Contemporary gay culture is in a tug-a-war with two powerful forces: authenticity and acceptance. The desire for the former begins as we first come out and positively embrace our orientation. The latter emerges when we begin to assimilate into the broader culture to satiate our yearning for cultural belonging. But to belong, do we have to insist to the world that we are not perverts and deviants?
Because the actual fact is, we are! We are sexually out of sync with mainstream culture. And when I observe the brutality of the heterosexual world, I think that might actually a good thing.
Acceptance and authenticity pull us in opposing directions. This tension strains us in all sorts of complicated and interesting ways. On the national stage the gay rights struggle for acceptance has
become a battle for assimilation. Many gays believe that if we access straight institutions of power (marriage, military service, etc.) then acceptance will be achieved. But should modeling the lives of our
oppressors really our biggest goal? I think this is why we love Ellen so much. She represents progress. Her popularity means we're normal. We can now pass.
Mormons also suffer from the same collective psychological inferiority complex. When Mitt Romney appeared to have a shot at the GOP nomination, the LDS faithful were ecstatic. It was a sign of their
successful assimilation into mainstream Christian America. The popularity of Glenn Beck, Marie Osmond and David Archuleta reinforce in the insecure Mormon mind that they are also really not weird (um, I think those three actually make them even more weird, but there you go). In order to obtain acceptance, The LDS religion abandoned their most peculiar doctrines: polygamy, the United Order and the cosmic apotheosis of mankind. These have all been suspended and summarily stripped from all Sunday School manuals. Which is kind of sad, because a lot of these ideas actually made Mormonism interesting. Now it's become a bland faith that creates boring people. Theological imagination has
been replaced by obedience to conservative dogma. And worse, when you embrace a culture of oppression, you often become oppressors yourself.
Mormons were once a persecuted outsider sect of maverick socialist polygamists who evolved into a mainstream church of homo-hating, rightwing, war-loving, monogamist capitalists. That's what
assimilation does to you.
When we see the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender political machine working to obtain conservative acceptance within patriarchal marriage structures and imperial military institutions, it ought to give us all pause. Marriage has historically been a system to subjugate women. Our military invades
and violently takes over sovereign nations at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. And all gay people can think about is how much we want those rings and bombs. But if queers achieve national acceptance will we eventually become as boring as Mormons? Does the lofty goal of “equality” mean that we have to behave like everyone else? And if so is equality really worth it?
Genderqueer activist Mattilda, described how the gay power elite in San Francisco “succeeded in clamping down on the anger, defiance, flamboyance and subversion once thriving in queer subcultures, in order to promote a vapid, consume-or-die, only-whites-need-apply version of gay identity. Homo now stands more for homogenous than any type of sexuality aside from buy buy buy.”
(“Sweatshop-Produced Rainbow Flags and Participatory Patriarchy”)
Now acceptance is a natural desire. We're social creatures. We all want to fit in to something larger. I get that. Our anxiety to be included also plays out internally within gay male culture. As closeted queer youth socialized into heterosexual norms we all know what it feels like to be the outsider. And when we do suddenly find the courage to come out and live authentically, we leap into the gay scene and to our shock and possibly horror, discover that we still don't fit in!
So compromises begin. As a gay male feel I need to hit the gym. Not so much because I want to be healthy, but more so because I want to get laid. Which means, of course, that I need to go to the bar. Even though I don't smoke and don't like being drunk (and god knows the only way to actually endure the banality of a gay bar is to get totally shit-faced). And then there is gay male fashion. I actually
love the art of fashion. I am all about the runway. But Ambercrombie & Fitch is not fashion. Ridiculously embroidered jeans for $200 + is not fashion. But it does seem to be what many a gay male wears. So
the compromise of my personal authenticity begins. We all do stupid things to belong. I just find it strange that after rejecting the straight world I still find it difficult to successfully assimilate into gay culture.
And I'm beginning to realize that most people are struggling, too. Everyone feels awkward in these environments. We're all wondering if we look good enough or if our hair has a sufficient amount of fiber
pomade. I suspect even the hottest creatine-pumped guy in the room feels insecure. Maybe even more so. That's why we bring the drugs and alcohol. Everyone is performing what they think “gay” should be. But no one really knows. We are all making compromises and negotiating our own authenticity in the hope of a little acceptance.
But I believe this does ease up the older we get. At a certain age you really begin to think, “who gives a fuck?” (I think that's probably somewhere around 35-ish.)
The big universal is that everyone feels like a freak. We’re all trying to discover what is authentic within ourselves. Queers are sexual deviants. Getting gay married or being free to be openly gay while torturing Iraqi prisoners isn't going to change that. The liberation comes when you recognize your freakishness and realize it’s all okay. Ultimately the real work is deeply accepting ourselves,
independent of American or gay culture. Now, I'm not sure exactly how we do that. I've read self-help books. I've sat in Zen meditation. I've masturbated to nature CDs. They all help. I'm not advocating
authenticity over acceptance; they are both important needs. But an increased awareness is key. We need to be more thoughtfully aware of the tension. We must journey into a space that individually and
socially honors all of our competing desires. Love the freak within. The alternative is far too boring.
Troy blogs at queergnosis.com.