On Big Gay Fascism

You’re looking at the new face of the European Far Right. Mathieu Chartraire; Tetu magazine’s Mr. Gay for 2015. The magazine named him France’s hottest man about the community. He likes long walks on the beach, candlelit dinners, and xenophobic race nationalism.

...Gay Icon?....

Ew, not her. The cute guy on top of the post.

Marine Le-Pen, the leader of France’s Front National, is probably the most influential figure in French Politics right now. She may even be the single most popular one as well, though that says more about the near-universal disgust for the older, established political parties than it does about her. She preaches national unity and solidarity against an encroaching, evil other. Or, less charitably, racism, bigotry, and hatred. Certainly nothing new in European politics. She’s also, and this does seem to be causing some surprise, very popular in France’s Queer community. Dreamy Mathieu likes her, and it’s causing a stir. They (or should I say we?) prefer her by a margin of ten points over their heterosexual peers. This is being held up as being odd, even surprising. People don’t quite know what to make of it.

It doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s nothing new, and given the current political climate in France, and what life is actually like for gay men, (The larger Queer community’s struggles are often similar, but often very different as well, so this post will focus on my own tribe, about which I can speak) it makes a fair bit of sense.

First of all, hands up who remembers which party was by far the gayest in the Weimar Republic? Need a hint? Well, they were into bold, striking colour schemes, flamboyant ceremonies, and really stunning uniforms.

Gay Icon

Note the angle of the wrist…

For years, the prevalence of homosexuality in the Nazi Party was one of the things people held up as evidence of their barbarism and moral depravity. I’m currently halfway through American broadcaster William L. Shirer’s Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany; a well-researched and footnoted work of history, but also more of a primary source and a memoir of his time as a journalist in Berlin at this point than a great work of scholarship. He dwells frequently on the prevalence of ‘sexual perverts’ and ‘moral degenerates’ in the early Nazi Party.

The SturmAbteilung, or SA, Hitler’s first paramilitary shock troops, were notorious in Germany for being full of young, violent, blond gay men. Their leader, Ernst Roehm, was probably the closest thing Hitler ever had to a personal friend. Shirer introduces him as a ‘tough, ruthless, driving man – albeit, like so many of the early Nazis, a homosexual.’ The early history of Nazism, like the early history of most ultranationalist movements is a shady one, full of drunks, drug addicts and people from the poor, despised fringes of mainstream German Society. Not unlike modern Greece’s Golden Dawn. And in the thirties that included, as it almost always has, gay people. Shirer takes it for granted that his audience in 1950s America shares his disgust for homosexuality and cringes with him at this obvious proof of the evil and moral corruption at the heart of Nazism.

Hitler knew that Roehm was gay. He didn’t approve, and there would be no worse badge to wear in the concentration camps than the pink one that denoted a homosexual, but he also didn’t really give a damn. He was a sociopath. So long as people were useful to him, he didn’t care about their morals or proclivities. As soon as they stopped being useful, he would care equally less about ruthlessly killing them. And when the time came, in 1934, to eliminate the SA in the infamous Night of the Long Knives, he didn’t have any trouble finding an excuse to justify his wholesale slaughter of his most loyal lieutenants. No one in Germany mourned them. They were just a bunch of damn queers after all.

People have always hated us. Everyone else on earth is a member of a hated minority in one place, and comfortably in the majority somewhere else. Gay people are a minority everywhere. Times and places where gay men and women have been able to live openly in history are few and far between. And they’re brief. We always get the shit kicked out of us in the end. The best place in Europe to be gay in the 20s and 30s was Berlin until it wasn’t. Straight people do not like us. They think we’re disgusting. Subconsciously, science is proving that most of you feel the need to wash after you speak to me.

I have to admit that sometimes I can get really, really angry about it. It’s irritating that people have such strong feelings and opinions about an aspect of myself that I had no more hand in choosing than the colour of my skin.

