Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Touching the Monolith

The New Gay has struck again. The site appears to be dedicated to giving a soapbox to people who're convinced that they're cutting-edge, but who are recycling some of the oldest and wackiest tropes known to Queerdom. Like the guy yesterday who, in the name of being "Green", declares that he believes "that modern medicine is for the weak" and that by getting treatment for tonsilitis, he "was bucking Darwin’s theory of natural selection, cheating the system." In an oxycontin haze, he says, "I started thinking about the idea of queers as population control ... [that] we homos are put on this Earth for a very good reason: to provide the benefits of extra bodies helping create order in the world without the risk of increasing the population. Personally, I find some comfort in this notion while I’m sure others will find it offensive." Several commenters set him, um, straight on this.

A few days earlier, a longer article floated the idea, from a so-far unpublished article in Out (strike one!) via The Gawker (strike two!), one Brian Moylan has declared ex cathedra that "instead of taking up residence for the entire weekend in gigantic clubs like Twilo or the Roxy like gays did in the ’90s, they’re now going to smaller lounges and parties that are catered more towards specific gentlemen’s tastes. Yes, my friends, it is officially the end of the monolithic gay culture…"

Fortunately or unfortunately, I've never lived in a metropolitan area. But that's the point: I have no idea how many gay men actually 'took up residence for the entire weekend in gigantic clubs', but I wouldn't assume that those who did live out this hyperbole were all gay men. Even when I visited large cities, I always found plenty of small bars and clubs (like the one I wrote about here), which seemed to be doing adequate business. A fair number of men from the small city where I live go to Indianapolis on weekends for variety, but I'm not sure that the scene there was limited to gigantic clubs either, what with the gay restaurants and other establishments I've seen.

And then there's the question whether bars define or determine gay culture. Apparently Moylan, and certainly "zack", The New Gay's writer, think they do. The size of bars and clubs will be affected by other factors, like real estate prices. William Leap has an interesting paper in Out in Culture (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) on the changes in gay geography in Washington DC, how not only real estate developers but life-cycle changes among gay men affected the commercial gay scene in that city. As the men he interviewed got older, the kinds of establishments they wanted to patronize changed, which is not exactly surprising. I wonder if Brian Moylan was confusing his own life-cycle changes with changes in the entire gay community -- that seems to be a common mistake in journalistic writers. Who defines "gay culture"? Twenty-somethings fresh out of college? Forty-somethings? Or all of them? Do other community institutions, like churches and softball leagues, have a role too?

Like other gay writers, zack and Moylan seem to think that gay community is supposed to be monolithic -- meaning, characterized by lockstep uniformity and total mutual support (though the writers at The New Gay generally demand support for themselves and their lifestyles while crankily withholding support from everybody else).
Moylan cites some NYC parties that have sprung up in replacement of these spaces. Parties like Manthrax, a gay heavy metal party, or Tall Gay Agenda, for men who are 6 feet and over. And though it might seem like a digression, this is a good time to ask exactly what a culture is. Lets say for our immediate purposes that its a group of people so united by a common cause or interest that they have banded together and found some peace or comfort in their unity.

If that is the case, then this diffusion can only be positive. A culture based on sex, on “taking it up the ass,” is not a culture. It is a shared need, perhaps, or a hive-minded itch, but it cannot sustain a people any more than an orgasm can listen to your problems or encourage you to follow your dreams. ...

I think that this is not the end of “gay culture,” but rather a renaissance of an actual culture, no quotes needed, made up of gay people who are allowed to follow their own diverse interests and aesthetics without having to sacrifice their sexuality or safety. It’s a good thing.

Again, are these NYC parties really new on the scene or did Moylan just discover them and conclude, like Columbus, that they didn't exist before he did so? I vote the latter, since I've been hearing about such special-interest events and organizations all along. The New Gay also has a vested interest in crowing over every development that is new to its editors as marking a new beginning ("I think this development could be one of the best things to happen to gay people since Jerry Falwell died," Zack remarks), the end of the bad old gay culture (beware, children! The New Gay will be old, tired, and retrograde by the turn of the decade), and a harbinger of the glorious advent of the Queer Children of Light. Zack does well to conclude that "gay culture" isn't ending, but I don't see any reason to believe that a "renaissance" is going on. Even in NYC and DC, there have always been "diverse interests" and people who tried to create environments to act on them. I agree that it's a good thing -- it's the sort of thing I've always tried to encourage in my own locale -- but it's not new.