Peter Tatchell, Whitney Houston, Malcolm X, and race remixed

I hear dead people (© Max Sparber)

Madcap Briton Peter Tatchell enjoys ventriloquism. It’s a skill he’s probably been practicing since childhood; and anyway, he knows what people should be saying, even if they don’t.  Dead folks are easy marks as dummies, since they’ve got nothing to say for themselves. And Tatchell’s talent at taking on the voices of dead Iranians is notorious.

Tatchell also has a driving concern with black people. Look at his recurrent need to speak about and for Africans, even when Africans are doing a perfectly fine job of speaking for themselves. Or his peculiar way of attaching to himself a few tokenized black folks from time to time in his advocacy– as if he draws deep pleasure from their dependency, but knows they have an authority he wants to pirate somehow. He seems to think, one might say, that black people are less sexually civilized than he, yet need him to enlighten them: a form of self-flattery magnified at continental scale. Plenty of Africans haven’t forgotten, after all, how in his unwanted intervention on Nigeria’s anti-homosexuality bill in 2006 , his key description of the legislation was: “savage.”  (That Tatchell’s political deputy for years was the weirdly obsessed Brett Lock — known for defending what in the US we call the “n-word” as merely an inoffensive derivation from the Latin – further suggests his odd attitudes.)

Brett Lock of OutRage! discusses race and discourse: Hurryupharry.org

Most interesting, though, is his periodic expropriation of the sexualities of dead black icons. Tatchell appoints himself posthumous press agent, and sets up a dynamic where anyone who objects to a white guy doing this is simply proving that black people can’t stand gays.

He did this most famously with Malcolm X: branding Malcolm GAY!, then brandishing the outraged response as evidence of black homophobia. When Manning Marable devoted one page of his brilliant, magisterial, 576-page biography to Malcolm’s sexual relations with white men early in his career in Boston, Tatchell read and responded to that page alone, proclaiming to the world he’d been right all along. Marable himself was dead by then too, making Tatchell’s man-grab easier and more fun. (Fellow grave-robber Doug Ireland did the same; to read these necroerotic  writers’ reviews of Marable, you’d think the biography was the long-lost, mixed-race episode of Will and Grace.)

Marable’s sensitive account makes it clear that the principal relationship  in question had nothing to do with identity, but rather with – mutual — exploitation. Malcolm was hustling: using somebody for money and power, and being used for sex in the process. What Tatchell reads, blindly, as a story of love and identity was in fact an episode in African-Americans’ ways of confronting subjugation. Tatchell can’t grasp that the interaction, however much one of exchange, was founded on the partners’ inequality. Its contribution  to Malcolm’s ideology, if it had one, surely was to deepen his awareness of how intimate both exploitation and resistance were, how they shaped experience at all levels. In taking the relationship as equal affection,  Tatchell erases African-Americans’ historical passage. A white man has no right to do that. But this is one rights issue Tatchell greets with indifference.

No surprise, then, that Tatchell himself hustled to latch on to Whitney Houston. Nothing like milking a dead celebrity for publicity! Within six hours of her death Tatchell was tweeting about her “#lesbian partner in 1980s”! He parlayed this into plenty of press, and a slightly creepy piece in the Daily Mail.  None of his story quite checks out. It’s strange, for one thing, that a deeply closeted celebrity would meet the most famous practioner of outing in the UK, and say to him, “Hello, Mr. Tatchell! This is my lesbian partner!” But hey: it upped the Lexis-Nexis count.

Two, though, can play ventriloquist. The blog Racism Remixed has decided to tell us what Tatchell really meant. Their reconstruction is here — and reblogged below:

Whitney Houston- The Unofficial Inside Story – By PETER TATCHELL

Peter Tatchell grave robber

Tatchell has taken Whitney Houston’s death as an opportunity to ‘out’ another black person. It appears that ‘Whitney’s REAL tragedy was giving up her greatest love of all – her female partner Robyn Crawford’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2103164/Whitney-Houstons-REAL-tragedy-giving-female-partner-Robyn-Crawford.html

NOTE:PETEY LOVES ADDING CREATIVELY TO OTHER PEOPLE’S HISTORIES AND BIOGRAPHIES, SO WE THOUGHT WE MIGHT, TOO.

I met Whitney and her female partner at the Reach Out & Touch HIV vigil in London in 1991.

Whitney spoke movingly in support of people with HIV, at a time when many other stars kept their distance. Her support was much valued.

She advocated the welfare and human rights of people with HIV. It was a commendable stand.

I have, in the past, declined to name Whitney’s female partner EVEN THOUGH YOU KNOW HOW I LOVE A GOOD OUTING, AND HAVE FOR A WHILE BEEN FASCINATED IN THE INTIMATE LIVES OF BLACK PEOPLE MOST OF WHOM YOU KNOW ARE ON THE DL OR MSM, I MEAN WSW (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/oct/20/malcolm-x-bisexual-black-history). SEE I AM NOT AS SEXIST AS PEOPLE SAY I AM, AND I DO CARE ABOUT LESBIANS, EVEN WHEN THEY ARE BLACK. MOST of the media DO TOO, AND have since named her PARTNER as Robyn Crawford, SO HERE GOES. WHITNEY’S FEMALE PARTNER WAS NONE OTHER THAN ROBYN CRAWFORD. 

When I met them, it was obvious they were madly in love. Their intimacy and affection was so sweet and romantic. LESBIANS ARE ADORABLE AND MATE FOR LIFE.

They held hands in the back of the car like teenage sweethearts. Clearly more than just friends, BECAUSE WHEN LESBIANS HOLD HANDS IT BASICALLY MEANS THE SAME AS WHEN WE ARE HAVING SEX, AND WOMEN WHO ARE NOT HAVING SEX WITH EACH OTHER NEVER HOLD HANDS, they were a gorgeous couple, EVEN I COULD SEE THAT AND I’M WHITE, I MEAN, AND I’M GAY, and so happy together. To see their love was infectious and uplifting. BLACK PEOPLE, FINALLY UPLIFTED IN MY EYES, AFTER CENTURIES OF TRYING ON THEIR OWN. I WAS CERTAINLY UPLIFTED. I FELT LIKE I WAS WALKING ON AIR. IT WAS AMAZING. 

Whitney was happiest and at the peak of her career when she was with Robyn. I KNOW THIS BECAUSE WE WERE CLOSE FRIENDS AND TALKED ON THE PHONE EVERY NIGHT ABOUT MATTERS OF THE HEART. AND EVEN IF WE DIDN’T, I KNOW TRUE LOVE BETWEEN BLACK PEOPLE WHEN I SEE IT. Sadly, she suffered BLACK family and BLACK church pressure to end her greatest love of all.

She was fearful of the effects that lesbian rumours might have on her family, reputation and career. SHE TOLD ME THIS ON MYSPACE. AND EVEN IF SHE DIDN’T, I KNEW IT ANYWAY BECAUSE I’M A JOURNALIST. KIND OF. WELL I WRITE FOR THE GUARDIAN A LOT. AND WHEN THE GUARDIAN DOESN’T WANT ME I’M HAPPY TO GO TO THE DAILY MAIL GIVEN THEIR GREAT RECORD ON GAY RIGHTS REPORTING. Eventually she succumbed. The result? A surprise marriage to Bobby Brown.

