This will kill my parents and ruin my career, but listen, I take it back: I’m not gay. I don’t mean I don’t still fall in love with guys, or that I wouldn’t be willing to go to a gay rights demonstration if I thought it would enhance someone’s civil liberties. I never said I was straight. However, for most of my adult life I’ve insisted on being thought of as a gay man, and I just want to say right now that I’m over it. Big deal, I’m homosexual. According to identity politics, however, my sexuality is all important. It sets me apart from the mainstream. Well, duh, I never felt like part of the mainstream anyway. Not when it seemed to be filled exclusively with scary straight men, and not now, either, when it’s making room for scary gay ones.
It used to be an insult to accuse a guy of acting gay. Lately, it’s discreet praise. It means he’s sensitive, really well-dressed and probably friends with someone who knows Barbara Streisand. Accepting an Oscar for his role as a dying fag in Philadelphia, Tom Hanks even managed to make homosexuality sound patriotic. ‘God bless America’, he said, weeping for dead gay men like they were Veterans of Foreign Wars. Recently, the most unlikely people to have been cashing in on queer visibility, from Robert Altman, who is planning a screen version of playwright Tony Kushner’s homo-anthem Angels In America, to Stephen Spielberg who produced the drag extravaganza To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar as if it were an all-American family entertainment.
Homosexuality is being repackaged and resold to Americans as a traditional family value. And homosexuals are emerging as the yuppies of the 1990s. They’re the new class of urban professionals with money to spend and aggressively marketed products to choose from. Absolut vodka, Ikea, Benetton, Dewar’s, Calvin Klein, Levis 501s, Brad Pitt and Nine Inch Nails are just a few of the commodities secretly or openly aimed at upwardly-mobile, straight-acting, white-appearing gay guys and the handful of lesbians with comparable economic power. It’s not enough to say that these people are patsies to a culture that takes their money without granting them their rights. The sad fact is that homosexuals are desperate to be exploited.
If you read any of the new or newly mainstream advertising-laden gay magazines, Out or The Advocate or Genre, or if you saw the thousands of identically clad homosexuals who flooded New York City during the June 1994 Stonewall 25 celebration, you know where the gay community is headed. It’s not moving towards legal rights. It’s not focused on mourning its dead, or insisting self-preservingly on safer sex, or on finding a cure for breast cancer or AIDS. The collective impulse of the chic lesbians and the brave young gay Republicans who captivate the media today and titillate each other is shopping.
That’s what the gay magazines are for, to target and create a consumer demographic. Their interest isn’t politics of sexuality. Indeed, they’re so worried about offending their few loyal corporate advertisers with copy that is too sexy or political that the only thing homosexual about them is their shame. They tell the world that the characteristic homosexual act is compulsive spending. Otherwise, they’re merely a cheerleading squad for anything gay or remotely gay-friendly, no matter how banal. If Melissa Etheridge burps, she gets covered in the gay press. Then there are the ‘gay leaders’ who show up on the covers of gay magazines: Roseanne. Bill Clinton. Barbara Streisand. Marky Mark. During New York’s 1995 Gay Pride week, The Advocate put New York Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on its cover, which is like putting Joseph Mengele on the front page of Hadassah magazine on Yom Kippur.
Streisand of course is ubiquitous. Does everyone who has ever had a homosexual impulse owe her a personal thank-you? For what? For directing George Calin to play a sissy girl faggot in The Prince Of Tides? For leaving out of the film the lesbianism that was central to the book? Homosexuals are suffering from a collective case of Stockholm Syndrome – falling in love with our tormentors. How else to explain what makes Marky Mark a gay icon, except that he looks like the guy from high school gym class who spent half his time exciting your ashamed desire, and the other half shutting your head in his locker? Self-identified gay men lament that they have no national leaders, that the community can’t ‘support’ its leadership, that the gay rights movement is too diverse and mistrusting, too ‘hurt’ to walk behind a representative figure. But I don’t know a fag who wouldn’t follow Marky Mark into a firing squad if he so much as winked.
Gay magazines still arrive in your mailbox in discreet wrapping if you request it. But it would be far more startling for your neighbours and mail carriers to learn that you subscribe to truly politically radical and sex-obsessed journals, like bulletins from the religious right. Actually, there are a lot of similarities between the gay rights movement and Christian fundamentalism. Like homosexuals, Christians are increasingly open about their practices. Like some fervent queer activists, many Christians are shrill, dogmatic, paranoiac, combative and separatist. The difference is that while Christians rally round God, homosexuals only have sex. You don’t have to look your best to win God’s love, but if you’re searching for a gay man you’d better have tits. Gay men are such a straining, susceptible horde of self-loathing, hump-happy pleasure seekers that anyone with a decent set of biceps and a smidgen of media savvy could lead them where no fascist, or televangelist, has ever gone before.
