The April 25 Gay and Lesbian March on Washington was supposed to signify that homosexuals of both genders (as well as persons of altered genders) had “arrived,” politically and socially. The excitement was palpable at Washington National Airport when I flew to Ohio and back just before the weekend. Both times the airport swarmed with hundreds of overt (to put it mildly) homosexuals.
Even if they hadn’t worn buttons and T-shirts with the slogans of the gay movement (“I can’t even THINK straight” was a popular one), most of the marchers would have been easily distinguishable from the other passengers on the plane I took home from Cleveland. Flaming and flaunting exultantly, they clearly felt that this was their moment. Butch cuts, tight jeans, rings through earlobes and sometimes noses, and lisping, shrieking voices all made me wonder if there was still such a thing as a latent or closeted homosexual anymore, even in Ohio.
The march, which had been planned for two years, was meant to show gays as normal people who want only the same rights everyone else has. But since sodomy laws have been either left unenforced or repealed over the last few years, only a few areas remain where the law even takes note of homosexuals, let alone discriminates against them—in matters like military service and adopting children. And even these issues are more symbolic than practical: the vast majority of the officially estimated 300,000 marchers looked about equally unprepared for either combat or parenthood. “Normal” was not the term that suggested itself.
In fact, the whole weekend was a celebration of abnormality. Perversity was pervasive, from the “safe sex work-shops” to the drag queens in glittering costumes. “Stereotypes” were mechanically denounced, but there they were, in the flesh. And stereotypes flourish, after all, less because they are invented by hostility than because people naturally imitate each other’s mannerisms in identifiable patterns. Many gays try to look and sound gay, and most of the marchers on April 25 were in the only crowd they couldn’t have been picked out of. Yet nowadays one is not supposed to notice such things.
On the Mall on Sunday morning, shortly before the march began, the crowd milled around excitedly. The original idea had been to present a staid, middle-class front to the public, but that proved impossible. This group was young, defiant, both sexes intent on proving their manhood, after their respective fashions. Nearly everyone seemed to be wearing a message or a joke. Sample messages: “Safe sex is hot sex.” “Hate is not a family value.” “Absolute homo.” Some of the jokes were good, though: “Queen without a country.” And my favorite: “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?”
At one end of the Mall the crowd was entertained by musicians and speakers, including a few politicians—Barney Frank of course, Pat Schroeder, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. A lesbian comedian made an obscene joke about Hillary Clinton, and other speakers denounced Bill for not showing up. Hillary was clearly more popular with the crowd than her husband; many wore “Homos for Hillary” buttons. Bill had put gays at the top of the national agenda upon taking office, but now he didn’t want to take the heat. So he had arranged to be in Boston, leaving behind only a bland message of support. The presidential absence was resented; placards called him a “coward.” He had gambled that gay support was worth pursuing, and now he was losing even that.
Meanwhile, Larry Kramer, founder of ACT-UP, re-outed Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services, who had tried to deny the charge of being lesbian without treating it as a charge. While angry rhetoric alternated with campy jokes, a few lesbians took their clothes off to make some sort of point. As much of the nation watched the gay antics on cable TV, the Clintons must have been wondering why they’d gone out of their way to make all these new friends.
The event had a make-believe air about it. These were misfits masquerading as a sort of “community,” with every utterance either a groundless claim, a defiant exaggeration, or a giggly joke. Some of their signs and slogans denounced the widely publicized survey that reduced their numbers to a mere tenth of the population they had claimed. “One percent is a fairy tale,” read a T-shirt. The movement quickly changed its tune to the theme that rights have nothing to do with numbers, but it was the movement itself that had vauntingly cited the old Kinsey ratio of ten percent. Besides, ten percent is a respectable minority; one percent puts sodomy almost in the freak range, right down there with incest, pedophilia, sheep-loving, and other aberrations of the sexually challenged.
My overwhelming sense of these demonstrators was that they could be happy only temporarily, and in a group. As individuals they were wounded people, doomed to lead lonely, stunted, and in many cases shortened lives. The men were on the average younger than the women, for reasons made sadly obvious by a ghastly, emaciated figure in a wheelchair. This would obviously be his last demonstration.
What Makes People Homosexual?
What makes people homosexual? I think Freudian explanations of their condition are the most plausible. That is to say, what shapes them is not a sexual attraction to their own gender, but a physical aversion to the opposite sex. The inability to feel normal desire is surely the central problem. The “orientation” stems from disorientation. But since gay propaganda seeks to present homosexuality in a favorable light, little is said about this.
