In a gesture of gratitude for the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday striking down a Texas anti-sodomy law, gay-rights activists lowered the huge rainbow flag that always flies over the city’s Castro District and hoisted the Stars and Stripes in its place.It's important not to skip over the fact that those who unfurled the Stars and Stripes were gay Veterans, but more important is what this impulse tells me about the core of the "gay agenda." The goal is inclusion, to be seen as Americans, as equals. The goal is to live our lives with dignity and be recognized as no better and no worse than our fellow citizens in the eyes of the law.
Members of a local American Legion Post made up of gay men unfurled the American flag, then saluted and sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” as residents marveled that a goal they had been seeking for so long had been realized.
Which brings me to the essay that artist and writer Maureen Mullarkey wrote about the admittedly horrible way certain people within the gay community responded to the news that she had donated $1000 to help strip away the legality of gay marriages in California. It's important not to skip over the fact that Maureen lives in New York, but more important is that she is most certainly entitled to express her political views in any legal means she chooses to and should not be subjected to death threats or harassment as a result.
No, instead, she should be subjected to a good old fashioned fisking (with a "k", Maureen, don't get too excited). Maureen's article, The New Blacklist, appeared in the 03/16/2009 issue of The Weekly Standard.
Now before the fisking begins, I must note that the choice of publication here suggests to my mind that Maureen is not interested in getting her fellow art world insiders or the gay community to see things from her point of view. She has written for William Kristol and Fred Barnes' magazine before, but if she were truly trying to reach and/or educate those who responded so harshly to her donation (rather than just lash out at them), she might have considered a rag not so well known to be hostile toward both groups. Then again, most other publications have basic thresholds for logic, balance, and fairness...none of which are in obvious supply in her article.
Strange times we live in when it takes a ballot initiative to confirm the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.California had redefined marriage as the union of two adults regardless of gender through both its courts and its legislature. This had not been done lightly or without years and years of open discussion and debate among its citizens. What's strange here is, again, that Maureen lives in New York. That she felt compelled to get involved in the lives and politics of people thousands of miles away from her is a strong indication that this is not about what people do in California to her, but about her life as well. How it's about her life remains a mystery.
Stranger still when endorsing that definition through the democratic process brings threats and reprisals.I would strongly agree with her about the threats. No one anywhere has any right to intimidate or harass her because of her donation. Reprisals, on the other hand, well, it depends on what we're talking about. If, for example, she expects gay and lesbian members of the art world (a small circle in which people rely on their network of friends to help further their careers) to continue to treat her as if they didn't know she considers their relationships less valid than hers, to forget they now do know that and embrace her as warmly as they had before, well...I'm sorry, but there are valid social and interpersonal reprisals here. We have the right to consider you part of the problem now. As our enemy in our battle for equality. You invited that animosity, Maureen, not us. You can't expect us to continue to treat you as if you were our friend. You've revealed your true feelings through your donation and, to be honest, that hurt us. We don't trust you now and probably never will again. And you own that fact.
In November, the San Francisco Chronicle published the names and home addresses of everyone who donated money in support of California's Proposition 8 marriage initiative. All available information, plus the amount donated, was broadcast. My name is on that list.As I've said before, if that's a problem for you...having your name listed under which causes you donated to...you might reconsider whether you should have.
Emails started coming. Heavy with epithets and ad hominems, most in the you-disgust-me vein. Several accused me, personally, of denying the sender his single chance at happiness after a life of unrelieved oppression and second-class citizenship.Well, you did participate, personally, in denying him something you take for granted. I don't mind asking you to consider whether you could be as blasé as you are about his complaint if the shoe were on the other foot...if the validity of your marriage was subjected to the opinion of people who lived across the country. Say Californians donated money to have your marriage made null and void. Would you simply accept it and move on with your life, or would you be hurt and upset?
Some were anonymous but a sizable number were signed, an indication of confidence in collective clout that belied howls of victimhood.Or an indication of their belief that their cause is just. Something, again, your complaint that your name was made public suggests you have doubts about.