The entire gay male community seems at times to be colluding against the possibility of independent thinking. The gay rights movement, too often, is focused on theatrics rather than on discourse: we want to be entertained and flattered, not criticised. As a group, self-identified gay men are especially resistant to thinking about issues of class and race, and they steadfastly deny their sexism. The irony of gay liberation is that it has made room in the mainstream only for those white men who are already privileged, and disinclined to share their wealth. This is the charge that many Christian fundamentalists make against us: that we are a bunch of affluent men who think our homosexuality shouldn’t interfere with our God-given right to rule the world. Fundamentalists aren’t exactly strangers to feeling both martyred and entitled, of course. Maybe that’s why, in vilifying us, they’re partly right.
There was a time in my early twenties when being gay meant everything to me. I felt like my sexuality explained my entire life. It was the missing puzzle piece which, clicked into place, finally brought the whole picture into focus. The ten years after I came out, at age twenty-three, were a very heady time. I marched in Gay Pride celebrations throughout the 1980s. I got arrested for protesting because homosexuals weren’t allowed to join New York City’s St Patrick’s Day Parade. I went to ACT UP meetings and networked with all the smartest, cutest, most energetic dykes and fags in Manhattan, and thus, I thought naively, in the world. I hooked up with Queer Nation and raided straight bars. I remember one night precisely: we went to a skinhead dive in East Village and kissed each other every fifteen minutes. There were no skinheads in the bar that night – the bar, in fact, was nearly empty – but it was a thrilling thing to do. It felt redemptive. It felt like I was facing down everyone who had ever called me ‘faggot’ in high school and saying ‘Yeah, so?’
That part of my life was important to my self-respect. I won’t disavow the years when I wore ‘QUEER NATION’ T-shirts or pinned pink triangles to my lapel. Lately, however, I want to trade all my gay paraphernalia for a button that says ‘NOT ME’. I’m postgay, a counterqueer, the ungrateful beneficiary of the gains of gay liberation. It’s not just that I’m frustrated with the mindlessness of the gay male community, and the elitism of its leadership. I’ve decided to reject the whole category of ‘gay’. Lately, I’ve been agreeing with Gore Vidal. In his introduction to the 1963 edition of his famous 1948 homo novel The City And The Pillar, he says, ‘There is of course no such thing as a homosexual. Despite current usage, the word is an adjective describing a sexual action, not a noun describing a recognisable type’.
Theoretically, Vidal is right. Effectively, however, there is currently no more recognisable type than the self-identified, politically active, sexually predatory gay American man, the kind of guy who wants, not equality for everyone, but entitlement for himself. And big pecs. If gay men ruled America, there would be tax credits for joining a gym. This was abundantly clear to me at the New York Stonewall 25 celebration, the twenty-fifth anniversary if the uprising that inspired the gay rights movement. It was a week-long festival of pod people twirling their multi-coloured freedom rings. There were so many hairless young men in nipple-hugging white T-shirts wandering the streets, that I began to wish it was 1969 again and paddy wagons would come and take them all away.
I spent the week with my best friend, the writer David B. Feinberg, who was dying of AIDS. He was having a hard time eating. Parasites were wearing away the undulant walls of his intestines, and he couldn’t keep anything down. Wherever we went, our main concern was finding the john. As it happened, when I wasn’t with David, I was reporting a magazine article about aspiring gay male porn stars. I went from club to club with members of my community, bare-chested men in cut-off blue jeans and black combat boots. Gay liberation had made it possible for every male homosexual in America to look the same and act too beautiful to talk to. If David had come along, he would have looked around the dance floor and said, ‘cute boy, cute boy, cute boy’. But David was home shitting his beauty into the toilet, and the cute boys he might have wanted were busy trying to look like storm troopers.
In our fervour to be part of the mainstream, we are creating stereotypes about ourselves that are just as clichéd as anything the religious right might dream up. This is evident in openly gay playwright Terence McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion!, a recent Tony Award winning Broadway hit. The play concerns some upwardly mobile, well-dressed gay white men – artists and performers and urban professionals- who spend summer weekends together at a lovely country house in Upstate New York. They swim, play tennis, make meals, serenade each other on the piano with Chopin Waltzes, sunbathe nude, lament about AIDS and finally, triumphantly, dress up in tutus and dance to Swan Lake.
The play is full of sentimental notions of gay male solidarity: all gay men, except for the ones who know about musical comedy, have beautiful bodies; they are all epicures; they love to sit outside in the sun; if they’re bitchy, it’s only because they’re wounded; if they die it’s somebody else’s fault. Their pain is cured by women’s clothing. Their desire is aroused, most fervently, by Puerto Ricans. Of course, there is an equally sentimental and misleading version of the 1990s male homosexual as an angry young queer. Picture a line of brave protestors confronting police officers in riot gear. The activists’ faces are contorted in rage. ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it’ they chant, their voices raised as one in agonised lament.
