From Outcasts to Incasts

Monday, October 17, 2005

From Outcasts to Incasts

For the past few days I've been mulling over how to respond to Andrew Sullivan's New Republic cover article, The End of Gay Culture. I've read this type of thing many times before where someone opines that as gays and gayness becomes more mainstream, as we assimilate, that we are losing our collective identity and that gay culture is in danger or is dying. On some level it is true, what we associate as uniquely "gay" is indeed changing, but there seems to be an erroneous assumption woven into his article.

Most of it Sullivan gets right, but I can't help but take issue with his repeated reference to the notion of a singular gay cultural identity, "There is no single gay identity anymore, let alone a single look or style or culture...Who can rescue a uniform gay culture?" My question is this-- was there ever such a thing?

For several decades there has been a public "out" face in places like San Francisco and New York, represented mostly by 10-paces-away-queer outsider outlandishness. That has been the gay community's visible face and it gave the (false) impression that all gay people are somehow alike, that there is one way to "be" gay. We needed these images to get noticed, to edge our way into the public consciousness, the history of gays in cinema pretty much tells the story.

However, this doesn't mean there haven't always been "Boston marriages," unmarried Midwestern women who lived together for 25 years or closeted southerners living as "permanent bachelors" before, there always have been, but they were invisible. I'd argue that now the diversity of gay culture is much better represented as all of our different parts are becoming increasingly visible. (For example, look no further than the Idaho Pride Centre in Boise.) The assumption of a singular gay identity is especially perplexing coming from a somewhat paradoxical gay conservative like himself.

The other thing that Sullivan fails to address is the way that gay cultural stereotypes have been co-opted for commercial use and how it has changed us from the outside. I'd argue that at this point we're totally overexposed, even I am a little sick of us if only because the MSM has a hard time moving past sensationalistic, simplistic attention grabbing headlines. Like many minorities before us, our novelty is often exploited by the MSM to the point that we are viewed as exceptionally self-centered and pushy.

What Sullivan does seem to get is that at the moment queers in general are separated by a very distinct generational experiences. That is the quixotic nature of queerness right now, we are simultaneously celebrating what makes us radically different while we argue that we are essentially the same as everyone else and deserve the same rights and protection from discrimination. We just don't fit into a neat little box anymore, if we ever truly did, because there are just so many ways to be gay.

I'm not too concerned about the future of gay culture. There will always been queers who make straight people uncomfortable, who push boundaries and challenge conventional notions of gender and sexuality (thank god!) but there will also be plenty of button-down gay people, even gay Republicans, as there always have been. But what won't change, at least not for several generations (if ever), is that we are different than straight people, we do experience the world differently because gay people grow up in a straight culture. We will always be a minority on some level or another, our very existence will always be hated and deemed a threat by someone-- rest assured, we will always be queer.

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