This “is” the gay liberation I fought for

Julie Bindel wrote an interesting piece for the Guardian about how gay politics has gotten too mainstream for her tastes.

And I’m sure it has. But I’m not convinced that it’s evidence of a problem, rather than simply proof that our “community” is no longer fully defined by our politics — or perhaps our politics have changed, or at least broadened.

Let me explain.  First, let’s hear a bit from Bindel:

The gay community used to be defined by politics, but lesbians and gay men no longer share a political base – only, in some quarters, a social one. Rather than meeting on the picket line, we meet on a commercialised social scene, in clubs often owned by straight entrepreneurs, or at the annual gay and lesbian wedding show.

This deradicalised version of gay life revolves around marriage, babies and mortgages. Many gays have kidded themselves that bigger and richer sponsors for our Pride events and charities means acceptance rather than acquiescence; that it is a sign we are reaching full equality…

Lesbians and gay men have accepted a fake, highly limited liberation which involves spending and sponsorship, and embraces the notion of inviting church and state back into our relationships (preferably monogamous, with mortgages and babies). In the radical days of the Gay Liberation Front, both lesbians and gay men wanted to abolish marriage, not be invited to join this oppressive, patriarchal regime. As Jill Tweedie wrote in this newspaper in 1971, Gay Lib does not plead for the right of homosexuals to marry, “Gay Lib questions marriage”.

When I came out in 1977, the GLF had fizzled out, but the gay men and lesbians I met celebrated the counter-culture over the status quo. Many of us lived collectively, raising children as a community or friendship group, rather than in traditional couples. We critiqued monogamy and the privileging of the nuclear family. We have now swapped laughing at marriage for lauding it. What happened to that early radicalism? It would seem that after the horrendous bigotry which accompanied the Aids pandemic and led to Section 28 in the 1980s, we became so weary we simply wanted to blend in to the mainstream.

Bindel isn’t wrong; but I’m not sure what she’s defining is really a problem.  I never got into gay politics in order to usher in the grand socialist revolution. I got into it because I came out, saw that I and my people were being treated wrongly, and I wanted to fix it.  I didn’t get into it because I saw a problem with heterosexual marriage. I got into so that some day I could have one of those marriages too (and help our people join the military, to boot).

And that’s not everybody’s rationale, to be sure.  Lots of people, gay and straight, are no fans of marriage.  And that’s fine.  But I think that while it might have been correct, at one point, to define the gay “community” as the radical fringe, that’s not the case today.  And I’m not even sure it was the case 20 years ago when I first came out.

Hippies via Shutterstock.

Hippies via Shutterstock.

I suspect that once upon a time you had to be pretty radical to be out.  Who else would have the courage to be openly-gay in a world that hated them? Such an environment is not a breeding ground for moderation.

But then a funny thing happened; as it became safer and safer for people to come out, more middle of the road gays started coming out too.  And that meant fairies who didn’t grow up as radicals, who didn’t live their formative years as college activists, were suddenly transforming into gay advocates nonetheless.

And another thing happened as well: AIDS.

AIDS, like homosexuality itself, was an equal-opportunity equalizer that struck rich and poor, black and white alike.  And suddenly, you had upper-middle class Republican-raised white boys (like me) watching their world die around them, and it had an impact far beyond anything the critical theory folks could have lobbed our way. You had the radicalization of rather non-radical people — and the focal point of the entire movement lurched decidedly to the middle.

While it’s entirely possible that at one point, decades ago, “gays” were all about nonconformity, that psychedelic ship has sailed.  It doesn’t mean it’s not a valid political pursuit for some, but I’m not convinced it’s a requirement (any longer) for being gay or an activist.

NOTE FROM JOHN: I know I say this a lot, but I’m not kidding, we need your help sharing our content on social media if we’re going to keep AMERICAblog alive. Please share our stories, which brings us visitors, and helps us earn more ad revenue.” Thanks for your help. JOHN

Okay, so what is she doing on a boat?

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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97 Responses to “This “is” the gay liberation I fought for”

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    In my next novel the lesbian stockbrokers in the fair city of S.F. who made a bundle in condoms, hiv tests, and aids meds decide to parlay their fortunes into fine art. They go to New York just as news comes that there’s an AIDS cure….so they return home to figure a new investment strategy.

    One of their members suggests a trip to the gay men’s feminist “male shaming” collective where one member has developed enough self esteem to mount an art show. The art is so much better than anything in the Big Apple that one of the more adventurous lesbian stockbrokers proposes the idea to invest locally.

    Everyone likes the idea of lower initial prices and more personal interaction. She’s a writer and there’s the promise she and her partner could become their own version of Gertrude and Alice. In the glimmer of a win/win the lesbian stockbroker club gets inspired.

    As the women invest and the men reap the rewards for their efforts, the women no longer have to depend so much on keeping gender peace with constant reminders of their sister’s early aids contributions.

    As the novel progresses the men get their creativity recognized and their lives back while, the women get into the play of a less deadly game than disease/pharma.

    With their main fortune growing by leaps and bounds in the art world their club gets inspired to work to restructure things so no one ever has to wear officious attitudes, pointy heels or power dresses again!

  5. Denver Catboy says:

    Yep, my thoughts exactly. I get away from the Right because of the holier-than-thou jerks there. Then the ‘you-aint-radical-enough’ jerks on this side of the aisle start yacking, and it makes me annoyed. Of course, I have to turn that round and turn it into amusement at the jerk’s expense (dcinsider really didn’t care for me comparing him to the Right-Wing jerks he hates so much).

    But what can you do. I’m just going to keep working on my pen and paper RPG setting, where the world flies apart even as the benefits of technology makes our lives easier, because each side can’t STAND the other’s existence, let alone disagreement.

  6. rmthunter says:

    What no one in either camp wants to admit is that the left and right both have extremes, and that those extremes share a lot of characteristics: authoritarian attitudes, insistence on ideological purity, a complete lack of tolerance for differing opinions, resistance to open dialogue — everyone must be exactly like them, or else.

