DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEW of Paul Robinson: Queer Wars: The New Gay Right and Its Critics; Richard Goldstein: The Rise of the Gay Right; Aaron Jason Silver: Why Gay Men Do What They Do


Author (or Editor):  Paul Robinson

Title:  Queer Wars: The New Gay Rights and Its Critics

Fiction? No

Publisher:  University of Chicago Press

Date: 2005

ISBN:  0-226-72200-7

Series Name:

Physical description: hardbound, 170 pages, indexed

Relevance to doaskdotell: gays conservatives


“Gay conservative” (that is, "homocon") sounds like an oxymoron to many people, but there are perhaps two dozen books around by and about gay conservatives. This short book by a Stanford professor examines four of the best known of these.

The book is in three long chapters, with an epilogue. (1) Bruce Bawer and His Friends (2) Andrew Sullivan and His Enemies (3) Michaelangelo Signorile and Gabriel Rotello: Sexual Conservatives. His Baxian epilogue is a detailed review of the Showtime “Queer As Folk” cable series.

Very early, Dr. Robinson mentions the “disposable income” argument sometimes made by the religious Right (you know, gays don’t reproduce, so they recruit, etc.) and he suggests quickly that this sort of argument can quickly backfire in a more individualistic culture. He goes on to his detailed examinations of his four main marks.

Bruce Bawer is somewhat the mainstream assimilationist. He developed his ideas as a variation from the somewhat negative post-AIDS rhetoric of a notorious book After the Ball, by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen. (So  Chandler Burr, researcher about homosexuality and biology, and author of "A Separate Creation", characterizes himself). In the early 1990s, there was a social group in northern VA called "mainstreamers."  Bawer is well known for authoring "A Place at the Table" and for editing "Beyond Queer" in the 90s. His philosophy, of recognizing that reasonable social assimilation is important, serves him well in his recent account of the threat of radical Islam to western Europe, from tribalist loyalty to old societies, in While Europe Slept

Andrew Sullivan's conservatism seems similar as to paradigm, but it is more compartmentalized. In Virtually Normal he describes approaches to gay rights as a four-cornered chart: prohibitionism, liberationism, conservatism, and liberalism. His own approach is more libertarianesque, as he writes in that book:

"That public (as opposed to private) discrimination against homosexuals be ended,” that people be treated the same with respect to rights and responsibilities regardless of their underlying emotional makeup, “and that is all.”

  This approach did anger many traditional activists. Robinson believes that Sullivan makes an interesting comparison to Oxford's John Finnis and Harvard's E. L. Patullo. Of Finnis, Robinson writes:

"Homosexuality ... threatens the way straight couples need to understand the role of sex in their lives and its social implications. 'The deliberate genital coupling of persons of the sex is repudiated because  ... it treats human sexual capacities in a way which is deeply hostile to the self-understanding of those members of the community who are willing to commit themselves to real marriage in the understanding that the sexual joys are not mere instruments to, or mere compensations for, the accomplishment of marriage's responsibilities, but rather enable the spouses to actualize and experience their intelligent commitment to share in those responsibilities, in that genuine self-giving.' "

(The quote appears on p. 50; I couldn't find a footnote giving the exact original Finnis source.) That is a mouthful of words, and it almost needs another vocabulary item to summarize the concept. Aesthetic realism might come close. Sometimes I call it psychological socialism. It is a communalistic head trip. Note that the last sentence tries to outflank usual arguments about "fairness" (as with the debate on the role of the childless, raised by Elinor Burkett) or the need to "pay your dues" before doing your own thing in life. One way to say this is that many straight men would rather deal with weak competition from homosexually inclined men who try to "pay their dues" by courting women and marrying and having their own families anyway, than from self-actualized homosexual men without "responsibilities" who can redefine a whole global sexual culture for everyone to compete by (along the lines of Oscar Wilde). If homosexuality is a naturally occurring short-circuit in nature's scheme of sexual reproduction, it serves as a buffer to keep the competitive norms of the straight world "honest". A man can understand the miracle of life and of the womb intellectually, but not relate to the emotions of parenting unless he perceives a sexual reward from physical intimacy with a woman. That observation has a profound effect on how one participates in carrying out major social and family responsibility, or competes with others who do. 

