Monday, May 15, 2006

Conspiracy [II, 13]

Because of Western society’s taboo on deviant sexual expression, those who pursue it have been historically constrained to adopt coded and clandestine means of communication. Thus in the nineteenth century the French critic Charles Auguste Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869) wrote of a freemasonry of love. In twentieth-century America the slang term mason (borrowed from hobo slang) has enjoyed some currency with the meaning “homosexual.” In the late 1940s the organizational proposals of the pioneering gay activist Harry Hay led to the formation of the Mattachine Society. These arrangements were based on both the Freemasons and the Communist Party (in which Hay had been active). The term Mattachine served to disguise the aim of the group to outsiders, a tactic which struck some as devious, however necessary it may have been in that repressive era. To homophobes the very existence of gay organizations, even with transparent names, seems conspiratorial by definition. For this reason, these opponents speak of a gay agenda, as if there were some central body in which gays and lesbians gathered clandestinely to draw up a list of desiderata, and then set out to achieve them.

This notion, redolent of the appalling anti-Jewish fraud known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, had an early avatar in the 1950s phantom of a Homintern or secret international society. (The reference is to the Comintern, a coordinating agency created by Joseph Stalin to promote world Communism.) In point of fact the various international homosexual organizations have been too loosely organized to fufill any such subversive function. The belief in a great homosexual conspiracy probably reflects a guilt formation on the part of some heterosexuals, who unconsciously fear that their bigotry merits such a response.

In a more informal sense gay cliques have developed in offices and other organizational settings. Initially, the members recognize one another by gaydar. Some of these cliques were indeed clandestine, meeting a minimalist definition of conspiracy. Nowadays they tend to be replaced by gay caucuses, among journalists, college teachers, and businesspeople, to name three groups. As these groups operate openly, often with the encouragement of the employer, they cannot be termed conspiracies.


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