Bruised Brotherhood

Commentary: Stonewall Baby

If there is a no-man’s land between The New Gay and The Old Gay, I am sitting in it. To be clear, these are not metaphoric states on a fictitious map. Rather, these camps exist in measurable ways in the virtual world. You’ll find the former at thenewgay.net, the latter as a group on Facebook.

While these entities may not be at war, a blog post by TNG’s Michael Eichler detailing his personal response to his perceived rejection by the gay mainstream – read white, specifically ”gay,” and Cher-loving – has pinched a nerve that has seen its share of pinching over the years. When Victory Fund’s Denis Dison created The Old Gay, he included a caveat mentioning TNG by name, emphasizing that TOG was in no way an attack on that site, or movement, or blog or what have you. Rather, it was a minor homage to simpler times of adoring divas and nice dinners.

I am reminded of the tagline that accompanied the now run-its-course reincarnation of Battlestar Galactica: This has all happened before. Indeed, I was watching the original version as I entered puberty in the late 1970s. In this instance, however, it reminds me of the ongoing struggle that gay men have had finding their identity within the tribe. It’s the schism that may have first happened – at least within the modern establishment of a gay-rights movement – when Frank Kameny, in his upstanding-citizen drag, and the queer hippies of the day split. Whether that flower-power counterculture evolved into the mainstream of today, or whether it was Kameny’s ties and slacks that rule our roost, I just don’t know.

What I do know is that this is not new for us, whichever side of it you sit on. Lesbians, transfolk (excepting those who identify as gay male, of course), you’re perfectly welcome to sit on the sidelines and chuckle a bit. Mostly, this is a struggle for the fellas. Granted, I don’t think Suze Orman and Sandra Bernhard are walking in lockstep, or that baby-dyke skate punks are saving their ‘zine profits for trips to the Dinah Shore Weekend. But we boys just have a harder time getting along. Blame society. After all, we were reared – straight boys, too, despite my choice of phrasing – to be competitive. We weren’t groomed to get along or join, but to win. If our parents didn’t do that to us, culture did.

Perhaps we would’ve found our way through this by now, with macho men deriding the queens, or the radical faeries sequestering themselves in the forests, or same-gender-loving men of color rejecting a ”white” culture of gay, and so on, if we’d not taken such a hit from AIDS. We’ve yet to recover from the bomb that turned lovers into executioners, and killed the heart of our culture. For every Larry Kramer who made it out alive, hundreds died and took their potential to build our community with them.

Robin Hardy, one of those forced off the stage, wrote about it best, with the help of his friend and editor, David Groff.

”[AIDS] absconded with the men who had first embodied our sexuality – those Stonewall veterans, those seventies queens and Radical Faeries and manic activists – who knew where we had been and could have charted where we could go,” he writes in The Crisis of Desire: AIDS and the Fate of Gay Brotherhood, sure to be required reading if I’m ever teaching a queer-studies course. ”AIDS has devastated gay men of color whose parallel lives, diverse identities, and fierce, enlarged numbers would have created an even more distinct and vital community intertwining race and sexuality, and whose numbers would have given greater complexity to the frozen vanilla yogurt of contemporary urban gay sexuality.”

Though Hardy wrote those words more than a decade ago, having died in 1995, they’re not at all dated.

Amid our tribal warfare, I’d be more likely to fly Eichler’s flag, I guess — though, like the Stonewall anniversary, I’m hitting 40 in June. I’ve never owned any Madonna music. I’ve never seen Cher in concert, preferring instead the likes of the Sugar Cubes and the Smiths. (For the youngsters: Björk and Morrissey.) I’ve often felt alienated from gay-male mainstream of pumped pecs and P’town. My gal pals have joked that I should sport a ”Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian” T-shirt ironically, so great has been my disconnect.

But I sit in that aforementioned no-man’s land, because I am, in a sense, sleeping with the enemy. At least, when I met him eight years ago, that’s how it seemed, he teaching spinning classes and decked out in Banana-Marc Jacobs-Kenneth Cole, choosing his music not for the artistry but for the beats per minute, smiling his fantastically white smile and mastering small talk. In embracing him, however, I learned to embrace that other side of the tribe. He may not have gotten me to any Cher concerts — though he’s been more than gracious, submitting himself to Rufus Wainwright and movies with subtitles — but he helped me beat my fear of gyms and my absurd gloominess. He’s made my world larger. I hope I’ve done the same for him.

Giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt by assuming that our community would have been a far richer and healthier one if we’d not lost so many to the AIDS onslaught, not just more of the same that we find ourselves in, we best honor those dead thousands — as well as ourselves — by striving to name and overcome these schisms, which all boil down to fear. I am afraid of being hurt because I’m not buff enough or young enough or hip enough or rich enough or not enough of a million other things. All of us are all our brothers’ keepers, not just the ones with the same playlists, same income bracket, or same body-mass index.

Will O’Bryan, Metro Weeklys managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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