"Abnormal, Wrong, Unnatural and Perverse:" Taking the Measure (9) of the Closet

Le'a Kent

QUESTION: Shall constitution be amended to require that all governments discourage homosexuality, other listed "behaviors," and not facilitate or recognize them?

Be it Enacted by the People by [sic] the State of Oregon:
SECTION 41 (1) This state shall not recognize any categorical provision such as "sexual orientation," "sexual preference," and similar phrases that includes homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism. Quotas, minority status, affirmative action, or any similar concepts, shall not apply to these forms of conduct, nor shall government promote these behaviors.
(2) State, regional and local governments and their properties and monies shall not be used to promote, encourage, or facilitate homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism.
(3) State, regional and local governments and their departments, agencies and other entities, including specifically the State Department of Higher Education and the Public schools, shall assist in setting a standard for Oregon's youth that recognizes homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism and masochism as abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse and that these behaviors are to be discouraged and avoided. (General Voters' Pamphlet 93)

On November 3, 1992, the voters of the state of Oregon defeated Measure 9, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that might have, among other things, eliminated existing local protections of the civil rights of gay men and lesbians. The proposed constitutional amendment prohibited the extension of civil rights protections to those practicing "homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism," prohibited the use of state monies or facilities to "promote, encourage, or facilitate homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism," and required that state, regional, and local governments, including all schools, should discourage homosexuality and recognize it as "abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse" (GVP 93). Measure 9 was placed on the ballot by the Oregon Citizens' Alliance, a right-wing group with ties to Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition (Cooper 31). The proposed amendment was the subject of sixty-seven paid statements in the General Voters' Pamphlet as well as numerous articles in the national and local press. It will be the task of this paper to examine the discursive strategies in the General Voters' Pamphlet in light of the particularities of the public/private split both presumed and enforced by the measure as well as mapping those strategies in relation to historically and regionally proximate discourses about homosexuality, AIDS, the economy, and the family.

Closeted Subjectivity

Measure 9 is overtly contradictory regarding the public visibility of gays and lesbians. In sections (1) and (2), the amendment provides that the state "shall not recognize any categorical provision such as 'sexual orientation,' 'sexual preference,' and similar phrases that includes homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism" and that state monies shall not be used, directly or indirectly, to "promote, encourage, or facilitate homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism." Simultaneously, and in identical language, section (3) requires that the state "recognize homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism and masochism as abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse." Thus, within the text of the measure (and under the force of the proposed law) homosexuality is both denied and affirmed as a meaningful category of persons. The first two sections of the measure want to barricade gays in the closet, erasing visibility and prohibiting self-representation. The third section wants to parade gays and lesbians through the streets, but dressed in the tar and feathers of state-mandated condemnation. The combined effect of the three sections of the measure is to take the power of self-representation away from gays and lesbians and assure that they are known only through the state's condemnation. The measure wants gays and lesbians to be visible, but only on its terms.

In defining homosexuality as unnatural by law, the OCA is attempting to employ the power of the modern state in the service of what the historian and philosopher Michel Foucault calls a "dividing practice." When subjected to a dividing practice, "The subject is either divided inside himself or divided from others. This process objectivizes him" ("The Subject and Power" 417). Measure 9 would accomplish such objectivization, dividing gay men and lesbians from the rest of the citizenry, but also forcing a division in each gay person between his or her sexual practices (deemed "abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse," liable to punishment by the state) and the rest of his or her life. Measure 9 is thus an attempt to institutionalize a particular form of closeted subjectivity, in which gays and lesbians are barred from participation in public life as gay or lesbian. Measure 9 does not recriminalize sodomy or seek to place any further legal restrictions on other private sexual practice--what it does is mandate that in public, everyone must be straight. Not only does the measure bar gays and lesbians from the civil rights courtroom, but its provisions regarding education and state monies effectively prohibit participation in most other aspects of public life as well. However, the space vacated by actual gay and lesbian bodies and voices would be filled by the requisite education as to their abnormality. Thus, extreme as it is, Measure 9 does not accomplish a complete erasure of homosexuality from the public sphere--it retains a public homosexuality to be repeatedly condemned. What purpose might this repeated and mandated condemnation of homosexuality serve? I will argue that this repeated condemnation serves to shore up a religious patriarchal family which Measure 9 propaganda posits as the opposite of homosexuality. Homosexuality must be retained in public representation because it is the necessary opposite through which this family is constituted and consolidated.

Epistemology of Which Closet?

Measure 9's short-circuiting of self- representation (and legal representation) for gays and lesbians will be discussed later in this essay in the context of resistance to Measure 9, but what I want to do now is transplant some ideas from literary queer theory into this analysis. Can Eve Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet, a book which deals mainly with male homosexuality in literary culture, help us here? Although Sedgwick uses mainly literary examples, some of her ideas about how homosexuality works in British and American literature can be generalized to the culture at large. Sedgwick makes three main points which are important for my analysis of Measure 9. First, she asserts that the closet is characterized by discursive double-binds. Second, she asserts that homosexuality shapes, is shaped by, and stands in for wider conflicts and tensions in society. Third, she states that discourses about homosexuality have seen the homosexual as an absolutely separate type of person whose sexuality is nonetheless somehow contagious. These summaries are of course reductive, and at this point, I would like to go into a bit more detail about what Sedgwick says--this may help to delineate the problematics of public/private, the open secret, boundaries, and disempowerment that characterize Measure 9's discourse.

