organized into distinct communities (pillars), liberal and progressive Dutch have been critical of attempts to create separate communities by Muslims, ethnic minorities or homosexuals. All these groups nonetheless created their own not so cohesive and all-encompassing little pillars.

2001: The Turning Point

2001 was for gay Holland marked by three major events: first the opening up of marriage for same-sex couples, second the declaration of imam Khalid El-Moumni on homosexuals and third the rise of Pim Fortuyn in the political arena. The first event got more international than local attention as it coincided with the engagement of the crown prince while the second mesmerized the national media. It was sour for the royal family that the betrothal of the future king was overshadowed in the global news by marrying queens. The symbol of the Dutch nation, a royal family that marries, reproduces and was not so protestant any longer with a catholic crown princess, was confronted in this year with Muslim imams who rejected Dutch culture because of its tolerance for marrying queens and dykes. The third event was the amazing rise to political power of a right wing queen, Pim Fortuyn.

With the opening up of marriage for same-sex couples in 2001 there are no longer provisions in civil or criminal law that discriminate against homosexuals. The legal fight for gay rights came effectively at an end. As a result, most Dutch citizens both gay and straight started to believe that the struggle for homosexual emancipation had finished. They argue that there is no longer any need for a movement. But these legal changes have proven no guarantee for social acceptance of gays and lesbians. Several reports made clear that teachers have become less willing to come out of the closet and that gay men face verbal and physical abuse on their cruising grounds and in certain urban neighborhoods, especially those with a high percentage of ethnic minorities. The self-congratulatory complacency that has become a landmark in Dutch discussions on homosexual emancipation and sexual freedoms appears to be unrealistic. Homosexuality is still a problem. Authorities such as school boards or policemen continue to refuse to defend gay and lesbian rights. Since the Gay Games, many straight and some gay people say that homosexuals should not be so open as not to offend others. Some people say that given the availability of bars and disco’s and marital options for gays and lesbians, they do not need to flaunt any longer their sexual expressions in public. They may even suggest that it would be better to close down gay sex places like parks, dark rooms and sauna’s because, denying the facts, straights have neither such options.

A chief source of conflict around homosexuality concerns the Muslim community. About 10% of the Dutch population are recent immigrants. The major groups Turks and Moroccans plus a substantial number of Surinamese and exiles are Muslims making up 6% of the Dutch. Within the Muslim religious community homosexuality is generally condemned. In surveys 95% of the white Dutch say to accept gays and lesbians while 60% of the Dutch Turks do so. 83% of the first group has no problem with gay marriage compared to 31% of the Moroccans and 26% of the Turks in Holland (Keuzenkamp 2006: 48). These numbers hide a high percentage of politically correct answers as especially the white Dutch know what answers are desired. The first ethnic party with a political program, the Arab-European League, has identified three main things they want to forbid: prostitution, homosexuality and alcohol. Not only has the Muslim community challenged the Dutch culture of tolerance but it has made making gay choices very hard for Muslim individuals. Recently, they have established their own bar and organizations in Amsterdam. Gay Muslims also founded a successful foundation “Yoesuf”, which provides information on Islam and homosexuality, organizes workshops and offers social support.

On April 1st 2001 the Dutch celebrated their first same-sex marriages in the Amsterdam City Hall. A month later, they were startled by a “behind the news” tv-program that interviewed imam Khalid El-Moumni. This unknown Muslim leader was interviewed in the context of antigay violence in his home town Rotterdam, and he stated that Europeans were less than dogs and pigs because they knew same-sex marriage. As so often in intercultural communication, it was a weird confluence of opinions. His insult was generally seen as antigay, but in fact it was beyond that anti-European. The Netherlands were the first country to have such marriages that yet no other European country had – in fact there was no same-sex marriage in the Netherlands according to most gays and lesbians, because marriage was one and the same for all with no difference between same-sex and other-sex couples. The statement of the imam was also seen as endorsing the antigay violence that was perpetrated relatively more often by Muslim than white male youngsters while in fact he had denounced this violence in a part of the interview that was not aired. The question was further how Muslim these queer-bashing young men were, why they were seen as Muslim and not as Moroccan or Turkish, and why white queer-bashers were not defined as Christian (Hekma 2002).

