This is gay pride week in Toronto and other places around the world are gearing up for their own gay pride events. It bothers me greatly that this is the only week that the larger gay community bothers to look at its own history and think about what it means to be gay. I understand that the act of standing together gives people courage - a courage that for many, many people is not available to them the rest of the year. However, what if we are denying ourselves this courage in communities that are ready to accept us?
There are gays in all walks of life, including the military, the police and fire services and in EMS. I have, on occasion, worked with fellow mo's in the service for a day or two and it always strikes me that, often, neither of us is prepared to speak about our homosexuality or even just share personal, telling, details: talk about boyfriends or family etc. There were a couple of times when we would have rather said nothing than speak about our family situations, less it give away our, um, non-traditional relationships. I perceived this as our fear keeping us in our own personal work closets, even when we were in an environment that could be nothing else but accepting.
Several years ago I heard Sky Gilbert speak at the inauguration of the gay studies department at University of Toronto. I was convinced that he was still living in 1980, with the Toronto bathhouse raids still fresh in his mind and his misplaced militancy quaint and outmoded. We had largely gained acceptance, right? I had not had any problems coming out and had never been harassed or even called faggot once, and I thought Sky was beating an old drum and embarrassing himself. At that time, sexual orientation was being added to the Human Rights Code in Ontario and I thought, well, that is that: we should be fine now.
I was wrong.
I came out in the latter part of high school, the last year in fact, when my school friendships were at their strongest and when I was in an arts community that embraced gays and lesbians without questions. I went to school at Ryerson Theatre School - a veritable cocoon in terms of gays and lesbians - where, of course, harassment would be a non-starter. I was safe. It was, however, a false sense of security.
The real world continued to see the rise of anti-gay hatred while I was in my happy place in theatre and only when I came out of it into the real world, and began to re-connect with the community at large, did I see what queer complacence and commercialism had wrought over the preceding 10 years.
The first break-in to the queer community was crafted by, of course, liquor companies. "The Bailey's Girl" was a contest to find the next spokes-model for Bailey's - and she would be drag queen. Advertising companies had clued into the fact that gays had a lot of disposable income, most not having children and the like, and they were a market ready to be tapped. This commercialization of the queer community went hand in had with more high-profile queer achievements like the aforementioned Human Rights code stuff and was preceded by benefits being extended to same-sex partners by municipalities and larger companies. These were great achievements and were properly lauded by queers and and the organizations that had been fighting and lobbying for our equal treatment under the law. This, as I see it, was the beginning of the end of homosexuality as a sub-culture and it was thrust into the mainstream as a marketable object: at its best an object for promotion and at its worst as a freak show to be gawked at by society. It was not, however, an end to discrimination.
The late 90's saw some high profile queer achievements, there were more than a few out politicians and high profile gays in the media, not to mention Will and Grace. It was also the time of terrible high-profile gay bashings and murders - Matthew Sheppard being the most memorable and, one can argue, a great educational opportunity. We had been spreading the rumour that it was OK to be gay in mainstream society. They wanted our money and they promoted our forms of love to get it, and we mistook this for total acceptance. Matthew Shepard and others did and they ended up dead; killed by scared idiots. Did you notice that those urinal dividers all cropped up only at the end of the 90's? Now that society had accepted that there were gays out there - and I mean gay men, because lesbians, one can argue, were seen less as a threat to men and more as sexual objects - you had to look over your shoulder, even while you pee, because you never know who was staring at your cock in the bathroom. Queers are still seen as sexual deviants by many and are pegged as child-molesters and freaks. That does not sound like acceptance to me.
In Canada, at least, we protected against discrimination by sexual orientation before the larger threat of fundamentalist Christianity could get its grips on the government. The Liberals were ahead of the curve, or at the very least right along side, and we had won. In the US things were, and still are, different. It was OK to sell shit to the gays, after all money was money, but we can not allow them things like marriage or to teach children or be scout leaders - no that would not do at all. After all, we have protect our children from the recruitment that is rife in modern media. What the hell is a metrosexual, anyway, if not a a recruiting poster for cocksucking?
Is this a straw man? I don't think so. Outside of the anonymous city, it is not easy to be gay and people are still moving to the city to escape the hateful attitudes of many rural and uniform communities. It is easy enough for old queers to move back to the country. Old queers in relationships are harmless, right? And anyways, we know exactly where they are if anything goes wrong in town with some children. This may sound harsh but in Canada we all live the lie that racism and sexism and homophobia has been conquered now that we have Human rights commissions and the protection of the courts. As a fairly straight-acting queer I am privy to the actions of, mostly male, homophobia at the workplace and in the locations north of Toronto. While going to school in Iowa I was pleasantly surprised that many of my classmates were un-phased by my coming out, albeit late in the program, but that did not stop those more conservative students in throwing out "fag" as a hateful epithet, or using that casual "that is sooo gay" as a statement of lameness or derision.
Homophobia still exists. We cannot forget that.
So, as you can tell, I am a bit frustrated and angry today. Angry that my cowardice keeps me in the closet and from speaking out against the small but hateful and fearful push that homophobia has on us all every day. I am angry that we were accepted as a market to be bought and sold before we have been accepted as just a normal variant of human experience and desires. I am even more angry that many queers today do not see the shoulders they stand upon or willfully forget, because of the pain that is evoked with that remembering, of those killed and derided by a society that still sees us criminal, amoral freaks. We are now doing this to ourselves - that is what makes me the most angry.
I do not know what else to do, other than be the person I am instead of hiding behind what I have called the convenient "duck blind" of my straight-acting personality. I am missing Gay Pride this week because I am working and the crowd drives me a bit crazy - perhaps I will go next year. In the mean time I will try to be a little less cowardly and to remember those who have fought to keep is free - all year. I will try to make time to write letters and participate in activism in order to keep society free from this discrimination.
I will try to be proud.