Homophiles are classified as those who are attracted to the same sex by means of a mental disorder. There is no collective ‘gay’ identity, however, the individualised or faction-like state of homosexuals eventually unites (e.g. the 1969 Stonewall Riots).
‘Out’ Minority (1971-1982)
The genesis of a quasi-ethnic minority group known as ‘gays’, similar to the distinction of ‘blacks’ or ‘Jews’ at the time. A new mantra - translated from popular culture - of ‘being true to oneself’ is taken up by the gay rights movement. Gay enclaves begin to form.
There is a resurgence of the idea that ‘being gay’ is an immoral behavioural practice and not an immutable characteristic and thus does not deserve the same protections given to other minority groups. The AIDS epidemic fuels this assertion. Of all of the support that went into rebutting these claims, most of the money went to organisations that subscribed to the idea of fighting for a gay ‘minority’. Thus began a period of in-fighting and bifurcation in regards to who exactly was included in this definition. The moniker of ‘queer’ is used to broaden the scope of the gay identity.
The corporate nature of mainstream pro-gay organisations promote the integration of ‘gays’ into mainstream culture as palatable images to be consumed by the general public. Large corporate interests begin to drive the face of the gay identity. The dominant gay collective identity of the previous era proved profitable to an entertainment industry in need of bankable images. The gay identity is emptied of its political content and repackaged as a domestic and consumerist lifestyle.
'Sexuality and, by extension, gay identity, are shaped in part by the dynamics of power in a society.'
Sexuality and, by extension, gay identity, are shaped in part by the dynamics of power in a society. Even the social movements designed to contest those dynamics participate in reproducing them. This simple assertion by Valocchi (2017) could suggest that many aspects of the gay stereotype are in fact a contest of power, perhaps even more so than identity. That fabulous means powerful.
The bright colours and loud noises of Mardi Gras here in Sydney. The rainbow coloured ATM’s and vodka bottles that pop up along Oxford Street. The crass and fabulous drag queens that lead the blind youth in gay clubs. All of it could be the result of a gay identity being unwilling to acquiesce to the idea of a sexually integrated society. The fear that if we are no longer different than we will no longer be.
'The trauma many of us have experienced continues to cause us to project the past onto the present.'
John Grant offers one possible origin for this apprehension in the foreword of Straight Jacket (2018), where he postulates that the trauma many of us have experienced continues to cause us to project the past onto the present (p. xiv). I would argue that this is particularly true of the gay men who grew up in the contested years outlined above. It was an unquestionably traumatic time. It is completely understandable that they are hesitant to relinquish an aggressively political gay identity that was undoubtedly required in order to fight for gay rights at the time. But is it time for them to step back, take a breath, and ease up on the glitter? Could the gay community be more united by ambivalence than by fabulous anger?
'The more fabulous, flamboyant, and outrageous the gay man is, the more he is empowered by society, because that is the image that society accepts.'
There is a positive feedback loop that exists between the ‘fabulous’ gay stereotype and mainstream society, and this fabulousness is a display of power. The more fabulous, flamboyant, and outrageous the gay man is, the more he is empowered by society, because that is the image that society accepts. He must be different. Very different. Then it’s ok. But the more private, understated, or ‘normal’ he behaves, the more suspicious the public becomes. At least if he’s in fluoro pink shorts you can keep an eye on him.
As one interviewee noted: the gay men who are happy to exist in this feedback loop like it because they do indeed identify with an outrageous sense of self and want - like all of us - to feel like they are accepted and that they belong. But the ones who don’t like it, and who actively reject the stereotype, only galvanise those who define themselves by it to define it even harder. Valocchi would suggest that large corporate interests only serve to galvanise this identity even further. Given his assertion that identity, materiality, and capitalism are related, one could see how the gay stereotype still exists.
Using Valocchi's research in conjunction with interview data and anecdotal observation it could be proposed that a consumer-fuelled positive feedback loop helps to sustain the gay stereotype and prevent any further evolution of the broader social understanding of what it means to be a gay man.
Fighting for the ‘gay minority’ might have been absolutely necessary yesterday - and be good for business today - but is it good for the sexually integrated and ambivalent young men of tomorrow?
Todd, M. (2018) Straight Jacket: overcoming society’s legacy of gay shame, Penguin Random House UK
Valocchi, S. (2017) Capitalisms and Gay Identities: Towards a Capitalist Theory of Social Movements, Social Problems, 315-331
Nathan helps people to express themselves at home, at school, and in the workplace, all around the world. He's passionate about thinking, and engages in it regularly. He's not overly fond of writing in the third person though. It's weird. Connect with him on Facebook to continue the conversation, make a video at colourbeat.com, or even share a dance with him at movewithcolour.com!
The evolution of the gay identity has evolved alongside the progress of capitalism and its powerful effect on society.
The gay identity itself is potentially one of power rather than of liberation.
A consumer-fuelled positive feedback loop helps to sustain the gay stereotype and prevent any further evolution of the identity.