In 1967, two years before the Stonewall riots, the journalist Mike Wallace produced a CBS report entitled ‘The Homosexuals’. “Homosexuality is an enigma,” Wallace opens. “Even in this era of bold sexual mores it remains disturbing.” The reason for a public interest documentary on the subject is, he continues, the “growing concern about homosexuals in society, about their increasing visibility.” In what follows it is apparent that what was being said and assumed then about homosexuality is not so different from what is so often being said and assumed now. At least by those on the darker side of the debate. It raises an interesting question, nonetheless: are the current naysayers caught up in myths that predate the liberation era, or are they latching on to myths that still persist?
In an interview with a member of the homosexual rights movement, The Mattachine Society, Wallace asks, “What caused your sexual orientation?” The young man, Warren Atkins, responds by saying, “It really doesn’t concern me very much. I never would have imagined that if I had blond hair I would worry about what genes and what chromosomes caused my blond hair.” It is the same discussion that is going on now: the ‘born this way’ versus the ‘made that way’ (or ‘chose that way’) thinking.
The assumptions that are made about ‘the homosexual lifestyle’ are the startling similar to the current right-wing theories. In his editorial commentary, Wallace claims that homosexuals,
“are attracted mostly to the anonymity of the big city — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco. The permissiveness and the variety of the cities draw them. The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in, nor capable of, a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life — his “love life” — consists of a series of chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits and even on the streets of the city. The pick-up, the one-night stand. These are characteristic of the homosexual relationship.”
The idea that most homosexuals lead lifestyles rather than lives is no different, and neither is the assumption that there is a secret homosexual agenda working its way covertly into the public consciousness.
“There is even talk of a homosexual mafia in the arts, dominating various fields — theatre, music, dance, fashion. In painting, there is the commonly expressed notion that the homosexual’s influence has been corrupting. That pop art, for example, is the trivial vulgarization that goes hand in hand with camp — half hoax, half hostile, a means by which the homosexual, forced to live between two worlds, strikes back at an antagonistic society.”
This brand of cheap pop psychology is still being sold today by organisations such as Save California and coemmentators such as Rush Limbaugh.
There is an alternative voice in the documentary, that said, a rational voice in amongst the assumptions and innuendos. In responding to the idea that there’s a gay mafia – or the ‘gaystapo’ as today’s right-winger likes to call it – the writer Gore Vidal says,
“Well, it’s like most legends, I suppose there may be some basis for it. I don’t know how it would begin because the artist is the artist first, and he’s a homosexual or heterosexual second. But I have never seen any sign in any of the arts of there being a ‘homintern,’ as alarmed editorialists like to write.”
He also adds that if art has indeed been corrupted by the gay mafia, one has to ask “then why is it popular?” Touché.
It is interesting to look back on this documentary because no matter how far things have changed there is a great amount that is remarkably the same.