Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A Sad Gay Scene?

I just read this article by Miles Douglas, in which he bemoans the cruelty and materialism of the gay scene, complaining that "the public face of gay male life, noisily hedonistic and self-consciously triumphalist, glosses over the reality of personal unhappiness and collective callousness." His description of the scene couldn't have been further from my experience. I feel sorry for Douglas, but it's wrong of him to generalize his individual discontent.

I'll put most of my thoughts after this jump.

Douglas writes that

Gay men have failed to create a community of shared values and mutual support. The word 'community' is trotted out for political purposes, but the stereotypes of bitchiness and backstabbing remain all too prominent features of gay men's lives.
Our problems, [the gay political movement] maintains, do not arise from within ourselves, or from the choices we make, but from oppression by heterosexual society and anything perceived as traditional values.

That simplistic narrative holds sway across the spectrum of gay organisations, from the most radical to the ostensibly conservative. It at once denies us our individuality and absolves us of personal responsibility.

[In gay culture,] politically correct victim culture is allied with rampant consumerism. Freedom is identified with a shopping list, whether of possessions or political demands. Throughout the gay media, consumerism is extended to the human person, who is reduced to a disposable item.

Wow, bad breakup recently, Miles?

I lived in London for a year and a half, and if anything, that was the tightest queer community I've ever experienced. There was a robust alternative gay scene (revolving around an online community called Bentpunk and five or so bars and clubs, a few owned by Simon Hobart) that embodied all the things Douglas claims do not exist.

Without rhapsodizing too Polyanna, suffice to say that we hung out together, we "shared values," and we supported each other emotionally and otherwise. There was a real sense of being part of a community. We even had a kind of alternative Pride event, in which we took over a corner of Hyde Park and drank, wrestled, climbed trees, and generally had a good time. After I left, that became a kind of annual tradition. It should, perhaps, be emphasized that most of the Bentpunkers were sardonic people who would roll their eyes at this entire paragraph, but I think it's a fairly accurate, if saccharine, description.

Bentpunk was more than just a closed group of friends. Because it was largely conducted in public (online or offline), it was inherently open to anyone with similar interests (how else could we ever find people to date?). And it wasn't a huge scene, but it was large enough to sustain a number of bars and club nights (Redeye, a queer metal/punk/rock club would get, what, 75 punters each week?).

Scott and Ben (at Redeye) hadn't seen each other in months, apparently

Granted, we were partially organized in reaction to the mainstream gay scene that Douglas decries. I'm sympathetic to his disgust at the consumerism in mainstream gay periodicals et al. But there's more to gay life than Old Compton Street. Lambasting the gay scene because of Boyz Magazine would be like lambasting the whole "straight world" because of FHM Magazine. The fact is, the gay world contains multitudes. The Bentpunk scene was organized around a shared musical subculture combined with a roughly shared sexual identity. There are other scenes with similar organizing principles. In New York, I suppose I'm involved in a gay artist/writers scene, which is more informal, but still coherent, and I've been involved with queer scenes organized around activism, music, and other shared interests.

Our contradictory impressions of contemporary queer life might be attributed to generational differences, but I'm only ten years younger than he is, and I hang out with people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. One of the cool things about Bentpunk, for instance, was that it comprised people from all classes, ages (well, teens, 20somethings, and 30somethings, at least), genders, etc.

In fact, the really interesting thing about gay scenes is the way they crash together people from widely divergent class and racial backgrounds. If you see a black and a white guy hanging out together in public, chances are that they're gay. And I can't tell you how many rich/working class gay couples I know (still a pretty major taboo in the so-called straight world). This mixing is probably the aspect of gay scenes that I will most lament as the scenes disappear (with more social parity, there will be less need for distinct gay scenes).

A lot of Douglas' criticisms sound similar to what snooty people often say when confronted with the reality of pop culture and poor/working-class/lower-middle-class life: It's crass, it's conformist, it's shallow. Maybe Mr. Douglas is so cranky because he just doesn't enjoy being forced to interact with guys who are so unlike him.