New York's Gay City News asked for an interview because I was "one of only four New Yorkers who contributed more than $500."Those bastards! How dare they ask you for an interview...why the nerve of it! What's newsworthy about an artist who's painted gay people being one of only four people in a state of nearly 20 million people to donate over $500 for an initiative thousands of miles away? How dare they do the simple arithmetic to figure out the incredible unlikeliness of that and then ask you to comment? Your extreme political rarity is your business.
I ignored the request, trashed the emails, and forgot about them.As is your right. I won't deny it.
But the West Coast bureau chief of the New York Daily News did not forget.As is their right.
One night in early February, I drove home to find two cars, two men, waiting for me, unannounced, in the dark. Reporters for the Daily News, they were publishing a story on me and Prop 8 the next day and wanted a live quotation. Serious interviews are arranged ahead of time. Besides, I had filed enough newspaper pieces on deadline to know that copy is well into the can at 7 P.M. This was intimidation, not fact-gathering.I have nothing to say about this really...I wasn't there...I think it's still dark rather early in February, and perhaps there was nothing odd or intentionally intimidating about reporters asking questions...but then again I wasn't there. I do know that the Daily News is hardly a bastion of gay rights militancy, and so the guilt-by-association Mullarkey is projecting here is disingenuous but...I wasn't there...perhaps the reporters were gay rights militants.
Where is the story, I asked, if I have not said anything? The response was: "We have documents." Sound familiar?Uh..."'We have documents.' Sound familiar?" So the reporters were what? Gestapo? KGB? McCarthyites? What exactly is the implication here? Again, there's no indication at all that the reporters were gay or even gay friendly. All we have is a very underhanded, intellectually dishonest implication that they were motivated by revenge. The editors at the Weekly Standard didn't object to this lapse in journalistic integrity?
For half a second, I thought of saying that Prop 8 left intact all the legal advantages of civil union. It took nothing away. But I was too surprised by having been singled out. After a few heated words--none of them equal to what, in hindsight, I wish I had said--I went into the house.Ahhh...the old, "I was actually thinking benevolent thoughts about the minority, like I want you to know I often do, but...because those reporters had surprised me by asking me questions...I wasn't able to actually share those thoughts...and now I'd like to just gloss over what I actually said" argument. A true classic. Let's revisit her actual words, just for old time's sake, though, shall we?
"If you write that story, I'll sue you," she said.And we're back to the theme of being happy to have your political donations mentioned publicly...it's a good rule of thumb in knowing when to write a check or not.
I'll admit the Daily News article is sparse, and in that way sensationalistic, but is Maureen actually denying that she was asked the question and asserting that the reporter is lying? I think the Daily News editors, if not their lawyers, might want to check into that. So too might those at the Weekly Standard. Is Maureen also denying she said "So?" in response to something...and if not, what was that question? For all her assertions that she's setting the record straight...she's only generating even more mystery.
Next day, I discovered in the Daily News that I am known as a painter of gays and lesbians; gay activists felt betrayed by my contribution. It was a sparse article. The only accurate quotation to appear was a sentence cribbed from my own website, which seems to be the "document" from which the story was spun. (The sentence, from an old interview about a gallery show of my paintings, referred to New York's gay pride parade as "an erotic celebration loosed for a day to keep us all mindful that Dionysus is alive, powerful and under our own porch.") Compensating for the interview that never took place, the reporter constructed an exchange over the question he obviously wanted to ask but never got the chance. The article reads:
When asked how she could have donated money to fight gay marriage after making money from her depictions of gays, she just said, "So?"
Set aside the non sequitur. The question was an undisguised indictment that triggered a barrage of virulent mail and threats of blacklisting.As much as I agree that that question was loaded, I still feel the issue is a valid one. Maureen has argued that she made very little money from the sale of those paintings, but she is nowhere on record as objecting to the interpretation that her paintings represented her support of the gay community. I have heard of at least one that was purchased by a member of the community.