Sedgwick defines the closet as "the relations of the known and the unknown, the explicit and the inexplicit around homo/heterosexual definition" (3). In these relations, ignorance can become power, and the public and the private are interwoven in complex ways, such that neither privacy nor publicity offers any protection from oppression. These particularities and contradictions put the gay person in "an excruciating system of double binds," a system which Sedgwick says oppresses gay people by "undermining through contradictory constraints on discourse the grounds of their very being" (70). Homosexuality, or its public expression, becomes forbidden and/or incomprehensible in ways that leave the gay person nowhere to stand. Clearly, Measure 9 attempts to set up just these kind of contradictory constraints.

Just as clearly, Measure 9 and the surrounding publicity is not "just" about making homosexuality incomprehensible and therefore impossible. Sedgwick argues, and it is true in the discourse surrounding Measure 9, that homosexuality often serves as a figure which condenses and stands in for "wider mappings of secrecy and disclosure, and of the private and the public, that [...] are critically problematical for the gender, sexual, and economic structures of the heterosexist culture at large" (71). Public concern about homosexuality is thus often sparked and bound up with other crises. These wider mappings inform every facet of the Measure 9 discourse, as homosexuality comes to stand in for and answer to other anxieties about class, the family, and the future.

In addition to these contradictions, popular epistemologies of homosexuality in the West since the end of the nineteenth century are also characterized by a co-dominance of what Sedgwick calls "minoritizing" and "universalizing" discourses. The minoritizing view holds that gays constitute a distinct minority, that there are a small number of people who, in some essential sense, "really are" gay. The universalizing view, on the other hand, holds that sexual desire (conceived of in some universal way) "is an unpredictably powerful solvent of stable identities" (85). The specter of a gayness which is distinct yet contagious haunts most twentieth century homosexual panics, and the contradiction inherent in this vision only serves as a spur for narratives which try to explain it. In the past twenty years, these narratives have usually been narratives of child seduction. In these stories, the child's "vulnerability" and "impressionability" help to explain why homosexual desire, although fundamentally alien and abhorrent to all but the "really gay" minority, can nonetheless be thought of as contagious. In my own experience, I can recall first learning the term "gay" in just such a narrative, during orange juice queen Anita Bryant's 1979 crusade against homosexual teachers.

Simon Watney notes that AIDS discourse only reinforced this figuration of homosexuality as contagion/seduction:

Two major streams of images and their related association converge to constitute this shadow. Firstly, the notion of homosexuality as a contagious condition, invisible and always threatening to reveal itself where least expected. And secondly, the spectacle of erotic seduction, in which "innocent," "vulnerable" youth is fantasised as an unwilling partner to acts which, nonetheless, have the power to transform his (or her) entire being [....] There is an important internal conflict at work [...] concerning the 'normal' person's 'disgust', and the seeming ease with which it is apparently over- ridden. (23)
Clearly, these tropes of contagion and seduction circulate in Measure 9 as it makes its easy slide from homosexuality to pedophilia to sadism to masochism. Before returning to the text of the measure, I would like to develop a thematic that runs throughout Sedgwick's exploration of the closet, but is not made explicit in her discussion of it. The theme of boundaries, containment, and border-crossing surrounding the image of the closet ensures that gay "penetration" of the public sphere can stand in for any number of other penetrating or contaminating threats.

Implicit in the image of the closet is an image of containment. In the Oxford English Dictionary definition of "closet" Sedgwick inserts before chapter I, the linguistic connection between the closet and other containers, such as the skin or the sewer, are explicit. The closet is: a small room; "a room for privacy;" a cupboard; "the den or lair of a wild beast;" a toilet; or "A sewer." "This skinne," says one example, "is also called the little closet of the heart" (65). That which resides in the closet is especially frightening (a skeleton, a wild beast), or especially filthy (shit). Danger, rupture, contamination, or death follow the breach of the closet. Thus, a paranoid thematics of containment attends on the closet, because that which is in the closet is that which cannot help but violate if set free. That which is closeted is intimately and inevitably involved with bodily orifices--both food (in the cupboard) and excrement (in the "water- closet," in the sewer) are closeted. Simon Watney discerns the paranoid point of truth behind the fear of homosexual contamination--the gay man, he says, really is a threat to the artificial rigidity of gender identity:

Above all, homosexuality problematises the casual identification of primary power with the figure of the biological male as masterful penetrator. It equally problematises the parallel identification of powerlessness and passivity with the figure of the biological female as submissive and penetrated. For the gay man is truly polymorphous: he may fuck and be fucked... (28)