    While the New Left’s goals were laudable, they were as a movement, to put it as politely as possible, jejeune. There’s a lot of that still floating around on the left — grand visions of achieving the impossible with no clue as to how to do it. It’s the difference between good impulses and effectiveness. (I don’t have a lot of patience with those who want us to turn our efforts from achievable goals toward unachievable goals, even if the latter are couched in glowing terms of the paradise to come. I’ll settle for the things we can actually do.)

  7. Denver Catboy says:

    I think one of the biggest problems there is is with people who have the same sort of attitude you picked out of this quote — if you don’t believe exactly as they believe, you’re not good enough. I actually got attacked for defending a non-radical gay’s right to not have his sexuality drug out into the world — got called a homophobe for that, even (!). I dared stand up for his right to live his life the way he chooses, and got called ugly names for it.

    Many people have just wanted the right to go into the world, love who they want to love, live the way they want to live, without some oppressive snot telling them they’re wrong. It used to be the oppressive snots were all right-winger twits, all telling them ‘yer ebil ‘n’ goin’ ta hell, sinnah!’, but now, we have left-wingers who are shrieking ‘Oh, you’re not radicalized enough! You don’t protest enough!’ What if all the person wants to do is just live their life? Isn’t that what gay rights movements (and all other civil rights movements) have been fighting for all along?

  8. Jade says:

    I’m not a fan of “male shaming” either, but I’ve never heard of the lesbian stockbroker clubs. Those stuck up bitches are leaving me out!

  9. Denver Catboy says:

    I just find it amusing when people argue them into a pretzel. :D

  10. Denver Catboy says:

    The ideal world will be the one where there’s no difference between how people are treated, regardless of what color their skin is, what shape their eyes are, what is in their pants, and who they sleep with….JMNSHO…

  11. future_man says:

    Harry was generally not a fan of the lesbian stockbroker clubs or gay feminist men’s “male shaming” collectives…and that might have lowered the turnout as well.

  12. Jade says:

    The low turnout probably had something to do with Hay’s support for NAMBLA and the antagonistic things he said about ACT UP.

  13. future_man says:

    @climate3 — Q: For you, what does liberation mean?

  14. future_man says:

    Harry Hay, a founder of the Mattachine Society, a “homosexual” rights organization in the ’50s is often celebrated for his contributions to LGBT communities. Yet there is a romantic or fictional element in the lip service offered to those who “tirelessly pioneered on behalf of ‘the commuuuuunity’.”

    Harry’s memorial service in Nov. of 2002 at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco was attended by a sparse group of people, perhaps a few hundred. It was kind of shocking to witness how few bothered to show up, esp. since over at Crate and Barrel, a few blocks away, near Macy’s the store was filled to the gills with gay male couples shopping for housewares.

    There may have even been more of the “liberated” at the check out counter that day than there were honoring one of the key people who chose to respond in full when life demanded sacrifice on behalf future generations….but why count? Real liberation is not that sort of game, is it?

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  16. bbock says:

    Some people are the stereotype. Others seek to be the stereotype. Who doesn’t know someone who “talks gay” around other gays but “butches it up” around straight people? Which is real and which is affect? And probably most are not the stereotype. So I think the idea that a stereotype is true is ridiculous.

  17. bbock says:

    Individuals are easier to ignore than groups. So the suggestion of starting your own group is a valid one. The dynamics of community are that humans split themselves into groups. These groups merge and split for various reasons like affinity, politics, etc. So while you as an individual may not be able to make a change in a large, well-established group, another group can make changes or merge interests. It would be great if all groups were welcoming and inclusive with strong outreach. But maybe that’s something you can help change. You and some of your like-minded friends. You can’t demand that another group just change. You have to make the change by being part of it. Chances are the group you have in mind doesn’t consider itself to be unwelcoming. It’s possible they just don’t know how to go about changing that or that it needs to be changed.

  18. bbock says:

    No, every movement needs its radicals. They’re the ones that push out the boundaries. It took drag queens, and radical faeries, and angry protesters, and pies to the face and all sorts of people to bring us to where we can dare to be as boring as we want to be. But I don’t think you should be expected to be an angry militant radical communist. The whole point is that we should have to conform our lives to others’ standards.

  19. bbock says:

    I’m sure you would much rather post of picture of the Radical Faeries back in the day, but that’s not easy to license.

  20. bbock says:

    This was a truly great post. It should be stand-alone.

  21. bbock says:

    I agree with John on this one. I don’t think there’s a problem. I think what people want at the core is equality. I don’t want to destroy religion or marriage or anything. I just want to be able to live my life as honestly and openly as I choose to live it. I kind of hate people like Bindel who seek to impose their views and are put out that other people don’t want the same thing. Isn’t the whole point to live your life as you want? I DO want to be married (and am) and I don’t want to live in a communal friendship group. If Bindel wants to live the communal life, fine. But why should I be denied what I want?

  22. heimaey says:

    It’s OK to be boring, but not everyone should be.

  23. heimaey says:

    I guess it depends on how you define biologically incapable. A man coming in another man’s ass or a woman fingering another woman won’t produce babies. So babies from gay sex is biologically impossible. Can a lesbian have a baby and can a gay man father a child? Yes, but they’d have to have sex with someone of another gender. So biologically speaking they’d have to perform a heterosexual act in order to produce a baby (naturally). So their bodies may not be biologically incapable, but gay acts in themselves are biologically incapable of producing offspring.

    I agree that it’s a person’s choice, and I would never stand in anyone’s way from performing in vitro. Many of my gay and straight friends have, and my sister has. I love my nieces and nephews very much and am happy they are here – wouldn’t change that for anything. I have no issue with the people who do it, however, I do think it’s particularly selfish on their part.

    And no, people will not make this decision in the world’s best interest, but I believe they should. I think we need to take a step back and look at what we’re doing is all I’m saying.

  24. Jade says:

    Oh! Good point. It always disgusts me (even now) when I meet gay people who roll their eyes and say, “I’m not political,” like they’re above it all. Too pretty to care.