Suddenly, I was "a vampire on the gay community" who should be put out of business. As one note put it: "Your career is over, you nasty piece of s--. F-- off! WHORE!"From this point on in the article Maureen begins her descent into self-identified victimhood. Yes, those are unwarranted comments, but they are clearly also cherry picked for effect. I don't doubt the comments were alarming and awful to receive, but, again, I see no indication at all that Maureen attempted to understand why the news of her donation would elicit such anger. I invite her again to contemplate how she'd feel toward any Californian who donated $1000 to strip away the legality of her marriage.
To make sense of this, backspace to the early '90s and a series of paintings I exhibited called Guise & Dolls. It was a singular body of work based on images from New York's annual carnival, the gay pride parade. I could have used a New Orleans Mardi Gras or Munich's Fasching, but Manhattan was closer. At times funny and poignant, the parade was also--in the age of AIDS--tinged with sexual danger. The spectacle of it made a splendid analogy to the medieval danse macabre.We could debate the distinctions in intent and political context between Mardi Gras and the Gay Pride Parade, but Maureen could have singled out any number of images from that annual festival to paint, such as the brave parents marching to help make the world a little less frightening to their gay children or the heads bowed, many of them with tears streaming down their cheeks, during the haunting moment of silence, but she chose the so-called sexual danger to focus on. Fair enough. That's her call. But it is in and of itself a political decision. And a slightly confusing one if we're to accept her current assertions.
By painting the very healthy-looking, flamboyant subjects that she did (see here), the supposed commentary on the dangers of AIDS is tenuous at best (I'll admit there is a somber tone to most of them and one includes a skull, but most are absent any such symbolism). To my eye, most of these paintings look nonjudgmental. Yes, there are men in dresses, but in my life you see that all the time. Perhaps in Maureen's circle in Chippaqua such images are immediately understood to be condemnable, but the notion that these were cautionary tales is not supported.
From here she attempts to insert quite some distance between her intent and the gay community's interpretation of her paintings:
Festive misrule and the politics of carnival, deeply rooted in cultural history, are a compelling motive for painting. Think of Bruegel the Elder's Fight Between Carnival and Lent. The flamboyant Dionysian heart of the gay pride parade was the subject of Guise & Dolls, not homosexuality itself and certainly not any policy agenda. A public event free for the watching, it is staged to provoke audience response. I responded with a suite of paintings; they bore no relation to my prior or subsequent work. All suggestion that I "make a living on the back of the gay community," as my mail insisted, was a hysterical fantasy brewed in the grievance industry's fever swamp.The parade is staged to celebrate and educate and possibly help liberate through making closeted gays understand they are not alone and their desires are not something they should be ashamed of, not to "provoke audience response." (Seriously, Maureen, the parade is not about you.) Most of the paraders could immediately and totally blend into the crowd by simply stepping onto the sidewalk. And most of flamboyant paraders are only too happy to dress up and party down that way in places very far from 5th Avenue. It's called "Pride." And the message is that we don't intend to hide who we are. That's only provocative if you expect or demand the opposite.
But no matter. I was up there now with Halliburton and Big Oil, a class enemy. The brownshirts came out in force. Within 24 hours, the "story" spread from one gay website to another, even to Vancouver ("Typical greedy American bigot"), France, and Belgium. My home address and email were repeated in comment sections in which readers egged each other on to "make the bitch pay." Militants trawled for editors and gallerists I had worked with to warn them that "the Gay Community is looking at our adversaries and those who may support them." (One former editor blind-copied me his exchange with an aspiring storm trooper who threatened a boycott for those "having an association" with me.)For someone objecting to being called names and having hyperbolic responses flung at her, you certainly don't practice what you preach Ms. Mullarkey. The "brownshirts?" You mean Hitler actually did invent a time machine and sent his legions of thugs to the future to harass you? If we're trying to set the record straight here and be reasonable and all...I must assume that's what you mean. Or is "brownshirt" and "storm trooper" simply your nicknames for any gay activist in any context? Further evidence that your insistence you're not a bigot is self-delusion at best and an outright lie at worst?
I will note again that you did nothing to deserve such vehemence, but despite how poorly the anger was expressed, you did invite it through your donation and hence public support of taking something beautiful for hundreds of Californian couples away from them, people you would very likely never cross paths with in your life. (How an artist of all people, someone I assume is empathetic, can do that is quite frankly totally beyond me. I guess I have a lot to learn about artists still.)
