Differently Gay

Wyatt Buchanan, writing on ScrippsNews, offers this short article that touches on “what it means” to be gay, and how that very phrase has a different meaning for each and every one of us.    The title alone caught my eye: “A debate among gay men over values and goals.”  It’s not often publicized–and when it is, it’s either ridiculed or completely disavowed–that we gay men do not subscribe to one mindset or agenda.  But the plain truth is that just as there is no guidebook for straight life, there is no guidebook to gay life, either, and while straight men and women have practically an entire society on which to model their behavior, gays do not.  We have snippets of what we are shown, and that depends entirely on what we have access to at the time–books, TV, the internet–each one has allowed us to expand our visions of what “being a gay man” can be, but none are all-encompassing, and rarely is a book or TV show an ideal fit for how we feel about ourselves.  In short, while there are plenty of voices telling us what we shouldn’t be–including others who are homosexual themselves–there are few positive voices telling us what we should be, or even what we can be.  Certainly very few gay-positive voices have any compelling ideas, and the entire concept of “values and goals” has never been one lauded by –and I use this phrase hesitantly–“the gay community.” 

As these men discuss modern gay life, they confront what a New York City writer sees as the dominant message gay men have received about themselves after coming out.

Author Christopher Lee Nutter said the message was: “You need to be young, you need to be sexually powerful, and you need to be fabulous.”

Painfully true.  One of my most vocal complaints about “the gay community” is that while we complain about how we “want society to accept us,” we often don’t accept each other.  Oftentimes gays in their late twenties are still behaving as if they are teenagers: stick to your clique, badmouth the others, make sure you’re superficially pretty.  Don’t hang out with the fatties, make sure you sow your share of oats while you’re still young enough to, honey . . .

Honestly, sometimes it makes me physically ill.  I mean, there’s a reason I don’t link to certain blogs, where superficiality is all the rage.  And they seem to be very popular.  That’s what I don’t understand.  Why do we reward effette bitchiness–just for the sake of it–with more attention?  These are the role models of tomorrows young queers, and it scares the hell out of me, because they exemplify this attitude: if you’re going to be gay, do it RIGHT, or you’re nothing.  NOTHING. 

When Nutter began questioning the sexual and social freedom of contemporary gay culture, people he knew discouraged him.

“My questioning was really diagnosed as a desire to go back in the closet,” he said.

See that?  There’s the “self-hatred” meme I’ve seen so many times when trying to converse with other queers about gay conservatives, or religious gays, etc.  Interestingly enough, the ones who are first to portray any sign of anything “not completely liberal” as “fascism” are the ones who practice what I deem “gay facism” themselves.  They will ostracize you until it hurts.  Don’t believe me?  Try having a conversation about religion in a gay bar, or even on the internet in a gay forum.  Good luck to you.  Some moderate sites do exist, but they’re few and far between, and very hard to find. 

And in a world where more and more teens are feeling more comfortable with the prospect of Coming Out, what do those teens have to look to for guidance?  Nutter makes the point succinctly:

“Gay men are standing in the middle of a tornado, with the pope and the president on one side telling them one thing and ‘Will & Grace’ and ‘Queer Eye’ telling them another thing and the gay culture telling them another set of issues,” Nutter said. “I think that very tornado is what has directed a lot of men to say, ‘OK, who … am I going to believe? Am I believing Massachusetts, where I can get married? Or Cairo, where they’re going to put me in jail? Which one do I believe?’ Maybe neither.”

That’s it in a nutshell: Maybe neither.  The message the gay community needs to spread among queers young and old is that it’s okay to be yourself.  Not just that it’s okay to “be gay,” but it’s okay to be gay your way, to be differently gay.  You don’t have to lisp or swish, but it’s okay if you do.  You don’t have to be a sex addict, a drug addict, know Prada from Versace (I don’t), or any of the other stereotypes.  You can believe in God.  You can dress and act exactly as you always have (without the tension in your shoulders from holding that secret every day).  As one young man quoted in the article says, “that’s not what being gay is about.  Being gay is about loving men, and love is not the most pervasive thing on those publications or Web sites.”  Mostly those are about sex.

“Being Gay” doesn’t have to be your whole identity. 

You can be differently gay and still be ok. 

And there’s the bumper sticker. 

UPDATE:  I like Cooper’s take on the topic (although he’s only half my age.  Egads.)

10 thoughts on “Differently Gay

  1. We don’t choose to be gay, but we can choose how we ‘gay’ (thats right I made it a verb, deal!).

    As an 18 year old guy, totally out, I find myself fighting more for acceptance within the gay community than from external forces. When I saw some of the same articles you referenced, it was a bit of validation for what I felt since I came out 4 years ago, that I alone will define what kind of gay man I will be and not the dictates of pop culture, circuit boys or Gen X and Boomer elders. Gay pride is more than just going to gay clubs and standing on the side of the road to watch a pride parade, it can be a simple as living your life on your own terms without apologies to the straight world and certainly not to anyone in the gay community. I, as a gay man, can drive a pick up, be a carpenter, play golf and still be part of the gay community without apology.

    We needn’t march in lockstep on how we live our lives, we need to accept that gay is not like being Shriner with a special hat that all must wear. We can however march in lockstep when it comes to our rights. Now the trick is to light a fire under the apathetic or in a gay disconnect.

  2. I agree, Cooper. (I added you to my blogroll already.)

    So many people use the term “gay community,” when, IMHO, there just isn’t one. Many of the groups that broke ground for the gay rights movement have either gone away or lost focus, and the result is that those of us who aren’t comfortable in the stereotypical roles feel abandoned by a “community” that wasn’t there in the first place.

