Sunday, June 24, 2012

Being Gay Today: It's More Fashionable Than Ever, But Is It Ready to Wear?

The things you hear when you're not really listening, or talking about something else entirely. This morning as I was half paying attention to the TV in the background while cleaning, I heard someone make an interesting assertion: He, or she (I can't remember who was speaking, or on what show, or if I totally imagined it all), said that being gay today is more fashionable than ever.

True or false?

I thought about Edina's reaction to finding out that her son is gay on an Absolutely Fabulous special from 10 years ago, of the ladies' search for GBFFs (gay best friends forever) on a 2011 episode of Hot in Cleveland, of Days of Our Lives' Chandler Massey, whose Daytime Emmy Award win last night made him the second performer to get one for playing a gay character, of sex and the city (the show and the actual thing, in the years since the show).

Is being gay today indeed more fashionable? I hadn't yet made up my mind a few hours later when someone happened to land on the subject while we were having a conversation about something completely unrelated.

"To be gay is now almost fashionable in Western culture," he said.

True or false?

This time, I agreed without hesitation. The man had a point. But as fashions go, being gay remains a somewhat underground one. It plays so much better in the big city than out in the country, in the art house more successfully than in the multiplex, on cable TV more comfortably than on network television, and, unfortunately, in the closet -- on a plastic hanger, of course -- more safely than outside of it. It's fashionable, yes, but with so many strings attached that it still can be quite an unsightly burden to wear.

There's no doubt that gays today have it better than we did five, 10 or 20 years ago. But that doesn't mean things are any more perfect for gay people than the first black President means that racism is now U.S. history. Homophobia is simply a more recessive trait than it used to be, which in some ways makes it more insidious. At least if you call me a "faggot" to my face, I know what I'm up against.

This is one of the reasons why I believe gay marriage is such an important issue. There's an emerging school of gay thought that frowns upon this particular fight because it encourages young gay men and women to overvalue the wrong things, to mimic a "straight" institution created by straight people. Gay pride's overemphasis on this political hot topic, some argue, will lead young, impressionable gays and lesbians to think that marriage should be the endgame of one's existence, and gay people should have loftier goals than heterosexual-style domesticity.

While I shudder at the thought of a generation of potential gay bridezillas, young urban gay professionals who are secretly biding their time until someone puts a ring on it, that's not a strong enough argument in favor of suspending the ardent pursuit of legal marriage for gays and lesbians. With or without it, there always will be some people, gay and straight, whose primary goal in life is to find a mate and live happily ever after, just as the women's liberation movement hasn't cooled the burning desire of a too-large number of women to be married with children. If we're not going to outlaw marriage among straights to discourage that kind of mindset (which I'm not saying I would oppose), why support denying it to gays -- or acting as if it's okay to do so -- to the same end?

I've never been a fan of marriage, so my support of gay marriage has nothing to do with any personal desire to fall into holy matrimony. It's more about making what has become fashionable, more acceptable, too. In the United States, it's the last thing standing in the way of gays and straights being equal in the eyes of the law. What else are gay activists supposed to focus on?

Regardless of how fashionable the state of being gay has become, and no matter what you see on Hot in Cleveland, there are still plenty of pockets in the United States, particularly in the middle of the country and south of there, where gay people continue to be actively ostracized and discriminated against. Were this not so, there wouldn't be so many of them cowering in the closet. For many who oppose it, gay marriage has become a platform to promote intolerance (for some compelling evidence, click here), which is why it's so important to fight tirelessly on the other side.

My point here is not to argue in favor of gay marriage -- which I've done numerous times before, and frankly, I'm kind of over it -- but to argue in favor of continuing to fight for it. Regardless of where you stand on the subject of marriage, denying it to gay people suggests that they are not equal to straight people, or that gay people pose some kind of threat to an antiquated institution that straight people have already spent centuries stomping on.

I have a bigger problem with the sort of homophobic thinking behind the argument against gay marriage than I do with the idea that my next boyfriend and I might not be able to get married and live happily ever after in the state of Florida. You can't say that you're okay with people being gay, that you're accepting of your gay brother or sister or son or daughter while insisting that marriage is a sacred union reserved for men and women only.

That's like saying black is beautiful -- now get to the back of the closet!
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