The Dutch were shocked. Some politicians wanted to extradite the imam and the prime minister used his 10 minutes weekly interview on television to make clear that no one should denounce or insult homosexuals – the first time he came to the defense of gays and lesbians in the 7 years of his tenure. The minister responsible for integration invited a hastily composed group of imams to tell them they should respect gays and lesbians. Most imams interviewed in the media made however clear that same-sex behavior was a sin in the Islam while journalists reported on the widespread male homosexual practices in Morocco, and probably as well among Dutch Moroccans. Some gay men filed a complaint against the imam. Others remembered that not so long ago several clergymen and priests including the archbishop and a bishop had been in court for denunciation of gays and lesbians but had never been convicted because of the religious freedom of expression. The imam would be acquitted for the same reason.

The statements of the imams on homosexuality fitted in a long series of sexual issues of the multicultural society in which recent immigrants were seen as overtly traditional, or even dangerous. In the early 1990s Muslim youngsters appeared to be overrepresented in the crime statistics in particular in rape and sexual harassment. Later, the Dutch expressed concern about women veiling themselves or being not allowed to go out to party like their brothers, about female and sometimes male circumcision, honor murders (family members who murder kin who have dishonored the family by sleeping with “inappropriate” partners or because they are homosexual), or ”import” marriages (the expectation had been that the second generation would marry partners from Holland, but in fact some 75% married partners from the country of origin), about sex education and co-education in particular the refusal to mix boys and girls in sports classes. Authorities and scholars vented the opinion that the new immigrants would best integrate when their housing, education and labor conditions were good. They completely neglected the sexual issues that have proven to be more central in the debate on integration, including the disrespect for women and gays and lesbians that many Dutch felt the new immigrants expressed. Muslims were seen as representative of this attitude.

Of course nobody knows exactly how disrespectful the new immigrants are regarding women and homosexuals. For sure many of them eagerly want to integrate in Dutch society. Many new Dutch are women who embrace emancipation while some are gay or lesbian and enjoy sexual freedoms in the Netherlands. At the other hand, many new Dutch stress gender differences and see women who dress “daringly” as sluts whom they can insult or threaten. Moroccan male youngsters are more prominent when it comes to antigay slurs or queer-bashing. Such behavior gives the white Dutch the idea they are being put back in time when gender and sexual rights meant much less than they do today. Women and gays were after the 1960s a victorious minority but nowadays they have the feeling to be on the losing side once more.

The rise of Pim Fortuyn in the political arena in 2001 and his murder in 2002 meant another watershed in Dutch politics. The anti-migrant sentiments got with him a loud voice that received all attention of the media. Although he showed some nostalgia for a past Holland and was conservative on gender issues, this was certainly not the case for sexual politics. He was progressive on gay and pedophile themes, and expressed his anxiety about the sexual morality of the new immigrants. He himself was a dandyesque person who was openly gay and made no secret of his visit to dark rooms or his sexual experiences with Moroccan youth – which learned him, he said, how backward Muslim culture is. Just days before the national elections he was murdered by an animal rights activist who was angered by his defense of the fur industry. His party “List Pim Fortuyn” (2002-2007) saw a landslide victory and entered parliament with 26 seats on a total of 150 but without a program of gay issues and no MPs who were gay or lesbian. His personal gay politics disappeared with him from the party’s interests.

Homosexuality had always been a left-liberal issue in The Netherlands. The meager support for gay and lesbian emancipation came until the end of the 20th century mainly from Labor, the Green Left and both liberal parties. After 2001 this changed completely and since it is the (extreme) right that has become the main supporter of gay rights. They use the Dutch tradition of women’s and gay emancipation – that they never much favored – as a stick to beat the Muslims and a way to express their Islamophobia, sometimes for good reasons. Ayan Hirschi Ali, Rita Verdonk who created her own list “Pride on the Netherlands” (TON), Geert Wilders who did founded the Party for the Freedom (PVV) or Marco Pastors of List Pim Fortuyn in Rotterdam all took the cause of gays and lesbians. At the other hand the left parties in particular Labor shied away from controversial issues that might have a negative impact upon their many immigrant voters. Journalists who continued to be leftist were accused of belonging to the “left church” of people that still believed in a multicultural society – and this was an insult after 2001. Also the gay movement has changed its leadership from mainly Labor supporters while the present, successful leader is a close ally of Verdonk. Gays and lesbians themselves are divided on the issue of the state of progress on homosexual issues: a third thinks in recent years progress has been made and a third thinks the opposite while the final third does not know. The first group probably thinks of the legal changes and the second one of the lack of social change. Left intellectuals both gay and straight now say - to distance themselves from the right - that there are in fact few problems that homosexuals face nowadays in The Netherlands, underlining there is no need any longer for queer politics. The Dutch have become confused in the aftermath of 2001 and many admit so.