Patullo (compared with Finnis) recognized homosexuality as somewhat intrinsic, but believed that there exists "waverers" who could be coddled into living a heterosexual life. This fits what Sullivan calls the "conservative" approach but it would seem to offend other conservative philosophy. Sullivan would further refine his own concept of conservatism in his 2006 book The Conservative Soul. It's interesting that when Sullivan was Editor of The New Republic, that periodical was seen as somewhat "liberal" compared to its major competitor, William F. Buckley's National Review, but today TNR itself (Sullivan still often contributes) is viewed as more conservative, or at least moderate and "Republicratic."  Sullivan's blog is one of the most successful in terms of hit volumes in all of blogosphere.  Like Bawer, he has been vocal on the radical Islamic threat.

Signorile and Rotello were more concerned about the actual health effects in view of the AIDS epidemic. Signorile was concerned about the cult of masculinity that seemed to drive bathhouse culture, and has written tomes about the post AIDS "protease paunches" in the wake of the epidemic. (I really don't see these that much, but they certainly reflect concerns about lookism and body fascism.) Rotello, particularly, was concerned about the epidemiological aspects of gay sociology. In all of this Robinson develops the animosity among gay intellectuals, even among those who boast themselves to be conservative, libertarian or Republican; a couple of places he talks about the barebacking controversy, stimulated by the success of protease inhibitors in the past decade or so.

The body image has always been important to me, I have to confess. It seems interesting, though, that there are many different models: the Castro Street clone, the bear or hairy-chested male, the metrosexual, the buffed beauties at Palm Springs circuit parties, famous for showing off waxed chests (enough to influence "The Beauty and the Geek"). What we decide looks "masculine" seems arbitrary and socially conditioned indeed. But it seems "real" when you react to it. But then, a substantial part of the gay left finds the whole ideal of a masculine paradigm (copied from the animal world, where male birds have the bright plumage) oppressive.

Some of Sullivan's critics include Urvashi Vaid and especially Michael Warner (The Trouble with Normal), who would celebrate gender deviance.

Robinson also provides a discussion of the post-AIDS views of Eric Rofes, executive director of Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.  

The psychological argument, answered by Sullivan's categories, deserves some more development. Look around. Many "ordinary people" see their whole sense of worth through the biological family, and that is all that life has offered them. Straight men, especially, come to see procreative sexuality as connecting them to other people in their environment in a socially proper way. The idea that others will pamper their sexuality when needed is part of the sexual experience. So it is very threatening that some men can go off on their own outside of the nuclear family and act proud of it, with no loyalty to procreative structures that raised them. Gay men may have a variety of inner motives in various combinations, to include narcissism, creativity, and experience of psychological polarity (squeezing out any intrinsic pride in one's own genes or biological lineage). The narcissism, however, has a way of reimposing society's norms on others from an inverted view. That has a lot to do with the emphasis on the "perfect manly male" in potential male partners of homosexual men. The homosexual may believe that his own experience, while submissive, validates his ability to "feel" what is good and beautiful. For others -- the homosexual's family -- it comes across as a "knowledge of good and evil" problem. They feel that the homosexual is installing his own meritocratic value system on them and causing them to be judged by new norms that they cannot meet as individuals, only as members of a family. Gay men, they perceive, are making the Game of Life more competitive and changing rules to get home field advantage and last bat.  The military knows this -- they fear that some less educated straight soldiers will feel that the presence of openly gay men in the ranks will threaten them with awareness of their own possibility of physical (or "meritocratic", in a larger competivie sense) failure. That's why unit cohesion means so much to most unmarried straight men in those sorts of environments.    

I have a more general commentary on gaycon books on blogspot, here (Jan 7, 2006).

This is a good place to mention , which terms itself "The Internet home for the American Gay Conservative."

Richard Goldstein. Homocons: The Rise of the Gay Right (2002/2003, Verso, 128 pgs, paper, ISBN 1-85984-414-6). Goldstein had warned us about his thesis in 2002 with a piece in The Nation: "Attack of the Homocons: They're Here, They're Queer, They're Conservative", link here.  This book came out (pun intended) and in paper there was an Afterword that summarized the significance of Lawrence v. Texas, which seemed to jolt his thinking, more back to the concern of the fragmentation grenades of ideology that had balkanized the gay movement. His Afterword pretty well summarizes legitimate "mainstreamer" gay concerns. But most of his book is spent on negating the individualism that supports gay neo-conservative philosophy (especially Bawer and Sullivan). Of that ideology, he writes (p xi), would replace the community as we know it with a more individuating model in which the mark of liberation is -- to use the famous homocon phrase -- "a place at the table." I want to show the heartlessness of this enterprise and the threat it poses not just to the gay political agenda but to the ethos that links us with feminism, multiculturalism, and the entire progressive tradition." He accuses the homocon trend as "a highly articulate attempt to secede from the confederation."  That is, life is to be viewed through different lenses for different groups, with politics as struggles between tribes as if they were miniatures of nation-states in history, whereas gay neo-conservatism seems more like an attempt to have a unified morality theory that encompasses individualism and fairness netted out at the individual level--but with definite winners and losers for Donald Trump's Boardroom -- the later model an affront to the leftist origins of the gay movement.

