On Themes and Issues to Explore in the Gay Experience

                As I have discussed in my previous blog post Prelude to a New Project: A Search for Queer Spirit, I am starting a new project as an expansion on my senior thesis on the Gay Men’s Movement on Contemporary Paganism titled “Queer Sacred Spaces.” My next step to this project will start with a Blog series to just casually explore some of my thoughts through interviewing other gay men with experience in different aspects of gay culture. I have two interviews with some local guys here in Asheville, one who does burlesque and another who is the owner of a popular local gay bar. My goal is to take the spiritual experiences of “Queer Spirit” and secularize it. I don’t think the lessons I learned in research nor the personal spiritual experiences I had personally as I underwent this project is exclusive to gay Pagan men. I think there is an experience in gay culture that can be meaningful in a secular way, it’s just a matter of really dissecting it and being reflexive enough about it to make meaning out of it. It is my hope that as I start this blog series I will interview a wide range of men and ask them about their lives, relationships, coming out, constructing their sense of self and gay identity, among other things and find some deeper meaning to it. I might use a few of the academic tools I picked up in College doing my thesis, but ultimately I want this to be more accessible and meaningful to gay men themselves so I will not limit myself to such methods alone. It is my intension to focus on those that identify as Men who Love Men (ie Gay Men) not because I think other variations of queer are not worthy of analysis or a voice, but simply because I am trying to capture a specific experience that gay men have. If I was to claim this project was about everyone in the LGBTQIPA (otherwise alphabet soup community) I would contribute to their erasure by claiming these specific issues and perspectives do and should apply to them and it doesn’t. They have their own perspectives and issues, to which I support and always try to continuously educate myself more on so I can to be a better ally on them. But for the purposes of this project my focus is the G in the spectrum of LGBTQIPA.

So here are the themes I hope to explore.

Rites of Passage…

Every gay man has to go through rites of passage, experiences that help him become more himself, more mature, more enlightened, more confident, more establish, and more aware in his gay identity. Coming out, the first homosexual experiences, attempting to learn how to navigate the gay world, and getting exposed to aspects of gay culture. What are those experiences and what meaning do they hold in being a Gay Man?

Gay Relationships…

What makes gay relationships, that is to say of all kinds (sexual, romantic, and platonic), different for gay men as opposed to other relationships in their lives. How does it feel when one finds special connections to other guys who like guys and how does that connection differ from others that don’t relate. Beyond just getting an opportunity to have sex or pursue a relationship (without belittling either of those things at the same time), is there meaning in the general kinship we can all share from having the same experience?

Internal Issues…

I won’t walk into this project with rainbow colored glasses, I got pride and I have a passion for the well-being of my community of gay men, but that doesn’t mean there are not problems that are largely internal. Internalized homophobia, internalized masculine norms, internalized hetero-normative idealism, oppressive social status structures that form a homo-normative, even a lesser talked about gay rape culture (feminism plays a good role in defining the basic behaviors of rape culture, but it’s largely heterosexist because gay men have to contend with rape too and it’s an under talked about issue that I am really passionate about), internal tensions between generational gaps, The difficulty of actually accessing gay culture and positive aspects of it, stigma with HIV/AIDS, etc.  How can we address these issues without tearing the bonds of gay solidarity apart? How can we bring more awareness (and hopefully more sensitivity) to these issues amongst ourselves?

Finding Solidarity…

The biggest problem I have found amongst gay men is they often don’t like each other very much. The most common statement I have heard amongst almost ALL gay men I have talked to are “I am not like everyone in the gay community…” or “The only reason I am gay is because I like guys, otherwise I am just like the straight people…” I don’t think it should be that way. I too sometimes feel out of place in a gay bar, still do at times. I too feel frustrated with things I consider to be vapid, shallow, or even oppressive in aspects of gay culture that drive me up the wall…but I think that is merely a surface assessment of gay culture (which establishing this IS my greatest goal of this new project).  Gay culture is there for a reason, we need it.

How do gay people find solidarity for themselves, to feel connected, empowered, and identified with each other, to counter act all the bullshit that disconnects us from each other, and makes it difficult for us to feel like a true community? We need to find those spaces where we can be empowered by each other, for each other, even in things as simple as being able to laugh about the things we do on grindr and in bars and how we relate to each other. To have a non-judgemental and entirely safe space (with other gay people specifically and exclusively) to be who we authentically are without needing to qualify ourselves or apologize for it. Even growing up in a queer friendly town this was something I had to learn to try and access and it has been hard work. I spend a lot of time trying to foster connections to other gay people, to learn how to speak our common language, deconstruct the things that oppress us to then build up a language that empowers and connects us and makes other gay people actually want to spend time with me. To see the subtle homophobia and heteronormative idealism in things, even in people who are well meaning, to be more solid in my gay identity and in my identification with a greater community of other gay people. To appreciate the things that gave me exclusive access to other gay men, I had to focus on things that gay men utilize to connect to each other, even if it meant deconstructing my preconceptions about gay culture and things that use to make me uncomfortable. There is just a special connection there rather sexual or not, when guys I know to be gay connect to me publically even for brief moments because I might of seen them at a gay event or talked to them on a gay networking media, there is just a subtle moment of exchange “I know you are like me, this kind of connection doesn’t come often.” The simple experience of celebrating gayness with others who live the same experience, cry about the same experience, and are authentic when they can say “I understand” the same experience is SOOO important. It creates a sense of community, one that gives you access to very meaningful things, perhaps the above mentioned “gay relationships” and “rites of passage.” Not that I mean to make the normative statement all gay people are the “same” because we are not, but we do share the same identity. We can relate to what it’s like to come out, to awkwardly have to go through the process of getting access to gay relationships as we construct our identity, and to all the more detailed issues that come into our identity construction. Without solidarity, there is no gay community, without gay community there is no access to anything positive one can get from “the gay experience.” So I am looking for the exclusive solidarity between men who love men, what is it? how do people experience it? how do people struggle to find it? and how do they keep it strong despite all our internal issues that disconnect us?

