Apparently these days in the West, everybody loves a homosexual. Well, everybody but the Australian Christian Lobby, your unpleasant Uncle Ron, and Miranda Devine — even here, Our Lady is prepared to offer her temporary opposition to homophobia if it means a free swing at Islam. Otherwise, our leaders quite routinely declare their “evolution” on the matter of equality, almost always understood as the equal right to marry, and they’re all very careful to recite the letters of the LGBTIQ alphabet in their ordained sequence.
This is broadly construed, and not without reason, as progress. It’s marvellous, of course, that those of us not gifted of a normative sexuality or gender are now seen more as the recipients of rights, far less as freaks. It’s very kind of Guardian columnists to praise the gay and the “transgendered” and to remind the straight population that we can’t help it, but are, apparently, “born that way”. It’s lovely that our most prominent deviants are now in receipt of magazine covers, state awards and the support of amateur geneticists.
Understanding for this accident of birth is, in fact, so widespread, that even the otherwise execrable Donald Trump shares in it. The “diversity” of a queer coalition is celebrated on reality TV and in Parliament. Diversity of opinion or behaviour within that spectrum, however, is not. You receive the sanction of the state and the media in return for your compliance with a very narrow set of guidelines.
To be broadly acceptable, you don’t need to share a brave story of overcoming brutal intolerance, but it certainly helps. Championing state-sanctioned monogamy above all else — forget those promiscuous gays who dare enjoy sex with multiple partners and without love! — is strongly recommended. It is compulsory, however, to act as a member of a moderate rainbow monolith. True dissent by, or among, LGBTIQ people is improper. These are the prescribed waves you are permitted to make; swim between the flags of political acceptability.
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The News Corp columnist Shannon Molloy is one of the acceptable homosexuals. This, by the way, is not a reproach, merely a statement of fact. He is young, handsome and skilled in providing what centrist gay activists believe they most urgently need: brave personal stories of overcoming brutal intolerance. He is unlikely to write a piece urging for labour protections for male sex workers and very likely to continue his conversation with middle Australia, convinced, as are many, that radical social transformation is prompted largely by the lifestyle pages.
Nothing actionable about that. The overwhelming majority of knowledge workers in the West believe that emotional representations in media are the primary engine of progress, and Molloy is not to be chagrined for behaving like nearly everybody else. Molloy and many others trust very sincerely in playing a representational game for the middle, in being conspicuously successful and having faith that your success will trickle down to others. This is not peculiar to LGBTIQ centrists. Every centrist believes it.
But not every person is a centrist at all times in all matters. While the Australian LGBTIQ community has done a bang-up job in the last decade of pressing all its various interests — health services, homelessness, suicidality, incarceration, poverty, elder poverty — into the centrist pursuits of marriage equality and “anti-bullying” programs, there can still be internal dissent.
In recent days, this dissent went public. Two Melbourne gay activists began to decry the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) for the appointment of Molloy to its Committee of Management. Michael Barnett and Rodney Chiang-Cruise urged the lobby group to dismiss Molloy on the grounds that he was employed by a publisher that routinely derides LGBTIQ people.
In a pure Enlightenment sense, of course, we must not judge the beliefs of a man on the actions of his employer. But, heck, this isn’t the 18th century and we are not a bunch of old philosophers seated in a European salon discussing ethical procedure. We are people doomed to live in the world, and sometimes, we disagree about the best response to that world’s conditions. And, you know, perhaps it’s not impossible to understand LGBTIQ objections to any association with a company that has produced pictures of “gay Nazis”.
Although the Lobby has declared its full support for Molloy, the columnist quit its committee in any case. In a very popular piece published on several local News Corp properties, Molloy said that he did this as the result of the “bullying” by Barnett and Chiang-Cruise, some of which he reproduced. Cop this: Chiang-Cruise wrote, “How can NSWGLRL call out the Trans hate from News Corp when one of its national journos sits on the board?”
OK, that’s pretty anodyne in isolation, and I must concede that I have been in receipt of criticism from Barnett and Chiang-Cruise, both of whom I have met, and these guys can be relentless. Then again, so can I — and so can any person ardently, or even casually, committed to a particular cause.
Nonetheless, the “bullying” has, perhaps, been overstated. What may appear like brutal cruelty to Molloy, or to Fairfax LGBTIQ reporter Jill Stark who called the online exchange “one of the most upsetting things I’ve seen” — she’s clearly never waited ‘til the morning after at Sleaze Ball — is actually pretty normal in activist circles. Heck, it’s even normal in major political parties, a fact that Mark Latham seemed to have forgotten as he used Twitter to decry the entire and, in my view, legitimate exchange as a monstrous product of “identity politics”.
No. This has nothing to do with identity politics and everything to do with politics. It is not anybody’s identity at issue here any more than it would be in an ALP factional dispute. People disagree, sometimes vehemently and often crudely when they feel that their advocacy or power will impact real lives. Yes, Barnett and Chiang-Cruise are impolite and stubborn. No, they are not without a case. Even if one disagrees entirely with their foundational assumption — that an advocacy group cannot have as an influential member an employee of an organisation known to actively work against that advocacy — you must concede that they are arguing consistently. They may have been rude and aggressive. What they were not, per the criticism of the many public figures who have raced to support the acceptable homosexual against attack from the unacceptable ones, was “naive”.
These guys are my age. They have been around for long enough to see what accession to limited mainstream acceptability can achieve. To wit, limited mainstream acceptability. They might think about being nicer, of course. But this aggressive tradition is, like it or not, part of queer political history. We weren’t all in agreement nearly 50 years ago this month at Stonewall, and, if we are honest, we are not in agreement now.
Of course, it’s a shame that good people like Molloy can be hurt. But it would be a greater shame for queer activism to lose all its anger. And this is what so many centrists, of whatever orientation, would prefer.