The Legitimate and the Political

The Legitimate and the Political

For more than a month now, we have been contemplating a piece explaining how and why the LGBTQ+ movement went off the rails and is, as a result, starting to see considerable backlash today, for the first time in decades.

Part of the problem, as we have written in these pages previously, is that the stakeholder capitalism/woke capitalism issue has finally intruded on Americans’ lives in a significant way, as companies pushed their “public facing” LGBTQ projects to new extremes in order to satisfy pressure groups whose ratings affect ESG scores.

But there’s more to it than that – much more.  And we have struggled a bit with how best to frame the issue.

Fortunately for us, Bridget Phetasy has written a terrific piece for The Spectator that not only describes much of the current problem but also gives us an excuse to put our thoughts down in 1s and 0s, solving our “framing” issue.  Phetasy writes:

[W]hat happened to Pride? After decades of progress for gay rights, growing acceptance of gay marriage and the normalization of same-sex relationships, Pride is unexpectedly political again. Why?

In search of an answer, I spoke to prominent LGBT thinkers and writers, many of them dissenting voices when judged against the views of many LGBT advocacy groups. Their answers surprised me. Across the board they all said some version of “this was inevitable.”

“When it comes to gay issues, conservatives largely lost the culture war,” Katie Herzog observes. “But something about recent trends has reignited that passion — and issues that seemed resolved are up for debate again. I guess the Nineties really are back.”

“The core reason for the backlash is pretty simple: children,” Andrew Sullivan explains. “The attempt to indoctrinate children in gender ideology and to trans them on the verge of puberty has changed the debate. Start indoctrinating and transing children… and you will re-energize one of the oldest homophobic tropes there is: ‘gays are child molesters.’”

Glenn Greenwald largely agrees: “What destroyed the culture war consensus was their cynical and self-interested decision to transform the LGBT cause into one that no longer focused on the autonomy of adult Americans to live freely — which most people support — but instead to demand the right to influence and indoctrinate other people’s children.”

“They are calling them ‘trans kids’ and medicalizing them at an early age. Lying about puberty blockers. Lying about young girls getting irreversible surgery and so on,” says trans man Buck Angel.

Excellent.  This gets to the heart of the question “why are people pushing back?”  But it leaves unanswered the question of “why these groups went so far in the first place.”  Fortunately, Phetasy continues:

We’ve arrived here thanks to a confluence of forces. Perpetual victimhood pushed by activist groups that need a reason to exist and continue collecting money. The corporatization of Pride. The hijacking of the movement by gender ideology….

“What changed is that LGBT activist groups could not afford to obtain victory,” Greenwald says. “When activist groups win, their reason for existing, and their large budgets and salaries, dry up. They always have to push debates into whatever places Americans resist. They also have to be losing, have a claim to victimhood, a reason to assert that they are righting the bigotry of Americans.”…

“I am so upset that my community has been co-opted and has been used for some other agenda,” Angel told me. “The work we have done to get here is profound and should never be forgotten. All we want is to live our lives just like you, but of course that’s not what you see now with the people driving the LGBTQIA+++++ bus.”

For our money, the keys to understanding all of this can be found in the last sentence quoted above.  “All we want is to live our lives just like you, but of course that’s not what you see now with the people driving the LGBTQIA+++++ bus.”  There is today – and has been for decades – a profound difference between what gay men and women want and what the activists who purport to speak for them want.  The overwhelming majority of gay men and women want the same things that the overwhelming majority of NOT-gay men and women want, namely nice, normal, happy, and prosperous lives.  They don’t want to be manning the proverbial barricades forever.  They don’t want to be outsiders looking in at “normal” society.  They want – understandably – to be an integral and thoroughly unremarkable part of normal society.  The catch, of course, is that this is precisely the direction American society was moving, and that freaked out the activists – the “people driving the  LGBTQIA+++++ bus.”

Glenn Greenwald suggests the freakout is derived from the fear of losing power, money, and prestige.  And while this is true, it is, again, only part of it.

It’s important to understand that in this country, over the last six decades, “activism” has always had two components: legitimate and political.  The legitimate component of the Civil Rights movement demanded an end to Jim Crow, an end to discriminatory government policy, and the extension of equal opportunity to men and women of all races, colors, and creeds.  The political side demanded compensating inequality, preferential treatment, reparations, etc.  In the gay rights movement, the legitimate component demanded an end to the criminalization of same-sex relationships and behavior, equality before the law, equal government recognition of committed, monogamous relationships, and so on.  The political side demanded public approval of all behaviors, coercion of universal acceptance, preferential treatment in the face of religious beliefs, etc.

