"they quickly learn that their lives are the cost of doing business."
July 5, 2015 12:17 PM   Subscribe

"One of the most punk rock things I can think of now for me and my friends from ACT UP, is for us to grow old with the people we love, however we choose to do it. Getting to be an old queer is our next revolution."

That's my plan.
posted by gingerbeer at 12:30 PM on July 5, 2015 [33 favorites]

This is, apart from his astute observations about how we are all failing trans people, kind of a useless article. Maybe in twenty years we'll be living in the orentation- and gender-free nirvana he supposes. I doubt it. More likely things will slowly keep getting better, two steps forward and one step back.

Perhaps more accurately, it's the latter half of the article that is useless--it's no different from "in twenty years we'll all have jetpacks."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:32 PM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

*gets off gingerbeer's lawn*
posted by jonmc at 12:34 PM on July 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

And the companion piece "What Will Gay Culture Look Like in 2035?: LGBTQ activists and writers weigh in"
posted by andoatnp at 12:37 PM on July 5, 2015

> Maybe in twenty years we'll be living in the orentation- and gender-free nirvana he supposes.

Did we read different articles? Because a lot of the imagined possibilities he describes are not described as nirvanas - cult compounds, gated communities, reproduction for only the wealthy, etc.

FYI: Alex is a personal friend.
posted by rtha at 12:39 PM on July 5, 2015 [7 favorites]

In the early Aughts

is this a done deal? Everyone's on this? After all that happened in that decade, I was hoping for the Naughts.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:41 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Maybe in twenty years we'll be living in the orentation- and gender-free nirvana he supposes. I doubt it.

I can see where the "orientation- and gender-free nirvana" bit comes from, but I wonder if maybe you're overstating the significance of the section where he describes the future he can see for himself, in Germany or in the Catskills. Just because he can see himself carving out a niche that is non-judgemental towards orientation and gender doesn't mean he thinks the whole world will be that way, as he explains in the final paragraph of the article:
The future I can’t imagine, but want to imagine, is one where we’re all at peace, working toward something else. I find myself wanting to ask the religious right, which has fought so hard, all my life, to demonize me, if that is really the best use of their time on this earth.
Clearly he still sees conflict and prejudice in the future.
posted by chrominance at 12:43 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

He also supposed a world where 'omnisexual' is the default. The other possibilities--except for the closeted people struggling in Christiania--are just as unlikely in such a short time.

I'm not saying he is useless; anyone who worked with ACT UP to get the message out deserves a goddamn medal or ten. The article, as such, is navel-gazing wankery in the second half. The first half, though--and again I emphasize especially what he had to say about trans people--is spot on.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:44 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Alex Chee wrote that terrific memoir about being a waiter at the Buckleys' that was linked here a few weeks ago.

It's true that this is a bit slight, but I actually enjoyed the near-future dystopias bit and really, it's the internet - quite a lot is slight. I like how he writes - he only has one novel out, apparently, but I'm going to see if I can track it down.

That whole "why didn't you come out in high school" thing - I totally get that. I end up envying the kids today - so many of the ones I meet (not all, but many) simply don't have that deep estrangement and anxiety that is automatic for me, and I'm a bit younger than Chee.
posted by Frowner at 12:47 PM on July 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

I feel like he misses the boat on ACT UP as well. The point of ACT UP, to many people who were a part of it, wasn't to make people realize that HIV/AIDS could happen to anyone. It was to try and make people (the government) care about the people who were actually dying.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:02 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Alex (who is a personal friend) was in ACT UP with me; he understands the point of it perfectly.

And the point he's making in the article is that we we advocating for access to health care for all long before it was a national political priority. That the broader population should have been paying attention to what was happening to people with HIV who were losing their health insurance because they were sick (i.e. needed health care).
posted by gingerbeer at 1:16 PM on July 5, 2015 [11 favorites]

I dunno; maybe it's just the article isn't really well written. I don't understand anything the author was trying to say.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:20 PM on July 5, 2015

That whole "why didn't you come out in high school" thing - I totally get that.

