Michael Crawford's recent post on the significance of Gus Van Sant's film, Milk, as an important tool in the retelling and solidification of queer history in the collective consciousness of our nation, reminded me of a conversation I had over the holidays with my cousin. He asked me how the development of technologies like the internet, television, and social networking websites have effected the development of the queer community.
I told him that the development of these forums for easy and individualized access to information, knowledge sharing, and networking amongst gay people, have surely re-written the laws by which queer people have been able to operate in our society. Of course, there is still a very real need for gay urban enclaves as a means for queer people to find each other from the disparate corners of our society which we call home. But the advancement of technologies that allows a gay teen to chat with, and therefore learn about queerness from someone on another coast surely helps reduce feelings of isolation and freakishness.
But this all got me thinking on how we learn to be queer, gay, lesbian, trans, etc. Who teaches us to be queer? I naturally thought about how I learned to be, and who taught me to be Chinese. It was my parents, my Chinese childhood friends, my seemingly endless network of extended family. But who taught me to be gay? Queer as Folk? Sean Cody? The Fab 5 (a la "Queer Eye")? As if self-identifying queer was hard enough. Now, I was burdened to figure out what being queer meant in the first place!
This has led me to the conclusion that, categorically, the queer community is burdened with insufficient cultural education. And that until we can figure out how to better address this problem, we will always be playing catch up with other identity communities, having expended years of our youth, just figuring out who the frak we are.
Because of the highly lateral dispersion of queer people in our society, (being that there are few indicators showing that queer people are more likely to come from one part of our society than the other), from our entrance into the world, the queer nation is constantly a nation in diaspora. With each successive generation, the new queer generation is mustered together by a collective sense of "otheredness," and introduced to a radically new culture to which we may choose to cleave to.
However this process is highly individualized and extremely informal, with very few opportunities for mentorship or leadership. What often occurs is learning through mimicry and trial and error. Queer youth learn to copy examples of queerness that they see in television, in film, the older queers they might see on misadventures into queer life. But most importantly, queer youth learn about being queer mostly from each other.
This isolationist model of developing a cultural identity contributes to a limited communal memory. This is evidenced by the continued rising rates of HIV/AIDS infection, the alarming rise in the prominence of unsafe sexual practices like barebacking, and a general lack of knowledge of the history of the Gay Liberation, LGBT Rights, and Queer Movements of young gay men.
Understanding the history of our community is essential in being able to build upon our past successes and learn from former mistakes. Even more so, I feel that since each successive gay generation takes at least its early cues on developing their personal queer identity from demonstrations of queerness they consume through mass media outlets, our community is plagued with a highly capitalistic, materialistic, and consumerist fixation which plays into an extended adolescence with no seeming end. If we are spending a good portion of our early years as queer people obsessing over celebrity gossip, chasing material possessions, and playing a media-generated caricature of ourselves, what kind of lost energy and resources have been funneled away from advancing our rights and standing in society?
So we are still left with the question: Who should be charged with the labor required to reproduce our culture. Obviously, we cannot emulate conventional models of cultural reproductive labor as found in ethnic communities, because the vast majority of queer children are not raised by queer parents; nor should they be. Does it fall upon more mass media products like Milk to create mass-consumed queer history lessons? Or perhaps we should push for greater, more diverse, and fairer representation in popular culture like out celebrities, openly gay characters in television, etc. Maybe educating all parents on how to raise their children in a queer-positive manner could ameliorate the situation.
In the end, it is doubtful any one person has a pan-ultimate solution to this systemic externalization of the cost of queer cultural labor onto children. Most likely, it will require a multi-pronged approach. So, I don't have any distinct solution to this problem... but I sure know that we need to solve it.