It’s not exactly bellwether, but it’s one hell of a statement.
These are wrenching times for San Francisco’s historic gay village, with population shifts, booming development, and a waning sense of belonging that is also being felt in gay enclaves across the nation, from Key West, Fla., to West Hollywood, as they struggle to maintain cultural relevance in the face of gentrification.
I am easily reminded, when reading notes about labor actions abroad, that American strike actions must seem absurd to some insofar as some of our neighbors abroad would think, “I wish I could strike for something like that.” Indeed, such a thought struck me when reading of a French labor action in which firefighters were preparing to strike over the pension age. Was it fifty? Fifty-five? Of course, if retirement in France is anything like vernacular has it in the United States, the extra years of going crazy with nothing to do would explain a few things about what’s wrong with the French. So, yes, sometimes it does seem strange that American workers should strike over things like health benefits, cost-of-living increases, and retirement plans.
And so it is when homosexuals, as Patricia Leigh Brown’s article for the New York Times suggests, face the horrifying prospect of becoming passé.
Because, let’s face it, passé is, simply, a new height for any oppressed minority. Certainly, dressing and sounding like a street thug according to the latest record-label press release became so hip that we nearly drowned in the market saturation, but that, despite what some might say, had nothing to do with actually being black.
So the thought that actual gayness has become passé? It marks a new height in social evolution.
And that makes sense: the aesthetics of being gay are different from those of being black. Mainstream Americans–those who enjoy the benefits and vistas offered being part of the empowered majority–find it much easier to appreciate the appearances that come with being gay than being black. Homo chic involves dramatic clothing, sculpted hair, perfect nails. It involves picture-perfect settings drawn straight from the exaggerations of stereotypes and fashion magazines everywhere. The aesthetics of being gay involve beauty and purity. The aesthetics of being black, on the other hand, involve being black. For those isolated in the American mainstream, it’s an ugly proposition. They already know that being black involves being treated poorly. A ridiculous portion of American history involves the empowered majority doing everything it can to make dark-skinned people miserable. It involves rhetorical twists and ideological ironies on an artistic scale engineered to a pretentious vice akin to Boeing, Microsoft, or the United States government itself. It is an absurdity captured cinematically in small moments like Kathy Bates fitting South American tribal girls for brassieres, and however many real-world analogies such perspectives legitimately include. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation seems almost prophetic in its example: modern hatred is a fierce and determined caricature.
For those isolated mainstreamers, though, it is the practical consideration: all they need to do is be stylish and organized and dynamic and whatever else the homosexual stereotype demands. They get to envy something they would otherwise dislike. Sure, they might fit a gay stereotype, everybody knows they are not actually gay. And they figure it should be just as easy for gay people to pretend they are not gay.
Which really screws up what would otherwise be a beautiful symptom, what makes the whole mess so tragic. It’s a disaster.
But life, despite daily suggestions otherwise, is not a bad movie; and I, for one, am not C. Thomas Howell.
Homosexual rights activists will frequently remind that Huey P. Newton told his Black Panthers that they should relate to their homosexual neighbors because their struggle, too, is the real thing. That relationship, however, is inherently challenged by the diverse relationships between these neighbors and their common oppressor, e.g., the empowered majority. While the stereotypes suggest that heterosexuals expect a good deal of pretense in their dealings with homosexuals, such pretense is not possible between whites and blacks.
And that is what we must remember. If the establishment could ask black people to pretend they’re not black, they would.
So when I look at the idea of an oppressed minority becoming passé, I should probably not be so amused at the notion that the constriction of a people to mere style suggests progress. “You’re passe,” he said, without spending a heartbeat to consider the irony of such a charge.
See? It is entirely possible to take what looks like a sign of progress and find a reason to blame somebody for something.