December 19, 2024

Monosexual Culture is Good for You!?

Written by your guest blogger Brian:

As the weekend draws to a close, I end my stint as guest-blogger here on Five O’Clock Bot. Jason returns today from Atlanta and will resume the helm. I’ve enjoyed blathering at all of you for these last few days, and, at the very least, I hope to have elicited a chuckle or two. OK, at the VERY least a gag reflex from that fish floating below Julia Child’s disembodied head on the cover of Time Magazine. Was gourmet cooking really all about dressing dinner up like a harlequin in 1966? In any event, it has been good practice for my own blog, which I hope to set up once I get a little financing (I’m in talks with Harvey Weinstein’s people). Coming in 2024: Bob’s yr Uncle! It’s tough coming up with new shit to say everyday, but it’s gotten me back in the habit of writing daily, or at least thinking about writing daily.

Lately, I’ve been talking with my friend Tom about exclusively gay circles of friends. Monosexual cultures, as Foucault would say. Having just spent a year in Paris, Tom says he enjoyed the self-enforced separatism of gay culture in the French capitol. The bars for men were for men. The lesbians had their own bars, as did the bears, and bdsm scene, etc. In his opinion, there seemed to be a lot less bullshit involved all around. People knew what they wanted and weren’t afraid to ask for it. You know, very European. The impression I get is that the camaraderie of such groups seems to be uniquely strong. Tom’s currently working on finishing his dissertation on Foucault and friendship right now, so I won’t try and put too many words in his mouth, but I hope you get the idea.

I used to think it was a really bad idea for gay men to isolate themselves in such a manner. The pack of Abercrombie zombies down at the Saloon and other Minneapolis gay bars seemed to reinforce this notion. I didn’t like most of the gay men I met—we didn’t share values or tastes—and so it seemed pointless to look for friends (not to mention lovers) in such a place. I liked the dykes and straight folks I was meeting a whole lot better. I could talk about books and music. This became my community and my sexuality was pretty irrelevant to my membership in it.

Of course, the good men are out there. They’re just more difficult to find in Minneapolis, where everyone seems to cling to their own coteries a little bit harder than other places. Soon, however, I’d met a group of amazing queer men, some of whom I’d slept with, some of who I’d fallen in love with, but first class friends, one and all. One interesting aspect of Friendster is the demographic information it reveals about your circle of friends. Examining my 81 friendsters today, I realized that over half were queer and most of those were men. I have, without ever intending to it seems, slipped into something of a sexual monoculture myself.

The current assimilationist agenda of HRC and others in the gay rights movement stresses integration and societal acceptance of queer people. After gay marriage blew up in everybody's face this past November, many in HRC were insisting that we, the GLBT community, needed to put a “human face” on the issue of gay marriage and gay rights in general. Once people realize that queer people are their friends and neighbors, the old argument goes, our rights will be easier to win.

I’ve got no problem with this strategy on the surface. I am all about being neighborly, in fact. But the PR that usually comes from this approach is disturbingly sanitizing. Photos used in these campaigns frequently feature individual gay men, lesbians, transfolk, and bisexuals. Or, less frequently, photogenic families and couples. A recent ad campaign stressing tolerance and acceptance by the University of Minnesota GLBT Programs Office is a good example of this technique. You will never see a photo of a dyke bar on line dancing night with the phrase: “We are your neighbors” written underneath it. One or two handsome, sterile looking gay men are acceptable faces for our political agenda, but let’s not force people to think about us interacting socially, because you know what social interaction leads to.

Of course, the gay and lesbian separatism that blossomed in the 1970s following the civil rights movement and the birth of identity politics is very passé right now. People are boycotting the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival for refusing to admit trans people. The gay ghettos are still alive in America’s major cities, but they have become more commercial and less political. Let’s be clear, I am not arguing for a return to Clone Culture or the bathhouses. But if it’s true that queer people are under fresh assault from the current right-wing theocracy, than we’ve got to stick together. Strength in numbers, the saying goes. In doing so,we must invent new forms of friendship and community in order to protect ourselves this time around.

I definitely think the web-based phenomena like Friendster and represent potential sites for this new kind of community building and friendship. But we will also always have the bars and concert venues and classrooms that represent more traditional methods for forming such groups. It’s time to put politics back in gay social structures (even though, of course, it never disappeared. It was just ignored). If we must deny the radical possibilities of our relationships in our quest for “equal rights,” than perhaps we should reexamine what we want those rights to equal. Ever since gay men and lesbians began congregating in great numbers during World War II, we’ve staked our well-being (politically, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually) on our friendship networks. Today, we must turn to them again to weather the latest political storm, and hopefully in the process rediscover what it is we’re fighting for in the first place.

Frank O’Hara sums up this esprit de corps beautifully in the closing line of his poem “At the Old Place,” a giddy account of a trip to a pre-Stonewall gay bar with John Ashbery, among others:

How ashamed they are of us! we hope.

Posted by brian at December 19, 2024 03:35 AM

I can't wait until you get your own blog. Nice work.

But I'll never buy the fact that Friendster will replace the neighborhood gay bar. And living in the city that is just about as close to European as you can get, I find that the mixed sexuality found in most San Francisco bars is healthier than any Abercrombie- or bear-infested dive anywhere else.

Posted by: Dunner at December 20, 2024 11:09 AM
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