Is gay passé?
May 12, 2015 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Can you be homosexual without being gay? This is the question posed by J. Bryan Lowder (over at Slate), who dissects and theorizes on the advent of gay culture, its influence on (cismale) identity, and the attempts to define, and embrace, it in a world where homosexuality is increasingly accepted.
posted by stubbehtail (71 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
The number of "straight dudes" on Grindr now probably outnumber the ones who self-identify as gay.
posted by Avenger at 11:41 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Straight-acting" doesn't necessarily make 'em "straight dudes", though.
posted by qcubed at 11:49 AM on May 12, 2015


In an increasingly accepting world, homosexual men are all too eager to leave their campy, cruising past behind. But the price of equality shouldn’t be conformity.

And neither should the price of homosexuality be conformity. Why should I conform to some "campy, cruising past" that I have zero connection with?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:57 AM on May 12, 2015 [38 favorites]




"Straight-acting" doesn't necessarily make 'em "straight dudes", though.


Try telling them that tho...
posted by The Whelk at 12:02 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not even conform--if it's about learning the history, sure. But just because I don't mind visiting a Renaissance Faire doesn't mean I actually want to live it or even dress up for it.
posted by qcubed at 12:03 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Straight dudes" just want a chick who can hang, Whelk.
posted by qcubed at 12:05 PM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've always wondered about 20th-century performers and characters whose mannerisms read as camp or gay to modern audiences, like Jack Benny, or Dr. Smith from Lost in Space. Was there an intended subtext at the time that was recognized by a clued-in few? If not, did gay culture spawn camp, or was camp subsumed into gay culture?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:10 PM on May 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


Why groups pressured and discriminated against for so long suddenly decide that everyone has to adhere to the stereotypes they struggled for so long to leave behind is beyond me. *cough*geeks*cough*
posted by Punkey at 12:10 PM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Straight-acting" doesn't necessarily make 'em "straight dudes", though.
posted by qcubed at 11:49 AM on May 12 [+] [!]


I'm not exaggerating when I say that I have passing familiarity with a few men in long-term relationships with other men who actually do identify as "straight".

My theory is that "straightness" signifies acceptance by society (as opposed to queerness) so some guy who is rich, educated, has a nice car, is accepted by their family and has good prospects can legitimately call himself "straight", even though he sleeps with other dudes.

Being "straight" is no longer a sexuality. It just means that people don't hate you.
posted by Avenger at 12:10 PM on May 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I remember being totally taken aback when my first line manger - and the first openly gay man I got to know well - sneeringly dismissed "the faggots". I recall very clearly thinking 'can he say that'? Didn't think it was my place to make a decision. Still don't.
posted by dmt at 12:11 PM on May 12, 2015


"Straight" has also been used equivalently to "square" among other subcultures. It can mean the uncool mainstream, with no relation to sexuality. It's hardly a surprise that these definitions could blur over time.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:13 PM on May 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


You're free to identify however you'd like and I will respect it. You're free to change it frequently and (aside from maybe having an awkward conversation or two) it won't affect me at all.

If there is a gay culture that might fade away simply because people don't identify with the word "gay," then good riddance. I care more about giving people space to define themselves and figure out their sexuality than rupaul's next book.
posted by as common as insecticide at 12:37 PM on May 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I mean, I do agree that everyone should identify how they darn well please, but I also am pretty darn sure this "I'm not gay" crap comes in large part from internalized homophobia.

It's an "I'm not like those people" response that is cowardly and disavows the very people who fought to get you the greater respect and freedom that you have today to sleep with whoever you want and conduct your romantic life as you please.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:43 PM on May 12, 2015 [14 favorites]


Can you be homosexual without being gay?

Has Slate already published to the companion piece to this, "Can you be a straight man without hunting and killing things," or must we await it?
posted by octobersurprise at 12:47 PM on May 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Can you be homosexual without being gay?

...and other fabulous questions in the advice column Ask a Log Cabin Republican!
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:51 PM on May 12, 2015 [25 favorites]


Zalzidrax, perhaps, but then you don't know if they're straight or gay or bisexual or trans or asexual or whatever.

This is the same impulse that makes gay men call me trendy when I am in a dress in line for a burrito. This is the same impulse that makes gay men suspicious of bisexual men because they're actually secretly gay or secretly straight. Gay culture's not all pride and stonewall.
posted by as common as insecticide at 12:52 PM on May 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


I just want people to be able to actually pursue happiness (as long as it's between consenting parties.)
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:55 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I find it really interesting - at least in Eastern Canada, I found straight meant the opposite of both gay and bent, which were two very different things. Effectively - if you were straight, you were a male or female who conformed to society's norms, and if you weren't you were either gay (liked your own gender) or bent - aka, an effeminate male or a masculine female, aka not quite broken but not quite right.

I mean, if we really boil it down, straight meant "someone whose life choices are valid." On the straight and narrow, straight-laced, etc.

Homosexual was primarily used by people yelling about sins, or about an agenda that was troubling, or by teachers trying to explain in vague terms what sexualities there were.

So this column's question mostly just makes me feel like I did studying derivatives in grade 12 in PEI - like I'm one conversion equation short of being able to be enlightened enough to know anything.
posted by buoys in the hood at 12:57 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


After reading the article, I have learned that while I may be homosexual, I am doing all of the gay things completely wrong.

This is not unexpected.
posted by qcubed at 1:01 PM on May 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


See, I feel like this essay is asking two separate questions and getting them muddled up:

One is "should there exist a specific gay culture that descends from the 19th century and has this particular set of icons and practices, eg RuPaul?"

