This blog is to address the common belief that Identities are “labels” and therefore a bad thing. Or that being gay and what that means is not important or unique to that of other expressions of sexuality. If fact I would say, rather than emphasizing that “we are all the same and therefore equal in our inalienable rights” I would rather say “we are all unique and different and our uniqueness deserves equal respect and affirmation.” The problem my generation of gay men sees today is a slow erasure of our community access and sub-cultural identity. Straight people want to treat us like their GBF (gay best friend) sidekick objects and therefore effectively define our identities for us in what is acceptable to them from a privileged heteronormative perspective. Gay men coming out find it more and more difficult to discover a sense of gay community that is empowering and provides effective and quality access to other gay men specifically. Expressions of gay identity are becoming less and less about celebrating the diversity of gay people and more and more about normative molds both internally and in how we define ourselves as “acceptable gays” to straight people we come out to. Now more than ever, we need a “gay revival” as I have told many-a-gay. We need to rediscover a sense of empowering solidarity with each other, and reinforce our internal bonds that create a strong sense of community. Believe it or not, the key is a sense of pride in the identity we share.
There is more to being gay then fighting legal battles over marriage equality, hate crimes, and discrimination. There is the need to socialize with your own kind. You, gay boy reading this, yes you, if you are single (or have been in the past) you know how hard it is to find a date. When you have no ability to utilize the heteronormative structure of society to find a date, it can feel really frustrating having to find a boy to go out with. Not only that, but how about just simply platonic friends who relate to what it’s like being gay from personal experience? The media you look to, romantic comedies, TV shows, ads, and all of those things all carry the normative implication that a man and a woman must construct their gender identity and opposite sex interrelational experiences for potential heterosexual partner selection. We even see examples of popular new “all male version of hooters” Tallywackers being interpreted by main stream media as “for women” erasing the gay male identity present as a targeted market. A friend also told me (assuming he was correct) that it originated in a gaybourhood and has only now been an inclusive both “male and female audience” establishment to worship male aesthetics. Once heteronormative society gets a hold of something having to do with sexuality, gay identity is erased and heternoramtivity is instantly dominating the scene. (see video example here: News Coverage of Tallywackers). This phenomena is no different than how gay bars slowly lose their status as “gay” when bridal showers and sorority girls come to our space seeking to escape the advances of heterosexual men all the while invading our space and deluding the gay presence, especially as hetero guys catch on and bring their hetero-privilege into the space to pursue the women trying to escape them. The reality is, even though it’s nice less heteroes are pursuing us violently, they are still oppressing us. Taking away our social spaces, erasing the uniqueness of our identities, and telling us to be their cute desexualized GBFs for their entertainment while they complain about the privilege of their heterosexual affairs with their boyfriends/girlfriends. All rooted in a lack of keeping privilege in check and deconstructing the inequality and then failing to empower the marginalized.
But hey we can’t expect the power of social conditioning to simply just disappear easily, especially from those who benefit from it (ie the notion of sociological privilege). So what’s the alternative? Well we can empower ourselves to take pride in our identity, to care more about co-creating our community and providing each other with our own social needs. Gay rights has made lots of progress, and though there are still plenty of hate crimes and societal discrimination we have a lot more opportunities, legal protections, and social justice allies. But just because some of the legal fights are progressively more in our favor does not mean we give up on community efforts, there is plenty of reason in the modern age to put effort into building our internal community. I don’t think we need to treat heteroes like the enemy, call them out on their privilege and oppressive tendencies perhaps, but if they mean well they can only do the best they can with what they understand. Besides educating people to recognize and keep their privilege in check can only help us so much. I believe it is only us that can provide each other with what we need.
