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.


Leonard said...

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.¨ Counterlight

Exactly, and many continue to ¨single us out¨ still...they are simply amazed that we wouldn´t remain hidden, closeted and invisible (mostly) in our ¨subculture¨ and prove that we bearly existed at ALL (and if so, ought want to be cured and made heterosexual or shut the fu*k up)!

Pretend. When reality sets in many don´t handle it well...REALITY does take some getting used to...for those who can´t ¨adjust¨ more bigoted madness will set in...we can count on it.

JayV said...

This is great. Thanks. And I think you should submit it to Episcopal Cafe. - Jay

IT said...

It's an interesting argument, and in many way mirrors the issues women (straight or gay) have "breaking in" to male dominated professions and issues.

it's margaret said...

Part of my soul would just wither and die without my Faerie friends... but maybe if it weren't just gays only, then I could join?

You're the best. Thank you for your posts.

toujoursdan said...

Thanks so much for this. You have articulated what I have thought for a long time.

I would say that Sullivan is really in it for Sullivan, and not anyone else. He is conservative when it benefits him (low taxes, libertarianism) but not conservative when it doesn't benefit him.

Unfortunately, he is a curiosity and that gives him lots of attention.

Jane R said...

Thank you! This is very fine. I've been wanting to see someone write this for a long time, and of course it wasn't for me to say who or when. I am really glad you wrote this and grateful that you wrote it so well. I'm going to send the link to a lot of people.

I've no problem with Andrew Sullivan's being a conservative (though I will never, ever, ever understand the logic of people who become Log Cabin Republicans) but I agree with you, and his positions distress me because there is no room in them for the proper acknowledgment and celebration of queerness in every sense of the word.

JCF said...

I suspect Sullivan's "Assimilation Uber Alles" approach leaves NO place for me, a genderqueer. :-/

[Then there's the matter of the the hundreds of thousands of war dead in Iraq Andrew "Ooops: War, Good; but Bush botched it!" Sullivan has to answer for, IMO. >:-( ]