It certainly meant I snorted with contempt every time I saw a hysterical report about Ebola. Even if the risible hypocrisy of the contrast between straight white people’s panic at a single case in Texas with their indifference to thousands of people dying horribly in Sierra Leone wasn’t enough to do it, I would remember that North America had already been ravaged by a deadly, horrible disease. It was the 80s, and we called it GRID. Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency System. It really used to get them rolling in the aisles at Reagan’s press briefings. Eventually Rock Hudson died emaciated and terrified, so Middle America finally felt that little twinge of fear that meant there was money for research into a cure. Nobody gave two shits about AIDS while the only people dying from it were us queers. We were just getting what we deserved, weren’t we? Sure, loads of straight Africans have it now too, but well…

Personally, I’ve had it easy. So easy it often makes me uncomfortable. I was born in 1989. By the time I realized I might be gay, society’s attitudes were already changing. I came out not long after Canada legalized gay marriage. Sure, I had to sit through endless dorm room chats while I was still in the closet about my fundamental inferiority, and how if my schoolmates had gay sons they would kill them without a second thought.   But for the most part, compared to what my first boyfriend had to go through, or what people like me still go through in most of the world, I really have no right to complain about having been persecuted. We all know what Putin’s been doing by now. If I’d been born in Mosul, ISIS would have thrown me off a high-rise building by now. And a lot of people would have turned out to watch.

But it’s early yet. And this stuff can turn on a dime. It frequently does. Ask the Jews. The difference is no one ever gives a shit about us. No one ever misses us when we’re gone, and no one ever really asks why we needed to be rounded up and shot. Everyone already knows.

Right now the cultural climate in the places I’ve lived is generally against open homophobia. Politeness is on our side. I remember in my first year of university having a smoke out the back of college with one of the Rugby Jocks. I’d heard tell that this guy might be homophobic. He was perfectly nice, and we were getting along fine on a wave of pints and good cheer. I hadn’t asked, but he took the time to explain to me that because I wasn’t obviously effeminate, he didn’t mind me so much. let me know that I was the ‘least offensive gay person [he’d] ever met.’

I didn’t make a thing of it. He was being nice, and I appreciated that he was making the effort. But still, for a long time afterwards I couldn’t help but think to myself…thanks? I appreciate your tolerance of my existence? I’m glad I don’t offend your sensibilities as much as other deviants do? I guess it must be a bit like when a black person bristles at a well-meaning generalization about ‘you people,’ or a Native American sighs an exasperated little sigh when people empathize with his or her ‘plight.’ But I don’t know for sure. I’m still white and from a privileged background, so I can’t pronounce on that with as much authority. This is why there’s such a field of inquiry as intersectionality. This shit can get complicated.

So why would some of us feel inclined to vote for a party like the Front National, when it seems superficially like such a counter-intuitive decision? Well, for a start, we’re not a monolithic ‘group,’ as some people think, and so we don’t have a monolithic opinion. We’re united only by our sexual preference, and often by veryLittleElse. We’re an ‘invisible’ minority as opposed to a ‘visible’ one, and we only ever have to reveal ourselves as such if we choose to. If you’re a fan of X-Men, being gay is a bit like being Charles Xavier. Sure, he’s technically a mutant too, but he’s also rich, white, and a professor at Oxford, so maybe that makes him a little harder to relate to if you’re The Beast, and you can’t actually go out to pick up normal humans in bars with your fancy mind-reading tricks.

I'm totally a mutant too, guys!

I’m totally a mutant too, guys!

But intersectionality bites both ways in our case. There’s less of the solidarity that other underprivileged groups feel for each other. And most of those other underprivileged groups hate us too. If you’re poor, black, gay and West Indian, and your family are ultraconservative Christians who will disown you for being who you are, then you’re going to have a tougher time of it than I did, I freely admit it. And if you’re gay and Muslim? Jeez, I don’t envy you one bit. I’ve met gay Muslims. Yes, they exist. No, I’m not going to tell you who they are. They have to be SERIOUS about keeping that away from their families. Dead serious.