The other is "does being not-straight make you different in itself, does it give rise to different insights and different ways of being in the world in some kind of foundational way?" Like, is gay assimilationism just basically not going to work because not-straight people categorically do not see the world the same way that straight people do? Usually this is asked more like "is there some particular kernel of radical being-in-the-world that is intrinsic to being not-straight?"

I am old-fashioned enough to wish that I felt that merely being queer did have this kernel of revolutionary being, that there was something intrinsically anti-hierarchical, anti-heteronormative, 2-4-6-8-smash-the-family-church-and-state about the whole business....But there's really not. As long as you're willing to buy into a depressing, violent, unequal society and perform gender roles in ways that are assimilable to capitalism (which doesn't mean just being heteronormative; it means whatever is fashionable/useful at any given moment) you can be as gay as you like. Gay CEOs busting unions! Gay military contractors torturing Iraqis! Gay celebutants spending millions on a party! It's a big old world and in another couple of generations there won't be anything keeping the gays from full participation in all the most unpleasant aspects of modern life.
posted by Frowner at 1:02 PM on May 12, 2015 [63 favorites]


The waning of queer/gay culture in the face of homosexuality being a societally accepted norm is something that's depressed me for a number of years.

Traditionally, if you wanted to be accepted as normal or "straight," as a gay man, you would get married to a woman, be at least on the surface monogamous, have children, and generally exist in the same middle of the road social strata with the rest of the norms.

Now, if you want to be accepted as normal, as a gay man, you would get married to another man, be at least on the surface monogamous, possibly have a child or at least opine that children and family are important, and... well, you get the rest.

For everyone who wanted to live that life and enjoys acceptance, that's great. For everyone who just wants acceptance but has no interest in that life, the same deal isn't available. And the people who participated in queer/gay culture due to explicit exclusion from "normal" society are now either missing or tourists in a space that used to be "gay."
posted by mikeh at 1:17 PM on May 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


Being a heterosexual man, I was always a tourist in that space, but being gay seemed to give you a ticket to that space. Now those tickets are sitting around.
posted by mikeh at 1:19 PM on May 12, 2015


“Once, not long after I arrived in New York,” he told me, “I was taken to a cocktail party where there were a bunch of older gay men, and everyone was dull, dull, dull. I was complaining about this to my friend, and at some point he put his hand on my arm and said, ‘Darling, here’s the thing: Most of the interesting people died. That’s all there is to it.’ ”

To me, this bit says way more than the rest of the article does, and more succinctly, right down to the knowingly Auntie Mame-ish half-bitchy "Darling."

And yes, Auntie Mame is a very old-school gay reference.
posted by blucevalo at 1:41 PM on May 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


I differ a little with Frowner about the second point, because I do sort of buy the argument made in the article that there are certain things that inform a "gay" worldview a little more fundamentally than just path-dependence from certain aspects of "camp" culture. The author isn't necessarily talking about literal "cruising" when he identifies it as part of gay culture, but more the general idea of needing to be attuned to subtle, implicit cues about sexuality in order to find love while maintaining safety in society. This definitely fits with my experience of being gay, both growing up and now. I don't know how much of what people consider "gayness" more broadly this experience actually informs (I think the broader "attention to detail" thing might be a stretch there), but even in today's technogically-augmented, increasingly gay-friendly world, I think that the tension between detecting other gay people while remaining able to modulate how "detectable" you are to straight people is not likely to go away anytime soon.

I think that the first type of gay culture that Frowner describes is probably not actually super endangered (yet), but I do agree with Frowner that it is not intrinsically particularly revolutionary either. I would like to think that celebrating things like drag and camp could at least be a way of acknowledging other routes towards being happily male other than conforming with toxic masculinity, and that these elements of gay culture could maybe help act as a guard against total femmephobia and could provide some resistance to the most problematic aspects of the straight world, but I know it's at best a nudge, and that unfortunately being femme or enjoying drag doesn't mean you don't hold or promulgate a masculine-supremacist worldview.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:44 PM on May 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


I've always wondered about 20th-century performers and characters whose mannerisms read as camp or gay to modern audiences, like Jack Benny, or Dr. Smith from Lost in Space. Was there an intended subtext at the time that was recognized by a clued-in few? If not, did gay culture spawn camp, or was camp subsumed into gay culture?

I can tell you that in the UK, Kenneth Williams was playing up camp/gay before 1960, and was one half of the absolutely flaming Julian and Sandy sketch by 1965 - same year as Lost in Space debuted.
posted by Leon at 1:51 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


There was a classic SNL sketch where Dana Carvey played "Lyle, the effeminate heterosexual" that comes to mind when reading this.
posted by Renoroc at 1:52 PM on May 12, 2015


I liked Tycho's take on generational change.

A parents’ ghastly pallor can be cast over any cultural artifact, no matter how potent, rendering it an irrelevant grey dust. Your mom dancing to a song can obliterate it.

I always thought the only truly alien intellect we’d discover would be an artificial one, made by accident. Here’s what’s real: we’re creating alien consciousness all the time, on this planet, which we nurture until they terraform our planet and culture. Again and again. This stuff doesn’t come from nowhere.

I still have enough presence of mind to be delighted by this state of affairs, but if I understand this arc correctly there is a point on this thing - a horizon - where I won’t be able to perceive it anymore because I’ll be too fucking mad. Sometimes, I wonder what it will be; what unassailable tower I’ll retreat to once they’ve dismantled every blessed signpost and all the language I use to live.

posted by Sebmojo at 2:04 PM on May 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


For everyone who wanted to live that life and enjoys acceptance, that's great. For everyone who just wants acceptance but has no interest in that life, the same deal isn't available. And the people who participated in queer/gay culture due to explicit exclusion from "normal" society are now either missing or tourists in a space that used to be "gay."

