Costumes, The Castro, & Culture: Is Gay Passe?

America was built upon numerous cultural influences. Instead of simply submitting to fear, many Americans found themselves enriched by exposure to the unfamiliar and it made us a better nation. The same can be true with regards to gay culture’¦so long as the gay community celebrates and maintains its cultural identity and isn’™t afraid or ashamed to stand up and speak out.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

I’™m opposed to outright gay assimilation as I view it to be a form of capitulation’¦an ill-advised effort to fit in if you will. In so stating, I am not suggesting that gays embrace cultural isolationism; rather I favor preserving our homosexual identity while engaging the heterosexual community in a dialogue that seeks to find common ground’¦ground that doesn’™t require us to adapt our lives to fit the heterosexual template’¦or visa versa.

A new article in The New York Times sheds some light on the results of gay assimilation. I believe the piece illuminates the emerging erosion of our cultural significance and how that can begin to limit our ability to not only share in society as fully equal partners, but to potentially diminish our opportunities to influence and shape its future.

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 24 ‘” This Halloween, the Glindas, gladiators and harem boys of the Castro ‘” along with untold numbers who plan to dress up as Senator Larry E. Craig, this year’™s camp celebrity ‘” will be celebrating behind closed doors. The city’™s most popular Halloween party, in America’™s largest gay neighborhood, is canceled.

or many in the Castro District, the cancellation is a blow that strikes at the heart of neighborhood identity, and it has brought soul-searching that goes beyond concerns about crime.

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.

In the Castro, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society held public meetings earlier this year to grapple with such questions as ‘œAre Gay Neighborhoods Worth Saving?’

While the Castro has been the center of a movement, it is also home to ‘œan important political constituency,’ said Elizabeth A. Armstrong, an associate sociology professor at Indiana University and the author of ‘œForging Gay Identities: Organizing Sexuality in San Francisco 1950-1994′

‘œWhen people were angry about Dan White they were able to assemble quickly, spilling out of the bars,’ Professor Armstrong said. ‘œPhysical location mattered.’

I contend that efforts to mimic heterosexuality lay the groundwork for our irrelevance and begin to marginalize our ability to favorably influence the political, social, and cultural climate’¦one which has been primarily defined by heterosexuals. Inherent in the gay rights movement is a tacit acceptance that all the rights granted to heterosexuals are appealing and therefore sought after. Unfortunately, I don’™t entirely accept that premise with regards to marriage and I fear that our message fosters a belief that our way of life is incomplete and can be punished by withholding the granting of those rights currently reserved for our heterosexual counterparts.

While I’™m not opposed to gay marriage, I fear that making it the focal point of our agenda serves to validate the assumed superiority of the heterosexual relationship model’¦one that I find to be lacking and one that is likely premised upon a number of false constructs. The fact that gays appear determined to replicate heterosexual marriage seems to suggest that we believe it to be a functional institution. On the contrary, marriage statistics suggest otherwise and that fact ought to be an integral part of our strategy.

In fact, the resiliency of gays to establish functional relationships absent the accoutrements of conventional marriage may actually warrant a rethinking of heterosexual marriage in its current iteration. Let me be clear’¦I wholeheartedly believe our relationships should be granted the same recognition, protections, and benefits afforded to heterosexual marriages. However, the push for gay marriage seems to send the message that gays have nothing to bring to the relationship table’¦a conclusion I reject and a point I think merits discussion. Additionally, those who oppose gay marriage view their ability to deny it to us as giving them an added authority and a distinguishing legitimacy. I believe they needn’™t be granted such dominion nor should such thoughts be allowed to persist.

Frankly, gays should not only be seeking the same rights offered to heterosexual marriages but they ought to be pointing to the many flaws that accompany the institution of marriage. In doing so, the debate can begin to expand beyond the ‘œwe have it and you’™re not going to get it’ tug of war. The prevailing argument offered by critics of gay marriage is that it will undermine heterosexual marriage and destroy the current family structure. So long as the debate remains framed this way, gays will struggle to gain traction in their push for inclusion.