THAT’s the crux of it. That’s why Mr. Gai 2015 is leaning towards Marine Le Pen. Because sometimes when two gay men get beaten up in the street for holding hands? As happens. They get beaten up by Muslim men. Sometimes the devil you know beats the devil you don’t. So it goes.

It should go without saying that I have no desire to feed into some bullshit apocalyptic narrative of Islam vs. the Christian West. I have no desire to play that game. But it should also go without saying that when I see photos of ISIS throwing people like me off a building, and I know that that isn’t a minority opinion in the Muslim world, it makes me look at guys walking down the street in flowing robes, white caps and beards with a bit of side-eye. I’m usually right when I take a guess at what they think of me. If you put a gun to my head and made me choose? I’d take the chance that Marine Le-Pen isn’t full of shit over the implementation of Sharia law. Yes, I know that’s a false choice. No, I don’t think we have to go there. But the idiots on the extremes really want us to. And the people of France have spectacularly taken the bait. And so I get why some gay men (and women?) are falling for it. Fear does crazy things to people. And people like me have an extra reason to be scared of radical Islam. We take it very personally. Because there aren’t any circumstances under which I can pretend that they aren’t also aiming at me when they shoot up a government building or a magazine’s offices. I’m on their list.

I’m going to close with a story that could superficially be taken as evidence of the aforementioned side-eye, but which I actually think is a sign of hope. At the height of the Rob Ford fiasco I was in a cab in Toronto being driven uptown. I was talking to the cab driver. I usually do that, because it’s invariably interesting. But that week everyone in the goddam city was exchanging meaningful glances about the latest exploits of everybody’s favorite town drunk.

He was a recent immigrant from Pakistan, and a very conservative Muslim. He was explaining to me how he was still going to vote for Rob Ford. Apparently he was a nice man, and he’d done a reasonably good job. After all, everyone was entitled to a private life. What business was it of his if the Mayor smoked crack on his own time? I was cringing through my nods and smiles, but did feel compelled to politely ask if that logic would still apply if Mayor Ford was gay? Would that still be his business? Would he still be voting for him? It wasn’t a barbed question. I was curious to see what he would say.

He thought about it. He clicked his mouth and tilted his head a bit to a side. Then he shrugged, and said sure, of course he would. If the gays put up one of their own, who was he to judge? They were good people. If a gay mayor did his job well, it was no business of his.

Sure, sure, ‘people.’ But you know what? I actually am grateful for tolerance. I don’t get mad when people make little mistakes out of ignorance. Why would I? I’m grateful they’re trying. I get mad when people make hate a part of who they are. We all get these little bigoted reactions from our Id when we’re scared or pissed off. The measure of being a good person is how effectively we tamp them back down again. Tolerance, respect, courtesy and basic human decency go a long way to defeating hatred. As Prince Faisal puts it in the classic film Lawrence of Arabia, ‘for [Lawrence] mercy is a passion. For me, it is merely good manners. You may judge for yourself which is the more durable motive.’

So sure, if it’s a choice between the National Front and ISIS, I can bet most gay people will choose the National Front. But that’s a horrible choice. So let’s start finding/figuring out a political movement that doesn’t suck. We’re going to need one pretty soon here.

Bread and Circuses: why I’m not watching the Sochi Olympics

I’ve loved the Olympic games since I was a child. Some of my earliest memories are of racing around the house in 1998 during the Nagano games pretending I was speed skating, or plunging down the stairs pretending I was a mogul skier. Mother was not amused.

But like plenty of other things that seemed inspiring and important when I was a child, including the West Wing and Saturday morning cartoons, the Olympics has for a long time now simply seemed saccharine and false. All that tripe about international brotherhood and cooperation, all that false drama and excitement just irritates me now. It’s fitting that such a sugary sweet spectacle should be sponsored by McDonald’s and Coca Cola. It’s the junk food of sports: exciting while it’s happening, but ultimately just garbage that will leave you feeling bloated and sick.

