The End of the World As We Know It … And We Feel Fine

The late-June celebrations of lesbian / gay / bisexual / queer / dyke / transsexual / leather / drag queen / gay youth pride—not to mention the mobile shopping mall that the last two marches on Washington turned into—provide the perfect opportunity for me to come out of the closet. So here goes: I am so thoroughly and irremediably over gay men that I wouldn’t mind never seeing one again.

Okay, I don’t mean all gay men—just the ones who make up ninety per cent of the denizens of the Castro; who are our political “leaders” and “intellectuals”; who control homo-publishing; who invented and now gleefully ride the chuckle-headed and academically dishonest gravy train called “Queer Studies”; and who are constantly taking time out from their busy schedules to tell the rest of us what constitutes appropriate behavior for proper homosexuals at the turn of the Millennium.

That’s right: I’m talking about that familiar target, those good ol’ home-and-business-owning, upwardly-mobile, Rolo-shopping, RSVP Cruise-taking, trend-watching, gym-going, middle-to upper-middle-class white gay boys who know, in their heart of hearts, that the word “community” was invented to describe them and their dearest friends (meaning: that cadre of ex-tricks, bar buddies, intimate soulmates they’ve known for about a week, future ex-lovers, hot guys who sublet the neighboring cabin at the River, and humpy acquaintances whom they always run into when they’re standing on the sidewalk outside Pascua’s drinking coffee). In fact, having recently rented the video of Clueless, I can attest that the mores and attitudes of many white, urban, adult gay men are remarkably close to those of sixteen-year-old high school girls in Beverly Hills.

When the Christian Fundies get their jockies in a knot about ho-mo-sekshuls, one of their favorite accusations is that we—and I use the term loosely—are decadent and irresponsible. Trouble is, they’re right. Having said that, I’m sure someone is going to piss all over himself in his hurry to pose the musical question, “Oh, yeah? What about how we dealt with AIDS? How can you possible accuse gay men of being irresponsible?” And the rest of the predictable diatribe, which constitutes the new gay patriotism, will be scored to the theme from Longtime Companion.

Well, no one ever said that gay men didn’t know how to look out for their own interests.

But here’s the truth about the famous gay altruism and selflessness of the so-called “San Francisco model”: It was largely created and staffed by lesbians, who had actually had some experience with political organizing, care-giving, and hurdling institutional obstacles to health care. Most gay men got into the game a little late in the day. Though no one will admit it now (I guess it’s like voting for Nixon—a few years later, no one remembered doing it), we endured literal years of “I don’t understand why everybody’s so upset—I don’t even know anybody with AIDS.” (Remember why Larry Kramer felt the need to write The Normal Heart in the first place?) Time has shown, in fact, that lesbians are never going to see gay men supporting efforts against breast cancer the way lesbians leapt to support and care for gay men when the AIDS crisis hit.

Two facts are relevant here: One—breast cancer kills more Americans each year than does AIDS and has for every single year of the AIDS epidemic. And two—urban white gay men some time ago stopped being the highest risk group for new HIV infections. Now that the wind is out of the AIDS sail, a lot of gay boys are having to find new careers, which no doubt accounts for the rabid scramble to enact hate-crimes laws, the pious interest in shoring up long-abandoned services for queer youth, and the sudden recollection (nearly eight years late) that President Clinton and Barney Frank screwed us good with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

If you don’t believe in the opportunism and wanton self-regard of gay men, you have naught to do but read a few day’s worth of postings to gay-related Internet newsgroups and discussion lists. While gay men online certainly aren’t representative of all gay people, research on Internet use suggests that they match (to a T) the profile of the people who control gay politics from the local to the national level; who own gay businesses and publishing concerns; who are the leaders and executive directors of AIDS-and gay-service organizations nationwide; and who are recognized as our academics and intellectuals: white, middle-to upper-middle class, white-collar, and well-educated.

Take as another example Phillip Sherman and Samuel Bernstein’s 1994 book of photographs, Uncommon Heroes: A Celebration of Heroes and Role Models for Gay and Lesbian Americans. In that book, seventy-seven white men are pictured; men of color total nine. White women merit forty-five photographs—three times more than do women of color. Call it bean-counting if you want to; I call it a national trend.

Like the men in Sherman’s and Bernstein’s book (Andrew Sullivan, Randy Shilts, David Geffen, Tom Waddell), the gay presence on the Internet is overwhelmingly made up of normalized, mainstream queers. They are ambivalent about abortion; opposed to affirmative action; squeamish about SM; sexist to the core; viciously censorious (it was white gay men who instigated attempts to shut down the “Xtreme Sex” web site, which provides information and sex fantasies for men interested in so-called “barebacking”); bellicose when confronted with the suggestion that their racial attitudes are insulting; and smug about their intellects, power, and position in the wider world. Their “issues,” to the extent they have any political consciousness at all, are gay marriage, lifting the military ban, hate-crime legislation, and amassing electoral power for mainstream political candidates.

