Want to know something funny? I didn't even know that Fire Island existed until I was 20. I never heard of Provincetown until I saw The Daily Show's piece on it two years ago. West Hollywood is Los Angeles's gayborhood? Didn't know that one until I went there with one of Serena's old roommates.
I was talking with my friend H. back in college, both of us identified as queer (and Latino, although both of us identifying as that one showed what a farce that concept is, but that's another post for another day), and I found out that at age 20 he had never even heard of Cher. I was pretty shocked - I thought she was a staple of gay male culture. It was then that I started questioning this narrative of a centralized gay culture, replete with gay icons, gay mannerisms, and gay eyes (only to be used to help out with straight guys' procreation).
So when I read Michael Glatze's coming out as ex-gay narrative earlier this week, filled with a criticism of the "homosexual lifestyle", and the responses to that narrative, I was put back in a position where I had to internalize to comprehend competing narratives of gay male culture, something so foreign to me at this point that I felt like inviting Glatze over to make deviled eggs at 11 PM - if he didn't live in Nova Scotia, of course.
Glatze, instead of going the quiet and personal ex-gay route, chose to announce his
woman-loving celibate ways to the world in an op-ed piece for WorldNetDaily. He bemoans the pornography and lust of "homosexual culture". His description was of a culture so far-removed from the average gay man in rural/exurban Central Indiana that I couldn't really muster a defense of the life he was describing or any sympathy with his disdain for it. But comments that I've read on other blogs, listserves that I'm on, and in the comments section here show that I'm very much alone in that sentiment.
Not naming names, of course, I've heard from lots of people about how that's not the gay lifestyle they live, how there are many respectable gays living "stable" lives now, and how we've all been there (except, apparently, me) and are dealing with those issues with full knowledge that one's sexual attractions don't cause the problems that Glatze was talking about. All the while there is an adherence to one or two narratives of what a gay male lifestyle can be - either sucking a million cocks a second or moving to suburbia with your four cats and partner in tow - and then defense, debate, and denunciation begin from that centralization.
Glatze isn't doing anything new by criticizing what he sees as gay male culture. Several months ago when Roseanne Barr made her comment that gay people don't care about anything political other than the short list of LGBT issues the HRC deals with, quite a few of my friends agreed with her (and even a couple other bloggers). My counter argument, that there are lots of queers involved in fights against poverty, workplace discrimination (against all people), racism, sexism, poor working conditions, and environmental destruction were often met with "Well, she wasn't talking about those gays." It's kind of hard not to read that statement as a creation and reification of the idea that there is a queer culture and that it can be pinned down, described, and opposed, even if one's own background doesn't fit into that culture.
And all of this autocriticism usually comes with the autocritical point that gays shy away from autocriticism....
Simplistic criticism will try to pin down its object, define it and oppose it, and while often well-intended, it often creates the sort of problems that it's ostensibly trying to avoid. To say that gays aren't involved in a broader fight for social justice is to ignore and erase those who are. To agree with Glatze's description of a drug-addled gay culture is to only make that representation stronger, and to say that "normal gay men" live with their monogamous partners is to erase not only those people who live the lives Glatze was describing, but also to erase all the rest of us who are just doing our own things.
The reason that criticism of a social class comes better from within than from the outside is that we're supposed to have a modicum of nuance, compassion, and personal experience to make such criticisms valid and responsible. Broad over-generalizations like Glatze's aren't just wrong because he's using them in an attempt to further oppress queer people or even just that they're factually incorrect. They privilege one group of gays over all others when it comes to being identified, and criticisms that don't address that privileging and dive into defenses or denunciations of that lifestyle are just as culpable as his was originally.