A New Gay Manifesto
When I look at the more recent successes in the gay human rights campaign, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride. We have come far since the times of Oscar Wilde. Since the times of Harvey Milk. Things have changed. In many states, same-sex couples can marry. Anti-discrimination laws have been enacted to a great extent. Things have changed. It’s certainly cause for celebration, but there still are miles and miles and miles to go.
I really do think that same-sex marriage will be passed in every state by the end of my lifetime. For this reason, I do feel a tremendous sense of optimism, but it also makes me wonder how the internalized homophobia still harbored by many will ultimately be dismantled. Recently, I watched a few segments from the 2014 GLAAD awards. Presenters and recipients including Ellen Page, Laverne Cox, and Jennifer Lopez took the stage and made moving speeches on not only the importance of acceptance, but the important of celebration. The lives of LGBT members need not only just be tolerated, but be celebrated, because celebration of different people is, in at least my opinion, part of what life is truly all about.
I look at my struggles as a closeted boy in high school; depressed, looking for meaning, feeing self-conscious and sorry for myself. And then I look at the LGBT men and women I have talked to, had relationships with, read articles and books by. We all still suffer. It is in my opinion that the vast majority of LGBT members come up in the world with the sort of aforementioned self-consciousness instilled within them. In fact, the words of my father have always rung hauntingly true for me. As a child, he consistently told me, “Alan, what you have to do is go to school, get a job, get a house, find a girl, marry, and then have children.” We grow up in households with parents who do expect us, whether they support LGBT people or not, to go to school and marry and raise a family. As a young child, of course, I took this all so very seriously. I also took seriously the derogatory comments being flung around at family reunions and by bullies in my school.
No one is expected to be gay.
As trite as it may sound, the former statement always reminds me of this scene in the film The Family Stone. Sarah Jessica Parker’s uptight, New Yorker character confronts the ill mother of a gay son played by Diane Keaton and says, “You didn’t really want a gay son, did you?” The Diane Keaton character becomes totally defensive and fights for the feelings of her son. While viewing this, I felt a sense of humanity. I saw a mother who was proud of her gay son, but, ultimately, it is worth noting that surely Keaton’s character did not raise her son with the expectation that he was meant to be gay.
This is where the upbringing of LGBT members really suffers. Unlike women or people of color, LGBT members are not brought up in a family that instills a sense of familiarity that coincides with their minority status. A black boy is raised, unless adopted, in a black home. A girl is generally raised in a family with a mother figure. This differs from, say, a gay boy who grows up in a family with no sort of role model that echoes his sexual inclinations.
Many might ask if I’m simply saying to raise all of our children gay.
This isn’t the point. The point is that the bigotry that continues to echo through society causes the unawareness that parents still suffer. This ultimately affects the ego of the LGBT member as they comes of age.
Celebration. I’ll continue going back to this word, because I really was affected by the words of the different speakers at this year’s GLAAD awards. A producer of the outstanding documentary film Bridegroom accepted an award and stated that tolerance is simply not enough. She then used to word celebration to label what the views held toward LGBT people should really be like. And I’m not saying life is not currently a celebration of sorts for me, but, growing up, it never was.
As a young gay boy, I really did seclude myself. Even through high school, I rarely spoke of my private life even with friends, because all my private life ended up being for me was a combination of my creative life and my overwhelming depression, guilt, and shame. After publicly coming out, I really do feel that I changed overnight and I can’t emphasize that enough, because truly I woke up the morning after coming out as a totally different person than the young man who woke prior to coming out. The sense of shame was almost fully lifted. The self-consciousness dwindled. The guilt remained in some ways, but it surely lessoned. For the first time in maybe all of my life, I truly felt loved and accepted. But why did it take me until the age of 21 to actually feel this way? Was it my parents’ fault?
I’d hate to go that far, because I think that is extremely reductive to two people who truly always worked their hardest for my sister and me. Without a doubt, I do believe that I always had love within my household. The fact of the matter is, however, that I grew up in a straight home, where, no matter what, I would never be fully accepted until coming out and saying, “If you have a problem with it, then that’s your problem.”
After coming out, my life did become a celebration. My relationships changed. My love life changed. My creative life changed. My goals changed. For about a year now, I’ve had explicit conversations with close friends of mine that have set all the bullshit aside and gotten to the point. Very recently, I made a comment to a couple of friends of mine, Taylor and Claire. I said, “I mean, it’s true you guys liked me more after I came out.” Not surprisingly, the two of them balked at the idea, but I simply rolled my eyes and made them elaborate.
