By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Can you say "LGBTST" 10 times quickly? If not, you'd better learn, or you'll be lost at the indoctrination sessions that CUNY's Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) has planned for this semester.
The topic of February 7's panel, held at Baruch College, was "Imagining the Future: Exploring the Agenda of the LGBTQ Movement." Q stands for "queer" hereit's unclear how queer differs from L, G, B, or T, if at allbut such are the vagaries of progressive nomenclature.
LGBTSTanother variant used at the conferencestands for "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two-Spirit, Transgendered." Apparently, "two-spirit" is Native American for queer. But don't get hooked on it, because as soon as you get it down, you'll have to accommodate the Zulu term for pederasty and the Maori word for tribade, or some such. But, hey, concessions must be made to the disenfranchised, even if it means that gay monikers are starting to look like German nouns.
Clearly, last week's panelistsKerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Robert Vázquez-Pacheco, director of community education and organizing for the Audre Lorde Project; and Michael Warner, professor of English at Rutgers Universityhave all spent hours pronouncing "LGBTST," standing in front of the mirror repeating the mnemonic "Algae Beat Thyestes" until the hippest acronym for "sexual deviants" rolled off their tongues as trippingly as "Mumia Abu-Jamal."
Warner is a founder of the radical queer academic group Sex Panic!, which was established in 1997 in response to the NYPD's crackdown on gay public sex. His latest book, The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life, decries the tyranny of the sexual status quo and the so-called mainstreaming of gay politics.
CLAGS executive director Alisa Solomon chose wisely when she invited Warner, since he represents one of two opposing contingents in the gay intelligentsia who have been feuding bitterly for years over gay public policy. She misstepped, however, by not including any members of the other contingente.g., libertarians, conservatives, and old-school liberals. These conformists, as lefties tar them, are people like Andrew Sullivan, Gabriel Rotello, Rich Tafel of the Log Cabin Republicans, Bruce Bawer of A Place at the Tablefame, William Eskridge (author of The Case for Same-Sex Marriage), and many others. But none of them was on the panel.
So, naturally, the conversationwhich should have exposed students at Baruch and CUNY to fair-minded political debateproceeded without interruption to malign capitalism, marriage, the white patriarchy, middle-class values, the normal, and even the poor, defenseless gay Millennium March on Washington.
No one who might have argued for the other side ever took the floorwith the exception of an older gentleman in the audience who suggested that perhaps the monochromatic panelists were stringing up "conservative" straw men. But to no avail. The juggernaut of identity politics simply rolled over him, its squeaky wheels whining louder than ever, and its henchqueers (capitalist beneficiaries all) prating on about the American plague of wealth and privilege.
Predictably, the lecture gravitated to gay marriage. Counterculturalists like Warner and his fellow panelists oppose gay marriage because they oppose marriage as an institution: They deem it oppressive of women and alternative lifestyles and feel that it thereby deprives the gay liberation movement of its countercultural sting.
Here's the other side of the argument. Though most gay people want access to equal rights like marriage, Warner et al. oppose these goals because they sidestep the cultural revolution into which they're dragging queers (their appropriated proletariat), willing or not. No one said that legalizing gay marriage meant forcing matrimony down everyone's throat. Moreover, nobody said being gay made you a Marxist. Whatever happened to pro-choice?
Thankfully, the narrow opinions of academic panels probably won't stymie gay civil rights in legislatures. After all, the Vermont House voted on February 9 to develop a broad domestic partnership system for gay and lesbian couples, and will likely draft and vote on a bill by April.
More encouraging is the fact that the majority of the discussion's attendees were not students. Perhaps, like one student with whom I spoke that evening, they had already been estranged from the "movement" by the pervasive sense of alienation that seems to be the linchpin of LGBTST proceedings.