We're at war.
There's the shooting war, of course, the one over in Iraq.
There's a war at home too. During the war in Vietnam when people talked about "the war at home" they meant the people protesting the war in Southeast Asia. But the war at home now is not over Iraq, oddly enough, but over the rights of gays and lesbians. An ascendant movement of conservative Christians, drunk on its own power, is attacking queers on all fronts. These groups are going after judges who dare to rule in our favor, private companies that dare to offer benefits to the domestic partners of their queer employees, and of course, gay couples who dare to marry. Chris Hedges, writing in the May issue of Harper's, quotes his ethics professor's warning about the rise of Christian fascism in the United States: "[T]hey would come carrying crosses and chanting the Pledge of Allegiance," he writes, and their first victims will be gays and lesbians.
We're at war on so many fronts it's hard to keep track. The Democrats are at war with themselves: Should the party continue to support gay rights, or should it retreat in an effort to appeal to red-state voters and Christian fascists? Some of us are still at war with our families. My dad voted for George W. Bush, despite my best effort to convince him to vote for John Kerry—if not for my sake, then for the sake of his 7-year-old grandson, a blond-haired, blue-eyed kid who happens to have two dads. And then there are the gay men who are waging war on themselves and other gay men though unsafe sex, rising STD rates, and crystal meth abuse. "You are still murdering each other," Larry Kramer said in a speech in November.
These are anxious times for gays and lesbians, and every day there's some fresh outrage. Microsoft caved in to the demands of a fundamentalist Christian bully and dropped its support for the Washington State gay and lesbian civil-rights bill. Microsoft later reversed course but the damage had already been done. The lesson that corporate America took away from the Microsoft debacle: Avoid taking a position on gay rights. In Texas, which is pushing ahead with an anti-gay-marriage amendment to its constitution, Governor Rick Perry suggested that gay and lesbian Texans who don't like being discriminated against should move elsewhere.
Christian fascists, obtuse family members, self-destructive behaviors—these are scary times to be queer. We are at war, and war is hell. But war can also be intense and rewarding and thrilling—if you join the fight.
At the risk of dating myself, I was a newly out teenager when the first reports of a mysterious disease killing gay men in New York and San Francisco began to circulate in the early 1980s. Three years later there were pages of obituaries running in every gay newspaper in the country. You saw gay men covered in purple lesions everywhere you went; men in their 20s and 30s hobbled around on canes in gay neighborhoods. An ascendant movement of conservative Christians, drunk on their own power, was on the attack; Republican politicians demonized us; our friends in the Democratic Party went AWOL; sick men were abandoned by their families. For a while there we thought we were all going to die—and it wasn't just a virus that was killing us, but a virus working in concert with homophobia, greed, and indifference. During those dark days gays and lesbians faced a choice: We could give in to despair or we could fight back.
We chose to fight back. We joined ACT UP, we went to protests, we got arrested. I was dragged down the steps of the U.S. Capitol by my ankles. Joining the fight did more than keep us from despair. Hell, drugs and alcohol can do that. No, fighting allowed us to channel our fear and energy and worry into something productive, something meaningful. We made almost unbelievable political progress in the 1980s and 1990s. But there was an added benefit, a secret perk: Fighting back, we discovered, was fun. It was sexy. War was hot, warriors were hotter.
Gays and lesbians are once again living through dark days and we have to make a choice: Give in to despair or fight back.
We think you should fight back.
The Stranger's 2005 Queer Issue is full of marching orders for gays and lesbians who want to make a difference in a time when despair once again threatens to overtake us. Some of the pieces are serious, like Eli Sanders's marching orders for the gay marriage movement. Some, like Peter Staley's marching orders for crystal meth users, are deadly serious. Others, like Amy Jenniges's marching orders for lesbians, are lighter. But if you're wondering what to do with your angst and your fear and your energy, you'll find your marching orders in this issue. We can defeat the religious right, we can defeat bigotry, and we can defeat despair. We've done it before.