    I tend to think that the internet will be the most driving force in forging a truly diverse “gay community” if ever there shall be one.

  3. NDT cheering is always an ominous sign, but perhaps I’m overreacting.

    Does one have the right to expect community to spring spontaneously into existence the second one says, “Hey world, guess what? I’m gay.” And isn’t a definition of community crucial? Is it the organizations that rest in it like raisins in a scone (wow, I need to cut down on the Martha Stewart) or is it the cluster of people one slowly accrues around oneself like a pearl? If it’s the first, then is it fair to simply say it doesn’t exist without at least trying to revive the organizations and create the community we seem to feel abandoned by? If it’s the second, then isn’t there still a greater community, in spite of the differences in the micro-communities, because we’re all sharing the same thing, the same experience?

  4. QJ, both your definitions of community have a focal point. (The scone or oneself.) I don’t think that’s really necessary. To me, community is the aggregate of those involved in, let’s say, not “the same” experience, but the same type of experience. Quite frankly, the gay community that I read about in the big cities simply doesn’t exist here in any significant form, and I suspect that’s the same in much of small-town America.

    And no, one doesn’t necessarily have the right to expect community to spring into existence when one comes out. That’s the whole point. Younger gays need to know that they don’t have to seek out the local version of QAF in order to be “proper” gays. And those out there who purport to represent the interests of “the gay community” need to recognize the diversity within it.

  5. Actually, QJ, Cooper has a related article on his blog, and he puts the question forth as this: How does a young man who is masculine, not so fabulous, and wanting something for himself other than clubbing and no strings sex fit in this gay community he sees portrayed. That’s the angle this needs to be tackled from. Enough with putting “the community” first. How about the needs of the individuals that “the community” either ignores or tramples?

  6. Is the “community” the one doing the ignoring and trampling or is there a disconnect between our expectations of what community should be and basic human behavior?

    I would admit that I see community as a focused conglomeration of individuals undergoing the same experience (or the same type of experience). If one removes that focus, then I would probably say you have a population, but not a community.

    Communities are certainly not homogeneous, though. Within even the tightest-knit community, there will be subcommunities and politics and alliances and in-fighting and the whole host of human woes and boons between these subcommunities. It is the challenge of pretty much all human life to find or carve out a place in that meta-community.

    It’s an interesting topic, certainly. Over at Joe.My.God, he has a post on a SF Chronicle story concerning gay men looking for a community that is more accepting of their search for self-actualization. The article is fascinating in itself, but what’s almost more telling is the reaction of many of the commenters and Joe. It’s fairly negative, ranging from calling the men interviewed for the story Pollyannas to branding them, the article, its author and the newspaper outrageous homophobes who are out to destroy gay people.

    The virulence seems far above what the article might inspire and it seems strange and counterproductive that gay men are yelling at other gay men simply because they’re trying to do something different. Yet that yelling sort of reaffirms the idea that communities, no matter if they’re gay or straight, are not always going to agree or get along and expecting a constant embrace may be ignoring one of the most important aspects of community, the individual and their choice to associate.

    Sometimes the “gay community” can certainly feel hostile or unsatisfying. When I came out, I was dismayed to find what seemed to be an even more vicious and restrictive caste-system than that which occurred in the heterosexual community. However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that simply because I don’t get along with a certain percentage of the community, doesn’t mean I’m not part of it. I’ve accumulated people around me that I have common vision with or that constructively challenge my vision and this is my subcommunity withing the greater gay community. I see no reason anymore to distance myself from the greater gay community, even though I may not be a rabid supporter of it, because to my mind such extreme dissociation breeds mistrust, misunderstanding and a lack of empathy. This is my solution and it may not be the right one for everyone and it may even change and become the wrong one for me, but that’s just life.

  7. I read the responses at JMG and wasn’t very surprised, actually. Ryan, the founder of the Lovetastic site mentioned in the article, responded and that was interesting.

    Thing is, I’ve never been associated with the “gay community.” Any outreach that exists isn’t reaching out far enough. I haven’t purposefully disassociated myself from the gay community–I’ve just never had much in common with, how shall I put this, “the fags in power?” I mean, I write for a website called Homomojo, for crying out loud. It’s not like I don’t welcome all opinions from within the gay community. Rather, the gay community often doesn’t welcome my opinions. And just as I see no reason to ally myself with “white” groups because I’m white, I see no reason to ally myself with “gay” groups simply because they have “gay” in the name.

    The problem with this:

    I see no reason anymore to distance myself from the greater gay community, even though I may not be a rabid supporter of it, because to my mind such extreme dissociation breeds mistrust, misunderstanding and a lack of empathy.

    is that You’re the only one trying to get along in this scenario. As you can see by the retarded responses at JMG, much of the gay community is obviously aghast that anyone could even THINK of trying to find a date without first seeing “the package.” I think that’s morally reprehensible and find no reason to associate myself with those type of people, even if they are gay. They are actively ostracizing those gay folks who don’t “tow the party line,” and I would almost liken it to the differences between MLK’s movement and the Black Panthers.

    I’m not the one saying we all have to be the same. They’re the ones saying there is no place for people like me in their “community.” Fine. People like me, Cooper, and others aren’t about to cry about it. We’re just looking for another way. There’s a difference between trying to be yourself, and expecting that everyone else who has something in common MUST be just like you or there’s something wrong with them. JMG’s antagonist commenters fall in the latter category, whereas I do not.

    Viva la difference.

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