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The Rise of the Gay Right

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Alison Hudson reviews Homocons by Richard Goldstein (Verso 2003)

The private decision - whom to have sex with - is still a matter of state interference in most parts of the world. Whether directly, in the form of the outlawing of homosexual sex, or indirectly in the form of the denial of rights that heterosexuals take for granted. And “gay-bashing” is still an every day fear in many countries.

Yet lesbians and gays, in the west at least, are more visible and tolerated than ever before. Richard Goldstein asserts, early in “Homocons - the Rise of the Gay Right”, that for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, transvestites and the people who identify with even more variations of non-straight sexual identity, “it is the best of times, it is the worst of times.”

In Bush’s America, while queers (Goldstein’s preferred alternative to the ever lengthening acronym LGBT...) “frolic through the nation’s living rooms” in TV shows and sitcoms such as Will and Grace, 97 per cent of American lesbians and gays feel they are subject to employment discrimination, 23 per cent say they have experienced serious problems in employment and/or housing, and their average earnings are well below those of straight people. Social services often refuse to recognise queer people or their partnerships, and “ a recurring nightmare in the average American High School.”

But since the end of World War Two, in the “gay belts” of the big cities, a community has grown up that offers refuge and safety, culture and politics, and, increasingly over the last twenty years, tailor-made consumerism. Goldstein’s elegantly written book is concerned with the middle class lesbian and gay “strivers”, the homosexual conservatives, rising out of this community, whose aim, Goldstein warns, is to destroy it.

“A Place at the Table” (title of a seminal work by Bruce Bawer, an author of the gay right), is what the homocons want; acceptance into liberal bourgeois society, to be allowed to share the feast with the movers and shakers they desire to be.

But as there isn’t enough room at the table for everyone, the homocons’ fear and anger at the possibility of being left out - after all they were born white and middle class, how dare they be excluded because of a silly little detail such as their sexuality! - is targeted at the radical folk of their own community, the ones who don’t care if they “frighten the horses” of respectable society. According to Goldstein they reinforce heterosexual norms: “Attack queers...perform a valuable service for liberal society by policing the sexual order. If they weren’t so viciously efficient at this task, they would never have gotten where they are.”

Goldstein’s book charts the progress of various pressure groups and high profile writers in their attempts to court the American establishment.

New York Times journalist Andrew Sullivan gets Goldstein’s vote as hypocrite of the year. His assertions that gays don’t need anti-bias legislation, or laws against hate crimes, that “once we have the right to marry...we should have a party and close down the gay movement for good”.

Lesbian writer Camille Paglia may ostensibly be a Democrat, but Goldstein’s analysis of her writings provides jaw-dropping examples of her anti-woman and anti-lesbian and gay opinions. Paglia styles herself as a “lesbian with a male brain” or a “dyke hating butch” who deplores what she sees as the infantile, “back to the mother” world of the lesbian community.

Paglia on rape beats most right wing commentators hands down; essentially her argument is that men cannot help themselves, and that “when women make mistakes they must accept the consequences”. If this means rape then her advice is “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go on.” She has even suggested that Mathew Shepherd (a young gay man murdered by homophobes in the mid west) asked for the fate that befell him by cruising straight men.

But the ultimate sin of the homocons, as Goldstein perceives it, is their attack on the notion of community. “You have no secret rites, no distinct set of values. You’re only an individual who must make your own way in the world, unable to depend on the safety of belonging to an elect tribe,” in the words of gay conservative Dale Carpenter.

For Goldstein, the gay community is a form of socialism in itself. He locates its origins in the utopian socialism of Edward Carpenter and Oscar Wilde. He believes that “people with a common experience of stigma are a people” transferring the Marxist analysis of national oppression to the gay community. In this sense, while he knows that the poorer and blacker you are, the harder living with oppression is, he sees the gay community as necessary for liberation, separate from any notion of united class struggle.

Reliance on the community on its own for liberation, however, can mean an over-reliance on a “security blanket”. Instead of the freedom to really be whatever you want to be, that a socialist struggle against the roots of sexual oppression could bring, sexual outsiders will be condemned to live in the “glittery world apart” that capitalism allows them... sometimes and in some places.