Yesterday I saw an article in my Google News feed by Charles White on Breitbart.com with the provocative headline “Straight People Have Ruined Gay Rights.” The website is named after the late conservative scumbag Andrew Breitbart, and usually publishes right-wing trash.
But aforementioned headline did catch my attention.
In summary: Heteros have ruined gay rights and culture by co-opting our movement in order to feel good about themselves for helping us poor homos. And if I’m reading White correctly, he sees the price of equality as de-queering ourselves to take on the appearance and values of mainstream hetero culture—to be less offensive. Less gay. Furthermore, we’re expected to put up with hetero curiosity and even voyeurism as part of our “assimilation” into the mainstream. “Queer spaces are becoming zoos for straights to stare at us,” White declares.
While I don’t agree with much of what he had to say, the article did inspire an interesting conversation on my Facebook wall about the existential crisis the American LGBT community seems to be moving into in this post-Windsor/post-Obergefell era. That’s not to say there aren’t still miles to go for gay rights and equality. Because there are.
My friend Nick started off by pondering whether the “existential loneliness I perceive now [is] because I am gay or simply because being forced to re-evaluate my being gave me outer perspective?” He added,
Gay culture was a thing largely born out of necessity in light of the persecution we faced; it’s the only reason we had the four letters of GLBT to bind us at all.
Now that it’s not so required, fashionable even, you can’t honestly expect it to maintain the fabulous momentum it once had.
In a longer comment he wrote:
If you’ve ever watched the Celluloid Closet, you get a firm idea what the gay culture mentioned in the article above was based on, where our securities were built… Creating a code of behavior to repel the sadistic beat-down the rest of society enjoyed inflicting ended up paying off, and it was refined by the sacrifices we were forced to make…
In that time frame, the theatrics were guided by the resources available. I think gay men today capitalize on this the most effectively of the GLBT, but the legacy has run its course. If the community wants to re-radicalize so badly there needs to be a new image, a new alluring icon to draw us together. In my circles, the providers I’ve met with agree with me on principle, but we have yet to see something to reflect off of… I see the trans community working in this light, not so gracefully at the moment, but it IS working.
If gay men want their “richness” back they will have to work for it. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, but it can be done with some people of purpose guiding the helm. I just hope those people approach with empathy and kindness at the core of their purpose.
I thought Nick makes some excellent points, and I largely agree with him. I responded to him:
When I look at the various expressions of gay/queer culture, outrage, and/or activism, these seem rooted (but also stuck) in modes of the past.
Looking at the struggles of basically every immigrant group that came to this country in the 19th and 20th centuries, the problem was one of balancing integration with establishing a unique cultural identity. German, Irish, Chinese, Russian, Greek, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, Jewish, and other Middle Eastern groups immigrated here from 1850 to 1930, and almost all faced opposition from political conservatives at the time.
The LGBT community are sort of “immigrants from within.” We’re relative newcomers to the American landscape, with our strange customs and peculiar ways, but we’re rapidly gaining greater acceptance in ways that just a decade ago were unthinkable. This is why I somewhat question the notion of re-radicalization. Fight for our equal rights as citizens of this country, yes. Challenge toxic, outdated gender norms. Combat bigotry wherever it lurks. But if we want full inclusion and acceptance, we can’t continue to carry ourselves as outsiders.
Personally, I think the future of the LGBT community is in joining with other social justice movements to advocate for feminism and egalitarianism, and eliminate patriarchy, misogyny, and bigotry. Because I don’t think we need another icon or subculture to rally around like we used to. Post-Obergefell gay culture needs to be built around the core notion of authenticity.
I might be stepping on some toes in saying this, but there is a sort of monolithic “gay” ethos and style that is not exactly but also kinda rigidly enforced. And I question how much of that comes from authentic individual expression and how much is conformity borne from a need for belonging to and the protection of the gay tribe. Queer identity itself is direct action against the rigid hegemonic gender binarism of the patriarchy.
If that were no longer there and everyone was free to explore and express themselves in ways that were true to themselves, would the queer identity even be necessary?
My friend Steve chimed in that “the problem outlined in this article and the commentary is predicated on a false assumption: that gay people are all the same.” And he’s right. Each letter in the acronym represents its own unique community, with cultures and needs of their own.
So I guess I’m really talking about gay men here, because no other group on the LGBT spectrum has as recognizable or as well-defined a culture.
But I think the much larger question that we’re all getting at is: what does it actually mean to be openly gay and not oppressed? (Again, see my note above about how we still have miles to go to reach full equality.) What would it look like if “homo” weren’t in contrast to “hetero”?
What’s next for us?