Toward a post-gay world

Gay Pride Month passed quietly this year -- maybe that means we no longer really need to make so much noise.

Published July 10, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

Well, another Gay Pride Month came and went, and I have to say, this one really snuck past me -- I saw and heard very little to mark the event, which is saying something when you live in New York. Of course, there was the parade on Sunday, with the usual underestimate of crowd figures by the city, but by and large I'd say it was a quiet month, almost relaxed. There used to be a time when I couldn't imagine not being part of the festivities, especially in the heyday of ACT UP, when things were both terrible (in terms of that lethal combo of AIDS and three Republican administrations) and wonderfully exhilarating (in terms of the activism employed to counter them).

Eventually, active involvement in the parade became active observing, either from the sidelines or up six stories, lounging from a window in someone's comfortable apartment overlooking Fifth Avenue, mimosa and bagel in hand -- and I couldn't imagine not being part of that party.

Now, I'd be happy if they just televised the thing and I could watch it, sitting at home in my underwear. Naturally I'm happy it takes place every year, but I'm finding that, more and more in my creeping decrepitude, I can absent myself and not feel like I'm missing out on something important. It's all for the kids anyway, right? Let them have their day.

Instead of calling myself old or even jaded, I'd say my mood these days is mellow. AIDS is still with us, as everyone knows, and there's still no cure and might not ever be. The magical promise of a vaccine so much touted in the press earlier this year has just as magically disappeared. Still, however, there are fewer and fewer deaths, and the recent advances with combination drugs to combat AIDS and prolong life are, however exacting and expensive, clearly offering more and more hope to more and more people. It seems that one of the big challenges is to keep AIDS alive as a media issue, since Americans are not famous for their attention spans, at least where Leonardo DiCaprio is not directly involved.

And as for that aesthetically deadly, socially tedious, politically pointless, contemptible fad of political correctness, I'm very pleased to say that this, too, seems to be going the way of outing, and good goddamn riddance. Of course, in its place there are always new fads to scream about and devote glossy gay magazine stories to, such as circuit parties, bareback sex and the alleged neoconservatism of our supposedly turncoat leaders.

Here I'd like to offer my congratulations to two such "fascist" self-loathers, first to Gabriel Rotello for saying, in his much maligned book "Sexual Ecology," what sorely needed to be said: that AIDS can only be controlled if we control and maintain our own sexual behavior and practices. Secondly, I'd like to congratulate Andrew Sullivan, whose impassioned promotion of marriage as a right of every gay American has done more than the gripings of a thousand snivelly queers and dykes who attempt to simplify the whole marriage debate as a betrayal of glorious gay otherness. But even these fads are becoming a tad passi, and should soon be replaced with more exciting ones, hopefully involving Leonardo DiCaprio.

Perhaps the most gratifying effect of what could be called the new mellowness is the growing inability of constipated Republican sleazoid politicos to score points off us. Trent Lott will (still) say in some interview that gays are "sick" -- though still "loved" despite this -- and this smarmy, snaggle-toothed piety is such a yawn at this point that nobody hears, because they've heard it all before. This is what the Dick Armeys and the Trent Lotts of America fail to grasp: that beyond the "it's sick/special rights/AIDS is all their fault/they just want to recruit our young" spiel, there's nothing more to say, and they've been saying it for years and years now. It's an endless dance mix of the same tired song, and these lazy bastards had better start funking it up with a new beat if they want anyone to keep listening.

But I wouldn't count on it. If so-called Zippergate is any indication of the Republicans' (in)ability to move the masses to indignation (and a wild swing, once again, to the right), then they're even more arrogantly out of touch than you'd think. Despite overwhelming lack of public interest or outrage, Kenneth Starr, Armey and the rest of their ilk have been spending millions of taxpayer bucks in an attempt to sell some dimwitted intern with Vanity Fair cover-girl aspirations to us as a symbol of lefty moral laxity that extends all the way to the Land's Highest Office. In other words, in spite of what you think you think, you're wrong: It's all about blow jobs, stupid. This is, coincidentally, the same line that the conspiracy meisters have been shoving down the throats of straight America about the "Gay Agenda."

However, there's much evidence that gays themselves don't even know what a
gay agenda is. A few days before the parade, I attended a seminar at the New School for
Social Research on post-gay culture. I wasn't any more enlightened leaving than when I came in about what exactly "post-gay" means, but there were a number of points raised that I found relevant, and which underscored the many contradictions inherent in queer life.

1. Homosexuality isn't just about sexuality. It's about politics and the
social pathology of heterosexual society -- oppression, marginalization,
homophobic violence and murder, denial of the same civil rights as
heterosexual citizens -- and spending your life combating all these things.

2. Homosexuality is all about sexuality, the only thing that distinguishes
gay from straight. Or as Gore Vidal described it, "There is of course no
such thing as a homosexual. Despite current usage, the word is an
adjective describing a sexual action, not a noun describing a recognizable

3. True liberation is about not needing or even wanting to feel gay,
either in the sense of being defined by one's oppression or its opposite
of being defined by one's sexual activities.

4. While not allowing themselves to be seen merely as victims, it's still
vital that gay Americans understand and not underestimate what they are up
against, including never-ending threats of violence, contemptuous press
coverage, attacks from organized religion, the need to be vigilant in the
constant maintenance of rights that are constantly in danger of being
overturned through the machinations of right-wing agitprop hate groups
self-described as "pro-family," "pro-God," "concerned citizens," etc. Nor
can they underestimate the willful ignorance and smug uninterest of
heterosexual Americans -- the silent majority who aren't part of the
right-wing agitprop groups but don't feel any reason to understand or
aid the homosexual minority.

5. Being gay means navigating through the politics of "ordinariness" --
wanting or even actively seeking out what is seen as the right to a
middle-class American life, with all the mundanity that might entail --
vs. the alternative, urban-centered notion of gay as being defiant
permanent outsiders who are, in fact, "extraordinary," meaning, for the
most part, sexually promiscuous. Or not navigating through these polar

6. Monogamy is good for gays, too.

7. Monogamy is no good for gays; rather, it is a heterosexual ritual that
doesn't even work for heterosexuals.

I believe that these contradictions reveal the true essence of the gay struggle. In the same way that coming out is, as writer Sarah Schulman described, a process that has no comparison in straight life, the dilemma of definition is something that is a curse and a blessing. We already are extraordinary, in terms of day-to-day survival, in ways that our poor hetero brothers and sisters can't even begin to imagine.

By Daniel Reitz

Daniel Reitz, a frequent contributor to Salon, is a writer living in New York. His film "Urbania," based on his play, "Urban Folk Tales," will be released in August.

MORE FROM Daniel Reitz

Related Topics ------------------------------------------