The marriage was a disaster. Bad boy Bobby was never her true soul mate. I KNOW THIS BECAUSE SHE TOLD ME ON MSN MESSENGER. Giving up Robyn – they’d been inseparable for years – must have been emotionally traumatic.

Whitney’s life started going downhill soon afterwards. Previously wholesome AND AS PURE AS THE DRIVEN SNOW EXCEPT THAT SHE WAS BLACK and clean-living, she went on drink-and-drug binges – evidence of a troubled personal life and much unhappiness.

I’M NO PSYCHOLOGIST, PERSONAL FRIEND OF WHITNEY’S OR EXPERT ON ADDICTION, BUT it seems likely that the split with Robyn contributed to her substance abuse and decline. There is a known correlation between denial of one’s sexuality and a propensity to self-destructive behaviour. DAN SAVAGE SAYS SO TOO, AND YOU KNOW THERE’S A LOT OF MONEY IN THAT NOW. Homophobia undoubtedly added to the pressures on Whitney and hastened her demise.

Soon after her very sad death, I was quoted as saying that Whitney was happiest when she loved a woman. Some fans accused me of ‘insulting’ and ‘smearing’ her. (SMEARING IS ONE OF MY FAVOURITE WORDS EVER, AS MY FANS AND REGULAR READERS MAY KNOW). BUT ACTUALLY THE MOST INSULTING THING I’VE EVER SAID ABOUT WHITNEY HOUSTON IS THE TITLE OF THIS ARTICLE, IMPLYING THAT HER SUPPOSED BREAK UP FROM HER SUPPOSED SOUL MATE IS MORE TRAGIC THAN HER ACTUAL UNTIMELY DEATH. SORRY FRIENDS AND FAMILY, BUT AN OVERDOSE IS NEVER AS SAD AS WHEN TWO SUPPOSED LESBIANS PART WAYS.

But there is nothing shameful about a woman loving a woman. It’s not dirty or sordid and shouldn’t be kept hidden. FORGET ALL THE JOKES ABOUT FISH SMELL AND CARPET MUNCHING YOU HAVE HEARD GAY MEN SAY.

PEOPLE WHO DO KEEP IT HIDDEN ARE BLACK. I MEAN CLOSETED. OR IS IT HOMOPHOBIC? SELF-HATING? ANYWAY, DON’T KEEP IT HIDDEN FOLKS, BE PROUD AND WEAR A RAINBOW.

I did not out her as lesbian/ bisexual. APART FROM WITH THIS ARTICLE, BUT SHE’S ALREADY DEAD, SO. She semi-outed herself by dedicating her albums to Robyn. NO WOMAN EVER DEDICATES HER ALBUM TO ANOTHER WOMAN UNLESS SHE’S HAVING HAND HOLDING SEX WITH THEM. EXCEPT FOR WHEN SOME FEMALE ARTISTS DEDICATE THEIR ALBUMS TO THEIR MOTHERS. BUT EVEN THEN, YOU GOTTA WONDER, RIGHT?

Years ago, she was outed by Bobby’s sister, Tina, and by her former bodyguard, Kevin Ammons. THEY DID IT FIRST FOLKS! 

Bobby Brown hinted in his autobiography that she married him to dispel lesbian rumours: ‘I believe her agenda was to clean up her image … The media was accusing her of having a bisexual relationship with her assistant, Robin [sic] Crawford … that didn’t go too well with her image. In Whitney’s situation, the only solution was to get married … [to] kill all speculation.’ AND IF ANYONE KNOWS THE TRUTH OF WHITNEY HOUSTON’S HEART, IT’S BOBBY NOT-HOUSTON’S-SOULMATE BROWN. 

Telling the truth does not besmirch Whitney’s memory. It honours the most important relationship she ever had. I KNOW IT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP SHE EVER HAD BECAUSE SHE TOLD ME ON FACEBOOK. APOLOGIES TO WHITNEY’S FAMILY MEMBERS – YOU GUYS DIDN’T MAKE THE LIST. BUT DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY – LESBIANS ARE OBSESSED WITH ROMANCE AND DENOUNCE ALL OTHER INTERACTIONS AS INSIGNIFICANT AND MEANINGLESS. THE LGBT PSYCHIATRIST WHO’S NOW PART OF MY CAMPAIGN SAYS IT’S CALLED CODEPENDENCE.

What’s wrong is ignoring or denying the one love that made her truly happy, NOT OUTING PEOPLE AND BELITTLING THEIR DEATHS.

Homophobia contributed to Whitney’s fall.

I want to see a more tolerant society where people don’t feel the need to marry – UNLESS IT’S A GAY MARRIAGE – to deflect rumours of homosexuality, and where they are not driven to self-destruction because of their inability to accept and express their love for a person of the same sex AND I ALSO WANT MORE FAMOUS BLACK PEOPLE TO DIE SO I CAN WRITE ABOUT HOW THEY WERE REALLY GAY LIKE I DID WITH MALCOLM X.

Achieving this goal would be a fitting tribute to Whitney Houston AND TO MY SAVINGS ACCOUNT: sort code – 8-5-E 18-R 15-O  account number – 19-S 1-A 22-V 9-15-O 21-U 18-R


Queering the Hitch: Why Christopher was not my kind

I never knew the late Christopher Hitchens. Friends of mine who hung peripherally around The Nation, that bastion of embattled leftiness, were full of stories about him that sketched a Falstaffian outrageousness: the time, for instance, that he tried to charge his girlfriend’s abortion to his magazine expense account. He drank famously and enormously, of course, and there was a feeling that he did so because it offered an excuse for actions that would be inexcusable if committed while sober. His peccadilloes, or worse, were as celebrated as his passions. Just one example: driven by his almost-obsessive loathing for the Clintons, he tried to get his former friend Sidney Blumenthal, who defended them, indicted for perjury.   It was possible to see this too as somehow a side-effect of the lush life, treachery in a drunken rage; but it was hard to imagine him staying smashed over the whole months-long progress of the investigation. Not impossible, but hard.

His most famous betrayal, of course — that’s how many saw it — was his support for the Iraq war and George W. Bush.   One could almost hope, too, that this was something he did in a decade-long drunken binge; that he’d wake up one day with a hundred thousand Iraqi corpses around him, like the smashed glass and broken friendships relicted after a more ordinary bender, and go into a twelve-step and start rifling his Rolodex for people to apologize to.   He never backed off, though. The war was one thing he remained faithful to till the day he died, which as it happened was the day the US finally left Iraq — though the combat, with new combatants, will likely go on and on.  Although I didn’t much follow his career, I do remember seeing him on TV in a hotel room in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, back in 2006.  Saddam Hussein had just been condemned to death, and Australian news had rousted up Hitchens to comment. It must have been five in the morning in Washington, and he was still, or already, drunk.  He didn’t just slur his words; whole sentences shaled over into a jumbled heap of grammar, as if they were melting below the knees. I recall wondering: Who can possibly confuse him with an expert? Why is he on TV?