One of the most prolific gay philosophers and political commentators (Molly Ivins would call him a “pundit”) is academic Richard Mohr, a widely syndicated columnist in lesbian and gay periodicals across American and the author of such books as Gay Ideas: Outing and Other Controversies and Gays/Justice. Writing in a February 1996 OpEd entitled “Rainbow’s End,” Mohr lashes out at queer coalition-and diversity-building by noting that “polls” consistently show not only that blacks are more homophobic than whites, but that “the same is true for Latinos, the poor, the homeless, trade unionists, ‘trailer trash,’ and rural Americans.”

Mohr continues: “Though most members of the Congressional Black Caucus are co-sponsors of the federal gay rights bill, on gay issues they do not represent their constituents. Louis Farrakhan does.” Professor Mohr, a white, middle-class gay man, not only knows who doesn’t speak for black people, he knows who does.

With that foundation, Mohr goes to the heart of his argument: “If it takes twice as much energy to get a black person up to speed on gay issues as it does a white person, then it is doubly inefficient to expend limited gay political resources to solicit the black person’s allegiances: on average the white person both is more easily converted and has more power with which then to make a difference.” He concludes, “This isn’t an argument for an all-white movement….” Perhaps not. But it is an argument for a cynical, Darwinist approach to social change; for the acceptance and perpetuation of existing inequities in political power and access to justice; and for the adoption of the most mainstream—which is to say conservative—agenda possible for gay politics. Mohr makes my point precisely: If it weren’t for being queer, a lot of gay men would be indistinguishable from Rotarians. Or put it another way: Except for the fact that “gay” politics have actually slid so far to the right, teasing the Log Cabin Republicans might still be funny.

Despite facts like these, we are routinely exhorted to believe in, to participate in, and to help export the notion of “gay community.” Sadly, though a multi-million-dollar industry is founded on that notion, nothing alters the fact that significant numbers of queer people not only don’t experience “community”—even in those urban settings where community is conterminous with a physical location—they feel actively discounted, even betrayed.

Gay-community rhetoric, as it is currently practiced, provides no response to—nor any acknowledgment of—the pellucidly obvious fact that gay “community” has been and remains overwhelmingly a middle-class white man’s game. Behind the deceptive term “gay community,” in fact, lies an Old Boys’ Network that is ever more defiant about protecting the fortune and privileges—both literal and figurative—that it has amassed.

The machinery by which the lies of gay “culture” and “community” are disseminated, moreover, asserts—in deafening tones—its lack of interest in questioning existing power structures and privileges. Consider such manifestations of cultural life as political discourse (why have the arguments against gay marriage fallen utterly silent?), ‘Net presence (does no one else find Rex Wockner’s relentless elitism frightening?), publishing opportunities (the recent transformation of that marvelous, quirky, democratic, literary magazine, The James White Review, into yet one more slick venue for the same twelve “famous” gay writers is a case in point), and the public agendas of “our” national lobbying and legal organizations (virtually every single one of which contorted itself to avoid offending those who wanted the death penalty for Matthew Shepard’s killers). Not only do the majority voices issuing from gay central fail to question the status quo, they actively seek to preserve it.

Standing with such a community, then, increasingly means solidarity with people who I know will not “stand with” me when it comes to challenging the “community’s” racism, sexism, and distrust of trans-and bisexuals; rigid notions of “appropriate” dress, roles, and sexual expression; ignorance and apathy regarding political issues that do not affect them personally; entrenched power structures; notoriously unethical employment practices; nepotism; and class bigotry.

Bitter? You bet I am. But not because the pursuit of money and electoral power have devolved into our “movement’s” true goals, not because the so-called “community” tolerates our separation into “insiders” and “outsiders” and “haves” and “have-nots”—and not even because it’s clear that I’m not one of the “haves.” That’s just life under American capitalism.

No, what wounds and enrages me is that the spokespeople for the “community”— spokesmen, I should probably say for accuracy—so often refuse, with every fiber of their beings, to acknowledge that such distinctions and divisions exist. Indeed, the commitment of so many of our leaders, academics, writers, and thinkers to silence about the exclusivity and intractability of the “community” has literally become their sacred bond. In the end, that call to others who are like them (racially, economically, politically) is all that is meant when our “leaders” speak of (and speak of and speak of) the delights of “community.”

A former political science professor once put it this way: “Class consciousness is knowing what side of the fence you’re on. Class analysis is figuring out who’s there with you.” I know who’s there with me—and it doesn’t include a lot of the gay men who seem to think they are part of whatever it is that gets celebrated so lavishly on the last Sunday in June.

What that means for me is that, should push ever come to shove, I’m going to cast my lot not with my gay “brethren,” but with “the Latinos, the poor, the homeless, the trade unionists, and the ‘trailer trash.’” None of them is trying to kill me.


Posted on 4 July 1999, in Book Reviews & Literaria, Queer ... Plus All Those Acronyms and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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