I can't help but feel like you're deliberately snubbing the gay men who have an honest, heartfelt desire to be monogamous and have a family.

I don't need a reason for being gay, and I sure as hell don't need a reason for wanting to have a family (or not).

I also think that nontraditional families/relationships are becoming more common and accepted among heterosexuals, which has obvious implications for the "gay community" as well. That revolution is going to take a lot more time, but it's pretty clearly happening (and will accelerate as women gain the right to control their own health decisions), and it's probably not going to be divided between heterosexuals and homosexuals.

The issue that you're talking about is IMO much more closely tied to feminism than it is to gay rights. The current state of LGBT affairs is arguably better than anybody could have hoped for, and is going to serve as a very important stepping stone towards the post-gender/post-sexuality liberalized society that you're hoping for.
posted by schmod at 2:11 PM on May 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm surprised to see no references yet to /r/gaybros.

This is a well-trodden path. But it is also a path that is lacking in accessible and articulate discourse.

The short version is simply this: there's a whole lot of guys who are trying to find a way in life that rejects both stereotypical "gayness" and toxic masculinity, for themselves.

To self-identify as "straight-acting" is not necessarily self-hating or gay-bashing. But it is hard to have conversations on the topic that don't end up coming across that way.
posted by yesster at 2:32 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


schmod, I most definitely did not mean that, although I would be the first to admit I lack the tools to effectively speak about these manners.

For the record, several of my friends who would not have been able to marry a decade ago are married, have enviable family lives, and most definitely have benefited from what seems to be the new status quo. I would say that society is not worse off for them being able to live how they want, and how they deserve to be able to live. However, I would say that a certain space is less populated, for better or worse.

going to serve as a very important stepping stone towards the post-gender/post-sexuality liberalized society that you're hoping for

I feel that this _does_ speak to what I was looking for. Thanks!
posted by mikeh at 2:52 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Someone's internalized homophobia doesn't give you the right to question their identity. If you can dismiss someone's straightness for being a superficial reaction to homophobia, why should I revere the hanky code or underground gay balls as symbols of the culture that saved me?
posted by as common as insecticide at 2:58 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I also am pretty darn sure this "I'm not gay" crap comes in large part from internalized homophobia.

While there might be specific cases where that's true, I think it's dangerous to assume that just because someone rejects a specific cultural identity that they necessarily have some sort of deep-seated internal self-hate going on. That's a pretty big jump to make, and at least I'm all for giving people the benefit of the doubt, generally speaking.

I know people who publicly identify as "gay" to casual acquaintances and the like, because it's a short answer to the question, but have pretty... nuanced views where their sexual orientation runs into cultural expectations for behavior patterns for gay people. I don't pretend to really understand what that's like, but I don't think and would never presume, that it comes necessarily from some sort of self-loathing or internalized homophobia. If anything, I tend to think that maybe people are just rejecting behavioral messaging that used to be necessary in order to let people know that you were a member of an otherwise-invisible minority, which aren't seen as necessary if you can just flat-out tell people your preferred orientation on Facebook. That has to change a lot, I'd imagine.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:05 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I know people who publicly identify as "gay" to casual acquaintances and the like, because it's a short answer to the question, but have pretty... nuanced views where their sexual orientation runs into cultural expectations for behavior patterns for gay people. I don't pretend to really understand what that's like, but I don't think and would never presume, that it comes necessarily from some sort of self-loathing or internalized homophobia.

This.

If someone asks me, just to keep things simple, I'll say that I'm gay. In practice, it's more complex than that, but I don't feel like I need to be explaining how things seem to work for me in detail to anyone I'm not trying to sleep with or trying to avoid sleeping with.

Indeed, it's usually assumed I'm straight or even asexual, simply because I don't seem to signal anything, so in the best case, I'm just another het dude, and in the worst case, I'm one of those neutered Asian dudes.

There's no self-loathing or internalized homophobia. *shrugs* I just don't see why sex is such a big deal to people.
posted by qcubed at 3:23 PM on May 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Isn't "straight-acting" pretty camp itself, or is it just me?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:28 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I gotta say, as one of those youngish queer kids... I really, really doubt that gay culture/queer culture is going to be lost completely any time soon. Yes, even if some otherwise-fairly-privileged gay dudes are doing their best to distance themselves from camp culture right now. So what? They've always done that, it's one of the oldest political splits within queer communities that I can think of.

I mean, my twelve year old sister knows what a bear is enough to make jokes about it, and I guaran-damn-tee that my socially conservative parents didn't willingly bring that up around her. I can name a half-a-dozen bits of media that I see as bonding spaces for young queer kids and twentysomethings to socialize around--Homestuck and Stephen Universe and even to an extent Doctor Who (and to a greater extent Torchwood). I see delighted terms getting passed around my circles to refer to gender performances like "sparkly butch" and "aggressively femme." I can think of a bunch of gender/aesthetic choices that people my age make to signal or at least imply that they're some-form-of-queer and also gender/aesthetic choices that people make to pass and imply "straight" as a cultural choice, choices that get circled around on forums like Tumblr and Pinterest and shared, as fashion trends do. If anything, queer culture might be easier to access now and there might be more people paying attention to it than thirty years ago.

