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Book Review - Feisty Memo to Gay Right: Don't Forget Your Liberal Past - THE ATT ACK QUEERS:

Liberal Society and the Gay Right. By Richard Goldstein, Verso Books , 144 pages, $22 Los Angeles Times - Monday, June 24, 2002 Author: MERLE RUBIN, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES: Features Desk Oscar Wilde, whose name became a byword for homosexuality, was also famed as a c hampion of "art for art's sake" and the author of sparkling drawing-room comedie s. But how many people know that this paradigm of wit and elegance also revealed himself as a member of the permanent left in his thoughtful essay "The Soul of Man Under Socialism "? Before Wilde, there was Walt Whitman, who saw love between men as part of a broa der kind of democratic love for humanity. On a more mundane level, as we also learn from Richard Goldstein's new book, "Th e Attack Queers," Harry Hay, founder of one of America's first organizations for homosexuals, the Mattachine Society, was a communist. Reminding his fellow members of the gay community of their leftist heritage, fro m Wilde and Whitman to Stonewall and Harvey Milk, is one of the avowed goals of columnist, author and Village Voice editor Goldstein in this feisty new polemic. What's got Goldstein's dander up is the emergence of certain gay conservatives a s veritable superstars in the mainstream media. Goldstein dubs them "homocons," short for homosexual conservatives, but suggesti ng also, perhaps, that their goals are homogeneity and conformity. He also calls them "the attack queers" because their role, he claims, is to do f or the self-styled "liberal" mainstream media what the media dare not do for the mselves: express hostility toward gays. The homocon agenda, Goldstein warns, is to divert the political allegiance of ga ys from the left to the right. Although homocons style themselves as nonconformist dissenters from the politica lly correct groupthink of left-wing gays and lesbians, Goldstein believes that w hat they actually admire and promote is conformity to a patriarchal, masculinist value system. Two of Goldstein's chief bugbears are Andrew Sullivan and Camille Paglia, and he does a good job of exposing the dangers and glaring inconsistencies in the stan ds they have taken on a variety of issues. The popular appeal of Paglia's message, he contends, is essentially pornographic : " 'How come we can't allow that a lot of these battered wives like the kind of sex they are getting?' " he quotes her as asking. Women who show up at shelters clearly don't crave abuse, Goldstein reminds us, " but to mention this obvious fact is to intrude on the romance of the down and di rty that Paglia makes of working-class life." Goldstein deplores the way that Pa glia, like Sullivan, identifies with the masculinist worldview of the aggressor. Skewering homocons by quoting from their work is a technique at which Goldstein excels, and Paglia's flashy statements serve him well: " 'Every time I cross a bridge,' " says Paglia, " 'I think, 'Men made that.' " "Here," Goldstein notes, "is a typical Paglia apercu in support of the claim tha t male power is a force for good. Of course, it's easy to turn that testimonial

on its head, as in 'Every time I visit a museum of the Holocaust, I think, 'Men did that.' " In examining the question of who becomes a media star and who does not, Goldstei n touches on an issue that extends beyond the phenomenon of "attack queers." He draws an interesting contrast between "attack queers" such as Paglia, Sulliva n and Norah Vincent, on the one hand, and other conservative gay figures such as Bruce Bawer and Jonathan Capehart, who present their ideas reasonably and thoug htfully, without spewing venom at drag queens, transsexuals and other marginal t ypes. Because writers such as Bawer and Capehart are "critical rather than contemptuou s," remarks Goldstein acidly, they aren't "ready for prime time." Anyone who's e ver deplored the proliferation of cheap name-calling and the corresponding pauci ty of rational discourse in the mainstream media will be struck by the justice o f Goldstein's observation. In addition to attacking "attack queers," Goldstein explains and defends some of the goals of what he calls "progressive" and "radical" advocates of sexual dive rsity, tolerance and civil rights. Some of his arguments are more persuasive tha n others. To begin with, his terminology can be problematic, such as his use of that muchbeleaguered word "liberal." To many on the right, "liberal" means pretty much anyone who is anywhere to the left of them, be it a moderate Republican, a centrist Democrat, an environmental ist, a labor union organizer or a Social Democrat. To self-styled "radicals," however, the "liberal" is either a leftist unwilling to go far enough fast enough or, worse yet, the enemy. When Goldstein blasts the "liberal" media, he can sound disconcertingly similar to voices on the far right, most of whom would classify him as a liberal. Goldstein's only expressed reaction to the events of last September and the terr orist threat is to worry that this might overly "masculinize" our culture. (Not a word about the infinitely greater dangers posed by the even more extreme "masculinism" of the terrorist groups and what they stand for.) And when it comes to tackling thorny issues such as identity politics versus ass imilation, Goldstein tends to underestimate the extent to which there are some g enuine liberals whose concern about the growth of identity group politics is not simply a disguised form of backlash against women, gays and other groups. Still, none of this invalidates his case for equal rights for gays and for a mor e open-minded approach to questions of gender identity. He has packed a great deal of sound argument, sharp wit and heartfelt idealism i nto a concise, very readable book. Edition: Home Edition Section: Southern California Living Page: E-2 Index Terms: Book review Record Number: 000044081 Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times To bookmark this article, right-click on the link below, and copy the link locat ion:

Book Review - Feisty Memo to Gay Right: Don't Forget Your Liberal Past - THE ATT ACK QUEERS: Liberal Society and the Gay Right. By Richard Goldstein, Verso Books , 144 pages, $22 Back To Results Previous Article 6 of 68 Next NewsBank logo