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My Crisis of Conscience - Am I Just A Contrarian?

Posted on March 15, 2014 at 8:55 PM

By Dennis Stone


If you’ve read this site with any consistency, or have seen my comments on AfterElton and The Backlot, you know that I tend to take positions that go against the “mainstream” of gay commentary. I defended Brandon Ambrosino’s controversial article on fluidity and his claim that he “chose” to be gay, I consistently defend the “post-gay” philosophy (while preferring to refer to it as “new millennial”), I did an open-minded examination of “The Book Of Matt,” I opposed the rush to judgment on Alec Baldwin, Liam Payne and others, I oppose the condemnation of gay celebrities who choose not to publicly identify as gay, I urged gay people to see “Ender’s Game,” and on and on.


So what’s up with that? Am I just going against the grain for attention? Do I get perverse pleasure in rocking the boat? Am I a mere contrarian who therefore can’t be taken seriously?


Many gay commentators, including Noah Michelson (the editor of HuffPost Gay Voices), and Ed Kennedy of The Backlot tried to marginalize Brandon Ambrosino by branding him a contrarian. He didn’t sincerely believe the things he wrote (how could any proper gay person hold those opinions, after all?), and so he could and should be ignored, and his ideas should not be considered. He was being intentionally provocative to generate interest in his writing, and to drive page views. Ignore him, they said, he’s just a contrarian.


I will admit to being a contrarian myself. I remember when I was a senior in high school, and we voted in English class on various aspects of our upcoming graduation (colors of the cap and gown, music to be played, etc.). For the first question on which we voted I was the only student to raise my hand for the option I preferred. The teacher made note of my lonely stance, saying something about me wanting to be like Henrik Ibsen, the playwright who exalted the individual as opposed to the sheep-like opinions of the masses. (We had just read an Ibsen play in class.) I was proud of being singled out like that, and I proceeded to intentionally vote with the minority on all the remaining questions.


I was seventeen at the time, but even so I knew right away that I had taken it too far. Being an individual loses its value if it’s the result of a manufactured effort as opposed to being natural. But the point is that it is in my nature to buck the majority and take the lonely path.


A few years ago my manager at work – a VP – was fired and replaced as the head of our department by a Senior VP. He consulted with another senior person who had worked with our group to get a brief assessment of each of us. When he met with me for the first time he relayed what that person had said about me: “Dennis is a contrarian, but he’s necessary.” I took that as a compliment!


And, of course, just being gay in the era in which I grew up was the ultimate contrarian act. It went contrary to my religion, to my rural conservative upbringing, to all the societal norms. My inherent contrarian nature proved to be a major help to me regarding my sexuality. Rather than desperately wanting to change, as Noah Michelson described his own youth, I almost reveled in the individuality of being gay in an anti-gay world. It marked me as unique, as an individual in what in my youthful arrogance I considered a world of backward sheep. I had the “mark of Cain,” as Max Demian called it in the Hermann Hesse novel that changed my life when I was fifteen.


Here’s the question I recently posed to myself: are my opinions about gay life in 2014 completely genuine, or are they the phony results of my propensity to be a contrarian? How can I be so consistently outside the mainstream of gay thought? Wouldn’t that mean I’m intentionally choosing alternate opinions just to be different? To once again stand out as an individual? Or, perhaps, would it simply mean that I’m consistently wrong?


I wrestled with those questions for some time. I examined several specific issues where I disagree with the apparent mainstream gay positions. In the end I’m even more comfortable with my positions.


Actually, I don’t think I’m really outside the mainstream of gay thought. I’m just outside the mainstream of gay thought AS EXPRESSED ON THE INTERNET, and by mainstream spokesmen. And often self-appointed spokesmen. I’ve become increasingly convinced that there’s a vast number of “regular” gay people out there who don’t read gay sites regularly, who don’t post comments, who aren’t seen by those of us who do read and post. They’re just living their lives like everyone else, trying to be productive, to maintain relationships, to be happy. They’re more tolerant, they’re less sensitive, they’re less focused on centering their lives around their sexuality than are the typical people who constantly read and post on gay sites. And so their opinions get short shrift in the marketplace of ideas.


