Written for Beige in the UK and published today.
My inaugural letter from America is sent at a time when American secrets and lies take center stage.
I’m staying in Petrolia, Northern California, eleven hours from my home in Los Angeles with Daisy Cockburn, the daughter of Emma Tennant and political journalist and contrarian Alexander Cockburn who sadly died last year. I am writing at his desk overlooking his wild and beautiful garden. Alexander Cockburn, like his friend Noam Chomsky, would have slammed the US government for the actions of the NSA recently revealed by Edward Snowden.
Whilst I am amused by the audacious lengths government will go to hold onto its own secrets while harvesting yours… he was not. Like this present generation of internet babies… I have never valued secrets. I am an open book. I have always believed that everything I am is yours.
Do you remember the biggest secret you had to keep? You know, the queer secret?
When I realized I was different, that my sexual/social narrative did not correspond with those around me, I was baffled as to how I should make the difference known. I was just a child. I did not ‘come out of the closet’. I didn’t understand why I should make a big emotional announcement. I decided that I wouldn’t tell anyone. My actions would speak louder than words. It was up to them, those around me, to frame the reveal. Not me.
It was obvious that being queer, telling people that I was queer during the 1970’s… was like letting off a bomb. It was an act of terrorism. For some, it still is. Holding my lover’s hand in the street… a rebellion.
So, instead of having a difficult conversation with my secular loved ones about my sexuality, I spoke openly about my same-sex desires, my plans and my heroes. They looked askance but they got used to it… or else. I was a teenage whistleblower.
There is nothing more honorable than being a whistleblower.
This month, two extraordinary whistleblowers are top of the news. Queer hero Bradley Manning and straight hero Edward Snowden. Manning is currently on trial in a semi-secret military kangaroo court and unlikely ever to be released. The other brave whistleblower, Edward Snowden, a fugitive in Hong Kong, unlikely to see his country of origin ever again.
My gay brothers and sisters in the USA have, on the most part, turned their back on Bradley Manning citing his law breaking as treasonous. Maligning his motives, distancing themselves from his gay story. Manning’s narrative is bound up with the recently abandoned DADT, a messy ‘coming out’, Manning’s extreme family poverty and the witnessing of cruel and illegal horrors that no man should ever see.
Manning has unwittingly created a schism in the LGBTQ community, cleaving the queers from the gays. The queers have on the most part embraced Manning, his activism and conscientious objection. The gays have not. The Queers had Manning elected as a San Francisco gay pride parade grand marshal in late April, but the LGBTQ board quickly rescinded the ‘honor’ after a white male gay outcry.
Queer supporters of Manning held demonstrations, crowded a Pride board meeting and packed a community forum all with the hopes of seeing Manning reinstated as a grand marshal. The Pride board has not budged.
Why are the majority of USA gays so repulsed by Manning?
Perhaps if Manning had been a muscular, army guy of the gay-for-pay porn star variety so popular amongst the gays, they may have ‘evolved’ a different point of view. Manning is not that guy. He is small and slight and wan. He joined the army to get an education and ironically ended up educating the whole world.
He is lauded by Michael Moore, Vietnam Vets, heterosexual politicians/presidents and liberal intellectuals all over the world. His actions are widely credited with hastening an American withdrawal from Iraq and the Arab Spring.
To many across the world Bradley Manning is a hero.
Yet, the gay establishment ignore Bradley. He is routinely ignored by the HRC and GLAAD. He is viciously bullied on anonymous gay, online discussion boards. GLAAD would rather honor a homophobic, straight film director rather than one of our brave own.
Many of the USA gays who publicly hate Manning are upper middle-class, affluent white men. They seem embarrassed and angry by his openness, his honesty, his despair. They call him impertinent, arrogant and narcissistic. Yet, had Bradley Manning been a bone fide journalist with a fancy ivy league degree he might have become a hero… or like Edward Snowden who currently enjoys the support of over 100, 000 people on the White House petition page demanding a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs.
There is no such petition for Bradley Manning. Bradley was not well-educated… he’s a white trash gay kid with ideas above his rank.
His detractors, formerly closeted gay men, have their own relationship with the truth. By necessity, after years of experience, they have become slick liars, natural spies, covert experts. In their every day life they create the illusion of perfection: socially, physically and sexually. A tribe of American gay men who have an overwhelming urge to be over-achievers. They are clean-cut and conservative in appearance, they throw themselves into their jobs with the same fervency they got through school.
They champion marriage and the military rather than the end of LGBTQ jobs discrimination. They have no interest in helping others in the coalition of oppressed minorities cobbled together by President Obama because they do not consider themselves an oppressed minority.
Why should they? They are white, affluent and male. What’s not to be proud of?
Since I arrived in the USA I have (rather proudly) been subject to not one… but two gagging orders imposed on me by white gay men.
Both ex-intimates, both terrified of having their secret gay lives revealed. Professional white men, a 32-year-old and a 45-year-old. The younger man works for a famous publishing house and is perhaps the most interesting because he supposedly respects the first amendment. The other, a rich businessman caught lying and cheating.
The former was well ensconced in his comfy closet when I first met him, about to be married to a women, living a double life. When I found out about his deception I told him, “Either you tell the woman you are deceiving… or I will.”
When I tell white gay men this story they are outraged. They blame the deceived woman for being dumb. Their thinly veiled misogyny revealed.
“How stupid of her to not realize he was gay.” they scold.
One Saturday morning two years ago he told her he was living a double life. After he came out of the closet he had a great deal of sex with many men then settled down with the man he intends to marry. Free from her sociopathic ex she is now in love with an honest heterosexual. Of course… he demonizes me. She probably does too. No good deed goes unpunished.
