In a culture dominated by slacktivism Facebook’s Celebrate Pride photo filter was an appreciated, albeit quaint, and timely nod to Pride in what has become a truly landmark year for LGBT rights. Its widespread adoption by gay and straight alike, an old friend slathered her twin adolescent boys in gorgeous Technicolor rainbow, coupled with the somewhat obvious and now expected corporate display of support following the SCOTUS ruling represented the foundational culture shift that has occurred towards gay rights in America. For many, at least in the social circles you and I run in, the inevitable march towards gay rights is as obvious as counting the minorities in Hilary Clinton’s latest YouTube on equality.
At this point what is more mainstream (slash neutering) than a rainbow colored image of Proctor and Gamble cleaning products with the tagline: Labels are for products, not people. Cleaning products are about as boner killing as having a sex dream about Kim Jong Un; regardless of the fact that Mr. Clean has a Tom of Findland-esque look about him, which perhaps explains the support of the consumer packaged good multi-national.
There is risk in this apparent acceptance of queer culture (and what some would argue as heteronormativity) within broad-based North American culture. As the NY Times queried this weekend “As more victories that accumulate for gay rights, the faster some gay institutions, rituals and markers are fading out.” Noted blogger Andrew Sullivan prodded the Times: “What do gay men have in common when they don’t have oppression?”
Gay culture has had a cohesive external face since its modern genesis in the late 60’s almost because of a sense of struggle. From the fight to repeal sodomy laws, to the forever struggle of coming out, to periods of violent homophobia (Matthew Sheppard), to the AIDS crisis, to the current struggle for marriage equality, mass gay culture has superseded any internal fractures framed by the overarching desire for acceptance and equality.
So now what? As HBO’s Looking proved, there is nothing more boring than watching 3 gays stumble through hook-ups and break-ups in modern day San Francisco. Not even a sepia toned filter (#instagay) could save the mundane reality of modern day upwardly mobile homos.
My commute to work takes me through the West Village, where vestiges of gay ghetto remain shabbily stagnant in theme park like isolation, while vaguely gay entrants like the Big Gay Ice Cream dutifully carry on the banner serving Bea Arthur flavored soft serve in a more family friendly setting next to old timey hold-outs like Marie’s Crisis and the Stonewall Inn, which seem sheepishly out of place in a world populated by juice bars and fashionable boites like Joseph Leonard. Unlike village tenants of yesterday Joseph Leonard has a liquor license and running water. Good luck, however, getting a table in an under 2-hour wait time.
Further north in erstwhile gay Chelsea… the remnants of the area’s queer adolescence have recently incurred the wrath of its more recently sedate inhabitants; possibly reformed party boys who have settled down and taken gay parenting classes at New York’s LGBT Centre (the same Centre that spawned the famous HIV Quilt in the 80s) only to become finger pointing adults concerned about sex shops. In a recent NY Times diatribe openly gay, local resident and father noted that when it comes to sex shops: one is too many, “I’m pretty liberal, but I’m conservative when it comes to raising children,” he said. “There are several schools in the neighborhood — every day we’re walking past these stores [sex shops] 10 times.”
As we move beyond the rainbow the unification of gay culture risks becoming one of clutched pearls or even worse – of materialism and vapidity, as personified by the rather tone-deaf article published in Fashion (a Canadian magazine). Fashion interviewed Brian Fleming who had this today about his Pride-ready regimen:
- To get ready for Toronto’s Pride Week, I’m mostly eating a high-protein, low-carb, low-fat, low-sodium diet, and drinking more water.
- Everyone buys new clothes. And I bought a new bathing suit. You’re also cleaning your house, stocking your bar, making sure that you have healthy food to serve if people come over. So fruit and nuts—no chips.
- I’ve been training with my boyfriend. As a couple you also want to look good because you’re representing Toronto, you’re ambassadors.
Published on the day of the Supreme Court ruling, there was much finger wagging at Brian. Rightfully so. While it read like satire, it represented the increasing dichotomy between corporate-happy modern gay life and the struggle that birthed it. While modern gays do not need to walk around wounded reminding themselves that their nicely manicured feet and matching Tiffany engagement rings were brought to them (not by Tiffany) but by those who fought for their rights, a sense of reverence would be a nice to have.
But in a world where Brian (and myself to be completely transparent) are not afraid of being exposed or taunted because we are gay, where being out is celebrated by employee resource groups, where our parents march with us and give toasts at our weddings, and where the mother fucking Supreme Court basically blessed us, the struggle of the past can seem painfully distant.
From an equality standpoint there is still a lot things we as gay men and women need to fight and organize for. It would be puerile to argue that being part of an oppressed minority is in some way better than being part of a minority that has experienced acceptance. Similarly it would be fantastical to think that being gay or transgendered is not still a struggle for millions who can be fired for being gay in 28 States, for the thousands who are fearful of coming out to their parents and for the thousands who do not have the financial resources that Caitlyn Jenner has.
There is a seeming march of inevitability towards most of these things. Or, perhaps even more truthfully, for the many nuances of the equality movement that don’t seem inevitable, who really cares? Because for the majority of gay men and women (especially those of us who are white and part of a pre-existing hegemony) we have gained as much equality as we really need to worry about.
I say this flippantly because Brian’s interview exposed the sad truth that as urban dwelling gay men, it really is time to shave our asses, work on our Pride bodies, go shopping and refill our Truvada prescriptions. The nitty gritty about transgendered suicide rates or higher HIV incidence rates for LBGT men of color are irrelevant to our day-to-day. The safety net of legislative, judicial and corporate-sanctioned equality has meant that the rainbow of queerness isn’t really a rainbow in so much as it is rainbow washed. The Pride Rainbow risks becoming nothing more than a meaningless party symbol – the very modern antidote to the Confederate battle flag.
And this should be our problem when it comes to analyzing the state of gay culture and wondering if Grindr has really killed the gay bar. As gay men and women, however, we share something a sense of otherness that we would poorer for forgetting; a sense of community that we would regretful to decimate.
As Timothy Stewart-Winter eloquently wrote in the NY Times: “Betraying our history — forgetting what it has meant to be gay — would be a price too high to pay.”