I don't know. Maybe I just hang out with totally different crowds than the author is hanging out with; certainly that's a possibility, and actually a pretty strong one given that I don't hang out with cis gay guys that often. But the idea that the culture developed by people who ID as some form of queer is dying as everyone assimilates "dating people of the same sex" into heteronorms is so incredibly foreign to me that I'm having a bit of trouble wrapping my head around it. It might not look exactly like the camp culture of the author's youth, but I don't think it's going to vanish completely any time soon either.
posted by sciatrix at 3:36 PM on May 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


I describe myself as gay if the question comes up in conversation. As mentioned above, it's a convenient shorthand for "I prefer guys."

But I've had many people tell me (including other gay guys) that they "had no idea", presumably because I don't exhibit many of the stereotypical gay cultural cues, mannerisms, speech patterns, etc.

Personally, I'd like to settle down in a monogamous relationship. I'm not particularly entertained by guys in drag. I dress fairly conservatively. Not sure how these characteristics could make me less "gay" or would in any way suggest I was sonehow sublimating or self-loathing.

Language, though, is even more fluid than sexuality. So if that's the way the word "gay" is shifting, semantically, then it's really weird to think that one of these days I might be considered a "straight homosexual." Especially after it took me so long to understand who I am as a gay guy.
posted by darkstar at 3:50 PM on May 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I liked a lot of the pieces of the article, but didn't find his main thesis compelling in the least.

As others have stated, certain men have always distanced themselves from queer culture. The author seems to acknowledge this, and yet simultaneously treats it as something unique to 2015.

My bigger issue is the way he defines gay culture. I'm queer. The majority of my social group is openly gay. And yet his "auto-ethnography" of being gay is so completely foreign to me. There is definitely a queer culture ... but I just don't buy his definition of it.
posted by kanewai at 3:56 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


While there might be specific cases where that's true, I think it's dangerous to assume that just because someone rejects a specific cultural identity that they necessarily have some sort of deep-seated internal self-hate going on. That's a pretty big jump to make, and at least I'm all for giving people the benefit of the doubt, generally speaking.

Oh of course! I don't make a habit of second guessing how any individual presents themselves. I think it is very important to respect each individual's right to be identify how they feel is best. And even if my inner monologue is making a 'yeah... sure you are' comment, I'm going to tell it to shut ignore it.

But still... I identify as 'bi' myself, I'm still figuring things out. The most I can really say is that I certainly couldn't say either "I'm not attracted to women" or "I'm not attracted to men" with any honesty. I've lived in socially liberal places all my life, with a family that has been nothing but accepting... and I still feel this strong pull to not be seen as effeminate or unmanly in some way. Like you can be into dudes, but you'd better be on top, or it's fine if you like guys, but you'd better not be sensitive an emotional about it. Or as a bi male, there is definitely more positive social reinforcement when you're talking about sleeping with a woman then a man.

And I just see that so often when, for example, someone talks to me about how they experiment with guys, but feels the need to really emphasize just how much they "love the pussy."

Yes, it's something I'm extra sensitive to, because I am one of those guys who doesn't really fit into the stereotypical gay scene or into bro-ish masculinity. And yes, I my reject having to be either, but the 'toxic masculinity' part needs rejecting a hell of a lot harder than the 'gay' part, because that stuff is pernicious.

One thing I am very thankful for in LGBT spaces is that I feel safe with not having to act 'manly,' that I can explore being how I want to be without having to present like I'm going to meet aggression with aggression, that no one is going to target me for looking 'weak'. Because that is tiring as hell.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:06 PM on May 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I also wonder how much of what he describes as gay culture is actually gay, white, American, middle-class culture?

I don't pretend to know anything about Gay Korean culture, other than to my eyes it seems to be about 15 years behind here. I don't have strong links to any form of "gay culture" here in the US.

I suppose that everything just seems a bit foreign to me.
posted by qcubed at 4:36 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


The author actually makes exactly the opposite point later in the article, where he's talking about how queer sensibilities are actually shaped substantially if not primarily by people outside of the white masc gay male middle-class milieu, like, e.g. Black gay and trans communities. (Unfortunately, this isn't to say that mainstream gay culture is particularly welcoming to actual trans people, people of lower socioeconomic status, and/or people of color, of course.) He also floats the idea that the gay men like Sullivan and Silver who have, comparatively, the most privilege, not the least, may actually be the quickest to dismiss gay/queer culture as dispensable.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:07 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


The American/European thing is a good point though, he doesn't really explore that here and I'd be curious to see what kinds of phenomena people from other gay cultures would describe as central to a gay/queer sensibility.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:16 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Eh, this was a frustrating piece for me. Lowder's basically equates attacks from the assimilationist right (the group he calls "homosexuals") on the idea of there being any difference between same-sex-attracted people and straight folks with attacks from the queer left. He says that both groups reject gay culture because they see it as stereotyped and passe (with the queer left younguns also equating "gay" with white privilege). He frames both groups as denying that there should be such a thing as gay culture.

I believe, as others have noted, that conservative privileged butch white assimilationist men have always distanced themselves from the more marginalized segments of the meta-community, as long as we have been living with the idea that sexual attraction defines a person and creates an identity. But as for the rest--it just seems ridiculous to me to say queer cultures are a thing of the past. We have tons of cultures--lesbian cultures, bisexual cultures, trans cultures, gay cultures--and they vary by generation, by race/ethnicity, by region, by class, by religion, by tons of things. What we don't have is a monolithic gay culture. But we never did. Lowder, for example, "While cultural gayness, as I’ll try to define it here, is not the exclusive province of men, their history as its most visible advocates will necessarily bias this piece." He appears to be claiming that the culture of the 1950s Sisters of Dorothy-types was shared by gay men and lesbians, and this just historically incorrect and weird.

