(Andrew Sullivan) Do you remember the homosexual?
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? He was, for a period, a key figure in the conversation about gay rights. He was Will in “Will And Grace,” or Keith in “Six Feet Under,” or Cam in “Modern Family” — a normie-enough dude randomly distributed across the human population and country. Once invisible and closeted, the AIDS epidemic exposed him without mercy in every state in the country. With this unexpected visibility, and in the wake of hundreds of thousands of young corpses, the survivors built a movement that won every gay and lesbian the right to be free from discrimination and to marry and serve openly — and proudly — in the military.
It was the most speedily successful civil rights story in memory. Its case for equality was simple and clear: including us in existing institutions needn’t change anything in heterosexual life. “Live and let live” in equality and dignity was the idea. And the most powerful force behind this success was the emergence of so many ordinary gays and lesbians — of all races, religions, backgrounds, classes, and politics — who told their own story. America discovered what I had discovered the first time I went into a gay bar: these people were not the stereotypes I was told about. They were not some strange, alien tribe. They were just like every other human, part of our families and communities; and we cared about each other.
What would happen if and when we won the battle was always an open question. The question of transgender rights — associated with but very different from gay rights — remained unresolved. But in the new climate of acceptance, transgender people also became increasingly visible and accepted, and they too won a stunning victory in the Supreme Court. The Bostock decision in June 2020 gave those who identified as the opposite sex full civil rights protection. Yes, there were still skirmishes over cakes. But with equal rights, and growing toleration, it seemed as if we’d achieved a settlement that would allow us all — straight, gay, and trans — a chance to get on with our lives in freedom.
And now? Back in culture war hell.
If you read the MSM, you’ll be told this war is back because the GOP has, for cynical reasons, become an even more unhinged hate-machine, now dedicated once again to “targeting the freedom and dignity of queer people,” as one NYT columnist writes today. You will, in fact, almost never see a news story that isn’t premised on this idea. And it’s obviously true that some on the right have never really accepted gay equality and have jumped at a new opening to undo gay integration and dignity — and the rawness of some of the homophobia and transphobia out there right now is palpable. The resurrection of bathroom bills and the move to curtail the rights of trans adults are repulsive and dumb.
But when you examine the other issues at stake — public schools teaching the concepts of queer and gender theory to kindergartners on up, sex changes for children before puberty, the housing of biological males with women in prisons and rape shelters, and biological males competing with women in sports — you realize we are far beyond what the gay rights movement once stood for. It’s these initiatives from the far left that are new; and the backlash is quite obviously a reaction to the capture of the gay rights movement by queer social justice activists.
These activists, marinated in critical gender and queer theory, have picked several unnecessary fights and, especially since the convulsions of 2020, have pushed and pushed a woke revolution until a dangerous backlash was inevitable.
The core belief of critical queer theorists is that homosexuality is not a part of human nature because there is no such thing as human nature; and that everything is socially constructed, even the body. Because heterosexuality is the overwhelming norm, and homosexuality the exception, and because society is nothing but a complex of oppression, homosexuals are defined by their rejection of heteronormativity. To be queer is inherently to exist on the margins; to be odd, peculiar, weird, queer, hated, oppressed, and in revolt and rebellion. To be queer is to be dedicated to subversion, to mock conventions, to deconstruct language, to dismantle the human body, to defy “nature” and, above all, to liberate humankind from the prison of gender.
To be homosexual, in contrast, is merely to be attracted to the same sex, and gays and lesbians run the gamut of tastes, politics, backgrounds and religions. Some are conservative, some radical, some indifferent. Some gays are queers. But most aren’t. And queers now run what was once the gay rights movement. (For a longer, piercing reflection on the takeover, read historian Jamie Kirchick’s new essay in Liberties. For a discussion of the homophobia of the new queer activism, see Ben Appel’s excellent essay in Spiked.)
No one held a news conference and announced that from 2015 on, after Obergefell, the gay rights movement had changed its entire rationale. But they sure gave hints. The Human Rights Campaign, once a relatively moderate group, replaced “gay” and “lesbian” with the acronym “LGBTQ+” and expanded the word “queer” to describe anyone gay, lesbian, transgender, or even straight who defied heteronormativity. They changed the flag from a simple rainbow, to one that included some races (only black and brown — no Asians or whites) and transgender ideology. Their building in DC is festooned with a massive banner declaring their mission: “Black Lives Matter, Black Trans Lives Matter.” Their new head is a woman who calls herself “queer,” not lesbian.
Then they quietly changed the meaning of the word “gay” so that it no longer referred to same-sex attraction, but to same-gender attraction; and changed the word “men” to include people with vaginas and uteruses, and the word “women” to include people with dicks and balls. Checkmate for the gays! We are all now just bigots with “genital preferences,” just like the Christianist right used to claim. Just to add to the confusion, hundreds of new “genders” were adopted — because some teens on Tumblr once invented them and queer theorists loved them.
Gay hook-up apps now include biological women seeking gay men and straight men looking for chicks with dicks. “NO MEN” some profiles now say — on what was once a gay man’s app. There are fewer and fewer exclusively gay male spaces left. Lesbian bars? Almost gone entirely. Lesbians themselves? On their way out. Dylan Mulvaney is exemplary of the new queer order: a femme gay man who had to take female hormones to stay relevant. (Compare and contrast with disco icon Sylvester’s view of gay liberation: “I could be the queen that I really was without having a sex change or being on hormones.” We are going backward, not forward.)
Then the queers upped the ante and did something we gays never did: they targeted children. If they could get into kids’ minds, bodies and souls from the very beginning of their lives, they could abolish the sex binary from the ground up. And so they got a pliant, woke educational establishment to re-program children from the very start, telling toddlers that any single one of them could be living in the wrong body, before they could even spell.
Kindergartners were told to pick a pronoun, and thereby a sex, as soon as they arrived. Endless kiddie books reiterated the queer theory mantra about gender: “You can be a girl or a boy or both or neither or something else entirely!” And if the sex the child chose did not match their physical body, they were told they could just change it — and change it back if needed — no questions asked. Fun! If a boy said he was a girl, or vice-versa, it was in fact unethical to ask any further questions. From now on, he was a girl. Parents? A problem to be overcome.
The queers regarded any therapy exploring other possible reasons for a child’s transgender identity — autism, family breakdown, abuse, bullying — as “conversion therapy,” and have made it illegal in some states. But the original Dutch study on which this entire medical regime stands specifically excluded any child with any other mental health challenges. It’s not as if the queers ignored the original safeguards, or didn’t know about them; they just consciously threw them away.
In the UK, this kind of queer activism in schools and the Internet led to a huge surge in referrals to sex-change clinics for children, overwhelmingly girls. The Tavistock Centre, the sole facility in the NHS dedicated to the treatment, kept statistics on the children who came to their doors. Among those referred in 2012, ninety percent of natal girls and 80 percent of natal boys reported being same-sex attracted or bisexual. There is no inherent relationship between trans and gay and bi people. So why this staggering overlap? No answer. If a Christianist hospital was busy changing the sexes of overwhelmingly gay kids, so that they became straight, what do you think the gay rights establishment would say? But when a queer facility does exactly that, all the worriers are bigots.