Now Ace Reporter Doug Ireland has penned a short memoir of Hitchens, which, for those of us who’d largely buried the man’s memory under accusations of treachery, goes far to explain why others liked him for so long. He could be a wonderful writer; he knew a lot, although it didn’t always inform his judgment; he had an immense appetite for life, and if his loyalties were erratic, they were intense and real. (He remained loyal to Doug, at least, which is saying something.)  The topic coaxes Doug out of his usual defensive perimeter of pompous prose. He writes with real feeling. It’s impossible not to be touched by the story of how Hitchens consoled Doug after his lover’s death, and dissuaded him from suicide; or by the little billets-doux of affection and respect by which Hitchens, so often bullying and competitive, encouraged a less materially successful colleague. Kudos to Doug on humanizing Hitchens; he makes one share the sense of loss he clearly, deeply feels.

It would be too much, though, to say he makes me like Hitchens, or entirely reconciles me to finding the man’s grumpy face decorating the cover of Gay City News, with the headline “My Queer Friend Christopher Hitchens.”   It feels like those glossy gay periodicals that put straight celebrities up front, partly to sell copies, partly, I suspect, to speak to the gays’ deep insecurity that they’re just not good enough. We need some hetero’s approval to make us feel proud. A fellow fag’s support doesn’t cut the proverbial mustard.

Of course, I recognize that Doug wanted to memorialize Hitchens someplace, and GCN is almost the only venue that will publish him these days.   Still …. Queer? What entitles the man to the epithet?

Let’s see. I tend to dismiss the schoolboy crushes and university affairs involving fellow lads and cads that Hitchens discusses in his autobiography, a matter Ireland makes much of. He quotes Hitchens’ own account:

‘He’ was a sort of strawberry blond, very slightly bowlegged, with a wicked smile that seemed to promise both innocence and experience. … He was my age. He was quite right-wing (which I swiftly decided to forgive him) but also a ‘rebel’ in the sense of being a cavalier elitist… The marvelous boy was more urbane than I was, and much more knowing, if slightly less academic. His name was Guy, and I still sometimes twitch a little when I run into someone else who’s called that — even in America, where in a way it is every boy’s name.

Were poems exchanged? Were there white-hot and snatched kisses? Did we sometimes pine for the holidays to end, so that (unlike everyone else) we actually yearned to be back at school? Yes, yes, and yes….

Threesome with teddy bear

How very Brideshead Reedited!  But British boarding schools and homoeroticism are inextricably interlinked, like rum, sodomy, and the Royal Navy. If any boys miraculously escaped it, they went on to a belated initiation at Oxbridge, like Charles Ryder.  Adolescent male bisexuality was as common in the upper ranks of the United Queendom as was the assumption in classical Athens that teenage boys would enjoy the sexual tutelage of older men. In either case the normative path was always toward an adulthood of penetrating and impregnating women, and Hitchens too found pleasure in his flock of hetaerae as his beard set in and his paunch expanded. If kissing Guy makes him queer, so were Kingsley Amis and Winston Churchill.

No: there’s a certain quality to Doug’s queering of Hitchens that smacks of whitewashing — even “pinkwashing,” to use a loaded term.   It’s as if he wants to excuse Hitch’s support for a murderous administration and a brutal war, not with the appeal to booze and its confusions — unusable for such an enormous perfidy — but by reinforcing the quirky dissident credentials of the dead. I don’t want queerness used that way. I resist the attempt.   At the same time, I think it’s a telling move: telling about Hitchens, about the gays and their politics in these darkening days, and also about Ireland himself.

Ireland points to an exchange of emails he had with Hitch in 2003, after the latter declared his support for George W. Bush’s reelection. Doug published a redacted version of the correspondence back then; it makes intriguing reading. I do wish Ireland had left out the salutations and complimentary closes, which carry their own schoolboyish infestation of the cooties: “Hope you thrive, fraternally, Hitch,” “Duggers, old horse,” “Love and kisses for regime change from D.C. to Baghdad, Doug,” “My dearest,” “cher ami,” “Valentine smooch, Hitch.”  Mass slaughter has not been so amorously discussed since the heyday of Ernst Junger.

What’s interesting is that even though Doug edits it all so as to give himself the last word and the best lines (surely an improbable thing with Hitchens), he still loses. He loses because he chooses to fight on Hitchens’ own turf: secularism versus religion. “Most important to me,” Hitchens says, “is a settled resolution to call the new fascism by something like its right name.” That means the Muslims:

I …. the most committed anti-theist of us all, have decided that the overriding issue is the willingness of the U.S. to intervene in the civil war that’s going on in the Muslim world, and to help make sure the other side loses.

Ireland keeps haplessly trying to bring up the “theocrats” around Bush, “who are quite busy trampling into the dust the constitutional insistence on the separation of church and state through a series of patronage boondoggles for the enhancement of the GOP-labeled ‘faith-based initiatives.'”

You have always proclaimed — and I am not aware it is a view you have renounced — that you are an atheist, and I’ve heard you over the years make some of the best arguments for godlessness one can proffer. But this administration’s politics are riddled with theocracy, and the way in which Bush has now put the fight against AIDS and sex education into the hands of the right-wing Christers and condom opponents and the abstinence-only crowd is crippling AIDS-prevention efforts…

Hitchens is able to demolish this with little more than a throwaway line, because when it comes to fundamentalism, Bush remains a piker.My opposition to religion and the religious is deeper than you credit. …

However, Duggers old horse, you know better than to suggest any equivalence between American god-botherers and Osama. (The nearest to equivalence one could get would be Robertson and Falwell saying that America had it coming on 9/11: Chomsky and Fisk in clerical drag.) Nobody is going to escape their share of irony and contradiction here: Bush is actually forced to defend the secular state and to make secular allies, even if he fantasizes about some kingdom of heaven.

Organize your thoughts, idiots! The Silhouettes command it!

Timothy Garton Ash coined the phrase “enlightenment fundamentalist,” for Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Whether Hitchens (or Ireland) is enlightened in this exchange is up for argument. But the fact is, they mirror the fundamentalists perfectly: for all of them, the key determinant of whether somebody is right or wrong, good or evil, is whether they believe in God. To Islamist or Christianist, of course, what’s evil is disbelief, whereas to Ireland and Hitchens, belief (or failing to “defend the secular state”) is the mark of sin. Other than that detail, though, it’s a perfect match — one made in heaven.

Terry Eagleton has written, sensibly, that the “New Atheists” — Richard Dawkins, Martin Amis, et.al, a chorus among whom Hitchens was perhaps the loudest voice — have not just a theological but a political agenda.

Writers such as Martin Amis and Hitchens do not just want to lock terrorists away. They also tout a brand of western cultural supremacism…. Both Hitchens and Salman Rushdie have defended Amis’s slurs on Muslims. Whether they like it or not, Dawkins and his ilk have become weapons in the war on terror. Western supremacism has gravitated from the Bible to atheism.

