Anthony Teets
Anthony Teets

Richard Goldstein: When Queers Attack

Who is Richard Goldstein? For gay Objectivists, he is no John Galt. Richard Goldstein is an executive editor of Village Voice. He is the author of several books, including The Poetry of Rock, Goldstein's Greatest Hits, and Reporting The Counterculture. Mr. Goldstein is the winner of the 2001 GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) columnist of the year award. Most recently, in his Attack Queers: Liberal Society and the Gay Right (Verso, 2001), Mr. Goldstein has become a loud and obnoxious proponent for gay "progressivism".

Gay progressivism is purportedly the correct ideology for gay people to follow because of its emphasis on radical diversity promoting "the determination to be the person you always wanted to be" (12). But before you rush out and decide to join the movement because you have always wanted to be the person you are, don't forget to read his book. The trouble with Goldstein's argument for progressivism is that you don't always get to be the person you are. Certainly, you don't get to be that person if you are what Goldstein calls an "attack queer", or a "homocon" (a "homosexual conservative" for the uninitiated). In his book, he delivers a fierce attack on Andrew Sullivan, Camille Paglia, Norah Vincent and many other gay individualists. One may be tempted to compare the book to a recent movie "When Martians Attack" if it were not for the fact that an attack from Martians would be infinitely more exciting.

If you have enjoyed the critical stance of Paglia, Sullivan, and Vincent as much as I have, then Goldstein's smear job he calls "progressivism" is certainly not an option. All three of these writers are consistent individualists as well as creative critical thinkers. Andrew Sullivan's Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality (1995) offered one of the first clear and insightful commentaries on the political and moral arguments about homosexuality. What is more, you can actually read his work and come away knowing that you learned something. His prose is clean, tight, rationally argued, and uncluttered with jargon that the uninitiated may not understand. Camille Paglia has also consistently written strong arguments against leftist academics and criticized the antics of liberationists. Last but not least, Norah Vincent, a self-defined "lesbian capitalist pig" has dared to criticize gays for abandoning fundamental issues crucial to the maintenance of a free society.

According to Goldstein, they are wrong to be critical, and so in his book he describes them as "attack queers". By this, he means that they are critical, but he prefers to present them as attackers. Goldstein cannot abide critical thinking because that would not sit well with his purely emotional approach to gay issues. While Sullivan, Paglia, and Vincent are individualists with a strong interest in social issues, Goldstein is a collectivist with minimal interest in individuality. An Objectivist may have disagreement with Paglia, Sullivan, and Vincent in some ways, but they nevertheless applaud them when it is rational to do so, and probably will be increasingly attracted to their work as time goes on. Goldstein, however, does not provide any fundamental issues with which an Objectivist might agree. Somehow, as his argument unfolds, diversity, which he claims to value, turns into uniformity. Paglia, Sullivan, and Vincent are critical of this uniformity and refuse to see the gay community as a monolithic structure with a central hierarchy.

Sadly enough, Goldstein's "progressivism" (a dull brand of liberationist ideology) does not take into consideration that the "attack queers" or "homocons" are indeed a very diverse type, indeed very unique in a crowd or a "heap" as Goldstein calls the new gay community, " a lava light, popping up in endlessly morphing shapes" (22). In his words: "The whole heap coheres with a central hierarchy" (22). This is how he describes the gay community, but he fails to tell us what hierarchy he is talking about. As an Objectivist I don't want to be a subordinate in a hierarchy that I don't know about. There is no answer as to how you can create a hierarchy out of the anarchy that Goldstein describes as the community. This does not hold him back from believing in it and writing a book devoted to it.

It gets worse. Goldstein believes that Marxism created this "heap" and he also claims that Marxism is responsible for "the concept that oppression can be overcome only through the creation of an alternative identity." (22-3) Following this line of reasoning we might also say that before Karl Marx was born all the proto-Marxist Jews in medieval Italian ghettoes formed an alternative identity in order to escape oppression. Imagine that, they didn't know it but they were actually Marxists. The Germans, prior to the unification of Germany, felt themselves to be oppressed by foreign powers and so they formed an alternative identity and created a state to oppress other peoples who had robbed them of their identity, their German-ness. Following Goldstein's line of logic, they were also proto-Marxists. Once they formed a hierarchy called Nazional Sozialismus (Nazis), they were ready to become true progressive collectivists. Goldstein claims all of these things for Marxism, and this is wonderful for us Objectivists posing as "homocons". We now have Marxist gays claiming and declaring their ideological roots for everyone to see.

That is not all. Goldstein describes a fictitious "homocon" parade with men in suits and "a few women in attendance channeling the spirit of Ayn Rand in their demeanor." (13) He doesn't explain any of this; neither does he have to, because "everybody knows what he means". Whatever Ayn Rand's unfortunate errors about homosexuality may have been, given her unique vantage point, pre-Stonewall America, she certainly does not deserve the kind of twisted ignorance that foams out of Goldstein's mouth. First of all Ayn Rand would not encourage participation in a gay parade because individuals have better things that they could be doing. She did not defend gay people's issues probably because in her time they were practically synonymous with Communists. We know what she thought about collectivism. According to Goldstein, this indeed would be true because he believes that all gays are or should be collectivists. I don't blame Rand for making the statements she did because for the most part she was right. Goldstein on the other hand has no excuse whatever for continuing his collectivist mythology today. Instead of praising the efforts of individuals to rise above "the heap" by doing useful things, he can only attack them for not conforming.

