(Illustration: Frances Jetter)
This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.
Is there a relationship between homosexual liberation and socialism? That’s an unfashionably utopian question, but I pose it because it’s entirely conceivable that we will one day live miserably in a thoroughly ravaged world in which lesbians and gay men can marry and serve openly in the Army and that’s it. Capitalism, after all, can absorb a lot. Poverty, war, alienation, environmental destruction, colonialism, unequal development, boom/bust cycles, private property, individualism, commodity fetishism, the fetishization of the body, the fetishization of violence, guns, drugs, child abuse, underfunded and bad education (itself a form of child abuse)—these things are key to the successful functioning of the free market. Homophobia is not; the system could certainly accommodate demands for equal rights for homosexuals without danger to itself.
But are officially sanctioned homosexual marriages and identifiably homosexual soldiers the ultimate aims of homosexual liberation? Clearly not, if by homosexual liberation we mean the liberation of homosexuals, who, like most everyone else, are and will continue to be oppressed by the depredations of capital until some better way of living together can be arrived at. So then are homosexual marriages and soldiery the ultimate, which is to say the only achievable, aims of the gay rights movement, a politics not of vision but of pragmatics?
Andrew Sullivan, in a provocative, carefully reasoned, moving, troubling article in The New Republic a year ago, arrived at that conclusion. I used to have a crush on Andrew, neocon or neoliberal (or whatever the hell they’re called these days) though he be. I would never have married him, but he’s cute! Then he called me a “West Village Neil Simon” in print, and I retired the crush. This by way of background for what follows, to prove that I am, despite my wounded affections, capable of the “reason and restraint” he calls for at the opening of his article, “The Politics of Homosexuality.”
Andrew divides said politics into four, you should pardon the expression, camps—conservative, radical, moderate and liberal—each of which lacks a workable “solution to the problem of gay-straight relations.” Conservatives (by which he means reactionaries, I think, but he is very polite) and radicals both profess an absolutist politics or impossibilism,” which alienates them from “the mainstream.” Moderates (by which he means conservatives) practice an ostrich-politics of denial, increasingly superseded by the growing visibility of gay men and lesbians. And liberals (moderates) err mainly in trying to legislate, through antidiscrimination bills, against reactive, private-sector bigotry.