Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What it means to be seriously gay

This is a modified version of a comment that I left on this thread on an LDS blog.

There is a trend for kids to come out much earlier than in the past. This is increasingly happening between the ages of 13 to 17. See here for a New York Times article about a family whose teenage son came out to them at age 13. I think the parents in the article show a sane, compassionate and shrewd response. Most telling, the boy’s grades improved after he came out, and he became happier and much better adjusted socially. Read the article.

I think early disclosure of sexual orientation is a positive trend because it gives parents the opportunity to be a stabilizing influence as the child goes through adolescence. (Adolescence is a turbulent time and for a gay teen even more so.) It does not result in a higher rate of homosexuality than in the bad old days of the endless closet.

If your 14 year old son makes a tearful confession, you’d be wise not to just pass it off as a phase. The best parental strategy is to listen reassuringly and to occasionally remind the child that, even though they may be gay, they still have to do their math homework. :-)

A conservative LDS reader left the following comment:

For me, I don’t know how homosexual stigma would fall. ...

I tend to think that the successes many people have spoken of are reflections of them being good people and associating with good people who have seen such success. I have seen that success as well.

I have also seen failure in homosexual circles where the stigma is not an influence as much as hedonism and the lack of moral or relational commitment- things I would reflect small-scale community behavior than general community behavior.

I don’t think anyone can really tell how it would go for society as a whole. We just don’t know.

This is an interesting point. To state it another way, what can be done to make gay life more wholesome and goal oriented? How do we curb the excesses?

I know of no gay person who didn’t suffer to some extent from the social stigma of being gay. I think the social stigma contributes to the excesses the commenter mentions. It’s not as if the stigma just melts away once you find a circle of like-minded friends. If anything, the gay ghetto exists because of wider social disapproval. I’m no fan of ghettos, gay or otherwise. They are not a crucible of social integration. Instead, they tend to develop their own mores, for good and ill.

I think the way to encourage a serious-minded ethic in the gay population is to normalize homosexuality in society. If gay people know that they are fully and openly integrated into society they will also know that they have the same responsibilities as everyone else. This is why gay marriage is actually a conservative social policy. It reins in and civilizes gay sexuality just as it has straight male sexuality for millenia.

A good example of this approach is The Netherlands. Being gay is completely accepted, but you are cut no slack because of it, and nobody really wants to hear you talk about it. Dutch society, despite its reputation as permissive, is anything but. Community standards for educational achievement and civic participation are strict. “Slacking” is not acceptable in Dutch society. The Dutch have a self image as being tough, disciplined and resilient, and no whining is allowed. The result is that gay people blend into society in Holland and their social outcomes are good. In other words, in Holland you can be gay, but you still have to do your math homework.


[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

...what can be done to make gay life more wholesome and goal oriented? How do we curb the excesses?

Define wholesome. What excesses are you referring to and why do they need curbing?

I'm supremely sceptical of any type of assimilationism. I think we need to become more permissive and a whole lot less "wholesome" as a society, not more. I think sex and drugs need to be open topics and ideas to be discussed. I think some drugs are perfectly acceptable to be used and should be decriminalised. I think our notion of monogamy and life-long commitment to one partner are unrealistic.

So I would say to that commenter that I celebrate hedonism and find nothing wrong with it. I think that those who don't wish to take part in certain activities need to learn to accept and respect those who do.

Max Power said...

I would define meth use as an excess that needs curbing - things like that destroy people. So does AIDS. Sex should be an open topic, but screwing anything with a pulse is as unhealthy an addiction as meth.

You have to have some boundaries in your life, or you will be completely and utterly self-destructive and you will end up hurting other people in the process.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Craig,

Thanks for your comment.

I have to say that I love the gay ghetto and am nostalgic for it. I love it for its extravagance and pluck. I love its humor and the in-your-face sense of dignity. I love the gaudy charm. I love its frank rejection of Puritan hypocrisy. And more.

But, like it or not, the gay ghetto is dying a natural death. This is due to three factors: 1) The Internet (can you say Manhunt) is killing gay bars, 2) high urban real estate prices are decentralizing traditional gay neighborhoods and causing a gay diaspora and 3) mainstream acceptance of gay people makes a ghetto less necessary.

To me, "wholesome" just means suitable for a wide age group. It's the incorporation of children and the elderly into the fabric of life. This has been sorely lacking in gay culture, and we are worse for it.

As the gay ghetto declines, there are a number of things that won't be missed. I'm not going to write a manifesto, but it's safe to put narcissism and substance abuse on the list. They need curbing because they harm us. Narcissism harms our ability to love and be loved and to form durable attachments to others. Substance abuse (and I'm not talking about the moderate use of pot, alcohol or tobacco) maims and kills us.

I'm not an assimilationist, but I'm all for letting ghettos fade away when the social stigma that formed them vanishes. I guess you could say I'm for integration, which is different from assimilation in that it involves changing the dominant culture to make room for the minority culture.

So, yes, I want to live in a world where gay people are fully merged into everyday life. This is a world where families with two dads or two moms are no longer neighborhood pioneers. It's a world where gay people and straight people mix. It's a world where elderly gay men interact naturally with children and teenagers, both gay and straight.

