As a New Yorker by temperament and, until recently, by residence as well, I was deeply skeptical of post-911 reports of the Death of Irony. “It’s not dead,” I felt certain, “it’s merely resting.” Yet reading the ever intensifying screeds of Village Voice editor Richard Goldstein against the gay right (or, as he’s also called them, ” the attack queers“), I have to wonder whether there isn’t something to it. How else, after all, to explain the venom with which a self-styled progressive can attack other gay writers who (the horror!) voice conservative or libertarian views, and then pose as a defender of “difference” against the putative conformism of that “homocon” minority?
In a recent article in The Nation which borders on self-parody, Goldstein claims — utterly falsely — that pundits like Norah Vincent, Camille Paglia, and Andrew Sullivan “push a single, morally correct way to be gay,” then a mere page later asserts that “the gay right exists, just as Jews for Jesus do, but it stands apart from the ethos that marks gays as a people. You can’t really be a queer humanist and a homocon.” Some of you may have naively believed that sexual preference was primarily a question of whom you prefer to have sex with. But Goldstein and his ideological allies are determined to — forgive the phrase — set you straight. Ladies? If Salma Hayek turns you on, Friedrich had better not. Guys? You can like dick or Dick Armey, but not both. At least, not if you’re “really” gay.
About a year ago, referring to Vincent’s popularity, Goldstein said: “The liberal press needs to ask itself why they consistently promote the work of gay writers who attack other gay people.” In light of his own penchant for recklessly misquoting and distorting the views of gay conservatives and libertarians, and especially his vicious intrusion into Sullivan’s private life, we might ask a parallel question. What has Goldstein and his fellow thought police so terrified? I suspect itâ??s the gradual unraveling of a historical accident.
The vagaries of America’s winner-take-all first-past-the-post electoral system, and the two-party hegemony it has entrenched, have forced a distasteful coalition. Adherents of a philosophy of limited government, open markets, and equality under law were shoehorned into “the right,” where they formed an uneasy realpolitik alliance with (among others) loathesome, hate-filled little troglodytes who prattle about a “gay agenda” and live in terror of the day when America recognizes that “equal protection of the laws” is utterly inconsistent with state bans on “sodomy” and a “straights-only” marriage policy. This Faustian bargain allowed progressives in the gay community to claim, correctly, that anyone who cared deeply about gay rights had better support the causes and candidates of the left.
As Sullivan and his fellow travelers show, however, the fissures in that unfortunate alliance are beginning to show, and some savvy Republicans are renouncing bigotry. This is deeply frightening to those who had come to rely on a “gay voting bloc,” and has prompted some astonishing displays of hyperbole. Consider the case of Florida Democrat Doug Head, who recently found himself in hot water when he suggested that a gay voter who supported gay Republican Patrick Howell was like “a Jew voting for Hitler.” Indulge me for a moment in following a tortured train of reasoning worthy of Lewis Carroll. The Republican Party has frequently been hostile to gay rights. Therefore, when a Republican candidate emerges who might begin to reverse that trend, the correct response is not to support him, proving that Republicans have much to gain politically from sloughing off the bigots and reaching out to the gay community, but instead to rebuff him. Why? Because according to this warped groupthink logic, anyone who proposes to make trains run on time is an anti-Semite, even if he’s Jewish.
Of course, this makes no sense. And, of course, it makes perfect sense. The gay right is being attacked for the same reason that Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, or Shelby Steele, were so savagely attacked by many self-appointed black leaders. By exploding the expectation within a community that members share a prepackaged set of political beliefs, dissenters undermine the power base and policy ends of agenda setters whose political orientation has always come first.
As weâ??ve seen with attacks on black conservatives, dissenting views must be explained away as signs of inauthentic identity, even as affronts to the relevant identity. Therefore, we see a familiar exercise in amateur Freudianism, wherein Sullivan et. al. are psychoanalyzed as self-hating gays. For Goldstein, politics and sexual identity have so blurred together that this comes very easily. If being a progressive is just one necessary aspect of that identity, after all, then an attack on progressivism is an attack on the identity. If conservatives are therefore necessarily anti-gay, weâ??re only one leap of circular reasoning away from proving the initial assumption.
Goldsteinâ??s hardwired inability to separate sexual identity and politics is evident in his palpable horror at Sullivanâ??s suggestion that, once equality under the law (marriage rights, military service, etc.) is secured, the â??gay movementâ? should dissolve. Itâ??s clear that, as far as Goldsteinâ??s concerned, this is precisely the same as suggesting that gay culture should be abandoned, because he cannot imagine a culture which is not, first and foremost, a political movement. And he seems to think it unnecessary to do more than state the incredible fact that “homocons actually oppose laws that prohibit discrimination against gay people,” because he cannot conceive of gay thinkers holding a political principle which is really that, a principle, and not a direct expression of class interest. Goldstein even offers the amusing theory that conservative gay authors are welcomed in the mainstream media because more flamboyant/butch gay writers would make the straight majority uncomfortable. If thatâ??s right, the first gay writer who combines nice Kennedy-liberal values with a thoroughly mainstream demeanor (on Goldsteinâ??s hypothesis, there must not be any so far) should be a media sensation.
Iâ??m willing to suppose that, through some Herculean effort of will, Goldstein & co. manage to believe this, if only because it must be less galling than confessing that, say, Paglia and Jonathan Rauch are just infinitely more original, interesting writers than Richard Goldstein and Michelangelo Signorile. Perhaps, to preserve their egos, the two of them are entitled to that belief. Nobody else should be tempted, however. Goldstein and his thought police have grown accustomed a political climate in which their marginal progressive agenda got a free ride on the need of homosexuals to defend themselves from an irrational and hostile majority. Now, they want the rest of the gay community to stay marginal, and surrender a real opportunity at expanded political influence, in order to keep free riding. In this, Goldstein may be reaching out to the right after all: I’m sure nothing would please Pat Robertson more.