Gay … Pride?

Its Friday night, the beginning of "Gay Pride" weekend. My boyfriend and I have traveled from New Jersey to New York to visit some friends who are in for the weekend festivities. We can barely walk down Christopher Street with everyone outside. I’m enjoying the cool breezy evening when my boyfriend taps me on the shoulder and says, "Oh my God, look at that!" Turning around to where he’s pointing, I’m greeted with an all white, male, and ferociously muscular mannequin, sporting black leather underwear, vest, and mask. It is hanging upside down, supported by ropes which bind its hands and feet. Behind it, suspended from the backdrop in the window, is a huge rainbow flag with the word "Pride" spelled out in large pink stenciled letters. Visions of animal carcasses hanging from meat racks flash into my head. Is this what I’m supposed to be proud of as a young gay man in the nineties?


"Gay Pride" is a misnomer. The weekend is supposed to mark the Stonewall Riot which started the gay (male) liberation movement. On the night of June 25, 1969, several drag queens (mostly lower-class men of color) fought back the city police who were on one of their routine raids of gay bars in New York City. Two days of rioting ensued and thus completed the first militant political action on the part of gay (mostly) men for themselves. This action was the genesis for most of the radical gay male organizations that rapidly sprang up around the country. While lesbians were most certainly affected by Stonewall, the women’s liberation movement was far more profound in its impact on lesbian lives (despite the homophobia and racism of most mainstream feminist groups in the seventies). This legacy is the reason for the "Pride" marches around the country in June. These marches, and this legacy, are full of contradiction, complexity, confusion, and sorrow for me.


I am a gay man who likes to think of himself as politically radical and vehemently pro-feminist. It is this which proves to be most contradictory to the gay male community I find myself within. "Gay Pride" weekend seems to highlight these contradictions in painful clarity for me. I watch as the quest for the almighty dollar in the form of gay capitalism looms over the entire weekend. This is directly connected to the male supremacy and gay male sexual politics that pervade, and in fact run these events. Men make and control more money than women. Gay men make and control more money than lesbians. Money is power under capitalism. Gay men have power. Lesbians (and all women) have gay male sexism.


This sexism is inherent in the legacy of Stonewall. As Marilyn Frye argues in her book The Politics of Reality, drag is a form of male bonding. It is men, donning the trappings of femininity, and then finding this entertaining and funny. This is certainly not to discredit the heroic actions of the individuals involved in the Stonewall Riots, but rather to look at the new understandings and articulations of sexism that have progressed since the gay male and women’s liberation movements of the late sixties. Perhaps in the fiercely homophobic and sexist pre-Stonewall, pre-Women’s Liberation era, gay men could practice n-dsogyny without much self-accountability or actual thought as to what they were doing. Even this sounds like an excuse for sexism. It seems incredible to me that now, after more than twenty years of feminist thought and struggle, gay men are still not holding themselves accountable for their own sexism.


Gay male sexual politics are centered around the binary of masculine/feminine with its concomitant domination/subordination. Far from being a challenge to the institution of heterosexuality, gay male sexual politics and culture reproduce and actively participate in the subordination of women. Through the economically powerful gay male sex industry, male prostitution, and the worship and mimicry of straight men (masculinity), we are far from anything we should be "proud" of. Women may be physically absent from gay culture, but they are constantly present as an objectified idea or concept, against which to construct what is most sexually gratifying and desirable.


Gay culture is a bastion of masculinity. Straight men are considered the most attractive and worthwhile commodity in the sexual market. Certain gay porn stars are marketed as actually straight. There are whole video series which claim to be either two straight men (with titles like "Straight Boys Do" or "Straight to the Zone") having sex with each other, or straight men in locker rooms or college showers caught masturbating by a hidden camera. Beyond that, there are a myriad of pornographic videos featuring stereotypically straight ‘roles" such as the sailor, the soldier, the cop, the cowboy, the frat boy, the jock, the construction worker, etc. Men of color, seen through the racist eye as hyper-sexualized and machismo, are the subject of videos which play out the white supremacist fantasies of the exotic, sexually uncontrollable, and insatiable straight man. This fascination and obsession with straightness is rooted in the hierarchy of masculinity which exists within the class of men. White straight men are at the top, with straight men of color and all gay men at the bottom. Since being a man in our society is defined by the possession of women (along with racial and economic factors, with all three interlocking), straight men are the definition of "Man."


