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Stonewall’s ‘Gift’

Desire untethered from anything but individual will is a universal solvent of social bonds

Sorry for another LGBT rights post today, but someone just sent this very important Washington Post essay to me, and hey, I’ve got to do my part for Pride Month.

Let’s back up a bit, all the way back to 2004 and thereabouts. Back then, people who couldn’t understand why people like me opposed same-sex marriage were in the habit of asking, “What does my gay neighbors’ marriage have to do with me?” People like me would patiently explain the legal consequences of gay marriage across any number of areas, and also explain the lines that would have to be crossed morally, philosophically, and culturally to normalize same-sex marriage.

Nobody cared. They would reply with, “Nobody has explained what my neighbors’ gay marriage has to do with me.” It was the kind of thing that had us banging our heads against the wall, because ordinary people just did not want to hear anything that contradicted what they wanted to believe. And certainly the news media did not want to hear anything that complicated their preferred narrative.

So here we are in 2019, five years after Obergefell. Gay marriage rights are secure in law and in popular culture. In the piece, gay rights activist and author Nathaniel Frank says that an effect of the movement has been to destroy taboos on sexual expression. It begins like this:

This month’s 50th anniversary of Stonewall, the Greenwich Village uprising that launched the modern LGBT movement, was always going to be complicated. What may seem like a straightforward chance to celebrate progress actually masks a fault line that has divided our movement since its start: whether our goal is equality or liberation, a fight for the right to be treated like everyone else or the freedom to be authentically ourselves. Do we seek belonging in the world as it is (including the military, marriage and parenting) or the chance to transform the world, by throwing off repressive norms, into a place where all of us — queer and non-queer alike — can be more free?


The LGBT movement, including the push for marriage equality, has also helped upend repressive attitudes about sex, establishing nonmarital sex — and sexual behavior once thought perverse — as largely uncontroversial. (Last year, for instance, Teen Vogue posted a guide to anal sex.) Inherent in queer desire is the belief that sexual pleasure is a good in itself and need not be justified by reproductive ends, a principle enshrined in law by gay rights court decisions affirming that sex and marriage are not instruments for reproduction but expressions of individual liberty and dignity. Just as its loudest opponents feared, granting same-sex couples access to marriage has further aligned the hoary institution with sexual choice, helping sever the link between sex and diapers — at just the moment when abortion rights face their greatest test in a generation.

Stonewall’s legacy isn’t just about making queer people look more like everyone else. It’s also, perhaps more mutinously, about making everyone else look a bit more queer. The movement’s enduring celebration of difference, personal authenticity and norm-questioning has allowed straight people to recognize the closet that confines them, too — the outdated pressure to perform prescribed gender roles, inhibit certain emotions, conceal their true selves in a thousand ways — and to envision a way to step outside its walls. This is what Joe Biden was referring to when, as vice president, he thanked LGBT advocates for “freeing the soul of the American people.” It’s what Barack Obama meant when, on the day the high court handed down its marriage ruling, he said, “When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

With marriage equality secured, the transgender and nonbinary movements found voice and visibility, crashing into inevitable backlash but also driving successful new challenges to norms and helping people transcend what some insisted were the narrow dictates of gender.


This was Stonewall’s gift to the world: the freedom to be — and express — our true selves even when we don’t conform to the norm. Our queer foremothers recognized what our nation’s founders understood: that equality and liberty are not in competition but are mutually reinforcing. It’s true that our fractious movement did not eliminate the nuclear family, or achieve radical inclusion for all, or replace marriage with a better institution (or with nothing at all); and certainly, our gains in equal treatment are fragile. Yet those gains are real and substantial and worth celebrating — and are, in their own way, revolutionary.

Emphases mine. Read the whole thing.

Understand what he’s saying here: Frank laments that the LGBT rights movement has not eliminated the nuclear family and marriage. He is glad that it has brought about Teen Vogue articles teaching teenage girls how to receive penises into their rectums. He glories in the fact that the movement is alienating an increasing number of people from their bodies, and leading them to mutilate their breasts and genitals with hormones and surgeries. And he concedes that people like me were right to say back in the day that gay marriage was going to de-nature marriage as a child-centered institution.