To me, Lowder sounds like a second-wave feminist complaining that the third-wavers have ruined everything and joined the patriarchy by denying that there is such a thing as a monolithic women's community, and doing things like letting trans women into women's spaces. Speaking of which, Lowder's definition of gay culture sounds so tone-deaf regarding the way that the growing recognition and inclusion of trans people has changed queer cultures. Many of the street kids who made Stonewall happen called themselves drag queens at the time, but have since identified as trans women (see, e.g., Silvia Rivera). Complaining about the loss of a bitchy queenliness without acknowledging that for those who have since been able to come out as trans is a good thing, and that the bitterness of the queen may be a reaction to intense marginalization and dysphoria, so that its reduction, if such is real, is not necessarily bad.

Anyway, I think many queer cultures are alive and well, and that assimilation is a problem for all cultural communities, but that the LGBT+ youth of today are not abandoning culture as stereotype, but creating new cultures in a world long past Ethel Merman.
posted by DrMew at 5:55 PM on May 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


I also wonder how much of what he describes as gay culture is actually gay, white, American, middle-class culture?

I'm gay, white, American, and almost middle-class ... and his descriptions still seem off.

We had a large bar-take over this past weekend: about fifty men and ten women at a military bar in Waikiki. You would have known instantly that it was a gay group. It was in the way people interacted, in the shared sense of space, in the way conversations would pause when a young marine walked by with his shirt off, in the ethnic diversity of the men and women present (because large groups of straight men, almost always, tend to be dominated by one ethnic group). It was an undeniably queer event.

And yet there were almost none of the things the author posits as part of gay culture: no queeniness, no drag or camp readings of masculinity, and no cruising in the strange way the author defines it (the 'practice of paying attention, deeply and with great skill.') He got the family part right, and that's about it.
posted by kanewai at 5:56 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is more or less an aside, but when I wasn't long out of the closet, I became profoundly disheartened by how incredibly fucking mean the more "gay-ish" guys my age were to me and to others who didn't have a quick wit and know how to dress right. I honestly felt far lonelier and more ostracized after coming out. I carried around that social wound for years and would have happily jumped on the "not gay just sleep with men" bandwagon had it been a thing in the tiny little college town I lived in at the time.

I was talking about this with a friend who is much more in the "gay-acting" camp and he remarked that some kids (like him) who grew up obviously gay and unable to hide it might have thought I'd gotten a free ride for being so-called straight-acting or that I was somehow actively cheating the cultural system that had brutalized them. The former is certainly true -- I was never bullied for being gay because I just don't read as gay to most people. Part of it is that I policed my own behavior very thoroughly because I was so deeply in the closet to myself (not to mention anyone else) but part of it is that, I dunno, I just was never what one would consider a femmy kid. I also suppose that, when I came out, I had a pretty thin skin precisely because I hadn't been through some of the awful formative experiences that some of the guys who were mean to me undoubtedly had.

So when I realized that there might have been some real anger underlying the meanness of the more "gay-acting" guys, that it maybe it wasn't just my bad luck to have come out among a bunch of people who were mean to me, and that I also probably had a much thinner skin than a lot of them did, I started to wonder if other less "gay-acting" like me have had similar experiences and if a similar kind of social wounding isn't part of what's fueling this "homosexual but not gay" trend.
posted by treepour at 7:13 PM on May 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Anyway, I think many queer cultures are alive and well, and that assimilation is a problem for all cultural communities, but that the LGBT+ youth of today are not abandoning culture as stereotype, but creating new cultures in a world long past Ethel Merman.

I'm very much on the outside of queer culture, but this matches what I can see from here.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:16 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


But the idea that the culture developed by people who ID as some form of queer is dying as everyone assimilates "dating people of the same sex" into heteronorms is so incredibly foreign to me that I'm having a bit of trouble wrapping my head around it.

I identified as queer long before I knew it had anything to do with any sex; I thought it being a recluse with doilies and lots of books and cats, and maybe a magic spell or two.

But (seriously), the gay culture of RuPaul never was the whole of queer culture. Gay cis male culture is used as this by word for queer culture, when it's only one part - and not one that I, as someone who is bi & female presenting, feel particularly welcome in. As for drag, I never even understood the appeal, until I saw a drag king show. That was awesome - I totally wanted to go buy some fake beard hair and some spirit gum.
posted by jb at 7:52 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


But I have seen Auntie Mame, and I loved it.
posted by jb at 7:53 PM on May 12, 2015


Not sure how welcome my comments will be, as most of the comments here are very much, it seems, about being a gay man and by gay men, but here goes. I'm an asexual, afab person.

I think it's less that gay culture is disappearing and more that cultural exchange is happening. There was a time when gay culture was separated from 'straight' culture. It was like two villages on either side of an impassible gorge. The culture that sprung up was very different from the straight culture on the other side of the gorge. But as development has made the gorge passible, exchange back and forth can occur and the two cultures change one another. That doesn't mean either disappears, they just reappear in unexpected places.

For a very long time, 'being gay' (meaning in this case, a white gay male) was a cultural and societal statement that meant being hunted, that every moment of your life could be your last, so very easily. Your life was short, your expression of culture explosive, designed to last for that short life. You might have, you thought, five or ten good years. You needed to LIVE it. Then, as the hunting reduced, a wasting disease came sweeping through the community. You could die any time, you needed to LIVE the time you had.

