Alex Blaze

Silly dichotomy of the day: Old gay culture vs. new gay culture

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 29, 2007 6:41 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Andrew Sullivan, gay culture, hooking up, James Kirchick, Larry Craig, sexual autonomy

Andrew Sullivan being away, James Kirchick has taken over for the Daily Dish and is filling in for the big guy himself quite nicely. He claims that "old" gay culture - anonymous sex and hook ups - is dying away, and "new" gay culture - marriage and domesticity - is taking over. From him:

In other words, say goodbye to anonymous cruising and say hello to more weddings. I think there's a limit to this analysis --as men will always be men-- but the the normalization and stabilization of gay life (epitomized by gay marriage) over the past 30 years has only helped gay male culture mature.

Indeed, this scandal could not have arrived at a more opportune moment. The same day that Andrew--who has spent much of his intellectual life advocating for gay marriage, when many in the gay rights movement were trumpeting separatism, the necessity of being "queer," and other such indulgences--gets married, a United States Senator --who has been a loyal foot soldier in the movement to deny gays (perhaps, like himself) civil rights-- is revealed to have allegedly sought out sex with an anonymous man in an airport restroom. Perhaps there is no greater comparison between the stability of being comfortable with who you are and the self-denial and self-hatred of the closet. It's not just the "old" gay culture of anonymous sexual encounters vs. the "new" gay culture of monogamy; it's self-loathing vs. self-affirmation.

This is downright stupid, and honestly it bugs the hell out of me when gay moralists like Kirchick, Sullivan, and Rotello voluntarily buy into the same angel/whore dichotomy imposed on women, the same one American feminists have been trying to throw off for the last half century. Just look at the way he sets it up: you're in one camp or the other, monogamous or self-loathing, and the first is winning out. Jiminy Christmas, I thought this movement was about sexual autonomy.

Forget the fact that gay.com is the number one gay site on the net according to Alexa, and no one's there for the articles: the "new" gays are taking over. And apparently anyone who's in the "old" camp is just a self-loathing slut, whether they're in a stable relationship and enjoy the occasional three-way or if they're single, happy, and having affirming and expansive hook-ups or complete, actual sluts who have great times.

(Oh, wait, there's the caveat that it's only gay male culture that's immature when we don't toe the party line and go monogamous. Kirchick doesn't mention straight men who sleep around as being self-hating, etc., so I'm guessing that they're off the hook for some reason.)

What bothers me the most is that this is exactly what the Religious Right does when they shroud their misogyny and sexophobia in the rhetoric of improving self-esteem, reducing STD's, and reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancy, even though we know that that sort of moralism and abstinence-only education has done nothing to help the straights and only fosters patriarchy and materially hurts many straight women (and straight men for that matter). Why do we want to impose that dichotomy on ourselves?

Sorry, James, but I'm betting that around 90% of gays are not "normalized", married, and monogamous, and that they're not "self-loathing", "immature", airport-restroom-sex sluts either. There's space in between and all over, and we should be a lot more worried about people trying to divide gay men against ourselves and leaving gays who don't pursue our parallel of the heteronormative ideal McFamily out to dry.


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Eric Georgantes | August 29, 2007 8:51 AM

Alex, are you annoyed with the very idea that a move towards greater levels of monogamy (let's pretend it's monogamy with cheating rates at or around those of heterosexual couples) is beneficial, that he seems to be giving straight men who cruise for sex a pass, or that you dislike the false dichotomy he's offering?

After reading the post, I didn't come to the same conclusions Alex did at all...

Someone e-mailed the site to say that Craig was an example of old vs new. Kirchick seemed to me to be saying that it was more of a case of closet vs openly gay.

And he has a point. In the days of yore, most gay men had to cruise to find sex. Public parks, restrooms, etc were common places to find a little something. As the movement has grown and the LGBTQ community has become more accepted, we've moved into the limelight somewhat. Openly gay couples are common nowadays. Gay people live together, sleep together and travel together openly as couples instead of hiding in a back room and sliding home to a wife and kids. Not that some folks don't still embrace the closet and lies, but that's becoming more and more less likely.

