Right & Gay & Like It That Way?
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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.