Alex Blaze

This is not a criticism of gay male culture

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 06, 2007 6:06 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: gay men, Michael Glatze, narratives, privileging voices

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.

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A gay male who didn't know who Cher was? I hope you set him straight (pun intended).

People such as Glatze usually remind me of the appeasers one can always find ("Yes, I was one of them--but I've reformed! See? Now will you love me?"), but he (and Roseanne) do have a bit of a point. I hate to say it, but the efforts of many gay people who choose to concentrate on social issues other than adoption, marriage, i.e. the broader fight, are routinely shortchanged and sometimes ignored even within the gay community.

I'd argue that our own 'mainstream' gay press is also culpable. Publications like Out and The Advocate are so self-consciously hip that at times it seems that if you don't live in NYC, Miami, or LA (aka flyover country) you can't really be gay. Their advocacy coverage also tends to emphasize the trendy gay issues with only token adknowledgements for those who are working in non-trendy areas such as mental health, homelessness, and those you mentioned.

I don't agree with Glatze's generalizations, but seriously... If you were one of his intended audience and dared to read an issue of Out, what message would you take from it? Probably exactly the one he's talking about.

Self criticism is indeed more valuable than outside criticism, but it's not all bad if outside critics provokes a favorable response .

Lynn David | July 7, 2007 3:59 AM

Glatze is simply restating the rabid anti-gay speech of his recently chosen religion, Mormonism.

I still believe that the portrait painted of us by straight america is more a function of the "visible homosexual".

If the only women anyone ever saw were fashion models on tv, most men would think that women were borderline anorexic and (according to taste) drop dead gorgeous. Fortunately for women, there are tons (no pun intended) of women that prove we come in all shapes and sizes.

My point is, whenever homosexuals are actually identified as such on tv, they are either half naked prancing in the pride parade (extremes sell ads for the news folk, dontcha know) OR a caricature of every gay stereotype rolled into one (ala Jack on "Will and Grace"). It makes some sense that straight america would have a distorted view of who we are.

I also believe that things are further complicated by the closet. From my example above, fat women (pardon the bluntness - but it is an issue with which I am intimately familiar with as I are one :) usually don't feel a need to hide in the closet so nobody knows they are fat. This provides a visible counter-argument (if you will) to the notion that all women are pencil thin and wear lots of makeup.

Perhaps it is just my own experience, but I feel like we are finally at a point where more of us are realizing that we don't need to hide either. It is still going to take quite a bit of doing to move past the stereotypes, but if *George Jefferson can do it, so can we!

*When I was a kid, George Jefferson, Stanford & Son, Good Times, etc. were the only visibility that blacks had on tv. These, in my opinion, were just as much a caricature then as Jack is now.

I cannot identify with the descriptions of the "gay man culture" that Glatze or those similar care to serve up. Life is about making choices and living with the consequences. Being gay is not a choice, being a shallow piece of trash is. The entertainment vehicles which propel the myth of the high fashion ripped gay male are just that, entertainment for profit. Intelligence (if present) carries us past that to reality. I'm 41, I never used drugs, I can't afford the latest fashions and no doubt some in our community would criticize my choice of boring clothing. I've never liked bars of any kind that much. I have stood next to my very straight friends and guess what, it's not me the other gay people in the room think is gay. Glatze personal demons are his own. Unfortunately they are publicly played out and give false evidence to the homophobic totalitarians that this is what being gay is all about and see you can stop being gay.

Jen Jorczak | July 7, 2007 12:49 PM

VERY interesting post and comments--to Alex's points, I'd add my story that when I was coming to terms with the fact that I was falling in love with a woman, I was seeing a therapist who didn't have much experience with LGBT persons/ couples, and she kept asking me was I sure I was ready to jump into "the Lesbian Lifestyle." two years later, I still don't know what "the Lesbian Lifestyle" is, and neither does my wife.