His argument basically repeats itself through four long chapters (1) "The Liberal Embrace" (2) "The Homosexual Gentleman" (essentially the Uncle Tom) (3) "Virtually Macho" (that is, Camille Paglia with a bit of Sullivan on testosterone), and (4) "Fighting the Gay Right" which reads as a diminuendo. He repeats his concerns with some other morsels, like on p. 53 "After all, as they [homocons] are always saying, anyone can apply for a place at the table."   Then, a comment that I am sure he would apply to me, "They come off as unrepentant individuals, tapping into the popular myth that each of us is responsible for our own destiny." (P 86)

This does challenge what I had written in 1997 in my own Introduction, so egotistically:

"My central question on personal values is this: do we believe in the principle that every adult person is totally responsible for himself or herself? This objectivistic notion would limit the responsibilities of government to consequentialism. Individuals, through their own conduct and performance, would become their own moral agents. An individual will, in principle, be held accountable for her actions regardless of biological or circumstantial parentage. When may an individual rightfully set her own personal priorities, and when should she consider the recognized and established interests of family and larger community first?"

Now he recalls the mandatory rites of passage at playground grade school recess: "The most common memory among homosexuals is this alienation from the rituals of competence that define gender" (p 75). I recount all of that in my own Chapter 1 (culminating in the notorious college hazing ceremony, "the Tribunals" with the rumored leg shaving, which I played hooky on), but I admit that I give it moral significance. Performance and physical courage are part of paying your dues, of proving that you can do your part in preserving the matrix of opportunity (our "way of life") for everyone -- but opportunity does not result in success or even worthiness for everyone, which is what the Left seems to want, but within groups. But those groups get reconciled like Clive Barker's dominions in Imajica. On p 97 Goldstein writes "Material as the benefits of matrimony and military service may be, these are also powerful status symbols. That's why the religious right is dedicated to preserving them for heterosexuals. What's at stake is not the dignity of marriage or the cohesion of the fighting unit, but the preservation of prestige." What is The Prestige? It's the Payoff (as in the recent Newmarket film). The male homosexual (of neocon mentality, at least, or what Goldstein calls "striver" psychology) identifies with another male whom he perceives as a better moral paradigm of manhood than himself, a more suitable male role model or parent, a more suitable ancestor of lineage. That is what is so painful for parents of gays. 

Aaron Jason Silver: Why Gay Men Do What They Do:  An Inside Look at Gay Culture
Publication: 2006, Authorhouse, ISBN 1-4259-3875-2 , 242 pages, paper, 23 chapters, externally authored Foreword (disputed). This book starts out with some detailed autobiography and morphs into a criticism of gay male values and behaviors, as a reflection of the attitudes of the competitive Judeo-Christian culture in which they grew up.  (I note, whimsically, that Chapter 1 is called "It's All About Me", in contradiction to Rick Warren's idea for the Purpose-Driven life, something like, "It's not about you!") Of particular interest are his comments on lookism (men work on their arms so much more than their legs!). My blogger review is here.  The writing style is dense, with many very long paragraphs spanning two pages or more. In the middle of the book he reminds us of why he wrote the book (that really should be settled in the Introduction). There are some typos (although typos are also becoming more common in books from big publishers in these days of low labor costs), particularly on p 191 where he talks about party drugs (I wonder if the misspellings are intentional in order to communicate a perceptual miss-experience like that of being stoned.)   

One other comment about book preparation here: So many books number the pages of an introduction separately with roman numerals (even my publisher did that), An Introduction is part of the Book and the pages should be numbered in main sequence.

Note: These "gaycon" books can make a comparison to mine. The visitor can look at the reviews of my first "Do Ask Do Tell" book on Amazon. I responded to the review by Moselle Green "Moqqy" ("Galt's Gulch") in January 2007 in my BillBoushka blog. Yes, there's a sentence syntax issue with the algebra paragraph (fixed online). The one thing about my reason for being believed is not mentioned -- the whole history of William and Mary and NIH (Chapter 1) that lays out my case later for becoming involved with gays in the military.


 Related: Rotello: Sexual Ecology     Andrew Sullivan's books   Burkett: The Baby Boon  Tafel: Party Crasher


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