This is an ongoing essay on our view of HIV/AIDS, it’s role in homo culture, society and politics. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
The neo-gays effectively and quickly organized in the shadow of this valley of death. If AIDS did not exist, something as ferocious would have had to be invented in order to reign in the concupiscent boys in the band. The Neo-Fag premise was that gays behaved (and suffered) so grievously because they were excluded from the benefits of the larger society. “Outside the walls of the city only gods and monsters can thrive”. Their argument continued: exclusion and political discrimination led to dissipation (and destruction) . The Normals wanted to demonstrate that the gay male community (and all the homo tribes) deserved equal rights and would then take on the responsible behavior of full citizens. On the surface, this was and is a reasonable argument, but if one digs a little deeper, one discovers it is nothing but a colossal lie.
Public opinion, at first pathologically hostile, slowly turned as the plight of the dying worsened (and perhaps more because the disease did not spread widely to the white heteros). The Normals were from the beginning very good at marketing, they were able to persuade the majority that the gays were primarily victims of AIDS and that all homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, transpeople and gays eagerly and unanimously wanted to become heteronormed. So dawned the Age of Safety, and the eventual spread of the cultural ideals of the Normals. As they gained ground, their shibboleths: safe sex, coming out, dating, monogamy, and later marriage and children, became their platform and the accepted lifecourse for most homos.
The subtext of their “battle cry of freedom” rested upon the shame and failure of ”anal values” and implicitly the triumph of normalcy, (aka hetero family values). Deeply embedded in this thinking was the view that disease was the punishment for anal sin, as described in Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors. When Larry Kramer writes about HIV, the disease could just as well be the vengeful and implacable God of the Old Testament. The plea for rights was not only a legal and civil argument, but a sincere (if misapplied) plea for redemption and dignity. “We know we have sinned grievously (with our asses) and been rightfully smitten. The Project of the Normals was, to a great extent, an attempt at burying the rectum that was at once a grave and the old nexus of gay life. The creation of this conservative culture had powerful undercurrents, not the least of which was understandable PTSD of many men who survived the plague and “just wanted a normal life”. It was a quest for communal resurrection propelled by rampaging death.
Many of the small army of AIDS activists (who survived) used their adrenaline to go directly to work for the new and burgeoning rights groups that sprung up. They based their battle plan on that of the (African-)American Civil Rights Movement. The Normals seized the agenda and the momentum of the neo-gay reaction, summed up in its manifesto, Virtually Normal by Andrew Sullivan. This safe “solution” fit in well with the politics of the reactionary late 80s and early 90s. The anarchic gay ghetto of the 70s would have to be put down, one way or another. It also clicked with the social conformity (and constraints) inherent in the heterosexual model and the life and career trajectories of many aspiring professional gay activists. These men and women, many of them from elite colleges, were media savvy. “Bundling” lesbians with gay men would be an effective way to “sell” the new gay politically and to bring in (less radical) queer elements to the fold. Lesbians had a much milder public profile and together this group of gay men and lesbians could “pass” in heteroland, thus this marriage of convenience they call the LGBT “community” bagan. The “gay dollar” was touted as a new force, and used to bribe skeptics into accepting homos, but also to give capitalists primacy in the tribe. The relentless subtext: behave like them and they will let us be like them. This LGBT “community” was concocted so as to marshal the political and economic resources to gain “human rights” for homosexuals. “Fake it ‘til you make it” (or until you become completely fake, as was the case with the neo-gays).
An important negative part of this vast public relations “makeover” treated butt sex like it was a boarded up and dangerous old mine shaft. Ass sex was dangerous and needed to be controlled. Condoms became the most tangible symbol of this. The heterogays themselves cordoned off the erotic bum-zone as, at best, an undiscussable if necessary evil, and at worst, a Chernobyl like region of death that must be shunned in perpetuity. It’s mandarins dead or exiled, the “old” libertine culture that bred HIV was rejected as Other. An iron (well, latex) curtain went up against all risky and irresponsible behavior. Not having (gay) sex was the only way to be safe(r), after all! There seemed to be no way to dispute this and not be considered insane. This Settlement was mostly uncontested, but Michael Warner did a valiant job trying in The Trouble With Normal. The neo-gay argument was elegantly simple: assimilation was the price for “a place at the(ir) table”. Within this “safe zone” (a ghetto inside the walls of Straight City), a new gay Zion would be built, secure within the confines of heteronorms, hetero values and insofar as was possible, heterosex (crowned ideally with bouncing lesbo-gay progeny). The lessons of this heteronormed minstrel show: purity, health and happiness were bound to follow if obedience, conformity and chastity were observed. Like all successful social movements it cultivated an air of inevitability with “nature”, “society” and “history” supposedly on its side. Its result, the LGBTQII thingie, now mimics an expansive mini-multiethnic state (a less peaceful version of Yugoslavia comes to mind), regulating and sanctioning what is good, just and meet for “it’s people” and their path to equality and happiness.