Ireland has joined this too: promoting stringent Western laïcité as the defense and bulwark of the embattled gays. He’s published screeds against theologian Tariq Ramadan, hawking the Islamophobic rhetoric of Ramadan’s opponent Caroline Fourest. (Malise Ruthven has delivered an incisive refutation of Fourest’s claims, for those interested in the dispute.) Gay City News has also given space to a bizarre attack on French women wearing the hijab, not, one would generally think, its area of expertise:

There’s nothing sanctifying or empowering at all about the ugly black, dirty drapes that hide older Muslim women as they stagger down the street. When I see them I want to ban all the abayas, hijabs, and headscarves I see. And give a good hard kick in the balls to the young men and boys with their degenerate fathers sauntering several yards in front of the women they despise as trash.

The logical conclusion of “covering” women is a mere 3,485 miles east in Afghanistan … [O]ne thing at least is clear. That it’s not more freedom of religion most Muslim women need, but freedom from the monsters that use it to keep them safely hidden and in chains.

oh, yes, you are

The message coming from Ireland and Hitchens, as with other devotees of laïcité, is clear: secularity should be the price of full citizenship, and abandoning religion and its robes the prerequisite for getting your human rights.

Somebody should investigate why, after a century of scientific advances, secularism remains largely the property of elites and a mark of privilege. (The Egyptian election returns forcibly press home the point.) Surely one reason is that, absent some larger program to build a juster, fairer here-and-now, it offers only resignation. It’s incapable of making most people happy. (And if the endlessly angry Hitchens and the jealously resentful Ireland were atheism’s only poster boys, I would get me posthaste to a monkery or a madrassa.)

But it does provide Hitchens and Ireland with common ground, even across the fissure of the Iraq invasion. And it is, in a sense, Ireland’s last defense of Hitchens. He helped the gays because he fought their greatest enemy: God.  Ireland cites Hitch’s comment on his separation from his schoolboy love: “it helped teach me as vividly as anything could have that religion was cruel and stupid.” Even in supporting a stupid war, one infers, he had his eye on the real foe.

Ireland writes:

Many of my left-wing friends who had stopped speaking to Hitch were surprised that I continued to maintain warm and friendly relations with him. This was possible only because, after our pubic debate, we both instinctively avoided those subjects on which our differences were too profound.

Undoubtedly wise, but I can’t help thinking there was more at work. After all, Ireland too launched his own jihad against the jihadis midway through the Iraq war. No sooner did Iran elect Ahmadinejad in 2006 than Doug fell into a morass of speculation and outright lies that fed on popular hysteria against the mullahs. His ensuing promotion of rumors about Iran as well as Islam not only won him readers, it gave the atheism he shared with Hitchens that longed-for political field to work upon. Although Ireland insisted he opposed an actual attack upon Iran, Hitch (who cheerled happily for one: “How many Iranian dissidents are really going to be nationalistically upset by an intervention that comes in and removes the Revolutionary Guards?”) must have approved his rhetoric.

One more point. Touching on Hitchens’ bisexual escapades, Ireland observes that

In his memoir, Hitch, in describing his sexual encounters with young men while a penniless and militantly left-wing student at Oxford, relates how he’d frequently be invited by wealthy and attractive young men, often right-wingers, to lavish dinner parties with good food and even better wine and spirits and would often accept, knowing that he would have to “sing for his supper” — a euphemism that should be understood as not merely being entertaining but as “putting out.” … [The Daily Mail quoted]  Oxford contemporaries of Hitch’s as saying “He had a reputation for being AC/ DC and, although a Trot, he was fancied by quite a few gay Tories and moved in those circles.”

Trotsky bust on eBay: the prophet discounted

At this point I recall with delight the rather dreadful George Galloway’s description of Hitchens as a “drink-sodden former Trotskyist popinjay”—the only good line of George’s career, and one that might see his corpse squeak into whatever corner of Westminster Abbey is reserved for purveyors of invective. (There must be one.)  Something that’s never been adequately explained is the propensity of youthful Trotskyites to lurch severely rightward in later life. Saul Bellow (who was actually in Mexico trying to meet the Old Man when Ramón Mercader excavated Trotsky’s ice-cold intellect with an icepick), Max Eastman, Sidney Hook, James Burnham, Lyndon LaRouche … the list goes on and on.  I suspect it has something to do with Trotskyism’s propensity for the Great Man theory of history. After all, Trotsky’s solution to bureaucratism, Stalinism, and the other ills of Communism was simply … Trotsky; give him power, and all evils would go away. The romantic belief in the brilliant, rejected hero, so immensely appealing to intellectually  insecure young men, is ultimately more compatible with the Right than the Left. Hitchens only followed multitudes who had tracked the relentless logic of the Superman to its home in the country house of Colonel Blimp.

But the stories Ireland (along with Hitchens) tells suggest something more: Hitch’s early infatuation with power, and power’s regular partner, money. And this persisted. What else did Hitchens do, in attracting the attentions of Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith by unequivocally shilling for their war, but “sing for his supper?”  Of course, this was easier blowing: he didn’t need physically to put his lips to Wolfie’s or Feith’s distasteful members, just to the inflatable balloon of their reputations. It’s quite true, as Michael Lind writes, that the dialectics of fame always drove Hitchens’ career: he was “a gossip columnist of genius” who “escaped from the ghetto of little-known leftist writers when he discovered that he could become a celebrity by denouncing bigger celebrities.” In the last stage of his  life, though, he found he could feed his fame best not by denouncing but by ingratiating the biggest celebrities of all, the wielders of bombs and the breakers of nations. It did wonders even for his literary reputation. As his former publisher at The Nation, Victor Navasky, remarks, his essayistic talents were little noticed until he moved right, where there were ready crowds of “muscular liberal” critics to acclaim him.

Doug, I’m afraid, has done the same sort of thing on a much smaller scale. He told me once that his first, sensational, deceptive postings on Iran got his blog 60,000 hits; the lure of popularity at career’s end kept the fictions coming. Gay City News, too, held its own little fire sale of its integrity. Lately it’s hosted one Ben Weinthal, a flack for the “Foundation for the Defense of Democracies,” a far-right think tank pushing for military action against America’s enemies. Weinthal’s job is to produce propaganda promoting war with Iran as well as support for Israel (the Foundation organized an “Iranian Threat Campaign” to disseminate panic about the danger).   Weinthal’s first agitprop piece in GCN praised Doug Ireland to the skies, and warned of “Iran’s Anti-Gay Genocide”: a unique genocide, the first genocide in world history with no demonstrable dead. Samantha Power would be proud of it.

It’s distressing that a once-progressive rag should turn itself over to such warmongering; but you can see that Ireland and the paper’s editors are flattered by the attention, as much as Hitchens was overwhelmed by getting invites to Paul Wolfowitz’s parties. Policymakers, the powerful, the deciders, all usually ignore the gay press. But now an influential rookery of neocons, one that features Christianist Gary Bauer and Mouth-of-Sauron Richard Perle on its board, is actually complimenting Ireland’s half-baked articles and taking GCN seriously! Such interest can only be won by serving the prejudices of the powerful. Hitchens did it, in his later years; in their lesser sphere of influence, Ireland and GCN have learned to do it too.

Ireland writes,

In my view, Hitch was queer in several ways — both in the Merriam-Webster definitions of the word as “eccentric,” “unusual,” “unique” (he certainly was “sui generis”) and in the sense that he “got” us in a way that few non-gay writers ever have.

