Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Queer Politics

At the risk of inviting hate mail, I need to talk about the over-representation of “queer conservatives” in the media. I just gotta. My nerves grow raw at the dominance that this small group has on the representation of queers in the mainstream news.

Let me start with my usual list of preemptive disclaimers: Of course, I recognize the political diversity of the queer community and love all my queer brothers and sisters. True, I will never quite understand why someone who likes same-sex-sex would align with conservative political causes; however, it’s their personal choice and I respect that. Nor do I think that one has to be lefty to be truly queer or some such nonsense. So, let’s be cool with each other.

All that said, queer conservatives are not the majority of queer folk in the United States. The Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) can hardly claim to represent the larger body of GLBT voters. According to the 2004 Associated Press exit polling, 78 percent of self-identified gay voters opted for Kerry compared with only 21 percent who voted for Bush (the remainder voted for a third-party alternative).

Yet, the media seems to increasingly treat queer conservatives as our newly anointed leaders. A recent story in USA Today (No, I don’t normally read that trash), for instance, reported on the move by 16 states to ban gays and lesbians from adopting children. The story had the expected sound-bites from the usual suspects of Anti-Choice, Anti-Women, Anti-Minority, Anti-Gay groups. Who, though, did the reporter ask for a “gay” perspective? Patrick Guerriero of the Log Cabin Republicans. Mr. Guerriero offered the astoundingly insightful comment that banning gay adoption was “the next step by conservatives.” At no point did USA Today quote lefty activists nor did Guerriero’s own ideas about the gay-adoption ban get voiced (and I am assuming Guerriero thinks queer parents would be just fine).

LCR’s aren’t the folk who historically achieved the few rights that GLBT people have today. Somehow, though, the lefty queer political leaders have been sidelined by the queer conservatives in the national media. So, why do these queer conservatives get so much attention?

At first, I thought the media’s interests in queer conservatives existed simply because they are a novelty. Because most queers don’t vote conservatively, the media initially presented them as an unusual element of our community. You know, kind of like the little rush of attention that heterosexual plushies got a year or so ago.

Now, though, the media increasingly depends on gay conservatives as the “voice” of the queer community. Yet, the media’s use (and misuse) of queer conservatives says little about the actual political diversity within the queer community at all.

In many ways, queer conservatives' political views are misunderstood and poorly reported in the mainstream press. Let me be clear: I think the LCRs are deeply problematic and I disagree with them on almost every issue; however, the media does not present queer conservatives truthfully. News outlets often forget that the LCR did not endorse a candidate for President during the 2004 election. Nor does the LCR blindly support (all) of the anti-gay crap that the mainstream Republicans are pushing.

Instead, the media depends on shorthand in their use of queer conservatives. Merely using the word “conservative” today implies a faith in the current administration, or so the media would have us believe. When they deploy queer conservatives, the media constructs an image of a disjointed and incoherent queer community. They ignore or minimize queer conservatives’ demands for equality or coherent political statements. Instead, they use queer conservatives to make our claims about a unified queer movement seem like a lie. “See?” the media implies, “Not all queer folk want equal rights and equal treatment. Look, here is an entire group who identifies with the interests of ‘conservatives.’ So, we shouldn’t believe those liberal queers who keep demanding stuff, like fair treatment and respect.”

It is the media, however, that fibs. We queer folk are bound together across racial, class, political, generational, and regional boundaries by our shared oppression and common experiences. With only a few extreme exceptions, conservative and liberal queer folk alike agree on the need for basic protection and equality in this nation.

The media creates a false dichotomy between two extreme caricatures of queer politics. We get two options: the wild, fantastical, leather-clad, lefty who smothers happily married heteros in their sleep verses the button-down (white) quasi-closeted asexual conservative who gives occasional beauty tips to his best gal-pals. The media has long presented the lefty queer community as a disorderly and bizarre carnival that threatens the peaceful harmony of the hetero world. We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that the news would give more favorable coverage to the minority conservatives who they imagine as more like “typical” Americans. Queer conservatives just don’t seem as scary because they don’t get presented as actually wanting anything but the status quo.

Neither of these visions represent the reality of our daily lives or our actual political options. Instead, they are convenient for news writers trying to dramatize or manufacture divisions between us. The nation, as a consequence, gets let off the hook on queer rights. After all, if queer folk can’t agree on what rights they want, why should the rest of the nation care? By exaggerating internal divisions between queer folk, the media erases or minimizes the real threats posed to us by conservative heterosexuals’ opposition and hostility. It is they, not our queer brothers and sisters, who threaten our rights and lives. We should not be misled.

If you consider yourself a queer conservative, start demanding that the media represent your actual beliefs more accurately. For those of us who are queer and lefty, let us remind the media that we are the majority of queer folk (Sorry, queer conservatives, it’s true. Accept it.).