  25. GarySFBCN says:

    I’m late to this party, but I need to respond: I agree with what you wrote. However, I am equally tired of the ‘boring people’ who hid their sexual orientation from public view, which isn’t necessarily bad, but then also sneered at the ‘counter-culture’ types who were fully out and tirelessly worked for change. I can still hear their embarassed cries of “I’m not like them” etc.

  26. BeccaM says:

    Feel free, Boss. ;-)

  27. Drew2u says:

    Back in college I tried going to the GSA club but was quickly disillusioned as they really didn’t want to do anything or meet. The only thing of note they did was put on a drag show; that I really wasn’t interested in. I wanted to get organized and petition our representatives, etc. but they didn’t want to do any of that. I left shortly after.

    But that was me, reaching out to an already existing group. My consterpating is about those that are in a similar situation as I was; those that don’t necessarily see any community or commonality that they can relate to or are familiar with. The more “boring”, let’s say, gay people become or are perceived as, if it’s just the non-normatives that lead the movement without a welcoming outreach, then the movement to better the lives of everyone will be threatened with people either leaving or not joining.

    As I suggested to John, if we can figure out how to reach those groups by saying, “Hey, we have our differences and our own interests, but this issue here affects us all so let’s work together so we’re both better in the long run”, then we can really forge ahead with our common causes. But if we say, “I got my group, go make your own”, we risk alienating potential allies even further.
    And as it is, I am trying to get my friends and family to understand the importance of voting and understanding politics, at least at a local level, that it’s becoming very aggravating. I’m at the point of saying, “Okay here: vote for this person and vote this way on this issue.” haha

  28. There you go writing posts as comments again :) I may be publishing this one for you :)

  29. rmthunter says:

    “Biologically incapable” — I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means. Most people would take it to mean that someone is infertile. And while some gay men and lesbians may be emotionally incapable of having sex with a member of the opposite sex, that’s by no means a given in every case.

    I agree that the solution to the unwanted children problem is to attack it at the source: overpopulation. The best solution is widely available contraception. Unfortunately, we have a vocal and powerful minority who oppose that solution, sometimes violently. Until they are neutralized, we’re not going anywhere with it.

    As for those who choose surrogacy, in vitro fertilization and the like, sure, I would encourage them to adopt if they asked, but it’s their decision, not mine — I have neither the right nor the inclination to comment on what is, after all, a very personal and individual matter, and one that I doubt many people are going to make on the basis of the world’s best interests.

    On the policy front, I have no objection to encouraging people to adopt, and making it easier to do so — some states have laws that severely limit the pool of potential adoptive parents — those need to be done away with, as do the religious requirements of some church-run adoption agencies. That, it seems to me, is the place to start.

  30. The_Fixer says:

    Regarding the GLF, that’s what I was referring to – the differing agendas. While there was a common interest in gay rights, they also tried to throw a bunch of other ingredients into the stew that deviated far from the recipe.

    That’s why the GAA lasted a bit longer. Issue-oriented organizations need to focus, and that focus is what the GLF lacked.

    That’s not to say that they didn’t play an important role in the beginning. However, as soon as the focus expanded, everything got blurry. That’s when the GAA came into the picture and restored focus to the gay rights movement.

    It occurs to me that I am toting a big bag of mixed metaphors in my comment :) I’ll let it stand as-is.

  31. petewestcentral says:

    The GLF — I admired their radical vibrancy and courage, but they included socialist causes that I didn’t comprehend; so I focused on activities of the Gay Activists Alliance, which seemed more in line with my purpose as an individual — equal rights as an American. I was born in the USA, my ancestors were born in the USA — I really did not get just how my fellow countrymen were claiming it as somehow more theirs than mine. For a moment, “gay” meant “out of the closet,” but in another moment there was “gay and lesbian” and in another moment there was “LGBT community,” and then a while later there was “queer.” Anyway — indeed — as we took part in changing history, things changed.

  32. heimaey says:

    Sorry but we’re not biologically capable unless we have sex with someone of the other gender. Two men and two women cannot have a kid without some sort of help. Last I checked anyway.

    Secondly, I am not criticizing anyone for their choice to have in-vitro done. I’m simply saying that it’s not in the world’s best interest. There are enough people, we need to take control of the overpopulation and homeless kids somehow. Sometimes we have to think beyond our own selfish interests and our biology is trying to tell us something and we need to listen.

    Thirdly, I do not just put this obligation on the homosexual community, but on the hetero one as well. I simply don’t see the point in spending billions of dollars on fertilization drugs and labs and surrogates when we have an over-abundance of people as it is.

    Lastly, I do not look down or despise anyone who has in vitro. I believe there’s a better way, and a better solution for us all. Collectively. As a planet. As the human race. And just like you probably don’t believe that politicians should ignore the climate change issue, I think we should look at the overpopulation issue the same way.

  33. Jade says:

    Firstly, I’m not so sure that trans groups want the same things as gay groups, but that’s a conversation for another time.

    Secondly, I don’t think we’re understanding each other very well. Or maybe I’m just not understanding you. I guess my only advice to you is that, if you feel ignored or left out, just join in. Join. Work. Volunteer. Join your local LGBT organization or community center, get to know them, and THEN suggest that they have a gaming or comics night. Or that they start a SF book club. Or “Gay Farmers.” Or whatever it is that you want to do. I’m almost certain you’ll be supported. And if you’re not, then start one yourself anyway. That’s how it’s done.

    I remember, a long time ago, my bisexual friends complaining that they were ignored or “not welcome” in gay organizations. But I, as a bi woman, never felt that way. I joined; I worked; I talked; I educated; I found common ground with gays and lesbians. I put in my time and I was always welcome. What I didn’t do was sit around complaining and asking why I wasn’t invited to the table. I invited myself (and I brought food).

    And I didn’t show up on the first day to criticize what wasn’t being done. I helped with what WAS being done already, then, later, I added to the mix.

    OK, enough of the lecture. I’m sorry that I was kind of snarky to you at first. I hope what I’ve suggested helps. As one nerd from a red state to another, hang in there and keep reading. :-)

  34. rmthunter says:

    First of all, we’re not “biologically incapable” of having kids. We may not do it the traditional way, but that doesn’t mean we can’t (there are a lot of kids being raised by same-sex couples who came from previous heterosexual relationships).

