If We Didn't Have Fags, We'd Have To Invent Them

This diary begins with a simple question:  what political function do gay and lesbian people serve in this country?

It seems pretty clear to any of us who are gay or who have gay friends that the depictions and descriptions of gay and lesbian people in the media and in the culture do not really fit the actual people we know.

It also seems pretty clear that gays are really important politically.  After the jump, I'll offer a few observations for discussion about what function gays serve in the political and cultural discourse, and offer some thoughts about how we on the left can reframe the debate about gays and gay rights to counterattack and clear up the confusion.

Hannah Arendt, in her classic work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, describes in detail the need of emerging totalitarian regimes to create a scapegoat of a despised and relatively powerless minority to promote popular support for a totalitarian and often imperialistic agenda.  In her work, she studied in detail the rise of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany.

Using her analysis as a broad framework, I would argue that the use of gay people (or, in the language of the antigay forces, "homosexuals") is much more about power and the creation of a popular power base for political purposes than it is about gay people at all.  In today's provocative diary over at Kos, we have an interesting argument that says that this country is already on the way to becoming a fascist state, and that diary has in part provoked me to pen this one.

Because arguments and characterizations of gay people are not really about actual gay people and their lives, the characterizations by people on both the right and in the mainstream media are often divorced from reality. To those on the right, gay people represent a kind of evil cabal of hedonistic, child abusing, irresponsible, sex obsessed saboteurs of the moral and social order.  They have too much power and money and conspire to force their agenda on the rest of us "normal" people, secretly controlling the levers of power in Washington, New York, the judicial branch and Hollywood.  I keep expecting to read about some equivalent of the famously fabricated Protocols of the Elders of Zion from these people.  (Maybe it would be called the Protocols of the Gymbots of Chelsea? I dunno.)

There is an even more insidious, supposedly liberal or tolerant set of stereotypes promulgated by the mainstream media.  Gays (particularly gay men), in this context, are creative, witty people, with fashion sense and good taste.  Preening poodles of a kind who make for dashing cocktail party guests (Will and Grace, Queer Eye), but who are nevertheless "not like us." Or they are victims, and by virtue of their victimization, sanctified (see Matthew Shepherd).  Today's story of the rejection of the UCC advertisement suggest further how the mainstream corporate media prefers the status quo, and is ultimately conservative, rather than liberal (that's surely not news to most people here).

Neither the caricatures promoted by the mainstream media nor the ones promoted by the right are in any way truly liberal, since they do not allow for or account for the wide variety and sheer normalcy of the lives of gay and lesbian people.  So what's going on here?

The net effect of this set of cultural fantasies about who gay people are is to serve the agenda of power for a particular political point of view. That point of view is represented by the accumulation of power by an intolerant alliance of corporate and religious fundamentalist control, an alliance which seeks to control society and subvert the freedoms guaranteed to us in the U. S. Constitution.  

So, when you hear people talk to you about gay people, or gay rights, from the point of view of the corporate media (which seeks to convert citizens into passive, mindless consumers) or from the political right wing (which seeks to convert citizens into mindless sheep), what you are really hearing is a diversionary tactic designed to shut off your mind and embroil you in impassioned battles based on ignorance, fear and traditional hatreds.  Jews were the easiest constituency to serve this purpose in prewar Germany.  Gays serve that purpose in America today.  And so, if we did not have fags, given the ambitions of today's corporate-fundamentalist power alliance in America, someone would, in some sense, have to invent them.  As soon as you hear the right wing talk about gays or about any of the code words that go along with that discussion ("traditional values,""activist judges," etc.), understand that someone is trying to get you to shut off your mind and take off on the political equivalent of a snipe hunt.  It doesn't matter if the one speaking to you is James Dobson or Wolf Blitzer.

Now, don't misunderstand me:  I'm all for fighting and advocating for gay civil rights.  But even more compellingly, we liberals have to call the right wing on its game and expose it for what it is.  We have to study it, document it, follow the money and reframe the debate entirely.  The quotes today from that showboating state representative and bigot in Alabama are really not at all about gay people:  his comments are evidence of the movement I have described here.

The only chance we have to reverse the slide toward American fascism is to clearly diagnose it and name it for what it is.  

Expect to be viciously attacked as a radical, as a traitor to the nation or, as Bill O'Reilly recently called John Kerry, as a "sissy" for saying these things.  I'm reminded of an anecdote about a woman representative in Massachusetts who at first supported the ban on gay marriage in the state, but who, after witnessing firsthand the hatred heaped upon her colleagues who supported gay equality, switched her vote.  Any political position so founded in hate must not, she thought, be a side she should support.  And so, if you make the arguments offered here in the public square, expect to be hit with a full dose of hatred and abuse for speaking the truth.

But then, what choice do we have?

Those of you on the left or center-left (and I consider myself center-left, as a businessman and employer, who happens also to be gay) who are ambivalent about gay rights, and who wish to return the Democratic Party to power and legitimacy by soft-pedaling the conflict over gay rights, I truly sympathize with you (hell, I'm gay, and even I'm bored as hell with discussions of gay rights!).  And I figure, how could you possibly want to endure the abuse directed at gays and their vocal supporters?  I do not doubt your goodwill or intentions in the least.  But:  I would put to you that there is no accommodating point of view or successful strategy of soft engagement in the current political climate that can succeed.  

Lincoln said his side did not seek war, but rather than accede to the demands of the South to avoid war at all costs, it would accept war rather than sacrifice the Union, and the principles the nation sought to embody at its best.  

We do not face the prospect of sectional armed conflict, and that's a good thing, but we do face a genuine, post-modern war over ideals.  In this respect, Pat Buchanan was right:  there IS a culture war going on for the soul of America.  And we liberals can accept it and fight, or ignore it and lose our freedoms entirely.  It's not just about gays.  It's about you and your family.

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