Goldstein's nostalgic description of the early political activities of the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, presents the case that these were the only true and worthy contributions to the struggle against oppression. Harry Hays, the fearless Communist comrade leading the collective to the gay beaches of L.A. to organize, is the stuff of a great mythology. Organize what? No answer. It all sounds much like a black and white documentary of the French Resistance movement that gets cut off just as the good part starts. Goldstein fails to explain the role that these early Freedom Fighters played for society. It is because there was no undercover role. Harry Hays was booted out of the movement but again Goldstein fails to tell us why. He gives no objective historical explanation, but quickly covers the whole story by telling us how Harry Hays is the gay oracle of Delphi, "an utterly original source of insight into queer consciousness." (23) Queer consciousness is a contraption of the "Goddess of Queer Theory", Eve Kossofsky Sedgwick, another great oracle of Delphi who figures into Goldstein's mythology. Miss Sedgwick, unlike Miss Rand, believes that there is a plurality of epistemologies. These paradigmatic "something or the others" serve as obstacles and impediments for the advancement of gay people. The epistemological is conflated with the political. Indeed this is the true source of the problem, a complete abandonment of logical thinking and the embrace of irrationality. The kind of critical thinking one finds in Andrew Sullivan's prose is not oracular but reasoned argumentation. This is hurtful to Goldstein, because thinking or using epistemology "hurts" other people.

The unique heap of indigents and asocial "individuals" Goldstein calls a community was created by Marxists and "the model they created is embedded in our community; indeed, it is our community. To enter it is to be located on the left." (26) While Goldstein may be providing us with a perfect description of an overcrowded gay bar on dollar night where frequenters enter in single file on the left, it is not a real-world description of anything real at all. Again Goldstein may be describing the social habits of gay ghetto culture such as Chelsea queens going to their favorite bar, he is not defining a political or social group by any long shot. His inability to define things is a legacy of his Marxist epistemology and its paralogisms.

Goldstein is defiant and full of rage as well as fear. When he describes a world without a "gay community" he is traumatized like a little boy being robbed of his security blanket. One wants to tell him "Richard you are an individual first and you just happen to be gay", but then you realize just how hurtful this would be. He doesn't understand what it would mean to be alone. Clutching his security blanket close under his chin, he does everything he can to avoid facing the real world. He disgraces himself by his imaginative self-description in a moment of "what-if" reality checking. Andrew Sullivan ponders, "what if we were to disband the gay movement once we have won the right to marry?" Goldstein quivers and shudders as he tightens the squeeze on his security blanket: "the neediest of us would have the least access to funds and publicity". There it is in Goldstein's own words - he has the Italian disease fundsalo. And funds will be lower as social programs increase, at an inverse ratio.

"Rigidity is a common reaction to anxiety, as the gay right demonstrates. They deeply fear difference, including their own. No wonder they don't feel queer." (14) This is how Goldstein describes individuality. It is rigidity. He has no honest understanding of what the word individual means because he is lost in the Bacchanal of the gay underworld. In Goldstein's mind, individuality is a horrid dreadful condition. It is a state of loneliness, rigidity, and anger: "The homo version of the angry white male exists primarily among attack queers." (14) Notice closely how he didn't say "hetero angry white male". Could this be a bit of autobiography thrown in? As one moves on through the book it becomes progressively clear that the actual attacking queer is Richard Goldstein himself.

Goldstein believes that the "gay right" supports the "straight right" in politics. He takes the liberty to bash at Bush, Pat Robertson, and Rush Limbaugh as if they were all just Andrew Sullivan in disguise, male impersonators. It has been rumored that Sullivan gets around, but does he really have time to do all that? An Objectivist may want to serve up a little dish on Bush, Robertson, or Limbaugh, but to compare Andrew Sullivan to them would be unthinkable. Goldstein writes: "Think of Rush Limbaugh with monster pecs, and you've got Andrew Sullivan". (17) His harangue on Paglia and Sullivan is no different from the indiscriminate hatred gays often receive from uptight heterosexuals, and his attacks on them only increase as the story develops. "Their ultimate ambition is to abolish the queer community". One wants to ask him what community he has in mind but again that would be like telling him that his security blanket does not exist in reality.

After dedicating twenty pages stressing the individuality and diversity of gay individuals, Goldstein concludes that there is a community, a tribe no less. We must all abandon our individuality and enter the community and be located on the left. He berates Dale Carpenter (another individualist writing insightfully about gay issues) who makes the intelligent assessment "You're only an individual who must make your own way in the world, unable to depend on the safety of belonging to an elect tribe." (21) What Carpenter says is not difficult for an individualist to grasp. The challenge increases significantly though when you suddenly look up and see Goldstein's Harpies swooping down on you. The trouble is only Goldstein seems to see this happening.

If you are an Objectivist who happens to be gay, I recommend you read Attack Queers. But don't buy it, borrow it from your public library and return it with your Objectivist marginalia in light pencil. Goldstein has written a gay thriller featuring mostly his three Harpies Paglia, Sullivan, and Vincent as the original attack queers flying just overhead. His arguments crumble easily under his emotions, and you will quickly realize that his dish is nothing more than a sad public display of cognitive nihilism, the result of a chain of mental errors and mistaken emotional assessments.

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