Will the Gay Revolution Succeed?
Measuring its impact culturally, institutionally, and individually
Not all revolutions do.
The “gay revolution” is the gay man’s fight for political and social acceptance. I don’t think it’s obvious that this will succeed long-term—not because it’s a gay revolution, but because the contemporary society of the United States (which I’ll focus on for now, but not limit myself to) is in spasm. This revolution is at the inflection point where much of its efforts need to switch from revolutionary action to peacetime—the factories need to switch from tanks to cars—but our broader culture incentivizes the opposite.
But how do you determine whether or not a revolution is successful? My ultimate standard is human flourishing: does the revolution increase quality of life in a way that can be maintained and grown over time?
That standard can be measured in a variety of ways. For example:
Culturally: do the ideas and norms that prevail after the revolution increase individual and collective well-being? Does the culture retain an ability to harbor several rival ideas peacefully, occasionally synthesizing them? Is the culture dynamic or decadent?
Institutionally: can the institutions (instruments of coordination) of the revolution transition from a revolutionary footing to a more conventional mode of operation, and self-repair as necessary?
Individually: do most individuals buy into the revolution, even if not initially? Is their acceptance bottom-up, top-down, or conducted via intermediary layers?
So, a failed gay revolution doesn’t necessarily mean regression to a society that shuts the closet door on homosexuality. It means that, despite social and political acceptance, the institutions and culture of gay life don’t function well, resulting in worse individual outcomes. The larger integrated culture of the United States (gay men along with everyone else) is facing a similar crossroads.
Project Origin Story
This project started over a year ago as an investigation into gay happiness. I wanted to know why, despite substantial political and social progress, gay men continued to face a variety of social problems—even those who grew up in accepting homes and live in accepting environments.
I interviewed dozens of men, and I heard nothing surprising. Each of their stories had been told in pop culture, academia, and in my own social life. But I did realize something important: the question of gay happiness wasn’t the thing I should focus on. It was downstream of the larger question of the success or failure of the gay revolution. I had been investigating a subset when I should have been looking at the superset. So that’s what I’m doing now.
Primarily, in short: assess the state of gay culture and institutions and find ways they need to change to provoke flourishing for gay men.
Seconarily, in medium: gay male culture is a sub-culture of the larger American culture, and cultural progress in the sub-culture can propagate outward once established. The more individual sub-cultures can be immunized against the processes of decline and lack-of-flourishing, the greater the chance that the broader culture might be redeemed.
Although I’m investigating problems, I wouldn’t call myself a pessimist or optimist. My attitude is solution-oriented, or “solutionist,” as Jason Crawford put it recently in the MIT Technology Review.
Who am I?
I’m an interested and motivated citizen. The kind of man who reads thousands of pages of municipal law for fun and application. The sort of person who is wildly suspicious of credentials in the humanities, even as he combs the rough for diamonds in those fields.
I see a conceptual, abstract problem that has real-world ramifications, and I want to fix it. In my view, many people in the field of gay liberation are going at a broken pipe with a hammer. But this is no nail.
I’m writing and researching to figure out the truth and good ways of achieving it, and this means I will definitely write some wrong things. But I look forward to the counter-arguments and feedback I’ll get (assuming I don’t become the main character on Twitter for the day, but that’s the risk of doing business). My motivations are very much in line with this recent post from The Scholar’s Stage depicting how the blogosphere used to be.
Is this different from traditional gay scholarship and media?
Regarding scholarship, at least a little. Regarding media, certainly; mainstream gay media oftentimes draws such a narrow bead on aspects of gay culture that it becomes provincial where it needs a broader view.
My intellectual life is cross-disciplinary, and it incorporates tweet storms, Discord conversations, and internet forum posts as readily as interviews and university-press books. As you might therefore expect, the research and information that I use to analyze the gay revolution will come from a variety of fields, including STEM. Here I think my project is different from a lot of gay scholarship and mainstream media.
But I don’t yet have an overall lens or theory that I’m using to analyze the gay revolution. Maybe I’ll eventually develop one, or figure out the best extant ones to use; I have multiple that I’ve been using. For now I’m running through the aisles of the intellectual box store and pulling stuff off shelves.
Conclusions: Are you interested? Follow along.
The products of my research will be short and long blog posts that I’ll post on Twitter, podcast appearances, videos, subject interviews, and anything else I can think of.