The process of coming out involves a leap of faith. When I took that leap, I was keenly aware of what I leaving behind... A "normal" life. My parents' expectations. My church's grace. An identity forged from childhood around what I assumed I was supposed to be, not who I knew I really was.
What I wasn't expecting was the beauty of all I was about to inherit as reward for having made the leap.
One of those magical gifts was automatic induction into membership of "The Gay Community". Nothing like a club or fraternity; no formal charter, rules of behavior, risk of banishment or elected leadership. More like a meta-ethnicity with an extremely rich history and a demographic so diverse, it's a wonder we see eye-to-eye on anything. I paid my initial dues just by coming out. How much more dues I would pay would be up to me. It still is.
While I understand where the author of Stevie's article is coming from, I can't say I entirely agree with his sentiment. Is our Community really diminished when a couple of polo-and-khaki-clad preppy-gays wants to move to the suburbs and raise kids? Is it assimilationist if they want to a be part of their mixed neighborhood community there? Would Harvey Milk approve? I don't know about that, but he did sacrifice all fighting for the right of everyone to live their lives freely and honestly. Even if it's their choice to be a "tamed" gay, whatever that means.
In my twenty years within The Gay Community, I've seen some of the changes against which the author is railing. The evil he calls "mainstreaming". At last year's Pride parade I marveled at the attendance. Not an insignificant number of the hundreds of thousands lining the streets were straight people, including families with children. This was not the case twenty years ago.
Twenty years ago I remember walking through the park during Pride and stopping at a booth which offered prizes for throwing the most rubber dildos through a cartoon character's cut-out butthole. Even as I chuckled, I felt an awkward sense of self-consiousness as I questioned the wisdom of the few parents who brought their children to Pride.
Now the park is overflowing with kids. Laughing, playing, rolling in strollers and riding on broad shoulders. Some of their parents are gay but a lot of the parents are straight. Pride has gotten tamer. Does that make it lamer? Maybe for some, but I welcome the change. Whatever we've lost to mainstreaming, look at what we've gained. We wouldn't be where we are, and we could absolutely not get where we want to go without our straight allies. They are the ones giving equal marriage rights majority support. Not us. They're doing that.
It's natural to feel nostalgia for the things you leave behind on the road to something better. It's also a given that each generation will claim an attachment to the glorious achievements of themselves and their elders while expressing worry and doubt as to whether the next generation has what it takes to be entrusted with the legacy of our common heritage. As if we had a choice in the matter.
I remember reading a similar article twenty years ago. The author was mourning the demise of the language of Polari, and what this said about the future of The Gay Community. I empathized, but I also wondered... Is it really a sad thing that we don't need a secret gay language anymore? Isn't it a sign of progress that we now can communicate in plain English without fear and with nothing to hide? Wasn't the whole purpose of Polari to allow The Gay Community to exist while still blending in with the mainstream?
These worries are natural and not completely unwarranted. But it's my feeling that The Gay Community will continue to exist just fine so long as:
- We continue to celebrate Pride.
- We remain inclusive and resist all attempts, from without or within, to impose any single concept of it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.
- We never forget the sacrifices of those who came before us, and whose accomplishments gave us not only a reason for pride, but also for hope.
- We relentlessly impress these history lessons on the next generation. (Notice I didn't say "the next generation of gays".)
- We keep paying our dues, so that, just maybe, future generations might include us in their Pride commemorations.
Trust me, in twenty years one of today's skater bois will be writing alarmist screeds bemoaning how the young gays are selling their souls for the sake of assimilation. How much The Gay Community has changed since the good ol' days when he first came out. And this will make me smile to read. And trust me when I say in twenty years we will still be fighting – now in alliance with the mainstream – for basic human rights. If not here, then in Uganda or Russia or China or the Ukraine.
But if not here, wouldn't that be wonderful?