Monday, November 13, 2006

Whither Adulthood

Paul Varnell, writing on the Independent Gay Forum, asks an interesting question: where are the gay adults?

His theory:
There are actually gay adults around in considerable numbers. They run gay businesses, the gay cultural institutions, the gay bars and clubs, the community health and social service organizations. But perhaps they are inconspicuous to young people focused on the bar, party and hook-up scene.

Still, there are millions of gay adult besides those. And indeed, where are they? Perhaps they withdraw from the gay community because they view being gay as largely about drinking, drugs, and fast-food sex. That is a sad misunderstanding. More than anything, gay is about Civic Life. The gay community is an affinity group. It is about interpersonal empathy, friendships, social and political progress and cultural creativity.

Well, if my partner and I are any example, there's a more prosaic reason; we're busy with other things instead. Between work, our respective professional groups, various organizations to which we belong, and attending other events, there are only so many hours left in the day. All the fundraising commitments I've made for this year have been out of personal time, and we've been strained and harried more often than not trying to balance the needs of work and our relationship with community events.

What that points out, though, is the root of the issue; namely, that gays are no longer limited to the gay-only world. As has happened with other groups which were kept together by popular disdain, the increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians outside the traditional borders has, while providing many more opportunities, significantly changed the character of the community left behind. An apt analogy is the "middle class creep" that is quite often identified as a major cause of the problems in the black community; namely, when those who can take advantage of new opportunities elsewhere do so en masse, what remains is like brine -- highly concentrated, less diverse, and progressively more unpalatable.

To an enormous degree, I think it is important that gays continue to push the envelope in terms of public involvement and life outside the gay community. We SHOULD strive to be more involved in our work, our cities, our neighborhoods, our schools, and in other places where our presence among straight people does much to dispel the popular stereotypes of gays as sex-crazed, drug-shooting, leather-wearing circuit boys and undercuts the argument of social extremists who keep trying to portray our lives as threats to Mom, America, and apple pie.

At the same time, however, it is imperative that we bring back this widened perspective to our brethren and proactively work to keep our historic and social communities from collapsing into suspicious, paranoid enclaves. Like the black and ethnic ghettoes, we cannot afford to have the gay community develop mores, culture, and attitudes that actively resist what they see as "outside influence", reject change, and perpetuate destructive behaviors, all out of ignorance or fear. The last thing the universe needs is the homosexual analogue to hip-hop music.

No one in our community should feel constrained by their sexual orientation; you should feel free to live, do, vote, and be what you like, regardless of it. However, we should always keep in mind that those of us who can and do operate outside of the day-to-day gay must share that perspective with those who can't.

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