Saturday, November 7, 2009

Open Forum: The Death of Queer Culture

Is queer culture on the verge of death? The question may strike you as odd since millions of people have come out over the past few decade, and the numbers only increase over time. We have entered a time period where sexuality and gender are no longer binaristic, and new terms and identities are being created to allow freedom of self expression to take place. All these are signs that queer identity is blossoming and taking on new forms. After all religion doesn't dissipate when the number of followers expands, it only becomes more evident and vibrant.

So what's this talk about queer culture fading? Well unlike religion or political parties whereby more followers means more identity and power, the opposite is true with queer identity. Queer identity is built on the notion that we are different, and apart from the general public. The more people who join the queer "freak show" the less weird and alien it is to the general public and the easier it is for queers to assimilate. Assimilation is inevitable, the more people come out, equals the more normalized queer identity becomes, results in the less marginalized queer people become, and the result is less need for queer specific resources.

Is assimilation really a bad thing? It does come at the expense of some aspects of queer culture but many of the aspects being erased are ones of shame and exclusion...

"If there is a real choice between a culture built on oppression and a culture built on freedom, the decision is an easy one" - Andrew Sullivan
Is this the death of a culture, or is it the evolution of a movement? Do you see queer identity as growing or fading over the course of time, and do you view that in a positive, negative, or neutral light?


Anonymous said...

It's not dead. It's just been appropriated by the breeders.

Ahuv said...

I dont know what the freaking problem is. Thanks God more people see us as normal. If you only consider youself to be gay not to be mainstream... poor you.

Thegriff said...

Queer identity is being redefined as the less vocal, non-activist, gays are being counted with our activist brothers and sisters. Queer culture has been strongly defined by the twenty percent of the LGBT community who've been out there the past forty years.

You could say, for better or worse, the culture is being "watered down" as more and more gays are 'out' while choosing, what to many, is a normal life. It's not that we shun the culture; it just doesn't speak to us.

I personally see the evolution as being good for gays and our causes. We have no need to continue the fight for our "culture" as the fight now is about gaining the rights.

I have black friends who have told me they've been called "too white" by their friends and family. I have to wonder if the same accusations will be made regarding how we act; "you're too straight!"

That said I am curious to see if we begin celebrating National Gay History month in twenty years.

Janet said...

Isn't this what we fight for? That queer people become so mainstream as not to be even "queer" anymore. Just one more piece in the mosaic we call mankind (or womankind or peoplekind, if you prefer).

Cerberus said...

I don't think it's quite that dualistic. Queer culture is growing, which means we will see more assimilation, more queers who fit more "mainstream" ideas of behavior, more conservative queers. Why? Because the actions of radicals makes it safe for people who have more investment in being "normal".

So I think there'll be that, but queer culture won't really ever die. As an example, I point to irish-americans and italian-americans. They are no longer oppressed and many have even jumped on the bus of the next group to oppress while being a very assimilated culture. Yet still, the remnants of the culture that sprung up when hated reasserts itself. St. Patrick's Day, Italian diners, etc... It may be more watered down and less "relevant", but I suspect we'll see similar remnants (Pride, drag shows, Dykes on Bikes) even after the community is mostly assimilated.

Also, it's worth pointing out that normal in that future day will not look like our normal today. The free expression of gender and sexuality will have been more mainstreamed as well, replacing the heterosexism and gender conformity that existed before, just as the assimilation of the irish and italians drastically removed the dog whistle campaigns against drinking, anti-catholic ravings and cultural set-ups, and a need to at least play at valuing the lower class white male.

So yeah, it's not really as either/or as Sully hopes.

BGryphon said...

Being less hated is not the same as being loved. And sure many gay people seem to be 'blending in' - but until leatherfolk, drag queens and polyamorous families are accepted we're still queer.

As long as many straight people are uncomfortable by the lyrics of Romanovsky & Phillips, don't want to hear as much about my sex life as they seem hell-bent on telling me about theirs, and think it's alright to treat our relationships as less we are still queer.

TV shows still use 'kinky sex' to hint that there's something 'unwholesome' about a character; even as younger actors start wanting to play a gay character to 'show off their talent'.

Queers United said...

Anon - With metrosexuality it's really hard to tell who is gay and lesbian these days.

Vince - I think it's good that people see queer sexuality as normal, but some people feel a loss of the community as a result of it.

