Steps forward, even amid the requisite and expected steps back, create new challenges. Still, the trajectory of LGBTQ life since Stonewall does offer reasons to celebrate, including but not limited to marriage equality, gender identity and sexual orientation breaking into Constitutional protections, hate crimes laws, and the right to serve openly in the military.
But are these gains taken by some as automatic passes to join the mainstream and leave LGBTQ identities behind? It’s not an uncommon idea.
“I look forward to the day being gay is no more significant than being left-handed,” wrote Evan Urguhart in Outward. “It will not dictate to which cities they move or what cultural products they consume. They will lack that inner sense of their unique vulnerability or unworthiness that you and I still have to deal with.”
Others mourn the loss of culture that has made being LGBTQ special, unique, and most of all, worth saving. Not to mention, they argue, that “straight culture” perpetuates a system that caused the very sexual and gender-based oppression that we worked so hard to overcome.
“In the rush to embrace traditional relationships as defined by heterosexual marriage, the gay community is discarding the very sexuality that the Supreme Court has validated,” writes Patrick Moore in Beyond Shame: Reclaiming Radical Gay Sexuality.
To complicate matters, some of us are left cold to positive changes by the remaining lack of societal equity and legal rights. It’s hard to celebrate progress with issues still on the table like racism; health, home and employment inequities; bigoted politicians and legislators quite specifically out to get us; and rampant individual cases of hate attacks.
And that’s not to mention LGBTQ bickering, wrangling, gatekeeping and power plays amongst ourselves.
Good Problems to Have
At first glance, it would seem as if we’re left with two distinct sides of an insurmountable fence. Those on one side dive headlong into assimilation of heteronormative traditions, while those on the other reject those standards whole-cloth in efforts to keep queer life, well, queer.
To listen to some arguments, you’re either for equal status within the status quo, or anti-establishment, period. You get married, buy a house in the suburbs and have babies, or you think that those who do that have lost the very essence of what queer culture has rallied to attain: It’s own identity.
But it’s more complicated and difficult – and ultimately more beneficial – to admit that most people don’t land perfectly on one end or the other of that spectrum of views. To work toward compromise and acceptance of each other’s preferences lets us enjoy the best of both worlds.
But it’s very American of us to stick to binary visions of reality.
As a country, we love to pick sides. Heroes and villains. Black and white. Love and hate. Good vs. evil. All or nothing. You’re either with us or against us.
And yes, many Americans still salivate over a good gay vs. straight rager, though perhaps decreasingly. While “they” say gays would infect straight society with immoral LGBTQ cooties that threaten their very way of life, “we” snub their lives in return.
Just the phrase “Us vs. Them” rings through our ears like classic Americana.
The dynamic rears its head within LGBTQ circles, too, of course. Even when we come together, some want to choose up sides and fight it out. It’s a conundrum that plays out time and again.
Ultimately, it’s a great problem to have. Remaining challenges of the movement and opportunities for compromise with each other leave room to grow.
But the questions remain: Does acceptance mean blind assimilation? Do we have to lose what’s great about queer life to have it all?
Maybe it’s neither… and both. Sometimes we have to leave things behind so that we can move forward. And sometimes we can embrace the past while forging ahead into the future with the past in our back pocket.
‘Pssst: Stop It.’
Ask a dinner table of LGBTQ friends for their views on anything — drag, open relationships, racism within the community, transgender inclusion, bottom shaming, having children, femmes vs. butch, non-profit spending, public displays of affection, or hell, even mixing prints in the same outfit.
Voices will raise between the best of friends. Now ask a larger, more diversified LGBTQ gathering whether queer acceptance means blind assimilation. Heels will dig in. Fur might fly.
Pssst. Stop it. We don’t have to choose sides. The emerging renaissance queer can have it all. And that goes double when it comes to our identities and civil rights.
Want to get married? Go for it. Want to eschew heteronormative systems? Please do. Maybe you want to define your relationship outside legal parameters. Feel free. Maybe you want to have a wedding, but not in a house of worship. Do it! Maybe you want to have it in a spirtual setting, but in a church without walls.
Move to a better school district, or vow to stay in town forever. Read queer media as well as mainstream newspapers, respected business journals and silly listicle blogs. Network with the OUT Georgia Business Alliance, and have lunch with straight professionals in your local trade organization. Join the gay softball league and your alumni association’s football boosters. Focus on Democratic fundraising or a grassroots crowdfund.
We can have the best of both the queer world and the world at large. Having the same choices as everyone else is great, and making them your own is even better.
LGBTQ culture was founded on a fight for variance and diversity, a battle for justice, and the right to be whatever and however we choose — inside or outside of conventional parameters. That doesn’t have to change just because some of us also want an SUV, one partner, and a white picket fence while others want to walk everywhere and fuck everyone.
Let clones be clones. Let radical femmes be rad. Grant each other the equality to live, love and be as we see fit.
Meanwhile, it’s a safe bet that our very queerness can and will persist. It will be there as we fight for what remains unsettled. And like everything else in the universe, our identities will likely morph to suit new needs. Maybe mainstream and queer cultures can even change each other for the better.
Being LGBTQ doesn’t mean you have to stop meaning being unique or fabulous or radical. Rather than doing old things in old ways, we can keep doing everything in new ways, all ways, as determined by each one of us and our personal set of priorities.
Keep your queer identity and your demands for social justice, as well as the trappings and perks of equality. Have it all. Nothing is stopping you. All options are on the table. That’s a good thing.
Mike Fleming is Editor and Co-Publisher of Project Q Atlanta. This feature appeared in Q ATLus magazine. Read the full issue online here:
Pick up each new edition of QATLus at LGBTQ and allied venues around Atlanta.