Bending toward oblivion - Page 2

THE QUEER ISSUE: Author Martin Duberman challenges the current gay hypocrisy
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But many more than had done so in the '70s.

SFBG When you talk about AIDS in Waiting to Land, it punctures the style of your writing. You'll be writing something that's more ruminative, and then you'll have three or four sentences about a friend who died or a series of friends who died, and then you go back into your thoughts about something outside of that.

MD I think that's right. It's why I put that subtitle in. I say "mostly political," because when it came to the death of friends, I did talk about my personal feelings, and my sadness, whereas most of the time in Waiting to Land I'm talking about external events or public policies.

SFBG You yourself have played a role as both an insider and outsider in a variety of realms. In Waiting to Land, you deliver scathing critiques of the rigid hierarchies and competitive structures of academia. You talk about the homophobia of the straight left, and you talk about the limited agenda of the gay mainstream. You talk about the exclusiveness of establishment theatre and mainstream media. Yet you've also worked inside all these structures. So I'm wondering how these institutions have formed your politics and how you've helped to form or transform these institutions.

MD [W.E.B.] Du Bois, the great African American leader, once said something — I think he called it double vision. He said that although he had had a superb education and was accepted by mainstream whites, nonetheless he felt he was a spy in the culture, a spy who was bringing the news about the mainstream back to his own people. And on one level, I have had a very easy time passing — I went to very good schools, I was on the tennis team in high school, etc. Nobody, I think, or very few people, guessed that I was in fact homosexual, and I did my best to play along with that. I was very career-oriented, I was very competitive — I always wanted to be first in my class, win the best prize for an essay, and that's where most of my energy went throughout my 20s. But then once the counterculture began, I sort of leapt on it. I was immediately sympathetic, and I wrote lots of essays during the '60s in which I was very strongly on the side of the New Left. And then it took a while longer after that before I realized that of course the same applies to being gay.

SFBG In terms of your role as both insider and outsider, do you feel that that's helped you to develop stronger critiques of all those institutions, whether on the straight left, in the gay mainstream, or in establishment theater and media?

MD I think so, because I knew the inner workings of many of these mainstream institutions, and so I was able to see the falsity of many of the attitudes, especially toward people who are not middle-class whites. White men, I should say.

SFBG I think one thing you've tried very deliberately throughout your career, whether as a writer, an academic, or an activist, is to build movement ties across lines of class, race, gender, and age. In the new book, you talk about trying to bring an awareness of queer and feminist issues into the straight left, and an awareness of race and class into the gay mainstream — and feeling mostly like you've failed.

MD I think it's because the mainstream left is no more receptive — they all claim that, "well of course we believe you people should have your rights, and of course we're tolerant of your lifestyle." But when it comes right down to it, you cannot get them to hang around long enough to listen to the ways in which queer values and perspectives might inform their own lives. They don't believe that for a second. And that hasn't changed at all. At least, if it has changed, I haven't seen it.

SFBG And what about in terms of the other side of the equation?

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