The Bond Between Sociosexual Saboteurs

Magazine: the Body Politic
Issue: October/November, 1994
Title: The Bond Between Sociosexual Saboteurs
Author: Jon Nalley

Almost 60 Years Since Department IIs:
The Bond Between Sociosexual Saboteurs

As a fifth grader in 1970, I saw a TV newscast reporting a woman who died in a botched, illegal abortion. What a gory scene for a grade schooler. They showed the room where she died; a bloody mess. When I asked my mother what the report was about, she responded in outrage that men were telling women what to do with their bodies. This experience, intertwined with my unfolding nascent gay identity, touched my consciousness forever.

While that realization changed me, I found that others didn't share the same experience. As a 13 year old during the November 1972 Michigan referendum to liberalize that state's abortion laws, I argued with my barber and a neighbor about why they should vote in favor. (It lost.) Working after school that same fall at the local McGovern headquarters, I also had my first lesson in political doublespeak when I was warned by the volunteer coordinator to say=FEonly if asked=FEthat my candidate favored "liberalized abortion laws", not abortion.

What finally pushed my consciousness surrounding reproductive freedom into full drive was my "coming out" as a college freshperson in 1978. As a queer, I felt so vulnerable to the power and violence of the patriarchy that I enthusiastically marched for reproductive freedom. At a time when I feared asserting my own rights and liberation as a gay man, the fight to safeguard Medicaid-funded abortions for poor women and against domestic assault became my own.


Before and after coming out, I knew instinctively that my own difference and right to choose was only safe so long as women had those rights=FEin many ways my interest in reproductive freedom can be seen as self-interest. But then, self-interest is the strongest cement that a coalition can have. It didn't take the pro-queer litigants in the Bowers v. Hartwick citing the Roe v. Wade interpretation for me to know the connection. I'd argued the point in 1984 when a homophobic feminist wanted to know "Why gay men were so concerned about abortion?" Indeed, abortion had been among the most important litmus tests that I and most of my gay male friends had when we voted in elections=FEin this I include nonactivists and even some (believe it or not) Republicans. Many of us had those instincts without any idea of the historic connections.

When the AIDS crisis hit, it took the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) to come along before I put my own body on the line in civil disobedience actions. The trail of bodies of numerous friends, colleagues, and acquaintances led me to do what reproductive freedom, lesbian/gay liberation, environmentalist, and anti-intervention struggles hadn't. With 10 of my college buddies dead (as of now 15), I didn't give a damn if I was arrested.

Yet, what I learned in the reproductive freedom movement remained integral to my experience as an AIDS activist. I saw demands of those with AIDS (or the spectrum of HIV-infection) for expanded drug trials and availability of experimental AIDS treatments as a simple right to choose what we can do with our own bodies.

I find it interesting that people with a life-threatening illness who desperately need various treatments have thalidomide thrown in their faces by sexist, racist, and homo-hating bureaucrats who didn't give a damn about Puerto Rican women being used as guinea pigs by the government in birth-control pill studies or whether poor, Latina, Native-American, or African- American women were sterilized!

I have found the thalidomide angle is instructive because I perceive women are seen as vectors of child production by the patriarchy (represented, in this case, by the medical bureaucrat). It doesn't matter to them what the legitimate health needs of women are if it effects child production. One needn't ask any further about why women with HIV-illness have been so criminally under-represented in clinical trials (in addition to such reasons as class bias by medical professionals who prefer middle-class patients, lack of primary health-care provision, and the need for child-care services).


When, in the midst of ACT UP/New York's participation in the 1988 nine days of action by the national umbrella group ACT NOW (AIDS Coalition to Network, Organize, and Win), Operation Rescue announced its intention to prevent women from entering abortion clinics, I and many of my fellow gay ACT UPers were as angry as our compa=A4eras in the struggle against AIDS. When the New York Pro-Choice Coalition (NYPCC) invited ACT UP's participation, I loudly spoke on the floor of its Monday night general meeting about the connections between AIDS treatment and the integral nature of abortion as a medical service to be provided on demand.

Further, I spoke to our anger at a government that had jeopardized tens of thousands (now hundreds of thousands) of lives by refusing to distribute condoms and provide education services about AIDS prevention and its connection with governmental refusal to provide birth-control information and sex education. I needn't have spoken: ACT UP/New York joined NYPCC with an enthusiastically large showing of hands.

Later, when ACT UP was asked to send a speaker to the NYPCC's kickoff rally at 34th Street, I was asked to represent gay men and AIDS activism; I accepted gladly. Men need to be heard affirming a woman's right to choose, and the contributions of gay men and lesbians to the reproductive freedom struggle must be out front and acknowledged.

So, in a torrential downpour, and with NYPCC-founder Merle Hoffman kindly holding her umbrella over my head, I spoke of the ties that bound the struggle for reproductive freedom with the struggle for lesbian and gay liberation. When I said that "Never Again" would we surrender our bodies to the heterosexist white male patriarchy, I was speaking from historical imperative. It could not ever be forgotten, I reminded those at the rally, that one of the Nazi's first acts upon taking control of Germany was obliteration of abortion and homosexuality.


Yes. The Nazis saw the two issues as one. Indeed, on October 26, 1934 a special department on abortion and homosexuality was set up in the Berlin Gestapo under SS Captain Joseph Meisinger. Two years later, on October 26, 1936, the Federal Security Office for Combatting Abortion and Homosexuality --- the infamous Subsection IIs of the Gestapo --- was organized by Heinrich Himmler in order to "purify the German people and regulate their sexual behavior by rooting out *sociosexual saboteurs*".

Dealing with sociosexual saboteurs (or homosexuality and abortion) the way other subsections dealt with political dissenters, churches, freemasons, etc., IIs fell under control of the Gestapo's political department (or Department II).

In light of this history, we must never forget what we share. Together, those of us who support reproductive freedom and the liberation of lesbians and gay men are seen alike as sociosexual saboteurs by the most reactionary elements of the public. Let us remember this as we move forward together!

Jon Nalley's writings have appeared in OutWeek, The Guardian, RFD, QW, and other publications. In May 1993 he was elected the first gay and HIV+ school board member in New York City.
Go Back to Shy David's Abortion Page.