Standing On The Sidelines: What’s Wrong With The Gay Community
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have no choice but to know about the major gay pride events going on throughout the city at any given time. I’ve even taken it upon myself to watch them a couple times, although only as a secondary detour when I have other errands to attend to. Each time I tell myself that it’ll be a fun little outing, equivalent to attending a party with a bunch of people I don’t know just having a good time. What I keep forgetting, though, is that the event really is true to its name: it’s a Parade, a Spectacle. Sure the idea of “good vibes” may be one aspect of the event, but there’s ultimately a much greater sense of personal, or perhaps even group, liberation and freedom to display one’s self in front of the world without fear of castigation.
I personally have never felt particularly sexually oppressed, neither as an individual nor a member of a demographic.My sexuality is simply not a great focus of my identity; sure I’m proud to be homosexual in the sense that I’m proud to be semi-fluent in Japanese or any other idiosyncratic character trait I possess, but beyond that there isn’t much to it for me. I’m just a guy with my own ways of viewing the world, my own desires, interests, fears, etc, as I would like to think most people are, with one’s sexuality simply being another variable in the equation. It’s like a dash of chili powder in the seasoning, if you will. Just a tiny little something, else enough to give the dish a little tinge of something else but far from being the main ingredient. Where the extended food metaphor ends and the real world begins, this is where all of my problems with the gay community originate.
What umbrage I do take with the community does not lie in the individuals within it. Many are humble, pro-active, intelligent people who want nothing more than political and social acceptance for both themselves and those around them, and who do so in diplomatic, respectful ways. Instead, I shift my focus onto how the gay community is portrayed, or more importantly, how it portrays itself.
As my Facebook status reads “Interested In: Men”, I receive some of the stupidest advertising pictures one could ever imagine on too regular of a basis. The first of which to ever catch my eye was this little number:
With so many mindless points compacted into a short 28 words that I could poke at for days, but for fear of losing time and sleep I’ll stick with the one aspect that proves my point: How can you sell a shirt by displaying a picture of a shirtless man? How is anybody supposed to know what you’re selling?
I get the impression that whoever created the ad was told that it was about gays, and what do gays love more than buff, naked guys? I see it all the time: so-called “GLBT-friendly” electric floor heating with a naked guy lying on the ground; the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima as reinterpreted by four hot shirtless guys rubbing on each other; “Bring your shirtless, hot significant other on a gay cruise to which you have no immediate geographical access;” the most toned upper bodies getting plastered all over the front pages of nearly every major gay-oriented website, whether it’s dating-based or not. The list goes on and on.
To this point, I posit that the gay community, whether it likes it or not, is hopelessly defined by sex.
This may not seem like a mind-blowing epiphany to straight men, who’ve had sex thrown at them for decades without them ever stopping to give it a second glance. Hell, I hardly ever notice how often commercials exploit sex to their advantage; even without taking account my gender preferences, it just goes to show how commonplace the subconscious desire for gonads rubbing up against one’s own can be in this day and age. Seeing this technique reconstituted towards a different demographic brings the issue into full view for me, perhaps because I’m the new target the advertising cats want to hit.
The one primary difference between basic advertising manipulation and what I’m observing is that the presence of sex extends far beyond the subconscious with the gay community: it’s right there in the forefront. The greatest contribution the community makes is exposure of homosexuality, not just the individuals who exhibit it, on a nearly perpetual basis. While the purpose may be to simply create widespread acceptance of homosexuality by introducing people’s minds to its existence, what the movement fails to realize is that by doing so they portray homosexuals as wholly defined by the fact that they have sex with other homosexuals, and that they do it in ways almost entirely alien to everybody else.
As part of my personal study, I’ve recently started reading Larry Kramer’s “Faggots.” He illustrates page after page of stories detailing anonymous blowjobs in public restrooms, characters fawning over who is the most well-endowed, going even so far as to paint character’s psyches as completely dredged in fantasies of who they want to fuck and how many of them they want in the bed at the same time. Granted the novel was published in 1978 under a different political and social air, and I cannot personally attest to the actual lasciviousness of New York’s gay scene at the time, but the effect of the book upon the gay community, not to mention everybody else, was as powerful and viscerally negative as I would expect and hope it to be. The images portrayed in the novel resonated with the gay community as a whole in such a negative way so as to have it banned from gay book stores, leading me to believe that such scenes had (and perhaps still have) more realistic merit to them than not.
Even today in 2012, while the overtly promiscuous nature of the community has faded from the public’s eye to an extent, the effects of putting sexuality on display are everywhere. The most prevalent example of these signs today live in the aforementioned gay pride parades. In my time I have been to a scant three such events: twice in San Francisco, once at my Alma Mater of UC Santa Barbara. San Francisco gets the glory of being perhaps the most attended gay pride event in the world, complete with dozens of floats featuring the many facets of the community: Dykes on Bikes, a slew of marching bands, Gay Men’s Choir; I’m sure anybody marginally familiar with the event can rattle off the rest of the more renowned groups in their sleep. The trouble here, though, is that whatever genuinely politicized message the events try to convey become lost behind the blanket of homosexuals as primarily sexual entities. I imagine that were one to bring up the topic of a gay pride event, for most people the image of a dozen shirtless twenty-something undulating their bodies to an ear-bleedingly loud House beat will take mental precedence over the troupe of hundreds holding picket signs demanding marriage equality, a cure for AIDS, or even the right to donate blood (a fact I have only learned recently and was astonished to find that nobody else was appalled at).
