|Posted on January 23, 2017 at 9:15 PM|
By Dennis Stone
I first recognized the “new millennial gay experience” as a significant development in gay life about six or seven years ago. To understand fully what that is you can go to our “About Us” page. But in brief it means a gay life where our sexual identity is just one part of our identity; it doesn’t define us, as it did for most gay people up to this point. Further, societal and cultural developments make it possible for many if not most of us to live lives where our sexuality doesn’t limit or impede our journey to the life we want. No longer will a sense of victimhood be hanging over us, constantly clouding our sense of ourselves and our future.
Back when I began espousing these ideas I received a lot of push back. Gay people were used to living cloistered lives, with social groups of only or predominantly fellow gays. They saw enemies all around, and felt a sharp divide between themselves and the straight world. It was my theory that swiftly increasing social acceptance would lead to young gays just naturally growing up without the constraints and worldviews of prior generations. That outlook was perfectly exemplified by high schooler Paul Johnson, who wrote several terrific articles for this site in its early days.
I predicted then that within ten years or so (fifteen at most) the new millennial gay experience would transform gay life, and would dominate the worldviews of a majority of gay people. Well, younger gay people at least. I thought many of the older generation would be resistant, at least for awhile, in keeping with how cultural evolution normally goes.
I have recently realized that my dream of the ascendance of NMGE (I turned the phenomenon into an acronym!) will be delayed. The brave new world, which should have been dominating the gay world within three to eight years from now, will have to wait a bit longer. There are two reasons for that:
First, the dual blows of the Orlando massacre and the Trump election have wreaked havoc with the normal course of social evolution. One attack by a radicalized Muslim with pledged allegiance to ISIS has made our entire community feel at risk, under attack from the world around us. Gay organizations didn’t help matters by following up with appeals for donations on the basis of us now being “surrounded by hate.” Gay media also picked up the “surrounded by hate” meme. I think this is a tragedy. This one event should not have the power it has been granted to change our entire social dynamic.
The Trump election simply buttressed the feelings of vulnerability and of being under attack. Large numbers of gay people are afraid if not terrified of the future with Trump and the Republicans in charge. There is real danger here, of course, but my best guess is that our fears are overblown, and the actual impact on our lives will be much less than people expect. But expectations are powerful things, and they will govern how people see the world and their place in it.
The result of these two events is a community that feels it has lost the freedom and safety that underlie the new millennial gay experience. If your sexuality marks you as vulnerable you can’t move to a worldview where that part of your identity becomes just one among many attributes.
The second reason why my forecasted new world will be delayed is that the so-called “millennial” generation has succumbed to what I consider an unfortunate trend: a preoccupation with identity, and the stratification of humanity into sharply demarcated groups based on “single issue” identity.
Identity is perhaps the most important aspect of a person’s psychological makeup. But my dream (and my expectation) was that we were moving toward a world where a person’s identity would be a combination of many components - not only race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion, but also vocation, political views, family, hobbies, etc. That’s the sort of identity I’ve always had. My gayness was just one part of it, and didn’t define or dominate it.
Today, however, the “big ticket” aspects of identity have been brought dramatically to the forefront. Gay people, black people, Muslims, non-binary gender people, women - these identities dominate many lives, and all the issues surrounding those identities dominate the political and social conversation. Further, victimhood has become an increasing part of that conversation.
Many people reading this will say that in an imperfect world, with genuine equality more a dream than a reality, that’s how it should be. But it is my opinion that we have overlooked and negated the common humanity of all people, instead emphasizing differences and creating animosities. We can fight for equality without drawing sharp boundaries between groups. We can have pride in our identities without being alienated from others. We can see faults and inequities without equating victimhood and sainthood.
I believe we will survive Trump with less damage to our community than many expect. (I’m actually more worried about the environment, especially global warming.) I also believe that as a society we will evolve past today’s excessive identity fixation and victimhood. Overreactions always swing back the other way. By then full gay equality will be closer than ever, and the new millennial gay experience will be back on track.