In the logic of the closet a chain of association binds all border crossings, and shit = wild beasts = homosexuals = disease = blood = gender confusion = death = the eruption of the private into the public sphere = national borders = class boundaries = .... In this logic, a cascade of chaos inevitably follows the coming-out of homosexuality. A breach of the closet is quickly perceived as and linked with a breach of the skin, a sadomasochistic cutting, or a violation of the body of the state. Containment- anxiety becomes particularly acute whenever circumstances foster an especially facile association between homosexuality and one of the other closeted objects. With the advent of AIDS, for instance, literal containment of homosexuals became a favorite fantasy of everyone from right- wing politicians (bent on AIDS quarantine) to the pharmaceutical industry (which produced the adhesive-lined Mentor condom).

So what is the logic of this particular closet? What are its parameters? What are its particular anxieties, the significant borders, the nodes of panic? Which of the many possible representational slides are most prominent in the discourse surrounding Measure 9, and what in the historical or cultural situation of Oregon 1992 might (over)determine these slippages? In Measure 9's version of "the love that must not speak its name," children (as victims of homosexual seduction) and disease (as the inevitable consequence of a monstrous sexuality) emerge as dominant features in the representation of a homosexuality which must be closeted for the public good. The Oregon Citizens' Alliance fantasizes a penetrating male homosexual who is coprophilic, pedophilic, and diseased. Concerns about gender confusion are absent from this discourse, especially compared to their relative prominence in the recent debates around gays in the United States military. Lesbians are a lacuna in the Measure 9 schema--a site of near-total asignification.

The Family (Is Always and Necessarily) Under Siege

In the General Voters' Pamphlet, Measure 9 is printed in full, explained by a committee "appointed to provide an impartial explanation of the ballot measure" (93), and defended by nine statements entitled "Argument in Favor." [1] I would like to turn my attention first to the text of the constitutional amendment (reproduced in its entirety on page 1). Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the amendment's wording is the repetition of the phrase "homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism." This list attempts to rejoin homosexuality (a construct which, as Foucault notes, has afforded gays some opportunity to form a reverse discourse (History of Sexuality, vol.1 101)) with other practices in a semiotic slide conditioned by the history of the closet. As Watney noted above, homosexuality in the West has been constructed within an inevitable scenario of child seduction, and Measure 9 dredges up that bad old history.

The first Argument in Favor of Measure 9 brings into circulation not the expected scenario of child seduction (that scenario appears in later arguments and in other pro-9 publicity), but another set of associations between homosexuals, addicts, and children:

Society has condemned drinking and driving while encouraging by law and treatment centers a way out for victims of the behaviors. Society has condemned drug use/abuse...while setting up programs for the victims of the behaviors to escape such a destructive lifestyle. Society is NOW BEING CALLED upon to stop accommodating victims of homosexuality while saying, "it's ok, it's alright [sic], go ahead and play on the freeway, we'll make no effort to help you".
A test of human experience is found in the parent-child relationship. There is not, nor can there be, any presumption that parents who truly love their children may not or should not establish and enforce behavior guidelines for them....A YES vote on #9 will secure the best interests of all of our children, our communities and our State [sic]. It will even help those who have chosen the practice of homosexuality. (94)

This first Argument in Favor re-inflects the relation between homosexuals and children, using a discourse of addiction as a bridge. Because homosexuals are a species of addicts, the argument runs, they are a threat to children, but also must be treated like children. Homosexuality is constructed here as a disease, a disorder like alcoholism or drug abuse, whose victims, childlike, cannot be counted on to save themselves and must depend on "parents" to save them. In constructing homosexuals as errant children, this argument makes the "corruption of children" and disintegration of the family a fait accompli. Homosexuals do not actually need to lead children astray for this family to disintegrate; if they are the children, the family has failed. Now it is the job of the voters/state/parents to save them, and in the process save actual children and families from a similar fate. This argument also has the cunning effect of vitiating all possible criticism of its premises by homosexuals themselves, since, like children, addicts, or the insane, they are unreliable sources, incapable of knowing or defending their own best interests. In this respect, the strategy of this argument mirrors the effects of Measure 9, which also intends to deprive gay men and lesbians of the opportunity to speak for themselves in the civil rights courtroom, on the job, or in any public facility.