As a community, let us also remember that the political divisions between us are resolvable. The middle ground for all of us queer folk is the desire to be treated with respect and given the chance to live our lives in the ways that make us happy.


Olaf said...

Good post. This parallels the treatment of anti-feminist, women conservatives in the media as well. A few years ago Camille Paglia was all the rage for claiming that feminism was over, that most women who claimed they were raped were lying, etc. She got boatloads of attention because she reinforced the status quo -- "See, not all academic women are feminists, some think they're just as ridiculous as we do! We don't need to guarantee equal rights for women!" Anne Coutler is the present day equivalent (although i wouldn't call her an academic).

I think the women's movement has been fairly successful in countering this sort of conservative media spin; I think those of us in the queer community could definitely learn something from them and how they cultivate a diversity of opinion.

P.S. I love your blog -- I'm hoping to one day become a GayProf myself.

Roger Owen Green said...

Amen. One of these days I'll have to write about Condi Rice as a "black leader", as a recent poll described her.

Oso Raro said...

Like you, I find it hard to believe in this moment of incredible danger for LGBT folks, how gay conservatives can continue to support this administration, even along party and not ideological lines. However, that said, we also live in a profoundly anti-intellectual nation, and our cultural institutions, like the media, reflect that perspective in acute ways. Nobody in America seemingly wants a complicated story. We want hearts and flowers and happy endings like a crackhead wants a hit, and woebetide to anyone who doesn't give it to us.

The increasingly reliance on conservative gay voices also reflects the general turn towards the right perceptable across a broad spectrum of media outlets, even if this turn is generally (I would argue) unreflective of the actual socio-political situation on the ground, which is much more complex than just left or right at this point. But, we live now in an ideological age which threatens to push our society into some uncomfortable and risky choices in the coming years, which will only be accelerated if and when there is another incident of terrorism in the continental USA.

Then again, gay conservatism is an unfortunate aspect of what I like to call the new homonormativity, where we are no longer freaks and geeks, queens, butches, and fairies, but rather upstanding, Cornflake eating, taxpaying citizens just like anyone else. To a certain extent, this is completely true. Most LGBT people aren't fabulous like you, me, or a considerable part of your readership. They're as dull as dirt, Mary! So the homonormativity I am speaking of is separate from regular banal LGBT normality: rather, it is a specific political strategy with roots in different events and approaches, but one that is now at odds with the challenges we face. Which is another reasons why the oxymoron gay conservative is one that refers to an awkward politics that applies not only to Log Cabin queens, but also to the well meaning folks at HRC, with their equality stickers and glossy photo sets of healthy, straight teeth L and G people.

Homonormativity follows from the line of thinking that if we're good boys and girls, our inner beauty will convince our opponents of our inherent worth. But guess what, girls? We're not dealing with rational people here, we're facing a mob of hysterical, irrational assholes who don't care if we mow our lawns or pay our taxes. They want to legislate us out of existence! One queen is as bad as another in their book. We're all sinners, after all.

So, given this distasteful choice, I say fuck it tim tuck it! Ladies, put on your best dress and make sure your make-up is perfect. Now, let's go raise some hell!

tornwordo said...

You are so overwhelmingly diplomatic as you refer to the log cabin republicans. I would have been far less careful about offending sensibilities. Let's call em what they are - Negroes for Slavery.

Roger Owen Green said...

GP- Where did you get that countdown rthingy?

Anonymous said...

Thank you! Stockholm Syndrome anyone? The gay conservative I dislike most at this point in time is Mark Cherry.

Gay Erasmus said...

Interesting post. I've noticed that a trend is happening in media commentaries on GLBT communities all over the world at the moment: a tendency to see any increase in the migrations of GLBT people to suburbs and non-metropolitan areas as evidence of a new conservative mindset among all queer folk. Of course, the question here is, what does 'conservative' mean? And are we talking social conservatism or political / ideological conservatism?

Thanks for bringing calm, patient insight to the debate.

Antonio Perales del Hierro said...

"...calm, patient insight to the debate." I heard that! After my own experiences with bigotry, I simply want to destroy the mΩt#@ fμ¥£€r§. I discovered a potent attention-getter, my genealogy, and I consciously constructed a weapon called XLOWRIDER TIMES PANCHO VILLA--do check it out. I love you, my beautiful queers!

Antonio Perales del Hierro said...

"...calm, patient insight to the debate." I heard that! After my own experiences with bigotry, I simply want to destroy the mΩt#@ fμ¥£€r§. I discovered a potent attention-getter, my genealogy, and I consciously constructed a weapon called XLOWRIDER TIMES PANCHO VILLA--do check it out. I love you, my beautiful queers!