Our identity is the access key to our community. Sometimes people believe that their gay identity is nothing more than their homosexuality and means nothing else. That is to say people think that being gay only implies who they have sexual relations with, otherwise it means absolutely nothing else. This attitude has to end, you can’t build a community on that alone. We have to value our identities as an extension of our personhood, as something that gives us a unique life experience. Do not mistake celebrating uniqueness as an exclusive group as elitism, the two are not the same. Indeed, trans people are unique to me as a cisgendered androgynous gay male. Only trans people can understand the things that make them unique. I cannot begin to understand them from personal experience. I can be a good ally by trying to educate myself and keep my cisgendered privilege in check, but beyond that, trans people need their own space and sub-culture to empower themselves, share experiences of rites of passage, and share the collective knowledge and wisdom of their internal experiences. In fact I would go so far as to say bisexual/pansexual people are unique to me. In some ways they enjoy the ability to navigate and access different forms of heteronormative privilege, because their identity includes the experience of opposite sex relationships, but they also share same-sex relationships in their experience. Yet their identity remains constant regardless of the relationship they are in and they have a unique experience of being attracted to “hearts and not parts” which is beautifully unique to bisexual/pansexual identity. I can relate to the same-sex experiences they have, but not the wholistic experience of what their sexuality is as an entirety. On the other hand they can’t relate to what it’s like to be limited to homosexual experiences in a heteronormative world, they have more options to choose from and can fit in with hetereos if they choose to. A bisexual male can talk like “one of the guys” as they bond over “locker room chat” while I couldn’t dream to, at least not authentically. All this to establish that identities represent how we define our experience and our ability to establish connections to those that share the same experience. Gay identity is not simply the action of homosexuality, it’s the representation of the life experiences of homosexuals and our social connection to each other.
Having pride in your gay identity means you actually care about it. It means that defining yourself as gay openly gives you the opportunity to socially navigate to find other gay people. You can’t connect to other gay people easily unless they know you identify as one of them. People seem to think at this point that being gay is not all of who they are and by saying gay identity is important they dismiss other parts of who they are as unimportant. I think that is bullshit frankly. Just because you acknowledge the importance of your gay identity and take pride in it doesn’t mean you neglect other parts of who you are. I am VERY proud of my gay identity and love to celebrate it, but that doesn’t mean I am not a good employee at work, that I don’t have a passion for Neo-Paganism and Eastern Religions, that I don’t have a deep appreciation for intellectualism and academia, and that I don’t have my own interest in geek culture like Pokemon and Star Trek. In fact those are all things I value very deeply and just because I like shamelessly wearing my rainbow flag doesn’t mean I can’t be playing my 3DS, while Voyager is on in the background, right after I finish reading Professor Ronald Hutton’s latest research on the Witch trials in Europe, while I also enjoy the fact I just got promoted at work because of my dedicated hard work. My rainbow flag can fly high whilst I do all of these things, why should I (or you) have to put away your sparkly rainbows while you do any of these things? I understand that some people have to partially (or even entirely) closet themselves because of persecution, or because they are afraid of being treated differently. But is that a problem with gay identity or the oppression of it?
I prescribe to Harvey Milk’s ideology that coming out is how we slowly change this. Be an out and proud gay man, while you play sports. Be an out and proud gay man while you be the best accountant your firm has to offer. Be an out and proud gay man and the best rock musician the world has ever known. While you are out and proud with all of who you wholistically are intact, don’t shame or put down other gays. Some of us do defy masculine norms and should be proud of being effeminate or androgynous; in return we shouldn’t expect you to be like us to get your “gay license.” Be proud in the things that make you unique, being gay is one of those things. Not only because you have sex with guys exclusively, but because you have to come out (or at least accept that you are not straight), you have to struggle to find other gay people who you can get along with and have potential sexual opportunities with, you have to do all this against the grain of heteronormativity in our society. So celebrate the fact your different, you don’t have to sacrifice or be little other aspects of who you are to do that (contrary to popular belief).