Peripheral publicity for Measure 9 employed more predictable scenarios of child seduction. In Medford and other rural communities, the OCA distributed a "newspaper" titled "Homosexuality, the Classroom, and Your Children: Why every Oregon parent and grandparent should vote 'YES' on Measure 9." In addition to "articles" entitled "Homosexual terms toward youth," "Is Government Promoting Homosexuality to Our Kids?" and "The North American Man/Boy Love Assoc.," the newspaper included a fabricated story of seduction entitled, "Billy and Chuckie: A fictional story about how adult role models can influence children's decisions about 'progressive' life-styles." In the story, "Billy Johnson, small for his twelve years, shy and a little self-conscious," the child of recently divorced parents, is seduced by "Chuckie," "a head taller than Billy, and about 50 pounds heavier." Billy finally submits to Chuckie after a thorough brow-beating about how homosexual sex must be "O.K." because their teacher is gay:

Chuckie, playing and making noises like he was an NFL linebacker, tackled Billy into a huge pile of leaves. Tickling him unmercifully, he said, "Hey, this is the Chuckmeister, your best friend, would I do something to hurt you? Hey, I understand man," said Chuckie as he pulled Billy to his feet [....] But remember we heard Mr. Carson tell us all the experts say it's perfectly normal--even some doctors and shrinks and people like that." While both remained covered with leaves, [...] Billy apologized for not waiting like he'd promised. he [sic] felt a little guilty. he has promised to go to the fort, even if yesterday it was just to stop Chuckie from bugging him all the time [...] .Even in spite of the tickling, Chuckie could see that something still bothered Billy. "Look," said Chuckie. "You heard Mr. Carson, our health teacher say he was gay, right? He said, he first tried it when he was about our age....And he's pretty cool. Right" I mean he lets everybody do what they want in his class. He even gives some kids rides in his Porsche after school. Being gay hasn't hurt Mr. Carson, has it?" Billy accompanies Chuckie to "the fort," where they will presumably engage in "gay stuff." The spectacle of poor, feminized Billy being "bugg[er]ed" incessantly by Chuckie is accompanied by a drawing of a frail boy, presumably Billy, kneeling with a rather Priapic penis-like outline running the length of his thigh.
"Billy and Chuckie" focuses anxiety on the male child as seducible weak point of the patriarchal family, and on a horrified vision of child sexuality per se. The patriarchal family is envisioned as a container breached by the penetrating, uncloseted gay man. In this scenario, the Porsche-driving gay man penetrates the child simply by being out of the closet and not evidently persecuted-- "Being gay hasn't hurt Mr. Carson, has it?" Although the seduced child becomes feminized and corrupt, the seducer is masculine and aggressive. Has this masculinity been stolen from straight family men by the economically successful, Porsche-driving gay man? This possibility runs throughout "Homosexuality, the Classroom, and Your Children," and is epitomized by a manifesto attributed to "Michael Swift, Gay revolutionary."
We shall sodomize your sons, emblems of your feeble masculinity, of your shallow dreams and vulgar lies. We shall seduce them in your schools, in your dormitories, in your gymnasiums, in your locker rooms, in your sports arenas, in your seminaries, in your youth groups, in your movie theater bathrooms, in your army bunkhouses, in your truck stops, in your all-male clubs, in your houses of Congress, however men are with men together. Your sons shall become our minions and do our bidding.[2]
Whether the source of this polemic is legitimate or not, what is significant here is that it is reprinted (and evidently felt) as a genuine threat. "Feeble masculinity" is what is at issue here--Billy's feeble masculinity (the product of a divorced family), the feeble masculinity of divorced men who can't keep their families, the feeble masculinity of men whose prerogatives within the family are not what they once were, and, perhaps, the feeble masculinity of depleted and economically abandoned Oregon mill towns.

I quoted "Billy and Chuckie" at length mainly in order to make it available for textual analysis, but also to emphasize what a stunning creation it comprises. It is important, I think, to highlight the fantastic nature of this story. (Indeed, where else but in right-wing fantasy do grade- school teachers drive Porsches?) Somewhere, some OCA minion, some fine upstanding homophobic man or woman, composed this story of pre-teen seduction, and drew the accompanying illustration. It is through and through the creation, not of NAMBLA, not of the "gay agenda," but of the religious right. In this respect, it is like the portrait of the homosexual drawn by Jesse Helms's 1989 National Endowment for the Arts regulation, of which Judith Butler observes:

If the legal statute relies on this figure of the male homosexual, then perhaps the legal statute can be understood as its own kind of fantasy. [...] This law contains [...] a figure of homosexuality whose figurings, whose "representations," are to be forbidden [...] Is this a figure that the law contrives in order to prohibit, or perhaps, prohibits in order to produce--time and again--for its own...satisfaction? Is this a production of a figure that it itself outlaws from production, a vehement and public way of drawing into public attention the very figure that is supposed to be banned from public attention and public funds? [...] In a sense, the Helms amendment in its final form can be read as precisely that kind of pornographic exercise that it seeks to renounce. (Butler 117)
In the same way, "Billy and Chuckie" can be read as "precisely that kind of pedophilic exercise that it seeks to renounce."