Claire said, “The truth is that you just became more comfortable in your own body and, therefore, were more open with us.”
Taylor added, “That’s why our friendship blossomed as much as it did. Before, you were hiding and now you’re not. After you came out, you became your full self.”
I didn’t disagree with any of these comments. In fact, I embraced them, because I knew my friends were stating the truth. After coming out, I certainly became more confident in my life. I was able to sit down and really look at the things I had accomplished and the many people that I had had relationships with up to that point. It was a life to finally be proud of, but it was also a life that was really only beginning. I was starting over. I was ridding myself of the spectrum of self-hatred that I had been carrying with me like a dead horse throughout my life. That boy who kept a private life in high school soon became a blossoming personality who had no qualms about talking about gay sex and gay relationships; who had no problem wearing tight pants to class and exuding a vibe that simply said, yeah, I’m a homosexual. Pride. I fully embraced pride.
In today’s world, I really don’t see any gay people who are speaking directly to an audience with my generation in mind and, for that reason, I really don’t know where we will be as my generation comes into full bloom. Right now, the LGBT generations before me are certainly displaying gay themes in the media. In fact, I think right now is probably the most fruitful time in media for LGBT people. Since my birth, literary novels by gay authors like Dennis Cooper, Michael Cunningham, Jamie O’Neill, and Augsten Burroughs have been praised for their portrayal of gay men. Of course, in reading these novels I do feel a sense of acceptance and happiness for the overwhelming popularity that these authors have gained. However, all of these authors are from a totally separate generation than I am. As times change, we need more and more spokespersons who address issues in the LGBT community. Right now, we don’t have anyone really speaking to my generation. We only have people from previous generations speaking to my generation and I find fault in this, because even I sometimes find it hard to relate to the amazing works by Michael Cunningham.
Another area in the media where LGBT members are getting more and more screen time is in film and TV. Right now, I think TV is far ahead of film in their portrayal of gay issues. This all started in 2000 with “Queer as Folk”on Showtime and has continued into the present with shows like HBO’s “Looking” or the new cable show, “The Fosters.” Even with network shows like “Modern Family,” the general public is consistently being witness to television shows that feature a broad spectrum of characters that represent different parts of our society. With film, however, things are different. I look at pictures that have crossed over into the mainstream like Far from Heaven, A Single Man, and the ever-popular Brokeback Mountain. Truth is, these films started out as indie films and just happened to cross over. I like to the cite the story behind the Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, to really bring this point home. I recently read an interview with the director, Steven Soderbergh, who really is a huge name in the film industry. In the interview, he stated that his picture was meant for the big screen, but all of the production houses rejected it and labelled as too gay. For this reason, it was released as a TV movie on HBO. Producers are still hesitant to make a big budget film featuring gay men. It’s a shame. And it’s discrimination. Until this changes, the internalized homophobia that I still feel is prevalent in our society will continue.
Very often, I’ll read statements made by members of the LGBT community and straight allies that address gay rights and gay struggles. A lot of the time, members of the community will say things like gay people are no different than straight people. These kinds of quotes remind me of a time two years ago when I had a conversation with my dad’s cousin at a family reunion. She was speaking to me about her gay son. She said, “The only thing different between his life and my life is his sex life. And he doesn’t want to hear about my sex life and I don’t want to hear about his, but there is no reason not to accept him.” Though my dad’s cousin’s head and heart were certainly in the right place, I really do find fault in this statement.
Truth is, my life is so incredibly different than the lives of the straight people around me.
It’s not only my sex life that is different. My goals are different. My views are different. The possibilities that I can attain in my life are different. My stigmas are different. My persona is way different. My rights are different. The way I go about my everyday life is so different.
Gay life is so different.
Going back to the comments made by the speakers at the GLAAD awards; they all said, in their own ways, that we need to celebrate these differences. And we do, because they may just present a new way of looking at things that differs greatly from the way our heterocentric society still does. In the 1970s, this sort of sentiment would have gone over very well. I always look back at the 1970 political writing by Carl Whitman entitled “A Gay Manifesto” which almost fully coincides with the points I am trying to make about differences. In the essay, Whitman states, “Gay people must stop gauging their self respect by how well they mimic straight marriages.” During a time post-Stonewall, this kind of comment came as a breath of fresh air. Today, however, I think many gay men would take this sort of sentiment for granted. In my opinion, we’ve almost started to fall behind and have lost the liberating aspect of our gay society. In my day to day life, I do live in a state of pseudo-celebration. I have a lot of things to be thankful for and I’m fairly happy with my life as a gay man in society. I know my place and I am, more or less, alright with the differences that I have with my predominantly straight friendship circle. However, I look at a lot of the gay men around me and no longer does it seem that our stories are being told. That our differences are being laid out. That our pride is being exemplified in the explicit way it should be.
