In his New York Times (April 27, 2008) feature story "Young Gay Rites," the delightfully-named Benoit Denizen-Lewis wrote about the "normal" world of young, white, married gay men in Massachusetts, till recently the only American state that allowed same-sex marriage. Unlike previous gay generations, Denizen-Lewis wrote:
Gay teenagers are coming out earlier and are increasingly able to experience their gay adolescence. That, in turn, has made them more likely to feel normal. Many young gay men don't see themselves as all that different from their heterosexual peers, and many profess to want what they've long seen espoused by mainstream American culture; a long-term relationship and the chance to start a family.
If Denizen-Lewis is to be believed, young gay men are rushing to the altar as soon as they are allowed to do so. Many of these queer couples are married with children, acquired naturally or through adoption. In some cases, the partners hyphenated their surnames; or one partner took the last name of the other. Also breaking with gay stereotype, many of these young gay marrieds practice monogamy, or at least they tell us that they do. In short, these gay men turned gay clichés on their head, opting for "straight" normalcy over gay rebelliousness. But is it hip to be square? (For the record, this writer has been in a gay relationship himself for 23 years, though we have kept our distinctive surnames: "Greenspan-Monteagudo" is just too cumbersome.)
The number of young gay men who choose marital bliss over circuit parties will no doubt increase now that the California Supreme Court ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Even states that only allow civil unions or domestic partnerships have witnessed many same-sex couples rushing to the registrar's office. The current gay penchant for matrimony is a sharp contrast to the post-Stonewall gay ideal of sexual freedom and promiscuity. Many gay men in the 1970s agreed with film director John Waters, who thought that the best thing about being gay was that he did not have to get married or serve in the military. Though there were partnered gay men in the seventies, many of them were like the twosome in the Doric Wilson play A Perfect Relationship (1979), who have sex with other men but not with each other. The two lovers in Michael Denneny's book Lovers (1979) were not exceptional because they broke up but because they stayed together for so long.
So what happened to change all of this? There was AIDS, of course. And a conservative political climate that discouraged sexual promiscuity. Keeping pace with the political winds, "gay" activist organizations -- now evolved into GLBT (or GLBT) groups - began to demand for our people those privileges that the heterosexual majority takes for granted, like getting married or serving in the military. Young queers who came of age with none of the trauma experienced by previous generations see nothing unusual in doing what their straight peers have been doing since time immemorial; dating someone, "going steady" with them and, eventually, getting married.
So far so good, but what about the rest of us? Open any gay bar guide and you will see photos of hot gay "boys" who are living lives far removed from those of the young couples in Denizen-Lewis's article. For them, as for many gay men before them, being gay is an act of rebellion, a break from the restrictions of straight society. These guys are "boys" in the best sense of the word, not protracted adolescents but males who kept their youthful exuberance and their willingness to take chances and try new ideas and new experiences. Though the gay party scene is conformist in its own way, and fraught with many dangers -- drug use and unsafe sex being the most obvious ones - no one is going to accuse gay party boys of trying to imitate heterosexual men. On the contrary, in matters of physical fitness and attire, straight men are imitating us.
Of course, not all gay men are made for the party scene, just as not all gay men are made for the settled married life in the suburbs. Our community encompasses all lifestyles; and if there is anything we can agree on is that we all have the right to shape our lives the way that we want to. Though GLBT conformity is not as repressive as heterosexual conformity - because our community does not have the power to enforce it - it is no less objectionable.
In this, as in so many other things, our enemies are wrong: There is no such thing as a "gay lifestyle." There are many "gay lifestyles," and we should all have the right to choose the one that suits us best.