Satanic Families

Elsewhere in her discussion of Helms's legislation, Butler delineates the same slide from homosexuality to pedophilia to sadomasochism that informs Measure 9:
"The exploitation of children" comes [immediately after sadomasochism in the text of Helms's legislation], at which point I begin to wonder: what reasons are there for grouping these three categories together? Do they lead to each other, as if the breaking of one taboo necessitates a virtual riot of perversion? Or is there, implicit in the sequencing and syntax of this legal text, a figure of the homosexual, apparently male, who practices sadomasochism and preys on young boys, or who practices sadomasochism with young boys, a homosexuality which is perhaps defined as sadomasochism and the exploitation of children? Perhaps this is an effort to define restrictively the sexual exploiter of children as the sadomasochistic male homosexual in order, quite conveniently, to locate the source of child sexual abuse outside the home, safeguarding the family as the unregulated sexual property of the father? (Butler 116)
Clearly, this construction of the family has a long history in the American New Right. To take Butler's interpretation a bit further, the family may be said to be consolidated, if not constituted, by this very fantasy. Indeed, the "ideological rearguard action" (Watney 43) which is the family in late twentieth-century America can be seen as the product of a series of similar fabrications. The discourse of "Family Values" rarely articulates what these values might be, but spends a great deal of time asserting that various people or social formations (homosexuals, feminism, single motherhood) are a threat to them. In fact, the political opposition to Measure 9 was able to exploit this discursive vacuum with assertion that "Hate is not a Family Value."

One proximate example of the defensive construction of the patriarchal family (and one which I hope will lead me to an account of some factors conditioning Measure 9's closet) is the spate of "satanic child abuse" scandals so prevalent in the last few years. In one instance covered by the New Yorker, [3] an abusive fundamentalist father managed to implicate the entire sheriff's department in one town near Olympia, Washington before the stories began to unravel. The point here, however, is that the allegations of satanic abuse were not a cynical ploy, but a group fantasy which all involved believed to be true. The wish to protect the family from potentially fragmenting accusations of patriarch-al abuse was so strong that the most ridiculous scenario became believable not only to the abuser in question, but to most of the community. Although no one had ever seen any evidence of Satan worship, and although police investigations repeatedly failed to reveal any, the police themselves had no difficulty believing that Satan worship was at the heart of the crisis in Olympia's families. Similarly, news accounts of OCA chapters in Oregon report that most members have never, to their knowledge, met any gays or lesbians, yet have no difficulty in attributing the "disintegration of the family" to "the homosexual agenda" (Cooper 29).

Penetrating the Region

Regional history and mythology should not be neglected here. Both the satanic abuse panic and the homosexual panic, as well as Washington State's "Sexual Predators" law, have arisen in the last five years, since the Pacific Northwest (and Colorado, home of Amendment 2, a similar anti- gay initiative) have experienced a large influx of migration from urban areas (particularly California) and a decline in the local resource-based economy. In this sense, the (patriarchal) family and traditional masculinity really may be under unusual stress in Oregon, but the culprit is hardly homosexuality, but rather the collapse of the regional timber industry and the replacement of blue-collar resource jobs by white-collar work performed by the new immigrants. [4] Anxiety about immigration, curiously enough, manifests itself in slurs against Californians as "Californicators." "Don't Californicate Colorado (or Jackson Hole [!], or Oregon, or Washington)" has become a regional slogan. This anxiety about sexual/regional penetration was present for years before it began to mobilize discourses of decadence around homosexuality, and it is surely a short hop from fear of "Californication" to anxiety about sodomy. In this respect, Simon Watney's observation that "the structures of modern national identity" depend on "analogies between the individual family unit and the nation, understood as a familial entity," (48) may work both regionally and reciprocally, as regional penetration and economic decline manifest themselves as a panic over child seduction and impotent masculinity.

Sufficiently Invisible Lesbians

In "Billy and Chuckie" and throughout "Homosexuality, the Classroom, and Your Children," the "child" who must be protected from homosexuality is the male child. Of fifteen "homosexual terms toward youth" listed in a sidebar, only two pertain to females-- "baby butch" and "tender chick." The specter of lesbianism is raised briefly, almost perfunctorily, at the end of "Billy and Chuckie:"
Away on the other side of school property, Sally Evans just asked little Tina Cooper what she thought about Ms. Ireland, their P.E. coach, being a lesbian. Another strong gust blew dozens of leaves about their feet. Tina replied, "She's nice, I guess I've changed my mind about that stuff." "Me too," said Sally.
Although "Ms. Ireland" occupies the traditional dyke position of P.E. coach (and I can't help wondering if the choice of name is a dig at National Organization for Women head Patricia Ireland), the coercion permeating the Billy and Chuckie scenario is completely absent from Sally and Tina's budding liaison. The "role model" implication is similar-- allowing gays and lesbians to be seen as human beings will result in an inevitable contagious spread of homosexuality--but the idea of lesbian seduction clearly doesn't generate the kind of panic elaborated by paragraph after paragraph of "Billy and Chuckie."

