Wednesday, January 12, 2011
I've Been Thinking...
He looks at that great flowering of the new gay culture that was taking place in the late 60s- 80s, before AIDS struck, and considers what gay life would be like today if this hadn't happened. At the back of the book is a list of over 1000 names of artists and similar creative types, held by The Estate Project for Artists with AIDS who died - imagine the cultural impact they would have continued to have without this plague.
It is very much an American take on the situation, but America was in the vanguard of both Gay Liberation in the 60s and 70s, and then the fight to deal with AIDS, so that's not unexpected, and there are parallells to be drawn.
What I like is the way he shows the culture that was being developed - and it was a new and radical and at times chaotic and self-indulgent one - but it was a culture, a varied and international one. It was our culture, and one that influenced how we did "being gay" here in NZ as well. It was messy, but it was vital and alive.
Is there still such a thing as "Gay Culture", separate from the mainstream, or are we being pulled into conformity with the wider world, expected to settle and marry and be just like everyone else? Surely for that to work, society needs to accept us as much as it does everyone else?
Even in NZ, homophobia is still very real - witness recent reports of verbal abuse for guys walking hand-in-hand down Ponsonby Rd, somewhere I and others in this town would consider a safe space to be openly gay in. The fact we need to consider if we are in a safe space to be ourselves shows that even though things are better, even though we are legal, we still live in a society that would basically like us to shut up seeing it's clear we won't go away.
Gay men, lesbians, trans - all of us queers, have the right to be ourselves wherever we are. We shouldn't have to stop and think "Is it ok for me to hold my lover's hand here?" It should be as easy and natural for us as it is for straight couples. We have no need to apologise for who and what we are. We have nothing to be ashamed of.
To think "Don't rock the boat, try and fit in, we're just ordinary people really" is just buying into wider patterns of societal homophobia.
Guys who call themselves "straight-acting" are buying into it as well. Face it guys: There's nothing straight-acting about having another man's cock in your mouth, hands or arse, or yours in his, no matter if you drive a V8, play rugby and are more bogan than a tow-truck driver.
We live in a society that at best tolerates us - at worst it persecutes us. Look at the shocking rates of drug and alcahol abuse we have, the high rates of mental health problems and our terrible suicide rates. These are not the signs of a community or communities that are solidly integrated into a welcoming society.The small gains we have made are great, but they don't address the wider problem of homophobia. It is still acceptable to be openly anti-gay in a way that no-one would dare do about Jews, Catholics or Maori today.
The fact that HIV in NZ is still overwhelmingly passed along in the gay world, from man to man, also reflects this. Why don't we care enough about ourselves to take care of ourselves? Why do so many gay men hold themselves in such low value that they will risk their health and life in what they know is an unsafe sexual act? Why don't we love ourselves enough to look after ourselves and each other better? Why don't we have the social ease and support that helps us here? Why aren't we as a group doing more to combat this?Why don't we have institutions that can effectively engage with the gay world and deal with this?
I do think part of it lies in the effects of AIDS. I compare it to WW1: It took out a huge section of a whole generation of gay men, and often it seemed when watching, it took the best and the brightest. That generation of men would be in the 40s-50s now, and at the peak of their careers and social and cultural power. We've lost a lot. And younger gay men are largely ignorant of the work and effort it took to get us this far - we haven't been effective at connecting with them beyond a superficial level, we lost the newly emerging culture that could have been such a strong force in making our world better and stronger as we lost so many of those men who were helping create it.
The current model for being a gay man demands that you pretend everything is fine now that we have had Law Reform and can get our relationships legally recognised. Indeed, a lot of guys probably think everything is fine - it is for them, their parents welcome their partner home, everyone at work knows they are gay - what's the big deal? But everything isn't fine. Gay men are still attacked, insulted, reviled and persecuted, just for being gay.
If you can't walk down the street safely while holding your lover's hand, it means you're not accepted - you're not equal - you're not welcome, no matter how you try and dress it up.
There is a lot of effort put into making New Zealand life bi-cultural with regard to Maori, and deservedly so. But when it comes to the gay world, there is no expectation that people dealing with us also be bi-cultural in a gay sense. We do have a culture - we do live differently and face different problems from the straight world, and we do things differently.
Today in New Zealand we have no voice of gay leadership, and we have a greatly diminished sense of gay culture. The bars and clubs provide the main social spaces, and good on them for giving us that at least, but they can't give us everything that we need to build a strong, happy and empowered community.
That has to come from us, we have to learn to love ourselves and each other, we have to take care of each other, we have to recognise that we have more in common that just a taste for cock and arse. We have nothing to be ashamed of and we don't need to apologise or compromise who we are. We should be proud of being gay - it's a gift - celebrate it.