This was the official website for OutNow Magazine, the magazine for the Gay and Lesbian community of the Peninsula and Silicon Valley. â€‹ The selected content below is from the site's 2004 May archived issue and its July 2004 calendar.
May 2004 Issue Feature Article
Contradictions for the Alienated
By Paul Varnell
Universities used to be storehouses of knowledge. That may still be true. But lately they seem to have become storehouses of facile ideologies and ponderous rhetoric. Take this announcement about a recent university conference, “The Media Queered.”
“Since the 1960s, queer people have become increasingly visible in the media. Queer identities
in community life and politics may rely in the 21st century on the prevailing media landscape. The para- doxes of visibility are many: spurring tolerance through harmful stereotyping, diminishing isolation at the cost of activism, trading assimilation for equality, converting radicalism into a market niche. A day-long sym- posium will explore visibility and its discontents.”
None of this seems very coherent. To the extent it is coherent it seems simply wrong.
To be sure, gays and lesbians have become ever more visible in the media—television, newspapers, films—the last 35 years. This is a good thing. It has helped promote familiarity and comfort with gays. But it is bizarre to think “our community life and politics” will be limited to (or by) what is presented in the media.
It can hardly limit our community life because we see real live gays and lesbians around us every day with a wide variety of identities and ways of living. And after all, the very limited range of gay identities the media pre- sented early on—a simpering Liberace, a bitter, sarcastic Paul Lynde—did not limit the wide range of personalities or identities actual gays and les- bians developed.
In fact, it was growing awareness of the wide range of real gays and les- bians that forced (or permitted) the media to expand beyond the limited identities (or stereotypes) they initially presented. We can expect that expan- sion to continue—as the media offer an ever-wider range of gay people.
And media visibility can hardly limit our politics because as more and more gays come out, public perception of gays will increasingly be based on their familiarity with and observations of actual gays they come in contact with and not be limited to the gay identities presented in the media.
All this should be obvious. But, typically, the academic deconstruc- tionist or so-called “critical theorist” makes two errors here. They get cause and effect exactly reversed, and they assume that representations of
the world (“the text”) are more important, more influential, than the world itself.
To use their own language, they “mistake the ontological priori- ty” and they wrongly “prioritize the text”—perhaps because acade- mics exist to some extent apart from the world and “texts” (repre- sentations) are what they know how to study. Or often not even
texts but theories about texts.
Paradoxes—about anything—are big in “critical theo-
ry.” They supposedly demonstrate that there are paradox- es or contradictions somehow inherent in the structure of the real world. But contradictions don’t exist in the structure of
reality. The world just is.
The supposed paradoxes or contradictions are the result of con-
fusions or inadequacies in people’s theories or concepts about the world. Quantum mechanics has not been reconciled with general relativity, but physicists don’t say the universe contains contradictions. They know the problem is with their theories.
You would think this increasing media visibility and public acceptance of gays would be welcomed. In fact, it could hardly be puzzling or exhibit “contradictions” except to people who assumed that American society was bad and feared the acceptance of gays and lesbians because that might reduce their sense of alienation from society. Consider:
ical, it is simply wrong. The old presentations of Liberace or the gay char- acter who committed suicide or died of AIDS—or complete lesbian invisibility—those were the harmful stereotypes. But the implication of “The L Word” that lesbians might actually be attractive? How awful!
How oppressive! Or the fascist stereotype on “Queer Eye” that gay men might have style or a sense of humor? Oh, the horror, the horror.
• “Diminishing isolation at the cost of activism.” So we should preserve isolation in order to preserve activism? But what has all our activism been for if not to diminish the legal, social, psychological, and spiritual isola- tion gays and lesbians once faced. Nor need acceptance inhibit activism. This supposed "paradox" is based on a complete misunderstanding of human psychology.
• “Trading assimilation for equality.” Deconstructionist writing is general- ly turgid, but this is uncommonly opaque. In any case, the tacit assump- tion here is false. There is no trade-off between acceptance and equality. The full social and legal inclusion of gays in society is what equality means. Nor are gays likely to lose any inherent gay qualities in the process—if they are genuinely inherent and not merely artifacts of forced inequality.
• “Converting radicalism into a market niche.” Again activism and com- merce are neither contradictory nor mutually exclusive. The two realms are synergistic. In fact much of recent gay progress has been in the cor- porate and economic realm. Only someone with a uninformed, knee-jerk hostility to capitalism and business could resent this progress. ON
Some of Paul Varnell’s previous columns are posted at the Independent Gay Forum (www.indegayforum.org). His e-mail address is Pvarnell@aol.com.
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2004 July Calendar