Gay people have recognized for a long time that learning how to live in a largely straight society presents the possibility of assimilation, and assimilation presents problems, different ones at different times. Over the weekend, I was reading Gay Men at the Millennium: Sex, Spirit, Community, a collection of essays loosely organized around the questions Where have we been? How far have we come? Where are we headed? Thirteen years ago, these writers were looking around them and trying to figure out where we are. The editor, Michael Lowenthal, collected essays or chapters from various books to look at these questions.
The writers of some of the essays bring up the concept of assimilation a number of times, and usually the dangers of assimilation are spelled out. The danger of assimilation differs from decade to decade. In one decade gay people may fear that they will lose their “edge and their sense of style, their fabulousness.” In another decade, they may fear that they will lose their willingness and ability to experiment sexually. And in a third, the fear is that they will lose their relative freedom from class. Almost no one thinks assimilation is a good thing. What this means is that, depending on his age, a gay man may be indifferent to one danger and sensitive to another, and his lover, ten years younger, has a different set of responses. It also may mean that a person’s fear of assimilation in the deep South may be significantly different from the fears held by someone in the Northeast.
The fear that we feel in the second decade of the twenty-first century is a consequence of the great social movements brought about by the Obama administration: the coming out of large numbers of gay military personnel and the movement of large numbers of gay men and women into the county clerk’s offices to get marriage licenses. Some significant numbers of us wanted these things to happen—the repeal of DADT and the overturning of DOMA—but the anxiety many of us feel is brought about by changes in the gay community whose effect on all of us we don’t know. We fear that we are going to lose something that’s important. We don’t know what we are willing to give up to get something important.
Years ago, in 1996 actually, Gay Pride in Boston began to get boring. It started that year when a man wearing a kilt got up on stilts, and played around in the street, between and among the groups and the floats of the parade. The wind came too, of course, and played around with the man’s kilt, blowing it up like Marilyn Monroe’s white skirt over the subway grate, revealing that he didn’t have anything on underneath. Just his tight ass and his cock. There were other things in that parade that year. There was a bed being pushed through the street with two women making love. The resultant uproar attacked the man on stilts and the women in the bed. The editor of Bay Windows said none of them had any taste. Apparently the mayor said he wasn’t going to take part in Gay Pride in the future if it didn’t clean up its act. What we should have done is thank the mayor for his participation in the past, and tell him that we could do without his services in the future. Then we should have had our parade. But instead, we cleaned up our act, and we lost something major as a result. Pride got boring, and people stopped coming. Except the banks, who come in droves.
Gay Men at the Millennium: Sex, Spirit, Community,edited by Michael Lowenthal, and published by Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., New York.Sorry, no digital version apparently.