The aftermath

From research for the Dutch government on the acceptance of gays and lesbians that I was involved in, a rather new picture emerged of the situation (Keuzenkamp e.a. 2006). In the first place, it is quite general to be out on the workplace. But this goes on the condition in particular for gay men that they should behave “normal”. This is a demand that both gay men and their straight colleagues voice. Almost all reject “nichten” (sissies) which means in the Dutch context being sissy-like or unmasculine and as well being oversexualized, with variations of showing an interest in kinky or public sex. The general level of intolerance for homosexuality that lies at 5% for all Dutch, goes up to 45% of the men who say to be offended by two kissing men in public versus 7% affronted by a straight couple – and probably more than this 45% will feel slighted because the Dutch know to give politically correct answers. Many young queers still struggle for several years with their sexual preferences before coming out as they feel homosexuality remains a social problem. The acceptance of gays and lesbians has not changed the power dynamics between gay and straight because the heterosexuals continue to set the standards of behavior: heteronormativity goes unchallenged in The Netherlands. Most Dutch gays and lesbians are happy with their place at the table and do little to change the straight structure of society. They would also have a problem to decide where to begin. It means that young people when they depart from the socio-sexual or gender norms, are at the mercy of the straight worlds of family, school and sports field. As the sexual age of consent is set at 16 years while kids come out as homosexual much earlier, up till six or seven years before, these youngsters face a long period they have to survive in straight worlds with little chance to get into contact with homosexual life. The gay movement, instead of contesting this high age of consent, supports it and helps young queers with being gay, but opposes that they act upon their sexual preferences out of fear to be branded as facilitating pedophiles. This confirms once more the obsolete Christian difference that being gay doesn’t mean doing it, making the archaic difference between identity and behavior.

The situation is of course more complicated. Apart from the white gays and lesbians there are those of immigrant background who participate in the gay world, have created their own organizations, and, unique feature of the Amsterdam landscape, have their own gay bar Habibi Ana (my beloved) since the day that imam El Moumni spoke out against homosexual sins and same-sex marriage. They are the love babies of Dutch politics (right, left and liberal) having received over the last years a large share of the budgets for gay emancipation because they are seen by the left as the bridge between Dutch and immigrant cultures and as a provocation of Muslims by the extreme right. The scattered information on their lives makes clear that most of them face a difficult situation between the claimed Dutch tolerance and a home culture that often rejects gay and lesbian choices.

To the various concerns regarding homosexuality an old one was added in 2007. During Amsterdam’s annual gay weekend at the beginning of August several gay men were beaten up. There had already been mention of such cases earlier the same year, but after this event the media and politicians voiced a great anxiety about both the violence and Amsterdam’s reputation as being gay-tolerant. It resulted into a research project on the motives of queer bashers (what I am involved in on the moment).

The recent political concern on homosexual issues has one positive result. There is nowadays a general feeling that pupils of secondary schools should be taught about homosexuality as a part of sex education or by way of special courses offered by the gay and lesbian movement. This aim is however difficult to put in practice seen the pillarized structure of Dutch education with Christian and Muslim school prone to refuse such information, or adapt it to their own interests. Teachers and directors on “black” schools (with a majority of new immigrant youngsters) are often hesitant to provide a comprehensive sex education because they are afraid of both parents’ and pupils’ reactions to lessons on homosexuality. The new government, notwithstanding all its good intentions, was more eager to provide financial means to non-religious schools for religious education than to all schools to provide (homo)sexual education.

The concerns on homosexual emancipation in all political parties have led to a series of measures like sex education and also to small investments in local emancipation efforts and budgets for gay ethnic minority and sports organizations. More important budgets go to the support of gay and lesbian movements in Eastern-Europe and the Global South. This financial support may help the gay and lesbian movement to organize, but it offers mainly short- and no long-term grants, and it has little effect on the straight majority. The high priority homosexual emancipation is receiving in Dutch politics has remained largely symbolic and has done little to alter the straight structure of society.

