Toronto
3 min

A peer group of one

At university an acquaintance once told me how he envied punks because they did what they wanted to and didn’t care about what people thought of them.

That’s bullshit. Punks totally care what other people think of them — other punks, that is. If a punk were to show up on the street corner dressed in Old Navy after a morning spent studying for her MBA it wouldn’t be long before her peers started pretending they didn’t see her.

In his new book Exile In Guyville: How A Punk Rock Redneck Faggot Texan Moved To West Hollywood And Refused To Be Shiny And Happy, Dave Wilson spends most of his time defining his character by making fun of what he is not. Going to an Ann Miller concert, the self-described goth indie-rocker takes the piss out of his boy-friend’s friends.

“I feel suddenly ethnic. And underdressed. Our group is the kind of gay that irons and tucks in, all freshly cut hair and trim little waistlines. One gay is wearing a sweater — it’s 62 degrees — and that, too, is tucked in. Because he can.”

He’s just not that into it.

“I blame a lifetime of deadpan indie rock shows, where the unwritten law in no excessive enthusiasm, for my physical inability to jump up and ‘whooo.'”

It’s his book so Wilson gets to define coolness, a definition he uses to paint the people around him, the implanted and gym-buffed people, as freaks. I don’t disagree with him — perhaps they are freaks. But I wonder at a method that divides people into camps; it’s so easy.

You’d think that gay and lesbian people, who often claim from an early age that they felt “different” from their peers, would be big advocates for doing your own thing. You’d be wrong. Given freedom from the constraints of conventional family life, many queers throw themselves into the regimes offered by consumer culture (Should I trade in my Diesel ensemble for D-Squared2? Should I love the new Shakira album or is she passé?) or identity politics and their accoutrements (Am I hairy enough to be a bear? Am I allowed to wear this armband on my right arm if I’m a bottom?). We often behave like there’s someone waiting right there to cut us down for the wrong choice — and that that judgment matters.

The gay cult of Abercrombie And Fitch has always puzzled me — after all, it’s not like you get to wear the hunky models. But after visiting a store (turn to page 7), my puzzlement turned to annoyance: why would anyone offer his chest as free advertising space for sloppy, banal, overpriced mall clothes marketed to sexually frustrated suburban teenaged girls? Yet the brand manages to create an off-the-shelf identity that still attracts gay men. Sexy model –> $44.50 T-shirt –> sexy me. There’s something missing in that flowchart.

In this issue’s pullout dedicated to the offerings of the Inside Out film fest I was struck by a quote from the organization’s new programmer, Gary Varro.

“I’m a white male and that can be a big challenge,” Varro says. “Our community includes people from such a wide range of ethnicities and identities. I have to try to program with those audiences in mind, even though I’m not part of them.”

It’s the word “audiences” that bothers me. I agree that it’s important for a white male programmer (or any programmer, for that matter) to think broadly and include work by all kinds of queers. But the joy of a festival like Inside Out is that audiences, too, can think more broadly. There doesn’t have to be a direct and automatic line connecting filmmaker and film viewer. Through art, a gay white middle-aged man can be sucked into the world of a young trans person of colour, can find unexpected connections. Assuming that audiences merely want to see films that mirror them does a great disservice to audiences and filmmakers alike.

Limiting our contact to those who think and look like ourselves is a waste. So is limiting our life choices to those shared by those around us or sold to us by corporations.

Not everybody can look as fabulous as, say, the people on page 46, but that’s no excuse for wearing a uniform.