As these cultural pressures reduced, the need to live hard and fast and loud reduced. People could pace themselves. That changed everything, even if cultural exchange hadn't started occurring at a higher rate.

Another point is that I have always thought, based on my viewing of gay culture (and also when you look at what few artifacts exist of early lesbian culture--I don't know about early trans culture enough to say much there), that the rise of the culture wasn't about culture. It was about family.

Even now, stepping up and coming out so often means stepping away from the family you grew up with, the people you love. It means stepping out from under the light of their love and finding yourself in the shadows of uncertainty. So the various shades of queer culture that I know enough of to speak about made their own families. That's almost the universal cornerstone of queer culture--found family. The queer culture could be very different from one city to the next because they were different FAMILIES with different traditions.

In that, I don't think that queer culture has changed at all. Found family is possibly the basis of queer culture far more than any specific cultural artifact.
posted by NotATailor at 8:00 PM on May 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


So when I realized that there might have been some real anger underlying the meanness of the more "gay-acting" guys, that it maybe it wasn't just my bad luck to have come out among a bunch of people who were mean to me, and that I also probably had a much thinner skin than a lot of them did, I started to wonder if other less "gay-acting" like me have had similar experiences and if a similar kind of social wounding isn't part of what's fueling this "homosexual but not gay" trend.

I've felt the pettiness and rudeness of the... louder... gays. It's actually one of the biggest reasons I don't actually enjoy going to gay bars, or even most gay oriented events; sure, I may comport myself like the shy, nerdy girl pre-makeover before the dance, and dress accordingly, and it really just reminded me of a lot of the bad parts of being a teen again. I didn't care for it.

It's obviously a meat market, I don't want to market myself on packaging, so I'll just opt out. (I kinda end up opting out of a lot of things.)

That said, I very much don't mind learning about the history of gay "culture", such as it is, even if I still don't get why Ab Fab and Golden Girls are "so amazing"; I also don't understand why "gay" is almost becoming a pejorative within the greater gay community.
posted by qcubed at 8:05 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


> You would have known instantly that it was a gay group. It was in the way people interacted,

This is exactly the author means when he talks about paying attention, though. Not everyone would have noticed instantly that it was a group, let alone a gay one. Not everyone is attuned to those interactions. And straight folks realized that it was a gay group are certainly less likely to have been able to identify and break down the identifiers the way you just did.
posted by desuetude at 8:09 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I see it as an exercise in intersectionality. The gaybro's emancipatory condition is, "I am free when the status quo accepts me" (a person who in all respects no different than the typical person other than that I have same-sex sex). The queer's ideal is, "I am free when the world is truly liberal" (with my gayness serving as a potentiating instance or driving example of revolutionary social change). This fundamental difference in worldview and values creates these two sides. However, as long as the intersectional aspect exists, it is not a forgone conclusion that this schism will always be this way.
posted by polymodus at 8:35 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Gay is like a mask now, to wear or not. It seems superfluous, if you are homosexual you don't have to act gay. I have become more to the point where I am just as wary of someone who is over the top as I am someone who is closeted who I know to be gay.
posted by ksaklingon at 9:28 PM on May 12, 2015


ksaklingon, you can act however you please, but referring to people who are more culturally gay than you are as wearing a superfluous mask is really not cool. When someone says they are wary of gay men who are "over the top," what I personally hear is femmephobia.
posted by DrMew at 10:01 PM on May 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Reading that article felt weird, because I’m a gay white male, who came out in the Seventies, and half the time I didn’t know what he was talking about.

I’ve always understood and read “gay-acting” as more a style than a way of being. Behavior that is theatrical, exaggerated, and therefore intentional. A rejection of norms of morality with a flamboyant "fuck you." Certainly, that was my aspiration when I came out. I was so glad to have figured out that I was gay, at 26, that I didn’t want merely to be gay, I wanted to declare it.

I wasn’t very good at that, though, starting with, I cared what people thought about me. I found that I wasn’t brave and didn’t want to be anything approaching a standard-bearer. But that didn’t mean I was embarrassed about being gay, or make me conservative or an integrationist. I’m none of those either. (I am amazed at and appreciate the speed with which society is coming to accept my sexual orientation, but I have zero interest in marrying my partner. I want equality before the law, but not the trappings of family, which might have something to do with a little bit liking the idea of myself as an outsider, I dunno.)

Nowadays, I’m a retired gay man who lives with his partner and finds pleasure in the quietly domestic, like making a grocery list or picking ticks off the dogs after a walk. Maybe that’s why I had so much trouble getting through the article: thoughts of “that’s not me” kept intruding.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:52 AM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know how it works for everybody else, but I never chose to call myself 'queer.' That's just what people called kids like me who didn't always follow all the rules of being a boy in the part of the world where I grew up. Now it's true, I played around a bit with my sexual identity in the formative years, and wasn't always strictly "straight," but at the same time, I don't think I've ever in my life seen a dude and thought "man, what a hot dude! I need to have sex with that person now." So I guess in some people's book that would make me what they call "gender fluid" or something, but honestly, these days, it feels more honest to say I'm just an old white guy who tries not to be too much of a prick about it. But people have called me queer enough times in my life as an insult that I can't help identifying with it a little, too, even though my own preferences are basically hetero. Don't feel bad about any of this, just adding my dumb little story.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:40 PM on May 13, 2015


I believe it was The Whelk, a while back, who really articulated this whole 'straight (-acting)' thing, and why it is so terribly, terribly sad. The short version, from what I can recall, is that by and large these are guys who are trying to join a club where they will never, ever be members.

