‘Gay culture’, as it were, is legion: For we are many.
If asked just why it is that gay men “roll around” in such “soulless cultural glitter” as Lady Gaga, or whether there are any faggots left, or if we (a collective ‘we’ that is, ironically, quite exclusive) have all become show ponies, I find myself struggling to answer.
I struggle, you see, because the questions are wrong. The questions make assumptions that limit the answers I might give. The questions struggle along under the burden of the questioner’s bias.
But having thought on it for a moment, let me hazard an answer anyway.
On the face of it, two currents drag us along:
On one side of this ‘mainstream’ (which, by the way, falls apart if you look at it too closely) are those who don’t actually want to be faggots. This current is filled with all manner of queers who have no interest in an Outside, in being an Other, in being ‘sick’, or broken, or even queer. This current says ‘we are normal too’, and – yes – politicises issues from the position of the victim, and fights for representations of their boring, everyday lives, and often mirrors the mainstream. And that’s all fine. I would never begrudge a person their happiness (though it harm none who do not consent), even if that happiness seemed to me to be quite absurd. But I’ll get back to that…
On the other side are those who, to this day, remain faggots. Those who cling to Queer like a trophy hard-won, and want no part nor parcel of The Norm, or the mainstream, or the dominant. This current argues that the dominant is broken – the entire game is stacked. This current wants to explode the Outside, so that the Outside is all that there is. This is my current, surely, and here you’ll find your modern-day Burroughses and Wildeses and Turingses and Ginsbergses.
And somewhere in the middle, right there, at Arc, or The Beat, or Escape, dancing with gay abandon from 10 at night until 5 in the morning, is ‘gay culture’?
Open your eyes.
Gay culture cannot be described as some stable, lifeless (“soulless”) thing, as though it can be delimited, and measured, and mapped out once and for all. Any culture is a living, breathing creature, and it lives and breathes through each and every participant. To refer to a tiny slice of a sizeable pie as ‘gay culture’ in toto is intellectually dishonest if it isn’t just naive.
Yes, there is an absorption of some aspects of gay culture into the mainstream, but this isn’t new. The mainstream is a brilliant thief, and an even better fence. The question we should pose is: Why? Why is mainstream culture absorbing “subcultures” (forgive the pedestrian application of a troublesome term)? Perhaps it’s a process of reintegration. Perhaps it’s capitalism gone mad. Perhaps it’s a form of cultural sensitivity training. Furthermore, what does this cultural appropriation offer us? These are interesting things to examine. What is not all that interesting, and what is simply mean-spirited bullying, is a Paglia-esque tirade dripping with cultural superiority. As though you know how to be gay better than anyone else. As though we have lost the past forever, rather than being informed by it. As though we aren’t all actively constructing radically singular identities in a radically unpredictable world.
I do not deny the problems that arise from a negative body-image and erode self-esteem. I do, however, wonder at an argument that supports movements to ‘queer’ identities, politics, and culture, while engaging in patently heteronormative rhetoric that suggests responsibility and bodily integrity are more valuable than flippancy and fun. But really, whose life are we living? Whose choices – for benefit or ill – are we judging? And on whose terms are they judged?
Finally, to get back to other people’s happiness: even when I don’t agree with another person’s idea of a ‘good life’, if that ‘good life’ does nothing but enhance that person’s capabilities and capacities on their own terms, then I will fight tooth and nail for them to live it out. I may not desire marriage, but I understand why others might, and I will fight for their right to marry. I may not desire children, but I understand why others might, and I will fight for their right to have them, or adopt them, or foster them. I may not desire a hegemonic mainstream absorption of queer cultures, but I fight that fight just as hard as I work to flip the mainstream inside out.
The cultural fluff of the gay mainstream, the radical politics of the queer movement, the homonormativity of gay and lesbian liberation… we’re all faggots, dear.
© Robert Buttigieg
Bob Buttigieg is a PhD student in the fields of Sociology and Cultural Studies at Griffith University on the Gold Coast, Australia.