Don’t get me wrong though, I do understand that there are many people within the gay community who view these parades and other events as utterly essential to their well-being, and I do not
wish to insult them or their lifestyles. One of the primary purposes of the parades is to create a space where those who have felt prohibited from expressing their affection towards a same-gendered person can feel allowed to be themselves. Many gay people have felt an intrinsic sense of being markedly yet inexplicably different from a very early age, and these events act as just a little point in life where those individuals can express their differences unabashedly and without regret. To these people, I hold an immense amount of respect for their actions and desires to be who they truly feel themselves to be.
Yet here I stand. I watch from the sidelines as all the embodiments of pure sexuality, regardless of the gender, come sauntering down Market street in their rainbow short-shorts and leather vests, and sometimes nothing at all. Throngs of onlookers cheer them on as they make their presence, and the genders they fuck, known to the world, reveling in their liberation for just a little while before coming back down to Earth once more.
Meanwhile, I shake my head and ask myself the same question every time. “Where do I fit in?”
My sexuality is not a public entity. One could perhaps attribute this to social introversion, or any other plethora of reasons, but I have never felt the desire to express my love for another person so loud for the whole world to know its name. In fact, I completely resent any notion of my sexuality being my primary mode of self-understanding. My affection towards others has always been more subtle, more pointed and direct. In this sense of sexuality I don’t mean sexual orientation insomuch as my existence as a human being who desires sex (as a matter of fact, the more I contemplate it the more I actually appreciate my being homosexual). That’s not to say I don’t want sex; I am human after all. Rather, I refuse to let myself be guided by the search for sex in and of itself, as I believe that there’s so much more to what I’m capable of being than simply looking for holes to fill with my penis.
Perhaps I have a different conception of love from that of other people. Maybe the type of love as presented in the gay community is one that is universal, less targeted towards any particular individual (or set of individuals, as the case may be) and instead acting as a Karmic haze which encompasses all who choose to step inside it. It seems to be a sort of social love, where energy is devoted towards the well-being of the group by something akin to spreading one’s arms open to the sky while riding a rainbow-flag-laden motorcycle, which thus trickles down into others people as a secondary effect. I simply don’t know if this is how it works for some people though, and even if what I’ve described was the case I feel that I have a very stunted way of experiencing this type of love in the first place.
What I do know to this end is that the number of actual gay couples who attend these events is staggeringly low. In the SF Pride Parade of 2011, I saw hundreds of people walking the streets watching the spectacle, but I could only count five same-sex couples who acted like couples do in public. In each case the affection they were showing was much more subtle than the events going on right before their eyes, amounting to no more than holding hands or wrapping arms around each other’s waists. They may have been small little sights to behold compared to the ongoing spectacle, they were by far the most uplifting and heartwarming things I had seen all day. They weren’t showing off their love for each other as much as simply existing and basking in each other’s presence. They acted neither in favor of nor against what was happening around them, but regardless of it. Shouldn’t this be the ultimate freedom the gay community needs?
I know that I can’t be the only person who feels this way. I’ve known several homosexuals who feel no reason to take part in the gay community’s activities because they simply can’t find anything in that environment to which they can relate. Instead they go about their lives, build their careers, make names for themselves without the looming cloud of “gay” hovering over their psyche at all hours. They’ve never felt directly oppressed by their sexual orientation, so they never developed a need to liberate it from chains that didn’t exist. Such individuals, like myself, connect with so much more than their sexuality as a means of public self-expression or identity, and as such we feel alienated from the very group that’s supposed to represent us. Where do we fit in? How are we supposed to reconcile the false presentation of our sexuality with who we are?
I know I’m asking far more questions than I’m answering, but that’s simply because I don’t know the answers, and if I were to come up with answers on the spot I’m sure they wouldn’t be anywhere near as substantive or insightful as I would want. What I do know is that the gay community, or at least those who market it to others, have completely lost sight of the message they’re trying to convey. Acceptance and integration are not won by underlining core differences; they can only be reached through common ground. As much as unconditional acceptance is desirable among all people who feel oppressed, this cannot be accomplished if all that is presented is the key characteristic that differentiates the two. Far too much emphasis is placed on the “sex” in homosexual, and at the community’s current pace that’s all that anybody who doesn’t know better will ever see. While the pride parades are necessities for some in the community, I feel that by no means should they be the highlight of the community’s accomplishments. As cathartic as they may be to some people, they will always alienate those less-invested in the community unless they reach a middle ground between sexual expression and universality of the human condition. The community has become too caught up in self-satisfaction, only appealing to those who already accept the message while reaching out a hand to everybody else only as a secondary mechanism. Until it strikes that balance between the in-group and the out-group, I’ll still be standing on the sidelines, waiting for something better to come along.