What is most difficult to face, but increasingly obvious as gay visibility provokes containment, but not equality, is that homophobes enjoy feeling superior, rely on the pleasure of enacting their superiority, and go out of their way to resist change that would deflate their sense of supremacy. Homophobia makes heterosexuals feel better about themselves. It's not fear - it's fun. We know from photographs of happy picnicking white families laughing underneath the swinging body of a tortured, lynched black man, or giggly white U.S. soldiers leading naked Iraqis on leashes, or terrified humiliated Jews surrounded by laughing smiling Nazis that human beings love being cruel. They enjoy the power, and go far beyond social expectation to carry out the kind of cruelty that makes them feel bigger. In short, homophobia is not a phobia at all. It is a pleasure system.
As the conversation continued it was clear that these were divided people. As artists as well as queers, these people wanted to be able to think in radical ways, to have insights, to realize, to make work that was outside of social assumptions, to be radical people who could-like the weary ACT UPers-achieve justice in some fashion. They admired their predecessors who had created change through confrontation, alienation, and truth telling. But their professional instincts led them in different directions: accommodation, social positioning, even unconscious maneuvering of the queer content they did have so that it was depoliticized, personalized, and not about power.
The chain booksellers, like Barnes and Noble, began to dominate the market, and they instituted a “gay and lesbian” section in many of their branch stores. This section was never positioned at the front of the store with the bestsellers. It was usually on the fourth floor hidden behind the potted plants. What this meant in practical terms was that those of us who had the integrity to be out in our work found our books literarily yanked off of the “Fiction” shelves and hidden on the gay shelves, where only “gay” people wanting “gay” books would dare to tread. It was an instant undoing of all the progress we had made to be treated as full citizens and a natural, organic part of American intellectual life.…I felt very strongly, and still do, that authentic lesbian literature should be represented at all levels of publishing, including taking its rightful place as a natural organic part of mainstream American intellectual life. The corporate lockdown went into overdrive just at the moment that this integration was beginning to take place. This positioning is essential for so many reasons, least of which is the right of writers of merit to not be excluded from financial, emotional, and intellectual development simply because they have the integrity to be out in their work. Second is the right of gay people to be in dialogic relationships with straights - where they read and identify with our work as we are asked to with theirs. And finally, that even at the height of the strength of the lesbian subculture, most gay people find out about gay things through the mainstream media.
Strangely, the subsequent AIDS works that have become iconic in our culture rarely mention the movement, or the engaged community of lovers, but both formations were inseparable from the crisis itself. Now, looking back, I fear that the story of the isolated helpless homosexual was one far more palatable to the corporations who control the reward system in the arts.The more truthful story of the American mass - abandoning families, criminal governments, indifferent neighbors - is too uncomfortable and inconvenient to recall. The story of how gay people who were despised, had no rights, and carried the burden of a terrible disease came together to force the country to change against its will, is apparently too implicating to tell. Fake tales of individual heterosexuals heroically overcoming their prejudices to rescue helpless dying men with AIDS was a lot more appealing to the powers that be, but not at all true.