As late as 2001, when I graduated from high school, there were only one or two gay people who were really "out." This was in a student body of around a thousand, at a public school in a liberal college town in the Northeast. And from what I could discern, the kids who were out to everyone definitely paid a social cost for it, even in the more accepting milieus within the school. But my friend judged a debate tournament there just a few years later and incidentally mentioned that the hallways were basically full of out, queer teenagers. I remember feeling excited and jealous and also having the unsettling sensation that I had somehow Rip Van Winkle'd forward in time.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:30 PM on July 5, 2015 [11 favorites]

> I don't understand anything the author was trying to say.
ACT UP was trying to explain to Americans that AIDS could affect all of us, that health care that ended once your disease was expensive could affect more than gay men with HIV or AIDS. We were trying to tell them about the future—a future they didn’t yet see and would be forced to accept if they failed to act. But there was an epidemic of denial happening alongside AIDS, the belief that you could not get AIDS, not really, unless you were gay—and that you would never need the protections people with HIV needed. In 1990, health care was not something most people feared losing, and employer-based health care was not yet considered a business cost too high to bear. Blue Cross Blue Shield was not yet run for profit. But we had seen our friends and lovers abandoned by doctors and shunned by hospitals, and as we knew only too well, drug companies were run for profit, and there were drugs that needed to be tested in order for people with HIV to survive. The number of people infected in 1990 seemed too low to the people running spreadsheets at drug companies, and so they weren’t doing the tests on drugs that they could. There was no upside for them in making drugs that they believed would only benefit perhaps 50,000 people. This is a fate any American with a rare disease has faced—not just people with HIV—they quickly learn that their lives are the cost of doing business.
(emphasis mine)
posted by rtha at 1:39 PM on July 5, 2015 [11 favorites]

This is neat, and though the sci-fi novel he's talking about is hypothetical, it sounds PRETTY NEAT
posted by NoraReed at 2:45 PM on July 5, 2015

We want a gay-ray so that we're free to make ourselves a Thor/Captain America sandwich.
posted by sexyrobot at 4:18 PM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

all 4 of the Captain Americas that matter (Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers) are clearly bisexual and Asgard is way too culturally and technologically advanced to be hung up on stuff like gender; though Thor's personal preferences may not generally be seen to go for men, there are plenty of perfectly good readings of him where they go beyond women

basically what i am saying is the gay-ray was inside you all along
posted by NoraReed at 4:25 PM on July 5, 2015 [23 favorites]

NoraReed you owe me an iced tea and a new keyboard
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:30 PM on July 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is one of those rare time I wish we had tumblr-style tagging here, because everything is better with the "steve rogers: the bisexual america deserves" tag.
posted by nonasuch at 5:00 PM on July 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

> I don't understand anything the author was trying to say.

For me, this:
My hope is that marriage equality queers marriage, rather than straightening queers
was the take-away. He's talking about how gay-rights activism was edgy and shunned, then some of those same concerns (like affordable healthcare) became mainstream, then the gay-rights activism turned toward legalizing same-sex marriage, which is a simultaneously very progressive (lower-case p) and very conservative (lower-case c) victory.

There's a fork in the road, then, between settling into the mainstream or working again to bring in "edgier" goals -- or, most likely, a bit of both.
posted by jaguar at 7:01 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

is this a done deal? Everyone's on this? After all that happened in that decade, I was hoping for the Naughts.

Naw, it's 'the Ooze'.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:16 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm not saying he is useless; anyone who worked with ACT UP to get the message out deserves a goddamn medal or ten. The article, as such, is navel-gazing wankery in the second half.

Oh, you're okay with people having fought for tangible rights that benefit you, but when those same people talk about how it feels to have been part of this particular history, how it has affected this author's internal emotional life, how odd it is to find oneself aging into an unchartered stage of life, you sneer at it?

Many of the men and women who might have showed us how to grow old while being queer are dead, and most of us, well, we didn’t think we’d live this long, either.

That's why he's musing in different fantastical directions. "O brave new world/That has such people in't!" "Tis new to thee."
posted by desuetude at 7:54 AM on July 6, 2015

Somehow, the conversation turned to blue Curaçao, as I sat on the deck with my family and several neighbors on a warm summer night, and my older next door neighbor, Mr. Joe, who was responsible for my childhood nickname being Joe-B instead of just Joe for differentiation purposes, spoke up in the midst of my pontificating at length about my preference for picturesque cocktails.

"Oh, I can't stand the stuff," he said. "Brings back bad memories."

"A particular night on the town?" asked my father.

"No, back in '42, our troop ship cut the HMS Curacoa in half on our way to Europe and killed almost everyone."

I sat bolt upright and was done pontificating. As a disaster junkie, I knew exactly what he was describing, and it wasn't just a "troop ship," it was the RMS Queen Mary, loaded with ten thousand American soldiers headed into the fire, and I'd read about it over and over with the kind of gleeful childhorror that fueled my fixation on awful events. A man I grew up knowing as a quiet, humble fellow who patiently schooled me on electronics in his basement ham shack and who grew ranks of vegetables in his back yard and was one of my scout leaders had been there, right in the middle of history, and we'd never known, other than to hear a vague mention now and then that he'd been in the military in the war.

