Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gay culture

I don't read "Out" magazine, nor do I visit their web site. But, the following article was linked on another forum that I read which I found very interesting

Has Manhunt Destroyed Gay Culture? A cost-benefit analysis of our quest to get laid

The author explains how online services, like Manhunt (and presumably others, like gay.com, craigs list, etc.), used primarily for hookups, have reduced gay culture to a meat market. Sex has become the handshake for gay men. This wasn't written by some right winged conspirator seeking to demonize gay culture. This is a guy who actively participates in this culture. He writes
I am not scolding. I have done practically every stupid thing a guy can do on Manhunt. I don’t like to think about the number of books I could have read, languages I could have learned, and friends I could have stayed in better touch with if I had not wasted so much time cruising online these past 12 years.
Which brings up a question: Why do we feel this need to meet other gay guys? I know it's certainly true for me. But why? I'm not looking for sex. So, what am I looking for? Why do I crave the interaction I have here on the queerosphere?

A number of years ago I spent 3 months in France on a temporary assignment for work. I don't speak French, which wasn't a problem at work as everyone was able to speak English well enough for us to communicate. However, out in the community on evenings and weekends it was a very different experience. I was in Orlean, which is not one of the big tourist areas; so, there were a lot of people I encountered who did not speak English. While eating in a restaurant, I would often just point to an item on the menu and hope that I didn't just order lambs brains or something. It seemed that whenever I ran into another American we would became instant friends as we would talk and share places we've been and experiences we've had. Thinking back, I realize that if I had run into these same people here in the US, we probably wouldn't have even noticed each other or given each other the time of day. But, in France, we were strangers in a strange land. We didn't speak the language, the culture was foreign to us. So, we latched onto someone, anyone, with whom we could relate - someone with whom we had a shared language and culture.

Is it the same with being gay? Growing up in a heterosexual world, are we all strangers in a strange land? Do we just feel this need to connect with something familiar? To talk with others who have shared feelings and experiences? Do we just want to feel like we are not alone in the world?

There is hope. I see signs that gay men are wanting more out of their relationships. Groups that cater to gay men and women without focusing on the sexual aspects are growing in numbers. For example, the Gay Christian Network recently surpassed 10,000 members worldwide. The problem, as I see it, is that these pockets are still isolated. Most gay men probably don't even know they exist and see services like Manhunt as the only way to meet guys.

So, if we have this innate need to meet and interact with others like us, how do we satisfy it without putting our integrity and values at risk? How can we be "in the gay world but not of the gay world?"


Philip said...

Abel: Why do we feel this need to meet other gay guys?

I think the answer to your question depends on where you are at in the coming out process.

When I was at my most closeted, I was in survival mode and the only reason I seeked out other men was for sex. Of course, at the time I believed being gay was just about sex.

When I became less closeted, I started forming friendships and interacting openly and honestly with other gay men. When I was in this mode, friendship and sex was my main reason for seeking out other gay men. Of course, at that time I thought being gay was just about friendship and sex.

When I become even less closeted, emotional and romantic feelings for other men started to surface. When I was in this mode, my main reason for seeking gay men was for friendship, sex and relationships. Of course, by this time I thought being gay was about everything that being straight was about. In other words, it was about love, family, friendship, relationships, intimacy, closeness and yes sex.

When I finally started coming out to straight people, I felt my mistrust and fear of straight folks start to disappear. This is the mode I am in now. I found myself feeling safe for the first time in the straight world where I spend 95% of my time and forming friendships and interacting and honestly with straight people; not all gay positive but that is another story. I now see being gay as being just a part of who I am like my ethnicity or the color of my hair. I no longer seek out other gay men as often. Part of that might have to do with being older and no longer having a sex drive in overdrive. What I find most important now in other people, gay/bi or straight, is their character. However, when I do seek out other gay men, it usually has to do with comraderie, validation and support and for closeness and intimacy that I only seem capable of feeling for other men.

How I view the gay world has changed dramatically. When I was the most closeted, the gay world was an oasis in the desert where I could be safe and once or twice a month for a few hours be myself. Later on I started seeing the gay world as a hospital because so many of the gay people I met were the walking wounded. I also started seeing the gay world as a big closet with many people in it and found it stifling. I guess you could say I walked away from the gay community because I was further along in the coming out process than most in the gay community.

I think the internet is slowing down the coming out process at a time when it is easier to come out than it use to be.

