There’s a neat synchronicity between the two biggest ‘gay’ stories of the past week – a synchronicity which speaks volumes about liberal attitudes towards sexuality and relationships with power and authority.
The first story was San Francisco Pride’s announcement that whistle-blower Chelsea Manning would be an honorary ‘grand marshal’ for the event, followed by a swift and brutal retraction of this honour. In truth, the retraction was a much bigger story than the conferring of the honour had been and a large part of this was undoubtedly due to the questions it raised regarding the meaning and purpose of Pride – and of ‘gay politics’ in general. There are already several very good pieces on the whole affair which you should read – not least this by Glenn Greenwald and this and this by Scott Long – so I won’t repeat most of what they already eloquently argue. It’s very noticeable, however, that most of the outcry against the decision seems to have come from people who tend to be called ‘radicals’ – people who consistently seek to question and challenge authority, whether that be Long or a far more famous figure like Daniel Ellsberg – and not from the kinds of organisations, publications or celebrities who usually seem to love a chance to demonstrate their right-on credentials when it comes to ‘the gays’. Indeed, as Long demonstrates, some ‘gay voices’ actively argued for the retraction of the honour, even going so far as to label him a ‘traitor’. As I’ve discussed previously, the Gay Inc response to Manning highlights that they have no interest in real bravery, no interest in rocking the boat and every interest in flattering their own victimhood:
Any attempts to make (Manning) entirely about (LGBT identity) would, I suspect, only highlight the narcissism which underlies much of Gay Inc. No, the Manning case requires a focus on common humanity and, crucially, on the nature and use of power. In this respect it is exactly the same as the Israeli ‘Pinkwashing’ or the abhorrent militarism of Western governments: they are ‘difficult’ issues because they cannot be easily reduced to ‘look at how we as LGBT people are being oppressed!’. They do not flatter our victimisation, the same identity which is so well-served by celebrities flattering our ‘cause’ with obsequious words. And so Manning, an undeniably brave individual and possibly as perfect an example of an LGBT ‘hero’ as you are likely to have in the developed world, is left to rot by people and organisations who instead prefer to knock-off the 4000th column or press release about equal marriage or access to the military. It’s a shameful commentary on modern LGBT politics, a movement which is popularly seen to have began with a riot and now finds us actively trying to victimise ourselves rather than challenge power as engaged, informed and compassionate human beings.
Manning’s actions were brave well beyond his her identity (which, as Long documents, is open to question) and offer us little in terms of a gay narrative – she’s clearly not being victimised primarily because of who she is – and so her exposure of horrific acts perpetrated by the West is of little interest to the one-dimensional beings who populate much of the LGBT media and organisations such as GLAAD and Stonewall.
With rather neat timing, however, someone else did something ‘brave’ this week: a basketball player named Jason Collins (who, I think it’s safe to say, would have been almost entirely unheard of outside America before this) came out as gay. To use the crude barometer of a Google search, Collins’ ‘bravery’ is already well on its way to eclipsing Manning’s and it has inspired a veritable torrent of praise. Barack Obama, former President Clinton, countless celebrities (my favourite being this beyond patronising tweet from Lena Dunham) and thousands upon thousands of people on Twitter have sent whipped themselves into a frenzy of adoration. He’s being called ‘inspirational’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘a role model’. The gay media around the world is going crazy for him while he’s already the main item on Glaad’s website. In the space of barely 24 hours, Jason Collins seems to have gone from being a middling and fairly obscure athlete to a figure comparable to Nelson Mandela and Gandhi.
Is it important that sports people feel able to come out? Certainly it is and as just another step towards no-one caring about this sort of thing then every little helps (and polls suggest that a majority of Americans don’t care). We’re not going to get to that position, however, when we act like coming out instantly confers supernatural qualities of bravery and brilliance on someone.We’re not going to get there when idiots like Lena Dunham (or indeed many gay people who identify as #teamgay) suddenly think that someone is worth their attention merely because they’ve declared their sexuality. You’re not more interesting because you’re gay. You’re not kinder, you’re not more humane, you’re not a ‘better’ person. If anything the ‘bravery’ of being yourself is more impressive when it’s done every day and from a young age, whatever that may entail. It’s great that Collins has finally felt able to say something and while it may have wider implications due to his status, the hyperbole around it is embarrassing and baffling. Coming in the same week as the Manning/San Francisco Pride debacle, it merely serves to highlight the skewed and self-serving priorities of modern LGBT identity politics. There’s no cultural cachet for people like Dunham in speaking about someone like Chelsea Manning – indeed, given that this involves fundamental issues of the abuse of power, the militarisation of life, torture and American imperialism, I suspect they would see his cause as terribly icky and best left alone. Broadcasting that they’re down with someone who is NEWLY OUT AND PROUD though?! Hell yes! What’s not to love? You’re speaking up for a minority! You’re loving a minority! You’re contrasting yourself with the imagined hordes at the gate who want to kill gay babies or something! WHOOOO!
It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. The disparate reactions to these two incidents highlight that patronising attitudes towards ‘minority sexualities’ are part of the problem. Gay is not ‘good’ and it’s not ‘bad’, it just is. With that in mind we should think about the bravery of Chelsea Manning as opposed to the bravery of Jason Collins, because our differing responses to them are instructive as to how we think about sexuality, identity and our relationship with the world around us.
EDIT – Obviously, this piece was written prior to Chelsea Manning’s statement re: her identity.