Reprimands flooded in, all based on the false premise that fat slices of proprietary gay imagery were being creamed off the urban spectacle for my personal profit:This line of reasoning seems directed at the central question of fairness here: Should Maureen be singled out for criticism because her actions are hypocritical? Her answer seems to be no, they're not hypocritical because she didn't make that much money off the gay community and therefore owes them nothing. In retrospect, given that the title of my first blog post on this topic accused her of biting the hand that feeds her, I'll apologize. She clearly is not a friend of the gay community, never intended to be seen as such, never intended to sell those paintings to gay collectors who would interpret them as pro-gay, and therefore cannot IMO be criticized for being hypocritical.
She can be criticized for being a drama queen though. Her article continues to present in rapid-fire a hodge-podge of unrelated criticisms of her. After reading them three times, all I can gather is they're presented en masse to demonstrate how irrational those who wrote to her were...and to make Maureen seem saintly in comparison. Emboldened by her self-anointed martyrdom, though, Maureen then makes the same mistakes she took all her detractors to task for and offers a wholly irrational defense of her position:
[M]y opposition to same-sex marriage does not originate in the pew. However much sympathy, affection--indeed, love--I have for certain gay persons, "gay marriage" burlesques a primal institution rooted in nature. Marriage, as a unique bond between male and female, predates all politics and religious doctrines. And no one has to believe in God to see social anarchy, with children adrift in the wreckage, at the end of the same-sex marriage road.Where to begin?
With the obvious I guess: Despite how much love you think you feel for certain gay persons, I am willing to bet at least some of them deep down resent your position here. The arrogance of asserting your superiority over them in this fashion must be intolerable if they have any self-respect at all. The fact they don't say so to your face is a gift you should deeply appreciate.
Now for some history you clearly never learned: The "primal institutions" predating even marriage include slavery. Widespread practices predating marriage include kidnapping women from their families, procreation by rape, and other practices I am sure we would both agree were immoral and right to be outlawed by civilized peoples, no?
So what changed people's opinions about such practices? A growing respect for the importance of protecting the rights of the individual. A belief that all people are created equal and have the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But that's only the foundation of where your thinking is muddy. If your argument against modifying our collective definition of marriage is that there's a traditional component we must respect, why not insist on preserving polygamy, arranged marriages, dowries, outlawing divorce, and other components of marriage that have evolved over time? Your selectiveness here is telling, whether you see it or not.
Of all your arguments, though, this is the most deluded: "And no one has to believe in God to see social anarchy, with children adrift in the wreckage, at the end of the same-sex marriage road."
Uh...look around you, Maureen...straight people have managed to set millions of children adrift in the wreckage of their marriages with no help from gays whatsoever. In fact, the most laughable part of the entire anti-gay-marriage argument is how "sacred" the institution is supposed to be. I can live with my partner for decades and still not garner the same social status as a drunken man and woman who got hitched on a whim in Vegas. No one has to believe in God to see that social anarchy is permitted, if not endorsed, by the majority here for clearly selfish reasons that do nothing to take into account the needs of children. In other words, take the plank out of your eye before you point at the spec in mine, my dear. Unless you're sending $1000 to initiatives designed to outlaw divorce in the US, you are a hypocrite.
Maureen then shares some more of the offensive email she got...you know, the kind of sentiments I'm sure most of those writing her would describe as "a few heated words--none of them equal to what, in hindsight, I wish I had said." She follows that with:
Until now, donating to a cause did not open private citizens to a battery of invective and jackboot tactics. While celebrities sport their moral vanity with white ribbons, thousands of ordinary Americans who donated to Prop 8 are being targeted in a vile campaign of intimidation for having supported a measure that, in essence, ratified the crucial relation between marriage and childbearing.Once again, there is a very important difference between donating money to causes you don't want anyone to know about and ones you're happy to advertise with white ribbons. Do some soul searching on that fact, Maureen, please. As for the "crucial relation between marriage and childbearing," my gay friends with children will be delighted to hear you think they should be able to marry. I think so too.
Labels: gay politics