I have been such a radical queer, and I have spent cosy weekends at some rich man’s country house, eating gourmet food and talking politics and art. It’s easy for me to spend time in both camps because they are essentially the same. Nevertheless, critics from both sides support a false distinction between them. In A Place At The Table, self-identified ‘conservative’ gay writer Bruce Bawer contrasts ‘subculture’ gays with conservative ones, ‘elegantly turned out’ gay men who go to church on Sunday. Radical queer says Bawer is self-loathing and anti-sex. But the two groups are haggling over style, not ideology. Both Bower and Queer Nation belong to the privileged upper tenth of the gay community, the class of urban artists and professionals who dictate gay politics to the rest of the country. There are no statistics to prove it of course, but if mainstream means ‘majority’, I bet the mainstream of homosexuality in America today is in the Marines.
And in the Navy. And living on public assistance in Idaho. And leaving Latin American enclaves in Los Angeles to cruise for gringos wearing beautiful sweaters in gay bars lining Santa Monica Boulevard. The mainstream of homosexuality in America today is living with Mom and Dad in a two-family house in Whitestone, Queens, acting ‘straight’ all day with friends held over from high school, but getting on homosexual phone-sex lines at night and saying things like, ‘Anybody out there like a lot of body contact?’ Mainstream homosexuals are straight guys who go to gay bars once a week on Fridays and warn their girlfriends not to ask them what they’re doing on their one night out. They are lesbians whose order of preference for sexual partners is 1) straight women, 2) bisexual men, 3) other lesbians.
Yet the gay community represented in Ikea ads, the comfy image of a couple of middle-class white guys out shopping for furniture, is the one that has been identified as the mainstream. It’s a lie. It is a lie for which radical dykes and fags are just as culpable as assimilationist lesbians and gays. The true division in the gay community is between entrenched, privileged, politically active urban and suburban trend-setters and policy makers, and the mass of people with homosexual urges who feel represented more by Reader’s Digest and Soldier of Fortune magazine than by The Advocate or Genre or 10 Percent or Frontiers or Deneuve or On Our Backs or Out. If indeed they have even heard of them.
Nothing reveals the self-absorption of the gay ruling class more patently and damningly than its response to the problems of being homosexual in the military. Radical gays, hiding behind a veneer of pacifism, are especially guilty of classism and elitism in this instance. During the 1993 debate about President Clinton’s proposal to lift the ban on gays in the military, radical queers very nearly colluded with the anti-gay politicos, like Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, who organised the Congressional hearings on tolerating homosexuals in the armed forces. ‘If they’re in the military they get what they deserve’, homo radicals told me, over and over, throughout the hearings.
Knee-jerk anti-military feeling dictated the radicals’ official response. And a widespread and often petty mistrust of journalist Randy Shilts prevented the homo community from taking into account Shilts’ devastating 1993 study of gay life in the military, Conduct Unbecoming. Shilts recounts severe and repeated civil rights violations, inflicted by military brass on gays or suspected gays, most of them women and/or African-American. The practice of homo witch-hunting actually intensified during the 1980s, roughly paralleling the AIDS crisis and ruining thousands of lives. But the activist gay community largely ignored the evidence in Shilts’ book, because many gay men were still sulking over Shilts’ role in closing gay bathhouses in San Francisco in the early 1980s.
It’s more important to get blown by a grunt in public than it is to defend his civil rights. Fags like to fetishise marines, in part because of their mostly working-class appeal. But if somebody in the armed forces complains about how the military treats him, a lot of gay men tune out. ‘Abolish the military altogether’, radical fags say, overlooking the fact that enlisting in the armed forces is often the most viable economic alternative for working-class young men. If you’re seventeen years old and you don’t like musical comedy, and you don’t want to move to New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, and you don’t have enough money for college; and if you know that you like sweaty, male environments; and if you want to get the hell out of your small town, why not the Marines? Not every gay man in America is a chorus boy or a sensitive poet or a Harvard MBA.
Of course there were plenty of gay lawyers and Washington lobbyists who did try to help gays in the military. But they were defeated by a false sense of security. They assumed that because they were middle class white guys they would naturally get what they wanted. The gay rights movement, from radicals to conservatives, is crippled by a sense of entitlement. Sometimes I think the difference between the two factions is just a question of contrasting fashion statements. In either case, I’m no longer dressing for either party. I’m sick of gay men. The next time I see a bunch of dudes from Jersey beating on a faggot from Greenwich Village, I’m going to cheer them on. Being gay used to feel like an expression of difference, but I lost my otherness and now I want it back. I’m not gay anymore. I’m not even queer. I’d almost rather be mistaken for a registered Republican. After all, there’s no distinction anymore between conservative Republicans and self-identified homosexuals. A conservative is someone who wants to keep what he has. So is a gay man. The gay rights movement is largely helmed by white men who crave what they were promised as children, but denied as adults because of their sexuality; they want their guaranteed access to power. And they’re not necessarily interested in extending that power to you, just because you happen to like having sex, sometimes, with guys.
by John Weir (Chapter Three of Anti-Gay (1996) ed. Mark Simpson –Freedom Editions, p26-34).