Wyatt Fisher

Dr. Clare Bright, Honors 394 A

March 4th, 2014

Response Paper 7

In order to review the radical gay critique of the liberal gay position, one must

first establish the liberal gay position itself. By the 1990s, the more sophisticated liberal

gay movement sought to gain equal rights for gays, including nondiscrimination and

marriage equality, “by gaining visibility and influence within the political mainstream,”

(Rayside, 286). The radical gay movement, however, strongly critiqued both the goal and

strategies of the liberal gay movement. Radical gays view gay oppression as inherent in

the structure of the capitalist system, thus the goal is not equality for gays, but rather the

liberation and self-determination of gays (Engel, 41). The radical gay critique of the

liberal gay position is that by integrating with the mainstream, gays would be submitting

themselves to a heterosexist, patriarchal, class-divided society (D’Emilio, 56), which

would run counter to the core goal of bettering the lives of gays. The proposal of gay

liberation and self-determination is intended to result in the abolishment of existing social

institutions and sexual roles (Freedman and D’Emilio, 251).

As an example of an issue radical gays critique liberal gays on, one can look to

marriage. Liberal gays seek to achieve equality between the sexual orientations, and thus

posit that marriage must be extended to all or none (Stoddard, 10-3). The radical gay

critique of the extension of the right to marriage to same-sex couples, as articulated by

Ettelbrick, is that the institution of marriage run counter to gay liberation because it
inevitably results in a power disparity between spouses, in addition to allowing the state

to regulate gay relationships. Ettelbrick further argues that submission to the institution of

marriage creates a dichotomy of “good” relationships (married couples) versus “bad”

relationships (unmarried couples, polygamous relationships, etc). By seeking equality,

liberal gays, according to radical gays, actually limit the options for people in

relationships to gain rights and improve their lives. Radical gays propose domestic

partnerships, which are open to various kinds of relationships and provide minimal

protections, as a way to redefine society’s view of the family (Ettelbrick, 14-7).

Liberal gays seek or sought inclusion in military service, nondiscrimination in

employment, election of gay political figures, the end of police harassment, and the

repeal of anti-sodomy laws. Each of these issues were or are inherent, according to

radical gays, in the patriarchal capitalist American society, and as such were not to be

pursued because radical gays sought liberation from the system, not relief from its faults.

Radical gays instead sought to abolish existing social institutions in pursuit of complete

sexual liberation, justified by the belief that individuals are born sexually androgynous

and society’s pressures are what create sexuality (Engel, 42-3). Radical gays sought to

take control of their own paths through several tactics which still persist to today,

including a more public coming out and self-naming of the group. Public coming out

served to reject negative societal views of homosexuality, as well as a means to unite the

personal and political spheres of an individual (Engel, 43-4). Radical gays chose to claim

the word “gay” for themselves since gays were already calling themselves that (Engel,

43), rejecting homophile and homosexual, which were assigned by the patriarchy-

supported political and medical communities.