    That community of support runs right up to recent history: the “traditional” nuclear family is really rather new. Up until World War II, roughly, in most areas raising children was a community affair — it still is in may places, including some subcultures in the US. I’ve seen a couple of African American teenagers acting up on the bus until an older African American woman lit into them, and then they quieted down real fast. That’s the dynamic: any adult is in loco parentis. I suspect it’s not much different in the Latino or Asian communities, although I haven’t witnessed it first-hand. (It’s very interesting riding the bus — someone gets on with a baby, and suddenly everyone’s involved. It’s a human thing, I think.)

    The urge to pass on one’s DNA is pretty much a biological imperative, and there’s no reason to think gay men and lesbians are any different in that regard. If someone wants to go through surrogacy to have a child, I’m not going to criticize them for it — it’s their decision, not mine. Yes, there are a lot of children who need homes, but I see no reason to insist that our community must take responsibility.

  35. Drew2u says:

    It’s not about enjoying different tastes, it’s about the perception that certain tastes are dominant in the rights and politics of the movement, to the potential alienation of others from participating in the movement if no outreach is made to participate. And yes, those other tastes can create their own movement, but the problem comes when group B receives no support, perceived or not, from group A. If group A doesn’t make the concerted effort to include group B or assist group B in their beginning movement, then why should group B want to have anything to do with group A? And if group B is just reinventing the wheel, how much progress will actually be made?
    There’s already somewhat the beginnings of a schism between the gay groups and the trans groups even though both groups want the same thing. If we start telling each other, “we did it ourselves, so go do it yourself,” then we’ll be looking at a dearth of supporters in the movement to the detriment of all.

  36. rmthunter says:

    Just from the quote — I haven’t read her article — it seems she’s arguing ideological purity here — the kind of ideology that says we must all be radical, we must all be activists, or else we’re cast out of the fold — we not “really” gay. I hate to be the one to tell her it’s not the ’80s any more.

    There’s a departure from reality inherent in that. As you point out, who raised hell about the Sochi games, or conditions in Russia in general, or the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda? (Hint: it wasn’t the State Department, or the news media — at least, not without a lot of pushing from us.)

    I think one fact we need to keep in mind: younger gays aren’t as activist as we were because they don’t have to be. I spent a lot of time in the ’80s and ’90s in a sort of daze, wondering why I was still alive when most of my friends were dead. It got to the point where I couldn’t stand to go to another memorial service — I’d gotten to a place where I was numb, and I couldn’t bear to open the wounds again. Younger gays don’t have to deal with that. I don’t think that necessarily means they’re less involved, but rather that their activism is, if you’ll pardon the expression, more mainstream: writing their representatives, signing petitions, voter registration drives, and what’s most important, just living their lives openly. Maybe that last isn’t radical any more, but it’s more effective in a lot of ways than holding a sign and marching.

  37. rmthunter says:

    My immediate reaction to the quote from Bindel: Boo-hoo! The New Left, which co-opted and effectively neutered the gay liberation movement, got left in the dust. Cry me a river.

    She’s taking a segment of the LGBT population as the whole thing, which is the danger of dealing in generalities: you tend to forget that you’re generalizing and that there’s a lot more variation there than your summary includes. There was always a large segment of the gay population that was not activist, didn’t engage in radical demonstrations, and thought the GLF was a bunch of extremists. (Yeah, I know — we need extremists, but we don’t all have to be extremists.)

    I never knew anyone who wanted to abolish marriage (except maybe a few radical feminist lesbians). And how does two men or two women marrying support patriarchy? No one has ever been able to explain that to me — they get as far as “marriage is a patriarchal institution” and I come back with “It hasn’t always been, and it doesn’t have to be.” More dealing in generalities without paying attention to reality. Fuzzy thinking, in other words.

    Mainstreaming gays and lesbians is the whole point. That’s the point of any civil rights movement. This is America, the melting pot: that’s what we do here.

    That doesn’t mean that we don’t retain our own identities — it’s just that they’re not the identities that Bindel wants them to be. And while our culture may not be as identifiable as it was during the 1970s and 80s, it’s still there. Will it eventually die off? I doubt it, but I can see it going the way assimilation of other minorities has gone: On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone’s Irish. Any bets on how long it takes before everyone’s gay for the Pride Parade?

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  40. caphillprof says:

    You seem to have imputed the accepted/fracturing argument to me.

  41. Jade says:

    “…the vast majority
    of us are rather boring, ordinary people, with just one or two
    differences over the rest of the huddled masses.”

    Just like everyone else (i.e., the straights). :-)

  42. Jade says:

    I’ve read that article (I read most articles on this blog), and I didn’t miss your point. You asked for outreach. I suggest that you stop waiting for the gays to find you and go find them. Do your own outreach. That’s all.

    But there’s nothing wrong if you don’t. There’s nothing wrong with making your own culture and enjoying nerdy stuff. I enjoy it too. I just discovered Jo Walton’s “Among Others.” Fantastic book that includes many mentions of other SF authors I’ve not heard of. I’m in heaven!

    So, yeah, I’ve gotten off-track here. Anyway, try to stop worrying that your interests and talents aren’t part of the gay “mainstream” whatever that is. Just enjoy life and, if you want, form a gay group, or book club, or gamers club in your town, city, or county. Do that, and you’ll stop worrying about stereotypes and whether or not Gay Inc. comes a-calling.

  43. Jade says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s what we’ve been after for decades, what we’ve been fighting for. And now that it’s almost within our grasp, people are complaining.

  44. Drew2u says:

    Yes, thank you.
    For missing the point.
    Go read this article from last year about the setbacks the women’s rights movement were facing while the gay rights movement seemed to be steaming along:

  45. Jade says:

    She’s idealizing the past. She’s remembering only the sparse good times–that seductive feeling when you’re with your own, in secret, behind closed doors, being yourself, knowing that it’s all so temporary and, thus, so much more delicious.