I'm all for the freedoms you mention-- I want to decriminalize many controlled substances; I'm all for fetishes and other forms of alternative sexuality; I think 18 as the age of consent is absurd. Etc. But these are minor points more connected to American prudishness and the rejection of pleasure than gay life. The main point is that gay culture needs to grow up and take its place in the cultural mainstream. In short, it's time to start doing our math homework.

I've been an out-and-proud, rainbow flag waving gay man for more than 20 years. I witnessed (and survived) the AIDS holocaust. I've had lovers and raised children. I've earned the right to criticize gay culture. As much as I love it I will not pretend that we don't need to consider an overhaul.

Sean said...

"I have also seen failure in homosexual circles where the stigma is not an influence as much as hedonism and the lack of moral or relational commitment..."

I'm sorry, but that bugs. And so does this:

"...what can be done to make gay life more wholesome and goal oriented..."

Stigma is *always* a stressor. I don't care how "well-adjusted" you are. And wholesome is such a loaded term.

But what really bugs is these kinds of statements rely on stereotypes of what it is to be and as well as what it is to be straight.

I do not believe for one minute that homosexuals are more promiscuous than heterosexuals. If anything they just make fewer excuses for their sexuality. Have you read about the massive failure of chastity pledges? Kids everywhere are having sex and apparently lots of it. Oh, and it's not the gay kids making these pledges. (I'd be willing to bet good money more Mormon teens are gettin' busy than any one wants to admit as well.)

Nor is it just kids. Just ask my 40-something Catholic lady friend about the expectations for sex during courtship on E-Harmony, supposedly the land of
everlasting romance. Can't blame the homos for that because they aren't allowed to participate.

"This is why gay marriage is actually a conservative social policy. It reins in and civilizes gay sexuality just as it has straight male sexuality for millenia."

Marriage curbs male sexuality? Come on. I'll bet Uriah would have a few thoughts on the subject. That's certainly the theory, but if all these champions of "traditional family values" can't keep their pants zipped, one questions how effective marriage actually is in practice. Yes, some men (and women) are monogamous and some are not. I don't think it has anything to do with whether they identify as gay, straight, bi, or trysexual.

Yes, being a gay teen (or adult) puts one at greater risk for drug abuse and other excesses, especially if familial and social ties are strained or severed. Social acceptance will reduce that risk, but only to a point. That's because it's not a "gay" thing. It's a human thing. Millions of people--gay, straight and everywhere in between--turn to drugs and sex to assuage emotional pain they cannot otherwise tolerate or come to terms with.

Narcissism, btw, is just another defense mechanism and is usually a shield to hide vicious self-doubt/loathing.

I'm not necessarily convinced marginalizing the aged are a gay thing either. American society as a whole devalues the aged.

I'll shut up now.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hey Sean,

Thanks for speaking up. It's good to talk about this stuff.

I'm going to agree with you that "wholesome" is probably way too laden with unfortunate extra meaning. Maybe we could substitute productive or non-self-destructive instead.

Achieving civil rights would go a long way toward better social integration of gays and straights. I agree with you that social stigma is at the root of the problem.

I understand that this is a touchy subject. Imagine trying to have a conversation about racism and black culture. It's a mine field, but still it's worth discussing. People adapt in the face of prejudice, and those adaptations are sometimes less desirable than what would have happened in the absence of prejudice and injustice.

What I want is a positive environment for young gay people. I want to see young gay people fully engaged in building careers and stable families. I think this is a very possible future.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii -- I'm 100% with you on this.

I do think there's a kind of "oppression sickness" gay folks have gone through. When I was younger, I did "go through a phase" of basically trying everything that had once been forbidden. In the process I hurt myself. But I also learned some very important lessons. So I won't say it was all bad, though I wouldn't advise it and I wouldn't go back to that behavior.

With the benefit of hindsight I believe I went through all of that because one of the "forbidden" things was my homosexuality itself, something that is so core to my physical/spiritual self... My capacity to love and connect with a significant other!! To feel totally rejected in that aspect of yourself makes you slightly crazy. I think I had to figure out for myself what is really true and what is false about EVERYTHING that had been forbidden me. If our society did not have such messed up views about sex and homosex, the adjustment, I think, would have been oh so easier. I could be wrong about that, but it's my gut instinct.

By the way, ;-)... Total rejection of my faith is one of the things that went into the category of things I tried in an attempt to make sense of my life, that later, upon maturer reflection, turned out not to ultimately be helping me. The greatest discovery of my post-40 life has been the realization that I am both a physical and spiritual being, with physical and spiritual needs...

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi J G-W,

I notice that reactionary behavior is less prevalent among gay youth today. I think this is progress. If you talk to young gay people today many will talk about their hope of marriage and children of their own. This future just wasn't available, even as a dream, for previous generations. We're getting there. I'm just sad that the LDS Church has become the preeminent focal point against progress in this area.

J G-W said...

I still see some of the old patterns here, but maybe it's because the Twin Cities is a magnet for refugees from very conservative, homophobic rural areas of the upper Midwest -- western Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and rural Minnesota.