I sympathize with his mourning for a remarkable friend. But “queer” — as I learned to use it in my salad days, the days of AIDS and spreading death, of militancy and Queer Nation — implies something more than either uniqueness or understanding. It means a consistency in rebellion, refusing to fit in or satisfy the mandates of authority, refusing to kowtow or conform, either to settle for the average or sell out for privilege. It means holding fast to the impalpable stuff of difference, always situating yourself in its uncertainties and unplotted crevices rather than in a safe or named or protected place. It means not merely speaking truth to power, but startling it with the odd well-timed obscenity. It means saying “no” whenever “yes” would be easy.  It means that solidarity with the dead matters more to you than the approbation of the living. Hitch was queer at times in his career, I’ll grant you that. But not at the end.  You can be gay, or lesbian, or even trans and sit down at Paul Wolfowitz’s dinnertable. But queer? No. Not my kind.

Rick Perry’s hot manmeat makes me cream my jeans, and other fallacies: Thoughts about outing

Happy New Year! Here’s some gossip. Did you know that two extremely homophobic men who served, in the last decade, as prime ministers of their respective European nations were actually gay? So was the son of a dictator lately deposed in the Arab Spring – as well as two of the old tyrant’s cabinet ministers, which practically makes a harem quorum. Then there are the two Middle Eastern monarchs (why do these all seem to come in pairs?) who are, you know, queens of the male gender. And there’s the immensely famous Hollywood actor – not Tom Cruise, maybe twenty years older – who shows up at supersecret elite gay parties featuring ultradiscreet hustlers for the closeted and fabulously wealthy. But don’t forget the internationally known gay rights activist who’s actually straight; he’s never even slept with a man; his nice “lesbian” roommate is his girlfriend.

Now! All those stories are true except one – one I made up, to keep it interesting. They’re true, I mean, in the sense that with that lone exception I was truly told them, by people who seemed to be in some position to know; true, therefore, in the same sense most truths you share with other people are “true.” (I can’t prove airplanes are held up by air currents, rather than elves living under the wings; but folks who say so are reputed to be expert.) I know the names of those sneaky closet types, too; but I’m not going to tell you, because I’m a mean bastard. But you’d love to hear, wouldn’t you?  I bet you’re already guessing. Which one do you want to find out the most? The least?

Rebozo, Nixon, and Henry Kissinger: Fetch Cambodia, Henry! Fetch!

Two pieces of news got me off on this kick this holiday season. One is about the dead. Did you know Richard Nixon was gay? A new book, Nixon’s Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America’s Most Troubled President, by Don Folsom, says as much. A White House reporter dropped some silverware at an official dinner, and, bending to retrieve it, saw the President and longtime buddy Bebe Rebozo holding hands under the table. There’s plenty of equally ironclad proof; the men’s peculiar intimacy even aroused curiosity in the much more reticent press of the time, since an thick odor of crookedness hung round Rebozo, hardly making him explicable compadre material for the leader of the free world. No one seems happy about this revelation. Rick Santorum must now realize the homosexual jihadists have ruled the roost for more decades than he imagined, since they had their talons so long ago in the Defender of the West. Larry Kramer must feel he was a very bad boy this year. He wanted Abraham Lincoln; instead, he got this lump of coal.

Since I came to this story late, I assume the Tricky Dick jokes are all taken. But then there’s Ricky’s Tricks. Rick Perry, the slavering right-wing governor of Texas and presidential candidate, the one with the hair, is gay. So says Glen Maxey, the first openly gay member of the Texas state legislature, in a new self-published book, Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry.

a caption really would be pointless, don’t you think?

I haven’t read it. I don’t know if it’s true. Ace reporter Doug Ireland is hawking its veracity on Facebook, which offers strong if not conclusive evidence that it’s humbug. A review on Gawker says Maxey’s investigation “was conducted, oddly, mostly through Facebook messages and chats,” which jibes  with Doug’s mode of carrying out human rights research in his living room. Anyone who knows Doug’s creative oeuvre can hear his voice in the following lament:

Maxey can be a little naïve about why The Huffington Post spiked the story [about his findings]. He complains almost relentlessly about how much work went into it—at least two months … —as if this alone should give HuffPo the impetus to publish his account. He doesn’t seem to understand what hearsay is, and when confronted about this, says simply, “I’m not a journalist.”

Fellow Texan rumormonger John R. Selig has put an interview with the author online in three long, long podcasts. That’s three hours of two Texans talking about sex! I couldn’t listen.

The quotes on Gawker do make the book sound like a great trashfest.

“He jerked down his shorts,” [James said], “It lasted about a minute. He had a little dick. It was the worst fuck of my life. And on top of it all he stunk because he had been jogging. He then pulled up his shorts and put the used condom in his pocket. … Oh my God,” thought James. “I just got fucked by Rick Perry!”

There is also a rumor that in 2004 Perry’s wife caught him screwing the Secretary of State (not Colin Powell; Texas has its own Secretary of State, it seems). I’m happy to know that these days Texas officials are mating with each other, rather than with humankind. The last Texans in high authority who were unqualified members of homo sapiens, and entitled to intercourse with the rest of us without an intervention from the SPCA, were Jim Hightower (whom Rick Perry unseated as Agriculture Commissioner in 1990) and the late, great Ann Richards (undone by the simian George W Bush four years later). Since then, each quadrennial parade of successful candidates has been a clear explanation of why Texans rightly disbelieve in evolution. If these lower beasts copulated regularly with humans, it would prove that other virtuous Rick — Santorum — right: legalize homosexuality and next thing you know you have man on dog, man on box turtle, man on Rick Perry. Or worse, if possible.

All these torrents of truth, though, have made me think about something I haven’t for a long while: Outing. What are the ethical implications? Is it ever right?  Ever wrong? What liberty do we have to hypocrisy, and what obligations to others’ privacy?   As Marlene Dietrich groans at the end of Touch of Evil –another film about a Texas politician — “What can you ever say about anybody?”  Right on, Marlene!

I’ll start with an earlier question.  Who, among those closet cases, excited your curiosity the most? The Hollywood actor, right? I mean politicians are well and good. But stars … they’re all publicity, all surface. The burnished sheen of the broadcast image is so overpowering that it creates its own counter-hunger to find out what’s beneath it. Every role they act and every photoshoot they grace breeds the tabloid story or the probing paparazzi purporting to tell what’s really true. (The private lives of genuine actors, who aspire to be humanity in its frail diversity rather than icons of the ideal, are so much less interesting than the stars’. Who cares that Cherry Jones is a lesbian? Who wouldn’t care if Angelina Jolie were?) And of course, if the truth unearthed diminishes them, all the better. Knock them off that pedestal!  Prove the hetero sex god is a pushy bottom! We want the secret, and we want it dirty.

Which leads to the one you’re surely least interested in: the gay rights activist. Who cares about activists? There’s nothing fun about their lives, believe me. But there’s another aspect. What is scandalous about someone being … normal? The sole thing remarkable is that there’d be a reason to hide it. It could only raise eyebrows if the guy pretended to be ex-gay and sold out to the conversion crowd. (Attention, Exodus International: I am taking offers at my private e-mail.) Outing is not a two-way street. The scandal comes when the ordinary is stripped off to reveal the strange: not the other way round.

