Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Whose Gay Community Is This, Anyway?

Several weeks ago I read the following in a livejournal I check out sometimes, describing the writer's experience dropping in on a gay discussion group in a city he was visiting:

The conversation topic was "what does the gay community mean to you?" I restrained my inner eyeroll, and took the first comment challenging the notion of "the gay community" as an inaccurate, misleading, and generally counterproductive meme... My commentary was full of thoughts I'd previously mentioned or expressed here: we don't raise our next generation, there are several gay communities, culture is distinct from community, race and sexuality have distinct parallels and distinct differences, pursuing legal rights when you desire cultural change may not accomplish your ultimate goal (see also racial segregation in the US now v pre-Brown v Board).

While in some ways my issue is possibly more semantic than philosophical here, and while the writer does specify the contextual background to his statement (which differs from mine), I do find it jarring when a construct I have found personally quite productive in many specific ways is dismissed as being counterproductive. Or, as I might put it in another context, "How can there be a gay community band if there is no gay community?" Which, in this context, might modify to "How is it inaccurate, misleading, and generally counterproductive to have a gay community band?"

Even my world doesn't specifically revolve entirely around the gay and lesbian bands, but my point is that there are times and places and contexts when the notion of a gay community can be quite powerful and positive indeed, and I believe that even the folks who claim that there isn't a gay community, or who (more usually) claim bitter alienation from it (usually in some form of the "I'm not like them" sentiment) experience this, unacknowledged. They experience this in glances of recognition and brief smiles when it becomes clear that a co-worker is gay, even if there is no actual "cultural" overlap with the co-worker. They experience it at family weddings, when the lesbian cousin or sister or aunt of the new in-law arrives, having been told of the groom's gay brother, and there is a connection across what is often described as an unbridgeable cultural divide.

Ok, I admit, I'm talking about myself here, but my point is that the notion of "gay community" is an overlay of perspective and experience that we, as individuals, apply to a situation where that overlay creates a connection. But when the notion of "gay community" becomes a way for people to feel even more alienated than usual then they should toss that notion out, because that's not gay community. It's useful as a positive overlay, but it's counterproductive as a negative overlay. I used to tell people who spoke of their alienation from the gay community that this was absurd, since they themselves defined the gay community, simply through their existence.

I'm still talking about this after thirty years because, evidently, we still live in a culture in which the negative associations with being gay are strong enough to interfere with clarity of self-perception. Recently I was introduced to a man at the monthly Bear Bar Night, a pleasant and friendly man, who told me how much he wasn't like other gay people. I found this odd, because this man was dressed and bearded exactly like the vast majority of the other men in this particular gay bar on this particular night (certainly much more so than I was or for that matter could ever be), and so I asked what he meant. He said that, unlike most gay people, he likes to go wilderness camping. As it happens, there were several people within earshot of us at that moment whom I happened to know also liked wilderness camping, and even more stupefying this man knew this as well and had even been camping with some of them. And the only reason they even knew each other in the first place was because they were gay. How powerful of an impulse must it be, how strong of a socialization must you endure, to refuse to acknowledge that you could in some way be like those icky gay people whom you are, to any outside viewer, exactly like?

No gay community there, no sir, just a bunch of gay guys who like to hang out together because they are gay and do things together but not GAY things, uh-uh. There is often an unstated subtext of superiority that can set my teeth on edge.

I of course understand that wilderness camping is not considered a "gay" thing in the way that, say, dancing at clubs is. But neither is Morris dancing. Or Linux geekery. Or piloting a plane. Or volunteer public service. (I'm simply going through my livejournal friends list here of people who identify as gay; I could go much further.) But why should that make people not so much reject as close their eyes to the actual connections gay men and lesbians have with each other, whatever "non-gay" things make up their lives?
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