Back in the 80's before the internet, most gay folks had to go to a gay gathering place like a bar to meet other gay men.

Now you can just get on the internet and set it up to meet someone anonymously.

That's a shame because nowadays you don't have to come out as much as you did before so I think more people are staying stuck in the survival mode or are taking longer to move out of the survival mode to the next phase.


Philip said...

Abel: How do we satisfy our need to meet and interact with others without putting our integrity or values at risk?

I answered this indirectly in my previous post.

One thing that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to act with integrity and be true to your values is the closet.

The more closeted you are, the less honest and open you can be with others.

The more closeted you are, the more limited your options are to be open with other people of integrity that are true to their values.


Abelard Enigma said...

One thing that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to act with integrity and be true to your values is the closet.

philip, I appreciate your comments. But, I do respectfully disagree with you on this point. I agree that being closeted can foster secrecy and dishonesty if we're not careful. But, I don't agree that they go hand in hand. What matters is who we're closeted to. It is possible to remain closeted to most of the world while being open with those who matter most.

The point I was trying to make is that not all gay men are out seeking sex. The challenge is how do these people find each other and form meaningful, nonsexual, relationships to support one another? Many of us have formed such relationships in the virtual world - but how do we accomplish that in the real world?

Philip said...

philip, I appreciate your comments. But, I do respectfully disagree with you on this point. I agree that being closeted can foster secrecy and dishonesty if we're not careful. But, I don't agree that they go hand in hand.

Abel: I guess it depends on what your definition of the closet is.

My definition is that the closet is about having a secret and fearing the consequences if others were to find out your secret. I like this definition because it is from the closeted person's point of view; not society's.

I think it is the combination of secrecy and fear that make the closet what it is. A secret without fear is nothing. I have tons of such secrets.

So the nature of my closet or anybody's closet changes as the fear increases or decreases. And what we are willing to do to protect that secret also changes. Of course, personality also plays into this. Some people are by nature more open than others. Some more to themselves.

What I am trying to say is that the closet is not a natural place to be and that it makes it more difficult for those in the closet to connect with others in the outside world. And for some it makes it impossible to connect. Think of the child that lives in terror of being found out.

I am not suggesting that all gay people should come out. The person coming out, not I, has to deal with whatever the negative consequences are so it should their decision, not mine.

So for me the closet is about secrecy and fear and the things we do to protect our closet including dishonesty.

So I understood the point you were trying to make. I just think that it makes it more difficult to connect with your own integrity and real values from the closet and it makes it more difficult to connect with others if each party is closeted. And for some it is impossible.


Abelard Enigma said...

Please don't misunderstand, I'm not trying to justify staying in the closet. I agree that the closet is not a good place to be. You are correct that many of us stay in our closets out of fear of the consequences if our sexual orientation were known. Unfortunately, those negative consequences can impact others besides ourselves. This is especially true for those of us who are married. The decision to come out of the closet has to be a joint decision. The gay person, who has had a lifetime to come to terms with their sexual orientation, can often be ready to come forward long before the straight spouse who has only had a short time to deal with it.

As for myself, I have made a decision that I'm not going to lie about my sexual orientation. I may try to steer a conversation in a different direction, but if I find myself cornered in a situation where my choice is to either be truthful or to lie - I will speak truth.

Philip said...

I'm not misunderstanding. I am saying that secrecy and dishonesty and the closet go together; they go hand in hand.

As for coming out being a joint decision when married, I agree to a degree. Sometimes for one own's mental health, you need to come out over the objections of a loved one. I have seen straight wives come out to others as a "straight spoouse" over the objections of their gay/bi spouses and gay/bi spouses come out over the objections of their straight spouses. Each person's closet is different and both parties should respect where the other is at.

OK, I'm going to shut up now.


Kengo Biddles said...

For me, it's just a way of finding someone who understands me and isn't going to hate me because I happen to enjoy the sight of a beautiful man.

That being said, I think that there are pros and cons to meeting people. There are some out there that are thrilled in "helping" closeted people/passing people to come out, and that can be traumatic, but I think it's like your experience in France. It's nice to find someone who knows your underlying thoughts/values/ideas/feelings.

Carter Niven said...

Sometimes I wonder how much control we really have in life. Agency seems to be an illusion given our genes and controlling cultural memes. Gay culture might be a powerful overarching meme that stifles other important aspects of a relationship. But, sometimes we conform to those defining labels so that we can experience our other needs to be understood, included, and part of sometime bigger than ourselves.