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Author Topic: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture  (Read 5532 times)

Feral

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The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture
« on: October 09, 2007, 04:18:35 AM »

The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture by Daniel Harris is hardly a new book. It was published in 1997. From a review of it:

Quote
The eventual disappearance of gay culture constitutes a significant loss, not just for gay people, but for American culture in general." So writes award-winning essayist and social critic Daniel Harris in his devastatingly artful first book, The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture.

Harris' insinuation may come as a surprise to many people. Why, one might ask, does Harris think gay culture is disappearing? Isn't this, after all, the era of gay liberation, of unprecedented visibility for gays in the arena of popular culture: of Ellen and Elton John, of kd lang and Melissa Etheridge? And what about the spate of playful representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people in relatively mainstream films like The Opposite of Sex, Bound, Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, and The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love? Haven't gays and lesbians effected a modicum of legislative change? Are these not signs of greater enfranchisement in the new millennium? Daniel Harris says yes, precisely. Liberation is the problem.

More accurately, Harris would say that while the gay community sought to acquire social protection and legal sanction in the last three decades, it sacrificed its cultural traditions for acceptance. Moreover, as liberation progressed, the most notable of these traditions—excellence in all artistic and aesthetic endeavors—began its fateful demise.

In his shrewd and decidedly unsentimental style, Harris traces the gradual erosion, over the past 25 years, of an indigenous form of gay resistance suffused by campiness, bitchiness, and acerbic wit—an indigenous form of resistance, mind you, born not of an innate predisposition for swishiness but of social marginalization writ large. Says Harris, before gay liberation, gay men battled the psychic injuries of cultural disapprobation with refinement rather than legislation. In short, before they were activists, gay men simply had better taste.

Decrying the decline of a distinctly gay sensibility, Harris identifies diametric changes in significant features of gay culture, from camp to underwear advertising to the representation of AIDS. Harris attributes these changes (to oversimplify) to the rampant cultural homogenization of America and to unintended side effects of social-movement ideology. He concludes that the gay liberation movement, in its inevitable quest for mainstream American acceptance, has sold out the gay community and thrown out the homosexual with the bath water.

The New York Times has thoughtfully posted the first chapter.

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Rain

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Re: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture
« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2007, 06:35:19 AM »

Wow....

Just today I was starting an essay called "The Last Sodomite".  The point being that sometimes I feel as if I'm the last sodomite.  It seems to me that most gay men have seen fit to adopt the mores of the (heterosexual) past as a way of mainstreaming themselves into the future. 

If there was one thing that historically set our people apart it was the blanket rejection of any notions of acceptable personal sexual behaviour.  Yes, AIDS has had a lot to do with changing that perception.  But really, is AIDS all that different than the plagues of syphillis, gonorrhea, hepatitis and every other communicable illness that gay men (mostly) and women (rarely) have had to overcome historically.

In my view, we've allowed the mainstream to cow us into a prone position on sex.  And it's not one that will give us any kind of satisfaction.  And all this only because they have always feared our freedom.  Such is their twisted moral bigotry.  The hidden message is this:  Can't you see that there is no joy in gay sex (and by extension, in their minds, in being Gay), that your sexual freedom only gave you pain and death? 

It's an argument that I personally cannot accept.  Yes, people died because of the sexual choices they made.  I know it too well.  But many more have died historically so that we can MAKE those sexual choices. 

This is one of the things that puts me at odds with Larry Kramer.  I will defend an adult Gay person's right to engage in any kind of sex, so long as it is mutually consensual.

Part of the problem here is that any attempt to sanitize Gay sex ultimately sanitizes our view of ourselves as sexual beings.  We live in fear and we fuck in fear.  There have been recent revolts against this mindset.  The current debate over "sero-sorting" is one blatant example of people who are just tired of what is, quite rightly, abnormal sex.  Rather than swallow the mandate of "do as you're told", many are now opting to actively research their options and their sexual partners so that they can have the kind sexual experiences that they find personally fulfilling.

However, I'm not as pessimistic as Mr. Harris or Mr. Kramer.  These shifts in cultural attitudes are nothing if not cyclical.  The pendulum does swing in the other direction eventually.     



   
« Last Edit: October 09, 2007, 06:51:48 AM by Rain »
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Rain

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Re: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture
« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2007, 06:38:44 AM »

Quote
In his shrewd and decidedly unsentimental style, Harris traces the gradual erosion, over the past 25 years, of an indigenous form of gay resistance suffused by campiness, bitchiness, and acerbic wit—an indigenous form of resistance, mind you, born not of an innate predisposition for swishiness but of social marginalization writ large. Says Harris, before gay liberation, gay men battled the psychic injuries of cultural disapprobation with refinement rather than legislation. In short, before they were activists, gay men simply had better taste.

