Does Gay Have It’s Own Heritage?
Living in Los Angeles as a 30-something gay man is like being in Oz. It’s so easy and insulated, surrounded by friends and allies.
My husband Thomas and I have been lucky. We landed in Los Angeles a year ago right into the hospitality and kindness of close friends, Brandon and Adam. They have made it ridiculously easy to get adjusted to a new city and being far from both our families. They’ve even helped us create a Framily (that’s gaytalk for a family made out of friends), introducing us to what is now our social unit, which we call the Doves. (The White Wing Doves were borne out of the ashes of a Fleetwood Mac remix dance party — another time.)
Then there’s my other family, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. It’s too bad that on the outside there’s no way of knowing the magic that is the chorus. 250 faces, some young some old. An incredible guy named Dick just retired, a founding member of nearly 40 years. I often wonder how different things are today vs 40 years ago. Heroes like him (OG’s — original gays) have made extraordinary impact on my life. I feel very fortunate to stand on the shoulders of these giants.
But that’s not to take away anything from the next heroes in line — the boomer and gen x gays. I’m fortunate to be a second tenor in the chorus, and get to rub shoulders with mentors like Greg, Michael, John, Scott, Gary — the guys my age are super fortunate for the big brothers that paved the way for a more equal playing field. Their bravery, selflessness, determination, courage — I don’t know half of what you have encountered as gay men — saw us through the worst years of AIDS, the introduction of cocktails that dramatically reduced mortality, and the fall-out of the conservative Christian Moral Majority and other shit. They’ve made the world so much better than how they found it. And still are.
Then there’s me and my peers. I’m considered a millennial because I graduated high school in the year 2000. There’s a lot of talk of millennials, especially in my field of brand strategy, where companies are trying to unlock the keys to the group quickly eclipsing boomers to dominate the spending power conversation. It drives parents and bosses and pretty much anyone older than a millennial crazy. We’ve heard lots of talk.
But what are they saying about the millennial gays — and how is the newest group of adult men going to take up the charge of pressing towards equality and against hatred and fear? I’m no expert, but I have some thoughts.
Talk to anyone 40 and up, and one thing you’ll hear about is the decimation of the gay bar scene. With social apps like Grindr and Scruff, a big change in the gay culture has taken place: you don’t need to go to a bar to find someone to have sex with anymore. Turns out, this is a significant cultural point of transition. Allow me to explain.
In the years of prohibitive laws and fear of harm, the gay bar/lounge/club evolved into the cultural nexus of the gay community. It was the safe place where people got together, met new friends, new partners, discussed current events and gossip. Generally speaking, it was the center of the community.
As it turns out, sex happens to be the glue that holds it all together and as soon as the internet starting alleviating pressure (oops) from the gay bar construct, people started wandering away from the establishment.
At first sight, this seems benign, or even a net positive. From my perspective, there are a lot of positives to being less constrained to an alcohol environment. But as it turns out, regular communion between friends and strangers turns out to be a crucial part of keeping the community connected.
This is also why the older generations are harping against Grindr and Scruff screwing up the gay scene (btw many, many gay bars have shuttered in recent years.) But what about millennials — is there any hope?
According to Pew Research Center, Millennials are the most diverse generation (43% non-White) and the gayest generation (The Public Religion Research Institute reports 7% identifying as homosexual, double compared to previous generations). Millennials are more likely to conduct repeat business with LGBT-friendly companies and believe that their spending power can be used to affect change. Generally speaking, the millennial archetype includes socially-minded personalities responsible for bringing about Tom’s and Warby Parker — buy-one-give-one economies — but do millennials care enough to actually roll up their sleeves?
I’m not entirely sure that we know the answer to that question, at least empirically. We can conjecture that millennials will rise to the occasion, but frankly, we’re largely untested. We weren’t old enough to absorb the full impact of 9/11, and the various recent conflicts/wars in the middle east seem removed. It’s a stark contrast to those coming before us.
The Boomer gays went to war against AIDS, and against an apathetic (at best) and often aggressively homophobic political environment. I feel sheepish admitting that I didn’t really understand what was happening in the 80s until a couple years ago, the I watched The Normal Heart, the story of Larry Kramer and his friends fighting to expose the truth about AIDS in the early days of the crisis. It motivated me to start reading and learning, and it turned into a very devastating exploration of America in the 80s. I couldn’t believe it. How was it that the country where I grew up turned out to be so violently resistant to gay people? And not “way back when,” but within my lifetime.
I couldn’t believe that I grew up, a young gay man in America — the Class of 2000, whatever that means — and I hadn’t been exposed to the heritage of gay. I’d learned a little about Native Americans in school, and in high school I’d learned more about how oppressed they were at the hands of “Americans.” I’d learned about the Revolution and about the Civil War. I’d learned about the way “Americans” treated slaves, and the segregation and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. I’d learned about their oppression, murders, lynchings — unspeakable things that should never be considered.
No class or history teacher had ever been so brave as to speak about what was occurring during the first 15 years of my life when healthy gay men were getting sick and dying in the blink of an eye. I can’t comprehend.
I don’t want to to stop thinking about this. I want to learn more about gay heritage, because in history lies power to motivate and change. I think this will be a crucial part of Millennialization. Will Millennials roll up their sleeves and pursue deeper levels of love over hate, and equality over homophobia? I believe that we will. But I also believe that it will be incredibly difficult unless the generations of men who have survived and then thrived help connect us to the stories.
I couldn’t believe that I grew up a young gay man in America — the Class of 2000, whatever that means — and I hadn’t been exposed to the heritage of gay.
I don’t think it comes naturally — men, talking about memories that may conjure up pain, sorrow, loss, anger. I think this might be one reason why it’s hard to come by the real stories. But I think it’s mission critical if we want to progress. Our heritage must be passed down, and retold, and retold again.
So, then, back to my original question: WTF is Rainbow Social?
In June, I began Rainbow Social with the hope of connecting gay people and their allies, across generational lines, with the goal of fostering engagement that encourages, educates and inspires everyone involved to continue fighting against widespread homophobia in our neighborhoods and elsewhere.
I am inspired by the radical artists of the early days of the AIDS crisis that created provocative visual art to inspire, challenge, rebuke and arouse curiosity. I hope to build partnerships that result in provocations through art, literature, music, food, fashion, and of course, the mundane, which advance the exposure, visibility, acceptance and the inevitable period in the gay narrative when we’ve finally achieved equal-ness. By that I mean children will grow up in an environment that doesn’t assume or prescribe gender or sexual preference; where it’s uncouth to assume someone is hetero; where transgender men and women have the same promise as any American — to be able to pursue their happiness, as any of us do.
We have a lot of work to do. But I’m a millennial standing up, raising my hand and saying, “I promise to be an active proponent of the advancement of gay people.”
Rainbow Social (www.rainbowsoc.com) is still under construction. This will expand as the community grows. Thank you for your patience.