Jake Weinraub

What Sucks About Most Privileged Gay Men

Filed By Jake Weinraub | June 11, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: oppression, Paul Aguirre-Livingston, post-gay, privilege, toronto, white privilege, white supremacy, Will & Grace

24-year-old writer and blogger Paul Aguirre-Livingston posted an article on the Toronto-based blog The Grid on Thursday800px-Gay_kiss.jpg called "Dawn of a new gay," about his identity as a post-modern homosexual, or, "post-mo." Aguirre-Livingston described his piece to The Grid:

[It's about] the new generation of gays who feel they shouldn't be so radically defined by their sexual orientation, choosing to live their lives outside of the village, how they want, and who do not feel forced to define anything or be hyper-political and 'I'm here, I'm queer'-ish. We're just guys who want more than just to be 'the gay guy' because that doesn't inform our place in society or what we do--just who we sleep with. You may be on one end of the spectrum or the other, but you can't deny [that] we definitely don't share the same ideals or battles as the previous generation.

The article had many queers (myself included), seething - critiquing his analysis for containing absolutely no class or race analysis, disrespect of queer history, and creating universal narratives for gay men that are really only relevant for some gay men of privilege.

Tell a trans person or a queer person of color or any other marginalized queer identity to go ahead and access the freedoms queers in the past have struggled for (as if the struggle is over) and "not to live plagued with the pressures to be here and be queer" and you will get your head ripped off. How about the plague of your very existence walking down the street putting you at risk for violence and abuse?

In my gay career I've come across so many guys who think like this.

Elie, one of the nine "post-mos" featured in the article, posted at The Gaily yesterday "Why I am ashamed to be on the cover of the grid": claiming that he had the wrong idea about the nature of Aguirre-Livingston's post before agreeing to participate:

What was set up to be a progressive look at life as a gay individual - with the 'I'm here, I'm queer' fight not being as prevalent as it used to be - ended up being a severely nearsighted diary entry by a writer arrogantly looking down on the blood, sweat, and tears of the millions of LGBT individuals who fought tooth and nail to afford him the freedoms he has today.

Many have dismissed his post as damage control, but I think Elie brings up a good point that we are at an interesting time as the modern gay identity takes shape in urban spaces.

Aguirre-Livingston's post makes me think a lot about my own identity and experiences. I am 22, Will and Grace was also a part of my sexual development (ugh I know but it's true), and I also access light skin, male, cisgender, and middle-class privilege. I am preparing for a move to Los Angeles next Sunday and have been thinking a lot about the type of people I am going to meet there. Sometimes in fleeting moments of self-doubt a cold anxiety grips my chest and I fear I might become corrupted by dominant urban gay culture that elevates masculinity and "the finer things." I already really like soy lattes. Maybe a friend will ask me to go with them to their gay marriage dinner event and I'll go because 'whatever, he's my friend' and then my picture will show up on the HRC web site or something and all of the sudden I'm a power gay (the horror!). My identity precipitates such a path, but I'll be keeping myself in check.

As straight people are embracing certain kinds of queerness in their lives things do become easier - but for who? Without an education in white supremacy and oppression I fear that many gay and lesbian youth will never realize the brilliance of their queerness and the profound possibility it has given them because it won't be seen as anything fantastic. I think this is where my work lies: striving to be an ally to trans people and QPOC while simultaneously striving to be an ally to other whites. I need to do work in my own community to make sure white queers aren't perpetuating the poison of unexamined privilege and putting crap like Aguirre-Livingston's out there.

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Thank you. Well written. As a white 58 year old gay man, I find myself in dialogue with many young men that don't know, or want to know what has taken place before them, to enable the lives they have now. The world isn't about post-I am queer and here...it is about understanding and supporting the lives and deaths of those who came before us. It is our history, and for those gone on their legacy.

At the core of Aguirre-Livingston's article is what seems to be a disconnection (intentional or unintentional, who knows) from both historical and cultural contexts. Not only has he forgotten to acknowledge the degree to which he has benefited from actions of past generations, he also presumes to speak for an entire generation without any consideration for race or gender. As a 23yr old gay black male, I found myself wondering for whom he was speaking. However, this emerging voice (because I know he isn't the only person who considers himself "post-mo") acts as a tell-tale sign of growth within the LGBTQ communities. I'm reminded of later generations of young blacks who distance themselves from civil rights and the plight of people of color (as if the struggle is over); I'm reminded of newer generations of feminism clashing with older waves of the movement; and ultimately, I am reminded of the privileged children who are so quick to socially disown their parents who struggled to ensure they would live such a (relatively) more comfortable life. In the end, while Aguirre-Livingston may have achieved a life of comfort and freedom to "be", he would do well to understand that not everyone shares his condition. Feeling a sense of belonging so strong that you don't need to shout to hear your own voice (especially as a gay White Male) in Toronto might be easy; but I fear that such is not the case elsewhere for other kinds of people.

You mean the younger generation is resting on the laurels of their forebear's accomplishments? Why imagine that. What an anthropological first.

Young privileged gays will have their own struggles and hopefully will rise to the occasion. And seasoned warhorses like me will hopefully be here to counsel and assist and dive in when I'm feeling like it.

They have it better than I did, no doubt. That's what I had hoped for when I was fighting those battles, for God's sake, so why would I have a problem with it now? Gay rights are falling into place nicely and friends are not dying of AIDS every weekend. Thank God for that!

