What’s Wrong With a Little Gay Mainstream? : Trouble in the Normalization of Gay Men.


Two weekends ago I was invited by a friend and his partner to accompany them to the screening of “Kiss Me Kill Me,” which was—and I mean this from the very bottom of my heart—the worst LGBT movie I have ever seen in my entire life. I urge you to watch it only so that you can experience the very bottom of a pit of poorly done gay films. It was so poorly written I think I’d rather eat live worms than see it again; a parade of old stereotypes and mediocre acting that the director buffoonishly claimed was “like Hitchcock.” I wanted to die.

Of course, the problem with stereotypes is not that they are necessarily incorrect but that they are incomplete. It’s interesting to hear gay people talk disparagingly these days about shows like Will & Grace and how they’re oh-so-happy we have shows and films that depict “real” gay men now. As if they have never met a man just like the effeminate Jack. As if those stereotypes did not exist for a reason and as if that reason weren’t the very real gay men who do act like that, stereotype and all.

Attacks on the gay community are so easy to make from the inside in part because the idea of what this community is—and in what direction it is moving—shifts so dramatically from person to person. While I thought our gay marriage victory in the Supreme Court was a triumphant arc in “our” history, many of my more…radical (if that is the word) …queer friends saw it as another symptom of our consumptive decline into hetero-normalization. These are queers who have t-shirts with slogans like “fags bash back.” I’m not that much of a sartorial activist. So how might our definitions of “the community,” and in which direction it is moving, differ?

To say “the gay community’’ is to paint such a broad stroke in three words that one may as well be saying “the human race.” Of course, there are generalities, but they hardly hold up under scrutiny. I’m in the camp that thinks our increased visibility and acceptance has brought more freedom and less pain, but there are certain things particular to me that have allowed me to take advantage of, and experience, these changes. Namely, geography; living in a liberal state, etc.

It must also be admitted that in becoming mainstream we have let in—or perhaps revealed is more apt—our latent mainstream diseases. Misogyny, a masculine bias, and racism to name a few.

Which reminds me of Michael Cunningham (okay yes, perhaps the patron-saint-writer of privileged gay white men) in his biting critique of the type in The Hours:

“You see men like Walter all over Chelsea and The Village, men who insist, at thirty or forty or older, that they have always been chipper and confident, powerful of body; that they’ve never been strange children, never taunted or despised.”

Of course one could argue that these men are only trying to enjoy their lives in a way that negates the pain and sorrow of growing up in a world that was indeed hateful of their authentic selves; to move on in a world that is more welcoming, as people who are genuinely more at ease with their respective identities.   In David M. Halperin’s book How To Be Gay he speaks of the impossibility of undoing the fact that gay childhood and adolescence is spent with an unconsummated longing for gay socialization…one that is never (in his analysis) ‘made up for’ in later life. “Which is why the myriad opportunities for sexual satisfaction and love that gay liberation offers us have led not to the withering away of the gay porn industry, but to its hypertrophic expansion.” Well, that certainly made me think.

One can also say that an adherence to certain superficial ideals results in the bleaching of history and the complacency that many have noted in the gay community dealing with issues that are still so very real; the fact that gay men are the only group for which HIV infection rates are rising in this country, for instance.

Unfortunately, one has to smile at Cunningham’s line “about how gay men have taken to imitating the boys who tortured them in high school.” It’s too withering, too fitting a critique not to cling to, especially in the era of Masc4Masc.

And the question of representation as we enter the mainstream is also a biggie. Is it any wonder nearly all representation of queer men remains alabastrine? That is, white, white, white. Is it surprising then that the representation of queer men has been virtually hijacked by straight white males in nearly all major moments of television and cinema? Think Gyllenhaal and Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, Penn in Milk, Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Damon and Douglas in Behind the Candelabra, James Franco in, like… everything! The list most certainly goes on, I assure you.

So while, yes, I do think our becoming more mainstream is in general leading to a safer world for gays, it also brings with it a lot of issues for which I can’t blame those “radical queer” friends of mine lamenting. It’s impossible to be comprehensive in a little blog post (and I’m sure I’ll revisit and revise on this topic), so these have been just a few critiques from a gay Bostonian as he sees it day to day…I have not even scratched the surface of the long, rich, expanding history of lgbt life.

Undoubtedly one’s definitions are based on one’s experiences. Did you notice how everything I’ve written is from the focal point of gay men? To make a point about language, I’d have to say that the problem of “the gay community” as a label is mostly that people think their definition of it is the definition, while I’m inclined to think of it as a nebulous, altogether untamable idea that exists in large part where all ideas do…in one’s head.

Spring awakening in Boston’s South End

6 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With a Little Gay Mainstream? : Trouble in the Normalization of Gay Men.

  1. Brilliant, mate. Say, your comment in the final paragraph is interesting, though not at all unexpected. I think this is a prime anxiety self-reflexive, academic- and activist-minded people tend to have. That is, replicating one’s limited life-world and experiences through their writing always suggests that they might not have ‘access’ to other life-worlds or that their experiences replicate (infinitely) what has already been said. Whilst this is an indelible concern, what concerns me more is the meta self-reflexive move.

    You’ve noted quite plainly how your entry focuses on gay men. I appreciate your move to challenge gay (white, cisgender) men who remain the focal point of our queer communities, and I concur that within the community, self-policing and shaming are still alive and well. But from writer to writer, there’s a point where we must accept (from a literary stance) that we cannot speak for everyone, that the so-called ‘millennial mentality’ has warped writing toward a ‘globalised gay voice’, and that young queers under thirty are most prone to the silencing effects of normalised accounts of a (deceptive) post-AIDS gay identity. (Sarah Schulman has an incredible reflection on this topic in ‘The Gentrification of the Mind’ [2012]). Which leads me to ask: how can we write truthful and honest gay non/fiction and journalism without trampling on the backs of our queer kin?

    There’s no easy answer to this, except that we keep writing by way of our own experiences; we must make mistakes, we must fuck up. Or, as Jack Halberstam once brilliantly wrote, we must fail well, fail wildly, because ‘change involves giving and risking everything for a cause that is uncertain, a trajectory that is unclear, and a mission that may well fail’, again, ‘fail well, fail wildly’. Thus, I know no better way of learning to solve this self-enclosed problem than to receive feedback from the community for the mistakes that come as a result of living. And equally, this is why I find your blog entries quite intriguing: not only because they’re frank and mindful of the problems endemic to our communities, but also because the potential to fail is great, and you write on anyway. Marvellous is, perhaps, an underwhelming adjective relative to your work, but marvellous, nonetheless, it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I really enjoyed hearing it and agree that at a certain point you have to let go of trying to speak for everyone and emerge as a singular opinionated voice. I definitely intend to keep writing and exploring the subject!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Welcome to the world of blogging! This entry was most interesting to read. Now I came out in the very late 80″ early 90’s to the community, even though I was out in high school. I never had any issues with name calling or troubles of the sort. The area I grew up in was up with things. While it is great the community is moving forward, I do have a wee bit of mixed feeling about it, only because to me, in my mind, we always were normal. And I do sometimes enjoy a all gay establishment, having not to worry if I say something to a guy, Ill get my block knocked off if he turns out to be straight, lol!!! I also enjoyed and agreed with your first post…the 20’s is about survival. Make it through that, and you will do fine. I look forward to reading more from you TBG,

    Liked by 2 people

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