The Gay Shame Movement Should Be Ashamed


Arrests of gay protesters outside a San Francisco Pride event last weekend have highlighted the Gay Shame movement for what it really is, says Rob Buchanan.


Last weekend in San Francisco, a number of gay protesters were arrested outside a controversial event. Was it convention of Russian businessmen? Or perhaps a religious fundamentalist gay cure ceremony? No, it was a gay event – a ‘prison-themed’ Pride party. And the gays arrested weren’t just demonstrating their real disgust for the event; they were also drawing attention to a seldom discussed, often misunderstood wing of gay activism – the so-called Gay Shame movement.

The movement began in 1998 in Brooklyn, New York in an artists’ collective and its manifesto is as diverse and fluid as its proponents. But there is one solid touchstone. Gay Shamers’ primary opposition is to the mainstreaming of homosexuality, especially in what they believe is the commodification and dilution of the queer culture to serve straight society. They see this as exploitation that queers buy into by making otherwise more extreme elements of gay life more family-friendly and straight pleasing.

Gay Shamers believe that LGBT people are being traitors to themselves by playing ‘the straight game’, for example by seeking to get married and have children. They also say that Pride is selling out. It is as much an artistic movement as it is political one, and ultimately Gay Shame is the antimatter version of Gay Pride

Regarding their recent protests at the San Francisco prison party, the Gay Shame movement wrote: “While trans women and gender nonconforming people of colour are kidnapped, tortured, brutalised and murdered by the prison industrial complex, San Francisco Pride have once again turned these genocidal practices into a cash-making joke.”

Point taken. Maybe they were right to draw attention to the paradox of the gays lining up to be thrown into faux prison for kicks, whilst there is still so much intolerance in the world, and that particular system.

I agree with the Gay Shame movement that in many cities around the world Pride has almost completely turned into a corporate whore. Sometimes this is at the cost of tradition and history. Sometimes it marginalises the very people Pride seeks to celebrate, and that is a travesty. But while this is true, the mainstreaming of homosexuality has also brought enfranchisement in terms of rights, protection and respect.

The Gay Shame movement, from its lofty, artistic ivory tower seems to willfully ignore this fact. It’s all a little too pretentious and contradictory, to my mind, and it seems less about blasting queer consumerism than it is about rebranding it. I also question the sincerity of many of their convictions. Have they seriously thought through their ideas for a long-term vision, or are they just throwing their sex toys out of the pram?

Whilst I can respect ideological concerns about the assimilation of gay culture, I totally disagree with the Gay Shame opposition to same-sex marriage. I think it’s highly hypocritical that the movement would actively seek to deny the choice to everyone, whilst lamenting some pseudo-oppressive nature in society. Far from becoming liberators, they are seeking to enforce just another type of repression.

They make a lot of theatrical noise about the ‘problems’ they perceive, but seem quite thin on the ground with solutions. When movements have an artistic aesthetic at their core, the line between genuine protest and narcissistic sensationalism are blurred.

There’s the air of the rebellion complex too, as if these people’s lives are a little too comfortable and they’re not comfortable with that. Maybe the Gay Shame movement has built its identity on being an enfant terrible and now that LGBT equality is closer, in the West at least, it feels the need to reassert that identity.

Then there’s the inescapable level of internalised homophobia in the movement, which is apparent in much of their headline-grabbing guerrilla tactics. For one thing they seem to have little time for the more camp among us. Likewise, there appears to be a childish heterophobia involved too.

It seems slightly decadent and faintly ridiculous that these highly privileged intelligentsia and ‘artists’ can choose ceremonial targets for their ever-so-hip vitriol at a time when literally millions of LGBT people are facing life and death struggles. Far from being champions for liberation, movements like Gay Shame, through their irresponsible actions, could not only drive wedges between LGBT groups, but could alienate potential heterosexual allies to the cause of equality.

Might all that energy and righteous indignation not be better channeled towards presenting a united front for gay rights, rather than acting like spoilt children with megaphones? Equality, dignity and respect are not avant-garde aesthetics or coffee shop philosophies; they are basic human rights that run to the very core of our reasons for living.

© 2014 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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