by Lowell B Denny
Posted on May 10, 2009 by the Website Workers CouncilTo the victor not only goes the spoils but also the narrative. Because our victor has been pro-capitalist, pro-globalization, pro-oligarchical, the narrative will tell and re-tell values that make heroes out of capitalism and support the fundamental assumptions of someone like Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which tells us we need our Masters, we cannot do without them: they are good.
Part of possessing the text of this narrative, the marginalized - worker, homeless, nonwhite, women, LGBT, freaks - will always be denied not only a role in this narrative but also a vocabulary with which to validate their own realities. They are enticed or coerced into adopting the dominant narrative and its values as their own via a method of carrots and sticks, so it is often a profound, courageous choice to not drink the Kool-Aid.
History has shown that just as many have been persecuted for being marginal, many more simply adopt the values of the ruling narrative as their own, find some corner where to place themselves. Blacks, Latinos, Asians, women, while having suffered historic oppression, have in many cases adopted the values of their oppressors. LGBT's are no different. The LGBT movement is still rather a novelty to many, and this unfamiliarity breeds the sort of suspicion and false belief that its fundamentally a radical movement. It is not. Since the Clinton Administration it has accelerated its adoption of dominant narratives and values.
Lambda Legal Defense, The Human Rights Campaign Fund, ACLU, even OUT magazine can be seen as exemplars of this phenomenon. OUT is a magazine I have a very minor, tangential connection with as it was born from the collapse of OutWeek, its more radical parent magazine, for which I was fortunate to write for. Some of its staff left the rubble in the wake of OutWeek's fall and started OUT.
The shift from OutWeek to OUT tells the tale of how these collaborators dance to the tunes of their masters and spread a consumerist value system among the LGBT community. OutWeek became infamous for weekly outing some celebrity or other. Its last issue outed NBC's Pete Williams. Earlier, it outed billionaire Malcolm Forbes. David Geffen did not escape its light. Its editors drew in a rich cross-section of the LGBT community to write commentary and report. It was not trying to ruin lives, as some in the LGBT community alleged: it was battling hypocrisy. OutWeek was not a socialist magazine but many of its writer/activists were. While some on the LGBT press kept an arms length from activist groups like ACT UP - my local writing gig, The LGBT-owned San Francisco Sentinel, didn't want them covered at all - OutWeek embraced this new activism. One of the OutWeek issues I treasured featured a coast-to-coast profile of various lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists. Black, White, Asian, Native, Latino. Male, female.
OUT, its child born certainly from a bad dose of agent Orange, is a much glossier work. I picked up an issue recently where LGBT heroes were similarly featured: straight celebrities by and large. Was I to feel fortunate I had gained the approval of Hollywood? No, I was sickened.
But I wondered if they were going to make being straight the criteria for hero worship, where was Mariela Castro Espin? Castro, who is straight, is the niece of Fidel Castro and the daughter of its current president. She also heads a sex-education think tank in Cuba that advocates LGBT rights and is working to enshrine such rights in the Cuban Constitution. But I am to make heroes out of people who refer to "my gays" as if I were a pet. The obvious difference is that Castro supports the Cuban Communist Revolution and its achievements, and this is not a consumer value the West supports.
This is not a far jump from the images LGBT community is treated to in the media: I mean the LGBT media. Images are given values and shown to encourage those values. For example, "Noah's Arc" is undeniably groundbreaking in showing Black, gay men, but I cannot stand to watch it. The lives these Black gay men lead resemble nothing of the challenges Black gay men I know anywhere with their implicit deposable incomes and high life.
The LGBT elites have taken its cues from its funders. I suppose there is some logic to this in a capitalist system where those who pay demand service. Its funders have disposable income to donate to fight for LGBT civil rights. This is a good thing in the face of homophobia and tolerance of queer-bashing. But those who have disposable income to give to Lambda Legal et al are not likely facing employment issues, like decent wages, ease of forming a union, and fair work practices, lack of health care, and secure housing. And they have forgotten those among us who are LGBT and face these issues daily and with every meager paycheck, if they get a paycheck. The same pay-for-service logic which directs our LGBT elites conversely says "No Shirt No Shoes No Service" to those who cannot donate.
I don't know where Gay Marriage exactly came from, but it wasn't a priority for those working-class LGBT's who struggle with the same social issues other workers struggle with. When Gay Marriage hit the radar, I was not yet a declared socialist but I had read gay communist/radical faerie, Harry Hay, lesbian communist poet, Audre Lorde, as well as Trotskyist historian CLR James, and I had developed an awareness of our capitalist super-structure. More importantly, I am a Black gay man who has endured periods of unemployment and underemployment. The beginning of the end of Queer Nation/San Francisco saw the raising and quashing of these working-class issues by the white gay men who were trying to deliver Queer Nation to the local Democratic Party machinery. Their aim, I know now, was to make Queer Nation less a street activist group and more like the Democratic Clubs that yearly endorsed party celebrities for local and state office. To the horror of many of my LGBT and LGBT-friendly straight friends I penned an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle against Gay Marriage. How, I asked, did this measure benefit working class queers who had nothing to bequeath, no health care to share with their partners, and no housing? I argued it was pushed and solely benefited LGBT elites who did not know these struggles.
Somewhere along the route, the LGBT movement, which did not begin but hit a high-water mark with Stonewall Riot, chose to conform with the status quo rather than beat its own path true to its social justice, anti-establishment beginnings. My father told me how he observed his white peers have the luxury of shaving their 60's hippy image and putting on suits and ties when the economy contracted in the early 1970's. Black men like my father did not have this luxury. It would seem the LGBT movement chose to survive at any cost and to go where the money was rather than where its traditional base of workers, transgenders, and other marginals lay, and bring radical change to our economic and social system. A LGBT establishment sought to conform with suits and ties and sacrifice a whole swath of its community.
Anyway, "No Shirt No Shoes No Service" is not a lesson for me. My socialism informs me that everyone must have housing regardless of marital status and regardless of employment status. My socialism informs me that health care is a community right and responsibility, the same as we have come to see public schools. My socialism informs me that my relationship choices - marriage or not, one partner or several - should not bar me from my human right to health care, housing, education/training to remain a productive contributor to the commonweal. These social rights are public investments for which we get clean streets and healthy bodies who can contribute as to their ability. Like my socialist hero, Bernard Shaw, I do not idolize poverty: I think it disgusting. Like my socialist gay hero Oscar Wilde, I think poverty persists only because we keep it alive.
The narrative would have us look at the poor and wage-slave, the homeless and those for whom rent is a regular worry, the unemployed and underemployed, the sick as personally responsible for their lot, for being lazy bums, where it doesn't ignore them altogether - out of sight, out of mind. We are only valued for our potential as consumers, and so many LGBT's have made it a life goal to be good consumers. This narrative seeks to strengthen capitalism the same way the poor are being made to fund the rich in bailouts. This is insidious narrative all elites continue to disseminate at the expense of a reality we see all around us, a multi-racial community, communities where single parents have more than proven in history their ability to raise and rear families, a sexually rich community.
Lowell B. Denny, III
Long Beach, CA USA