|Posted on February 10, 2018 at 2:00 PM|
By Dennis Stone
I've been talking about what I call the "new millennial" understanding of our gay life since early 2013, when I created this site. Since then I've felt rather alone in that attitude, and I've been waiting for the idea to catch on, or at least to be discussed. A new piece by Dylan Jones on the Attitude Magazine website not only discusses the concept, but sees the situation almost exactly as I do. In his first paragraph Jones says: "We’ve reached an exciting turning point in LGBTQ history. For the first time in living memory, many queer kids are being treated in much the same way as other kids. They’re allowed to be themselves in school, they’ve got strong, healthy characters to look up to on television and in movies, and they’re experimenting sexually without fear or reprehension. Shame is largely a thing of the past and homophobia is, like, SO 2008."
I couldn't have said it better myself! Because of this significant evolution Jones makes the case that gay kids who fit that description are just naturally living different lives than we older gays did, and because of the nature of those lives they shouldn't be "obliged" to learn gay history. "Why should they?" he askes. "This is just their lives. They’re existing as they should always have been allowed to exist – happily and freely. They shouldn’t be made to feel guilty, or even grateful for that."
Straight kids have never grown up particularly interested in history. It's a natural aspect of growing up that there is so much to discover and experience in the current world, so many new experiences to have, that for many or most there isn't much interest in what happened for previous generations. Now that many gay kids are growing up the same as their straight peers it's only natural that they react to history in the same way. As I do, Jones takes care to point out that life is not perfect or without homophobia, especially in some schools and for trans people. But society has changed so much that huge numbers of gay kids are now growing up "unscathed," as Jones describes it, and are therefore free to react to life and their society in a way we older gays could only dream about.
Jones adds a criticism of older gay men who try to tell young gays what they SHOULD be doing, how they SHOULD be reacting to their world. "Whether they’re patronising them with history lessons or declaring that their actions have brought about 'the end of gay culture'.”
The Advocate wasn't having this defense of the new-fangled, carefree attitude, however. That didn't really surprise me, since The Advocate has become a strident purveyor of the "woe is us" outlook ever since Aaron Hicklin and Matthew Breen left the publication. What disappointed and surprised me, however, was that the Advocate rebuttal was written by Amanda Kerri, by far my favorite Advocate writer, and the one who has always been most able to maintain an open mind not beholden to the "party line."
Kerri's piece was not persuasive because she never really addressed the point that Jones was making; she never genuinely considered the impact of how the new world of the young gays Jones described is dramatially different from the world in which she grew up. She began by talking about what a history buff she is, how much history means to her, and how important it is to a proper understanding of the current world. I am also a history buff, and I agree with all of that. But she and I are unusual. The average person does not share our passion for history.
Prior generations of gays did know a good deal about gay history. But that was because marginalization into insular and secretive groups of oppressed people created a need to understand their world and what it meant to be gay in an unwelcoming society. Even more so, for young gays yet to join the community there was a natural, intense need to understand everything about a scary new identity that would make their lives so different from that of their peers, and that threatened them with danger and isolation. I remember that period myself. Homosexuality was not discussed in public; gay characters were extremely rare in movies and on TV. When I discovered books about homosexuality in my college library I devoured them.
Now consider the impact of a new world where gay people are visible everywhere, where in large parts of society they are accepted without question, where shame and fear and hiding are not part of life. To older gays that sounds like a pollyanna distortion of reality. But for the young gays Jones is talking about that is truly their world. And for someone who lives in that world, who is discovering and experiencing all the wonders of life just like anyone else, the idea of studying and focusing on the traumas and hate, the closets and invisibility, of past generations just doesn't resonate as a high priority. That doesn't mean they don't care about prior generations, or aren't thankful for the struggle that paved the way to our present. In my experience most indeed are aware of and appreciate that struggle. But at the same time they are just too busy living their lives to piously devote time and study to the past. In other words, they are just like most other young people of both today and of past generations.
I do think that Jones made one significant mistake in his Attitude piece. He refers to queer and LGBTQ people. I share his thesis when it comes to gay people, but I think that trans people are far behind gay people in general acceptance, and in living the unscathed life that Jones describes. Kerri picked up on that when she talked about the increase of anti-LGBT homicides in 2017, most of which occurred in the trans population. I think it's unfortunate that we feel we always have to approach the LGBTQ community as a homogenous whole, rather than a collection of disparate parts. If something is untrue for trans people that doesn't mean it's also untrue for gay people.
In a similar vein Kerri tries to say that Jones' thesis is invalid because so much anti-gay discrimination still exists, "especially outside of progressive bubbles like London or New York City." But in addition to discounting the vast progress all across the country, and not just in the biggest cities, that contention completely misses the point. Pockets and areas of intolerance do not diminish the reality and the status of what is now likely the majority of young gays. And those are the people Jones is talking about. TheAdvocate has fallen into the pattern of diminishing the positive and accentuating the negative. It's disconcerting to see Amanda Kerri fall into that outlook.
In her last paragraph Kerri made some grandiose assertions that simply aren't true. "We cannot continue to fight for our rights against discrimination without understanding the urgency it holds because of our past." "We can only improve ourselves by knowing not merely who we are, but who and why we were." And most egregiously: "Without knowing our past we allow ourselves to become victim to those who would like to return the world to it — where we hid in closets or darkly lit speakeasies, and died because of society's disgust." Seriously? If young gays don't know the gay past they won't be able to fight off attempts to return us to the closets, to the dark days of the 1950s? If anything, the reverse is true. The modern, liberated young gays would be the last to ever be forced into any closets, the last to accept erosion of their taken-for-granted freedoms.
The bottom line is that life for a huge number of gay kids is MUCH different from anything we older gays could have dreamed of at that age. That makes a difference in how they approach society and how they approach history. I have no resentment toward them for not prioritizing gay history, and for living their lives like their straight peers. That is not sad, that is not a betrayal, that is not ingratitude. That is a sign of our progress. That is a sign that all the work we did was successful. Their unfettered lives are all the thanks I need.