Should gays join the mainstream?

Two gay readers, provoked by David Horowitz's argument that gays aren't "normal," debate whether they are -- or should be.

Published June 16, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

Right off!

If gays are like Jews,
are straights like eunuchs?


salon's editors ought to have killed David Horowitz's recent column arguing
against same-sex marriage. Not for the opinions expressed, however troglodytical they are. Nor for its tiresome style, although I suspect Horowitz's
shtick -- "neocon convert pisses on old friends and former beliefs" -- has long since lost its shock value.

Nah, this column should have gotten the spike because it's so horribly

In his opening Horowitz claims, "I believe that gays should be accorded the
same rights and moral approbation as everyone else." Yet in a blink he's
huffing and puffing against same-sex marriages. Huh? If, as a gay man, I'm
entitled to the same rights as "everyone else," then surely I'm entitled to
that most basic of civil rights -- the right to marry the man I love. (Should I be
so lucky as to catch a husband.)

Shorn of logic, Horowitz's arguments depend on the queerest of notions.
In one instance, he seems to believe that civil rights issues should become
popularity contests. "Knowing that today they would lose this battle in the
legislative arena -- the popular assemblies where the electorate has a say --
gays decided to use the judiciary to ram through their proposed revolutionary
change," Horowitz writes.

In another, he conjures an old-right bugaboo using bizarre anti-republican
(small r) language: that "through the most arbitrary and undemocratic avenue
of government available, the liberal courts," gays are trying to foist their
radical agenda on the nation.

The court that so horrifies Horowitz is Hawaii's Supreme Court, which in 1993
reasoned that same-sex couples have a right to marry unless the state could
offer a compelling reason to justify sex discrimination in the state law. That
ruling was neither arbitrary nor undemocratic. The court simply fulfilled its
proper judicial role of insuring that the law conforms to constitutional

Throughout his piece, Horowitz raises the specter of doom: that if the right to
marry is extended from Adam and Eve to Adam and Steve, then the whole world will fall apart. But as Evan Wolfson,
co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the Hawaii case, wonders, "Is marriage so
fragile that it has to be defined by who is excluded?"

I don't think so. Marriage, like other vibrant social institutions, gathers
strength from its flexibility. Remember, at one time marriage was based on the
assumption that women were the property of men. And just 30 years ago
marriage between the races was still illegal in 16 U.S. states. Changing those laws
did no harm to society or marriage. There's no evidence
that granting the essential civil right of marriage to gays and lesbians will
harm the venerable institution or our society.

But the beyond the particulars of the same-sex marriage question lies a more
disturbing issue. As long as lesbians and gays remain America's most hated
minority, the debate about us will often be a debased one. That's because of
the unspoken a priori assumption that homosexuality makes us just a smidgen less human
and therefore our civil rights -- even our right to a place in the human family --
is up for debate.

After all, would Salon have even entertained publishing a column that argued
that we should respect Jews, but deny them equivalency and remove them from the civil
rights laws? Or a similar piece about African-Americans, ending with a call to repeal the 13th Amendment to the Constitution?

Imagine for a moment an alternate universe where my people instead of
Horowitz's constitute 90 percent of the population. I wonder how Horowitz would feel if he surfed to a perfectly respectable
Web site and found this:

"I'm a homosexual man who believes that most straight men are heterosexual by
nature. Therefore, I believe that straight men should be accorded the same
rights and moral approbation as everyone else. But I'm also persuaded that
their testosterone-driven urges lead to nothing but strife and conflict. In
order to save society from their socially destructive behavior let's nip this
thing in the bud ...

"Perhaps the straight male community can learn something from the eunuchs. Try
as some of them might, eunuchs will never be regarded as entirely 'normal' in
a predominantly gay and lesbian society. That doesn't seem to have stopped
their progress. Being different, even 'abnormal,' within the culture of the
majority -- be it pagan, homosexual or of African extraction -- is not such a
terrible thing. In fact, it's the American way."

Alas, this is only a fantasy. In our all-too-real universe David Horowitz will
never have to read such hateful opinions because he's a member of the

How lucky for him.

