What Happened to the Wild, Free Gay Movement of the 1970s?
I miss the gays of the 1970s.
Before AIDS made them fearful.
When they were wild. On the fringe. A threat to decent society.
Decent society sucks.
I miss the gay-rights movement that came out of Stonewall. I miss the hilariously profane gay pride parades that prompted upright straights to assert, with a (ahem) straight face that if only gays didn’t act so flamboyant, so disrespectful, so gay – then straight society might well condescend to “tolerate” them. (Accept? No way. Approve? Obscene!)
“The speed and scope of the movement are astonishing supporters,” The New York Times points out this week. And hey, if playing Ozzie and Harriet behind a white picket fence is your thing (or Ozzie and Ozzie), congratulations. This is your moment.
But gays and their straight allies are deluding themselves if they believe that achieving marriage equality is anything but a pyrrhic victory for liberals and progressives.
A sign carried by a demonstrator at the high court hints at the sad truth: the marriage equality movement isn’t propelling gays forward, it’s keeping all of us back. “Gays have the right to be as miserable as I make my husband,” read her placard.
Yay for assimilation.
Gays and lesbians may not all realize it yet, but adopting the cultural trappings of America’s hegemonic majority culture is a tragic, disastrous, suicidal move. This is why those fighting for the right to enter into state-sanctioned monogamous marital pacts are finding that they’re pushing against an open door.
Right-wing support for marriage equality ought to make gays suspicious. Theodore Olsen, arguing against California’s anti-gay marriage proposition in one of the two cases before the Supreme Court, co-founded the Federalist Society and argued in favor of the judicial coup d’état that installed George W. Bush in 2000. Several possible Republican presidential candidates have endorsed or softened their positions on gay marriage. And 80% of voters under age 30 are for it. Even on the right, gay marriage has few enemies left.
Why would it? As Jon Huntsman wrote in The American Conservative recently, “Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause.” Olsen adds: “The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance.”
Close but not quite. The sad truth is that the LGBT movement has abandoned its progressive roots. It has become a conservative movement.
“From asserting a powerful political critique of the heterosexual organization of society – to which monogamous marriage between two people is central – the loudest, strongest sections of the gay movement have set their sights on becoming just the same,” mourns Ray Filar in a UK Guardian piece titled “How Conservatives Hijacked the Gay Movement.”
Not convinced? Think about the other big LGBT issue of recent years: trying to convince the government of the United States to allow openly-“out” gays and lesbians to join the military so they can kill Afghans and Iraqis. Wouldn’t it have been better for them to argue against militarism? To say that no one, gay or straight, should kill Afghans or Iraqis?
When oppressed Afghans and Iraqis can’t count on solidarity from oppressed Americans, the terrorists who run the Pentagon and CIA win.
Back in the 1970s, Michael Warner reminds us in his 1999 book “The Trouble with Normal,” gays weren’t trying to assimilate into the toxic “mainstream” cultures of monogamism and empire. Instead, they were pointing the way toward other ways of life.
Gays didn’t want the “right” to kill the Vietnamese.
I don’t get it. The big advantages of being gay were that you didn’t have to get married or go to war. Why give that up?
Most liberation movements ultimately seek to advance society overall. For example, men who want to raise their children have benefited from feminism. After the Stonewall riot the gay movement struggled to free not just gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people, but straights as well from a dominant heteronormative narrative that oppressed everyone. They pushed to destigmatize sex and the expression of sexual identity, and presented alternative means of sexual bonding and child-rearing such as triad and polyamorous relationships.
Of course, these “wild and crazy” approaches merely recognized demographic reality: by 2000 nontraditional families outnumbered the “normal” nuclear family headed by a father married to a mother with children.
Filar mocks the conservatives running today’s gay movement: “We’re just like you, honest! Please like us!”
It would’ve been so much better if we – the straight “normal” majority – had become more like gays. The gays of the 1970s, anyway.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL