NAME: Bill Heinzen*
From the June 20, 1996 City Paper:
G, Q & UMCLWWL
By Bill Heinzen
Becoming Gay: The Journey to Self-Acceptance
By Richard A. Isay, Pantheon Books, 210 p., $23
Beyond Queer: Challenging the Gay Left Orthodoxy
Edited by Bruce Bawer, Free Press, 328 p., $25
In a moment of non-ironic exasperation, my friend's grandmother demanded: "What does the gay want?" Richard Isay and Bruce Bawer propose radically different answers. Isay locates gay men within contemporary psychological thought and encourages connection with others. Bawer, under the pretense of depoliticizing and normalizing gay life, encourages men and women to accept the ideals of the heterosexual mainstream and to reject anyone and anything that doesn't conform to those ideals.
Along with other psychiatrists, Isay challenged the traditional model of male sexual orientation which held that same-sex attraction was a perversion of normal sexual attraction for the mother. He based this on his own experience as a gay man, and on case studies of his gay male patients, whose early childhood memories included similar and equally natural feelings of parental attraction, but for the father.
When it would have been impossible for an openly gay man or lesbian to work as a therapist, Isay underwent intensive therapy to curtail his homosexual desire, married, and had children. He finally realized he could not cure his homosexuality, fell in love with another man and gradually came out. His story parallels the struggle within psychology to develop treatment methods to help men "become gay" rather than suppress same-sex attraction.
Becoming Gay has the sunniness of a self-help book, encouraging people to come out, oppose institutional bias and seek loving relationships. However, Isay leavens his optimism with clear writing and brutally honest introspection. He also provides a history of queer psychology and addresses adolescence and aging, the psychological concerns of men with HIV/AIDS, and two categories of special interest to him: heterosexually-married homosexual men and gay therapists.
Many men may not recognize themselves in his case studies of mostly white, upper-middle-class patients, and I question the universality of his theory of early sexual development. However, like any theory, his should begin rather than end with self-evaluation, and some aspects of the gay experience are universal, such as the early perception of difference and difficulties in navigating relationships with other men.
Isay is the kind of gay man Bawer, the poster boy of the gay conservative backlash, aspires to be: white, middle-class, well-educated, perceptive and reasonable. Bawer, however, is merely white and middle-class. Isay encourages gay men to talk and to listen; Bawer encourages other gay men to shut up so he can talk. In a new collection of essays, Bawer offers a "new paradigm" for the "post ideological" era —"ideology" having apparently ended in 1989. This "new paradigm" is delinkage: separating the gay and lesbian community from the allegedly omnipotent progressive left and its identification with other non-majority groups.
Bawer argues that the community should place "more emphasis on the grass-roots level." Yet, with apparently no more irony than my friend's grandmother, he presents a collection of essays by "Los Angeles and Boston lawyers, a New York rabbi, a former Bush Administration staffer, a vice president of a Washington think tank, a poet and literary critic," and other "grass-roots" types. Unlike Isay, Bawer is disingenuous about his biases, making the fantastic and ultimately unprovable claim that "few of us would be considered conservative by anyone who objectively examined our politics." Although the Free Press apparently deemed June a profitable month to release a queer book, these "grass-roots" writers share Bawer's belief that the "Stonewall sensibility" is irrelevant and should be abandoned.
Bawer's last book, A Place at the Table//, began with an unintentionally hilarious scene, and he also includes it here in a lecture "explaining" homosexuals to Episcopalians. (How hard can //that be?) While lurking in a New York bookstore, Bawer observed a "well-dressed, obviously well-loved and well-taken-care-of boy of about fifteen" furtively perusing gay magazines with sexually oriented advertisements. Employing psychic powers, Bawer "knew in that moment he was gay and that he was beginning to realize that fact, and I knew also that there was nobody with whom he felt he could talk..."
Although generalizing from three-second cruises is a queer tradition, many people would hesitate before basing books, or reactionary "new paradigms" on such moments. Not Bawer, who claims, "This wasn't the sort of thing I'd been looking for at that boy's age... and I suspected that boy wasn't looking for that sort of thing either." Obviously, gay men can identify with that boy, but by projecting his caveman views on this mute figure, Bawer misuses empathy to make political points about "that sort of thing" —i.e., non-conforming gay sex.
Unlike Isay, who actually talks with adolescents before drawing conclusions, Bawer avoided any actual contact with the young man he sat staring at in the bookstore, because, "he might think I was trying to pick him up — and that thought would probably terrify him." No doubt. Can Bawer really believe that 15-year-old boys are not constantly looking for sexual images? If there is any justice, this tender lad is now a socialist leather daddy.
Bawer's "grass-roots" collective shares his psychic powers: they all know what "most" gay people think, for example that "most gay people don't subscribe to [queer] ideology." They are threatened by the term "queer," precisely because it is inclusive, but they all attack it as "vague." Apparently they prefer finer distinctions, such as Stephen Miller's ultra-scientific observations about "left-wing Asian feminists, left-wing Latinos/Latinas, left-wing Asian feminists, and upper-middle-class left-wing lesbians — all of whom think exactly alike." Why use "queer" when you can say "upper-middle-class left-wing white lesbians?" (UMCLWWLs). But then again, why use UMCLWWL instead of the perfectly good "post-ideological" term "feminazi"?
Most of these essays, like outing and gays in the military, are old news, while others are boringly contemporary, such as those on gay marriage as a way to "stabilize" the community. Most are tired vehicles for clichs, such as Norah Vincent's "Beyond Lesbian," which observes that younger gay men think older gay men aren't cool, while the opposite is true with lesbians. Fascinating! The common denominators of loathing and exclusiveness are nicely summed up by "grass-roots" telecommunications antitrust lawyer John Berresford: "People with AIDS deserve sympathy, but it is the sympathy one extends to a chain smoker who comes down with lung cancer. It is not the same kind of sympathy one feels for someone who was struck by lightning or run down by a truck driver."
While I think that "most" progressive gay men and lesbian women will be surprised to learn that they control the queer and straight media and occupy the movement's commanding heights, I will not presume to speak for them. Perhaps there is a powerful clique of African-American transgendered Maoists, aided by the insidious UMCLWWLs, dominating gay culture in Philadelphia, and making life miserable for middle-class gay white men. (MCGWMs). It would explain those uncomfortable chairs at Millennium.
Picture: (Insert picture if available)
Date of Birth:
Social/Political Groups he attends/attended: Grassroot Queers
Testimonials to him (add a space before a new testimonial):
Though he has left us for a temporary stint in New York, Bill is a true Philadelphian, and a brilliant and loyal one at that. When he lived in Philadelphia, he was a regular contributor to the City Paper, and also participated in SafeGuards' programs. He also helped me to conceptualize this whole gayhistory wiki. Thanks, Bill.