    She’s forgetting that we weren’t safe, we weren’t secure. At any time, those in REAL power could break down those doors and snatch everything away. She’s forgetting what everyday life was like and selectively remembering the parties. The fun.

    She’s advocating that we do what conservatives have always accused us of wanting to do: destroy marriage and family.

  46. Jade says:

    If you’re waiting for “outreach,” if you’re waiting for Gay Inc. to come find you, you’ll be frustrated and alone in your Red State for the rest of your life. Why don’t YOU get something started? Why don’t you lead? That’s what all of us Olds did back in the day. We didn’t wait for some outreach to drop in our laps. We found each other (before the Internet!) and changed the country well enough so that all you geeks can be out and happy at your conventions.

    You’re welcome.

  47. BeccaM says:

    I think Ms. Bindel is romanticizing LGBT activism and history. Exactly as our friend The_Fixer notes below, it used to be unimaginably radical simply to ask for acceptance.

    Not that many years ago, the announcement, “I’m gay” — or more accurately, the involuntary discovery of such by someone else — usually meant your life as you knew it was over. Your job, your home, your family — gone. If you had kids, they were taken from you.

    There was nothing left but to decide whether to slink away, hide and disappear (Mad Men fans might remember what happened to the gay character, Salvatore Romano…). Or to turn radical.

    Or to use another example: In 1957, the entertainer Liberace brought a libel suit against the Daily Mirror for publishing a story that merely suggested he was gay. Think about that: A libel suit. Meaning this flouncing guy who dressed in sequins and capes, and who never had a female liaison or partner that anybody knew about, believed credibly it would ruin his career if anybody actually knew he was gay. And he won settlements.

    Some more examples: Being gay used to be automatic disqualification for a U.S. security clearance, as well as dishonorable discharge from the armed forces under Section 8 — a mental illness designation.

    As some of our commenters can attest, LGBTs used to be routinely thrown into mental hospitals and subjected to the most horrific of treatments, including ECT and insulin shock. Arrested by the cops ‘in flagrante delecto’ by the cops with someone of one’s own gender? If it hit the papers or became general knowledge, being fired and evicted immediately were all but expected. Unless you really were a member of the counterculture, moving to another city and trying to start all over again, anonymously, was the only option.

    I guess that’s what I’m saying: To be out and gay, being ‘radical’ was the ONLY resulting option available. Which meant there was a whole list of ‘ordinary’ things you were forever excluded from participating in. Including an ordinary career, an ordinary family life, and an ordinary social life.

    Again, just wanting not to be oppressed to that degree was radical in and of itself. But the thing is, at the core, most of us never wanted to be radicals. We just wanted ordinary lives — someone to love and settle down with. For some of us, the freedom to raise our own biological or adopted kids. The right not to be fired from our jobs. And not to have to lie to everyone about this person we’re seen with. No more, “This is my housemate” or “My long-time friend.” (In India, where being gay remains illegal, my wife and I usually passed ourselves off as mother and daughter. I never liked it, but the lie was necessary.)

    We didn’t want jobs as protesters — which doesn’t pay the rent or mortgage in any case. Way back, gays and lesbians laughed at institutions like marriage because most of us never would have dreamed we could have access to it. Now, increasingly, we have the ultimate freedom: To marry OR NOT, as we choose. It’s the same deal with jobs (although we still need ENDA) — increasingly (although sadly not entirely yet) we don’t have to fear the revelation of sexual orientation as resulting in automatic termination. (Consider that town in South Carolina where the homophobic mayor was overruled by his town’s counsel and the lesbian police chief rehired over his objections. We’re talking a tiny rural SC town — and they picked her over him.)

    So despite the bigots’ yowling objections and slanderous lies about LGBTs, we’re nevertheless passing out of the “ordinary is radical” phase. It used to be radical for two men or two women to be “married” (irony quotes intentional) and *gasp* raising a child or two. Now it’s ordinary; slightly unusual, but still ordinary. People don’t refer to someone they know as “my GAY friend” anymore; now it’s just “my friend…oh, and he’s bringing his boyfriend to the dinner party, you’ll love him.”

    Ordinary is becoming…ordinary, once more.

    To romanticize radicalism is a nostalgia we can’t really afford, and it’s actually inimical to the goals of equality, tolerance, and full acceptance. It’s like being in a war and saying, “I really miss the bomb-dropping part — that was exciting. I know we won and all, but I wish it hadn’t ended. This peaceful rebuilding part is boring.”

    Increasingly, we’re free simply to be ourselves…and the vast majority of us are rather boring, ordinary people, with just one or two differences over the rest of the huddled masses.

  48. Jade says:

    “If we go off of ‘all stereotypes are based in fact’ then I would assume –
    and correct me if I’m mistaken – that you’d believe racial stereotypes
    are based in fact, correct?”

    It depends on the stereotype. I know a LOT of minorities who embrace and are proud of the particular stereotypes associated with their ethnicity.

  49. BeccaM says:

    Yeah, I read that and immediately thought, “This is a woman who has not actually admitted to herself her own sexual orientation.”

  50. The_Fixer says:

    He was, as were all of the gay activists of that time. I have a deep appreciation for and admiration of those people who were bravely on the front lines of a battle that was only beginning.

    It’s a hell of a lot easier these days to be a gay activist – but still not a picnic. It’s easy to be complacent about the progress we’ve made, but it came through the efforts of those people and the good people like the ones who started You know who you are :)

  51. 2karmanot says:

    Thank the gods for Harry Hay.—–truly an amazing human being!

  52. 2karmanot says:

    Exactly so!

  53. 2karmanot says:


  54. Digress away :) Well, meaning, feel free to go off on a tangent, rather than simply going away :)

  55. And look at the convoluted logic of that statement. I wasn’t born that way — rather, I WAS born that way and societal pressure forced me to sublimate, hide, suppress my same-sex atractions, and I’m finally learning to overcome those pressures and be who I was born to be. Someone who I wasn’t born to be.

    Drives me crazy when folks discuss the “I wasn’t born this way” argument and ultimately, always, end up contradicting themselevs.