Frank makes clear what some of us have known for a long time: that for the last 25 years, LGBTs have been the Leninist vanguard of the Sexual Revolution. To an old-school Cassandra like me — one of the Cassandras who was mocked in the 2000s as a paranoid — this entire column reads like an I told you so, and a vindication of the Law of Merited Impossibility (“It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it”). Not that it does a bit of good now.

Still, it’s worth reflecting that if Maggie Gallagher had published a column making the same claims in, say, 2006, the column and its author would have been denounced for fear-mongering and bigotry.

As I’ve said in this space many times, the gay marriage campaign succeeded so thoroughly and so rapidly in large part because it built on what heterosexuals had already come to believe was true about sex and marriage. Gay marriage was inevitable, because straights had already queered sex and marriage via the Sexual Revolution. Yet gay marriage was a Rubicon for our society because it took those radical shifts past the breaking point, and locked them in to law and culture. All that followed was predictable, and it was in fact predicted, not because anybody had a crystal ball, but because it made logical sense.

Once again, read this line from Nathaniel Frank:

Inherent in queer desire is the belief that sexual pleasure is a good in itself and [sex and marriage are] expressions of individual liberty and dignity.

Desire untethered from anything but individual will is a universal solvent of social bonds.

It has never been more important to affirm — and to affirm with our lives — the truth that the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton learned back in the 1980s, from a Polish Catholic woman:

And she brought home to me, then and subsequently, what is perhaps the most important truth conveyed by religion, and one that Monsignor Gilbey, incidentally, had built onto the foundations of his life — the truth that sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory between, and that nothing matters more than customs, ceremonies and rites with which we lift the body above its material need and reshape it as soul.

Contra the Stonewall dogma, sexual pleasure is not a good in itself; it is either consecration or desecration. This is the divine wisdom that is the real gift to humanity — a liberating gift that Stonewall (and other decisive battles of the Sexual Revolution) stole from us.

(In fairness, I can easily imagine that there are some married gay couples who would affirm that, and who reject the sexual nominalism and voluntarism of the gay mainstream. But those fuddies are on the fringes of the LGBT movement, just as heterosexuals who affirm the consecration-or-desecration principle are increasingly on the fringes of the mainstream of this pornified culture.)

UPDATE: As usual, a reader chimed in to say that I’m “cherry-picking” extremists to make the movement look bad. These people never, ever quit. I can’t decide if they’re being cynical, or if they really are that naive. Reader Nate J. has their number. He says, in his comment:

I keep hearing that this “fringe” stuff doesn’t “represent most people” in the movement, and yet the movement continues to advance apace, remorselessly and with less ground for dissent.

If you don’t understand that today’s fringe is tomorrow’s mainstream, you’re being obtuse. You’re not even engaging with reality. Honestly, I don’t even understand why people like you spend so much time coming here to a conservative publication, reading (maybe) Rod’s culture war stuff and insisting that what he’s seeing with his lying eyes isn’t really happening. Frankly, it’s creepy, obsessive, and weirdly defensive over issues that supposedly, as you insist, do not even exist.

What really strikes me is that the left refuses to step up and claim its total cultural victory. You’ve gotten everything. A major, national publication can run an essay by a prominent gay author pondering how to push the LGBTQRSTUV bulldozer into the final crumbling pillars of norms and decency and order, and all you can do is live in your alternate reality. I suppose when you build an entire political ideology on the victimhood of identity politics, you have to present a permanent underdog image. You cannot let the world know that you are the dominant power.

UPDATE.2: USA Today reports the result of a new Harris Poll showing that Millennials are less comfortable interacting with LGBTs. It’s a remarkable piece of advocacy journalism, in that it’s a long story (by USAT standards) that not once questions the activist organizations’ narrative. Could it be that young people are sick of being beaten over the head with constant propaganda, and told that unless they enthusiastically affirm all of it, they’re nothing but bigots? Maybe that has something to do with it?



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