Which is not to say that there's only one way to be gay, obviously. Some people prance around and camp it up, some are Rock Hudson. Most of us fall in between, and wander around the spectrum in different ways at different points in our lives.

Plus, the Nickname Rule of gay male personals applies to 'masc' and 'straight'; nine times out of ten, if you're saying it, you're not. (cf guys who use nicknames like SuperHotModelDude or SoSexyYoullSlapYourMother)

So like, yeah, identify yourself as however you wish. I think there's a huge amount of delusion and self-deception and internalized homophobia with most guys who are MSM who identify themselves as 'straight,' though. Being gay is about who your heart and your genitals are attracted to, that also happens to have a totally-optional-to-participate-in culture around it, and I don't feel anyone is doing anyone any favours by pretending that 'straight' is anything but where your heart and your genitals lead you either. It's a self-erasing usage of a label, not an empowering one. "See? See? I'm just like you majority people, except for what I do with my plumbing. I'm totes normal rly."

And that strikes me as unbearably sad.

The bottom line is this: if you are attracted to people of the same gender as you are, you're not straight.* And no amount of wearing baseball caps or working on Wall Street or chugging beer with your bros is ever going to change that. Repeating again what The Whelk had said, you will never be a full member of the club.

In the end, I think this usage (ditto 'masc,' which is the exact same thing using a different word) is actively damaging to people, both from the point of view of club-membership and from the "oh no I'm not like those gays" angle, which we've been doing to each other forever.


*yes, multiple gender expressions exist. I am not erasing. This article is speaking specifically about gay male-identified people.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:37 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


if you are attracted to people of the same gender as you are, you're not straight.

They could be a questioning straight trans woman. Would you call them temporarily gay until they figure out they're trans? lol. I still don't see how this presumably tiny minority of straight men that will admit they're attracted to men can actively damage anything.
posted by as common as insecticide at 6:37 PM on May 13, 2015


Well no, I wouldn't. And that's not who we're talking about here, in any case.

These aren't straight men, by definition; they are men who have sex with men by preference. They are gay men who aren't involved in 'the scene,' the ongoing current of gay life. They don't go to the village/gaybourhood; they disdain those of us who do, even if infrequently. By way of analogy, they're people who will happily play with their PS4 for hours on end, and look down their noses at people who call themselves gamers.

They're not straight-as-in-heterosexual guys, nor even (often) straight-as-in-presenting-as-heterosexual-while-in-the-closet. They're 'straight' as in they repudiate gay culture in a desperate attempt to assimilate. As I said, "we're just like you, totes normal, I'm just a bro who likes bros."

It's born partly out of internalized homophobia, and partly out of the lack of understanding that just because you are a guy who likes guys it doesn't mean you have to like RuPaul or bubble baths or shopping. Because there are so few public models--which, generally, means representation in media--of the wide spectrum of how many different ways there are to live life as a gay man (whether cis or trans; and there are virtually no representations of trans men anywhere, which is its own terrible problem).

So what we end up with are these guys who confuse the romantic/sexual desire for other men with the cultural baggage that can come along with it, and they throw out the baby with the bathwater, and sneer at those of us who do like rainbows and kittens and so on. It's damaging to themselves because they force themselves into a narrow little label that prevents experiencing new things, and it's damaging to the rest of us because, frankly, they treat us like garbage.

It's all about privilege and power; they're like gay Republicans. They can pass if they want to, and they're more than willing to throw the rest of us under the bus. That's why they're damaging.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:59 PM on May 13, 2015


Those guys tend to be female-leaning bisexuals. As in they're bi but are more attracted to women than men. Gay, for guys, implies only sexually attracted to men whereas straight, for guys, means only sexually attracted to women. So since they're mostly attracted to women they say that they're not gay but it's weird that it seems like they don't identify as straight-leaning bisexual (or is it "female-leaning bisexual"? I'm not too up on the terms.) The reason why they don't identify as bi might be homophobia or biphobia but I wouldn't call them "gay". I remember seeing letters from guys like that in the Savage Love column back in the day.
posted by I-baLL at 9:08 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some guys fit that description, I-baLL. I'd wager I probably have more experience with them than you do, unless I have totally misread past comments, so trust me--the majority are full-on homosexual guys.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:13 PM on May 13, 2015


And that strikes me as unbearably sad.

You're in luck: There's a new form of therapy for those depressive symptoms. It's called MYOFB.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:00 AM on May 14, 2015


(You didn't write anything in those two hideous comments that isn't completely false, btw.)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:01 AM on May 14, 2015


The identity of "straight" doesn't have to be about sex. It's a platonic ideal for a line labeled "mainstream society's rules" and to identify as "straight" is to step back and squint at the wavering squiggle of your life until the two blur together enough that you can believe that it's as good as Mathematical Identity.

So your own identity may be pulled by an unyielding belief in one of these lines, or you may be so alienated by people whose lines fall so effortlessly along the general path that they define you by the fact that you're a tangent off of it. Any direction you went out from "straight", that was what "queer" once was: travelling into the space where the old ideal would be too far away to pretend any more. Some folks were drawn into that terra incognita, and some were pushed out toward it.

But as enough people ventured out together, new trails were formed to guide the way to new ideals, and this article discusses one of those. I can see how people would escape one stifling orthodoxy and resist clinging to another. But there are other bursts of deviation from that "straight" path. The big ones always seem to get folded back in until they're forgotten. People in my parents' generation used to call folks who were too scared to smoke pot "the straights" without implying sexual orientation.

