Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Glorious Death of Mattachine

No social movement organization dies gracefully. Underattended meetings and events are the disparaging hallmark of any movement in decline. But organizations modeled as Mattachine was go especially poorly. This is because the model, that of a moderate representative front, banks its efficacy on the perception of an organized, respectable populace behind it. This leaves it particularly vulnerable to being outstripped and outpaced by its own constituency—which is exactly what happened at Stonewall. Mattachine’s feverish attempts to calm and quell the rioters instantly reframed the group from the dominant force in gay rights into an aging, ineffective dinosaur of an organization, caught up in its own death throes.

Mattachine’s existence and preeminence normalized its approach towards gay rights and bounded the actions of activists within its framework. In a very foucauldian sense, the arrangements of power, even on the margins, structured knowledge around itself—anything that wasn’t Mattachine was foreign, risky, untested, while the Mattachine approach was the way to advance GLBT rights. One look at the actions of someone like Craig, whose discontent with gay activism and the gay community was still filtered through “mainstream” gay activism for many years, shows this. Another look at Jim, who found himself unable to articulate his own perspective on gay activism from a different framework further shows how Mattachine made difficult all other forms of gay activism. The real legacy of Stonewall, therefore, lies in the opening up of gay activism, the death of a stagnant organization—suddenly, without the perception of Mattachine as healthy, unchangeable, gay activism flowered as people were able to bring their own models and experiences—namely, from other 60s social movements—to the struggle for gay rights/gay liberation.

We find ourselves today in a similar position, I would argue. Organizations like HRC put an inoffensive, visible face on the gay community, and in turn, reframe all gay activism around issues like marriage. Even if you do not fully support marriage, in many cases, if you feel the urge to be an activist for the gay community, you have no other choice. Its existence not only flattens debate—making it seem as if all GLBT people want nothing but marriage rights—but normalizes its stance within the GLBT community, making marriage seem like all there is left to advocate for.

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