And I think as a statement on closet vs openly gay, he's right. As our visibility has grown, our need to hide in the shadows has lessened. And that is a changing of the times - "old" gay culture vs "new" gay culture, if you will.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | August 29, 2007 11:29 AM

Alex, being knee-deep in my current series on marriage versus civil unions, intertwined with how the changes in the Federal Marriage amendment have affected the Indiana debate on SJR7, and also trying to clean up the garage (for the third time in as many months!), and of course co-lead our household cheering section in watching the Minneapolis version of "Airport 2007", I don't have the time I'd like to have to respond. Perhaps as time goes on in either my own post or as further commentary to yours. The first I list above obviously link my interests with marriage and/or full equivalent (even though there currently isn't really such a thing as the latter).

Let me just say for now that while I agree with much of what you say about the "false choice" between marriage and hopeless lonely lifetime promiscuity (in Minnesota, the D.C. Metro Station or otherwise), I think maybe you overstate a bit concerning where 90% of the GLBT community (or at least gay males) are in the spectrum. I believe I saw a fairly recent Advocate or similar poll that shows close to half being in a reasonably monogomous relationship of some kind. Maybe it's serial, maybe it is "open", I don't recall or don't know. But my point is that sometimes, in what I guess would be loosely called the "anti-assimilist" movement, I detect a bit of "doth protest too much" in terms of dealing with what I consider to be a pretty deep human need to relate in some very special way to basically one significant other person in their lives. I see (and have been there at one time myself) many examples of guys, mostly younger but some closer to my own nearly 70 years, who go through a seemingly endless search for "Mr. Right", and resisting commitment or the work that goes with it because that perfect individual might just come along and an opportunity for something "better" may have passed by forever. And then I see lonely older guys sitting on bar stools hour after hour; I even see health deteriorate at least partly due to loneliness and opportunities for real intimacy that transcend fleeting seconds of genital ecstacy missed. And so sometimes that makes me want to scream to your generation: "Be careful of what you may wish for".

Am I forcing my preference on anyone, or even being critical of those who want to stay somewhere nearer the middle of that broad spectrum you speak of? No. They shouldn't feel any undue societal or institutional pressure to marry or pair anymore than a 35 year old guy or gal should be constantly bombarded with "when are you going to find a nice gal/guy and get married" from parents and relatives. But I do hold that human need for a significant other is strong, and if it is really creating a form of pressure, so be it. I happen to think that the satisfaction of that need, and sometimes having to fight off the temptations that work against its fulfillment, is a good thing. Life looks a bit different as one progresses invariably along its timeline. I only urge my younger brothers and sisters not to be so enamored by abstract principle that something at least as equally important gets lost.

Michael Bedwell | August 29, 2007 12:58 PM

The cheese began to stink the moment Kerchick imagined Sullivan having an "intellectual life." "Pontificating" is more apt, and fits someone like Sullivan who still defends the irredeemable Catholic church and whose greatest dream is probably to be Pope himself.

Further, Kerchick’s contrast of Sullivan and Craig is not entirely accurate or honest. While employing less fervor than Craig, Sullivan has effectively been an enemy of gay job protections himself, dismissing them, along with the Right Wing, as a “special right” we do not really need.

But the largest amount of egg running down Kerchick’s face is hatched from the fact that, Sullivan, his poster boy for monogamy, has publicly essentially given himself a “boys will be boys get out of jail free card” regarding his own relationship. And repudiated to “Salon” his own alleged positions regarding others with, “I have never urged marriage or monogamy on wayward brothers and sisters. Never. I have argued for equal marriage rights. In fact, I got into trouble in Britain by saying that some gay relationships are not monogamous."

