Thursday, May 28, 2009
Andrew Sullivan Does Not Speak For Me
What to do with Andrew Sullivan these days. He's a gay conservative (of the old New England school he claims), and I don't know if he's still Catholic or not. If the hierarchy hasn't booted him out yet, he may still be in that church. For the most part, Andrew Sullivan is very good on the hot button issues of the moment, especially when it comes to the religious right.
He's also a major reason why I insist upon a distinction between conservative and right wing. I take Sullivan at his word when he says he's a conservative. Indeed, he's one of the few people left who claim that label, and who really are conservative in the original sense of the word; someone who believes in institutional continuity, historical legacy, a great reluctance to alter the existing social and political order. Right wingers don't give a damn about continuity or legacy. Right wing politics is about supremacy. The religious right is all about domination, "worldly" laws and institutions be damned. The late historian Gordon A. Craig insisted that the most radical politics of the 20th century was right wing politics. The far right rejects the whole Enlightenment inheritance on which almost all modern constitutions are based. Sullivan clearly does not belong in that category.
At the same time, it is precisely Sullivan's conservatism that has me at odds with him, especially on gay issues. I think of gay male opinion as being a spectrum of views from the one end of radically distinct identity to the other end of total assimilation into conventional society, and most somewhere in between. The late Harry Hay, a founder of Mattachine and Radical Faeries, represents one end of this spectrum. He always advocated that gay men should embrace those very things that make us distinct and set us apart. He even went so far as to advocate a kind of separatism for gay men. Why, he asked, should gay men want any part in a conventional order that has always oppressed them? I put Andrew Sullivan on the other end of the spectrum. The goal of Sullivan, and other thinkers like him, is for assimilation into conventional society. Sullivan, and others like him, hope for the extinction of the very gay male subculture that Hay celebrated. As same sexuality becomes accepted by larger society, becomes "normal," the very notion of a gay identity will cease to be, conservatives argue. Gay men (and by implication lesbians) will become subsumed in a larger conventional "American" identity.
Most gay male opinion, including mine, falls somewhere between these two polar opposites. I'm probably a little closer to Hay on the spectrum than to Sullivan. I would argue that joining a church, or a PTA, or becoming a fire fighter as a gay man is not really conservative at all. It's actually quite revolutionary. By seeking to join such institutions, you are demanding that they change to accomodate you. I agree with Hay that we should embrace those very things, especially our sexuality, that set us apart. That despised and flawed subculture sustained us, and made the push-back possible through all those long years of discrimination and AIDS. That we built a subculture and an identity around sexual orientation was not a perverse whim, but a matter of survival. Conventional society had already singled us out through legal discrimination. That distinct identity was already created for us whether we wanted it or not. I don't see any need to pitch that culture now that discrimination is coming to an end. It served us well. It will serve us again. That heritage is part of all of us whether we like it or not. I don't think larger society will be at all well served by sacrificing our identity.
On the other hand, we must play the cards we are dealt and deal with conventional society as it is. Our goal should be not to disappear into it, but to make our place in that society and change it for the better for everyone.
It really sticks in my craw sometimes that Sullivan plays the designated spokesman for the gay male community in the media. He doesn't always speak for this gay man. I'm not sure that's a role he sought, but the corporate media for years have made him the "go to" guy for gay issues. That he gets that role is more proof to me that the political establishment is still hard wired for conservatives, never mind that they did so poorly in 2 national elections so far. I suspect that it will take years for the political establishment to catch up. It's only now that the "no liberals on tee vee" rule is slowly being vacated. Republicans are still disproportionately represented on the network political talk shows.
Posted by Counterlight at Thursday, May 28, 2009