“The very idea of a homosexual being Right-wing is surely a contradiction in terms,” said Boy George in his column in The Sunday Express.
He was commenting on the assassination of Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch politician who had come to prominence because (a) he was worried about immigration into the Netherlands (and was therefore, according to the papers, a “neo-Nazi”) and (b) he was openly and extravagantly gay.
Whether Fortuyn was “right-wing” in the traditional sense is open to question – one commentator described him as “a fundamentalist liberal” – but his death pointed up a truism within the gay community that is not often acknowledged, and that is that more than a few gay people are conservative by temperament.
Such a proposition will come as bad news to those who have always assumed the political movement for gay rights to be naturally left leaning. After all, our enemies have traditionally been the forces of right-wing reaction: think of anti-gays and you think of the Tories, the churches and the fulminating bigots of The Mail and The Daily Telegraph. They are what we have usually regarded as “right-wing” and therefore, in order to oppose them, gays had to be left-wing.
Yet suddenly it seems gay men are coming out all over the place as right-wingers. A recent biography even suggested Hitler was gay. (In that connection, Diana Mosley, the 92 year old widow of Britain’s fascist leader of the thirties, Oswald Mosley, said, in an article in The Spectator: “Hitler committed terrible crimes but he was certainly not a homosexual”. She should know – she was a close friend of the Nazi dictator. She did, though, point to other of Hitler’s henchmen who were definitely gay.)
Right-wingers that we know about in our midst have often taken the sharp edge of the gay community’s contempt. Gay-but-homophobic priests and politicos are seen as particularly contemptible.
In the USA, of course, they are much more matter-of-fact about it. Writing in The Guardian, Richard Goldstein, the executive director of Village Voice, said: “To an observant American it doesn’t seem bizarre that a homosexual would stand for office from the right. In America, the gay right is a fact of political life. More than a million people who identify themselves as gay voted for George Bush in the 2000 election. That came as a shock to the Democrats, as did Bush’s subsequent outreach to the gay community.”
Goldstein admits that, because of the influence of the religious right, there has been no concession to gays. Bush consistently opposes gay rights and supports laws against sodomy. But, says Goldstein, “Gay conservatism is a distinct movement with a singular sensibility. It is nationalist and dedicated to the unfettered market place. But more than anything, what ties those on the gay right together is their ability to present themselves as emblems of post-modernity. Their politics are libertarian (except for the liberty of ‘foreigners’). Where the traditional right is seen as rigid and conformist, the gay right is flexible and individualistic.”
There are certainly echoes of Pim Fortuyn there, but British right-wingers don’t seem quite so sophisticated yet. In this country, gay arch-conservatives tend to be closeted, self-hating individuals who promote homophobia to deflect attention from their own proclivities. We feel avenged when they are occasionally outed by the press. Who can forget the snivelling Thatcherite Harvey Proctor? A right-wing gay man, certainly, but hardly a model of gay pride. I discount, too, those gay men attracted to the National Front and the BNP – they really are fascists and badly in need of psychiatric intervention.
We don’t have a conservative politician here who would be able to combine gay self-acceptance with a thoroughly thought-out right-wing, libertarian philosophy.
Or do we?
Tim Lott in The London Evening Standard wrote: “Has it occurred to anyone how similar Fortuyn’s policies were to a politician much closer to home – Michael Portillo? Like Fortuyn, Portillo was a charismatic populist who stood on a conservative, libertarian ticket – tough on immigration, but liberal on drugs, sexual orientation and the rights of ethnic minorities. And Portillo himself, of course, used to be gay.”
It took some time, and some fairly violent U-turns, for Portillo to reach the point that Mr Lott describes – and he couldn’t find any takers for his philosophy when it was offered. Now, though, it could be coming into fashion.
Lott says that our political identities are “going into meltdown” and that he detects it within himself. “A life-long Labour supporter, I can no longer feel myself buying into some of the knee-jerk reflexes that are required of me by the Left. I cannot muster the wholesale anti-Americanism, cannot buy into some of the more outlandish strands of feminism, can no longer generate the knee-jerk support for all the religious and cultural minority groups that I once accepted as an all-in-one ticket. This is why Fortuyn and Portillo are fascinating – and appealing.”
Lott says that to dismiss this ideological cross-pollination as fascism is “utterly misleading”, and that the rigid ideas of Right and Left in this scenario “hardly apply anymore.”
Alasdair Palmer in The Sunday Telegraph was amused by the dilemma this new blurring of political standpoints was causing to “Guardian readers”, the traditional Tory bellwether for liberal thought. “Fortuyn’s death has Guardian readers in a quandary,” he wrote “do they mourn or do they celebrate?”
I had a taste of this dilemma myself, when I wrote a letter to The Guardian on behalf of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association. I had said that Fortuyn had a point when he held that Islam is intolerant of gays – sometimes murderously so. If we want to preserve our liberal values, then we must face up to the fact that a substantial minority in this country, and one that is increasing rapidly through immigration, devoutly adheres to a religion that hates homosexuality, and is illiberal in many other ways. (I know all religions hate homosexuality, and are anti-women, but most religions in this country are thankfully moribund.)
The following day, Angela Mason of the Stonewall group responded by saying that it was “simply wrong” to imagine that liberal attitudes to gays were under threat from overly-devout Muslims. To say so was to “demonise all Muslims”, and we should be fighting for equality for all.
And here we have the paradox. I accept that many – if not most – Muslims in this country are people of good will and excellent citizens and who contribute to the success of the nation. But there are extremists in our midst who are deeply homophobic, misogynist, and who will try to influence our policy-making if they get the opportunity. To pretend otherwise is to bury our heads in the sand. I do not want militant Islam to have “equal rights” with secular liberalism any more than I want fundamentalist Christians in parliament.
Angela Mason’s knee still jerks in the same way as it did before September 11th. But she has ambitions to pursue and so it is difficult to listen to anything she says these days without reaching for the salt pot and taking a great big pinch.
And so the gay community is beginning to reconfigure itself, or maybe it is simply melting away completely and becoming just a loosely-connected, disparate grouping of individuals with no common agenda beyond sex.
Aidan Rankin in The Spectator was in no doubt. “Rainbow politics is dead”, he announced. “Events in Holland have made a nonsense of the idea of aggrieved minorities reading obediently from scripts and being grateful to liberal pressure groups. In this country, too, the fault-lines of political correctness are breaking down. Muslims find more in common with evangelical Christians than with homosexuals, while most gay men find more in common with straight men than with lesbians – or, for that matter, with Graham Norton. The closet of complexity has burst open. To adapt to the new freedom, politicians might have to treat us as individuals again. That, after all, would be true equality.”
The kind of individualism that Aidan Rankin speaks about is common among gay men already. Many of them have had to come unsupported through the crisis of accepting their sexuality and they value their self-created liberty. They see no reason to support political dogmas that they do not find congenial just because they are gay.
I am not talking now of those irritating gay people who still mourn for Mrs Thatcher or who support their local evangelical church, despite its anti-gay policies. I still maintain that their political stance is a form of self-hatred.
But the new pick ‘n mix political thinking that doesn’t tie you into pre-formed opinions and that can be changed with changing circumstances, is appealing to increasing numbers. As Richard Goldstein said in his Guardian piece: “As gay people surge towards liberation, their best and brightest could lead a swing to the right that extends far beyond the gay community. If it can happen in Holland, it can happen here.”