Wednesday, December 30, 2009

1990's Turn


Andrew Sullivan has posted this interesting chart of public opinion on homosexuality and has given a few guesses as to what changed in 1990:

... [I]t seems clear to me it was multi-determined as my shrink often (helpfully) says. The first is that this coincides with a re-framing of the issue in public discourse. Many of us ... believed that the focus on sexual liberation, on "queerness" and subcultural revolt were not actually very descriptive of most gay lives and not the most persuasive arguments for gay equality. I mean: if you want to be queer, why seek any legal acceptance at all? Isn't marginalization the point? Why not revel in oppression as the only legitimate way to live as "the other"?

So in the late 1980s, the homocons, as we were subsequently described, started making the case for formal civil equality, not counter-cultural revolution.
I can't speak for the entire swing in public opinion that began in 1990, of course, but I can say my views of gay equality took a radical turn right around then, and I trace the change in a way that's opposite of Sullivan.

Thanks to the efforts of Queer Nation, a very active chapter of which existed on the college campus where I lived, I first became aware that the label "queer" was being actively appropriated by pro-gay activists; that people I already knew (and knew of) were -- suddenly to me -- visibly, openly, and proudly gay; that gay people were standing up and demanding to be regarded as human beings now, not when a majority was ready to get around to deciding to concede it.

I believe Sullivan when he says he and other "homocons" began, at that same time, writing up a polite, well-reasoned case for gay rights. I didn't read a word of it, or if I did, I forgot it almost immediately. (Sorry, Andrew!)

It was right around this time that I began seeing stickers exactly like this one affixed to people's bikes, book bags, and jackets. Yes, I found them a little shocking at first, but that wore off soon enough, and when it did, I was able to see the question with which it confronted me: yes, the gay men suck the cock and the gay women do the thing with the thing, but why on earth is that a problem for me? I didn't have a satisfactory answer then, and I still don't today, and that's because it was not and is not a problem for me or anything I care about. This activism shook me out of the complacency with which I had considered gay equality hitherto.

Twenty years later, the graph of public opinion continues moving in the right direction -- red line higher, black line lower -- but I am still with the spirit of Queer Nation, circa 1990: the complete equality of gay people is non-negotiable, and needs to be realized yesterday.

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