Lesbians are elided within the General Voters' Pamphlet as well. Although one sentence in Argument in Favor 6 states that "Lesbian propaganda dominates Women's Studies courses at Portland State University" (GVP 96), the homosexual the OCA is concerned with is the male homosexual. Argument in Favor 4, submitted by the OCA, persistently uses masculine pronouns to refer to its "promoting homosexual:"

...if a person is using his job to promote, encourage or facilitate the behaviors listed in the initiative, inquiry by a superior is required....Remedial actions should be proportional to the degree that the individual has made his private sexual behavior a job-related factor. (95)
Although it's probably not surprising that the OCA, an organization responsible for a statewide anti- abortion initiative in 1986, would fail to use gender- neutral language, the elision of lesbians is even clearer in the catalogue of "homosexual practices" in Argument in Favor 5. In addition to drawing on the "child protection" and "family values" rhetoric prominent throughout the GVP, this argument attempts to marshal disgust through the following statistics, obviously chosen for visceral appeal: Studies by leading researchers show that the following practices are regularly engaged in by many homosexuals: fellatio 100%, fisting 41% (inserting fist and forearm into rectum), rimming 92% (licking rectum), water sports 29% (urinating on partners, drinking urine), mud wallowing 17% (defecating on partner), sadomasochism 37% (beating, piercing, another person for sexual pleasure), public sex 66% (public restrooms, bathhouses, parks), pedophilia 46% (sex with minors). (Nebraska Medical Journal, 1985 and Lancet, June 9, 1984).

Sodomy and other routine homosexual practices tear and rupture the tissue of the lower bowel and allow for easy transmission of viral and bacterial infections. It's no wonder that Portland's homosexual newspaper JUST OUT (July, 1992), reports that homosexuals account for 92% of all AIDS cases in Oregon to date....A 1982 Center for Disease Control study showed that homosexual men infected with the AIDS virus had averaged 1160 partners. (GVP 96)

In addition to its (mis)use of scientific authority [5], this list interests me for two reasons. First, although the list of statistics (as well as the legal force of Measure 9) is supposed to apply to all homosexuals, lesbians are completely elided in this argument ("fellatio, 100%"), as well as in most other OCA propaganda. [6] Historical lesbian invisibility, combined with the (near- )absence of lesbians from AIDS discourses, seem to collude to erase lesbians from this particular debate. As Eve Sedgwick has said,

...a certain anal-erotic salience of male homosexuality is if anything increasingly strong under the glare of heterosexist AIDS-phobia; and several different historical influences have led to the de-genitalization and bodily diffusion of many popular, and indeed many lesbian, understandings of lesbian sexuality. (35)
In other words, lesbians are not a target in Measure 9's discourse because they are already effectively closeted.

Counter-Strategies--Out-Homophobing the Homophobes

The OCA's list of "homosexual practices" is probably the only place or way many Oregonians would ever have learned this particular definition of "water sports," or, indeed, any of the listed practices. This will become important in some of the Arguments in Opposition, which object to Measure 9 precisely on the grounds that it could mandate the description of these sexual practices in the schools in order to educate against them. In the OCA's enumeration of practices and diseases, disease is framed as a crossing of boundaries, or as the inevitable result of a crossing of boundaries, in discourse that echoes early AIDS reports implying that homosexuality somehow "caused" AIDS. Significant among the borders violated in the OCA's list is the border between public and private sex. OCA rhetoric constructs homosexuality itself as a contagion, and reinforces this semiotic slide through the assertion that homosexuals, in addition to being a contagion, carry contagion. When uncloseted, homosexuality spreads (like) disease.

However, the OCA's own graphic production of diseased homosexuality is the point at which many of the Arguments in Opposition to Measure 9 attacked the measure. Although most of the 57 Arguments in Opposition rely on basic church/state arguments, or on comparisons of quotations from the OCA and quotations from Adolf Hitler or American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell, many arguments also work to turn homophobia against Measure 9. This is illustrated in the argument submitted by the National Lawyers' Guild:

5) Measure 9 requires every state and local government entity and public schools at all grade levels to teach the OCA's version of mandatory sex education. DMV employees will have to provide sex education to teenagers when they take a driver's test. Teachers will be required to describe the specific "behaviors" the OCA deems "abnormal." Never before has an Oregon law required such a bizarre intrusion into our children's lives. (GVP 106)
This argument first draws attention to the intrusiveness of the state, then turns the OCA's discourse on perversity against itself. The NLG language makes the OCA "bizarre intruders," deploying exactly the same associations of otherness and intrusiveness that the OCA uses in its construction of the penetrating, coprophilic male homosexual.

This same strategy is employed in combination with rural "plain talk" wording in the Argument in Opposition submitted by No on 9 Lane County:

Voting NO doesn't mean you agree with, or for that matter even understand homosexuality. It simply affirms that you believe in justice and in the freedom that built this nation.
Finally, this measure will mandate that the department of Higher Education teach about such subjects as pedophilia, sadism and masochism in our state classrooms, subjects that do not belong in our Junior Highs and High Schools. And who is going to pay for these classes? You and I are!...Is it worth the quality of your child's education to pay for classes about pedophilia, sadism, and masochism? Is that how you want your tax dollars spent? Of course not! (108)

