Fighting the Gay Right | The Nation


Fighting the Gay Right

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The precipitous rise and fall of Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch politician who was assassinated in May, sent a shock wave through the European left in several respects. Not only did it signal the emergence of yet another popular right-wing figure, in the world's most liberal democracy, no less; it also presented the novel image of a gay man running on an anti-immigrant platform. It's always been assumed that any homosexual who hoped to rise on the right would have to be closeted. But Fortuyn was not just out; he made his sexuality a positive issue, flaunting his taste for Maggie Thatcher's purses. In Fortuyn's hands, queerness became an emblem of Dutch values, and he used it to stoke xenophobic passions. He was able to combine a libertarian embrace of personal freedom with a classically conservative law-and-order program that included slashing the public sector and, most infamously, closing the Netherlands to immigration. The idea of a gay man embracing such an odd combination of values baffled most observers, but it makes sense in the context of the gay right. Like Professor Pim, they make it seem rad to be trad.

CLARIFICATION: Richard Goldstein replies to the criticism aired on Andrew Sullivan's weblog.

This article is adapted from Richard Goldstein's new book The Attack
Queers: Liberal Society and the Gay Right

About the Author

Richard Goldstein
Richard Goldstein writes about the connections between pop culture, politics and sexuality.

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If the very concept of an out-and-proud conservative seems like an oxymoron, you haven't been following the gay right's march across the American media. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 66 percent of lesbians and gay men called themselves liberal and only 7 percent said they were conservative. Yet the loudest queer voices belong to homocons. Andrew Sullivan, Camille Paglia and Norah Vincent are the hot gay pundits, and they owe their success to liberal publications. Though Sullivan now claims he has been barred from writing for The New York Times Magazine (allegedly because he makes the new executive editor, Howell Raines, "uncomfortable"), for the past four years he has been the signature of that paper's interest in the gay community. Paglia regularly makes the rounds of hip publications, from Interview to Salon. Vincent is a creature of the alternative press; she leapfrogged from the Village Voice to the Los Angeles Times. Though the gay left survives in progressive journals, and though some liberals (such as Detroit News columnist Deb Price) can be heard in the heartland, radical queers can't compete with homocons when it comes to major media. As a result, gay and lesbian commentary in America is skewed sharply to the right. It's as if the press had designated a foe of affirmative action like Ward Connerly to be the spokesman for his race.

But the gay right is not just a media sensation. The current power struggle between two conservative gay groups--the Log Cabin Republicans (allied with John McCain) and the Republican Unity Coalition (a pro-Bush contingent)--shows the buzz homocons have generated in the GOP. The Christian right makes it necessary to keep this flirtation on the down low, but Republican strategists are aware of the gay community's political charms. Homosexuals are concentrated in key electoral states, and they give heavily to campaigns. In 2000, the Democrats raised some $18 million from the gay community. No wonder both parties are wooing this constituency. By presenting itself as a matchmaker with credentials among the most desirable homosexuals--affluent white males--the gay right has garnered influence beyond its meager numbers. But its real strength, like Fortuyn's, is its positive image in liberal society.

Of course, liberal society is not a monolith. Some of its members remain open to self-examination and social change, but others have retreated from this critical edge, and a powerful backlash culture reinforces their flight. Homocons appeal to retreating liberals in a way that radical queers do not. For one thing, they don't seem all that conservative. The fact that they are out and proud can make their most reactionary ravings seem vaguely progressive, and they maintain the illusion by the enemies they keep. The gay right is as fiercely opposed to religious fundamentalism as it is to queer theory, and this dual repudiation allows homocons to position themselves as independents whose only agenda is speaking "common sense." They pose as free thinkers fighting the orthodoxies of both the left and right. In fact, homocons are neither independent nor individualistic. They are neoconservatives in every respect--or would be were it not for the issue of homosexuality.

If only he were straight, Sullivan would fit snugly into the right-wing Weekly Standard. Like its editors, he is fiercely nationalistic, dedicated to the free market, antichoice and hostile to civil rights. Most homocons actually oppose laws that prohibit discrimination against gay people (Sullivan has called the issue of discrimination "a red herring"). And when it comes to sex, the gay right stands for a lifestyle that comes as close to the straight norm as it's possible for homos to get. Marriage, Sullivan has written, is the only alternative to "a life of meaningless promiscuity followed by eternal damnation." Recent revelations about his adventures on the Internet punctured his pose of respectability, and Sullivan has morphed into a champion of cruising. Still, his standard for proper behavior is the closest thing the gay right has to a motto: "virtually normal."

This term conjures up an image of gay men and lesbians throwing off stereotypes, and in that sense it seems progressive. But the neat, discreet look that homocons favor is part of a larger crusade against the things that make gay people distinct. To be virtually normal is to present your gender in the customary way. The many variations that don't fit this mold--bull dykes, sissies, trannies and fairies, to name just a few queer types--are an embarrassment to the gay right. And so are queers, proudly known as "sluts," who don't conform to the monogamous model. The gay right is not just an ideology; it's an attitude toward difference. Homocons may pose as nonconformists, but they push a single, morally correct way to be gay.

And it's not enough to butch up or femme down. The gay right is ready to lead a charge on behalf of what it calls "gender patriotism." At heart, this is a mission to restore male power--and it's a link between homocons and the rest of the right. Masculinism is the tie that binds fundamentalists, free-market libertarians and even Camille Paglia. She may be a lesbian and a registered Democrat, but she swears an oath to macho, which is why it's fair to call her a homocon. For Paglia, masculinity is the source of creative energy, while femininity is a "chthonian swamp" from which real men (and the women who adore them) struggle to escape. By undermining this Promethean process, feminism has produced frustration for both sexes, Paglia maintains. Her solution to this crisis: "Men, get it up! Women, deal with it." Her seemingly therapeutic program is also a prescription for politics: Men, reclaim your power; women, recover your allure.

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