For example, consider the concept of religion. Based on reading the internet it would appear that few gay people are at all religious. But I recall a poll from a couple of years ago that showed somewhere around 70% of gay people indicated that religion played a role in their lives.


“Mainstream” gay thought is driven by people whose lives are completely dominated by their gay identity. People who read gay sites, read gay books and magazines, watch gay movies, associate mostly with other gay people, etc. And that is even more true of the people who write for those sites. To a large degree they become “professional gays.” The inevitable result of engaging the world on those terms is that your viewpoints become skewed. And that’s what I see when I look at the “gay mainstream.”


I go back to what my senior VP said about me: “Dennis is a contrarian, but he’s necessary.” One of the things I was a contrarian about at work was the idea of lowering down payment requirements to 5% or lower for mortgage loans. This was before the housing collapse. My instincts and some of the research analysis I had done indicated that low down payments were a bad idea.


The mortgage and financial industries could have used contrarians in the era leading up to our recent recession. The Tea Party could use contrarians. The progressive movement needs contrarians. Evangelical Christians need contrarians. Muslims need contrarians. ANY movement based around a philosophical, religious or political outlook needs contrarians. And the gay movement needs contrarians.


When I look at all of the positions I’ve taken in recent years, and examine them with the consideration that they could be generated by my contrarian nature, I come out in most cases more convinced than ever that they are genuine, and that they have strong logic behind them. That doesn’t make them correct, of course. But it does make them worth considering.

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3 Comments

Reply Dennis Stone
12:21 AM on March 17, 2014 
To answer your question: Thin-skinned people don't become contrarians. They avoid it like the plague.

And you hit the nail on the head regarding "war TV" stories being more entertaining than success stories. But it's more than the "entertaining" angle. I think I might address that in a separate article.

Hue-Man says...
I'll start by pointing out the obvious - you've done something the "mainstream" commenters have not done by setting up your own soap-box and expressing your views. The fact that we've returned for more of your "contrarian" views says that we don't consider you a raving loonie who needs to be avoided! Your views will be considered as long as they are sincere and based on some logic; we know there are too many trolls around who fail on both points. From what I've seen, the risk of being a contrarian is mainly yours - are you too thin-skinned to endure the blowback? Rhetorical question.
My guess is that once the present battleground mentality ends, probably within 2 or 3 years, there will be a crisis in mainstream gay world. War TV is more entertaining than the gay stories not being told today, e.g. gay couples raising kids in suburbia or gay couples dealing with their Muslim family and friends or gay man running prostitutes in lower class Chicago!. Will mainstream gay open up to other voices or will it insist on strict rules of non-assimiliation? Whatever happens, contrarians will be required.
Reply Hue-Man
5:22 PM on March 16, 2014 
I'll start by pointing out the obvious - you've done something the "mainstream" commenters have not done by setting up your own soap-box and expressing your views. The fact that we've returned for more of your "contrarian" views says that we don't consider you a raving loonie who needs to be avoided! Your views will be considered as long as they are sincere and based on some logic; we know there are too many trolls around who fail on both points. From what I've seen, the risk of being a contrarian is mainly yours - are you too thin-skinned to endure the blowback? Rhetorical question.
My guess is that once the present battleground mentality ends, probably within 2 or 3 years, there will be a crisis in mainstream gay world. War TV is more entertaining than the gay stories not being told today, e.g. gay couples raising kids in suburbia or gay couples dealing with their Muslim family and friends or gay man running prostitutes in lower class Chicago!. Will mainstream gay open up to other voices or will it insist on strict rules of non-assimiliation? Whatever happens, contrarians will be required.
Reply neyronrose
10:10 PM on March 15, 2014 
You are a contrarian, but I've never thought you were at all phony about it. You certainly don't agree with the mainstream on a number of points, particularly in attitude and approach. I'm much quieter about disagreeing with a lot of people, though some of my views do seem closer to the "mainstream" GLBT community than yours do. I do consider your points. I also think there's more diversity of opinion than one usually sees in the Internet "mainstream."