My reasons for championing the causes of Polari and Faggish, precisely.  Those are tethers to a long historical past that had been maintained and passed down through generations.  At the core of each are nuggets of the bittersweet essence that has suffused Gay life.
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Each of us inevitable; Each of us limitless - each of us with his or her right upon the earth; Each of us allowed the eternal purports of the earth; Each of us here as divinely as any is here. ~ Walt Whitman

Feral

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Re: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture
« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2007, 07:53:16 AM »

I've been browsing "reviews" and I came upon this --

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I wished he would have pointed out more clearly how gay men can stop and fight against assimilation through building our culture which I think for any scholar is a very blurry answer.

Is it really that obscure a point that it must be made?

Assimilation is an active choice. Of course you may refrain from doing so. Of course you can. You just have to want to. "Building our own culture" sounds like such work, doesn't it? Someone should come up with a couch-potato's translation.

Be Gay. Having succeeded at that, be Gayer.
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"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Rain

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Re: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture
« Reply #4 on: October 09, 2007, 09:14:14 AM »

We should have tee-shirts made that state simply and boldly:  BE GAY.
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Each of us inevitable; Each of us limitless - each of us with his or her right upon the earth; Each of us allowed the eternal purports of the earth; Each of us here as divinely as any is here. ~ Walt Whitman

Rain

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Re: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture...or the culture of the mind?
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2007, 01:39:16 PM »

On a related front:  THIS.
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Each of us inevitable; Each of us limitless - each of us with his or her right upon the earth; Each of us allowed the eternal purports of the earth; Each of us here as divinely as any is here. ~ Walt Whitman

Feral

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Re: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2007, 03:23:16 PM »

On a related front:  THIS.

Mmmmm. "Howl" can be heard here.

Personally, I've always preferred reading poetry to listening to it. You'd think that an author reading his own work would be ideal. I rarely find it to be though. I don't know why.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2007, 03:35:28 PM by Feral »
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vanrozenheim

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Re: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2007, 09:58:03 AM »

Hm, where shall I start? Without reading the entire book it is difficult to discuss its value in terms of a real analysis of the past Gay culture.

If I were to judge the short excerpt published by NYT, I would say that Mr Harris' analysis of Gay past is somewhat tiresome to read, at least for me as a non-native English reader. His observations/interpretations of several phenomenons are very interesting, but I am not sure that he is accurate [in that one chapter] on the entire picture.

Of course, many homos of the time did elaborate their manners, but so they do now. We also must not mistake the few college-educated Gays with the entire homosexual population. Back in time (and in other places in our times, too) the working class homosexual men were often too much oppressed to come out even to themselves. They married, got children and led a totally straight life, maybe with the exception that they, from time to time, had sex with men. If we were to take those closeted Gay men into account, too, than the picture of the past wouldn't be as rosé as Mr Harris apparently depicts it. In average, the Gays in the West probably are as Gay as they never were before.

Quite a different thing is, that while the average behavious might be the Gayest ever, the extremes (both the proud and the closeted Gay) now are not that extreme anymore, since they have developed towards the "normality." This "normal behaviour" implicates that what previously used to be a closeted, psychotic homosexual man now evolves to a "discreet" and "decent" but non the less self-coscious and happy Gay man. The side effect is, unfortunately, that the social pressure on the "radical" Gays has increased to assume a socially permitted Gay lifestyle, with full social and economical "integration" offered as incentive. In short, it is possible nowadays to be openly Gay in Western societies without fearing immediate loss of the workplace and ostracism from family and neighbours -- provided, one adjusts oneselfe into the tight corsett of "decent" (=straight) behaviour.

Now it would be not that tragical, if this decent behaviour were only a cunning strategy to circumvent societies oppression -- but unfortunately, most Gays seemingly are nowadays entirely deluded into whole-heartedly embracing the assimilationist attitude. They really believe that there is but a last, tiny ditch of prejudice and bias to be rooted out, for the society to accept them, once and forever.

Need I say how foolish such an assimilationist attitude is? That mythical "last ditch of prejudice" amounts to some 40 to 50% of the population sharing belief that Gays are if not an abomination to God, so at least deeply immoral creatures engaging in disgusting sexual practices. This belief is so deeply rooted into the Abrahamic religions, that we simply can't eliminate it. The weed of hate uses to reclaim ground despite any weeding out, and there is little prospect of Gays winning over thousand-year-long traditions of hate and cultural genocide.

The Gays should re-embrace their historical culture, whatever went lost of it. Surely, not all of those mythical heroic national past (as constructed by Mr Harris) is really that glorious as he would like us to believe, but the ability to create and nurture an authentical Gay culture is essential for our further developement as a people.
« Last Edit: October 10, 2007, 10:00:13 AM by vanrozenheim »
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Rain

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Re: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2007, 11:47:27 AM »

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The Gays should re-embrace their historical culture, whatever went lost of it.

Assuming they know that there actually WAS a historic culture to learn.  To a huge part of younger Gays, Gay culture began with Madonna.
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Each of us inevitable; Each of us limitless - each of us with his or her right upon the earth; Each of us allowed the eternal purports of the earth; Each of us here as divinely as any is here. ~ Walt Whitman
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