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Right & Gay & Like It That Way? | The Nation

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Right & Gay & Like It That Way?

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Right & Gay & Like It That Way?

Provincetown, Mass.

About the Author

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

Also by the Author

WHISTLING DIXIE

Minneapolis

What are we laughing at when we laugh at Borat?

It was quite a surprise reading Richard Goldstein's latest attack on me and other non-leftist gay writers ["Attack of the Homocons," July 1]. The surprise was not that he disagrees with me but that he so relentlessly misrepresented my work. Here's the most egregious example. Goldstein wrote: "Marriage, Sullivan has written, is the only alternative to 'a life of meaningless promiscuity followed by eternal damnation.'" This "quote" is from a passage in which I criticize the formula of some Christians with regard to homosexuals that they should "hate the sin, love the sinner":

So the sexual pathologies which plague homosexuals are not relieved by this formula; they are merely made more poignant, and intense. And it is no mystery why they are. If you teach people that something as deep inside them as their very personality is either a source of unimaginable shame or unmentionable sin, and if you tell them that their only ethical direction is either the suppression of that self in a life of suffering or a life of meaningless promiscuity followed by eternal damnation, then it is perhaps not surprising that their moral and sexual behavior becomes wildly dichotic; that it veers from compulsive activity to shame and withdrawal; or that it becomes anesthetized by drugs or alcohol or fatally distorted by the false, crude ideology of easy prophets.

It will be apparent to any reader that I actually wrote the opposite of Goldstein's claim. His excuse is that other ideologues had wrested these words out of context and he hadn't checked the original. That is not an excuse.

You might forgive Goldstein for sloppy journalism. What he can't be forgiven for is simple lying. His article was premised on my alleged "revulsion at gay styles that depart from the norms of male presentation. He's appalled by camping, prancing or any expression of effeminacy," as he puts it in his book The Attack Queers, from which his Nation article was adapted. He has no evidence for this from my writing, except some affectionate ribbing of some gay guys in San Francisco with back hair. But in a lecture that Goldstein actually attended, after discussing the conflicts between biological gender and "gender presentation," I said the following:

There are some people's natures that are naturally, biologically androgynous, or more geared to being queer or effeminate or masculine or up-ending certain social roles, because that's how they feel their nature is. And, my God, do I defend their right and would I defend their right to be who they want to be; and nothing I say about the importance of encouraging most gay men and most gay women to embrace their own gender means that we should therefore exclude people who do not feel that way. There is an absolute central part in our community for the drag queen as well as the leather bar. And my own commitment to the First Amendment and to true diversity means I will defend them too.

It's possible to differ with me on the role of biology in gender without asserting that I am intolerant of or hostile to many subversive aspects of gay culture. That is simply untrue. Goldstein knows that, because he was there. But he chose to lie about it. This isn't debate--it's smearing. If you want to know why the gay left is effectively dead, or why writers like Goldstein cannot get published outside a ghetto of like-minded ideologues, you need look no further than the rank intellectual dishonesty of this article.

ANDREW SULLIVAN


Hollywood, Fla.

Richard Goldstein betrays an extremely shallow understanding of the appeal of Pim Fortuyn's campaign in Holland. Fortuyn hammered away at a contradiction that many Dutch felt but were embarrassed to express: that liberal Dutch values have allowed the immigration to Holland of socially conservative Muslim groups that are essentially opposed to liberal Dutch values. Specifically, they tend to be homophobic in a society generally accepting of gays. To further complicate matters, liberal Dutch people who would have no trouble criticizing one of their own for this homophobia are reluctant to criticize Muslim immigrants for the same attitudes for fear of displaying "cultural imperialism." It is here that Fortuyn's being an openly gay man became quite relevant. Whatever one feels about his position on immigration, he raised a genuinely troubling issue that resonated with many Dutch people. To dismiss him as just another trendy homocon does nothing to illuminate the issues Fortuyn raised.

LAWRENCE JURRIST


Simpsonville, SC

Richard Goldstein resents homosexuals who succeed, socially and economically, on the terms of mainstream society. This seems to validate the right's argument that the left really wants to keep minorities marginalized and victimized and deeply resents anyone who escapes that particular plantation.

There is also an attitude that any "behavior," regardless of how unhealthy or deviant, has to be accepted, but any dissent from leftist orthodoxy is treason. Goldstein appears to be less troubled by homosexuals who deliberately seek HIV infection (such a fetish exists), imparting social and economic costs to society, than he is by homosexuals who believe society is better saved by lower taxes, less government intrusion and free-market economics.

Is it possible that what homocons want to escape is the cult of victimhood and a stifling leftist orthodoxy?

MATT J. KURLANDER


Zenia, Calif.

It seems to me that most conservative gays are conservative for the same reason most straight conservatives are. They care about little or nothing but their pocketbooks. Many of the more thoughtful conservative gays will admit, after some arm-twisting, that, yes, the Shrub/Ashcroft Administration may well put them in a death camp someday, but until then, by God, their taxes will be lower, their property rights will be maximized and their businesses will be free to plunder whom they please with no fear of government regulation.

