Archive for the 'Culture' Category

The dying of the gay subculture (and why it’s a good thing)

Monday, May 11th, 2009

There really is a gaydar. The mistake that everyone makes though is that clues to a person’s sexuality can be gleaned from the way a person walks or talks or what clothes they wear.* Using those visual cues works only for those who are a part of the gay subculture. The home of musicals, dance music, and fashion consciousness infused with effiminancy and a non-sexual love of women. It was a place where gays could belong without being as harshly judged by bigots, and as a identity with which to find other gays. That culture is slowly going away as a distinct group, and that’s a good thing.

A distinct gay culture is an anachronism today. We’re living in the beginning of an age of marriage equality, where government accepts and provides support for one of the most common social constructs among humans, long-term monogamous relationships. There have always been heterosexuals who never had a problem with their gay brothers and sisters, but it’s increasingly becoming more acceptable to be openly and vocally supportive for their rights.

Some will lament this subculture’s passing, especially those who grew up to identify closely with it. However groups like this should be based around common interests and beliefs, not sexual orientation. If this subculture morphs into something that less aligned with a perceived gay lifestyle, it has a more legitimate reason to exist. This is already happening, with the unintended consequence of straight people having their sexuality questioned just because they like musicals or dance music or have a flair for design.

What this really means is that gays are becoming a more tolerated and even celebrated part of the greater society. The voices of hatred for those who are different is being drowned out by reason and tolerance. The most visible representation of this change is the counter-protests to the Westboro Baptist Church.

There still needs to be support systems for people coming to terms with their sexuality, but the need to belong to a specific social group is no longer necessary. It’s a good time to be gay and not want to fit any old-fashioned stereotypes.

And now for some random pieces of gay cultural history I’m itching to share (and they provide some extra perspective):

Judy Garland had a large gay following not just because she was a great singer, but the pain that she felt could be heard in her singing and she was a voice for the unhappiness most repressed gays felt.** Most of the effiminacy of gays from the 40s through the 60s can be attributed to gay portrayals in movies*** – gays could only appear as comedic elements or heavily coded to pass the censors. For a boy growing up in a small town with few visible role models, the movies were often the only way for many to find their identity.

Twentieth century gay subculture was defined by several important events: the Pansy Craze of the late 20s and 30s, World War II (it was the first time many gays discovered there were others like them, and the subsequent conservatism following the war brought invigorated repression), the political activism of the 60s and 70s, and the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. A set of slang, symbols, and philosophy of life developed that created a unified gay identity. This was crucial because of the cruel way American society treated gays and lesbians during the period; by having such a group to belong, it created a tremendous support system for a group of people trying to shake off the commonly-held belief that their sexuality meant there was something wrong with them. It was also an identity to align with, one that accepted people openly and judged more on their actions than expectations.

*So how does the gaydar really work? It comes down to non-verbal cues like where someone’s wandering eyes follow or facial expressions in relation to certain topics discussed, as well as verbal cues – the most obvious is the ‘pronoun game’ but there are others like an absence of certain topics (like chasing girls). Of course the easiest way to tell if someone is gay is to ask them and they give a straight answer (no pun intended) or you see them having sex with someone of the same sex, like yourself.

**If you haven’t heard any of Judy Garland’s later recordings, I suggest you check out Judy at Carnegie Hall or any of her later recordings of “Over the Rainbow” – the heartbreak is so strong it never fails to get me teary-eyed.

***For an overview of portrayal of gays and lesbians in movies, check out the great documentary Celluloid Closet.

Rights for everyone

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

There is absolutely no reason for there to be a debate over gay marriage. This isn’t like abortion where the life of an unborn child is at stake*. This is about living in a land of freedoms open to all the citizens of America.

Christians have no right whatsoever to be against two women or two men who love each other to join together in holy matrimony. If you worship God and try to follow the teachings of Jesus, he would not be happy with your treatment of your fellow brothers and sisters; he would be sad because you have a choice to treat others as you want to be treated.