Yesterday the opening ceremonies were broadcast around the world, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t tune in. Not even for five minutes. I may glimpse the games here and there as I go about my life for the next few weeks, as they’re difficult to avoid completely, but I don’t feel any great desire to tune in at all.

I earnestly hope they’re a total disaster.

This is unusual. Even for Beijing in 2008, a games I found almost as repulsive as these, the Olympic spirit briefly descended, and I found myself tuning in from time to time. Vancouver 2010 I felt compelled out of national pride to at least catch glimpses of, though I was living in Britain at the time and they weren’t much interested. London 2012 I felt at least a little obliged to watch. Sochi I honestly couldn’t care less. The figure skaters will lutz, the skiers will ski, and the lugers will luge, just as they always do, but they’ll do so without me to watch. Not that they care.

Except I don’t seem to be the only one. So few people have bought tickets that most of the events so far will have plenty of empty seats. Foreign delegations from other countries are pitifully small and insultingly low-ranking. Indeed, as in the case of the American delegation, they’ve often been explicitly picked to make a point about Russia’s hateful anti-gay law. The publicly visible leaders of the world are staying away.

Perhaps this is because the Sochi games are making explicit what has essentially been true about the Olympics all along. They’re a masturbatory exercise in bread and circuses put on by an arrogant and entitled global elite for our entertainment every four years to distract us from our very real problems. They’re a chance for people like Mitt Romney to enjoy some nice canapes in a convivial setting while watching each other’s horses get put through their paces.

This is particularly obvious at this games. Sochi is an out of the way resort town on the coast of the Black Sea, with nothing in particular to recommend it to the outside world’s attention beyond the presence of Vladimir Putin’s outrageous summer palace, and of those belonging to his tame oligarchs. It’s the closest Russia ever gets to beach weather, making it a ludicrous choice as a locale to host a winter Olympic games. Unless you’re a pseudo-fascist kleptocrat with something to prove. Like Vladimir Putin.

The International Olympic Committee, one of the most morally bankrupt and corrupt institutions on the planet, was happy to oblige. I don’t know who’s palms were greased in order to get the games awarded to Russia in the first place, but I have no doubt they’re good and slimy now.

They’ve cost 51 billion dollars so far: the most expensive Olympics in history. By way of comparison, Vancouver cost about 7. But perish the thought that this might be because of Russia’s endemic and constant corruption. No, Vlady just wanted to put on a hell of a show. Never mind the arrests, deportations, beatings, jailings, and in all probability killings of Putin’s political opponents, Chechen freedom fighters, Muslims, and gay kids. Watch the pretty athletes do their thing!

You may be reading this thinking I’m missing the point. That this is about sport, and celebrating the achievements of amateur athletes. That I should take some national pride in Canada’s performance at these games. Well I could give two shits about the heptathlon, or mogul skiing, or figure skating, or any of the other pointless trained-seal exercises on display here. I don’t spend a great deal of my day worrying about the affront to our national pride if we don’t get a decent medal count. My day will go on much as it would have already regardless of whether Canada wins a certain amount of blue ribbons at this glorified dog and pony show. I don’t even really care if we lose at hockey. (Probably the most heretical thing I’ve ever said, as a Canadian.) Guess what? It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that millions of Russians are suffering under a dictatorial president-for-life, and the international community is aiding and abetting his disgraceful display because it provides a moment’s distraction from their own crimes and follies.

I urge you to tune out this blaring noise as best you can. Focus on the important things. Let the games die.

On the Geneva Deal with Iran, Radical Islam, and the Fashionable Left

I remember the first time I met an Irishman. I was 16 and stupid, and after we’d talked for about five minutes, I immediately steered the conversation to the Troubles, assuming that he would find the subject as fascinating as I did. I think I mentioned how Ireland was a model for solving intractable conflicts, and praised the Good Friday Accords as a historic breakthrough, but don’t remember the details.

