I am a child of the sexual revolution. I grew up in a family in Missouri so sexually repressed that when my father explained the “facts of life,” he told me the penis enters the vagina while we’re asleep. I tried to be sexual with women, but felt no chemistry. I didn’t just come out as gay, I exploded into a world of free love, marijuana, LSD, and radical politics. That experience saved my life, and in many ways still defines it.
On January 21 this year, I went to a demonstration called by the Bay Area Coalition For Our Reproductive Rights (BACORR) to counter a large demonstration of Christians, called to oppose Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose, on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe decision. What I found was a group of perhaps 500 supporters of choice and more than 10,000 opponents, bussed in from all over the Bay Area, all carrying the same sign about abortion hurting women. I realized most of these anti-choice marchers also oppose gay rights. Their sheer numbers plus their controlled, disciplined message made me feel threatened and concerned for the future.
Christian fundamentalists have since organized a youth rally at SBC Park called Battlecry. Their announced goal is to create a Christian theocratic government in the United States, and they have made San Francisco a major organizing target. These developments have made me think about my own history in San Francisco, about the need for gay men to support reproductive rights for women, and about the role of fundamentalist religions in the seemingly out-of-control state of the world.
I’m troubled by the evolution of sexuality since I came out in the glory days of gay liberation. Capitalism has turned what started out for me as a personal matter of sexual freedom, the casting off of the repressed puritanical sexuality of the Cold War United States, into big business and a new kind of sexual exploitation. Pornography has evolved from an underground subculture to a major industry with its own celebrities and millionaires. Advertising and popular culture flaunt sexuality and nakedness to the point that “sexual liberation” has become more about the commodification of sex than about the liberation of human beings.
I resent that gay rights and reproductive rights, fundamental issues for so many people, have been linked to the defense of pornography, which is more about the exploitation of women and the making of money. They are so different, but they are all attacked by religious fundamentalists as part of the “sexual revolution.” I really don’t like pornography -- its stereotypical bodies and mechanical sex. There are times I’d rather not be bombarded with pornographic video ads when I walk down Castro Street, and frankly, I feel solidarity with people of all faiths who’d like to raise their children in a less sex-obsessed environment.
Many people, especially women, believe pornography perpetuates male supremacy and violence against women. They attack it politically from the left and culturally from the right. Fundamentalist Moslems and Christians identify homosexuality as a sexual sin, and unite in their opposition to pornography, abortion, and homosexuality. At international gatherings, the US right, the Vatican, and fundamentalist Islamic nations have cobbled together a united front against abortion and women’s power over their bodies, as their soldiers kill each other on the battlefield.
One of the driving reasons behind the Khomeini-led revolution to drive out the Shah was to rid Iran of the influx of pornography and Western cultural influences. To this day they stone adulteresses and gay men to death in Iran with small stones, so it will take a long time for the “sinner” to die. The most extreme Islamic cultures completely oppress women by forcing them to cover themselves from head to toe, while denying them education, the right to work, or even the right to drive a car or travel unaccompanied by a man. They tolerate, even encourage, “honor killings” of women who stray outside of male defined sexual norms.
In the United States we have two unhealthy and out of balance extremes. On one hand religious fundamentalists control women by mandating modest dress, enforced heterosexuality, and virginity until marriage, while prohibiting the termination of unwanted pregnancies. On the other hand we have the anything goes nakedness and sexual seductiveness of pornography, tabloid newspapers, cable TV and advertising. Meanwhile domestic violence reaches epidemic proportions, and women soldiers serving in Iraq fear going to the bathroom at night because they might get raped -- by male U.S. soldiers. Institutional attacks on women’s rights have focused on legal efforts to defeat the ERA and limit access to abortion, but these battles have been integrated by white supremacist neo-Nazis, who have shot doctors and bombed clinics.
Worldwide, poor women bear the brunt of the globalized economy. They are exploited sexually as prostitutes, economically as (sweatshop) factory workers and domestics, and then after all the social benefits for healthcare, education, child and elder care are cut, women become the caregivers of last resort.
The one force that binds together all forms of fundamentalist religion is their adherence to patriarchy, with strictly defined roles for men and women. I fear the power and potential for violence of the fundamentalist religious tide that is sweeping the world -- not just Protestant Christianity and Islam, but also fundamentalist Judaism, Hinduism, Opus Dei Catholicism, and others. As women, queers, and trans people challenge patriarchal sex roles and division of labor, male supremacists respond with ever more force and violence.
It makes increasing sense to me why, in the 1970’s, the CIA decided to create an Islamic fundamentalist movement to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan rather than a secular movement, funding Osama bin Laden and many others in the process. Israel helped to found Hamas. Thirty years later we have Shia fighting Sunnis in Iraq and an upsurge in Islamic fundamentalism throughout the world. Is it the genie out of the bottle or is it intelligent design? How much of it is to make sure men act like real men and women know their place?
The world finds itself at a particularly risky juncture, but one pregnant with revolution and change. In the Islamic world, religion is used as an organizing force to fight against imperial aggression and colonial occupation. In the Christian world, religion is used as a bulwark to defend “traditional family values,” which include imperial aggression and colonial occupation. In both cases women and queers suffer. What’s a conscientious faggot to do?
First, acknowledge that the same people attacking gay marriage are also trying to abolish abortion rights for women. Many of them belong to the NRA and advocate imprisonment, or even execution, for abortion doctors and homosexuals. I’m struck that Nazism arose in Germany at the same time as the movement to legalize homosexuality. Nazi storm troopers invaded Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science, burned books, and threw people off balconies to their deaths long before they put gay men in concentration camps. How far off could we be in this country from bombs planted in gay bars or bathhouses?
The theocratic right wing has won control of all branches of the U.S. federal government, and now is gaining control over the entire voting process. By limiting access to the vote and manipulating voting equipment, they guarantee their victory into the future, regardless of the actual votes cast.
They don’t really give a damn if I don’t agree with them. I’m free to protest non-violently all I want, for now, until the time I might risk imprisonment, or worse, by going into the streets. They’re spying on our every move, and in case things get out of hand, they’re building concentration camps and developing the next generation of “non-lethal” crowd control weapons to make demonstrations virtually impossible in the future (like generators of different waveforms that can, for instance, burn the skin of everyone in the crowd, cause intolerable levels of perceived sound in the ears, or make everyone in the crowd shit their pants.)
Now we have people marching, even in San Francisco, for a Christian theocratic state. They don’t believe in democracy any more than George Bush does with his stolen elections. In fact the Bush administration HATES democracy, as witnessed by its opposition to democratically elected governments in Venezuela, Haiti, Palestine, and Iraq. So it would be helpful to acknowledge the threat to democracy in the United States, and figure out what to do about it. The Right-wingers do exactly what they want, while we keep playing by the rules, trusting the Democrats, and getting our asses whipped.
In 1975, I became a founding member of an historic organization called Bay Area Gay Liberation. This was the time of the war against Viet Nam, the civil rights movement, black power, brown power, and women’s liberation. We became the next group to challenge the traditional values of heterosexual white male ruling class dominance.
The idea behind gay liberation is that no one is free until all are free. The politics of liberation advocate building a united movement to overcome all forms of discrimination and oppression, if LGBT people are someday to be truly free. A working class black lesbian might sometimes differentiate discrimination directed towards her as a dyke, as an African, a woman, or a worker, and sometimes it all might feel lumped together. Rather than fighting one battle at a time, she might instead struggle for her emancipation on all levels.
In the late 1970s, a gay rights approach to gaining equality became the dominant ideology in the lesbian/gay movement, replacing the gay liberation approach. The idea behind gay rights is more limited -- build a movement that addresses strictly gay issues -- housing and job discrimination, military, marriage/partnership, etc. and unite solely on the basis that we’re gay; Gay Pride Day and the gay political clubs being good examples.
I would advocate that in the complex world in which we live, we return to a liberation approach. First, we are a minority, and if we organize around only our rights, we isolate ourselves from the greater movement for social change and leave ourselves open to being scapegoated. Look at the way the Right manipulated the 2004 election results by putting “gay marriage” on the ballot as a means to get homophobes to the polls. At the very least, gay men should unite with women to protect choice and reproductive rights. The same groups are trying to take away all our rights (as well as any rights for immigrants and prisoners) and it’s stupid and self-defeating not to join forces to fight them together.
In the bigger global picture, it’s the same anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-democratic Right wing forces that drive the conservative agenda, which includes the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan, and unquestioning support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine (where we have the religious right in the US joining with fundamentalist [and not-so-fundamentalist] Judaism.) If our goal is to defend the rights of women and gay people in those countries, we should support secular Islamic movements and governments and try to weaken the grip of the fundamentalists.
But in the occupied countries, Islam plays the important role of a cohesive force in the movements to resist the occupations. To the extent we can weaken the Right in this country and their drive for global military hegemony, we can lessen the need of the Islamic masses fighting occupation to rely on the fundamentalists for leadership.
That may seem a daunting and impossible task, but the alternative is an increasingly polarized world with an increasingly brutal war between religious fundamentalisms, and increased terrorism on all sides. It can only become more repressive towards homosexuals and women, as we are currently witnessing, with physical attacks against unchaperoned women and women wearing western dress in Iraq, and with laws outlawing abortion in South Dakota and Mississippi, and more ballot initiatives against same sex marriage in this country.
9/11 shows how interconnected we are. It was not an isolated, unprovoked attack as the Bush administration would have us believe, but a very targeted response to U.S. support of Israel and U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia (since removed, perhaps co-incidentally.) Do we make the world safer with more war and more and bigger weapons, or with more justice and equality that all can share? Are my rights and freedoms affected by gay men being stoned to death in Iran? Just because I live an out life in San Francisco, am I really safe? I ask because there exist powerful Christian as well as Islamic forces that would just as soon see me dead, and I’m not quite ready to go.
Charlie Hinton works in customer service at Inkworks Press, a worker-owned union printing company in Berkeley, California, and he's a member of the Haiti Action Committee. He composts, writes songs, and performs a solo show, Life Wish.
* Thanks to the following people for editing
suggestions: Tara Blackburn, Niko Faraclas, Chandra Hauptman, Lina
Hoshino, Judith Mirkinson