The Queer Issue
However, the only thing that defined the alternative press in 1996, the panelists blandly concluded, was our unanimous support for gay rights. But surely, I thought, gay rights was too narrow a cause to make the alternative press profoundly relevant. The crusades of the '60s, '70s, and '80s were sweeping in scope. Reporting on Vietnam had exposed a government and corporate establishment rotten to its core. Hounding the Reaganite go-go '80s revealed a hypocritical American value system. What bigger issue, I wondered, was gay rights getting at? While important, the gay rights movement struck me as a fourth-quarter subset of larger, more venerable civil rights movements from the past. Had I become a muckraking journalist to make the world safe for queers to have orgasms in peace?
But in the touchy-feely Clinton era, the alternative press was awkwardly adrift, and the excitement of Act Up politics was the only Big Thing to rally around. And for the most part, that's what the alternative press did. Certainly, it's a worthy cause. People shouldn't be fired, denied rights, and scorned because of their sexuality. But let's be honest: That's a no-brainer. Moreover, the gay rights movement (1969-1995) is kind of civil rights lite when compared to the epic struggles for African American civil rights and women's rights. The battle to bring blacks into the mainstream, for example, dates back to the 17th century and had to overcome titanic hurdles like, oh, slavery, the Confederate army, the Ku Klux Klan, segregation, police dogs, Governor Wallace, bombings, lynchings, and the Supreme Court. Basically, before Martin Luther King Jr. could walk into Lyndon Johnson's White House for the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he had to wade through a river of blood. And the struggle wasn't even close to finished at that point.
How about the gay movement? All that gays and lesbians had to overcome was a couple of toss-offs in the Bible and the squeamishness of straight people. Consequently, the gay rights struggle unfolded on fast-forward. In less than 25 years, sexual orientation has been added to workplace protection laws in 12 states and hundreds of counties and cities, domestic-partner benefits are commonplace in corporate America, and huge numbers of high- school kids are comfortable coming out of the closet. More important, gays were never systematically discriminated against in any economic sense. Historically, gay men and lesbians have been members of the upper classes, held positions of wealth and power, and, so long as they were willing to remain closeted, could secretly fit into the mainstream. That's not a perfect situation, but it's certainly easier than getting left out--or lynched--because of your skin color.
At the heart of the civil rights movements for blacks and women was the notion of economic alienation. In that regard, those movements--still struggling along--are more profoundly confrontational to the status quo. The gay rights movement, on the other hand, doesn't really have an economic component. No, the gay rights movement is about letting people fuck who they want to. That's something everyone understands. And that's why it didn't take very long to succeed. It's also why it's not particularly radical or challenging to the status quo. Sure, there are still homophobes out there (there always will be), and sure, it still shocks some of us to see two men or two women kissing--but as a cause, gay rights is hardly analogous to the epic social battles of the past.
So while I get what's in the gay rights movement for gays (sucking dick and eating pussy in relative peace and quiet), and I'm happy to write for an alternative paper that backs gay rights, I don't think there's anything in it for me. I'm never going to win a Pulitzer for gay rights reporting. The movement simply isn't--like the real civil rights movements--historic enough. But, hey, I'm all for it. You go, gays.
Josh Feit is a heterosexual.