Gay identity is the access key to gay relationships. We can’t allow it to simply be erased. Gay identity is not about being the prom queen’s GBF who keeps her fabulous and helps fashion inept hetero boys score with the ladies. That’s their world, and they can keep it. Let’s keep the queer spirit of our world alive. We need each other, even if it’s not a matter of fighting for rights. We need opportunities to socialize with each other, to share our stories with each other, to share knowledge and experience with each other in what it’s like to be a gay man in a straight world. We need spaces where we have an opportunity to go through our own rites of passage amongst each other (coming out, first sexual encounters and romantic relationships, commitment ceremonies to our partners, LGBT friendly career opportunities, support for those of us that DO face discrimination and hate crimes, etc.). If you don’t take pride in your identity how do you expect to build a collective community of like identified people. A “gay community” is a community of gay people, and we have to value the things that create common bonds with each other in order to build any form of community. Or do you really believe you’re going to meet many gay people based off the belief “my gay identity isn’t that important, I am just like any straight person, being gay just means I like dick nothing else.” Good luck if this is the attitude you prescribe to. If you only acknowledge dick as the defining feature of your sexual identity, perhaps that is all you’re going to get from your gay relationships. Indeed gay people are “people” wholistically and have many things that make them unique. They are more than a dick to sexually use, they have unique personalities, feelings, careers, and a shared experience of trying to be a homosexual against the grain of heteronormativity. Indeed our sexuality itself is a core and defining feature, but what revolves around it impacts so much of our lives and is so much more than homosexual acts alone. Even now that I am dating a guy exclusively, I get more out of us hanging out with other gay couples and our gay friends than I do double dating with heterosexual couples. It’s fun talking with other gay couples, there is a comrodery there and a mutual understanding when we say “oh he always does this funny thing when….when we visit our family this happens….etc.” I haven’t simply clocked out of the gay community just because I am exclusively dating a guy now. I stay connected and close to the gay friends that matter.
Gay identity is the gift of being a part of a greater brotherhood, a tribe even. It’s not simply my singular experience; it’s my connection to a collective of people that share the same experience. That’s why gay identity is not a “label” like some like to say, it’s an identity. A label is assigned to someone sometimes without consent, and identity is how the individual wants to be recognized and affirmed in their life experience and socialization with others. Some people say we shouldn’t have all these “labels” because they limit us, but I think this is just a cop out by people who don’t want to be challenged to accept people who are different. You can’t educate yourself and learn about the things that make people different and unique, unless you first acknowledge the things that make them unique. If you erase their uniqueness you risk unintentionally dismissing them, and perpetuating inequalities, and being insensitive to experiences you don’t personally relate to. Furthermore, people need to find their tribe, they need to find people that are “kindred spirits.” It is always nice to have a wide variety of friends, but there are something only people of shared experiences are going to understand. Only other gay men really can share gay comrodery, a heterosexual girl cannot. She can share being attracted to men, but she hasn’t had to navigate gay culture like we have, she hasn’t been limited to gay culture for sexual opportunities, she doesn’t have the stress of being oppressed by heteronormativity and homophobia added to her relationships and life experience. Only other gay people do. This doesn’t mean you automatically get along with ALL gay people.
Communities aren’t about everyone being best friends with everyone, but they are about people coming together and having the opportunity to build connections of all kinds based on their common bonds. Some of them will be more meaningful than others, some will come with interpersonal conflict and drama, but the fact remains at least the opportunities to build connections are there to begin with. In order to access that opportunity you have to learn how to be a part of the group. This doesn’t mean you change your essential being, it just means you learn how to identify with the group, speak the group’s language, and play the game enough to navigate the group to meet the right people. You have to utilize what’s available to you to gain access to the community, and you have to establish yourself as a part of the brotherhood/tribe by owning and empowering the identity you share with them. Does “we are gay….mehhhh…it doesn’t mean much though” make for an empowering community? I don’t think so. A big rainbow flag to symbolize our history, culture, pride, and solidarity is a good rallying cry. To say “we are here and queer and proud of who we are, we are proud of our ancestors that have sacrificed what they have to bring us what we have, we are proud to be a community, and designate this community for each other.” That is by far more effective in community building as an attitude. Realistically you won’t get along with everyone, but if you focus on the bigger goal of “together” you will meet a wide range of people and eventually meet some you get more personally close to, the drama queens you will simply grow from and become more mature and socially intelligent from interacting with. But ultimately by learning to be proud of who you are and how that connects you to the brotherhood, you become a part of something bigger than yourself. That’s what makes gay identity important.
Happy Pride Month My Brothers ❤