Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity

By Elizabeth Bernstein; Laurie Schaffner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12

How Libertine Is the Netherlands?

Exploring Contemporary Dutch Sexual Cultures

GERT HEKMA

Some years ago, I conducted research on gay men and lesbian women in organized sports in the Netherlands. The government wanted to know about discrimination and racism in sports, as well as about discrimination against gays and lesbians. The results were both comforting and disturbing. They were comforting because there was little discrimination, but they were disturbing because of the reason: Gays and lesbians in general kept silent about their preferences. Discrimination occurred only in the most brazenly lesbian sport: women's soccer. Most incidents of violent and verbal abuse happened precisely in the sport where lesbians prevail, so much so that some soccer clubs even refused to have women's teams. The conclusions were clear: If gays and lesbians were to come out of the closet and begin to speak as freely as straight athletes did about their sexual interests, they would undoubtedly face discrimination. At the time of our research, violence and abuse were absent because homosexual interests and preferences were silenced (Hekma 1994).

This research led me to wonder about Dutch liberalism, particularly because half of our respondents lived in Amsterdam, which is reputed to be an international gay capital (Hekma 1999).Yet the situation for gay men and lesbian women has not been as rosy as the popular media image of the Netherlands suggests. Not surprisingly, the government used only the positive findings from my research, in order to point to a lack of discrimination. What was quickly passed over was the reason for gays' and lesbians' continued silence: the

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