It’s the answer he gave me, rather, that I remember to this day, and which immediately came to mind when I read about the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. It was a laconic, sceptical ‘we’ll see;’ Nothing more.

We’ve been down this road many, many times before with Iran. And doubtless we will continue down it for some time. The chasms of disagreement still yawn fairly wide, and won’t be bridged because a paper has been signed in Geneva. Time will tell if President Rouhani’s new tone of dignity and respect is a genuine shift in attitudes within the Iranian establishment, or merely posturing to distract a credulous western public.

Though I will say that the pro-Iran lobby has been telling us for years that ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s senile blathering about Israel and the demon West was nothing to be concerned with. He didn’t speak for the Mullahs. He was a harmless figurehead. Cooler heads than the President’s prevailed in Iran. He was primarily a spokesperson to foreign nations, and shouldn’t be taken seriously, I remember being told.

It’s difficult now, after hearing so much of that, to believe that Rouhani’s tone of warmth is sincere. That the Mullahs who decide who wins Iranian elections haven’t just decided on a different tack in gulling the West, and that the olive branch Rouhani is extending doesn’t conceal a sword, which he is happy to use.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope it’s the real deal. Nothing would make me happier than a rapprochement with this ancient and beautiful civilization. It’s always been difficult to imagine a nation that has produced such treasures as Marjane Satrapi, Rumi, and Jian Ghomeshi, to range wildly over time and space, being quite what we’re told it is by Neo-Con hawks like Binyamin Netanyahu. This is an urbane, sophisticated society that actually has a few thousand years on the west in terms of its collective existence. It’s not to be infantilized. Edward Said is impossible to ignore.

But simply put, we don’t know who wields the levers of power in Tehran. If the political dynamic often seems opaque to Iranians who actually live there, how much more so must it be to us westerners, who glimpse it only through the filters of mainstream media propaganda, from both sides, and the blinkers imposed by our respective security establishments?

It’s most likely Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme religious leader, who is making the final decisions. But in that event, why isn’t he the one reaching out to the west convincing us of the need for peace between us? Why is that task being delegated to the ceremonial office of the President? Are they just playing on our gullibility and ignorance?

It’s important to remember that Iran’s Mullahs are playing a much longer game than we in the West are. Fundamentally secure in their positions of power, they aren’t thinking in terms of the next election cycle; they’re thinking in terms of the next hundred, even thousand years. They’re content to wait for what they want, which is the global triumph of their cruel, hateful brand of Islam, and feel no great rush to make it happen by tomorrow.

With that in mind, what’s more likely; that a set of committed religious fanatics have magically decided to stop hating Western values of individual liberty and separation between religion and the state? Or that they’re willing to don false smiles to get the boot of crippling sanctions off their necks, revive their economy, relieve the domestic pressure on their authoritarian rule, and get ready for their next bout with the Great Satan?

I don’t know. Only time will tell. But I do know that if we’re making the wrong call here, all we’re doing is punting the football of Iran’s nuclear ambitions down the field for another generation to deal with, as so many politicians are wont to do in lieu of actually taking a risk.

I consider myself a man of the left. Not a doctrinaire socialist, not a conventional liberal, but definitely on the side of progress, change, and social justice rather than that of tradition, hierarchy, and deference to established norms and elites.

But I often find myself lamenting the strange, Faustian, and ultimately suicidal pact that quite a few sections of the western left seem to have made with a radical, hateful current of Islamic thought; A strain of thinking, exemplified by Hamas in Gaza and the Mullahs in Iran, that is content to use the unthinking, credulous support of fashionably leftist western kids while it is useful to them, but ultimately wants to destroy the very freedoms that make it possible for those kids to ironically wear pink keffiyehs at peace raves while making out with their gay lovers and quaffing illegal substances like candy. Hamas, ISIS, the Islamic Republic and their ilk have seemingly become edgy, provocative, and hip. The sort of people whose smouldering good looks you can put on the cover of Adbusters.