The drive for sexual equality

Another complication in Dutch sexual attitudes involves a drive for sexual equality that has gained importance since the 1950s all over the world. The theory of sexual desire has changed from the theory that opposites attract (man/woman; old/young; queen/trade or butch/femme) to an ideology that sexual relations should be equal. Straight couples moved from a situation where the wife should be obedient to her husband to another where equality in class, education and power has become the norm. Gay men and lesbian women stopped having sex with heterosexuals along the lines of queer and trade and butch and femme. Straight people now could have much easier sex among themselves since virginity stopped to be an marital obligation for young women and since the pill dispensed with worries about pregnancies. Gay men (more than lesbians) got their own sexual cultures with sauna’s, bars, disco’s and dark rooms where they could find their equals – other homosexuals. In fact, homosexual relations can much more easily than heterosexual ones fulfill the new norm of equality (see Braun e.a. 2003 for hetero’s). This drive for sexual equality, inspired by the normative versions of socialism and feminism, helped the emancipation of adult homosexuality and paved the way for same-sex marriage but led at the other hand to the demonization of pedophilia, bestiality and prostitution (Hekma 2008). Sexual inequality has become unimaginable and in some cases even abject although the rejection of power in loving and erotic relations is unrealistic (Sinfield 2004). The sexual model is becoming, like Don Kulick (2005) describes for Sweden, the faithful and equal couple, favorably straight but gay can be included at the margins as long as they behave “normal”: gender-normative, with no promiscuity and public sex while kinky sex remains questionable. Dutch politicians have suggested that sex education should teach pupils that sex and love belong together, suggesting the monogamous couple is the norm. This emerging new system is applauded by the Dutch themselves and foreigners (Giddens 1992 eulogizes what he calls “pure relations”). The present system with a strengthening taboo on sexual inequalities and the eager promotion of monogamous couples is according to the Dutch the pinnacle of liberalism. This self-congratulatory complacency with their assumed sexual freedoms is seen the growing number of laws and regulations totally mistaken.

New laws, regulations and concerns

This model of sexual equality has a series of legal and social consequences. Prostitution has been legalized in Holland since 2000 but not the stated aim of normalizing the profession, but the opposite has happened. Since the decriminalization of making money out of the sex-work by third parties, the animosity against the sex industry has been growing. Accusations against the sex industry of having criminal connections and of relying on the abuse and trafficking of women have led to the closure of large parts of the more visible segments of the sex industry. So the “tippelzone” (a police-controlled space in an industrial zone where women were allowed to street-walk) was closed in both Amsterdam and Rotterdam and the first city decided to limit and concentrate its famous “Walletjes” or Red Light District. The argumentation was prejudicial as the city authorities did not come with much proof of the claimed evils or crimes, and did not explain why the police did not regularly persecute the assumed criminal offenses or why criminality in some parts of the industry should have to lead to measures against all of it. It was even more amazing because the sex world is one of the big tourist attraction of town, and also an important part of Amsterdam as an international symbol of sexual freedom. The city functions as a emancipation machine according to urban authorities for ethnic integration, but apparently not for sexual themes.

The list of legal-sexual concerns has become much longer since a new government of two Christian parties and Labor was installed in February, 2007. The minister of Justice has proposed to criminalize virtual child pornography and grooming (anonymously suggesting minors to undress for a webcam) and to set the age of consent for pornography and prostitution on 21 instead of 18 years (in 2001 the age of consent for non-paid sex went up from 12 to 16 and for paid sex from 16 to 18 years). He requested stricter rules for bordello’s and stiffer penalties in cases of child pornography. The latter could not be produced or sold in the past, now it has become illegal to possess, even look at it. The definition has broadened from realistic sexual depictions of youngsters alone, among each other or with adults to virtual imagery. While in the past the production was forbidden because of the assumed child abuse for its production, now the reason has become that such porn leads to the sexual abuse of children – thus creating much broader definitions of what child porn is. New laws will soon forbid sex with animals although there is already a law forbidding cruelty towards animals. The main reason being used is the opinion of the Dutch that such behavior is pervert - much worse apparently than the mass murder of animals for the meat industry. Bestial porn is forbidden along with bestiality because of its excesses that are in fact already illegal.

Another concern that led to a broad debate in the media was the presumed pornification or oversexualization of society in particular on streets and in the media. The discussion started with an oversized billboard representation of a woman in a small bikini, an underwear advertisement. This was seen as offensive for women and detrimental for girls. Although no measures were taken, the debate continued in particular on the representation of female dancers as being sluttish and obedient to male musicians in pop clips on MTV and other music channels. Explicit sexual imagery on television had already been banned to late evenings. When the new Labor minister of Education published a report on women’s emancipation which belongs to his responsibility, it included a chapter on this topic of oversexualization. The term was not defined and no data on the topic were produced; it was simply assumed that there was too much sex in society. The question remained what is the influence on girls which is now being researched. No questions were asked in which fields there would be too much or little sex or what would be the right amount – it is apparent there is in education too little while the pillarization along religious lines created far more attention for religious than for sexual themes but how do both compare in contents and influences on kids? Such questions were rarely raised in the debate on pornification.

