Again Josh, Official SpokesGay writes a Facebook post that I have to put here.
Had a long conversation with one of my best friends last week. We talked a lot about how different life, sex, love, politics look as we enter middle-age as compared to how it looked to us in the late 80s when we were just coming out.
About the double-edged sword of cultural ghettoization. How the closure of a famed gay bar provokes sadness and outcries about how those young baby fags don’t understand what they’ve lost. And they don’t, but not necessarily for the Very Important Reasons we middle-aged are thinking of.
So gaydar. That way “you can tell” if someone is gay. Maybe he’s a bit “artistic.” Maybe she cuts her hair short and doesn’t speak with the melodic pitch intervals associated with women’s speech.
Those old heuristics work less and less well. I’ve complained about how it’s hard to tell the straight boys from the gay ones anymore. Men can be foppish just a little bit more, even if they’re straight. Women can be just a bit more tomboy-ish even if they’re straight. Yes, the change is halting and punctuated with backlash. But it is happening. Because, millimeter by millimeter, non-negotiable gender roles and their behavioral cues are becoming more negotiable.
So what am I complaining about? The fact that the codes and tells developed as self-defense mechanisms aren’t as relevant anymore because there’s a tiny bit less of a need to self-ghettoize? Yes, that’s what I was complaining about.
This is to mistake the edifice, the costumes, the arbitrary behavioral etiquette, for the essence of what it means to be gay or queer. It’s fetishizing a subculture that arose in reaction to violence and squelching. It’s bemoaning the loss of a cultural identity that only ever existed as a way to give some solidarity to a terrified group of people who had to hide in the shadows.
But then, we are all nothing but the people and identities who emerge from a specific time, a specific place, with specific vocabularies and restaurants and film stars and laws and brands of coffee. There is no Platonic essence of us. We are only emergent manifestations of our when and where. That’s the really-real, the there-there. So maybe we can be forgiven a bit for mourning the loss?
Affection for one’s subculture is complicated. It’s always bittersweet. And it almost always misleads one by emotion; you have to second-guess yourself when you start pining for how it used to be.
I don’t know where to go with it all. But I do know it’s no good to age into a comfortable but reactionary nostalgia. Even if it seems like a loss, one must remind one’s self that longing for the comfortable, familiar signals of the ghetto one grew up in is not an unalloyed good. It may not be a good at all.