Events are being held in Melbourne and Sydney to celebrate the reprinting of the seminal gay rights book Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation by academic and author Dennis Altman.
First published in 1971, the book has often been said to have done for gay rights what Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch did for feminism.
A conference, running February 3 to February 4 at Victoria University’s Flinders St campus, will examine the book’s legacy.
Altman told the Star Observer that 40 years on, there was much in the book that would still resonate with younger readers.
“There are some real and ongoing tensions within our movement to do with whether we want to be totally assimilated and seen like everybody else or is there actually something different about being gay and lesbian that we want to cling onto,” Altman said.
“I don’t use the word tension in a negative sense, I think tension is actually a sign of strength, but that theme runs through a lot of the book and I think remains quite important today although I’m not sure how much I understood it at the time. I know that a couple of the younger people speaking at the Melbourne conference are talking about those sorts of issues quite specifically.”
Altman said many younger readers would be surprised by just how serious the atmosphere of persecution by the law was at the time of the book’s writing.
“Our education system does not teach the history of how our attitudes to homosexuality and sex in general have changed and I think that young people, if they were not born when I was writing it, to read about the sort of issues that were current back then will be quite mind-blowing. People actually got arrested.”
The conference at Victoria University will also mark Altman’s retirement from academia with La Trobe University — but don’t expect him to go quietly.
“Academics don’t retire, they just grow old,” Altman said. “I’m probably not going to be doing things very differently from what I’ve done in the past.
“Essentially I see this as an opportunity to go back to being more of a writer in the sense of someone who is not bound by what I think is an increasingly rigid academic system where what you’re supposed to write in universities are not necessarily things that anybody outside of a small group of academics are ever assumed to read.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a writer who got paid by a university. I’m now in the fortunate position where I can become a writer who is still paid by a university but doesn’t have to work for the university to get paid.”
Altman will speak at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image alongside professors Jeffrey Weeks (South Bank University, UK) and Alice Echols (University of Southern California) as part of Midsumma on Thursday, February 2, 6pm.
Altman will also speak at the Seymour Centre’s Everest Theatre as part of Mardi Gras’ Queer Thinking on February 25, 5pm, at a session organised by Sydney’s Pride History Group. He will be at the Midnight Shift on February 16, 6pm with Weeks to relaunch Homosexual and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Bookshop Darlinghurst.