  56. Oh I don’t know. Why do you assume hippies are bad? In the same way I posted a song from that era, to suggest that radicalism gone-by is not always radicalism today. I don’t find hippies offensive or negative. They’re radicalism of yester-year, and not today, and that IS the theme of this entire story. So I heartily disagree :)

  57. emjayay says:

    It is not helpful to run a Shutterstock photo of a bunch of actor-models dressed up by a costumer as prototypical hippies. Crap like this does not add to but detracts from the blog. Sometimes a picture is worth a minus 1000 words.

  58. Drew2u says:

    Remember this article? We have to be cognizant, even with the younger generation, about not falling into the same trappings that’s currently holding hostage the rights of women we thought were fought and won a long time ago:

  59. NCMan says:

    I agree. I’m not interested in being part of a counter-culture or being an anarchist. I guess that’s why I prefer to be identified as gay instead of queer. I just want to have my rights recognized as they are for everyone else and to be able to choose for myself which of those rights I want to exercise.

  60. BrandySpears says:

    Consider the source:

    “I fell in with a crowd [in Leeds] who spoke about lesbianism as part
    of women’s liberation. I never chose to be attracted to women.”

    “I could have stayed where I was in Darlington and gone along the
    path that was predestined for me [marriage to a man]. I chose to live my
    life as an out and proud lesbian.

    “I’m not the only person saying this. I’ve met a huge number of
    lesbians who say, ‘I don’t believe I was born that way, and I believe
    any woman can be a lesbian and believe we’re stopped from feeling sexual
    attraction to the same sex because of external pressure’. – Julie Bindel

  61. AndyinChicago says:

    I’ll be honest; I read your piece, but I didn’t take your link to Bindel’s. I think that there’s some legitimacy to her briefly mentioned concern about international rights being ignored by the American gay community, but you’re right: the concern is still there. I feel the impetus to act is less among younger gays. Among my friends, I think there’s still a pressure to be political, but that radical notion is not there. They’re all Democrats, but they vote along the party ticket; the idea of voting for a third party member or looking at the intricacies of candidates in (or even voting in) local elections and primaries are lost. There won’t likely be another mobilization force like AIDS (Hopefully and thankfully), so there isn’t much of an impetus to really fight. But I think your optimism is probably more grounded and reasonable than my cynicism, so I should and will digress.

  62. Drew2u says:

    Gay Inc, as I’m understanding it (and we’re back to defining terms; something I’m a proponent of before any conversation is initiated) is the more outspoken, visible, potentially more politically active arm of gay persons. The different hobby groups, as it were, are of course naturally apart, but I don’t see the gay mechanics, farmers, gamers, outdoorspersons, construction workers, etc. as being as visible both in Gay Inc and in the public at large. And with that, I wonder how that is to be rectified. Were it that the campers are much more visible and active than the gamers, then how do those two groups work together for their common cause?

  63. Indigo says:

    Good points all around. There’s a startling number of organizations that fell by the wayside, not always because of internal squabbles, though that happened, but also for trivial reasons, ideological intransigence being, IMHO, the leading disruptor.

  64. The_Fixer says:

    Yeah, that was the D.C. version that was headed up by Frank Kameny, not the one affiliated with Harry Hay. Harry was much more radical (Radical Faeries), Frank was much more mainstream. Hence the wearing of suits to lower-key protests.

    Kameny had gotten fired from his government job (astronomer in the forerunner to NASA) for being gay, so he was all about acceptance and mainstreaming gay.

    Hay, being more radical, was often at odds with others in the movement. His tolerance of NAMBLA was what got him out of the Mattachine society that he started.

    So yeah, mainstreaming was always part of the movement along with acceptance. Of course, it took a bunch of militant people in 1969 to get the attention of the public that Kameny’s low-key protests could not get. But the goal was always “Gay is OK” as well as civil rights, not “we want to destroy marriage”. At least as far as the majority of the people involved in the movement at the time were concerned.

  65. Indigo says:

    Yes, pretty much, but you’re overlooking an essential component of those days of yore, long before Stonewall and even early Mattachine. We were part of the criminal underground, outlawed and often prosecuted as criminals, betrayed as convenience served them by family and clergy, teachers and even friends. Be wise, even as you celebrate contemporary breakthroughs and keep the eyes in the back of your head wide open. The Conservative Party would rip away these progressive steps faster than they’re ripping up the ACA.

  66. Indigo says:

    Asheville? Neo-Hippie Trustafarians at best.

  67. Indigo says:

    To this day, that’s how I dress up. I’m not persuaded it was all that “wise” though.

  68. Elijah Shalis says:


  69. I’m not convinced Gay Inc has anything to do with this. Gay geeks decided they wanted their own space, their own culture, so they created it. Just as gay campers did.

  70. Dare to be boring :)

    I’m being serious.

  71. Well, you can have both :)

  72. And look at Mattachine, with their early-Beatles black suits and white shirts. Clearly (and wisely, I’d argue) trying to fit in.

  73. The_Fixer says:

    Julie Bindel’s piece is only partially correct in her recollection of the “good old days.” Gay people have been fighting for mainstream acceptance for a good, long time. That’s what was viewed as being radical to begin with.

    To look at organizations such as the GLF and think that they were the only game in town is not remembering correctly. Many a gay advocacy organization has fallen victim to memberships with differing agendas and as a result, they failed as organizations.

    Think of the many gay couples that stayed together for many years, embracing a mostly monogamous lifestyle and in effect, being married without the legal credentials. Hell, that’s why we’ve been fighting to legalize same-sex marriage and to push for ENDA, and the reason why DADT was on the Radar for so long. One needs to remember that at one time, the very idea of gay people being married was a very radical thing.

    This is social evolution. When we incrementally get rights that we no longer had, the whole social climate changes. And that is what happens in life, change.

    Gay culture, such as it is, will not go away – merely change. We will always be different to the mainstream, even if we embrace parts of it. We will always have to be vigilant to protect the rights that we’ve won (look at how the Religious Right has been chipping away at Roe v Wade to see how they will also try chipping away at our rights), so there will be no shortage of the need for gay activism in the future.

