There are all sorts of indignities in life but few compare to the desire of others to put words and thoughts and feeling into your own mouth. I'm not a violent person but when some simpering stranger comes up to me in a bar and tells me to "Smile!" I have to repress the overwhelming desire to shove his cosmo up his left nostril. Has individual freedom collapsed to such an extent that we don't even have the right to our own misanthropy any more? Dammit. That's why I go to bars and avoid parties. I don't want to drink and have to interact. Why isn't there a First Amendment right to shut up?
I mention this because a far more common and only marginally less offensive form of "Smile!" is the routine assumption that because you are sexually and emotionally attracted to the same gender, you also adhere to every word in the Democratic Party platform. The deep connection between whom you fall in love with and the precise dynamic of the school choice debate has yet to be fully conveyed to me. If straight people would just appropriate this piece of condescending flimflam, I'd be most grateful. Then I could stop being introduced on NPR and other liberal media outlets as if I were some novel and endangered species. Look, people. Here's a real live homo--but this one's a conservative! Imagine that!
No straight person would put up with this. "So you're straight, right? And you're a Democrat? How weird. How difficult for you. Do other heterosexuals even talk to you? Do you have any friends? How does your wife feel? Man, what an ordeal for her. Most straight people I know simply wouldn't stay around you if they found out."
Last time I checked, very little about being gay indicated a clear position to take on the Iraq War. Or social security reform. Or abortion. Or deficit economics. Or globalization. Or the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. So why the incessant conflation of gay identity and leftist politics? A brief glance at history would reveal that gay men and women have been all over the map politically. Alexander the Great was pro-war; W. H. Auden was anti. Ernst Roehm was a Nazi; Harry Hay was a commie. Oscar Wilde was some kind of socialist; multibillionaire David Geffen clearly isn't. Audre Lorde's extreme leftism is eclipsed by Camille Paglia's ideological pyrotechnics. Roy Cohn and J. Edgar Hoover were anti-Communists; in Britain, many of the most successful moles in the intelligence service were gay Stalinists. I could go on.
And yet the ideological assumptions continue to thrive. Why? In this country, the emergence of the fundamentalist right as a powerbroker within a Southern-based Republican Party obviously shifts the equation to favor the far more gay-friendly Democrats. But it's still perfectly possible to stay in a party where you disagree with people on some issues and agree with them on others. If you're trying to move the debate in your direction, there's even a certain nobility in staying and fighting. Does every Dem love Al Sharpton? Besides that, conservatism properly understood is not synonymous with any particular party. And it's not synonymous with the Republican Party in 2003.
Case in point: Like most gay men, I don't believe in the PC-leftism of the gay establishment. I'm in favor of small government, fiscal discipline, a hard-ass foreign policy, and social pluralism. I guess that makes me a conservative in some ways. But it doesn't make me a Republican; and it doesn't make me a self-hater. No pro-pot, pro-sex, pro-war-against-fascists, pro-choice, pro-tax-cuts conservative takes his political opinions from a readymade party platform. My politics don't make me a conservative or a liberal. They make me a grownup who can actually think for himself on a variety of subjects. And the notion that this kind of political and intellectual independence is somehow incompatible with being gay is so ludicrous a proposition, so bigoted an assumption, so condescending an attitude that it is often difficult to engage politely. At its root, it's an assumption that all gay men are too stupid to think for themselves.
Worse than this, the imposition of the intended term of abuse "conservative" upon independent-thinking gay men and women is also used as a means to smear and marginalize them. Heaven knows I've been on the receiving end of this. Most people don't read books or articles, after all. They deal in labels. It's easier than actually thinking. And because the label "conservative" is attached to any dissident from the gay left, all sorts of views are subsequently imposed on you, whether you agree with them or not. Because I endorsed George Bush, I cannot have a sex life. Because I'm anti-Islamo-fascist, I'm obviously hostile to transgendered rights. None of this makes even the slightest sense. But you'd be amazed how many people--gay and straight--make the illogical leap. I can't tell you how often someone expresses shock upon finding me in a tank top in a leather bar. Huh? What's the problem? I like guys with back-hair. Does that invalidate my support for the Iraq War? Or my adoration of Margaret Thatcher? Or my disdain for the European Union? It's back-hair, guys. And sometimes the personal is NOT political.
Of course it gets worse than this. I was once in the midst of hooking up with someone and when I told him who I was, he said, "Oh, you're that gay Jerry Falwell." Great. Now, any reader of my stuff for any length of time will know that not only am I not Jerry Falwell, I've devoted a large part of my career to arguing with, countering, exposing, and researching the religious right. But none of that matters. The label "conservative" simply pushes me into a box in ways that most straight writers--and lefty gay writers--never have to deal with.
Or take the issue of sex. Again, anyone who has actually read my stuff knows that I've been sex-positive for my entire career. I was pro-marriage-rights before most others, and I think monogamy is a wonderful thing if people want it, but I have never blindly attacked sexual promiscuity or experimentation or adventurism. One of my most recent essays was a fully fledged defense of sodomy. My only caveat to this was about the early AIDS epidemic when we didn't know what was going on and a more drastic reduction in all sex could have saved many lives. That's neither conservative nor liberal; it's just common sense. To go further, I'm openly HIV-positive and have written about the joy of unrubbered sex with another HIV-positive man. But when an online ad I posted about sex with other pozzies was exposed by political enemies, I was derided as a hypocrite. Why? Not because I have written or said anything contrary to my own actions. But simply because I'm a "conservative." And conservatives, self-hating puritans all, don't have sex, do they?
The sexuality of people is, of course, a bizarre standard by which to judge their politics--or anything else. Assuming that all gays and lesbians must be liberals, lefties, or Democrats is a form of bigotry that hammers an individual's own thought processes into some generic groupthink. It's a truly loathsome, intolerant, dumb-as-a-post reflex that has done a huge amount to chill, restrain, and dumb down gay discourse. I wouldn't wish it on straight people; but if some other group wants to appropriate it, fine by me.
Andrew Sullivan is the author of Love Undetectable and Virtually Normal. His comments on current events are available daily on www.andrewsullivan.com.