Friday, February 6, 2009

More Mullarkey: Maureen Mullarkey and the American Catholic Center

I’ve been following with interest the story of artist and art critic Maureen Mullarkey this week. As I reported on Wednesday, Mullarkey has painted iconic depictions of drag queens and gay pride parades, and speaks of the latter as "marvelous spectacle" and "assertion[s] of solidarity" ( She claims to celebrate these spectacles as “an erotic celebration loosed for a day to keep us all mindful that Dionysus is alive, powerful and under our own porch.”

Yet now that the final list of donors to prop 8 was released recently, it appears that Mullarkey donated $1000 to the cause to ban gay marriage in California.

As I’ve tried to understand the mentality that permits a person to claim to celebrate a group of people to whom she wishes to deny human rights, I’ve found that Mullarkey has an . . . interesting . . . history. In addition to giving repeatedly to Republican politicians (including McCain-Palin), Mullarkey donated to the infamous Swift Boat Vets group in 2004 (

This, it will be recalled, is the smear group whcih alleged that war hero John Kerry had a checkered military record, as he campaigned against George W. Bush—who had not served in Vietnam, as Kerry had. Mullarkey is unabashed about her support of this smear group. In 2004, she posted on the Dust in the Light blog to compare the Swift Boat group to the “truly wretched of the earth,” whose voice is always in danger of being suppressed by the powerful (

The previous year, on the same blog, Mullarkey responded to a posting about marital fidelity with the following stunning observations:

By every account I've seen that deals with the issue of monogamy among homosexual men, sexual infidelity seems to be the glue [unglue] that permits the relationship to continue.

That is the reverse of heterosexual relations in which infidelity--even when it is honored in the breach--is considered a sin against the partner and against marriage itself. Or, as a gay friend said to me, "Fidelity means something different to me than it does to you." In short, gay marriage signals an end to the equation of monogamy and sexual fidelity (

Straights, good; gays, bad; heterosexuals value fidelity; homosexuals practice infidelity: in case her simplistic (and stereotypical, and intentionally demeaning) analysis here wasn’t sufficiently clear, Mullarkey posted a p.s. to the following statements, noting,

In all, parenting is part of the air breathed by heterosexual couples. It is absent from homosexual male relationships and the majority of lesbian ones as well. The institution was designed for stable parenthood, not to gratify adults' needs for recognition. Do we want to add to those conditions that erode its purpose?

Parenting is part of the air breathed by heterosexual couples. It is absent from gay male relationships (all: no qualification here) and most lesbian ones. Try telling that to the multitude of committed (and faithful) gay couples raising families across the country—who seem curiously outside the scope of Mullarkey's vision. But, then, recognizing the existence of such families and their contributions to society would force Mullarkey to revise the preconceived ideological stance she has taken regarding gay lives and gay relationships. The facts are so confusing, when we have already decided what we believe.

Mullarkey’s views about gay marriage (abetted, it seems, by the testimony of the gay “friend” cited in the preceding dismissal of the notion that gay people can be monogamous) remain unchanged. After her donation to prop 8 was made public this week, she informed the media that "marriage is the union of husband and wife - a premise so simple, so fundamental that nature and civilization itself both testify to the truth of it” (

In the same interview, Mullarkey depicts herself as the victim, not the aggressor: she likens the “attacks” on her by gay people outraged that she benefits financially from the gay community while removing rights from us to Nazi "brownshirt tactics."

Mullarkey also alludes to that gay “friend” of hers once again in this interview, as she maintains that she can have regard for “individual gay persons” while, well, bashing the group to which those individuals belong:

Artists are not in the habit of imposing ideological conformity on one another or demanding it from others. Moreover, regard for individual gay persons does not require assent to a politicized assault on bedrock social reality and the common good.

I’m always fascinated when those who stereotype and demean gay human beings play the my-gay-friend card—as Mullarkey's candidate Mrs. Palin did during the recent presidential campaign. When I hear the Mullarkeys and Palins of the world tell us about their gay friend, I can’t help hearing echoes of those conversations about which I blogged in my previous posting discussing Mullarkey’s prop 8 contribution—the conversations of my elders as I came of age in the Civil Rights period in the American South.

As I noted in that posting, I can remember my uncle (and countless other white folks of the same time and place) declaring, as they stoutly opposed black civil rights,

I have black friends. Lots of them. Good ones.

But they know their place and they stay in it.

Interesting, isn’t it, how it’s possible to have “friends” among those whose humanity you relegate to a second-class status, to a place beneath you? Interesting, too, that I never actually met or heard the real voices of those black friends of my uncle—and that reporters could never actually find that gay “friend” of Mrs. Palin.

I’d be interested to hear from Maureen Mullarkey’s gay “friend” now that her donation to prop 8 has been made public.

Mullarkey has played the Nazi card before, by the way, as she attacks those who disagree with her right-wing views. Her Studio Matters website contains transcripts of letters to the Nation in 1987, responding to her review of Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse and Catherine McKinnon’s Feminism Unmodified ( Readers Pauline B. Bart and Jane Mansbridge find Mullarkey’s review of these two ground-breaking feminist works “vitriolic and unreasoned,” as does Mary Lee Sargent, who finds that Mullarkey does a “trash job” on the two books.

Both letters also note that their writers were disturbed by Mullarkey’s playing of the Nazi card. Bart and Mansbridge argue that “the use of Nazi imagery to describe their books is both inappropriate and shocking, and trivializes what happened in the Holocaust.” Sargent is equally incisive:

Aside from the lesbian hating in her review, most offensive were the references to Dworkin and MacKinnon as storm troopers, Hitlers and Nazis, taking out after men (Jews). This is crude, racist propaganda reminiscent of the frequent claim that black people are reverse racists when they criticize whites. Women are reverse sexists or even fascists when they criticize men, their ideas and sexual practices. Jews were an oppressed and despised group in. fascist Europe; the fascists were the oppressors. Men cannot be equated with Jews because they are not the oppressed and despised group in "Amerika." Women are. Just read Mullarkey's piece again if you don't believe it.

Perhaps my saddest discovery of all, as I’ve sought to understand Mullarkey’s support of prop 8 this week, is that she has written for the distinguished centrist Catholic journal Commonweal. Her website autobiography proudly notes this fact ( Numerous google hits confirm the connection.

As I’ve said before (, I find Commonweal and other centrist-liberal American Catholic journals often impervious to gay human beings in general and gay Catholic brothers and sisters in particular—impervious to our very existence, to our real lives and real voices. In fact, I find the American Catholic center far more hospitable to those who demean and stereotype gay human beings (as Mullarkey does proudly and defiantly) than to those who are gay.

A world that has abundant room for Mullarkey and none for its gay brothers and sisters is not a world in which I belong, especially as that world talks on and on about love, inclusion, catholicity, and communion. Love etc. is hardly the message I take away from Mullarkey's musings about gay people and gay lives.

But that’s the point, isn’t it, with these centrist Catholics: we don’t belong. We’re not invited in, not really. It’s so much easier, after all, to report entre nous what our gay “friend” whispers to us about the gay lifestyle, as we discusses gay issues and gay lives and the gay place in church and world.

That is, it’s easier (if perhaps not entirely just or entirely charitable), when we don’t really want to revise anything at a fundamental level—including our own place in the scheme of things.