A continuing issue regards gay cruising areas where the opinions remain divided. Since the early 1980s most urban authorities responsible for parks have allowed it because of the closeted gay men who had few other options. The state authority responsible for highway stops often took the opposite position closing down those that were too gay-active, or cutting down the shrubs to cease these brushwood loves. Complaints of citizens often led to ending such gay spaces. Recently an Amsterdam liberal-right city council member proposed among other pro-gay policies to protect queers in their cruising areas and to offer there condoms and info on safe sex. A labor district council president in the same city where the main local Vondelpark is located announced that the police would only prosecute gay cruisers when they were a nuisance to other users of the park. In both cases, their declarations led to strong debates in the media. The first politician was silenced by his party on this issue and the same party opposed the policy of the second. The outcome of these debates is foreseeable. The popular opposition using arguments that straight people have neither cruising area’s or that gay people can now marry, or have sufficient sauna’s and dark rooms, will win out and gay cruising will be out. These same straight people will oppose straight cruising (that is of course as widespread as the gay version, but for obvious reasons less concentrated) and the red light districts where hetero men do things very similar to what gays do in their sexual venues. Another important reason why gay cruising may be on its way out is the growing importance being given to faithfulness in sexual relations with the social obligation of combining sex and love. Public sex and the resulting promiscuity are incompatible with the demands of monogamy.

What do all these discussions and concerns mean for the sexual life of the Dutch? The most recent survey indicates that half of them is not happy with it and that a 15% has physical of psychic problems that they better seek a specialist for (Bakker & Vanwesenbeeck 2007). The ideology of serial monogamy remains the norm for most people which makes experimenting with variant forms of sexual pleasure highly unlikely. There are only few spaces for sexual innovation apart from the bedroom – the best examples would be sex parties that are mainly organized for kinky gay men, and much less for other preferences. Oral and anal sex is the furthest most Dutch go, and the second variation is not very popular (perhaps as a contraceptive method among some ethnic minority groups). Since some years there is always more stress put on the idea of Dutch citizenship. It leads to citizenship lessons, to the creation of a national museum for Dutch history, to a series of “windows” on Dutch history that would be obligatory taught to all students and to a stronger feeling of “being Dutch”. Immigration has become more restricted and immigrants have to pass an examination on Dutch language and society before they are allowed to enter the country. Part of the national identity has become the idea that we Dutch are so tolerant for gay and lesbians and support sexual diversity. Queerly, the lessons for new immigrants make clear that you have to respect homosexuals, and also women who walk naked in nudist areas, but such information is much less prominent in courses for the local students. Probably because the Dutch have problems to live according to their own ideals of sexual tolerance.

In conclusion

There is no doubt that gays and lesbians are getting their marginal place at the table in The Netherlands that further remains hetero-normative. As long as they behave normal and remain quiet they will be defended by the white Dutch from right to left. Society has become pro-gay. Unknown numbers of queers will continue their less respected sexual and critical practices. The pressure on deviant homo- and heterosexual practices is growing both from the white majority that often sees their own sexual ideology as normative and from ethnic minorities that coalesce with the old Dutch on sexual and gender norms. The dichotomy of male and female foundational for the straight structure goes unquestioned among both groups that also support ideas of monogamy, the confluence of love and sex and of sexual privacy.

While the “normal” gays and lesbians who create their own little families of choice are always more accepted – and may become the standard as they are more equal than their heterosexual compatriots, the kinky and promiscuous queers may get more marginalized. In the past I have suggested that the queer culture of the seventies that separated sex and love, harbored erotic diversity and engaged in public sex, might be a better sexual system for most people because sex and love are different emotions and often go in opposite directions (see Moore 2004). Sex is for the moment while love is for the long term, sexual pleasure depends on situations and love on intimate mutual knowledge. But the sexual trend goes in the opposite direction, not only for queers but also for all those people who embody sexual diversity. Dutch society may have become pro-gay, but unless you are in a couple, it is also becoming more and more anti-sexual. Dutch sexual liberalism has a very limited range.


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