There are facets of my own identity that make me slightly uncomfortable calling myself "straight", despite the ongoing mainstreaming of some of them and the fact that my cismale heterosexual privilege makes it tedious and obnoxious to resist the label. I sit and nurse a drink now and again and pick at the loops and squiggles of my life that stick out from the mathematical ideal in clumps, and I wonder how to describe them in a way that captures the essence of my experience in the most succinct way. How do I define this knot with anything even close to the elegance of those two bare points marking the path off into the distance? When do these deviations matter, and when are they just affectation or nit-picking?

And who am I to tell some MSMs they're wrong if they squint at that infinite unbending ray and say to me "That, right there...That is who I am!"
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:49 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


(You didn't write anything in those two hideous comments that isn't completely false, btw.)

By all means, please go ahead and explain to me what I have experienced myself hasn't actually happened.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:22 PM on May 14, 2015


CAPITALISM, HIGH CAMP…AND THE STRAIGHTENING OUT OF HOMOSEXUALS
It is pointless for the homosexual radicals of the seventies or eighties to bemoan the loss of the edginess of the lesbian and gay ‘community’ when the truth is that we’ve been swallowed whole – straight society has caught up with us – taken us to its bosom – and finally absorbed us into its ‘new normal’. What was once the creation of an outcaste demimonde, a life in the margins, has moved centre stage because it expresses a sensibility that most authentically captures the times through which we are living.
via Omnivore: Acting gay, acting straight
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:44 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


By all means, please go ahead and explain to me what I have experienced myself hasn't actually happened.

Dude, you just made up (Made. Up.) like half a dozen bullshit motivations for other people's sexuality and gender identity and presentation, so forgive me if I don't take your playing of the "don't tell me how I feel" card particularly seriously.

What you have apparently experienced (or, I guess, read about in a comment by The Whelk?) are people who are not like you, people you clearly don't understand AT ALL yet are nonetheless more than willing to stereotype, onto whom you've projected a psychological profile pulled straight from your ass.

"Straight-acting" is merely Wronglish for "not especially femme." It is not a judgment of femme guys. It is not a denial of gayness. It is not a rebuke of gay culture. It is not disdain for "the scene." It is not pretending to be straight. It is not trying to be straight or to pass as straight. It is not self-hating. It is not living a sad, sad lie of futile conformity. It is not Doing It Wrong just because you do it differently. "Straight-acting" is just a tremendously poorly-worded descriptor which has rather unfortunately been for many decades the standard (in personals ads and so forth) for the personality type of MSM who are not especially femme. It is BEING MYSELF.

This is how I am. This is how I always have been. It is not an act. I am me, every bit as much as you are you. Liking cock and liking RuPaul's Drag Race are two very different things. Please do not ever purport to speak with any authority on behalf of MSM while denying many of us our credentials.

I originally began writing my comment by responding to your words point by point, but I scrapped that idea once I'd typed "bullshit" a dozen times. If, however, you would like me to actually go through and thoughtfully clarify in fine detail all the things that are mind-bogglingly offensive about your comments, I would be more than happy to memail that to you. No, wait. Less than happy. Not happy. Put out and pissed off, mostly. But I'll do it if pressed.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:45 PM on May 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


You can think what you like. None of what I said was made up or pulled out of my ass, it's what I have seen and experienced in the past two decades.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:52 AM on May 15, 2015


You're more or less repeating Dan Savage's tired "I just *know* these people are [offensive generalization] because I'm an expert" argument, which is fine. I just wish you'd shown your stripes earlier so I wouldn't have wasted my time. In any case, you're wrong.
posted by as common as insecticide at 9:52 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


it's what I have seen and experienced in the past two decades

It's what I have lived every day of my life for the last 34 years.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:01 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Straight-acting" is merely Wronglish for "not especially femme." It is not a judgment of femme guys. It is not a denial of gayness. It is not a rebuke of gay culture. It is not disdain for "the scene." It is not pretending to be straight. It is not trying to be straight or to pass as straight. It is not self-hating. It is not living a sad, sad lie of futile conformity. It is not Doing It Wrong just because you do it differently. "Straight-acting" is just a tremendously poorly-worded descriptor which has rather unfortunately been for many decades the standard (in personals ads and so forth) for the personality type of MSM who are not especially femme. It is BEING MYSELF.

THANK you.

It is fairly frustrating to be shunned on the one hand by mainstream, heteronormative culture for being gay, while being dismissed on the other hand for manifesting queerness in such a way that must be the result of internal self-loathing, lack of understanding, desperate conformity, or whatever. Respectfully, as a 48-year-old man of many accomplishments, I've finally earned the right to be taken on my own terms, and not on someone else's, regardless of their life experience (compelling though it may be).

Anyway, while I may not particularly enjoy camping it up in the "gayborhood", I do lurves me some kittens. This thread is experiencing a sad dearth of kittens.
posted by darkstar at 2:36 AM on May 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why groups pressured and discriminated against for so long suddenly decide that everyone has to adhere to the stereotypes they struggled for so long to leave behind is beyond me. *cough*geeks*cough*

Well 'geek' was arguably never anything BUT a series of stereotypes. It's not like there was a simple, objective thing you could point to that was what being a geek really was, in the way that there very much is such a thing for 'gay'. You can have a definition of 'gay' without the stereotypes - for geek you can't, and it becomes an argument over deciding which of the stereotypes are definitive.
posted by Dysk at 4:41 AM on May 28, 2015


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