The opposite sex is scary. As mythologies testify, this is an element in all relations between the sexes. Homosexuals are those in whom this element has become overpowering—mystery sheer menace, the femme too fatale to inspire anything but dread. The likely cause may be, as Freud says, cold, cruel, or absent parents, especially parents of the opposite sex; but who knows? One way or another, the condition is a deep-seated defect, a maladjustment or incapacity that makes normal life difficult or impossible.
Gays speak of “pride.” But why? Why is an “orientation” that nobody seeks, or wishes on a loved one, something to be proud of? Even the most liberal expectant parents never say, “We don’t care whether it’s a boy or a girl, as long as it’s gay or lesbian.” People who want children also want their children to be able to have children. This is, if you’ll pardon the word, normal.
An “Orientation” is not an identity. Nobody thinks of himself as primarily a heterosexual; being normal is only a precondition for the particular relations that constitute identity, because it enables you to be the husband of this or that woman, the mother of this or that child, and so forth. But to be homosexual, or in any other way addicted to non-procreative modes of sexual behavior, is to be disabled for many adult relations.
G.K. Chesterton in 1922 lamented “the modern and morbid habit of always sacrificing the normal to the abnormal.” But since then the very concept of the “normal” has come under attack. Yet it is easy enough to identify. The normal is that which we depend on for success, survival, and perfection. The sick depend on the healthy, the blind on the seeing, the mad on the sane. And the normal may be a matter of acquired skill: education, though not “natural” in Rousseau’s sense, is normal in our civilization, and the man who can’t read or do math is dependent on the man who can. (This would be so even if the illiterate outnumbered the literate.)
In the same way, the homosexual and other deviants depend on the sexually normal, who are more than just “heterosexual.” This is obvious enough, but nowadays we are forced to waste a lot of energy refuting the sophistries of the alienated. The normal and the abnormal aren’t even parallel. To speak of “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” as analogues is to skew everything. What about all the other deviations from marital love, many of which are, if one may say so, less revolting than anal sex (if you can call it “sex”) between males?
Andrew Sullivan of The New Republic, for example, calls for permitting homosexual marriage. What would be the point? He might as well call for permitting homosexual reproduction. Children, not erotic love as such, are the reason for marriage. Yet Sullivan speaks of conferring “civic equality” by legitimating gay marriage, and of the “emotional cost and psychological damage” inflicted by denying it. Well, one might rudely ask, what about the sufferings of all the other perverts? Once we discard the obvious biological reason for marriage, we may as well discard marriage itself. It’s silly to keep it and extend its legal forms to people it could never have applied to in the first place. (Abolishing marriage outright would solve the “civic inequality” problem, too.)
Sullivan has it backwards. The gay rights movement is only a reductio ad absurdum of the entire sexual revolution, which has been not just a failure but an incalculable disaster. True, if sex isn’t for procreation, it makes as much sense for perverts as for normal people to marry. But this is only to say that perversion and normality have lost their meaning. After all, Christendom has always considered lechery and adultery abnormal, even though both require biological normality.
The name for that kind of abnormality is, of course, sin. But these acts are sins because of their natural consequences. Somehow the idea has gotten current that sexual acts have no such natural consequences, simply because the most obvious of those consequences—untimely children—don’t occur every time, or because they can be prevented. The Playboy Philosophy holds that moral objections to the swinging lifestyle are purely “theological,” ergo devoid of secular meaning or even legitimacy (separation of church and state, you know). In the long run, this means holding that even objections to late-term abortions are merely theological, too.
Homosexuals are more to be pitied than censured. But now, when they are not mere deviants from the norm but assailants of the normal, they must be censured. We are all sinners; we are not all advocates of sin.
In the end the march was a flop. The flagrant self-indulgence of the gay ethos couldn’t be concealed. The major media did their best to play it down, but C-SPAN carried the event live, and didn’t edit out the queerest behavior.
Admitting failure, some of the gays said later that the event had lacked a galvanizing moment, like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. This presumes that there is anything in the gay agenda that could move people with the moral force of an appeal for human dignity. After all, most people feel that acts of sodomy are themselves violations of human dignity, even if self-inflicted.
Even the pathos of AIDS is tinged with subdued reproach. We might pity a smoker with a lung cancer, and we would hesitate to lecture him on his bad habit, but we’d also think he’d missed the point of his own experience if he regarded himself as a victim of anti-smoking militants.
Finally, the whole event was profoundly silly. It was billed as a consciousness-raising moral challenge to the nation. But the nation has seen it all before. By now even the little old lady in Dubuque knows all about closets, drag queens, AIDS. (She remembers Liberace.)
“We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” the gay community cries. Well, okay: they’re here, they’re queer, and we are used to it. And America is replying to its tiresome dykes and fairies: “So what?” This raises one of the most delicate problems of manners in the late twentieth century: How do you break the news to people, without hurting their feelings, that they are no longer shocking?