Photo by Maja Ericson
By Grant Stevens
There’s a troubling trend developing in certain gay circles. It’s a trend where relatively “normal” individuals righteously hold themselves at a higher status than those who don’t blend in as well with their heterosexual counterparts.
I think I know where it came from. After the seemingly crippling blow to gay marriage in the 2004 presidential elections, there seemed to be a shift in strategy. Instead of portraying a gay character like the stereotypes in Will & Grace, media was praised for showing your “average dude” that happens to be gay. There was Oscar from The Office. There were the staunchly masculine cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. Renowned activists like Dan Savage and Rick Mercer were encouraging cops, doctors and all kinds of “normal” functioning members of society to come out to their friends and colleagues to deconstruct the threatening image of prancing fairies and bulldog dykes: Subversive images that challenged preconceived notions of “normal.” This strategy has served its purpose. It helped bring LGBT issues into the mainstream. But now it has the potential to backfire as members of the gay community begin to impose the same standards of “normal” on themselves that have been used to ostracize them for the past century.
Let’s take a moment to consider the history of “normal.” In the fifties, the expectation of men was that they maintain a frigid emotionless composition that allowed them to compete ruthlessly in the corporate hierarchy. Meanwhile, their women were expected to raise their children and maintain their households – but in a pinch, they made great secretaries, too! There was a “normal” way to have sex: It was limited to an aggressive penis and its submissive vagina bound in the blissful ties of matrimony. Of course it was preferred (and in some states enforced under the weight of the law) that these blissful ties maintained the sanctity of race.
This rigid establishment either left repressed homosexuals living fake lives or forced them to the fringe. It enabled legislation that made homosexuality and sodomy punishable offenses. It ranked homosexuality among psychological disorders, whereby the prescribed treatment included invasive hormone and electroshock therapy. By the eighties, the president of the free world could turn a cold shoulder to those suffering in the AIDS epidemic and be praised for this morally virtuous mentality!
But now over the course of history they’ve slowly extended the boundaries of “normal” to allow women to lead a fulfilling life that isn’t defined by service to their male partner (sort of: They’re still paid less and consistently the victims of sexual abuse). They’ve extended the boundaries to include people of color (sort of: They’re still more likely to be fatally shot by cops and incarcerated). And now they’re graciously extending those boundaries one more time to let gays and lesbians experience the thrills of matrimony! But before we throw ourselves blindly into these traditional institutions, bask in the eternal sunshine of their welcoming arms, shouldn’t we stop and consider the limitations of jumping into a new variation of an archaic theme?
From their position on the fringe, gay cultures have had the unique opportunity to make observations. They’ve observed the toxic consequence of absolute: One absolute definition of sex, one absolute definition of love, one absolute quantification of female behavior and one absolute quantification of male behavior. They’ve observed that sexual diversity exists across the entire spectrum of sexual orientation and gender. And that simply expanding a crippling definition for the straight white man’s “normal” doesn’t really solve any problems. These observations are unequivocally highlighted when celebrating the diversity that exists in our community: From the wildly effeminate gays to the staunchly butch lesbians to the oft-neglected trans community to those experimenting with non-traditional relationships and everyone else.
Ultimately, my point is this: I absolutely applaud and support individual efforts to achieve honest fulfillment. You should be able to engage in whatever lifestyle you desire unimpeded by whatever sexuality you identify with – this is one reality we are absolutely fighting for. And if that truth ends up being something more conventional – congratulations! But that doesn’t give you the right to alienate those who don’t readily fit into that mold.
There’s a difference between assimilation and acceptance.