And the fact that lesbians are once again almost invisible in this story--Alex does us the courtesy of labeling the post "gay male culture," specifically, but I think it needs to be a broader conversation--and I think that's the point Alex is trying to make (correct me if I'm wrong)--that we ALL need to be included in discussions/ criticism of, and planning for, the wider LGBT community--and the wider community, for that matter. Again, I will beat my drum: we're all in this together, folks, and the sooner we start working together, the sooner we can make progress.

To Paula's point: fat women don't hide in the closet because they can't--you can hide being gay, but you can't hide being fat. I know plenty of plus-sized women (for a loooong time, myself included) who do everything they can to make themselves invisible. While you're right, women who are happy being their own size are an excellent counterpoint to the waif culture in fashion mags, there's still a lot of work to be done letting women know it's okay to be happy at their own size--as much work as needs to be done letting people know it's okay to be happy and LGBT.

Life is about making choices and living with the consequences. Being gay is not a choice, being a shallow piece of trash is.


Another point, how many straight Americans care about" anything political other than the short list" of their particular political issues--if that? Considering how apathetic and uninvolved in politics that vast majority of Americans are.

Also, anytime we start talking about "communities," be they straight, LGBT, Latino, White, Black, Muslim, or you name it, we are of necessity dealing in myth. There is no more a monolithic "straight" community consisting of happily married, 2 kids, living in suburbia families as their is Glatz's imaginary "gay male community" f*cking their brains out while hearing voices. A lot goes into the creation and maintenance of stereotypes--advertising, religious dogma, popular culture, and more--including a drab of real life experience. In Glatz's case, he's projecting from his own limited (and from the sound of it, unhappy) experience, adding a big dose of religious nonsense and guilt, and coming up with a myth that --surprise!--fits right in with the one advanced by much of the mainstream media. Accident?

Thanks for all the comments. A few responses:

Serena~ LOL. Actually he's bi, and it made me realize that a cultural symbol like Cher didn't have a fan base of a certain sexual and sex background (gay male), but also a specific cultural, racial, and socio-economic background. But he did get to hear Cher's greatest hits after that, don't worry.

Mike~ Yeah, that's the image a lot of people would have, but doesn't criticizing those magazines as the center of gay culture and then replacing those images with another narrative just further center them and further exclude people at the margins fo that "community" or "culture"? Big questions, but the moral of the story is that Glatze is wrong, lol.

And yeah, Roseanne had a point. I just think the way she stated it (she said she didn't know a single gay person who's ever cared about the minimum wage, to paraphrase), and the way a few queers I know bought into it, really erased everyone else. I think that those of us involved in other fights might just have a feeling of throwing up their hands and wondering "why even try?" if the image of those doing real social change will always heterosexual while the rest of us are just frivolous, moneyed gays who only care about getting married.

Just some thoughts, but criticism that leads to positive change is always good, your're right.

Lynn~ Correct as usual.

Paula~ You're getting into something more interesting that I didn't post about here - the line between "are generally" and "should be". It's hard not to take those responding to Glatze with "Real gay people live in the 'burbs with their partners and kids and whatnot" to mean "Good gays should live in the 'burbs blah blah blah". This is similar to what you say about plus sized women. Sure, no one denies that they exist, but dominant imagery in magazines, television, etc., make it seems like they shouldn't exist. Oh well.

Jen~ This is a bigger story that should be addressed in other communities, but I'm not going to get up here and pretend to be intimately familiar with lesbian autocriticism. Also, Glatze was pretty specifically dealing with gay male culture in his column and responses that I found to his column also dealt with that subject matter.

But I'm not going to correct you, because you're not wrong :). This is a question of inclusion and legitimacy, and more importantly legibility - those gay men or queer men who fall outside of these narratives are rendered nonexistent or are haphazardly lumped in with one of the dominant narratives. I hook up, and enjoy it and find it fulfilling, but the gay man who hooks up is so often labeled as sad, depraved, lonely, and looking for something more that it writes those emotions on me that I honestly don't feel, at least in relation to hooking up.

So yeah, it's all about communities coming together instead of what it means to be part of a community. That's why this wasn't at all a criticism of gay male culture.

Brynn~ Thanks for visiting our blog! Woot!