Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dan Choi

There is a bit of glee in online gay lib circles tonight because Dan Choi, the gay military hero, handcuffed himself to the White House fence. He was arrested and he will be charged.

This was a terrible mistake. It is, as we used to call it in the 70s, adventurism. Lt. Choi has placed himself above the movement, requiring that the movement adjust to his personal decisions. Obviously, sometimes that is the right thing to do. When he came out on Rachel Maddow, he took a personal decision that gave a face to a social movement. He knew he stood to suffer, and he bravely faced the consequences of his actions. Recently, in the wake of the Obama administration finally stirring ever so slightly to life on the DADT question, he returned to active duty to the warm embrace of his comrades.

Now he has made himself ineligible for military service. He committed a crime ... albeit one of civil disobedience ... in front of the Commander-in Chief's official residence. This is beyond courage and into the realm of recklessness. When he came out, he gave voice to his closeted and hidden comrades. When he chained himself to the fence, he forced them to seek shelter.

The curiosity of the current phase in gay liberation stems from two contradictions.

Firstly, with gay marriage and DADT, we have finally come to a point where our movement is clearly and unambiguously demanding normalization, admission to the ordinary and the expected. This is why some on the left have belittled gay marriage, and bizarrely why some gave ultraleft cover to Obama's embrace of the bigoted pastor Warren because he tries to save children in Africa ... in other words, why worry about silly old marriage when children are dying. Back in my day in the gay movement, the ultralefts denounced Leonard Matlovich, the Dan Choi of era, because they were against the military.

The ultralefts are wrong ... and they are few, so I have to confess that this is a bit of a straw man argument. The point of it, though, is that now is a moment when we are clearly showing the middle middle of American life that homosexuality is not a threat to anyone, that it is normal, that we just want in. The decorated military man, stiff-spined, clean-cut, clear-voiced, speaks those words into the living rooms of millions. But he throws all that out when he chains himself to that fence.

The second contradiction is the yet-again recrudescence of the bizarre ultra-right just as America finds itself broadly turning a corner. I think the ultrarights are also few, though not as few as the ultralefts. But the media makes them into many. I think that creates a frustration on the left. There were comments today about how slim was the media coverage of the occupation of Nancy Pelosi's office by a crew of ENDA supports; if teabaggers had occupied an office it would be the biggest story of the week. Certainly true, but it again misses the point. The teabaggers are extremists; they call for executions, tax evasion, secession, armed resistance. We have the opportunity of showing ourselves as sane in a moment of mass political insanity. How dare my brothers and sisters occupy the office of one our supporters in the very days when she is desperately trying to gather votes to pass health care reform? Are they nuts; do they not have any sense of timing? If I did not know better, I would say they were in the pay of the teabaggers because these friends of ours are in the bizarre position of playing into the hands of the reactionaries at a moment of the highest political drama.

There is something a little infantile in these two mistimed actions today, as if they could not bear being out of the spotlight while the entire nation is gripped by the fight over health care.

Dan Choi made an error today. He lost his sense of timing, his strategic vision, and his iconic status. It will be for naught; it will not help the fight against DADT. I doubt it will hurt, but it will not help. It will certainly hurt him. He threw a lot of "cred" away for nothing, and he did it independently, without consultation, on his own. There is a fine line between the heroic and foolhardy, and that line is motly about an excess of ego. I think this is a case in point.

Adventurism is always an error. Lt. Choi is a military man. He ought to know that. Sad.