Toward a New Gay Culture
Or rather, defining the two gay subcultures
Definitions: For my purposes here, “community” means a specific collection of individuals united by social ties, and “culture” is the ideas and behavioral norms that prevail in that community. The use of “culture” in this essay necessarily means “culture, and the community it derives from.” Similar with “community.”
The phrase “gay community,” while ostensively meaning “all gay men/their culture/their interests,” does not actually refer to all of them. While perhaps indicating a majority, it ignores a significant plurality, which I am part of.
The consequence of using a name for a whole to refer to merely a part: the plurality isn’t acknowledged by mainstream gay and heterosexual culture, and has so far remained comparatively uncoalesced, depriving itself and the wider world of its qualities and advantages. “Gay culture” as commonly discussed isn’t the culture of all gay men, rather the culture of the most visible.
Why is this important? Because: the uncoalesced culture has much to offer. It needs to be named and explicitly defined so that its social ties can be strengthened, new institutions and social patterns formed, and gay life improved as a result.
The individuals of the plurality culture, while sharing much cultural and institutional overlap with traditional gay culture, are differentiated in several ways. Three illustrative examples:
Their political identity is independent of the Democratic Party (in the United States). This doesn’t mean they’re Republicans, and it doesn’t mean they’re not Democrats. It means that they have a set of political objectives and personal values that preclude partisan essentialism.
They are more solution-oriented about their personal lives and the future; socio-politically, they are interested not just in fighting against bad things, but building and creating good things.
They more reliably heal from the difficulties of coming out, often because they do so deliberately, as an exercise of their own agency, and don’t rely on external validation or apology.
Because of the overlap between the traditional and plurality gay cultures, it would be better to think of them as two distinct subcultures of the same parent gay culture, as in the diagram below.
Any gay man can move between the two subcultures, although I suspect most currently don’t. No one is born into either, but rather settles into one or the other based on their sequence of life choices and value selections.
Currently, peer pressure and cultural inertia work in favor of the traditional subculture, because it’s both more explicitly defined and incumbent. This is a shame on numerous fronts; not only does traditional gay culture tend to impede adult male psychological development,1 it’s a comparatively terrible receiving ground for newly out gay men. They all deserve better, and the plurality culture can offer that. It’s more diverse, more psychologically resilient, and possesses better average sets of personal values.
The plurality subculture has two options going forward: (1) it can attempt to further integrate with and change the traditional gay subculture for the better, or (2) it can move from comparatively isolated social pockets to coalesce as an explicit and distinct subculture.
I think the first option, integration and improvement, is by far the superior option.2 However, because of incumbent institutional and cultural inertia, I don’t think it’s doable. So that establishes the task: coalesce a new, distinct gay subculture. It will make the gay world better and stronger, and it will provide a competitive rival that the traditional (mono) subculture will lose ground against without improvement.
Further essays (like this one, to start) will explore the evolution of the traditional gay subculture into its modern incarnation, why it is not functioning well as an agent of gay human flourishing, and how the gay plurality subculture can be cultivated for the benefit of gay men everywhere.
"What always fascinates me is that once a gay man enters into stage three [cultivating an authentic life free of shame], his visibility in the gay community often diminishes...This is unfortunately for young men, for they are unable to see the healthy progression from shame to freedom. Many younger gay men just assume that once you get older, you hide out in your house or move away out of embarrassment from having aged. It isn't conceivable to them that many of the gay men who "disappear" do so because they have outgrown the need for the avoidance of shame and acquisition of validation that is at the core of so much of mainstream gay culture" (Bracketed text mine, from Alan Downs, The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World (New York: Hachette Go, 2012), pp. 110-111). It should be noted that Downs’ use of “gay community” is the one I think needs to change—it refers to the traditional gay subculture that I find lacking. Of course more psychologically developed gay men move away from it.
“Functioning [institutions] are repositories of many kinds of capital that cannot be liquidated, and when they die, it is destroyed. The popular notion of ‘institutional knowledge’ hints at this fact, but it is not broad enough: such capital includes not just knowledge about the institution itself, but also...tacit technical knowledge, private social networks, private intelligence-gathering operations, management and persuasive skill, cooperation among founders and their allies, and founders’ long-term plans for their institutions...We have no problem identifying this phenomenon as unfortunate in politics. We view the destruction of an old political order by means such as civil war or political strife as a regrettable necessity at best, not something to celebrate...Disruption should be the backup rather than the first choice for innovation. That disruption is often the first choice instead results from poor institutional health” (From Samo Burja’s Great Founder Theory manuscript, pp. 79).