On Being Gay Sex Positive…

As one theorist on Homophobia Martin Kantor M.D. states in his book “Homophobia: the state of sexual bigotry today”: part of addressing homophobia is addressing erotiphobia, the two are interconnected. The heteronormative idealism of society has a way of sterilizing sexuality through the idealized institution of marriage. Making us believe we must restrain our sexual instincts and impulses for someone special for the sake of marrying them which ultimately has historically been about prodigy, or reproduction, and the man dominating and controlling the woman to ensure his offspring is indeed his own.  That’s not applicable to gay people, we are not creating children and when we do it often looks QUITE different (see Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, and Kinship by Kath Weston for more information on Gay practices of family creation and reproduction).  The fact is because society is heteronormative hetero-sexuality is sterilized and expected and not only that, it is expect in a certain way and expression to be legitimate in the good social graces. In other words to just have sex and enjoy it, is to be a slut and be less legitimate, to only be sexual with “special people” who you either marry or have to be in a commitment monogamous relationships with (a sort of proto-experimental marriage) is to have legitimated status being chaste and pious (all being rooted in patriarchal traditions of marriage designed to regulated reproduction). Sometimes this hetero-normaitive idealism is internalized amongst gay men. Not that monogamy and exclusive commitment is illegitimate (a perhaps homo-normative bias at times?)  but the fact seeing monogamy and commitment to be expected and anything else is slut shamed or seen as unhealthy is indicative of hetero-normative idealism. Part of coming to terms with a healthy sense of gay identity is being totally cool with gay sex, we do it, it’s okay, it’s fun, it’s healthy, and it’s totally cool for it to be non-committal and even just fun (however, use a condom, know your status, and be as educated as you can about fact-based sexual health, AND ALWAYS ONLY engage when there is consent).

I do not intend to make this a project that slut shames the reality of the hook up culture in gay culture, nor to sell the message that our sexuality has to be expressed and modeled after hetero-normative examples. I think coming to terms with a healthy, consensual, safer sex is a very positive thing. To get access to many aspects of gay culture and the people in it, one does have to get comfortable with the reality of the hook up culture. It’s present in any homonormative space you go, even digitally. I don’t think casual sexuality should be normalized as an expectation to get access to gay culture, there are plenty of gay boys that don’t hook up, but getting comfortable with the reality of sexuality in gay life is a part of the experience, even if one doesn’t particularly choose to express their sexuality that way. On some level one does have to get comfortable with the fact that gay boys have sex with gay boys, and that is okay, when it is done responsibly and consensually. That doesn’t make those who are having casual sex any less human than anyone else. The only morals I stick to on sexuality is the morals defined by your basic every day feminism on the deconstruction of the rape culture, “no means no, lack of a yes is not a yes, silence is not a yes, we have done it before is not yes, smiling and nodding is not a yes…enthusiasm and directly reciprocated ‘yes lets do this’ is a yes…” That indeed can sometimes be a problem in gay culture, my intention to capture a sex positive attitude WILL NOT BE in any shape or form a condoning of behaviors that perpetuate rape culture. I wish to capture how gay kinship and relationships can be maintained and accessed without shaming gay sexuality but without objectifying gay men as sex objects to be used and thrown away without consideration.

Finally Sensitivity to the Awkward…

Lets be honest, accessing gay culture and constructing gay identity is REALLY awkward for many of us. It’s a very colorful world (kind of like a rainbow). It’s got so many things that are challenging to the preconditioned mind. One has to go through a process to get there. I think every gay boy that has ever walked these steps of trying to find the common gay space has at some point had to go through socially uncomfortable moments to do it. It’s okay, it takes time to learn and if everyone is honest, they have all been there at some point or another.

So these are my ideas on themes to explore in the oncoming interviews. How do we capture the meaning in the gay experience? How do we be realistic about what it is, and find ways to make something meaningful of it? How can we encourage a sense of queer solidarity with these questions, so that all the gay boys out there that long to find meaningful gay relationships (of all kinds) can get access to them and they learn, grow, and come into the identity of who they are?

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