There I was flexing my defensive muscles, waiting for the tsunami of hatred to come my way once my new book hit the shelves, when I discovered that not only did I have some great reviews for Straight Expectations (which rails against the complacency and conservatism of today’s gay rights movement), but the book has an American sister. Perhaps the timid capitulation to straight folk is about to turn, both here and in the US, the birthplace – and now perhaps the graveyard – of the gay liberation movement?
The Tolerance Trap, by US academic and political activist Suzanna Walters, has ‘disappointment’ running right the way through it. But Walters does not complain, rather she offers a way forward. Delivering her gripes without whinging negativity, Walters writes tight prose with sharp humour and observation. This much needed book looks at the common-held views of the gay rights lobby and tips them upside down, clearing out every last crumb of every last old chestnut.
There may have been significant legal victories, argues Walters, but there is still a huge amount of bigotry and much left to do. A number of US states do not recognise equal marriage; gays in the military are still stigmatised to a degree; violence and abuse towards LGBT individuals is still a significant problem; and sports stars coming out is met by media coverage that borders on the frenzied.
‘Breathless tales of the triumph of tolerance and self-satisfied encomiums on our post-gay new world dominate our national discourse,’ writes Walters, ‘with dissenting voices to be found only on the wary queer left and the furious Christian right.’
According to Walters, Hollywood and TV gays are the privileged few; marriage does not benefit those of us that live on the margins. The world is still full of folk who hate and wish us harm, and yet we are fed the line that all is now well because in some countries the legislators have decided we should be allowed to marry and adopt children.
Part 11 of the book, ‘Do These Genes Make Me Look Gay?’, tackles my biggest bugbear of the contemporary gay rights movement, and one that I deal with in depth in my book.
‘If marriage is conjured as the Oz of queer liberation,’ she writes, ‘then biological and genetic arguments are the yellow brick road, often providing the routes and the rationale for civil rights.’ But the ‘we were born this way, so give us our rights and leave us alone’ argument does not work, argues Walters, in fact this approach can, and does, backfire.
Just because those heterosexuals that believe in an innate cause of same-sex attraction are more likely to be tolerant of gays than those that argue it is a ‘lifestyle choice’ does not mean, argues Walters, that it is either a correct or even strategic argument to use in order to tackle bigotry.
‘Tolerance as a theme of contemporary gay rights is dependent on biological arguments much as plants need sunshine to flourish.’
Tolerance is a bad word to Walters, because it allows religious ‘objections’ to queer lives to remain in place. I certainly do not wish to be ‘tolerated’. We tolerate back pain, bad wine and crap TV, or, as Walters puts it, ‘Tolerance pushes for marriage equality and simultaneously assures anxious allies that it won’t change their marriages or their lives.’
Tolerance is the last, not the first thing, we need. This book is a call to arms. Read it, whoever you are. It can be applied to any social movement. ‘Not only can tolerance be invoked and then undermined by intolerant actions; it hides behind a veneer of civility to perpetuate inequality.’
As I say in my book, we have gone from ‘shame’ to ‘same’; from ‘the picket line to the picket fence’, and yet there are currently more than 2.7 billion people that live in countries where being gay is a crime. How we achieve true equality matters. That we are currently getting it wrong is the theme running through The Tolerance Trap. If we go for toleration, we will be prevented from truly integrating. If we integrate, we can’t liberate. The rainbow is not enough. Walters is so, so right.
Julie Bindel is the author of Straight Expectations: What Does It Mean To Be Gay Today? (Guardian Books)