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  • At 5:56 PM, Blogger joancrawfordsface said…

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  • At 5:59 PM, Blogger joancrawfordsface said…

    'm a little confused by the original article. the gay 'scene' as i've always understood it has always been organised around clubs, drugs, sex and drinking: hedonism in short that has very little - if i don't mean NOTHING to do with politics and 'brotherhood'.
    it would seem that the author wants a club scene to nurture him thru to superannuity. would we not find it absurd if a 'straight' person looked towards nightclubs for his lifelong direction? why then is it any different?
    nightclubs are for the young and young of heart - whether one is gay or straight. and we must not blame them if they fail to deliver more than they're capable of.
    so you're older and you want more from your life than a sniff of poppers and a fumble in the bogs. well...erm...go to yoga class. if you need what you do in bed to define your entire personality you might choose to go to a 'gay yoga class'. absurdly they exist - because your disposable income needs somewhere pink to go.
    actually i fucking hate the original author of the artcle. what a sappy little prick.
    whether he likes it or not, there is something 'renegade' about homosexuality. it IS the road less travelled. a stable family life modelled on the bourgeois ideal is an unrealistic expectation. yes, i know about turkey basters and adoption rights but for most of us, there is no cut-out-n-keep lifestyle option. which means we have to make it up as we go along. (this reality is the same for many straight people too, who have seen thru the family ideal or else don't expect their identity to be shaped for them by a 'scene' or tradition.
    friendship and support need not come from a fellow 'gay' anyway. you take your sustainance from your friendships - which are usually established regardless of sexuality. why is a gay scene' better able to deal with my concerns than my lifelong straight friend?
    'queer politics' have never had the gravity of 'feminism' or 'racial politics' and never could. altho there are many gay men that allow themselves to be wholly defined by whomever they find attractive, there will be as many who resist. being a 'woman' or a 'black person' suggests a shared experience - a historicity that might encourage empathetic unity. but gays come from a variety of backgrounds - a range of social positions and perspectives. why then expect such disparate pieces to unite under one rainbow umbrella?
    it's probably offensive (to people that enjoy to be offended) that he parallels his own conundrum with that of the jews. i don't find it offensive myself but i find the comparison a bit of stretch.
    as for bentpunk/ the alternative gay scene - i agree it was (is?) good. but i suggest to you chris that what united us all then was not 'queer politics' or a need to support one another as victims, but shared cultural interests - like music and a way of dressing. this is the nature of all youth cultures - you look to be around people who share what you like. sexuality seemed to me tacked on, after the music and fashion - and there were straight people drawn to it too.

  • At 6:13 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Heh, agreed about Bentpunk having next to nothing to do with politics (about the only other person who ever gave a fuck about gay or other politics was Kath, who is, ostensibly, straight). Other scenes I've been involved with in the US (SF and NYC) have revolved around politics, though (such as the Queer Fist scene -- god, these names speak volumes, don't they?).

    My roseate reminiscence was offending my own sense of cynicism even as I wrote it (so I tacked on a few lines of auto-critique just now). I guess I wanted to write (for who, I don't know, since probably only people already involved in Bentpunk will read this) about why that scene was more than nothing. About how it was a kind of community. I disagree with you mainly in that the fact that most of us were queer largely defined the scene (in combination with more important subcultural interests, as you said). The contours were blurry, but the name bentpunk itself roughly described them.

    And very, very good point about gay scenes in general being scenes for the young or young at heart. I would think that in the UK, with its lifelong pub culture, that might be somewhat less true, but I basically agree.

    The truth is, I think if people like the author wake up at 37 and realize that all their gay relationships are empty and callous, they're probably largely to blame themselves. Or at least their failure of imagination.

  • At 8:05 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Btw, remind me of the details of your showdown with those squatter anarchists at that alternative pride gathering a few years ago. I remember it being very funny, but I can't quite remember the details. Didn't some butch lesbian squatter declare that you weren't gay so you weren't allowed in or something? Lol. I suppose that undercuts my argument about inclusion.

  • At 8:54 PM, Anonymous k1ss0ff said…

    i didn't know i was ostensibly straight, but thanks for pointing it out... Ha ha also at that wiki on Simon - i wish you could tell who wrote these things!

    i'm too tired to reply to anything else having just got back from holiday... suffice to say myles don't half go on a bit...

  • At 10:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "whether he likes it or not, there is something 'renegade' about homosexuality. it IS the road less travelled. a stable family life modelled on the bourgeois ideal is an unrealistic expectation."

