My previous post on Mary Cheney generated a comment from Antonio that got me thinking a bit more. “For one thing,” Antonio wrote, “let's not pretend gays are some highly-evolved group of progressive thinkers ready to roll America into a new realm of enlightenment. At the end of the day, we're subject to the same flaws and shortcomings that all people are.” Therefore, he argued, kicking Mary Cheney out of the queer group would be ridiculous. Of course, I only joke about kicking out folk like Cheney – Mostly. No, of course I am only kidding – for the most part. Seriously, no, I am joking – except when I am deadly serious about it.
Antonio’s statement, though, does raise the issue of whether queers, as a group, are actively engaged or invested in progressive politics anymore. It also poses the question of what we do with queer folk who seem, well, kinda villainous?
Indeed, many of the nominations for Queer of the Year have been ultra-conservative people like Ted Haggard, Mary Cheney, and Mark Foley. These, after all, are the queer people who received the most media attention (much to their chagrin) this past year. For the time being, we can sidestep those who are not out, like Foley or Haggard, as a different type of political issue for queers. Instead, let’s start with figures who, though out, adopt conservative agendas which sacrifice their queer brothers and sisters.
The media has a tendency when dealing with people like Mary Cheney or Andrew Sullivan to treat queer conservatism as something new. Anybody who has spent anytime with large numbers of queer people know that queer conservatism is both widespread and old (much to my chagrin).
Consider that white gay men live most of their childhood with the presumption that they are not lacking access to justice. Given the increasing level of segregation in the United States, they probably have had little serious contact with racial minorities. They look around their schools, see one or two African Americans or Mexican Americans sitting in the class, and think that all discrimination must be over.
One of the most rude awakenings about coming out of the closet for many white men, therefore, is the shock of realization that the United States is still a terribly unfair place. By simply acknowledging their queer desires, they forfeited a great deal of the social privilege that informed their lives. For most, this becomes a transformative moment both personally and politically. Though they probably didn’t even notice their privilege beforehand, its sudden elimination gives new insight into the need to fight the status quo in the U.S.
Others, though, take a darker path. They try to maintain the same social inequalities that had once rewarded them. Rather than seeing shared oppressions and opportunities across class, race, gender, and sexuality, they look to maintain their own shaky authority and petty self-interest by oppressing others.
Out conservatives like Cheney or Sullivan then turn around and claim that they are the real victims. No, they see no problem supporting a sexist, racist, and homophobic government. They do, though, think that a queer lefty crew is on the move to crush their individuality and silence them. They whine that they just aren’t understood or accepted in the queer community. They talk, talk, talk about the ways that their viewpoints are ignored.
In so doing, they give the mainstream media a means by which to dismiss the concerns of queer activists. “Look,” they say, “Not every single gay person wants sexual freedom. This one over here doesn’t think that she is oppressed at all. Some of them are even Catholic! Therefore, those other people demanding rights must just be crazy.” Queer conservatives become dependable spokespersons for maintaining the gender and sexual status quo. They garner disproportionate amounts of media time in relation to their actual numbers in the queer community.
Conservatives also manipulate those of us who want to be reasonable and inclusive within the queer community. Constantly claiming that they are not allowed to speak their mind gets many of us to bend over backwards to accept them or give them a platform. We do this even when faced with considerable evidence of their hypocrisy, dishonesty, or simple lack of smarts.
In reality, no lefty queer conspiracy keeps Cheney or others from living the type of life that they want. Their politics and devotion to conservatism, however, keeps many other queer folk from being able to live the type of lives that they would like to live (or even lives equivalent to Cheney’s).
Our reality, right now, is that the nation has no interest nor inclination to guarantee the social and political growth of queers. We can’t, therefore, just shrug it off when other queers actively contribute to our subjugation.
Every marginalized group has faced this type of internal dissension as they fought (and continue to fight) for full civic and social equality. Go ask bell hooks. She would feel what I am putting down.
We can respect queer conservatives’ right to express themselves (I, after all, worship at the altar of free speech) without allowing them to be the face of queers in the mainstream media. Queer conservatives’ dominance in this past year’s media coverage gave us only two options. With people like Mark Foley or Ted Haggard, we ended up being presented as lying, predatory, and dependent on chemical substances. Or, with people like Mary Cheney, we saw somebody who didn’t appear particularly persecuted. Though Mary Cheney was literally surrounded by Christian fanatics, she lived in her insulated bubble of wealth and privileged. Mary could afford to get pregnant, buy homes, and travel the country free of harassment. Indeed, little Mary claimed that it was really other big, bad queers who made her life hard.
Responding to queer conservatism requires a reinvestment in a queer rights agenda. Movements for social justice, however, do not emerge as well-organized, coherent entities. We can’t just phone each other up and make a schedule of events. There will never be a queer central authority who can divvy up the necessary tasks that will transform society.
Instead, creating and sustaining a renewed queer “movement” means that we, as individuals, will need to grapple with making our struggles and demands known in our daily lives. We will all be out writing, reading, and thinking about the type of nation that we want. To attain it, we have to be vocal, visible, and political with our family, friends, and coworkers. Moreover, we have to be willing to refute the conservatives in our queer midst who only harm our larger goals.