Vancouver
4 min

Dulling the edges of liberation

We are not so avant-garde no more

In 1978 about 150 people marched through the West End without many onlookers. Today, we have thousands marching… and Jack Layton who never misses a parade.

Now any straight man plays gay on TV or YouTube much in the opposite way that Rock Hudson played macho yesteryear.

And so goes gay liberation: we have arrived; we have opened ourselves to others to replay our desires, bigger and better, without shame or infection.

There are ways in which liberation is totally my thing and others in which it feels phony.

I would have never imagined in a thousand years that my love for a man would be enforced by law or marketed in billboards.

Granted, walking hand in hand down many streets in Canada is still not safe for two men, no matter how burly (try Granville St at dawn).

And some of these new, liberated expressions of love feel a bit awkward; something we do for show, not something second nature like riding a dick… I mean, a bicycle.

But some of these fears of openly expressing love are generational. I see feisty neo-punk gay boys sucking face and earnest newlyweds pushing strollers with precious cargo bickering over the thickness of an organic cucumber, and I celebrate. It takes for some of us to die to refresh the blood and the outlook of many.

I love the fact that a number of men fondle the forbidden fruits: licking the boots of oppression, the leather masters, the fascistic soldiers, the hooligans, the kidnappers and the big brothers (not many role play race in Canada, race is not sexed in our national mind).

We walk the edge to get the first cut, the deepest; bug-chasing, we mystify infection and violence, going sado as well as camp.

At the same time, we sell out our stereotypes: the designer guys, the ubiquitous hysterical gay court jester that accompanies the ubiquitous English plainspoken judge in the TV realities, or the dutiful brawny and brainy, the “clean and safe.” Have we smoothed our edges to fit in?

We used to court social risk and now everyone else does it louder; we are not so avant-garde anymore.

A new generation of gay men will live risk without shame like most heterosexuals do. Or in any case, they are having a totally different relationship to it already, they even relate differently to HIV —and I celebrate.

However, liberation makes me a bit weary. It is so democratic. Anyone can take it and run with it —straight men have, haven’t they? If your guy doesn’t want to adopt kids or play house, you better watch his every move; chances are he is straight. If your man chooses to cry in public about his “feelings” and “mistakes,” beware, that is a technique perfected by super straight guys.

They now go around kissing each other in public and grumbling, “I love you, man!”

If your guy starts talking about “disclosure,” he is a lawyer. If he starts talking about “coming out” no doubt he is straight and he will break the heartbreaking news to you any time now… wait and see.

You bring a straight sod home, what will you mother say?

You just never know with liberation run amuck, I tell you.

No one can talk universals about gay men anymore; we range from ultimate fighters to MPs to serial murderers, with thick accents and moreno skins, with extravagant biceps or partial limbs, skewered with rings and inked all over or frocked in three-piece suits, veiny and thick, lithe and silent, eunuchs and seminal, hypermasculine, transgender, or deranged like Britney (the postmodern Judy G).

So many men, so little time. With liberation, ill judgment is diluted and it seems that our need to stick together is slipping through our fingers.

Liberation breeds a precarious kind of comfort; we think we know everything there is to know about our bodies and our feelings. We were the shamans of a tribe of sorts, the trapeze artists of sex, and maybe we’re not sacred beings anymore. There is harshness in evolution: depression and infection has at times fogged us in a cloud of meth.

Now, I see young gay men less afraid of reinventing themselves, fucking with girls or having a relationship with a man living with HIV or Hep C. I see men forming strong homes and families or being proud bears or pigs or dogs, the whole menagerie —and I celebrate.

I wonder what liberation would have looked like if HIV had not ravaged our North American 10 percent so viciously in the last decades. I think that has arrested us in an odd way while the straight majority has advanced nicely on the jolly experimentation to a pansexual and polyamorous society. Do I see too much; is this too much wishful thinking?

Before we join the ranks of the distinctive but equal, the normal or the indifferent, before we stop defining ourselves by the kinds of sex we have, and before being gay becomes a mere label, let’s not forget that we created sex tourism, fuck buddies, we perfected the one-night stand to a social grace and we made Home Depot a cruising ground.

We elevated scorn and scandal to operatic heights, we freed Wynona, anointed Tammy Faye, Madonna and Grace Jones, Diana (Ross and the other, the dead one), Streisand and Dolly. We pioneered cyber sex. We turned fisting into the new safer sex.

We made Botox an everyday necessity and Cher an eternal comeback queen, dammit!

Let’s celebrate our difference one more time, the I-am-what-I-am a bit scratched but just as resonant. Here is to all the men I loved before, let there rain men, and let apathy not rain on my fucking parade.