Whitman also makes another interesting comment in his essay about forging an identity within the gay community: “We have to define for ourselves a new pluralistic, role free social structure for ourselves. It must contain both the freedom and physical space for people to live alone, live together for a while, live together for a long time, either as couples or in the larger numbers; and the ability to flow easily from one of these states to another as our needs change. Liberation for gay people is defining for ourselves how and with whom we live, instead of measuring our relationship in comparison to straight ones, with straight values.”
For me, I can almost relate to this sort of call for action more than any others I read today and this really has to do with the fact that not as many gay political writings are really covering the aspects of celebrating and forging differences today. No, we are in a place where, for some reason, we feel our differences are clear and it’s all laid out and it’s only up to Congress and the government to now champion our cause.
It doesn’t work this way. It only hinders us and enables the parents who are unknowingly bringing up a gay son to dismiss the idea that he could ever be a homosexual. Internalized homophobia still exists. Right now, it is still about demolishing the internalized feelings in the parents who are raising that gay son. The only way they can truly protect him is through leaving every possibility open.
Imagine this, the couple sits down with their son and says, “Son, this is what you have to do. You have to go to school, find a job, buy a house, and find a man or a woman you love.” This is where we need to be right now. That child will not grow up with the self-hatred that many LGBT members still grow up with.
Currently, it seems the gay community is somewhat unaware of this. Right now, we’ve come so far with human rights that we’re only taking it for granted. The philosophies established during the post-Stonewall times when gay liberation was at its height are no longer of interest to the gay community and that’s a shame because, to me, they are all relevant to our times. I’ve talked to many gay people who do not even know what Stonewall was. They do now even know what had to happen in order to make gay liberation begin. They’re clueless as to who the great gay activist Larry Kramer is. So it goes, all of the statements and calls to action made by people like Carl Whitman have been lost. We’re only riding on the past, but, soon enough, the ride is going to end all together if we don’t continue shouting.
It’s time to focus back on those times when being different was really about establishing a different way of life, living it, and showing the heterocentric culture that this way of life works too. A way of life that demonstrated that we will celebrate ourselves even if you don’t, but we’re sure you’ll come along to appreciate it. It needs to be about forging ahead with the sort of spunk that the activists during the gay liberation in the 70s took up so readily. It needs to be about ingraining even a new and improved identity for gay people. It needs to be about differences and it needs to be about the celebration of these differences, because, without the celebration, we are boung to forget how important and special we are as a community.
It’s important to not stop being vocal. It’s important to continue writing about these things. It’s important to speak with our straight friends about our lives and our stories, because, once they know them and appreciate them, their views will change and, because of that, the acceptance toward every new LGBT child in the world will be overwhelmingly different than the beginnings of people in my generation.
Currently, I’m finishing up my undergrad at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. This small city basically echoes the god-fearing, conservative attitude that was held amongst the residents of the small town I grew up in. For this reason, the gay community up here really just sucks. Honestly, it’s so quiet and so small. I meet people all the time who are still living in the closet, who still spend their nights alone, who are still afraid to have a same-sex relationship or, god forbid, be seen in public kissing a person of the same sex. I witness hatred and infighting amongst the homosexuals around here. I witness shame and guilt and self-consciousness. I’ve talked to a lot of gay people in this college town and, though we all have entirely different stories and upbringings, I can almost always see where our own inner self-hatred once stemmed from. It stemmed from a heteronormative upbringing that didn’t allow us to be who we were. Of course, many of us have conquered our horrendous self-esteem issues, but many of us still continue to allow ourselves to sit in a bind that prevents us from really making a statement. I mean, I think it’s absolutely wonderful that we have our Gender & Sexuality Alliance group up here. That group certainly works for our rights as students, but, as individuals, what are we all doing to make an impact and to continue on with the legacy that was laid down upon us by the men who had the balls to stand up and shout?
It’s still time to live loud, which, of course, we do during Pride Fest and events like that, but let’s talk about how difficult it is to get a book published featuring two gay men. Let’s talk about how every film nominated at this year’s Academy Awards lacked a gay character. Let’s discuss these things. And let’s continue with the sort of sensibilities that were laid down by our gay forefathers. The one’s that said come out, be proud, laugh, have sex, have fun, and talk. Times are changing and we have to change with them, but we also cannot dismiss the great people who have brought us to this place as a community.