These arguments do not defend homosexuality, and they do not explicitly dispute the OCA's characterization of it. What they do is play on homophobia, pointing out that prohibiting a practice requires describing it. The National Lawyers' guild argument, in characterizing education about the "behaviors the OCA deems abnormal" as a "bizarre intrusion," accepts the OCA's characterization of homosexuality, but shifts some of the taint onto the OCA itself. No on 9 Lane County appeals to the same disgust at "out" homosexuals, reassuring voters that they aren't being asked to "approve of" or even "understand" homosexuality. While the OCA might want to render homosexuals untouchable, these arguments appeal to the wish that certain sexual practices remain unspeakable. In the context of the GVP, the long list of sexual practices employed by the OCA to demonstrate the "perverseness" of (male) homosexuality is here turned against the OCA's end through the dubious strategy of relying on straight disgust. While the OCA thinks homosexuality is so contagious that allowing queers to be out of the closet without punishment will result in juvenile seduction, these arguments rely on the fear that any mention of homosexuality, even a condemnation, will be corrupting to children.[7]

Counter-Strategies-- "We Oregonians"

The Lane County argument, in its language and in its submission by a rural chapter of NO ON 9, also appeals to identity as an Oregonian. Twenty- four of the fifty-seven Arguments in Opposition use this strategy to some extent, appealing to voters as Oregonians, stating that Measure 9 does not represent "Oregon values," or denouncing the "divisiveness" of Measure 9. Only one Argument in Favor even uses the word "Oregonian." These arguments construct "Oregonianness" as a kind of pioneer mentality, as in Argument in Opposition number 52:
We Oregonians cherish our independence. We are honest and seek the truth. We are tolerant of one another and respect our differences. From Burns to Eugene, from Medford to Beaverton, from Bend to Lincoln City, we are fair-minded and compassionate. We value the contributions made by all Oregonians. Measure 9 represents none of those values. It is not representative of the Oregon we know and care about. (124)
This strategy is on one level a response to the OCA tactic (prevalent in OCA propaganda distributed in rural areas, but not as prominent in the GVP) of constructing homosexuality as something from elsewhere--from Portland, from California, from the city. Instead, it constructs Measure 9 as the intrusion, the breach of the body of the state. [8] In appealing to voters as citizens of the state, these arguments seek to maintain the same public/private barrier that the OCA is resentful of homosexuals for breaching. The logic of the appeal to "Oregonians" is that, while one may privately be just as disgusted as the OCA is by homosexuality, one's public identity as an Oregonian obliges one to vote no on Measure 9. Once again, the basic issue played on by the OCA are turned against it, but essentially left unchallenged. Hatred of homosexuality, as well as homosexuality itself, must remain in the private sphere.

Counter-Strategies--Coming Out, Fighting Back

Obviously, while they may have accomplished the short-term goal of defeating Measure 9, arguments which reinforce homophobia and the desire to contain gays and lesbians in the closet cannot on their own comprise a longer-term strategy against legislation such as Measure 9. If the goal is to oppose containment, oppression, and short-circuiting of self- representation, it would seem that support for queer self-representation must be part of any antihomophibic opposition to incidents such as Measure 9. Part of what Measure 9 does resembles what Judith Butler argues Helms's NEA legislation did:
One effect of this law, then is to circumscribe the imaginability of homosexuality; in exchange for the variety of "representations" produced by Mapplethorpe and "others like him," there is only one representation that is now sanctioned, the one that is articulately prohibited by Helms's law. (118) Butler goes on to argue that such laws must be countered with a proliferation of self- representation. While I'm not entirely sure what such a proliferation might look like (and whether it would be as appropriate as a counter to Measure 9, which after all operates partly on the level of civil rights and not purely on a level of representation, as Helms's law does), I think that a similar response is called for by Measure 9, Amendment 2, and a plethora of other anti-gay-rights measures cropping up from Cincinnati to California. This kind of response may have already begun as gays and lesbians "came out" to face these closeting measures. Both Measure 9 and Colorado's Amendment 2 were combated on a capillary level by gays and lesbians coming out to friends and family who mightn't have known otherwise (Turque 35), and coming out continues to be part of the strategy against Amendment 2 (Johnson).
However, more direct responses have also been provisionally effective. Activists in Washington state, united under the slogan "Hands off Washington" (a slogan which paints the anti- gay groups as improper intruders), kept antigay initiatives off of the 1994 ballot by picketing signature-gatherers, preventing initiative supporters from getting enough signatures to place the initiatives on the ballot. One slogan used in this effort was "Don't sign on for hate," which picked up on the success of the earlier "Hate is not a family value." In addition to preventing antigay laws from passing, this action also prevented the homophobic public debate and antigay violence that accompanied the Measure 9 campaign-- violence that demonstrated that such initiatives don't have to pass to injure and kill gay men and lesbians. However, right-wing organizations in Washington state and elsewhere are continuing to push this type of legislation, and machinations in the Washington state legislature make it likely that antigay groups will have a longer signature- gathering period in 1995. Hands off Washington has made some efforts toward promoting a counter- initiative guaranteeing civil rights for gay men and lesbians, but other gay activists fear that putting such an initiative up against antigay proposals would result in the same kind of homophobic public referendum on gays' and lesbians' humanity that Oregon suffered in 1992. Colorado's Amendment 2, which prohibits civil rights protections for lesbians and gay men and passed in 1992, is going before the U.S. Supreme Court in the next session. If it is struck down by the Court, there is likely to be some kind of short-term respite from similar measures, although it is likely that groups like the Christian Coalition will continue to use state initiative processes to harass gays and lesbians.