The leper principle: one touch makes you gay

Moreover, not only does homosexuality derive its interest from being non-normative, abnormal, it is actually more powerful than the normal. We accord it the infectious quality of a pathology: of a disease. So if the “gay” activist were to come out as straight, a lot of us simply wouldn’t believe it. Of course he’s really gay! You don’t spend a life’s work on homosexuality without there being something there. At a minimum, someone would tell you the activist is “performatively” queer: in a universe of roles, he’s acted this out with success. Again, it is intriguing that this only works in one direction. To play the part of queerness even once gives you an identity that amounts to ontic. When Rick Perry (1 wife, 3 kids) or Ted Haggard (1 to 5), or Larry Craig (1, 3 adopted) is caught in man-sex, or reported to be caught, or caught trying, the story is not that they’re performatively straight with a short lapse from character, or bisexual, or questioning, or experimenting: they’re gay, enough said. Hundreds of episodes of uncontroversial heterosexual copulation can’t erase the identifying force of that one abortive time in the bathroom. Heterosexuals would tend to agree with the gays on this one; but most of the gays are absolute in their certainty. As Larry Kramer explained about his obsession with Lincoln (1 wife, 4 kids) — based on his sharing a bed with a man, no further elaboration:

“There’s no question in my mind he was a gay man and a totally gay man … It wasn’t just a period, but something that went on his whole life.”

No Texan ever descanted of the Rapture with more conviction.

This assumption that one act makes you gay cements homosexual desire as the mark of minority status. It’s opposed to the insight –equally the property of Freudian and feminist theory — that it’s a subversive potential in most people, a power thrumming under the bland meadows of compulsory heterosexuality like a postponed earthquake or a patient geyser. That is a limiting, constricting vision of what our desires are able to do.

The main point I want to make, though, is this. As activists,  we devise plenty of excuses for outing. But the strength that drives it is still shame.

In outing,  the closet speaks through us. (And by “us,” I mean all my fellow queers to some degree, not just the activists.) The act reflects our own insecurity that homosexuality is non-normal. Even the certainty with which we assert that one gay incident makes you gay for life involves no actual dynamics of identity or sexuality, but stigma: the belief that a single transgression marks you permanently as endless reiterations of rightness never can. It’s consonant with the racist faith that one drop of “inferior” blood corrupts generations of offspring, that a Gentile woman’s hour-long dalliance with a Jew renders her a pariah to the Volk.  It’s the hatred instilled inside us that drives our obsession with the “truth.”

Outing is still explicitly a tool of hate. It’s still used by homophobes to undermine those they dislike. The US right has mustered rumors of homosexuality against Ann Richards, Hillary Clinton, Janet Reno, Pat Schroeder, and many more. (It’s interesting how right-wing murmurs seem to target women, while gay activists mostly out the men. Are there no closeted conservative lesbians to stalk? Do you really believe Condi Rice is dating Jack Donaghy?) It’s almost subterranean, but there is persistent buzz in Tea Party circles that Barack Obama is gay.  Why else would Rush Limbaugh repeatedly demand that his former girlfriends  “come forward”? The implication is they don’t exist:  among the many lies of the Kenyan-in-chief is his masculinity, while Michelle – with that fabled, telltale musculature – is a convenient beard.

But how exactly are gays’ outings of right-wing homophobes, as a tactic meant to discredit, so different?

To be sure, there are plenty of good rationales for outing. Take Blogactive.com: the site of activist Mike Rogers, who devotes his enviable energies to flaying lying politicians he considers homophobes. He’s found plenty of stuff: he posted audio of a Republican congressman talking on a gay chat line, and the fundamentalist schmuck resigned. The website offers what’s now the standard two-step explanation: preemptive apology, then justification.

People are entitled to privacy and the exposure of someone’s sexual orientation without their permission is unacceptable to me. Reporting on the hypocrisy of those who represent us in government? That’s an entirely different matter.

The just-retribution-for-hypocrisy argument is widely used. But look whose pictures are up on Rogers’ site right now. (Admittedly, their outing wasn’t Rogers’ own work, but they suggest standards he applies.) They include:

  • The GOP mayor of Medford, NJ , who resigned after an anonymous male escort claimed on the net the man paid him for sex. I don’t see any indication the mayor was especially homophobic –just married, and Republican. (Looking elsewhere, though, I notice l the mayor had actually opposed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.)
  • The GOP former sheriff of Arapahoe County, AZ,  who went to jail for allegedly offering meth to a man in exchange for sex. The hypocrisy on drugs is clear, but I don’t see evidence he was hypocritical about gays. Another website claims he was a “major contributor” to Marilyn Musgrave, a congresswoman who sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But this seems to have been someone with the same name, a urologist in Greeley.

Hmm.

Doug Ireland offered a slightly sharper-toothed criterion in outing David Dreier, a closeted Republican House member. First the apology—“I have always taken the view that outing a gay person should be approached with caution”— but then Ireland added that hypocrisy had to be harmful:

… in doing so one should strictly adhere to the Barney Frank Rule. As articulated by the openly gay Massachusetts congressman …when Frank threatened to out a number of gay-baiting Republican fellow congressmen, the rule insists that outing is only acceptable when a person uses their power or notoriety to hurt gay people. [emphasis added]

(Barney himself dismissed Dreier rather nicely. When asked if the man lost a Republican leadership post because he was too moderate, Frank replied, “Yes, in the sense that I marched in the moderate pride parade last summer and went to a moderate bar.”)

But the problem is how you define “hurt.”  This brings to mind one of my tussles with Peter Tatchell on a queer listserve, when I said I disliked outing and he evinced outrage. “There is no human right to hypocrisy,” Tatchell intoned. I answered, of course there is. It’s called the right to privacy, and it’s enshrined in most of the international treaties.   Privacy protects not just your right to keep a sphere of your life secret, but to keep it different; to lie about what is going on there if you’re so inclined; to defend yourself against prigs who insist that your public face and your existence behind four walls align exactly in ideology, practices, and values; to contradict yourself, and contain multitudes who don’t necessarily get along. The main moral limit is that you not conceal what hurts people. The right to privacy has been the first principle on which courts have overturned sodomy laws, worldwide.

It is, in fact, a weak right in international law. The covenants allow states to infringe it, to protect (among other reasons) “public morals.”   One of the arguments proponents of sodomy laws mount has been that private homosexual conduct does hurt people. It threatens public morals – reasoning that’s resonated with publics from Houston to Harare.   Opponents have countered this not only by contending no, it doesn’t, but by going at the meaning of the “morals” exception – trying to devise a less sweeping, more specific definition of harm.

A couple of years ago, my colleague Ali Miller and I worked on a brief for the European Court of Human Rights, in a Turkish censorship case. We maintained that, to demonstrate harm to public morals, governments needed not just to allege some general damage, but to identify particular victims and prove the hurt.  We wrote:

“[P]ublic morality” arguments are acceptable only where some real and specific harm to society can be shown. … Authorities may not criminalise and confiscate publications without demonstrating what harm it causes to what part of the “public,” when, and where, and tailor any restrictions to any specific harm. Authorities cannot evade that responsibility by postulating a “public” and its hypothetical values as a pre-emptive and dangerously free-floating excuse … Laws are moving away from 19th century ideas of the protection of “public morality” and toward a more limited purpose of addressing instances of specific harm. The broad justifications that supported [these] laws when they developed are insupportable in a modern legal regime of rights.