This is not just a religious thing, we must all treat others fairly. We live in a country founded by people who were pissed off because they were treated like children and given no rights. And when we grew up as a country and confronted our own hypocritical treatment of ethnic and racial minorities, we took it upon ourselves to be accepting of everyone.

When I moved to Massachusetts over three years ago, it wasn’t because I suddenly gained the right to marry whoever I wanted. But I don’t want it any other way; at least all loving adults are treated the same by law here. It should be that way anywhere else in the United States.

On Tuesday, California’s citizens will be voting to keep the rights given to them by courts earlier this year. Even though most of us don’t live there, we need them to have the right of open marriage for everyone. Why? Because the more states that are in step with the rights granted us by the Declaration of Independence, the more that will follow. We all have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – that’s for everyone. In the end we’re all humans, and we’re all in this together.

Growing up in Iowa, I tried hard to surround myself with people who accepted me for who I am. People who I could tell that I was gay, and nothing would change. But there were always people who weren’t so accepting, because they didn’t know how to deal with it, or they were taught to hate. They may have treated me badly, but I forgive them. Acceptance takes time.

The treatment I received gave me a complex. I felt I had to bury my identity it to almost everyone for fear that things would change and I’d be treated differently. You had to either have known me for a long time, or be gay yourself to gain access to the knowledge. But fuck it. It’ll take time to be open but I’m not hiding anymore. You have no reason to hate me for being gay. You can hate me for not liking your favorite band or thinking you’re a prick, but you can’t hate me for something I have no control over.

It may be different for me because some day I may want to marry another man, but we all must stick up for each others rights. Boston is so diverse that nearly everyone I know is a minority of some sort. And it would hurt me for them to be treated differently. Some of their ancestors were unjustly persecuted and denied their rights, and I won’t let that happen again. It’s the same thing, though – do you really think we should be selective in treatment of law-abiding people who aren’t trying to hurt others? No.

Eight years of bigoted conservatism is more than enough.

It’s time for America to walk the walk.

I guess this post was about more than just gay marriage. Surprise!

*I was taught that as a man I have no say over abortion. It’s not my choice and never will be. Women are the only ones to make a decision on abortion, so I’m keeping my mouth shut!


Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

The one time I ever really impressed a teacher was when my Junior year english teacher asked our class what freedom meant. My answer was the first thing that came to mind, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” It’s a line from Janis Joplin’s song “Me and Bobby McGee.” Turns out, that’s exactly what he was thinking too.

There are very few people in America who really know what freedom means. Is it what Joplin sang? Perhaps. If movies, literature, and song have said many times, is that the people who really have the power to do whatever they want are those who have either escaped responsibility or have had it taken away. And yet, with a good job, a decent education, and hard work, we can try to get every material thing we want or any comfort money can buy.

But ask yourself: “What would I do if I had no job, no home, no possessions, no obligations, nothing but the clothes I’m wearing?” If you were in that situation, it’d probably take some thought. One thing would be true, though: you could do anything you want. Couldn’t start a family because you didn’t have any time outside of work? Haven’t done much traveling because you had chores to do and other things to save up for? Well you’ve got a lot of time to do some real living, here’s your chance!

I won’t be the first to point out that The Declaration of Independence – the document that created the United States of America, says that we have a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” It’s a funny phrase, if you think about it: if happiness is what we all want anyway, shouldn’t it be that we have a right to happiness? Trouble is, happiness – that feeling of being able to walk down the street and spontaneously break out into a grin if for no reason than the feeling of being alive – happiness is not something we all get to have. It’s something that requires an effort. Being happy doesn’t just come from nowhere, we must work for it. We must pursue it.  And somewhere, somehow, in the middle of chasing that happiness, occasionally that feeling just appears. Chances are you won’t notice it – but sometimes there is a realization that everything is all right. You may notice a grin on your face, or a sudden urge to dance. That’s happiness, the elusive goal.

The pursuit of happiness, that is the real freedom. All of those things in your life that you could lose, it may hurt for a while, but they can all be lost. That already makes you free. That’s the kind of thought that makes me smile.