He patiently explained the whole event, and how he'd been on an upper deck with a view of the stricken ship and powerless as hundreds of men died in the wake of a grand ocean liner plowing onward because the sea was swarming with U-boats and you just couldn't stop for anything, even that. From there, he continued, and talked about D-Day and the beaches and everything, and after a while of some of the most riveting storytelling I have yet been privileged to witness, he stopped, wiped an eye, and apologized for monopolizing the conversation.

"Why didn't you ever tell us any of this before?" I asked. It was 1995, fifty years down, and these days, I know all too well how you just put some things out of reach so you can live your life until—

I fucking hate our day-glo nostalgia for the eighties, but I wasn't sure why that was until shortly after November 6th, 2012, when the voters in my state changed the tide for marriage equality. I'd been writing gleeful recollections of my wild years, filtered into a spectacle of Coloriffic mouse pompadours and hideous asymmetrical fashions and synthesizers and Grace Jones like a petulant goddess standing proud over heaving masses of those of us in the alternative world, and it is a proper freakshow that I love to share. I write about working as a stripper in a DC neighborhood now buried under a stadium and of adventures by Datsun station wagon, and yet, the gloss of recollection gets a little too shiny and a little too sweet and soon enough, people are feeling fond and reflecting on our lovable ol' Grampy President and making cute films and TV programs about the wacky eighties and—

FUCK NO. Nope. Nope nope nope.

Under the curtain of the sprinkle explosion of a decade in which graphic design became "yeah, just throw in a bunch of teal zig-zags and purple triangles," a whole generation of faggotry was dying off, and the culture as a whole never, ever let those of us just entering into the ranks forget how much most of the world hated us. Yeah, we got the little dribbles of breast-beating awkward inclusiveness, much of which is just…horrifying to watch now, without understanding how obnoxious it was to have your life be constricted to Very Special Episodes™ and stultifying films in which storytelling is constrained to the slivers of free space between Very Important Messages™.

You forget, because you have to, about the damage. You remember the exhilaration of that moment of figuring out who you were, and the sense of freedom that came from knowing who you were after a long time of trying to sort it all out in an environment, but that deep burn, the sort of constant gnawing in your core like an ulcer, of having to always be ready to explain your existence, and argue for your basic humanity—all that just hides out like viruses living in the tendrils of your nerves, waiting to pull strings to interfere with your aspirations, enthusiasm, and decision-making processes.

Or, maybe you don't. Maybe it's not all of us. Hell, I know it's not all of us. There's a whole new world.

And so now marriage comes to my state, too late for my longest relationship, and so now marriage comes to the country, and I am overjoyed and that joy overwhelms the burn of how it's too late for some people and how much something like this might have meant to my young self thirty years ago, in the middle of the decade-long fag-with-AIDS joke that the country giddily told itself while a whole community fought off calamity almost on its own.

But the world is better. My niece's little gay BFF, who came out without fanfare at thirteen, nine years ago, stands by my porch, waiting for a text message while I'm drinking a cup of tea and enjoying the morning, and I can't help but notice I haven't seen him visiting my niece in the next apartment with his boyfriend for a while.

Plink, arrives the text.

"Do you think it's too soon for me to date someone else, Mr. Joe?" he asks, after thumbing out a response. "I mean, it's only been a month."

I have always prepared myself for the possibility of being a wise queer elder to young folks, but I was prepared for a much colder, much uglier world, in which basic relationship advice would have been near the bottom of the list, and I'm not entirely sure I like being "Mr. Joe" at my tender age.

"Do you feel like dating someone else?" I ask, but as I'm asking, a blue coupe pulls up, and a strikingly handsome young man climbs out to wave.

"Yeah, that guy," says the BFF, with a broad smile.

"Well, yes, then," I say, but I really mean, DUH, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? "Go and love some more," I say, and feel mortified that I'm quoting a beloved film that would be a period piece as culturally alien to him as Auntie Mame was to me at his age. Because I was born in 1968, and because I know bad things about the world, I holler "And use condoms!" as he's climbing into the car, which solicits a laugh from both boys.

