I Have a Manifesto!
Well, it’s nice to know that in the eyes of one reviewer I have something in tangentially in common with (“liberal”) Democratic presidential primary candidate Howard Dean in 2004, after he lost. Remember his “I have a scream”! Of course, I wouldn’t run for partisan office in the first place. (Correction: I actually entertained running in Minnesota for US Senate as the Libertarian Party candidate in 2000, but that died quickly.) Maybe what I have is a caterwaul.
Of course, the title of this blog refers to my first book (Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back), first self-published in July 1997, which I boastfully called “The Manifesto” (a practical synonym for the uncomplimentary word above). Yes, I do have an attitude about it. In fact, friends and coworkers called it The Manifesto for a few years.
First, this book is almost ten years old now. All non-fiction books that offer big time analysis and make major recommendations on public policy tend to become obsolete, or at least problematic, with time. Furthermore, they have the problem of hitting moving targets. Perceptions of these issues change in the years since publication. Typically, in many cases, sales slow down significantly after a couple of years.
Non-fiction tomes are often authored (sometimes ghost written) by celebrities (or ex-celebrities). It is true that there is a formal and competitive professionalism (and due diligence, assuming no easy entry) in the way these books are edited (professionally, by well paid people) and produced; the results nonetheless are far from perfect. Sometimes they are analytical and offer “what to do about this problem” arguments. Usually, when these books come from major trade publishers, their political stances tend to be one-sided. Other books (especially many by closeted gay celebrities) are in the format of memoirs, linear non-fiction stories that have the natural logic of well-conceived novels. They actually have “plots.” Reviewers tend to like memoirs that are shorter and that offer less in “solve the world’s problems” fixes. Bill Clinton’s “My Life” is indeed a big exception.
My book is unusual compared with all of these. I was not a celebrity (maybe I would have become one had I continued piano as a boy – I should have). I mixed personal narrative with somewhat abstract arguments in about equal weights. There is an inherent contradiction: I am arguing for non-partisan objectivity, and yet I must come up with some kind of proposed solution to the issues I take on.
One question that comes up, what have I done or undergone to justify putting myself on center stage for a while? The main answer to that is in the “narrative chapters” 1, 2, and 4. I discuss my explusion from the College of William and Mary as a freshman in 1961 for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean, then go on to relate my reparative “psychiatric” treatment at NIH, and then, ironically, military service, getting myself drafted to redeem myself according to the values of the time. Then, in 1993, a naive President Clinton would try to lift the ban on gays in the military. I would become involved in the debate (at one point descending into a submarine myself), as the events that had occurred in my young adulthood thirty years earlier bore a curious, if ironic parallel. The long Chapter 4 would relate my involvement in the debate and my own analysis of the convoluted legal and constitutional issues of the old policy and then of “don’t ask don’t tell.” But the last point is that all the other social and political issues (leading to the triangulation of liberal, conservative, and libertarian approaches) all relate back to some of the arcane points that come up in analyzing DADT. That was to become my contribution.
I started the book in the autumn of 1994, and had written these three narrative chapters by the early spring of 1995. At the time, Chapter 4 was Chapter 3. I experimented with various organizations and came up with a two-part scheme, where the three narrative chapters would be followed by four analytical essays or “epistles.” (I whimsically thought of this as like a sonata followed by a theme and variations, as in Beethoven’s last piano sonata.) The material build up over the military ban in layers of encapsulation.
As an aside, I even recall an assignment in sophomore English in college (at George Washington University), where we had to hand in an “annotated bibliography” of the term paper we would do later in the semester. Nobody understood the point of this assignment at first. The professor was trying to teach twenty year olds the idea of abstraction – journalistic or research objectivity, to be sure – but also to look at one’s work from a distance, rather than from inside the topic (which could be anything reasonable of the student’s choosing).
I submitted the book to an agent in May, 1996, got considerable detailed feedback, and restructured the book into its current format. I made the DADT chapter the fourth, and inserted a narrative chapter about the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in the AIDS crisis. The last two chapters had relative little narrative and were mostly analysis and “conclusions.” After some discussion, I self-published in July 1997. I did hire a proofreader. I did make a lot of later changes, especially in the last two chapters, as many news events broke out in early 1997 (again, hitting a moving target), such as the airing of the CDA (Communications Decency Act) before the Supreme Court.
Because I knew that these issues would evolve quickly, I developed a website to keep adding or modifying the footnotes. I also allowed the user to browse and search the text online. The footnote files can be accessed in a self-explanatory manner from this link. These help answer the criticisms that the material becomes misleading or dated.