    Julie can enjoy a radicalized life if she wants to, to eschew marriage and to find her own gay culture. To think that way is a one-size-fits-all prescription for all gay people and embraces an incomplete view of the past. It’s also a misunderstanding of how society evolves.

  74. Drew2u says:

    And I completely agree with you as I stated above: “I’ll say that although I’m tired of being represented by or being assumed to be the”high art or low camp, fashion, hair styles, music, dances, clubs, vacation venues, etc.” kind of gay, I fight for their free expression of themselves as much as I ask for the recognition of those who do not fall into the seemingly homonormative camp.”

  75. Drew2u says:

    Then let me ask, what has been the outreach of the coalesced culture, as you’ve seen, to the gay people who do not share the same interests, thus aren’t as easily accessible?
    I spent the weekend at a general geek-celebration convention and one of the panelists chose there to announce that she is transgender – because at least at that convention, everyone got along spectacularly and created a welcoming atmosphere; not batting an eye at anything anyone was wearing or being. I noticed a number of safe-space signs in party rooms, and it was all pretty kickass.
    I’m also speaking for myself when I say this, but Gay Inc, or whatever it’s supposed to be – all of us – need to think about how to reach those that don’t fit into preconceived notions of being. Not everyone goes to Pride and Pride, while open for all, isn’t for everyone. If Gay Inc can figure that out, then making significant progress in red states (I’m in a red state) should become so much easier.

  76. Polterguest says:

    Except there is nothing wrong with being an effeminate man or liking campy things. I’m not effeminate, but I like camp and I’m not offended by effeminate men or butch women. I’d much rather be represented by the swishy stereotype than the gay men who are upset by the existence of flaming queens.

  77. Elijah Shalis says:

    I agree with you 100% John. I was a kid in the 1980s. My only memory of a gay issue is watching the news about Liberace on tv. I would much rather be able to marry my boyfriend than be a slut “sexual liberation”.

  78. climate3 says:

    Being honest, stuff like this pisses me off. For some of us, gay revolution encompasses the luxury of leading ‘boring’ lives. I am so tired of folks wanting us to be the “other” all of the damn time.

  79. I don’t find it stereotypical. It may not apply to everyone, but to disagree that “often” gays coalesce around camp, for example, is to suggest that we don’t coalesece around gay culture, and that in fact there is no gay culture. Perhaps he’s defining white male gay culture, I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s “stereotypical,” and thus prejudicial. It’s true. I simply may not be true for the entire community.

  80. Drew2u says:

    For “The Gay” and coalescing, no of course I don’t believe that “The Gay”, however it’s supposed to be defined, centers around anything that I grew up with, but that’s essentially proving my point of – what I would consider – offensive stereotypes. If we go off of “all stereotypes are based in fact” then I would assume – and correct me if I’m mistaken – that you’d believe racial stereotypes are based in fact, correct? Now that (again, assuming) is different than whether that stereotype is appropriate or offensive, but I would surmise that you would believe racial stereotypes to be offensive, correct? Why would you tell an asian person that “buck-toothed, bad-driving asians is based in fact and that’s your personal issue if you’re offended”?

    Other than liking dick, there hasn’t been any media exposure or stereotypes that reflect the attitude and world-view that I grew up with. The best examples would be the subversion of the stereotype such as the gay couple in The Sara Silverman Show or the Key & Peele sketch where the flamboyant office coworker realized he was being an asshole.

    And to not go down the, “Gays are becoming more accepted in society so the Gay Movement is fracturing” infighting that’s apparently happening, I’ll say that although I’m tired of being represented by or being assumed to be the “high art or low camp, fashion, hair styles, music, dances, clubs, vacation venues, etc.” kind of gay, I fight for their free expression of themselves as much as I ask for the recognition of those who do not fall into the seemingly homonormative camp.

  81. Actually, I think her article bifurcates, or rather, takes a detour into an unfounded concern: that somehow winning on gay marriage and dadt means we won’t work on gay international issues. In fact, who took the lead on gay Russia? The same mainstream white boys who fought for dadt and are fighting for marriage. I think the problem isn’t what she says, it’s not that we’re not radical enough, it’s that perhaps we’re not radical-IZED enough. Meaning, younger gays never had to watch all their friends die, so it’s no surprise they’re less freaked out about AIDS than my generation is, and continues to be. It also means that the trigger for me becoming an activist, my friend Paul Clark dying, isn’t going to be a trigger for a lot of younger gays. It’s that lack of radicalization — not one tied to a specific breed of politics, but rather tied to simply being forced to get involved — that perhaps younger gays aren’t facing, and thus, perhaps, they’re less willing to get invovled. I’m not sure it’s even true that younger gays are less involved politically than we were.

  82. caphillprof says:

    First, if you are offended that is your personal issue.
    Second, all stereotypes are based in fact.
    Third, bully for you, but certainly you do not begin to think that The Gay have coalesced around either farming or nerdculture.

  83. heimaey says:

    I don’t hate or disdain them, but yes. Heteros should adopt too, I believe. My sister did in vitro and I love her but I don’t agree with her decision.

    I personally believe that gay people are biologically incapable of having kids for a purpose. That is, not everyone should have kids – and same thing with straight couples who can’t. Perhaps our roles (straight and gay) are to adopt and/or take in children from siblings who are unable or become unable to care for their kids.

    In paleolithic times, there was a community of support from people who did not or could not have kids and we should adopt that in our society.That said, I do not begrudge or hold it against someone who does in-vitro. The urge to have a personal offspring is strong, but we need to supersede that IMHO. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

  84. Drew2u says:

    I beg your pardon and I don’t mean for this to be a personal attack, but the statement of “But often we coalesce around high art or low camp, fashion, hair styles, music, dances, clubs, vacation venues, etc. “ – as a young-ish rural midwestern farmer into science and nerdculture, I find that kind of stereotype to be offensive; it can’t be helped, though, I don’t think.