June 16, 1997

David Israels, a writer for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Mother Jones and other publications, has reported and commented on the queer community
since 1979. He's also great husband material. He can cook, keep house and
make his man happy. Interested applicants may apply to

Who wants to be "normal"?

If pride in difference is our rallying cry, why are gays trying so hard to


david Horowitz and I rarely agree. After all, he's an arch-conservative
straight man, and I'm a neo-socialist lesbian. But when he wrote last week
that same-sex marriage was doomed to failure because gays are not "normal"
by popular standards, I found myself cheering. I just wish more gays would
heed his call and abandon the blind stampede for assimilation.

I've spent 20 years trying to adjust to and accept being a person who
didn't fit in to the social order. I finally made it. Not long ago I realized that for the first time in my life, I could honestly tell you who I was and like the sound of it. I was a big ol' lesbian, and I didn't need society's blessing.

But now, being gay is trendy and I'm totally confused. If homosexuality is
so hip and mainstream, why am I not feeling all warm and fuzzy?
Does that mean -- gulp -- that I'm mainstream after all, even though I spent my youth unlearning that very instinct?

OK, so I was never exactly a militant bulldogger who scared puppies for
fun. I pretty much do all the same stuff other people do: I go to work, do
my laundry, read books, go grocery shopping, see bad movies, go on
vacation, listen to the radio. Without well-honed gaydar, you can't
necessarily sense that I'm different. But I know, and that's what matters.
I'm a stealth outsider; I know I'm different, and I like that.

Don't get me wrong: I was as exhilarated as the next dyke by the media
ruckus around Ellen DeGeneres' coming out, just as I had been about
Hawaii's landmark same-sex marriage court decision (I disagree with Horowitz there). Homosexuality is gaining wider currency as a standard deviation rather than an abomination against God, an affront to nature or a moral outrage.

Still, I just don't think
this normalcy theme is going to catch on with gays. What culture we have
(the rainbow flag, drag queen theater, the gay olympics, homo
rodeos, lavish AIDS fund-raisers and our intentionally outrageous
parade rituals) is built on the idea of pride in our differences and unity
against a common enemy -- oppression by the larger society.

We fear the moment when that enemy becomes our friend, because that's the
moment we lose our identity. We are defined by our otherness. If gays and
lesbians become just another subgroup of the dominant culture instead of
the last segment of humanity that it's still OK to persecute, we won't be
special anymore. We need to be reviled.

That's why we revel in shocking Middle America with bare-chested Dykes on
Bikes and mostly nekid leather boys groping each other in front of God and
television cameras. You think we don't know that Jerry
Fallwell is going to leave the footage of the mother carrying her
hand-lettered "I Love My Gay Son" sign on the cutting room floor while
showing his impressionable flock clips from the most outlandish sexual antics
in a gay pride parade instead? We count on it.

Civil rights are one thing; social acceptance quite another. In principle,
most Americans believe that civil rights should protect gays and lesbians
the same way they do straight people. But venture outside the unequivocal
and it's less clear: Should gays be portrayed on TV in romantic or sexual
situations? Should openly gay people be allowed to become pastors in
community churches? Society is deeply divided on these subjects, and so is
the gay community.

Many gays wish Ellen DeGeneres would just get back into the closet and shut
up about it. She's too normal and quirky and all-American. In other words,
she's non-threatening. The only lesbian they'd be happy to see on TV is Hothead Paisan, the comic
underground's "homicidal lesbian terrorist" -- Xena without the
subtlety. Gays without alienation are like Xena without her sword or
Hothead without her labrys: powerless.

I say bring on the civil rights -- especially that equal protection clause.
But I'm glad the constitution does not say society must approve and
sanction the personal lives of its members, or that you can't live the
public-law-abiding life of your own making without a majority vote of your

The general population is doing gay people a favor by marginalizing us;
they constantly reinforce our unity and foster the growth and strength of
our subculture and our pride.

June 16, 1997

Brooke Shelby Biggs is the media columnist for Hotwired.

By Salon Staff

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