That’s a criterion in law – here applied to obscenity, but equally applicable to cases where the state proposes to punish private acts. But I contend a version should apply in personal, ethical decisions about when an individual (or a website or a TV show) can intrude in someone else’s privacy.

It’s not enough to posit that their public acts were “harmful.” You need to think through whom they harmed and how; whether the harm was directed and intended, or simply the byproduct of a comparatively innocent action or association – mere belonging to a political party, say, or a church; and, most importantly, whether the outing will stop the harm. Will it succor the victims? Will it shut the speakers up? Or will hate carry on? — in which case the outing has no aim but vengeance.

The sheriff and the mayor don’t qualify, in my book. Outing Republicans just because they are Republicans is similarly not kosher; or Catholics because they are Catholics; or Muslims – you get the point. Peter Tatchell himself spent part of the 90s sending odd letters to MPs and Church of England bishops whom he suspected of being gay.  The missives flirted with the legal definition of blackmail:

“Although Outrage! had been passed a lot of detailed information about your personal life which would have enabled us to confidently name you…we chose not to do so.”

One MP keeled over dead. A bishop, David Hope, went public with the letter, accusing Tatchell of intimidation in a “profoundly disturbing campaign.” One wonders about the rationale here as well. Is mere membership in a Church hierarchy that, as a whole, regards homosexuality as a sin sufficient to convict one of “hypocrisy”?  Can’t one have a genuine religious faith without agreeing with all the Church’s stances? Can’t one even regard oneself sincerely as a sinner — and in addition to shame and penitence, perhaps derive compassion from the fact?

And then there’s Rick Perry. The man has been steadfast in his misbehavior. His longtime defense of Texas’s sodomy law was bad.  His recent ad about his struggle against the homosexual agenda was … well, bad too. If there’s actual evidence, outing him would be justified.

Perry: I remember I screwed a third guy, too, and his name was … uh … oops. The EPA?

But his campaign’s over. Today’s Iowa caucuses will probably mark the end. For someone touted five months ago as inevitable, he’s been a bigger flop than Ishtar. Do his miserable, halting performances have something to do with his fear of exposure, his seizing up in the glare of scrutiny? If so, he’s punished himself out of contention. A few days ago, asked about Lawrence v Texas – the sodomy case he took to the Supreme Court – he stammered, whitening, that he didn’t know what it was. That feels like a pitiable giveaway. I’d say, at this point: leave him alone.

Any impetus to outing should be an occasion for self-examination. We need to parse our aims. There’s the practical goal of defanging and disarming those who inflict harm. But there’s the moralistic one of inflicting, as judge and jury, punishment. Do we want to take the sting out of their arguments by showing they’re false — or demolish them personally, using the very shame they attach to homosexual conduct as a weapon? Activists don’t run courts, and shouldn’t carry out executions. The first aim is reasonable. The second is not just destructive but, to the extent it mobilizes homophobia, self-destructive.

Still, I believe, revenge remains the most common if unacknowledged motive for outing. And the yen for revenge is undiscriminating. The desire extends to anyone who’s hidden. It reaches beyond the errant politicians; it takes in the obscure but grapples for the famous, all those who haven’t hurt anybody, just failed to be the selves we think we know. At heart, I’m afraid, we remember hiding, and we want, as payback, to humiliate those who hide.

Plenty of us are still the closet’s victims. It’s conspicuous how the outers, and the people who’ve leaped on the Perry story, are folks my age and older – Ireland, John Selig, others. We’re the generation for whom self-concealment was a dark reality for too long a time.  My own emergence from the closet was halting, stilted, fraught with fear and bad examples. When I was seventeen — how well I recall! — Robert Bauman, a conservative Republican politician, was caught cruising. Disgraced, defeated for re-election, he disappeared, career crushed. That outing hardly provided me with an inspiring role model (another argument once adduced in favor of dragging famous figures out of their closets kicking and screaming). It scared the hell out of me.

At eighteen, I finally came out to myself, in an agonized diary entry, scrawled in red ink as though I had extracted blood: it took me five pages of circumlocution to say, finally, “I am gay.” It was six months more till I first had sex with a man, an experience that led in the longer run to love, in the short term to vomiting. And not for another four years, after slowly coming out to friends (and making new ones) did I tell my father — who almost immediately cut me out of his life for the next quarter century, until he died.

No wonder that, having lived so long behind a fake façade, I spend so much time wondering what lies and lives underlie others’ fronts and faces.

But the closet is only one way of constructing sexuality,  enclosing one side of it with secrets. It’s not universal; nor is it immovable. The peculiar complex of secrecy, shame, and curiosity it encompasses can be done away with. In the US, it’s changing. New cohorts have moved beyond what our dying generations had to offer, our obsessions and our songs. I meet kids at fourteen who are out to their parents; kids whose families encourage truth. The closet has by no means vanished  (and in other countries, different forms cling to different power); but sexuality is way less “private.” Not because people have been outed. Because they came out themselves.

Privacy is not just constructed by what we want to hide. It’s also built round what we fear other people want to know. There’s a dialectic; privacy depends on intrusion to define itself. People defend their sexualities from prying eyes because the eyes are interested. And, by the same token, as long as sexuality – especially difference in sexuality – stays shameful, we’ll keep longing to know about the movie star, the dictator’s son, the sultan. But as sexuality becomes less fearful, less shameful, it will also be less interesting. Younger folks, I’ve found, had a more mature attitude to Perry than many of their elders. His dumb ad attracted more dislikes than any video ever on YouTube: but they focused on substance, not hypocrisy. The disgrace was what he said, not any contradiction in saying it. It will be a happy day when homophobia is treated as equally disgraceful even if the homophobes are straight.

Of course, as homosexual desire becomes more normal, less interesting, we lose something too. It becomes less powerful and subversive.  It’s less a quantity you can frighten the oppressor with – the oppressor is moving on — less something you can assert an arrogant uniqueness around and through: but less something you can learn from, too, less that protean skill at shape-changing that doesn’t abridge an inner integrity, less that Archimedean lever hung in space from which an introverted adolescent imagines she’ll move the world.

I confess I’ve clung to that capacity for subversion, which is also – by paradox – the memory of the closetedness and pain. So have many others. Listen to queers on the left talk about how their early insight into their own difference made them question revealed truth and really existing society, doubt hierarchies and privileges, feel their critical separation from the world as it was. That distance was loss, but it was also freedom. It gave loneliness, but it also offered knowledge. The less you have to overcome shame, the less you’ll understand how wrong it is; the less injustice overshadows your youth, the less you’ll recognize it in later years. A subtle apprehension of how the life we’re endowed with is ailing will be denied you.

But what can you do? As long as there’s something to fight, there must be the little battlefields where people learn resistance. Your own ephemeral gift of difference may lose its meaning, but difference itself remains. The quicksilver, elusive  capacity for subversion will move on, you hope, will settle in some other locus now despised and rejected, some other quirk or quality, indifferent in itself, that injustice in its irrationality targets. It had better. The world needs subverting.

