Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy by Bruce Bawer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I wonder what I would have thought of this book of essays if I had read it 20 years ago. I had found Bruce Bawer the most palatable of the gay neo-conservatives active at the time. His A Place at the Table, replete with personal stories, speaks cogently and affectingly in the voice of those who want to fit into society as it is, but want room to be gay. This is by contrast with the larger gay rights movement at the time (and to some extent over time) which tends to align itself with other struggles for civil rights and other progressive causes.
Bawer and the other essayists in this volume (almost all white men from privileged backgrounds - 2 of 41 essays are written by women) want to avoid mixing causes. They also want a conservative solution - one that allows private discrimination but ends government sponsored discrimination. It's not a political philosophy or worldview I embrace, but it's interesting and in some of these essays their position is well argued.
Many of the pieces focus on either extending civil marriage to same sex couples or an end to the ban on gay people serving in the U.S. military. Written in the early 1990s and collected in 1996 these pieces sound very forward looking. Those two causes became more central to the gay rights movement over time, and became the vehicles by which many straight people found themselves having to think about gay men and lesbians, for better and for worse.
The authors argue that eliminating those government programs which discriminate against gay people will foster greater integration of gay couples and singles into society, which will in turn break down prejudice. They feel OTOH that it's not government's place to regulate private or corporate behavior in this regard and they echo the homophobic complaint that the "gay agenda" is one of "special rights" - as in anti-discrimination laws, which they deplore. One gets the feeling that - if they did look to any connection between gay rights and other civil rights movements - they would have been against the integration of private lunch counters, against the Voting Rights Act, against laws intended to end discrimination in lending to women and minorities, etc. Just stopping any laws that specifically and clearly stated discriminate against racial minorities or women should be sufficient.
Of course, those who have experienced and continue to experience discrimination - and those who experience privilege and acknowledge that fact and work for greater equality beyond what affect them personally - tend to believe differently. The gay neo-cons have a certain moral myopia that sees the discrimination they themselves suffer as evil, but ignores the privileges they have.
They also seem not really clear on how the public and private can interact, or how lack of work place protection in both public and private settings can affect unpopular minorities. Teachers accused of "promoting homosexuality" by coming out is not, for example, something they seem to be concerned about.
They also ignore a lot of what was going on among GLBT people at the time, if it didn't affect them personally. They seem quite prescient in focusing on eliminating laws against same sex marriage at a time when there was no same sex marriage anywhere in the world. But the essays strangely seem to all see it as a very male possibility, barely mentioning lesbian couples (who consistently marry at 3 times the rate gay male couples do in jurisdictions that permit same sex marriage). And although many essays are on family, they seem purposely blind to the large gay-by boom that was going on all around them, primarily through lesbians having children by donor insemination. These families have been a huge force for the kind of integration and progress they seem to want (even our current President said that a key factor in his "evolution" on marriage equality was the fact that his kids have friends with lesbian mothers) but it's one they don't seem to notice although it was in all the mainstream news media at the time. Although in the course of discussing marriage they mention children, it's always in the context of adoption and surrogacy.
The essays are least prescient when they talk about party politics. The often stated prediction is that the Democratic Party will be brought down by its extremist policies and that the Republican party will become more and more friendly to gay interests as gay Republicans show that they are just as keen on small government and conservative tradition as anyone else.
An interesting and unexpected treat was an essay by Orthodox rabbi Steve Greenberg, writing under an assumed name because he wasn't yet out, but easily recognizable from his later writing.
In sum, I'm glad I read it but I don't know that I recommend it. If someone wants to understand the gay neo-conservative view, I'd more likely recommend either Andrew Sullivan's Virtually Normal or Bawer's A Place at the Table.
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