At least, I think, I am not going to go on about the "better days" of my youth, because they weren't better days, even with all the adventures and the way that I was in the world like a stranger in a strange land, meeting new and interesting people and occasionally fucking them in a Datsun. I am not going to wave a rake about the years when I felt okay to be gay, but still kept it under my hat, just because I was sick of the conversations and the justifications and the task of having to announce and explain my existence and why I was not some sort of traitor to the survival of the species. I remember fun at had at all those Pride festivals in DC, and the drag queens I nervously thanked for their performances, or the oiled musclemen who'd brush by me on the way somewhere more important, and I remember suddenly seeing Mayor Marion Barry standing next to me and turning to tell him I appreciated all he'd done for us and shake his hand, and still—it was not a culture or a community that gave me much else, because I tended to break all the rules for assimilation and I wanted to dance to Siouxsie and The Banshees and not more fucking Bananarama.

And yet, it's all here again for me, all this just boiling out of places I'd locked away without even really knowing I'd done it, in the aftermath of changes in the country and the culture I'd have sworn were going to be like practical nuclear fusion as a form of clean energy—always just twenty years in the future. It's a struggle not to be that guy, to play the little sad trombone of dissent among good news, and, in fact, I'm pretty much in the opposite camp, in that when I hear the complaints that oh, now what's going to happen to critical queer culture now or oh, are we all supposed to submit to patriarchal asymmetrical power structures now or but what about gay identity—and I just wonder if people just want to be soldiers forever and ever, because that's what we're meant to be. Celebrating a victory does not mean we're surrendering.

The kid going off in the car with another alumnus of our local high school is just a boy going on a date. The friends I know and love who just got married after a thirty-two year engagement are just husbands, living in New Jersey. The most basic details of what one desires can, for us, finally be what they are for the rest of the world, which is the least interesting thing about them, requiring no advocacy or justification, and while some of the old guard who stood firm at the forefront of being gay with panache and self-assurance are now feeling left out and have taken to grousing bitterly about how queerness is no longer daring or vogue or interesting, I can both concur and shrug.

I suppose notions of a "gay identity" and a gay "community" will last a while longer, and if you'd told me, all the way back in '85, that one day all these things would start to fade away, I'd have certainly thought that it would have meant that we'd lost the war we were fighting instead of that we'd finally started to win it, but wars bend your head into shapes that make dreams of peacetime seem impossible, and as I sat on a deck twenty years ago, hearing my most matter-of-fact neighbor tell harrowing, amazing stories, I could not help but wonder why he hadn't come home to live a heroic, amazing life as a reward for having been there instead of just spending his Saturday mornings on his knees in his garden, pulling weeds and straightening out the stakes on his tomatoes while a portable radio nearby played classical music.

Twenty years later, I understand it better, and while I labor to log the tales I have of a time that I hope we don't entirely forget, and while I celebrate those that came before me on the same path, I'm comfortable with the fact that the boy I was in 1985 would have been disappointed to learn about the man I am in 2015, and I am still fighting the battles that need to be fought, for my transgender friends, and for those who fall into the cracks for reason of being different, but it's okay, too, that where I point my penis is finally, after all these long years, one of the least interesting things about me. If I want you to find me quirky and interesting and hip, I have to earn that by the sweat of my brow.

There I was, not even sure how I got there, caught in the third wave, and we fought the war because we had to, and now—

"Oh Harold, that's wonderful. Go and love some more."
posted by sonascope at 8:57 AM on July 6, 2015 [11 favorites]

No, desuetude. I just don't have much patience for random future guessing. Perhaps it's a matter of exactly how he presented it, perhaps it's just disappointing in contrast with his other piece linked here last week. I just thought it was poor wankery, not useful. The first half, though, was spot the hell on.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:32 AM on July 6, 2015

To provide a counterpoint... I looked at his musings about future possibilities and went "...yeah, that seems really unlikely." But I actually thought they were interesting from the perspective of telling me about the mindset of the author and the culture he grew up in/the way that culture shapes his thinking, just as mine has shaped--is still shaping--mine.

For example, the possibility that in twenty years everyone will just identify as omnisexual stood out to me and made me go "ha!"--of course they won't, sexual orientation has been sufficiently reified that if anything people who don't easily fit under a heterosexual/homosexual binary are staking out terms, and the word 'omnisexual' in particular has been so poisoned in bi/pan communities that the only person I remember identifying by it is Capt. Jack Harkness. But I think that's obvious because my context is so very different from his, and that's partly due to time and (I suspect) also having different identity subcultures (for lack of a better term). My experience as an ace more-or-less-really-not-interested-in-guys woman is pretty different from, say, the experience of my cis gay male friends, even given that we're from the same generation.

In any case, I thought this piece was really interesting. I think I've mentioned elsewhere on the site, but accessing queer community, especially from generations older than mine, can be really fraught for me and I really value chances to listen to people and get a sense for what it used to be like. Even if I don't agree with them on everything!
posted by sciatrix at 10:13 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

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