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Whiting Tennis

WILL GAY ANGER survive assimilation?

You might want to kick my ass for asking such a stupid question. Despite the demise of ACT UP and Queer Nation, anger remains an emotion to which all sentient queers can relate. The flush of fury that strikes fledgling fags and dykes when they realize that the judgments they've been writhing beneath are bullshit is a powerful force. Imagine a street packed with innocent citizens newly sprung from jail--basically, 10 blocks of gay Reuben Carters--and you've got an idea what a just-out queer's first pride parade is like. Is it any surprise that some gays might want to prolong this invigorating anger indefinitely? Anger is a primal force, one that continues to inflame, enslave, and intoxicate humanity, Jesus and Buddha and that guy who invented those spongy "therapy encounter bats" be damned.

Still, for specifically "gay anger," it's a funky time. In the wake of recent progress--the victory in Vermont, widespread same-sex partner benefits, the success of Will & Grace--many "gay community" members, particularly middle-income white ones, have relaxed into the apathy that is perhaps the true goal of every equality movement. The anger behind the first brick hucked during Stonewall (the gay movement's Big Bang) and the AIDS-war protests of ACT UP (the most imaginative displays of rage ever to occur in this country) has given way to more individual and nuanced responses as we gays attain a number of previously unimaginable goals.

In many ways, this dissipation of gay anger is a good thing. Remember watching the stunning wartime vitality of ACT UP--who made headlines by tossing corpses of PWAs on the White House lawn--morph into the confused and cannibalistic activities of second-wave protest group Queer Nation, best known for outing celebrities and staging homosexual kiss-ins in front of Foot Locker? Unable to quench their thirst for self-righteous indignation (the most addictive drug on the planet), the well-meaning Queer Nation-ites sustained their rage by rustling up easily vanquished enemies. When satisfactory external enemies failed to materialize, the Queers turned on themselves, and frothy homo kiss-ins gave way to laborious, and eventually fatal, bicker-fests over politically correct minutia. "Gay and lesbian" or "lesbian and gay"? Brandon Teena or Teena Brandon?

While gay anger might no longer have an organization devoted to its expression, gay anger still has its place. So long as people revile, persecute, and say all manner of evil against us falsely, so long as politicians attack us and entertainment moguls cast us as wacky neighbors and sexless dweebs, gay people have every right to be pissed. But the galvanizing fury of the past seems played out, and collective gay anger is atrophying. Some seem to have cast anger aside, content to bask in a post-plague/pre-Republican-takeover era of luxury. Others seem to have twisted their anger inward, kicking the difficult-to-maintain drug of anger for the much easier drug of, well, drugs, particularly crystal meth, a drug that fucks up the few parts of the body left undamaged by tanning, waxing, and steroids.

Still, a hunger for articulate gay anger exists--witness the passionate reception given to Sharon Underwood, the angry middle-aged mother of a gay son, whose eloquently ass-ripping "open letter" to Vermont bigots made the gay e-mail rounds faster than that Photoshopped image of Mark Wahlberg fisting Tom Cruise. But Underwood's remarkable letter is but a fresh burst of ACT UP-styled rage--a smart, brave shout in the face of an idiotic enemy, which will most likely fail to reach the ears of those who most need to hear it. Bigots rarely respond to being called assholes, no matter how euphemistically.

For a truly revolutionary model of gay anger, we must look to the formerly closeted ghostwriter for religious-right bigot Jerry Falwell. Reverend Mel White is currently the very gay co-founder and leading light of Soulforce, an activist organization devoted to seeking justice for sexual minorities through "relentless non-violent resistance in the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King." So far, Soulforce's primary mission has been a four-year effort to end sexual discrimination by the United Methodist Church, a mission that began with a series of open letters from White to Falwell, carefully and calmly chronicling Falwell's decades of hate directed at homosexuals.

The compassion, wisdom, and persistence displayed in Mel White's open letters and much of Soulforce's literature is stunning, and may point to what might be the only way out of the impasse in which "gay anger" fans find themselves in these assimilating times. White has found a new way to harness the energy of gay anger, and unlike anger movements of yore, White is getting results. White's letters led to a history-making summit between Falwell's and White's congregations last October in Falwell's hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia.

What Mel White recognizes is that, while our anger remains justified, in every struggle there comes a time when one of the opponents must take the high road. And in the battle between the queers and the bigoted idiots (Mel White generously refers to them as "the victims of untruth"), White believes it's going to have to be us queers. We're smarter, braver, more humane, and more adaptable. And we have more to gain. So it's time to start building bridges with bigots, to show these idiots firsthand that gays are more than gerbil-stuffing freaks hell-bent on destroying society. Try it. Have lunch with a Baptist. Play Ping-Pong with a rabbi. Cruise altar boys with a priest.

Yes, it's a leap, but this ability to override the first flush of fury for the greater good is the future of gay anger. Get busy.