An apology to Paul Canning

oops!

We do nothing but apologize lately.  Soon we will need to appear on Leno to explain the incident with that woman and the limousine,  or perhaps try a pilgrimage to Lourdes or Colorado Springs. In our latest occasion for penitence, Paul Canning, the humble and accommodating editor of the chronically inaccurate [see below] blog LGBT Asylum News, has turned his preoccupied attention on us! – and has offered some intelligently spelled remarks in the Comments section. These sentences clearly are the product not just of typing but of Thought, so I prefer to respond to them in the body here, rather than relegate them to a footnote of history.

Canning writes about our post on African activists  and aid conditionality:

“chronically inaccurate”

Hilarious when in the same line you describe the Mail as “anti-everything” which it is not. That is an INACCURATE description of the Daily Mail.

Also, simply reporting the origins of this (the Mail) apparently means “attempts to minimize the shift”.

Which is a little rich given that I very quickly and uniquely gave a platform to a range of global south activists who mostly – though not entirely – criticised what the Mail had apparently reported.

But you don’t mention that.

You write polemics, Scott, but do you have to be such a b*tch? Because that’s what it reads like.

We apologize for calling LGBT Asylum News “chronically inaccurate”!  We were misled by the following incidents, among others:

  • In the middle of the Egyptian revolution, after State Security arrested the well-known dissident blogger “Sandmonkey,” Canning announced on his blog – incorrectly — that Sandmonkey was gay. This move could easily have resulted in further persecution of the blogger, who tweeted later, “Just as a matter of public record, I am not gay. Making such a claim about me without verification is incredibly unethical.”
  • Canning’s story of a gay activist’s  murder in Western Kenya was later discredited by the investigations of a coalition of nine local LGBT organizations working there.
  • Canning has broadcast inaccurate stories of “gay executions” in Iran – and accused other bloggers, who had reprinted his accounts, of unethical behavior when, on finding the stories unsubstantiated , they retracted them.
  • Then there’s Canning’s reliance on, and diehard support of, the discredited website GayMiddleEast.com.   It isn’t just that Gay Middle East is inaccurate. It lied about its own staff and origins, and put activists across the region who worked with it in danger.

There are undoubtedly other errors we haven’t noticed. But wait! It’s also true that we may not have noticed the uncredited times that Canning’s blog has been accurate.

This is an unfair aspect of our highly technical world, where one error on a matter of concern only to a small number of specialists – like a patient’s blood type, the location of a bomb target, or the existence of “global warming” – can outweigh all the other things one got right, like Derek Jeter’s batting average or the number of jellybeans in that jar. We are all correct far more often than we think.  I am surely on the mark when I assume that Earth’s atmosphere will not suddenly turn to laughing gas tomorrow, but do I ever get credit for the prediction? No. Surprisingly, even the Daily Mail  [see below] is probably accurate when it reports, e.g., that the sun rose at 6:24 today. (I stress probably: there could always be some hidden slant; possibly some faceless bureaucrats in Brussels forced the sun to rise at 6:23 instead, and by reporting 6:24 the Daily Mail is striking a coded blow for free markets and for British independence.)

So we apologize to Canning for underestimating the occasions when he reflects the truth. Let’s say no longer that LGBT Asylum News is “chronically inaccurate.”  Let us praise it as “episodically accurate” instead.

I apologize to the Daily Mail

This brings us to the Daily Mail. Canning is quite correct when he calls me out for saying it is “anti-everything.”  I was INACCURATE to give the impression that the newspaper campaigned against gravity, or condemned the habit of breathing. No one is against everything.  Even the Russian nihilists had the odd thing or two they supported, such as better bomb technology. Moreover, on reflecting, one realizes that almost every anti comes with its own pro.  For instance, we could note that the Mail opposed sanctions against South Africa during the apartheid regime; but rather than saying it was anti-sanctions, wouldn’t it be simpler to say that it was pro-apartheid?  We could observe that the Mail stood bravely against the welter of colors that the 1930s fashion industry offered to confused consumers. But rather than saying it was anti blue, or pink, or green shirts, wouldn’t be better to say that it was pro Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts?  (Though I have the feeling the Mail might prefer the first formulations, or maybe would like to forget the whole thing.)   Even a cursory glance at the Daily Mail shows it supports women’s cosmetics; a strong native plumbing industry independent of Polish expertise; and the prosperity of Pakistan through the return of its diaspora to the motherland.  In calling the paper “anti-everything,” I was succumbing to the wicked practice of “irony.” This is an addictive vice among homosexuals, sex workers, and editorial cartoonists; it mainly serves to infuriate the upright people who do not engage in it.

Finally: Canning says that he “uniquely gave a platform to a range of global south activists” on aid conditionality. Here I differ with him somewhat. In the one article he published, he quoted 13 people; 5 were in the global South, the rest in Europe. Three of those five expressed serious reservations about the British policy. Nonetheless, Canning headlined his piece,  “Cautious welcome, concern as UK ties foreign aid to LGBT human rights.”

More importantly, in the weeks since then 53 organizations and 86 individual activists across Africa signed a statement  laying out their reasons for opposing the policy; groups in other countries weighed in with their disparate responses; and a massive backlash  caused by Cameron’s move led to mounting anti-gay rhetoric in Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and other countries.  Canning didn’t consider any of this news; he covered none of it. It’s hard not to suspect the reason: he supports aid conditionality, and doesn’t want to give much space to its grim consequences, or to the global South voices that collectively offer a sophisticated critique.

Paul Canning is perhaps right that I’m a “polemicist,” not to mention a butch, or botch. But then, I lay my opinions out on the line. I don’t pretend to be reporting “news,” and meanwhile suppress facts that don’t suit my presuppositions.

Nonetheless: I apologize!  In keeping with the spirit of utmost clarity, let me set forth my apology in transparent terms:

Such a vain endeavor! Let’s go back to agreeing compulsorily. To interrogate veracity is simply muddled. Facts remain overly messy. Truth hurts! Everyone should express expectable gregarious opinions. I swear that I can. Being unaware makes better life expectancy realistic – soon!

I hope no one will attempt to find some other meaning in that unequivocal statement.

Peter Tatchell apologizes to the Crusades for not enlisting

Meanwhile, we are changing our policy with regard to polemics. In future, we will offer apologies proactively before saying anything, indeed before thinking it. In fact, when addressing other people’s errors, we will apologize not only before pointing them out, but before they have actually erred. We believe that this will save our detractors psychological pain, as well as the considerable legal fees and effort required to extract apologies under English law. Moreover, it encourages our critics to err regularly and rhythmically rather than erratically and sporadically, creating a feeling of predictability and confidence among their readers. We therefore announce that we are apologizing to Paul Canning weekly for the next five years, and to Peter Tatchell daily for the next ten. And we have programmed our pacemaker to emit an apology to Doug Ireland seventy-eight times a minute, audible only to bats and whales. Now we would like to ask Peter kindly to remove that bailiff from our lawn, as he is walking on the crocuses it took us weeks to plant.