It occurred to me the other day that I have three sets of close friends living in the ghetto and that none of them are what you might call visible.
Two of them are couples, three of them own condos and all of them are actively engaged with the neighbourhood. They walk, they talk and they shop there. But none of them go out.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating slightly. One of the couples might pop out for a quick (and very early) drink Friday night on their way home from work.
But otherwise, nada: No public appearances in the gay commercial zone and precious little involvement with sports leagues and other organized forms of gay networking. It’s not that they’re apolitical. They’re out to family, friends and colleagues, and so much more visible than an earlier generation of gays. But, at a broader social level, they’re completely invisible.
Welcome to the new gays. Not closeted queens lurking in toilets on the one hand or headline-grabbing activists on the other, but something in between. Something that used to be referred to rather derogatorily as normal.
It’s a big shift for a community that found its feet in activism and a very public expression of identity. Once upon a time you weren’t doing your bit for the community if you weren’t loudly out. Now that seems a bit passé. Nobody wants to hear you’re gay. They already know. Increasingly gays look like everyone else, which is to say segregated by class, education and cultural interests.
I think the big question for anyone in the “professional gay” world over the next few years has got to be how do you engage this new kind of gay and, even more important, what if anything holds them and/or us together? What, at this stage of gay lib, is the social glue?
Sex is the traditional and very popular response and it works just fine up to a point. Many a young gay man has assembled his entire social network from a motley collection of lovers, ex-lovers, tricks and failed infatuations. But the glue loses its grip with age. Older gays are less likely to meet this way and even less likely to stay allied because of it. They’ve got too many other things to do, too many competing demands on their time.
We’re lucky in a way. Where sex pulls many an ethnic community apart, it holds us together. Jews and other ethno/religious groups worry that their members will marry outside the tribe and dilute the bloodline. Too many extracurricular alliances and the culture is toast. Gays don’t have to worry about that problem, at least. We may not be able to reproduce — kids, even if you have them, are likely to turn out straight — but at least we’ve got a really good reason for hanging out together.
Still, desire shifts with age and much of the energy that once powered the community has drifted off into the aimless, impersonal world of the internet. Why pick up a glossy gay mag when there are hundreds of gay blogs posting pics of cute guys?
There are still some major political issues to be settled — age of consent, censorship, antiquated sex laws — and in theory those should provide an organizational impetus, but in practice they’re too distant from people’s daily concerns to arouse any sort of widespread support.
Censorship has no meaning until such time as you can’t get what you want and most people can get all too much of what they want via the internet. Antiquated sex laws remain on the books but they’re going nowhere until such time as some really stupid cop arrests a middle-aged condo queen for having a threesome with his lover. Maybe then the proverbial shit will hit the fan and force a change, but not before, I think.
Same-sex marriage was popular because it affected a large, affluent and influential part of the community. Now that it’s been settled, at least in Canada, it’s hard to spot another issue with the widespread support needed to mobilize, or even interest, the larger community.
That community remains in place. The latest census reports that there are 9,620 same-sex couples in Toronto alone and, while the census is mum on this point, I’d bet that 90 percent of them live in a swath of old Toronto south of the CPR tracks from Leslieville to Parkdale (and that 100 percent have marble countertops and a new front door, but that’s another story). The ghetto’s still there, in other words, but it’s larger than it used to be and so loosely constructed as to be invisible.
So as far as I can see that leaves gay culture as a kind of large social club where people hang out together purely because they find the other members congenial. That’s fine with me. I’ve always found gay men pleasant company. (Defensive, snarky and sometimes just plain dim, too, but also congenial.) But is that enough?