At an LGBT Pagan meet up recently we had a discussion about male gayness, and just how “just like everybody else” we actually were. Some felt that really we weren’t, that we were different, and that the difference went way beyond who we were attracted to etc. In short that it was important for us to represent our difference and not model ourselves on heterosexual forms and expectations, but find our authentic way beyond that. Some felt that the drift of gay rights issues had crept towards an assimilation that didn’t serve us well.
Though I can relate to some parts of this, essentially I disagree with this view, and I’d like to explain why.
There is something which I learned of years ago under the term of “coming out within”, whereby we come to terms with our particular characteristics as who and what we are, and what will actually work for us, and what won’t work, because it is modelled on quite specifically different kinds of person. The “closet inside” can relate to a lot of things, but in part it relates to internalized images, identities, expectations and aspirations. Coming out of it is an ongoing process of growth. I spent many years looking at, and trying to follow certain spiritual paths in my own way, and one part of “coming out within” for me was giving up paths that could not explicitly and upfront just accept me as a gay man with a full life.
One of my main concerns re gay liberation and gay rights is what will serve the needs and bring about the well being of me and my loved ones. It has to be, because it’s personal. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that an under-represented minority cannot simply take on the roles and definitions apportioned it by the majority. To do so is to live a distorted life from outside your own experience and sense of being, and even enshrine that position and so further distort your life.
But have the roles and definitions traditionally apportioned to us by society at large encouraged “assimilation”, or treated us as “just the same”? Not at all. The roles and definitions historically apportioned to us encourage exclusion, ghettoization, and use, as a kind of specialist service industry with no real concern for our wholeness or well being. Entertainer, dresser of hair, comedian, female impersonator, manager of decor, prostitute, confidant to straight women, etc. Then there’s the shadow side: punch bag to insecure young men, vilified and suspect sexual outsider, the rape that doesn’t count, the victim of campaigns of violent elimination. Traditionally, no one was trying to assimilate us, aside from the unusually enlightened and compassionate.
Are we different? Yes, of course we are. But do we think that “straight” people aren’t, from each other, or from the “norm”? We don’t have a monopoly on difference, but as a group we probably are more divergent from the norm than the average heterosexual in specific ways. We have also developed some of our own (frankly oppressive) “norms” over time, which I certainly do not feel a part of. But none of this difference abrogates our essential, common humanity and human needs. And it is just that common humanity which we have traditionally been excluded from, and which now shows signs of yielding to inclusion and recognition.
The entire area of “what’s our nature” and “what role are we offered” on the basis of alien judgement is a really quite complex one. We can ourselves take on those judgements, even if they are not rooted in our own experience, with some quite maladapted consequences. Because gay men love other men in ways which include the erotic and sexual, they are taken to be cryptically transgendered even where they are not. Sometimes we are referred to as a “third sex”, or as being in-between men and women in our natures, when in fact we are simply men. You can point to our characteristics which can meld what are traditionally “masculine” and “feminine” traits in different ways and different ratios, but this simply brings up questions about what can truly be called masculine or feminine, and just how much it has to do with physical sex or with gender. And again, to pretend that heterosexual people do not mix such characteristics seems to me to be colluding with an ideology of psychic segregation which, despite its historical power, really doesn’t match the nature of everyday experience. Gay people are apportioned transgenderism and deviance from that ideology of psychic segregation, and in part we hold it for the straight majority. I think it’s time to give it back, not absolutely but in equable measure, for the good of us all, because it’s the ideology that needs dissolving, and carrying either end of it is not healthy. I’m proud that transgendered, gay, lesbian and bisexual people share a struggle here, but the threads need to be untangled in order to bring about profounder change, not just for sub-groups, but for human beings at large.
Because we are often marginalized by society, shifted away from the centre, and represented as “others” so often, we get landed with descriptive terms like “transgressive” and “liminal” – but just how “transgressive” or “liminal” is being yourself and living your life happily? Transgression is a judgement of an action, it is not a place where anyone makes a home. And home is just what most people need, a place to grow and flourish, to be with loved ones, to raise family if they choose to, to be at peace, to rest, play, work and create, to feel loved and secure in our interrelationships.
It is exactly the realization of “we are not other” that makes possible the maturation of an authentic vision of self. And while rebellion is necessary at times, it’s no home either – it inevitably encodes a piece of alienation within its form. So we may start off asserting “yes, I am the other” to awaken our sense of being and self worth (ask any adolescent!), but ultimately we have to realize a selfhood of our own, which simply comes naturally to us, with our own nature as central as any one else’s. It is in this sense that we are “just the same as everyone else”, and it’s quite true. Realizing the presence and validity of gay existence from birth, through all stages of life, to old age and death is a corollary of this, and the denial of this (especially I feel the existence and needs of LGBT children) is simply a systematic form of abuse and elimination.
The majority can’t hog human inclusion, and we can’t hog difference. We would be so strong and powerful if it was just all “us”, infinitely diverse. That would be a true social psychedelic. That would be a real trip.