Thegriff - I see it was being watered down or evolving to keep up with the times as well. Things changes, communities change, I think this is natural.

Janet - The fight is for equality, but not necessarily for full assimilation and loss of our identity, I guess it depends who you ask.

Cerberus - I think Dykes on Bikes is supposed to be radical, feminist and a direct challenge to the culture, if the culture accepts the dyke persona I am not sure women will feel the need to have a special demo for dykes on bikes. I guess time will tell.

BGryphon - That's a good point, as gays and lesbians become more mainstream, groups like polyamorous people and leatherfolk, etc are also coming out of the closet, so in some sense queer visibility is changing and will take on new fronts and battles.

Anonymous said...

We are second class citizens under continuous attack by Evangelical & Fundamentalist kristyans who account for 25% of the population (according to Pew stats). We are still killed and beaten in public simply because we are us and the fight to give us legal recourse against it is actively fought against at the state level and barely made it through the federal level. We are 100 years from integration into heterosexual society. We don't share in straight culture and we do have our own which continues to evolve. This question is vapid and unrealistic. The development of Queer culture is a neccessity because we live in a world where straights oppress us.

Queers United said...

Anonymous the oppression still continues but surely you see big changes? Who would have thought congress would have an LGBT caucus, and that highschools would have Gay-Straight Alliances only 10 years ago? The momentum is on our side.

liminalD said...

I'm saddened by the loss of queer culture - I see it as an almost inevitable outcome of the push for equality, and it's certainly worth it so that future generations do not have to suffer in the ways that their predecessors have, but I'm pretty sure that with a growing acceptance of gay and lesbian life in the mainstream we will see a corresponding lack of understanding towards and respect for those predecessors in future generations.

I'm saddened because I think queer culture stood in a unique position to challenge some of the more limiting aspects of straight culture, providing heterosexual men and women with alternative perspectives, differing voices, exemplars of alternate masculinities and femininities. To some extent, this has been accomplished, and individuals in mainstream society have begun to explore their sexual- and gendered identities.

I do think, however, that we are not 'winning over' the majority so much as we are forfeiting that countercultural position, losing our opportunity and ability to hold up a mirror to and critique mainstream culture. We pretend or naively believe that we are "just like" our straight neighbours despite sociological evidence to the contrary, we've bought into Western capitalist societies' hegemonic ideologies of the 'ideal' relationship, the white-picket-fence-house-in-the-suburbs vision of happily married family life, and in doing so we've given up asking whether these things actually work, whether they do in fact make people happy. Heterosexual divorce statistics would seem to suggest otherwise. In other words, we're so obsessed with becoming 'normal' that we're not stopping to see whether 'normal' is so great after all. From an evolutionary perspective, homogenous populations quickly stagnate, cannot adapt easily to changing environments, and occasionally die out from a lack of viable alternatives presented by variations.

I'm concerned that while lesbian and gay people are gaining acceptance in the mainstream, this comes at a price: the abandonment of those who are less 'acceptable' to the wider society. I'm thinking particularly of the transgendered and intersexed here, and to a lesser extent the bisexual and asexual. Queer culture afforded all 'deviants' some strength in numbers, but the gay and lesbian exodus to the mainstream leaves the less easily 'normalised' minorities out in the cold, and transpeople especially may have neither the numbers nor the resources to fight for their own rights. Our joining the ranks of the 'normal' may change the mainstream, but I doubt that we will do so sufficiently to facilitate or hasten the inclusion of our non-gay and lesbian queer peers.

It's worth noting as well that while gays and lesbians are gaining increasing acceptance in the mainstream, it is only *some* gays and lesbians, generally those who conform to wider society's expectations about gender norms. Butch women are still unacceptable, as are feminine or flamboyant men. Lesbian relationships must be either femme-femme or adhere to the heterosexual 'husband and wife' model as closely as possible, and overwhelmingly gay male relationships must conform to the latter also. We're not changing mainstream society by joining it, we're being changed.

Will the mainstreaming of gays and lesbians lead to greater acceptance of other marginal sexual- and gendered identities? I'm inclined to think not. I think it will further marginalise those less easily absorbed into the mainstream, and will rob us of our unique perspectives on love, sex, family and gender. And I think society as a whole will be the poorer for the loss.

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