In 1998, I would author a short supplement called “Our Fundamental Rights”, and that condenses much of the DADT material into less than 100 pages (no longer a screed).
In 2000, I would run out of my first printing of DADT and would place it with a print-on-demand cooperative publisher.
In 2002 I wrote another collection of essays called “Do Ask Do Tell: When Liberty Is Stressed,” to deal in large part with the issues raised by 9/11 and the emerging free speech debates (such as COPA, the Child Online Protection Act).
Now, as to the “incoherence” of my position. I am supposedly neither a conservative, libertarian, or liberal. Maybe that is good. Just say, independent. Labels don’t matter. But let me digest the “manifesto” to a homily. The liberal element does come with a concern about social justice, inequality, and unequal burdens, and ominous concerns about the environment. The conservative element comes from recognizing that freedom cannot be taken for granted, and that burdens have to be shared at a personal level rather than just by bartering among groups. The libertarian part comes from limiting government, and encouraging market or private solutions, since government solutions are often easily corrupted for the benefit of one interest. It is a precarious balance. One can go down paths of thought (especially dealing with “meritocracy” and “moral hazard”) that lead potentially to scary conclusions in certain circumstances.
Then we come back to my “attitude” and technique for presenting all of this. It is true, before the William and Mary narrative I do start with an introduction that is somewhat deliberately egotistical. (Just look at the title). I set out my own “objectivistic” view of gay rights as logically predicated on hyper-individualism and absolute personal responsibility (an ideal impossible to attain, perhaps). I characterize homophobia as predicated on the perception that gays are deliberately evading the family responsibility that would come from competing according to the norms of gender roles. (It’s more subtle than that.) And at the end of the Introduction I am a bit “in the face” about refusing to play ball with other interests and show “solidarity.” Obviously, some people see this as an affront or a threat to turf. The visitor can look at the last paragraph online now.
The novel-like part of the narrative starts then with the first chapter, and that should establish my personal standing. It is true that in places, I like to encapsulate various principles with metaphors that strike some people as bizarre or as gratuitous (particularly when dealing with emotional issues, where persons more directly affected than I am are vulnerable to offense). And in a few spots, I may have stretched the limits of grammar, English, at least, with my invention of new idioms. (Sometimes it may be easier to do this in, say, French.) True, one doesn’t do this in formal academic writing. And I suspect that the military ban and issues over gay marriage and gay custody are generating a lot of formal academic dissertations (as in law, political science or sociology) today. I hope so. (In the 1970s, a workplace friend often spoke of "inevitable epigrams" and invented the proverb, "Verbosity promulgates egregious epigrammatization.")
A good question is, if I started over today, what would the conclusion be? The huge “Right to the Pursuit of Happyness (sic) Amendment”? Of course, a lot has happened since the 90s, including Lawrence v. Texas and attempts to misuse the amending process to stop gay marriage. I understand that if you pick that up now, it doesn’t read right. In 1999, I posted a “Bill of Rights 2” proposal that is in my second book. I plan to take this question (about the Bill of Rights and constitutional amendments) in more detail in a later blog entry. I also plan to state the direction that I think that all of this leads, given the circumstances now, a decade later. Yes, I need to offer a new payoff!
Another major point about the moving target comes up when I go back to the military gay ban itself. In 1993, I had thought that some sort of "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" (as Clinton called it) could be workable, as I was still in the days where the mindset was reasonable protection of personal life privacy (of everyone, gay or not), even for members of the armed forces. (This followed the paradigm of gay activism in decades before, with the emphasis on privacy.) The Internet age has turned this perception around. Now openness and equality are much more compelling in this age of personal sites and search engines. The implications of this, even for the ban, must become the subject of much more discussion.
One idea of greatest importance to me is, covering everything, maintaining objectivity and some emotional distance when reading the material. It's true, people often write "adversarially" to meet the interests or needs (from a social justice viewpoint) of one particular party or group. I am trying to to keep all viewpoints in sight at all times.
I do think that, even given the aging of the arguments, the book represents a valuable "street sense" view of social history from the past few decades, from the Eisenhower years on to the end of the 20th Century. One does not need to be a public celebrity to impact history. Relativity matter here: merely by being there and observing, I am changing things. So I do intend to keep it available.
I have some other detailed comments on the reader's page on my domain, this link.
Here are two lists from amazon on books by or on gay conservatives:
Add to this Bruce Bawer's "While Europe Slept" which is a great example of social and political "journalism" by presence and observation over several years, review here.
Update: September 29, 2017
The second review (less favorable) has disappeared from Amazon. Maybe the user no longer has an account, don't know why.