Trading in our sparkle and our freak
December 29th, 2010
Conservative columnist and National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg has an article in which he notes that the gay community has become increasingly bourgeois. We’ve traded in our outsider status – our anti-establishment, turn over the tables, radical revolutionary rhetoric – for an agenda that is conventional and middle-class. (NRO)
Two decades ago, the gay left wanted to smash the bourgeois prisons of monogamy, capitalistic enterprise and patriotic values and bask in the warm sun of bohemian “free love.” And avant-garde values. In this, they were simply picking up the torch from the straight left of the 1960s and 1970s, who had sought to throw off the sexual hang-ups of their parents’ generation along with their gray flannel suits.
The gay experiment with open bohemianism was arguably shorter. Of course, AIDS played an obvious and tragic role in focusing attention on the downside of promiscuity. But even so, the sweeping embrace of bourgeois lifestyles by the gay community has been stunning.
Nowhere is this more evident — and perhaps exaggerated — than in popular culture. Watch ABC’s Modern Family. The sitcom is supposed to be “subversive” in part because it features a gay couple with an adopted daughter from Asia. And you can see why both liberal proponents and conservative opponents of gay marriage see it that way. But imagine you hate the institution of marriage and then watch Modern Family’s hardworking bourgeois gay couple through those eyes. What’s being subverted? Traditional marriage, or some bohemian identity-politics fantasy of homosexuality?
Even the most casual glance at the goals and aspirations of our community activists – both Gay, Inc. and street protesters – give a picture of a modern gay community seeking conventionality: we value marriage and family, participation in national defense, religious inclusion, assimilated employment and housing, and societal respect for our lives and our unions. Looking at our legislative goals, you’d think we were all Republicans (and, indeed, at least a quarter of us are).
And this is certainly troubling to some in of our community. Those who have been out long enough to remember the transgressive cultural ideology of our youth often do so fondly. Yes, life is certainly easier when the store clerk helps you pick out a gift for your husband, but there was a sense of purpose and a heady rush of righteousness to screaming “fascist pigs” while storming out of a store that made it clear that they didn’t serve people like you.
Outsider status has its appeal. There’s very little intimacy in “belonging to” a citizenry of 300 million, but subcultures provide encouragement and support and care for those who share in the burden. The more that the greater society rejects you, the more intense is your sense of belonging to your community. And, ironically, the more one takes on attitudes and attributes that further separate you from the oppressors.
And for some in our community, the struggle is what defines their identity; it’s what gives purpose to their rage. And on the day that we finally accomplish civil, social, and religious equality, they will find themselves sadly pointless and obsolete.
But most of those who fear gay assimilation aren’t just angry or sentimental for the days of rejection. They also are legitimately concerned about a loss of culture, the diminishing of the unique perspective that our community created and which gives us color and life, our peculiarity and individuality. The more we embrace assimilation, the more we lose a bit of who we are.
They are right, of course.
The more that younger gay people assimilate into the greater community, the less our segregation will cause us to coalesce around shared culture points of music, expression, language, politics, and social thought. Gay institutions such as leather, drag, pop icons, feminist music, biker women, and sexual abandon will suffer and diminish as a result – to some extent they already have.
But “our culture” is another term for “what makes us different” and sometimes that which we claim as our own is really just a response to the rejection of others. Art and beauty are often born out of pain, and comfort seldom inspires originality. And as rejection recedes, so too will reaction.
But I believe that there will always be a gay community that is set apart to some extent from society. We will always have a place to go to be around people who share our unique perspective driven by the very real difference of our sexual attraction. And it will have to go through the process of finding what is of lasting unique value and what can and should be given up in trade for the comfort and security that comes from acceptance.
I can’t predict what will survive our continued assimilation, but I know that you can’t truly stand apart without disregarding the opinions of others. And as we gain equalities, the risks for many gay people will become too great. It is all but certain that some of our culture points will either go extinct or become stylized homages to an earlier time, like lederhosen or Saint Patrick’s Day parades.
Yes, it is true that we will be a more equal people, a more secure, accepted, and included people. But it is also certainly true that we will have less sparkle and freak.