There was nary a dry eye in the crowd. It was the opening ceremonies of the Gay Games last autumn in Australia. Athletes from India and Pakistan, two nations whose leaders it was later revealed had gone to the brink of nuclear war weeks before, walked into the stadium together. Together, as gays and lesbians. Spectators screamed approval as it was announced that the two nation’s athletes were united.
Earlier, the crowd had cheered loudly, very loudly, for the sole representative from Iraq in the athlete’s parade.
There’s something at work here. Gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people have something to share with the world. Bookseller Jim Deva, in his acceptance speech at the Xtra West Community Achievement Awards last year, said that he thinks gays and lesbians can “save the world.”
I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps we’re the only people who can.
Take the Middle East, for example. Jerusalem has long been a focus of war between Palestinians and Israelis. But since 1995 that city’s queers have run the Jerusalem Open House. Jews and Arabs share the space and programs, even as their politicians find it impossible to sit across a table and negotiate peace.
The theme of last year’s Jerusalem Pride day was “love without borders.”
And that, I’d say, is the gift that we gays and lesbians can offer the world.
The major national queer rights group in the United States has joined a movement to try and keep that country from bombing the hell out of small, oil-rich Third World country. And San Francisco gays are forefront in organizing their city’s very active peace movement.
Because of the openness of Canada’s armed forces, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of gay and lesbian soldiers could die if Iraq is invaded. Their beautiful young bodies will be ripped to shreds by grenades, suffocated by toxic gasses. They’ll be joined by a literally incalculable number of Iraqi women, children and men, some gay.
Our gift of love without borders also transcends big “p” politics. After all, the personal is profoundly political. Gay culture’s open relationships, marriage-less long-term partnerships, and freedom of sexual exploration-all border crashers-have influenced heterosexual culture over the past three decades.
Gay novelist Edmund White has written that our culture has much to offer straights. In the straight world of the future, as in the gay world already,”love will be built on esteem rather than passion or convention, sex will be more playful or fantastic or artistic than marital-and friendship will be elevated into the supreme consolation for this continuing tragedy, human existence.”
Straight men, studies show, don’t keep their friends for long after they marry. Gay men, even in relationships, surround ourselves with friends, ex-lovers, ex-boff buddies, and women friends.
It might take some time after a recent break-up before the ex becomes part of our inner circle, but he almost always does so.
Perhaps it’s because of our status as sexual outlaws that we dare to explore new forms of social organization. Whatever the cause, the result is a breaking down of the traditional borders between single and married, between friend and lover, between serious and play. And what we do in this realm is not just the cement that holds together the walls of gay culture; it’s also a profound gift to humanity.
Our work at breaking down state and personal censorship is another such gift. As our culture has pushed against anti-sex regulatory borders, we’ve changed the laws, made commonplace imagery that would have been condemned two generations ago, and helped liberate our straight brothers and sisters.
Don’t believe me? Think about the recent Everything to do with Sex show, something that would have been impossible here even a decade ago. The show drew thousands of straights, and lots of gays, to the Vancouver Convention Centre. There the straights learned the sort of sophisticated sexual tips that most gays and lesbians pick up in their first year cruising. We’ve created the environment where this can happen.
Love without borders, as Jerusalem’s gays say.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Happy Pink Triangle day.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.