The argument for gay marriage ought to be expanded beyond inclusion and into a dialogue that seeks to define what actually makes for a functional relationship and an environment that nurtures children. Clearly, the belief that one qualifies for marriage and child rearing by simply being a heterosexual is laughable and it ought to be aggressively questioned and challenged.

An ideal home environment isn’™t predicated upon the presence of a man and a woman; it’™s predicated upon an adult or two adults possessing enough maturity to understand the responsibility that comes with having children and the willingness to set aside one’™s own self-interests out of an unyielding love for the innocents in our midst.

Further, that love must include more than the ability to slip a child twenty dollars and send them out the door and out of our way. Far too many parents have replaced the hard work of real parenting with the ease of financial placation. Truth be told, the results of that deficient notion are coming home to roost in a never ending string of tragic events involving alienated and troubled children.

The following excerpt from The New York Times, while attempting to understand the shift in gay culture evidenced by a newly emerging generation of gays, actually hits upon the larger societal issue of isolation and lack of interpersonal involvement that results from the current heterosexual family paradigm.

An annual survey by the San Francisco Gay Men’™s Community Initiative indicated that in 2007 only 36 percent of men under 29 said there was a gay community in the city with which they could identify.

Doug Sebesta, the group’™s executive director and a medical sociologist at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said, ‘œI’™ve had therapists who have told me they are asking their clients to go back to bars as a way of social interaction.’

The Internet is not a replacement for a neighborhood where people are involved in issues beyond themselves, said John Newsome, an African-American who co-founded the group And Castro For All after the Badlands incident. ‘œThere are a lot of really lonely gay people sitting in front of a computer,’ he said.

Which is why the cancellation of the Halloween party by the city has provoked such a sense of loss. Many residents say that their night has been taken away. ‘œIt’™s proof that whatever sense of safety we have is incredibly tenuous, ‘œ Mr. Newsome said.

I would argue that the phenomenon of isolation described above is not unique to just those gays who are under the age of 29. It is indicative of society’™s growing disregard for the personal contact which is actually the essence of loving parenting. Those children who are now entering the world as adults are doing so absent the fundamentals which must originate in the home as a result of meaningful parent-child relationships’¦relationships which aren’™t measured by the material wherewithal of a parent to equip their children with the properly labeled clothing or the latest gadgets. While parents have found it is possible to occupy a child’™s time with television and computer games; they do so at the peril of their child’™s future ability to form functional relationships.

In our rush to define and pursue success as a one-dimensional financial calculation, we have forgotten that a child’™s evaluation of a successful parent is rarely dependent upon the size of mom and dad’™s bank account or their titles at work. Having a woman and a man identified as a mom and a dad may fit some rigid religious definitions of proper parenting but if it fails to rear an adjusted and healthy child, it ought to be seen as it is’¦little more than an inane adherence to established dogma.

Allowing the anti-gay zealots to assail gays while fostering dysfunctional families must cease. Gays must approach the topic of marriage, gay adoption, and parenting as a matter of measuring outcome; not as an equation of entitlement. The ability to parent isn’™t negated by one’™s sexual orientation just as good parenting isn’™t guaranteed by the presence of a man and a woman. For meaningful change to occur, these antiquated assumptions must be deconstructed.

America was built upon numerous cultural influences’¦cultures that brought differing values and perspectives to marriage and parenting. Those views enriched our society, provided a platform for dialogue, and created a curiosity which allowed us to embrace change. Instead of simply submitting to fear, many Americans found themselves enriched by exposure to the unfamiliar and it made us a better nation. The same can be true with regards to gay culture’¦so long as the gay community celebrates and maintains its cultural identity and isn’™t afraid or ashamed to stand up and speak out.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007 by Richard Blair |

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