Now, to be clear, the “political” components of the various movements are not necessarily illegitimate, by definition.  They may be legitimate, as adjudicated by law and public opinion.  The difference, however, is that the political components are all animated by the desire for the accumulation of power – especially in a zero-sum atmosphere.  Reparations, for example, are not just about righting historical wrongs but also about punishing the descendants of historical wrongdoers.  They’re about accumulating power both absolutely and comparatively.  The same can be said of the activist demand for comprehensive trans-inclusivity.  It’s about power as much as anything else, power generated both by the elevation of the activist faction and the demotion of any who resist.

In this, we can see why Greenwald’s explanation is incomplete.  The political component of the activist LGBTQ movement is not expanding its efforts solely to maintain and perpetuate the grift but also because it wishes to elevate some groups while also punishing others.

It is important to note that the political component of the various civil rights movements comes directly and almost exclusively from outside of those movements, from those who wish to use the movements to pursue other, more severe ends.  The New Left and its self-appointed intellectual guide, Herbert Marcuse, saw the civil rights movements as the perfect opportunity to update the flagging Cultural Marxism of the post-WWI era and thus to invigorate a new revolutionary class.

As we have written before, Marcuse’s book One-Dimensional Man was a eulogy for the Long March, a primal scream in frustration at the selfishness of the proletariat and the effectiveness of the capitalist economy.  It was also a blueprint, in its own right, for advancing the cause and reenergizing the revolutionary mindset.

Marcuse conceded that the capitalist system was simply too good at providing goods and services that made the masses comfortable and happy and thus deprived them of ever knowing or caring about their true oppressed consciousness.  Workers had become one-dimensional consumers, distracted from their fate by their egos.  And thus, to facilitate the revolution, the Left would have to recruit an entirely new revolutionary class, in this case, the socially oppressed: minorities, women, sexual subgroups, etc.

As the years passed, however, the LGBTQ constituency of this new revolutionary class messed everything up, calling the entire theory into question.  As it turned out, gay men and women to were simply too normal to be part of Marcuse’s sexually motivated subgroups.  Marcuse and the New Left proved to be shockingly prejudiced on two counts, their presumption that homosexuality was invariably “deviant” and their presumption that the average American would always believe that was so.  It just didn’t work out that way.  In time, Americans accepted homosexuality.  And more the point, after their legitimate ends were achieved, gay men and women decided that they didn’t want to carry on the fight.  All they wanted, as Buck Angel noted, was to “live their lives.”

In turn, the politically motivated activists had to find a new, more universally “threatening” group to fold into the revolutionary class.  They settled on “trans” activists and did so specifically and enthusiastically at the expense of their erstwhile L, G, and B allies.  Last month. in a long post on this subject, Andrew Sullivan, the openly gay and nominally conservative writer cited above by Bridget Phetasy, put it this way:

It was the most speedily successful civil rights story in memory. Its case for equality was simple and clear: including us in existing institutions needn’t change anything in heterosexual life. “Live and let live” in equality and dignity was the idea. And the most powerful force behind this success was the emergence of so many ordinary gays and lesbians — of all races, religions, backgrounds, classes, and politics — who told their own story. America discovered what I had discovered the first time I went into a gay bar: these people were not the stereotypes I was told about. They were not some strange, alien tribe. They were just like every other human, part of our families and communities; and we cared about each other….

And now? Back in culture war hell.

If you read the MSM, you’ll be told this war is back because the GOP has, for cynical reasons, become an even more unhinged hate-machine, now dedicated once again to “targeting the freedom and dignity of queer people,” as one NYT columnist writes today. You will, in fact, almost never see a news story that isn’t premised on this idea. And it’s obviously true that some on the right have never really accepted gay equality and have jumped at a new opening to undo gay integration and dignity — and the rawness of some of the homophobia and transphobia out there right now is palpable. The resurrection of bathroom bills and the move to curtail the rights of trans adults are repulsive and dumb.

But when you examine the other issues at stake — public schools teaching the concepts of queer and gender theory to kindergartners on up, sex changes for children before puberty, the housing of biological males with women in prisons and rape shelters, and biological males competing with women in sports — you realize we are far beyond what the gay rights movement once stood for. It’s these initiatives from the far left that are new; and the backlash is quite obviously a reaction to the capture of the gay rights movement by queer social justice activists.

These activists, marinated in critical gender and queer theory, have picked several unnecessary fights and, especially since the convulsions of 2020, have pushed and pushed a woke revolution until a dangerous backlash was inevitable.

In other words, the new activists are not simply the gay equivalents of the “race-hustling poverty pimps” J.C. Watts derided three decades ago.  They are different.  They see themselves as the iskra, the spark, the vanguard of the revolution.  They neither know nor care what kind of revolution it is they might spark.  They care only that they tear down what exists and punish the “bigots.”

They will, of course, end up doing the opposite.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.