  85. Drew2u says:

    I feel like a terrible friend but a couple I know are in the middle of a very difficult pregnancy, the wife almost having died this past february and they were unsure if the fetus would reach the very start of viability were it to be delivered premature (a guarantee, at this point).
    They had almost as much difficulty with their first child that made it to birth and I really just want to ask if they ever considered adoption if trying to get pregnant is causing so much health troubles.

  86. 2patricius2 says:

    Lots of good comments – both your article, John, and the comments to follow. And the song – so true in so many ways.

    We were always a complex people and could never be put into a box. And we were younger. And it was not easy being out for most of us. But we change, and times change. And life itself changes us. And new challenges come along. And if we survive and don’t get lost along the way, we mature.

    I loved the wild dancing when I was younger. It was a way of celebrating who I was in the midst of oppression. And I had more physical energy then. But I would not want to be that age again, and would not want to deal with the stifling oppression again. I would not want to have to lose so many friends to the suffering and deterioration of AIDS again. I would not want to have to come out all over again, or have to fight so hard for simple human rights again. I prefer being free to be myself, rather than being a part of an in crowd in which I never really fit. After all, what is gay liberation, or women’s liberation, or black liberation, or any other kind of liberation if it is not the freedom to be oneself? I’m much happier now than I was back then. Much more at peace.

    My very favorite musical is Hair. So much in that musical. So much energy and so much celebration. But so much about human relationships and the messiness of them and their complications.

  87. NCMan says:

    I hope you show the same disdain for hetero couples who are selfish enough to spread their genes instead of adopting.

  88. AndyinChicago says:

    This is an interesting perspective and really well thought out. I’m always frustrated when I’m with my gay friends and I say that I don’t do X because of politics and everyone rolls their eyes. When Mark Zuckerberg was raising money for Chris Christie after he had just vetoed gay marriage, I remember getting yelled at for not being on Facebook because I missed an invitation to a gay engagement party here in Chicago.

    Part of what being gay has meant to me is that in a number of situations, I’m the other, and I should have empathy for anyone else who is disenfranchised in any way, even if it’s different from what I’ve experienced. But the push to normalize, to bring the same institutions into the gay world that are in the straight world, has partially eliminated the sense of being the other, and I think the fear is that it’s eliminated that sense of empathy. The immigration reform rallies representation by the gay communities over even the last 10 years when I’ve been actively going has become less and less visible, and what remains is largely the older generation. Maybe this is a lot of hand-wringing, but I understand the sense of concern. We’ll just have to see where the gay community moves as a political entity.

  89. StraightGrandmother says:

    Good article John

  90. heimaey says:

    I find this a lot with people in NYC. Gay has become too mainstream for their tastes and has lost its creative, revolutionary roots. But everything changes and nothing stays the same so the underground scenes have to adapt to that as well. There will always be bohemians and social changers, but not in the sense that we may have known them.

    I personally think the next big issue to tackle will be marriage and monogamy again, but the expansion of open marriage and the challenge of ‘traditional’ marriage as we’ve known it. Monogamy doesn’t work for most people, and I believe straight people are coming to terms with this on a larger scale.

    Gay people will face new pressures for a while – the pressure to have kids, and the pressure to get married. I already have a ton of people (rudely, I think) asking me when I’m getting married. It’s none of their business. But the perception of marriage and kids will change over the next 20-40 years and I believe we’ll see a more relaxed attitude toward more cooperative or joint families consisting of more than two parents in the household and open marriages will also rise.

    What I can’t really stand about the new gay set having kids is that it’s all in-vitro. There are too many kids who need homes, and the fact that we are so selfish and want to spread our genes is completely well…selfish to me. Also, it’s still incredibly expensive to have kids, and I live in NYC and only the very rich gays can have kids – there’s a big swath of gays and lesbians who can’t afford it at all.

  91. heimaey says:

    You can never go back.

  92. Bookbinder says:

    What we did is what we had to do, regardless of personal appetites….we conformed to get the things we needed from the host culture, and to survive AIDS. What happens when there is a cure and the agenda is completed? That to me is the question. Will it be back to the 70s early 80s?

  93. caphillprof says:

    There is no gay community, never was and probably never will be. Gay folk are more diverse than the Democratic party. Occasionally gay folk coalesce around a political issue. But often we coalesce around high art or low camp, fashion, hair styles, music, dances, clubs, vacation venues, etc. Politics may be about a quest for political or social equality. But these other things remain about exceptionalism.

    Marriage, babies and mortgates are not deradicalised; they are very radical indeed.

    In ancient history (I was out 35 years ago so my perspective is different than John’s) many radicals viewed gayness as radical and supported gay rights. But gay rights on the whole was not utopian, it was always grounded in the reality of day to day struggles and it remains grounded in the reality of day to day struggles.

    The Guardian writer would like to force a utopianism on the movement for gay equality, that gay equality is somehow not about equality but remaking heterosexual society. She confuses the gay struggle with feminism, a movement that has been much less successful and seems to have lost its way.

    It is the malcontents that stand in the way of progress as being always insufficiently progressive. A pox on their house.

  94. soleri says:

    I miss the old days, too, when the counter-culture was vibrant. But the problem here is that its existence was as much a function of our prosperity as it was our airiest political insights. Once that prosperity began to weaken, people could no longer live like trust-fund babies. We had to get jobs, stop smoking grass, and live in a world where tastes are mercurial. If you continued to live as if life was a Grateful Dead concert, you became a parody of what it meant to be a hippie. The luckiest among us got into creative fields and lived intentionally, often in communities that celebrated rather than repressed that spirit. So, you could still see its efflorescence years later in places like Taos, Boulder, Portland, Arcata, and Asheville. So, did our critique of consumer civilization collapse? No. It made today’s world much more receptive to alternative everything, from polyamory to biracial unions to medicinal marijuana to gluten-free craft beer. People are not static – we constantly reinvent because that’s what human energy loves to do. But what comes out of that is anybody’s guess. Nostalgia is death whether you’re a right-winger longing for Mayberry or a radical fairy haunting the sidewalks of the Christopher Street.

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