One strategy implied by the analysis of this paper, and partly tested in the slogan "Hate is not a family value," is for gays and lesbians to find a way of dismantling the crisis-machine of "the family." One species of this resistance is implied in coming- out strategies, which resist the abstraction of families into "the family" by writing gays and lesbians into concrete, real-world families where they were formerly invisible. Resisting the crisis- machine of the patriarchal family also implies a revival of alliances with other groups demonized by the Right's crusade for "Family Values," including feminists and welfare-rights groups.

Works Cited

Butler, Judith. "The Force of Fantasy: Feminism, Mapplethorpe, and Discursive Excess." Differences 2.2 (1990): 105-125.

Cooper, Marc. "Queer Baiting in the Culture War." Village Voice October 13, 1992: 29+. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1. New York: Vintage, 1990.

---. "The Subject and Power." in Art After Modernism.

Johnson, Dirk. "Rise of Christian Right Splits a City." The New York Times February 14, 1993: A24. No Special Rights Political Action Committee. Homosexuality, the Classroom, and Your Children. Oregon, NSR-PAC, 1992.

Oregon. Secretary of State. General Voters' Pamphlet: state of Oregon general election November 3, 1992.

Sedgwick, Eve. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: UCP, 1990.

Turque, Bill. "Gays under Fire." Newsweek Sept. 14, 1992: 34+.

Watney, Simon. Policing Desire: pornography AIDS and the media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Wright, Lawrence. "Remembering Satan--Part I." The New Yorker May 17, 1993:60+.

---. "Remembering Satan--Part II." The New Yorker, May 24, 1993. 54+.

Le'a Kent is a graduate student in English at the University of Washington, where she does queer feminist cultural studies and goes on occasional vandalism sprees.


1. A brief explanation of what the General Voters' Pamphlet is would probably be enlightening here. The GVP is a brochure published by the state of Oregon and sent to every registered voter in the state. Like similar publications in other states, it contains the text of any referenda (such as Measure 9), as well as candidate lists. Unlike such publications in other states, the Oregon pamphlet contains multiple Arguments in Favor and Arguments in Opposition to each of the ballot referenda. For a fee of $300, any person or organization can purchase a half-page Argument in the GVP. All things considered, this is a relatively cheap way for discourse about particular ballot measures to proliferate, and it allows for more than two positions to be articulated (unlike most newspapers' editorial pages). The GVP does not appear to be limited by any particularly censorious regulations--one of the Arguments in Favor of Measure 9 was actually a satirical argument against the measure.

2. The citation in "Homosexuality, the Classroom, and Your Children" runs as follows: "By Michael Swift, Gay revolutionary (First printed in Gay Community News) Reprinted from the Congressional Record, Feb. 15-21, 1987. As reprinted from NFD Journal, October, 1987."

3. Wright, Lawrence. "Remembering Satan--Part I." The New Yorker, May 17, 1993. 60+. and "Remembering Satan--Part II." The New Yorker, May 24, 1993. 54+.

4. However, it is difficult to say that even this family panic is real. Some economists maintain that only a minor portion of the Northwest's economy is actually dependent on timber, although the panic over the decline of this industry spreads regionwide. (See Lively.) In that case, job loss, fear of homosexuals, and fantasies of satanic abuse may all be seen as part of a cycle of delusion whose goal is to maintain the patriarchal family as a bounded (and ever-threatened) entity.

5. Although there is a citation for the statistics, they have been brutally decontextualized. The statistics the Argument cites in the first paragraph were generated by a survey of men seeking treatment for venereal disease at a public clinic in the San Francisco bay area in the early 1980s. The OCA generalizes them to all gay men. Likewise, the 1982 CDC report is ungeneralizable because of its early date. In 1982, the only people diagnosed with AIDS were those who had contracted the virus extremely early in the course of the epidemic. Since HIV infection was not widespread at that time, the average number of partners a man would need to have in order to be exposed to the virus was relatively high.

6. Sadomasochistic bottoms are also elided ("beating, piercing, another person for sexual pleasure"). While I don't feel this omission is as significant as the elision of lesbians, it does emphasize the (masculine) aggressivity of the homosexual the OCA is constructing.

7. This failure to challenge the closet even in the context of opposition to Measure 9 may shed some light on how and why Colorado's Amendment 2 passed during the same election season. Amendment 2 is basically just the first article of Measure 9, the closet article.

8. In fact, OCA head Lon Mabon is himself not an Oregon native. He hails from Orange County, California, where he was involved in right-wing politics before moving to Oregon. In battles against the OCA since Measure 9, this fact has been deployed to great effect.