I think the 90% posited by Alex is a bit high, and laugh [and cry] at those who think that being an obsessive/compulsive "sexual outlaw" is a good thing. But Kerchick's puerile division of Good Gays and Bad Gays is, as Alex said, just more drool from Sullivan, Inc.'s mouth.

Eric~ Last two. I don't think the first one was in the Kirchick post.

Bil~ I wish you were right, but I reread it and hate to say it, but you're not. And maybe you never have been. And maybe you never will be. I don't know these things. And maybe I don't really hate saying them. Because you disagreed with me, Bil, and that was the last straw. We never disagree!

The dichotomy isn't "closet vs. open" that he's talking about (yeah, that's part of it). He starts there and makes a whole bunch of assumptions, that not getting married is self-indulgent, that not being monogamous is immature, etc. He even says that the dichotomoy is "anonymous sexual encounters" vs. "monogamy", because, you know, there's no space outside of that. Like he said all this in what I quoted, and what I didn't quote from his webpage was an anonymous email, and I'm not going to respond to anonymous emails.

He's not talking about reduced homophobia making people more open about their couplehoodedness. He's pretty specifically saying that he thinks that marriage has caused "maturity". He actually sets up that causality and puts monogamy (not couplehood) on one side, the same side with self-affirmation and being out of the closet. So like, I don't know, I don't get how you're reading it and maybe that's it. Michelangelo Signorile, of all people, I noticed, read it the same way. But maybe the road's both purple and black and I shouldn't be pulling heteropatriarchal rhetorical power moves by citing someone else as some sort of authority on interpretation.

Don~ Yeah, totally. But I would like to point out that that close to half, however accurate that poll was (I mean, it was a magazine poll), isn't what I got the impression Kirchick was talking about. I assumed, and since he set it up as a dichotomy with sluttiness on the other end, that "monogamy" and marriage meant for life and exclusive. Maybe that's not what he meant.

On your larger point, which is more interesting than anything I have to say, I'd agree. I too feel the pull towards developing a stable relationship of some sort (I don't know if that comes from socialization or something else) and am in the midst of one right now, although it's going to come to an end soon. :( I just don't think that attacking other people's choices or setting up false dichotomies will lead there. And that's what you said so maybe I'm just plagiarizing Don Sherfick.

Maybe I'm just bothered by the implication that calling out such false dichotomies and not wanting to impose the way that I choose to live on others as somehow being "anti-love" in the same way that feminists get accused of being anti-love. And maybe that's not what you meant. But those boys who are waiting for the "Mr. Better" and putting off a relationship, well, I don't think that calling them names will help anything, I don't think that they're "self-loathing" necessarily, and I don't think that I know what's best for them in general (maybe that's the youth talking). I don't know what their problem is, I'm guessing that there are a lot of different ones and not a singular, monolithic problem and solution.

Oh, well, big questions.

Did not see comment #4 before I posted.

People are making fun of my made up 90%. The original said 99% before I edited it.

Here's what I'm thinking: I know a lot of gay men, and I've never known one, ever, at all, who's held off on the sex until he was in a life-long, exclusive relationship, and then kept sex with that person. I also have never known a person like Kirchick, or at least not known that I've known, who gets all his jollies in anonymous sex places and goes home to his wife afterwards. While I don't know any numbers on that, and there's really no way of knowing, I'm going to say that it's small. Maybe they outnumber us. I doubt it.

So, my math: no one I know "saving myself for marriage and then never cheating" (0%) + a few "airport bathroom sex, 'dude, I've gotta get home to my wife'" (8%) + very few "Gawd, you're really celibate???" (2%) = 10% who aren't in the middle of the spectrum.

OK, that's my math.

Eric Georgantes | August 29, 2007 7:34 PM

Eric~ Last two. I don't think the first one was in the Kirchick post.

Perhaps I should read the articles you rant about before asking you these questions, but I didn't have time this morning. =)