I have absolutely no problem with your quote from Aguirre-Livingston. He may not win Activist of the Month, but he's enjoying a life made possible in part by men like me. And I couldn't be more proud. Why the hell would I want to crucify him for enjoying it?

I'm guessing it's not the enjoying life aspect so much as the failure to show gratitude to those that fought the good fight and the lack of acknowledgment to the struggles and sacrifices of those who went before?

A kid can still enjoy a new toy and send a thank you note to the grandparents that gave it to them.
-Jeremy

True, of course, Jeremy. I appreciate the gratitude angle. But who's to say he's not grateful. He's just living his life and making an honest observation.

I'm grateful for living in a time where we're debating if young gay men are grateful enough for how much better things are.

Not everyone is a born activist. Some will excel at "regular" pursuits, like this guy. And I am completely okay with that.

The proper thank you is to pass it forward. You see this from some in the transsexual community where once they transition and are no longer transsexual, they turn their backs on those who need their help. A young gay out person not living his life defined by his sexuality needs to pass it forward, helping gay people of color who want to not be defined by their sexuality, but their community forces that definition on them.

I applaude those young gay white men that deny society trying to define them by their sexuality, but these young gay white men need to help others to not be defined by their sexuality.

Their actions are both unAmerican (standing aside while personal freedoms are denied) and against the life Jesus led (failing to help those in need)). And now for the snide comment - Denying personal freedom and throwing the poor to the wolves, both tennants of the modern Republican Party and the Tea Parties.

I'm curious how these 'post-mo' young white men can pass it forward- what can they do specifically to assist?

There are many ways of pay it forward. They can support their college Gay Straight Alliance or other type organization they are an alumni of, even though they may have never been a member. They can participate in, or start up a "Safe Zone" program in their workplace or just identify their cubilce or office as a "Safe Zone". They can be active participants in their Employee Resource Group at work, or start one up if their company does not have one. If their company supports the Boy Scouts of America with on-site volunteer activities, the gay employees can take an active part in the on-site activities.

They can support local community youth LGBT groups with money or their presence, particulaly People of Color youth.

They can put up pictures of their partner in their office or cubicle. That is where the real test is. If it is so equal for them, then they should be as open about their relationships as their straight coworkers.

Yeah, that's where I'm at with it too. It's like, okay my life rules... so that's it, it's all good. And all gays should chill because everything's cool now. It's the unexamined race/class privilege.... and it becomes elevated

Very well said both of you, and thank you for expressing so precisely my sentiments. Coincidentally, several weeks ago I posted a Tweet about almost this exact issue and the couple reactions I got were that these young privileged gay men are well aware of and grateful for the struggles that have led up to the here and now. But then again those mere two responses were hardly enough for me to surmise whether most youth and/or young men in this position feel similarly devoted to the cause -- or are just becoming lackadaisical.

--Randall

Jake, on your way to Los Angeles, consider taking a slight detour through Martinsville, Indiana -- might give you additional perspective on what a "post-mo" world we live in.

And it's really too bad you couldn't have Mr. Aguirre-Livingston along with you for the big city tour.

A lack of awareness of how race, sex, class etc. play into the ability of one to opt out of a social and political scene/movement is hardly surprising. Post Modernism is hardly known for it's attention to intersentionality.

One thing I find interesting is how often the article and the quotes seem to distance the speaker from "gay stereotypes". One of the more persistent and damaging stereotypes of gay men is thank they are self-obsessed, shallow, greedy, and thankless. Seems some stereotypes are harder to break than others.

It's not a question of a thank you card to grandpa or of turning his back on the queers in Martinsville, though those are related to the main problem here. It's that he is foolishly assuming that he lives in a world that accepts him and that he does not need to struggle along that axis. At 23, I was quite clueless about the world, my place in it, and what it might be like as I got older. My 22 year old nephew is now in that same place, though he's a bright enough young man. I, too, assumed that there was equal opportunity for everyone at that age, because that is what I saw all around me in my little bubble. When Aguirre-Livingston needs to travel outside his little bubble, he is in for quite a shock. Perhaps he thinks he won't need to. I don't blame him -- his weltungschauung is quite limited at 23. Let's check in with him at 33, 43 and 53, and see what he thinks then.

Great piece that makes you check white male privilege and want to avoid being so closed-minded with such a narrow perspective.

Also, "I already really like soy lattes" had me laughing out loud.

He really DOES sound like a "I got mine, good luck getting yours" type...except that it's really "Someone ELSE brought me mine, good luck getting yours."

Brian Gaither | June 13, 2011 10:36 AM

Thanks for linking to this article. It does raise the question, "Is this what we're fighting for?" I would hope the answer is "No." And if that is the answer, it makes me wonder what our activism should focus on. Should we be focused on building institutions which serve the unique needs of our community in addition to the political organizations we have built to fight for our legal equality? And should we not be teaching a younger generation of activists to safeguard that equality even as they so readily enjoy it? As hard as equality is to win, it can be just as easily lost.

"When Aguirre-Livingston needs to travel outside his little bubble, he is in for quite a shock."

That is why I suggested they visit Martinsville.

Turning back on the queers there? On the one hand, not so much what I meant; on the other, we are all guilty of that.

It is also frightening to think about what might happen if is forced to enter the real world. Those of us with our eyes open know that the system is not on our side. I truly hope he never gets bashed (traumatic enough on its own) only to realize that there is no justice for queers. Even if you are white and privileged.

Think that you got yours when you don't is dangerous. And he doesn't even need to travel outside his bubble. Even in Toronto all sorts of systematic injustice is visited upon the bodies of queers (even the white ones).