Toronto
2 min

Leaving the gay world behind

The times they are a-changin'

Is marriage the end of gay as we know it? Gay and lesbian identity has always been shaped by our status as outsiders, as sexual outlaws. It has also been shaped by our struggles, political and legal, to get inside.

Now it seems like we’re in. On paper we’re full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of straight folks. Sure, there are still a few laws that seem to curb our activities, like those used to bust bathhouses. But the same laws are used to bust straight folks; it’s just that they seem to mind less.

What happens to gay and lesbian identity now that we aren’t sexual outlaws, and we aren’t defining ourselves in terms of our legal struggles? Does it just fade away? Do gay folks start looking more like straight folks at a time when straight folks are starting to look more like gay folks? From fashionista interest in metrosexuality to increasing numbers of childless heterosexual couples, their lifestyles are starting to look a lot more like what was once “gay.”

Many queer critics have long argued that same-sex marriage would result in the assimilation of gay men and lesbians. We would lose the very radical edge that made us gay. So, were they right?

The gay wedding business is booming. From registering for china to wedding cakes to wedding halls, the wedding industrial complex is marching forward to include a new set of consumers.

But so, too, is the gay divorce business. Now that we are inside, a whole new world of litigation has opened up. Just like straight folks, we now can sue each other for divorce, for property division, for spousal support (okay we’ve been doing that one for a few years already) and for custody of our children. So much for the boasts that alternative families have better ways of resolving their disputes.

Sounds like the queer critics were onto something. Gay folks are taking on all the trappings of mainstream heterosexuality, and losing their sexual edge in favour of china patterns and divorce lawyers.

Other changes are afoot.

Gay ghettos seem to be attracting fewer young gay and lesbian hipsters. Why go to a gay bar (it’s so last century), when you now feel totally comfortable on College or Queen St? Why go to gay and lesbian bookstores when the mainstream bookstores carry the same books or better ones? Why go to a gay and lesbian film festival when the mainstream ones get the better films? The dividing line between gay and straight is getting a bit less clear, as gay seeps into straight, and straight seeps into gay.

Some folks consider this to be a kind of gay treason. Consider the recent debate in Xtra about whether a film centring on a lesbian relationship directed by a straight man can be considered a dyke film. That such a discussion is taking place suggests there are borders to defend. Should we all be defending the borders from possible infection by the straight world?

Feeding into many of these questions is a nostalgia for a time when “gay” and “lesbian” were clear and distinct identities, for a past when we were outsiders, for a past that was more pure. To be gay is to not be straight.

We don’t seem to live in that world anymore. Many young folks have a far more fluid sense of their own sexuality. Others just don’t see what the fuss is all about. Just sleep with whoever you want: Gay/straight, boy/girl, whatever. Isn’t that kind of what we have been fighting for?

Now, this isn’t to say that gay has been completely accepted, that there isn’t still rampant homophobia in our country, some of it particularly devastating. Of course there is.

But definitions are rapidly changing. It’s not all bad. Okay, yes, more tacky wedding cakes with little brides or little grooms on top is pretty bad. But a little loosening of the gay/straight distinction isn’t.