Masculinity is the antithesis of femininity. It is that which by its very definition holds political, social, and economic power over its Other; Woman. By eroticizing masculinity, which necessarily means eroticizing straightness, gay men are making the subordination of women sexy. We are objectifying women through a myopic focus on their gender/sex. This focus on femininity is used as a way to make its opposite, masculinity, intelligible. Women become only their gender/sex, they become the sexual objects of men. ibis differs only in practice with straight men who also see women as sex objects.


"Gay Pride" is a religious rite, celebrating Masculinity (and in that sense Straightness) with all the fervor and piety of a devotee on a Feast Day. To be sure, lesbians march as well. The mainstream Lesbian and Gay movement is very good at tokenism. Many lesbians actively support gay male sexual politics. Shelia Jeffreys has well documented the "lesbian sex revolution" in her book The Lesbian Heresy. She sees the current trends in lesbian "radical sex" as part of an overall decline in lesbian self-worth and estimation stemming from the continued economic, cultural, and material domination of male defined sexuality. The appropriation of gay male sexual mores and politics is but one facet of this backlash against lesbian-feminism and feminism. This can be seen at any "Pride" parade with scores of leather-clad lesbians leading one another with leashes and chains. Their gay S/M brothers outnumber them by far. Increasingly, lesbians are situating their sexuality within the dominant/submissive framework. "Gay Pride" then, even with lesbian participation, is still about male defined sexuality. The drag queens, the gym-boys, the cameos by porn stars, the S/M contingent, the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), are all part of this celebration of "Pride."


The popularity of "radical sex" as a path to liberation stems in part from the recent hegemony of post-modem "queer" discourse within the academy. In his book The Material Queer, Donald Morton argues for an historical-materialist analysis of lesbian and gay oppression. He sees the current knowledge being produced around "queer theory" as part of an overall trend, which divorces the economic sphere from the cultural, and establishes language and desire in place of mode of production. This severing of a dialectic between the economic division of labor and the social division of classes has had profound impact on theorizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual desire. Current "queer theory" sees desire as an autonomous, ahistorical, acasual phenomenon. It has become pass6, and in fact "wrong," to critique desire as an economic, political, and social construction. Therefore, sexual practices such as S/M and the consumption of pornography have been closed off from any thought of them in relation to struggles for socioeconon-dc justice.


Liberation is not possible by denying the material and historical centrality of desire. Gay men in particular, cannot achieve liberation through mutual objectification and sex. We must learn to see each other in our humanity, with self-respect, care, compassion, and love. This is absent when can only express our emotions and need for bonding through sex. This does not make me sex negative, it simply means that I want to see my gay brothers in all their capacities, not as a mass of muscles with a penis. The ability to recognize each other with respect is one of the things "Gay Pride" is all about.


I for one am not proud at this point. I long not for a parade, but a massive demonstration linking-issues of social justice for all lesbians and gay men. While there are a few political groups who admirably march to celebrate a years worth of hard work, they are few and far between. I would like to see the hundreds of thousands of attendees storm city hall and federal buildings demanding not lesbian and gay "rights" with its narrow focus, but justice for all issues which are intimately connected with any real liberation movement. And end to violence against women, reproductive rights and an end to forced sterilization, equal work for equal pay, an end to racist violence, free universal health care, etc. These issues are lesbian and gay issues. A narrow focus on white, upper-class, gay male "rights" (read: as much cock as I want anywhere and anytime and then life will be great) as defined by the mainstream movement is simply not acceptable.


Until gay men, myself included, divest themselves of their sexism by actively working to destroy the gender-class system, until we can once again join in and support feminist struggle (repaying the hard work feminists have put towards us in the fight against AIDS, and in the early years of gay liberation), until we can see our struggle as part of an overall struggle against the socioeconomic exploitation and oppression of all marginalized peoples, until then, "Gay Pride" is nothing but a shallow excuse to dance, cruise, and party. As Marx once said, "The alteration of men (women) on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; the revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only, in a revolution, succeed in riding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew."

Leave a comment