Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Extinction of Gay Identity

I will be sailing today at the Hampton Yacht Club where I am a member. 
I "came out" about 16 and a half years ago in mid-life (hence the name of this blog).  During that period the world has changed much for the better:  the nation's remaining sodomy laws, including Virginia's were struck down in 2003, thereby removing would be felon status for even otherwise law abiding gays, public acceptance of LGBT individuals has soared - even in relatively conservative Tidewater Virginia gay couples are now welcomed as members of yacht clubs and country clubs - and in 2015 sames sex couples finally won the right to be married.  In Norfolk, where gays were once treated as somewhat radioactive and the pride event was a small event hidden in the back of a city park, Pride Fest is now the second largest festival of the year and the City of Norfolk provides significant funding and support because of the tourism and spending the event brings with it.  (Sadly, thanks to Republicans in Richmond all too willing to prostitute themselves to Christofascists, LGBT Virginians lack employment and housing non-discrimination protections).

Along the way, however, some things were lost.  At least half of the gay bars have closed and younger LGBT residents mix freely with their straight friends with no need to seek refuge in a gay bar where they can feel safe. On a Friday night now, the husband and I are more likely to dine with friends at the Hampton Yacht Club than go to one of the remaining gays bars with restaurant facilities.  In many ways - at least in Virginia's urban crescent - gays and lesbians have become mainstream.  All of this is a positive, yet a one time sense of belonging to a special tribe is gone.  When I first came out, I felt a certain level of safety walking into "The Wave" in Norfolk on a Saturday night.  I knew I could simply be myself.  Last night, the husband and I attended a wonderful wedding at the Ford's Colony country club and not a soul batted an eye at a gay couple in attendance.   
A column in the New York Times looks at this sense of lost that at times I suspect that many of us in the LGBT community nonetheless feel.  Here are column highlights:

Mart Crowley, the author of the groundbreaking gay play “The Boys in the Band,” lives in a Manhattan apartment building that he used to visit frequently, for parties, in the late 1960s, when “Boys” had its theatrical debut. It’s on East 54th Street, No. 405, and its nickname, he told me, used to be “four of five,” because that was supposedly the ratio of gay residents.
That is not the ratio now. “It’s all yuppies and kids in strollers and all of that — and a few old codgers,” Crowley, 82, said over a recent lunch. The gays have scattered, not just from that building but from others, and we’ve distributed ourselves throughout the city — and throughout society. Gay sanctuaries are vanishing.
Is that true of gay culture and gay identity, too? I increasingly get the sense that gayness itself has scattered, becoming something more various and harder to define. “Gay” tells you about a person’s lusts and loves, but it used to tell you more — about his or her boldness, irreverence, independence. It connoted a particular journey and pronounced struggle, and had its own soundtrack, sartorial flourishes and short list of celebrity icons. Not so anymore. These thoughts came to mind as “Boys” comes back into view. For its 50th anniversary, it’s getting its first-ever Broadway production, with an all-gay, all-star cast including Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer and Zachary Quinto. The play is a postcard from an era that we have thankfully moved past, a point of reference for our hard-won success over the last half-century and our arrival in an infinitely better place. But it’s also a reminder of a glue that has gone missing among many gay men. Among many lesbians, too, . . . . We were tribes in a way that we no longer are, with rituals that we no longer have, and with a shared story. [T]he gay theatrical canon — or, rather, the gay male theatrical canon — ends in 1993, with Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.” That play followed “The Normal Heart,” “Torch Song Trilogy” and, decades earlier, “Boys.” All were born of the bigotry that gays endured and the grace that they forged in the face of it. . . . . Sometimes, to judge from what’s onstage, I have to conclude that Crate & Barrel is sponsoring the new gay agenda,” Green writes . . . . "Boys"  . . . captures the flair for melodrama, appetite for mischief and exaggerated sense of humor — alternately self-lacerating and self-lionizing — that constituted a gay armor, worn because we lived in a sort of exile. I donned it myself in the 1980s, from my late teens through my mid-20s, as I took the temperature of the country around me, wondering exactly how cold to me it would be. Crowley said that if someone had told him then that the United States Supreme Court would someday legalize same-sex marriage, he would have responded, “That’s rather insane.” It happened in 2015. But there had been enough progress toward the acceptance and integration of gays by 2005 that Andrew Sullivan wrote an essay in The New Republic titled “The End of Gay Culture,” which he imagined would “expand into such a diverse set of subcultures that ‘gayness’ alone will cease to tell you very much about any individual.” We’re there.
Gays aren’t yet on an equal legal footing with straight people. We’re frequently derided (I’m looking at you, Mike Pompeo) and assaulted. How gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people are treated hinges on where we live, what color we are, how much money we have and whom we work for.
I’m 53, I came out a few years later than she did, and I remember that simply telling someone that I was gay made me interesting at a time when most gay people weren’t forthcoming about that. I remember that visiting a gay bar or resort had an electric charge, because I was traversing forbidden ground. No matter how open I was about it, being gay felt a bit like belonging to a secret society.
“Everything costs something,” Crowley told me. “Gay culture is so diffuse now, where it was once so cloistered and clandestine. It was like our own world — the world was inside out.”
“I wouldn’t trade any of the progress,” I said to him. “And yet.”  “And yet,” he agreed. But, he added, with no equivocation, “You wouldn’t want that world back.”
“Boys in the Band” makes that clear, while also making sure that a lost world is remembered.
All of this said, I am thrilled that things have changed for the better.  Growing up in the closet and desperately suppressing who I was, I could never have dreamed of the life I can now live.  It's wonderful that young gays can grow up knowing that they can marry, have families, and not be haunted by a sense of being "other."  Hopefully, the Trump/Pence regime does not take that away. 

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