But they’re not our friends, nor are they our partners in the war against colonial western imperialism. They’re the vanguard of an ideological tyranny that, were it ever to succeed in its wildest dreams of world domination, would make the old colonial empires of the West look like utopias of brotherly love and tolerance. And Iran is where they first assumed real political power. Try going to a peace rave in Tehran.

The members of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, to name just one organizational example of the strange psychosis gripping the western left, would have been among the first to hang from cranes had they the bad fortune to have formed in pre-1979 Tehran.

Yet the truth is that most of us are not ideological zealots bent on ordering other people’s lives for them. Most of us, no matter where in the world we come from, are capable of treating other people as individuals, entitled to basic human decency, and not as products of our complicated cultures and pasts. There is hope for peace, and hope for a better world. A bunch of old men in Switzerland, however, do not represent that hope. And we shouldn’t pretend they do.

It was probably best said by the aforementioned Marjane Satrapi, so I’ll leave you with a thought from her.

Wise words, and true.

An open letter to Vladimir Putin.

Mr. President.

Your Duma is about to present you with a bill to ban homosexual propaganda. Or, as it’s rather more euphemistically termed in the bill, ‘non-traditional sexual relations.’

88 percent of your public supports this bill. An unheard of number. Even in the west, I wouldn’t bet the farm on a politician to stand up to those kinds of odds. It would require a bravery I suspect you probably lack.

Of course, you know that number already. You’ve massaged it into being. You own the television stations, you own the radio, you own the social networks. People increasingly think what you want them to think.

Indeed, you probably had a hand in the drafting of this legislation, didn’t you? I can’t help but suspect that you at least know what it contains.

You don’t know me, and will probably never read this. But on the off-chance you ever do, from the bottom of my heart, I want you to know something.

You will never be rid of us.

The people whose very existence you are on the edge of criminalizing with this legislation? The people you’ve denied the right even to be spoken of? The right to be acknowledged in conversation?

We”ll always be there.

You can kill us all, sure. You can take every single one of the wonderful, courageous people who disrupted today’s proceedings outside your pathetic excuse for a parliament and kill them yourself, if you like. You can trawl through the internet for us and find us, one by one, and kill us all. You can kill everyone we’ve ever loved, and millions more who we’ll never meet. Camps, shootings, whatever you like.

We will still be there. We’ll be all around you.

We’ll be your friends, your neighbors, your staff, your ministers, your flunkeys, your supporters, even your tame priests. We’ll be smiling seraphically at you from the front row of every throng of adoring fans. We’ll be glaring at you with hatred from the protests outside your walls.

You will never escape us. Not you, nor any of your supporters who genuinely think this is an excellent law, and want you to pass it, will ever escape us.

We’ll haunt you from behind the eyes of your children.

But we’ll do it in silence. We’ll retreat into ourselves. You’ll never know what we’re thinking, or how we feel. We’ll live in a realm of unspoken longings and secrets. We’ll have our dreams, our hopes, our friends. Some of us may even get to love.

But we’ll know our dreams can never come true. We’ll see all our hopes crumble to ashes. We’ll never truly know if we’ve ever had a real friend. And most of us will never know love as anything other than a bitter charade. And those lucky few who learn differently will live in fear and persecution until the end of their days. We’ll never get to hold someone’s hand and walk down a street. We’ll never get to introduce anyone to our parents. We’ll never get married. Not for real, anyway.

And we’ll be your children. And there’ll be nothing you can do to help us, no way to ease the hell of our lives. Because we’ll live in such fear of you that you’ll never once even know who we really were.

This is all by way of warning. You could still not sign the law.

But by the time you read this, I suspect it will be too late.

Yours,

Nicholas Pullen