WILLIAM FREY


Asheville, NC

Your "Homocon" cover is as eye-catching as it is relevant. However, the pink triangle on the "femme" lesbian is upside down. The gay rights logo (borrowed from Hitler concentration camp days, when gays were identified with pink triangles) as used today has the point down. It symbolizes the opposite of a hierarchical structure, as in a grassroots movement, which has many people at the top.

LULA MOON


Baltimore

So when people are just "born gay," it seems they're supposed to be "born liberal" too? Queer conservatives represent the ultimate in gay liberation. When the Republican Party recognizes the validity of the gay lifestyle, gay liberation has been achieved. Homosexuality is the way people fuck--not the way people vote.

And Paglia, a homocon? Simply because she doesn't share the Dworkin belief that masculinity is the scourge of human existence? Read up: Paglia's views on every variety of sexual nonconformity are gleefully supportive. It is dishonest to lump her together with people like Andrew Sullivan and Norah Vincent.

LEN GUTKIN


Madison, Wisc.

While I agree with Richard Goldstein on the many scary aspects of the rise of the gay right, I had to laugh when he lumps Camille Paglia in with the likes of Andrew Sullivan. Indeed, she labels her own ideas "drag queen feminism." She even describes herself as a "bisexual lesbian who's also monastic, celibate, pervert, deviant, voyeur." Not exactly a friend of George W.'s, unless he's not telling us something.

Goldstein calls for "acceptance." Why do we queers have to be accepted? Why can't we just live like who we are? Some of us are into leather and enjoy getting our nipples tortured and whipped, some of us like to dress up in women's clothing and be fabulous, some of us (like me) like to listen to Sleater-Kinney and Coltrane and read and drink beer, some of us go to clubs too often and have sex with too many people, some of us don't have any sex at all and prefer to stay home, and some of us are CEOs who hate Bill Clinton and think there are too many immigrants in this country. Just like those damn heterosexuals!

MICHAEL SCOTT


San Antonio, Tex.

Richard Goldstein may regard Sullivan/Paglia/Vincent as significant gay voices, but this silly trio doesn't mean spit out here in the boonies. Neither does/did Fortuyn, because we don't live in The Netherlands. Amsterdam's bathhouse schedule means more to us heartland homos than does Dutch politics!

What is important to those of us in the trenches is actual political movement, especially on local issues of job protection and equality in the courts. In a state like Texas, that means doing bidness with some very conservative vested interests, whether we like it or not.

In San Antonio, the so-called progressive homos are so fragmented, the local power structure considers them irrelevant. The Stonewallers are so committed to assimilation, they hand out endorsements to any Democrats who merely show up for political forums, even if the candidates have demonstrated anti-queer records. I guess "progressives" don't like to make their political enemies squirm.

It's true that many homocons are white males, but race, gender and social class do not alone explain the rightward drift. Goldstein should consider desperation as a major factor in the rise of homocon groups, at least at the grassroots. "Progressives" have consistently exploited us while relegating our issues to the margins. Where else does Goldstein suggest we go? The Netherlands, perhaps.

In this very scary state, the Log Cabin boys and girls have attracted attention and support by directly challenging the Christian right in ways that "progressives" just talk about. And queer Republicans have influenced several local elections, especially judicial races, for the better. When a single-parent lesbian Latina can get treated fairly in a South Texas courtroom, that's progress.

HARRY W. HAINES


GOLDSTEIN REPLIES

New York City

I place Camille Paglia on the gay right because of her devotion to masculinism, which I regard as a central tenet of social conservatism. I don't condone "bug chasing," but it's possible to be promiscuous and safe, and in gay liberation that's an important right.

I've responded ad nauseam to Sullivan's allegation (you can check out my reply at www.thenation.com//doc.mhtml?i=special&s=goldstein20020625). Clearly his aim is to deflect attention from my argument. If you attack Sullivan, he will turn it into a scandal if he can. It's no surprise that he refers to me on his website as a Communist and a Marxist. Redbaiting and scandalizing go hand in hand for Sullivan's kind of conservative, and they always have.

Sullivan's work is replete with nasty comments about sluts and gender benders. Take that remark he mentions about men with back hair. The actual quote refers to a hairy man "dressed from head to toe in flamingo motifs." Sullivan's omission of this phrase is telling, as is his very selective account of the lecture he gave. He doesn't say that it was called "The Emasculation of Gay Politics" or that it featured an attack on the gay movement for placing women in positions of power. In this talk, Sullivan asserted that drag queens are "at war with their essential nature." This prompted a brief outburst from the audience, to which Sullivan replied with a desperate attempt to cover his tracks. Now he would like this addendum to stand for his actual statement. I would no more honor his evasion than I would support Sullivan's contention that he is a liberal, even though he terms abortion "illicit," refers slyly to a leftist "fifth column" and calls antigay discrimination "a red herring."

A slippery character like Sullivan can get very far in a community whose history is never taught and whose connection with progressive politics is constantly maligned. That's why it's so important for the left to engage the gay community--and to fight the gay right.

RICHARD GOLDSTEIN

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