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.


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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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