Printer Friendly

Lesbian witches, socialist sodomites, and cultural war.

Patriarchal populism is a movement with deep roots in American culture. It was not born from the head of Patrick Buchanan at the Republican National Convention, and it will not rest in peace under a Democratic president. Nor does popular reaction against Republican economics mean that there is an equally clear mandate against the "family values" of the religious right. Ten years ago, a right-wing coalition made a programmatic attack on the rights of workers, the poor, women, and gays under a catch-all legislative measure named the Family Protection Act. Although this measure was not passed, it served as a flag to rally the right-wing troops, and no one can now doubt the momentum of the "cultural war" Buchanan proclaimed.

Back in 1982, the debate on "family values" included this opinion:

It should be illegal to discriminate

against individuals because of

their sexual preference. But society

does not have the same responsibility

toward homosexuality - whether

as sexual behavior or

as having arrangement - that it has

toward the child-bearing family.

As long as the family is the main

institution for perpetuating our

society, its members require special

concern, as demonstrated

minimally in such measures as tax

write-offs for dependents.

These were the words of John Judis, a self-described "social conservative" who was then an editor at In These Times, the newspaper in which they were first published. His views were further proof that patriarchal populism spans the political spectrum from right to left. Indeed, Judis was arguing that the left should capture the flag of "family values" away from the right. In order to do so, the left would have to distance itself from the cultural radicalism of many feminists and gays.

Judis claimed that his position on gay rights was purely "civil libertarian," but his real message concerned the charmed circle of the family - defined in such a way that the civil liberties of gays were excluded. His own position on family values resembled the well-known credit-card advertisement: "Membership has its privileges" In a climate of political reaction and escalating gay-bashing, Judis' position was a retreat on the real field of battle. "The child-bearing family" was itself a fiction; as one feminist responded, "Women bear children; families raise them' " And increasingly, American families included single parents, lesbian mothers, and other deviants from the "Ozzie and Harriet" model.

Again, it's important to stress that Judis' position was and remains representative of a fairly broad spectrum of liberal, leftist, and, yes, humanist opinion. For that very reason, the opposition to the right-wing cult of the family has been that much less consistent and unified over the years. Feminists and gay activists warned long ago that a distinctly totalitarian movement was advancing on sexual and cultural terrain, and we were sometimes dismissed as hysterics who deserved the blame for reaction.

In an August epistle to his troops in Iowa, where a state Equal Rights Amendment was coming up for a vote, televangelist and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson wrote that the measure "is not about equal rights for women. . . . It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."

The role of sodomites - all who engage in "crimes against nature" - in the rhetoric of the religious right is strikingly similar to the role of Jews in fascist ideology. Both are depicted as primitives, parasites, and seducers; as either pimps, prostitutes, and lumpenproles, or elitists who control the economy, education, and entertainment; as creatures submerged in nature yet incapable of any natural feeling. Both pollute the body politic - and no healthy body can be blamed if it defends itself against attack. Their evil is contagious, and the solution is quarantine. Or extermination.

"When the Warsaw Ghetto was stricken by epidemics of typhoid, the slogan |Jews-Lice-Typhoid' was spread by the Germans among a not unreceptive Polish population." So wrote historian George Mosse in his book Toward the Final Solution, and the right wing has promoted a similar short-circuit in thought during the current AIDS epidemic. That this epidemic struck so early and hard among gays, African, Americans, Latinos, the poor, and drug users requires the kind of analysis that is incompatible with right-wing patriotism. For 12 years, the wrath of God and official neglect was the nation's AIDS policy, and so viruses did the dirty work that bullets and gas chambers could not in our enlightened democracy. Over 150,000 Americans have now died of AIDS, and this country still has no universal health care, no comprehensive sex and health education, and no drug treatment on demand.

As a socialist sodomite myself, I have good reason to be wary of the "family values" used to excommunicate me from humanity. The very word sodomy is biblically derived and legally applied to diverse "crimes against nature" in 24 states. Sodomy statutes are a particularly clear example of the theocratic merger of church and state, and for that very reason any progress in the status of sodomites becomes a matter of crusading concern to the religious right. Recent anti-gay ballot measures from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, are coordinated battles in the "cultural war" Patrick Buchanan and company proclaimed at the Republican National Convention, and voters approved one such measure in Colorado on November 3. Both the Oregon and Colorado measures proposed to overturn existing municipal anti-discrimination laws which had protected gays in such areas as employment and housing, but the Oregon measure also mandated that state and public institutions teach that homosexuality is "abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse" The Oregon measure was sufficiently extreme that it made the Colorado measure look moderate by comparison - but, in this way, unresisting "moderates" are moved quite far to the right.

The Oregon Citizens Alliance promoted Measure 9 with this kind of argument: "Homosexuals already have the same basic rights as everyone else. . . however, homosexuals want 'special rights' to be granted to their behavior." If all human beings were perfectly generic, there would, of course, be no specific content to human rights. But abstract humanity is just that and, when some persons are subjected to the abusive power of others, it is legitimate for the law to specify both the abuse and the remedy. If our own humanism becomes as generic as that of the Oregon Citizens Alliance, we must not imagine that this is an advance either for humanity or democracy. Then humanists themselves collaborate in real oppression, by endorsing the fiction of an equality "already" achieved.

When the far right attacks sodomites - a word I do use with uppity intent - it is striking how often leftists, liberals, progressives, civil libertarians, and humanists simply abandon the field of battle. Even those who dare come out at all in the fight for the rights of sodomites often do so grudgingly, and with one hand tied behind their backs. Why? Because whites who march with African-Americans for civil rights remain distinct - and privileged. So do men who march with women against sexism. But straights who march with queers, lezzies, and sodomites must risk being mistaken for one of them. Don't just try this in San Francisco; get some real credit and do so any place where a gay-pride march is a lot smaller and riskier. And try this experiment if you are straight and have never thought twice about holding hands in public with someone of the opposite sex: do so with someone of the same sex, perhaps on the weekend in your local shopping mall.

So deep does puritanism run, even on the left, that a movement involving sexual liberation is often regarded as being less serious and more selfish than fighting apartheid or pollution. In the meantime, gay teenagers of all classes and races are driven to suicide and account for a great number of yearly runaways. In the meantime, hate crimes are escalating in Oregon, including the fire, bombing deaths of an African-American lesbian, Hattie Mae Cohens, and her white gay roommate, Brian Mock. Governor Barbara Roberts and a coalition of 22 Jewish groups in Oregon strongly condemned Measure 9 and compared it to measures passed in Nazi Germany. Republican Senator Bob Packwood waited until September 3 to denounce it. The president and the president-elect maintained sweet bipartisan silence. And you?

Scott Tucker is an artist, activist, and writer who was a founding member of the Philadelphia chapter of ACT UP. He is also a founder of Prevention Point/Philadelphia, a needle-exchange and harm-reduction program working with sex workers and drug abusers.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Humanist Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Our Queer World
Author:Tucker, Scott
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Privacy in the computer age.
Next Article:Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

Related Articles
The secret histories.
The third gender in twentieth-century America.
The events that shaped the under-30 mind.
We're queer, remember?
Sodomy laws and you: we're just one aggressive misguided prosecutor away from arresting gay men and lesbians.
So happy together: for gay and lesbian characters, finding love and a happy ending is a fairly recent phenomenon. Here are some of our favorites.
Throwing the backlash off balance.
Subversion through perversion: the spreading homosexual degeneracy in our culture is not the result of natural moral decay; it is the manifestation...

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters