The Attack Queers: Liberal Society and the Gay Right by Richard Goldstein

The Attack Queers: Liberal Society and the Gay Right
by Richard Goldstein
Verso, 2002, 108 pp., $22.00

Although not as catchy or as politically incorrect as its African American equivalent, the lexicon of gay slang now has its own version of the term “Uncle Tom.” The word is “homocon,” short for homosexual conservative, and we have Richard Goldstein and his recent book, The Attack Queers: Liberal Society and the Gay Right, to thank for introducing it.

According to Voter News Service exit polls, an estimated one million gays and lesbians voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election. This is a surprising figure; the assumption of gay and lesbian political liberalism has, until recently, been a pretty safe bet. There is, however, a certain reluctance to profess one’s bewilderment. Better to bite one’s tongue and silently muse: Black Republicans? Gay conservatives?

It is exactly this kind of passive, liberal response that Goldstein rails against in The Attack Queers. With this book, he attempts to reassert the historical continuity of leftist political activism and the relatively young gay liberation movement, and to win back gays and lesbians who have drifted rightward over the past decade. The Attack Queers argues that we are on the verge of a widespread cultural backlash against the gains in gay visibility and tolerance achieved over the past thirty years, the most glaring evidence of which is the prominence and popularity of gay conservatives in the mainstream media.

What seems to worry Goldstein most is what he perceives to be a dissolution of a political and community-based gay identity, worn away by the appeal and success of gay “strivers” and talking heads such as Andrew Sullivan and Camille Paglia, and replaced by an individualistic and consumerist ethos of every homo for him- or herself. He seems less preoccupied with how this shift will affect politics than with the disappearance of some nebulously defined left-gay essence and the potential social and sexual transformations such a spirit could have, one day, brought about. Indeed, Goldstein is so confident that the pundits he targets inaccurately reflect majority gay opinion that he devotes very little time to exploring the rise of a gay right in America, as constituted by actual citizens. The war Goldstein is attempting to wage is primarily focused on the gay conservative members of the pundit class.

Goldstein is a gifted polemicist, and his explanation of the allure of Paglia’s and Sullivan’s work is intermittently brilliant. According to Goldstein, “homocons” can say things liberal heterosexuals are too uncomfortable and afraid to say, can voice opinions that from the mouth of a straight person would be considered unforgivably homophobic. Catching Paglia on televis...