Like a lot of over-achieving well-closeted gay men, the publisher operated under the “Best Little Boy in the World” syndrome, a term from Andrew Tobias’ seminal coming-out autobiography of the same name, published in 1973, describing a certain type of middle-to-upper-class gay man.
Gay men are still terrified of the truth: personal or public. Their worst fear when growing up was having their gay truth revealed. We all want to control the message. Nobody wants to be told that they are queer ahead of their own declaration.
Many gay men still behave like small boys grappling with who and what it means to be gay. Scarred by shame, they loathe any queer person who draws negative attention to him/herself in case it tarnishes them or the gay corporation.
They loathe Bradley Manning for outing the nation.
When gay men are ready to tell the truth about being gay they demand recognition and plaudits for doing so. A heroes welcome for coming out of the closet. Yet, after this initial flush of candor, their honesty only extends so far.
Beyond the great revelation there is a darker side to being gay that the gay white elite doesn’t want you to know.
They have gone to extraordinary lengths to make you think we are JUST LIKE YOU. They are still placating their heterosexual parents, school mates and the straight friends who don’t mind them being gay… as long as you don’t do anything gay around me.
The gays don’t want you to know about the meningitis epidemic, the continuing HIV epidemic, they don’t want you to know about their loneliness, their propensity for STDs, the unreasonably high gay adult male suicide rate, the sexual unmanageability, drug taking, racism, sexism, classism, narcissism and ageism that blights the gay ‘community’. They don’t mention how they routinely commodify women’s bodies/reproductive labor so they can have children. They don’t want you to know just how hard it is to be straight acting, to be ‘masc’ or to find themselves remotely attractive when they look in the mirror.
They don’t want you to know that for many LGBTQ… it doesn’t get better.
Manning broke the first rule of the white gay American elite: Don’t rock the boat.
The gay businessman’s gagging order expires early next year and he will, inevitably seek to extend it. The publisher will do the same. The problem is: as they know all too well… the truth is eventually revealed.
I met a man. A medical doctor. He was well put together, handsome, the president of a large gay organization that supposedly represents the interests of the gay community. Our trusted servant. He couldn’t stop crying. Under his well cut trousers he had a permanent needle in his leg for jacking meth. He begged me not to write about him.
I couldn’t make that promise. He is the perfect white gay American metaphor.
In modern America secrets both public and personal are simultaneously considered defending and deflowering at the expense of the constitution. At both micro and macro levels this secretive bipolarity has come to define my stay in the USA.
3 replies on “Secrets: A Letter From Queer America”
Very well written, insightful piece. Thanks again Duncan.
If you write like this- why the hell aren’t you doing it weekly and putting it places where you’ll force people to think?
You’ve always pushed your way to the front of the line before, why not with things like this that can really make a difference?
Since the beginning of the bohemian demimonde, white gay men with access and money have been navigating corridors of power. In ‘Secret Historian’, Sam Steward talks about Cocteau’s anti-Semitism and xenophobia. 25 years before Tom Moulton cut and pasted by hand his ‘mix’ cassettes for the Sandpiper in Fire Island, (you’ve summered in the Pines Duncan, you know what it’s like) George Platt Lynes, et al, created an A-list fraternity based on looks and connections. These aesthetes appreciated men-of-color from a physical standpoint but their platform was hardly integrated. From Mattachine and S.I.R. to GLAAD and HRC, the ‘movement’ has been driven primarily by white gay men. If you were black and pretty and well-connected enough to have gotten into Saint-prototype, the Flamingo, you probably wouldn’t have gone back (even though in 75 the music was almost exclusively black) just as if you were white and went to the Paradise Garage you may not have gotten a warm welcome. (Despite the recent spate of academic nightclub-revisionism, discos are by nature territorial not utopian). This paradox is at the basic core of our collective ‘identity’–for Christ’s sake, no one seems to remember that Bette Midler had to come in to do damage control and sing the harmonious ‘Friends’ at the 1973 NYC Gay Pride Rally in Washington Square Park because people were so angry a drag queen was on the mainstage. This assimilation vs. liberation conundrum has been raging since the beginning of earnest discussion about who we are and–for better or worse–it doesnt seem any closer to being resolved now then it was then.
The underground economy of the early 1970s enabled the gay ghettos of NY, SF and LA by virtue of necessity. Too many gays couldnt hide behind straight-acting to blend in. This perception of community has and always will be driven in many ways by consumer spending. (Stonewall barely made a ripple with the bourgeois gays in the West Village at the time). The danger that the liberationists now face is being absorbed by the assimilationists and the so-called conservative agenda. This doesnt mean that marriage equality, the right-to-serve; these civil rights issues dont matter. It just means that they may be no less important than the right to cross-dress or parade in leather in public despite how unsavory this is for many mainstream gays. The slippery slope is the us vs. them mentality that pervades these differences in thought. Sure Ken Mehlman and his Log Cabin cronies may be dicks just as Barry Diller and the corporate oligarchs are, but does that mean that no good has come from their philanthropy? That is doubtful.
What I love about your blog is (not only your recent radicalization) the space for outsiders to commiserate. I, like many others have never felt a part of any community. Never felt welcomed into this public space known as gay life (perhaps this is a source of commiseration for the Log Cabin guys). Does that mean I havent had fun timeseven cathartic and life-changing– with other gay people? Not at all, but I also never cease to be amazed by our inability to do the difficult work to understand our past mistakes, learn from them and move forward. I hope that this page and others like itdespite the tendency of the virtual world to alienate (anonymous commenting must be stopped)open up those pathways.