Enjoy the fight. ■
Don't get me wrong, I'm terrified.
Dan Savage writes that his dad voted for Bush. I understand how much that sucks, because my dad voted for Bush too. So did my mom, my step-mom, my older brother, all of my uncles, my aunt, my two grandmothers, my step-grandmother, and my grandfather, in spite of (1) all reason, and (2) what my relationship to the Constitution would be like if the Bush Administration could snap its fingers. (My mom and my brother believe in leprechauns, my dad works in missile defense, the rest of them are just old.) The "war on homosexuality" gets played out in a million passive ways whenever I decide to go home for Christmas.
And that's to say nothing of the wars we're fighting within the Democratic Party and the gay community itself (if that's what we're still calling it).
But! When you think about it, have things ever been better?
There hasn't been a kid nailed to a fence in a long time. We know how to not get HIV, and people who have HIV are leading long, productive lives. Meeting other gay people has never been easier. Coming out has never been easier. The Advocate has never seemed less necessary. A homo on TV is passé. Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, the Netherlands, Belgium, most of Canada, and, soon, Spain. And the U.S. Supreme Court—historically icy to the cause—has ruled that it's okay to smoke pole and butt-fuck in any state you feel like.
Things may seem terrible, my fellow homos, but let's try to keep things in perspective so we don't burn out while we fight the good fight. Gay is a battlefield, etc., but it's also easier than ever and, in this city, in 2005, pretty goddamn fun. This issue is full of marching orders—some grim, some not so grim—but before we get to them, let's take a look at the bright side, shall we?
Last week's New Jersey court ruling against same-sex marriage, for instance: Totally disheartening. But 55 percent of the population of New Jersey supports same-sex marriage (and whole lot more oppose a constitutional marriage amendment). God may still reduce Massachusetts to a pile of cinders for legalizing same-sex marriage, but he hasn't gotten around to it yet. In the meantime, if two boys who meet at Harvard decide they want to get married, they can.
And HIV? There was a time when no one knew how HIV was spread. How times have changed. Now we know it's transmitted through blood and come. Which means, as long as you don't come in contact with someone's blood or come, you're good.
And if you're a slave to the allure of latex- free lovin'? There are millions of bareback videos in the world. Watch as many as you want. My editor would like me to stress that you should watch vintage bareback videos because he is a moral scold who thinks you are a reckless child. You're not a reckless child. You don't have bareback sex with anyone you're not monogamously attached to, right? Watch whatever the hell you feel like.
Moving on to other bright-side topics, have you heard the news about bisexuals? Holy cow, they're everywhere these days. Be good to bisexuals because (1) bisexuals are hot, and (2) if you're good to them they'll be good to you, and (3) they have it harder than you think. I've been with four bona fide bi guys in the last year, some of whom also date girls, some of whom are basically sticking to guys, all of whom, I repeat, were slammin'.
Meanwhile, outside of the bedroom, enjoy the making of history. The Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas opinion, for example: That was a beautiful historical document. As Adam Haslett put it in the New Yorker: "The force and scope of the opinion surprised even its supporters. In a rare gesture, the Court not only overturned Bowers v. Hardwick, a 1986 opinion upholding a Georgia sodomy statute, but in essence apologized for it: 'Its continuance as precedent demeans the lives of homosexual persons.'"
And now that "visibility" isn't a pressing concern, we no longer have to fight for heroes and role models anymore, which is a relief, because heroes and role models are bullshit. We no longer have to defend crazy gay celebrities like Rosie O'Donnell. I mean, who gives a shit? I think it's great she revealed herself to be made of more than marshmallows and hairspray, and that other gay celebrities have begun to take on human traits as well, because celebrities are truly useless when it comes to spurring political change, in case you weren't awake in November.
Okay, enough with the pep talk. Time to forge forth and take up arms. But chin up, soldier. You only have this one life. And there's never been a better time to be in your gay shoes. ■