    See, but there's the irony. The advantage of Frost is that he comes to the fork in the road and chooses, a luxury that not everybody has when it comes to sexual orientation. There are those that want the 2.5kids and a dog lifestyle, and being told that it simply cannot be had is problematic (not to mention that not having a wife). Isn't it ok (even normal), not to want to be a renegade, and to try to make the road less traveled look as much like the other one as possible? Not everyone wants to be labeled, or to wear it on their sleeves. They just want the same life as everyone else, surely people inside the movement can understand that? If you want to pick the road less traveled for the sake of adventure, go ahead, but don't make that choice for everyone.

  • At 1:28 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    But I think joanie was saying that to the extent that queerness is different from straightness, it's because it's the road less travelled. What distinctly defines it is that it's to some extent a rejection of the heterosexual nuclear family.

    Now, maybe you'd like to minimize that defining characteristic. But the fact remains that the rejection (to some extent, at least) of mainstream values is the very thing that makes a queer a queer.

  • At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Omg, what?? The comments above showcase precisely the shallow, thick-minded psychopathy that many proud gays have learned to avoid with a passion. Glib of anything against their precious little community of backstabbing queens. Get self-esteem, people, and wake up.

    When gays first come out, where's the first place we can turn to find other gays? A library? Supermarket? Nope. Clubs and bathhouses. DUH!

    It'd be nice to meet gays in 'regular' places but reality is a bitch. The gay community hasn't evolved enough yet to offer safer places to TALK and RELATE to people without it turning into a pathetic meat market. (What a blasphemous concept! Gays not trying to fuck each other desperately and using their minds? NO WAY!)

    So when gay youngins seek out their own kind to overcome their alienation, they're immediately open to mind games and sexual predation at the only place advertised, yep, the fucking gay bar. It's precisely the sick-minded, pro-scene assholes above that scough at this obvious but sick reality in order to benefit from their predation and mindgames.

    And what's our GLBT voice? Ah, yet again, the fucking bars, bathhouses, chemically enhanced circuit parties and AIDS benefits with their mikes and flyers. The local scene of every single city the world over is full of pure nihilism and no positive images. Just images of drug addiction, empty sex and death. Don't deny it. It's our gay SHAME. Own it, queens.

    It's a long and hard road, but the bars are always waiting there patiently to destroy the incoming 'weak' - ie. people with true hearts longing for belonging. This toxic scene betrays the human race by scarring those that'd do our society proud in an alternative universe.

    So there's a reason why the majority of us out-and-proud individuals are ironically not represented by our most vocal but sadly most deranged members. The hidden community is divided and marred by sickos hellbent on pushing and re-pushing dead stereotypes with catty remarks and self-obsessed charity functions designed only to serve the dying or glamorize those already DOA.

    The GLBT 'community' is fucking dead, burning in hell. If it wasn't already IRRELEVANT to most people it would beg to be bitchslapped with a positivist revolution involving the celebration of long life (without STD-obsessions) and charity work for the GREATER community, not just pisspot fags.

    Moving beyond our pathetic (anti-)community, we can choose for ourselves whether we want to be 1) morally and spiritually bankrupt self-biggots looking to spread our legs for any depraved attention in order to advertise ourselves as everything the mainstream community isn't (ie. socially irresponsible, drugged up and used up whores), or 2) something more than a bland label, SERVING our GREATER mainstream society as compassionate human beings worth something.

    Now, an asshole might say, "Well, YOU just had a bad experience (and therefore your input's not worth anything)" or you can grow a pair of OVARIES and admit that things need to change to IMPROVE the collective experience a little bit more. Asshole say wha'?

    "But the fact remains that the rejection of mainstream values is the very thing that makes a queer a queer"

    That's what makes a cynical fag maybe. I define a queer as something beyond the tired politically correct stereotypes that are betraying our community. Striving to be the equal and opposite of the mainstream is in itself a pathetic stereotype accepted by the mainstream! Ergo that ain't queer.

    Only shallow gays try to be the thing opposite to what they're alienated from. Queerdom seeks to transcend beyond that superficial perspective of former decades. Perhaps you're still stuck in the 20th century (or possibly the state of Utah).

  • At 10:16 AM, Anonymous Nightwing79 said…

    wow! thanks to the comments it really is just like being back on Bentpunk.


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