my experience of having a putatively ~mainstream~ gay
Since I’ve been thinking a lot about the inclusion politics and the desparate need many ‘new’ groups want to assimilate into Gay Inc, I feel like maybe I’ll talk about my experience being one of the unambiguously legitimate identities.
For a long time, I was ‘gay’ in the current sense of the word. As in, largely referring to cis (often white) men who fuck each other1. Or cis (usually white) men who fall in love with each other. This was largely how I conceptualized the gay community 15 or so years ago. And I thought that this was my commmunity. The one where I belonged.
While in high school, I stumbled upon Ethan Mordden’s ‘Buddies Cycle’. A series of five books of short stories taking place in NYC’s gay community. The main characters stay, more or less, through the series (even as individual stories might have different focii). To this day, I’m still unclear about whether or not Mordden was writing about his actual life or if it is entirely fiction.
Now, to understand why these books had such an impact on my expectations for what it’d be like to finally enter the gay community (I went to catholic school before the internet was what it is today). The vision Mordden presents of gay life is one of friendships and relationships with men that are complex and meaningful. And, importantly for me, not tragic. The last book in the cycle ends on a somewhat ambiguous, bittersweet note. But the journey going through was one that led me to believe that such a community actually existed.
I thought I’d finally be able to go to gay clubs and whatever and that I’d find friends and comraderie. That I’d have romance and adventures. That I’d find support and community. That I’d get that ‘chosen family’ everyone talks about.
Of course, none of this actually happened. Because the reality of the gay community in Calgary in the early 00’s was massively different that NYC in the years following Stonewall. However, the reality of it is also that even if I had been in the same place and generation as Mordden’s characters, I still wouldn’t have found this.
At least not with him and his friends.
Given who and what I am, I’m far more likely to have been running around with Sylvia, S.T.A.R., and the like. Not saying that I’d haven’t had a community but… It would’ve been very, very different than Mordden’s fictional world.
This is actually something that finally hit home after I watched ‘Paris is Burning’ for the first time. I think that was the actual first ‘queer’ media where I could see myself. Transpose where I was in high school to that time period and place? That’s where I would’ve been.
In any case, I was gay. People my entire life had thought I was gay. I was so gay that I didn’t even need to come out of the closet because everyone already assumed I was gay. So… I didn’t have to deal with what some who push for inclusion deal with. No one doubted my identity. No one attempted to erase or exclude me (at least not on this account). I was a Gay Inc Approved Gay(tm). I ‘belonged’.
From what I can tell, this is a lot of what some varying identities want to today. Ace people, for example, want to be able to unambiguously ‘belong’ within Gay Inc. They want that stamp of approval and legitimacy. In general, a lot of people want the identity policing and exclusionary practices to go away. They want inclusion and to belong.
They want to find the same things I wanted to find. A community. Support. Affirmation. Friendship. Romance. Any and all of that (to varying degrees of course).
The thing is that I truly understand why they are so bothered by the gatekeeping and identity policing. By Gay Inc’s ongoing refusal to accept them as they are and general refusal to grant them the official Gay Inc Seal of Approval(tm). It fucking hurts for your alleged community to reject you in this way.
Gay Inc’s propaganda really works. Mordden’s stories fit into this. So does Queer as Folk. And the L Word. A whole host of Gay Inc media products to let us all know that ‘its okay to be gay’ or whatever the fuck.
But wait. How do I understand why people without Gay Inc’s Seal of Approval(tm) are so hurt and harmed by this? Didn’t I have the Seal?
Sure. But it doesn’t mean anything. Because the problem isn’t with whether or not your identity has the Seal of Approval(tm) but the fact that this ‘community’ only exists within the imagination of hopeful youth, or lying media creators. Note how all the propaganda is all fiction. None of this is real.
Gay Inc itself is predicated on violent exclusion and identity policing. To the extent that any gay community exists, it is also built upon this very same foundation.
This is why despite being a gay with a Seal of Approval(tm), I failed to find any of the things Mordden wrote about. Because… I was too fucking poor, too fucking femme, and too fucking asian. I have my Seal of Approval(tm) but Gay Inc has no place for people like me. And a whole host of other people.
It never has and it never will (which is why inclusion politics are doomed to fail and simply frustrate everyone involved). You cannot reform a fundamentally violent institution like Gay Inc.
And if there is no real coherent gay community… there likewise really isn’t a coherent ‘lgbt’ one and/or queer one. It simply doesn’t exist. It has never existed. Or rather, the range of people that Gay Inc and similar will actually protect and uplift is incredibly narrow.
I can hear people saying now, ‘what about safe spaces? we aren’t talking about communities in the abstract but access to actual and real safe spaces’.
No gay space I’ve ever been in has been safe for me, despite having a Gay Inc Seal of Approval(tm). By the accounts of people pushing inclusion politics, I’m privileged in my ability to access these spaces without a great deal of resistance or policing. Which makes me laugh.
All that my easy access to gay spaces has done for me is give cis white men the opportunity to sexually assault and harass me, to subject me to all kinds of white supremacy, to target me via trans/misogyny. However… I do know from the few cis white gays I know these days, that gay spaces actually are relatively safe for them.
Which brings us the worse lie: the fictionalized gay community that exists in media actually does exist, its just that people like you or me aren’t welcome, don’t belong, and never will.
Ultimately this is why the discussion over hetromantic aces and their inclusion is pointless. Should they ever get the Gay Inc Seal of Approval(tm) all they’ll find is that they got a shiny new designation with no substantive access to what they need. All that trying to join a pile of shit does is make you stink. Gay Inc is that pile of shit.
And maybe I’ll learn my lesson soon and stop engaging in these kinds of discussion. Because its exhausting to try and tell people that they could be focusing on so many more important things than whether or not they can roll in shit with Gay Inc.