“Most of my friends are straight”
“Yeah, I don’t act like the typical gay, do I?”
“Gays are so promiscuous – loving, monogamous, long-term relationships are what life should really be about.”

If you’ve ever heard any of the above statements, then you’ve come into contact with the discourse of “gay conservatism”: a powerful ideology within gay and lesbian communities that basically calls for queers to distinguish themselves as little as possible from the dominant straight community. Having established this, it is not difficult to guess that the central tenets of this ideology mirror many of the biases and prejudices of normative society:

1.) Gender Conformity & Masculinism – gay conservatives frequently bemoan the alleged high profile that drag queens and bull dykes have in queer communities. They claim that gender non-conformists (and other ‘hedonists’) provide an inaccurate (and shameful) picture of the gay and lesbian community as a whole. Andrew Sullivan, one of the most celebrated gay conservatives, is famous for suggesting that, at the end of the day, men should be masculine and women should be feminine. Unsurprisingly, most gay conservatives are men, with the exception of one “lesbian with a male brain” (Camille Paglia) and her disciples. Paglia was famous in the early 1990s for vitriolic diatribes against feminism and lesbian communities, claiming that non-feminizing (e.g. – not including any kind of ‘cross-dressing/acting’) gay sex is productive and stimulating because it involves a separation from the protective, uncreative cocoon of the mother. Lesbianism (defined as never having sex with men), on the other hand, is regressive and “intellectually enervating” because it is a flight back into the regressiveness of the mother. Although most gay conservative writing is rarely as misogynist, it generally does not accord much relevance to feminism and insists on viewing gay issues and lesbian issues as “separate spheres.”

2.) Marriage & The Military – Andrew Sullivan is famous for claiming that after gay marriage and access to the military have been achieved, the gay rights movement should “end the party.” He suggests that, by limiting our goals to marriage and the military, we are least likely to incur the wrath of the dominant straight community, and we will pay our respects to U.S. liberal constitutionalism (which allows for only formal, legal changes in society). He views marriage and the military as perhaps the most respectable institutions in the U.S., and thus, being included in them would represent/symbolize the acceptance of gays in society. Bruce Bawer, an important (but less famous) gay conservative bemoans the lack of established “courtship rituals” in queer society and positive examples of loving, stable, monogamous relationships (e.g. – marriages) for queer youth. This lack of “positive examples” (i.e. – inducements) creates a culture where “horrible things” like promiscuity and kinky sex are acceptable and an active part of the textual discourse and visual imagery of the queer community.

3.) Resistance to “left-wing” Coalition Politics – gay conservatives tend to see no reason for making alliances with feminists, civil rights and anti-racism movements, anti-war movements etc… the dominant political discourse in most queer communities is viewed by them as “uncomfortably left-wing.” Indeed, being a homosexual should not necessarily imply any kind of political involvement and the U.S. “new left,” with its anti-war, anti-bourgeois, anti-capitalist ideology is certainly not the best ideological group to make friends with. As Richard Tafel (an erstwhile president of the Log Cabin Republicans) points out, gay conservatives tend to believe that the capitalism dominant in Western societies is perhaps the primary factor in creating a positive social environment for gays and lesbians (because it promotes ‘individualism’).

Gay conservatism is usually justified as either a strategic imperative (diminish one’s ‘difference’ in order to become a better candidate for government-administered ‘rights’), or as an ethical necessity in the morally anarchic world of the queer community (thus, ‘straight values,’ such as marriage, monogamy, gender-conformity become viewed as ethically desirable).

As strongly as its promoters may feel about these justifications, this ideology has inexcusably negative implications for the queer community. Particularly relevant for the readers of this blog is the fact that it completely misses the point about gender. As we all know, most homophobia is based not on whom one has sex with but on the victim’s perceived gender performance. Thus, people who don’t fit expectations of masculinity or femininity (whether they be queer, bi, trans, gay, straight, lesbian or whatever) are most often the targets of violence, discrimination, and hatred.

In that respect, gay conservatives are certainly right that if we really want to endear ourselves to the normative straight community, we should sweep those pesky gender non-conformists under the carpet and do our best to ensure that they stay out of the picture (how many queers out there have been lauded by straight people for not being “the stereotypical dyke/fag”?). If, however, we are truly interested in building a better, freer world where gender restrictions and homophobia have no place, then it is gay conservatism that needs to be shunted.

***For more information***
Gay Conservatives – Bruce Bawer (A Place at the Table, Beyond Queer); Andrew Sullivan (Virtually Normal); Camille Paglia (Vamps and Tramps, Sexual Personae – at your own risk, she will make you pull your hair out!!); Richard Tafel (Party Crasher).

About Gay Conservatism – There have been few comprehensive analyses (as yet) of this social/theoretical phenomenon. Of the two that I am aware of, Paul Robinson’s Queer Wars: The New Gay Right and its Critics is by far the best. For a slightly less scholarly endeavor, check out Richard Goldstein – Homocons: The Rise of the Gay Right. For a particularly vitriolic response to gay conservatism (particularly as it relates to issues of sexuality), see Michael Warner –The Trouble with Normal.

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