Gay Republic Daily

Separatism vs. Assimilation - Metaphorical Cookie Crumbs

Feral - Oct 10, 2006 - 09:08 AM
Post subject: Metaphorical Cookie Crumbs
I recently received this link in the mail. It has been suggested that my response ought to be shared, so here it is.


Interesting piece. I shall have to look into it further. While I can certainly see why some might have a knee-jerk negative reaction, I'm not at all certain that it's warranted.

New HIV infections are on the rise again in the community, along with other very serious STD's (sexually transmitted diseases.

New HIV infections ARE on the rise in our community. Study after study shows that gays who have every access to HIV testing elect to remain ignorant of their HIV status. We know perfectly well how to avoid getting infected. Condoms are an excellent suggestion. Monogamy is another -- even serial monogamy would limit infection. Sero-sorting is not out of the question. Refraining from practices that do not exchange bodily fluids is also a possibility. Still, for some reason, we as a people refuse. Note that I never went so far as to suggest not having sex at all ... that would be idiotic. This is an issue the gay people need to discuss -- and actually do something about.

Silver claims that many gay men develop negative and risky behavior, and have higher incidences of alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual addictions, and "the need for endless partying."

I will grant you that some statistics are needed to back up this "higher" claim. Higher than what? But will I say these are not issues we face (or rather, decline to face) as a people? Certainly not. I have helped too many friends check themselves into clinics to claim such a thing. "Endless partying"? I've partied with some of these boys. I am acquainted with the phenomenon Silver is describing.

Despite cultural differences, he found a common thread. The vast majority of the men experienced humiliating experiences as children, he said. Silver said that many gay men develop "ghost wounds" which haunt them throughout life.

Gay youth struggle with the fear of rejection from their peers and family, Silver said. The fear, pain, and rejection can cause lasting effects that lead to poor self-image and negative behavior, Silver said.

"Many"? I would say "all." So would Denneny.

Proposition 7

The elemental gay emotional
experience is the question:
“Am I the only one?”
The feeling of being “different”
and our response to it,
dominates our inner lives.

The gradual or sudden but always unnerving awareness that one is “different” leads to the fear of being the only one. Gays emerge as gay in this trauma. One suspects that it haunts gay life in countless subtle ways that we have not begun to trace. One wonders if the extraordinary fear of rejection that dominates the social interactions in gay bars—and that appears so senseless, since we have all been rejected many times and know from experience that it is certainly not devastating—is nothing more than a replay of adolescent psychological scenarios, when natural sexual desire threatened to expose one as “different” and invited the devastating possibility of total rejection, even and especially by those “best friends” to whom one was most attached. This undermining of sexual and affectional preference, putting into question what one knows with immediacy and certainty, traumatizes a person’s integrity to the point of making one feel that one’s very being is somehow “wrong.”

This assault on the integrity of the self, which every gay experiences, should never be underestimated. It is the basic tactic our weirdly homophobic culture uses to destroy us—first isolate, then terrorize, then make disappear by self-denial.

As our archetypal emotional donnybrook, it also helps to explain many things in the gay world—gay pornography, for instance, is by and large positive fantasy fulfillment that counteracts the nightmarish fears of our adolescent years and, as such, is politically progressive.

Here, however, is where Silver and I part ways:

"We still have a long way to go to be completely assimilated within the dominant culture," he said. "To me, it seems that the gay community has become complacent and is happy just having fun and partying endlessly at their favorite watering holes."

Certainly we have a long way to go to be completely assimilated -- and thank goodness. Complete assimilation is not possible. It just isn't. If we somehow all magically turned str8, then sure. But that isn't going to happen. There is what WE do and there is what THEY do. WE can try all manner of things to assimilate...even become some Frank and Ernest version of Ozzie and Harriet...but nothing WE do will ever affect how THEY view us. That would be something THEY have to do, and THEY just aren't trying. The str8 people occasionally suggest that they might be able to tolerate us better if we were only a little more like them. We cannot ever be like them, even a little. It can't be done. We might put up a picket fence and breed spaniels, but we'll still be fags.

There's nothing wrong with that.

One of the chief problems that lies between gay people and str8 people is their regrettable habit of spawning. Me and my brother will make fine examples. He has two kids, and a third on the way. He has a house and it's mortgage and upkeep costs, two cars and their loan payments and upkeep costs, health insurance, life insurance, homeowners insurance. He's strapped. The kids are young. Soon he'll be more strapped. He's going to die strapped. He spends half of his time scared to death of what might happen and the other half scared to death of what is happening. Me and the spouse ... we don't have these worries. Sure, we have issues, but not one of those I listed for my brother. If my husband weren't ill, we'd still be a double-income-no-kids household. You have to love being a DINK. Str8 people can manage it, after a fashion. We kind of just shuffle through it without trying. If my husband wasn't ill, we'd still be dining out more nights than not, eating dishes that your average American can't pronounce, let alone afford to eat 4 times a week. I'd still be flirting with busboys and "adopting" stray art students. When the spouse was working, my entire salary went to pay our liquor bill -- I kid you not. Of course, I don't make so much money in my line of work and he made quite a lot by my reckoning. Now that we are on a much more limited income, we STILL have more disposable cash than my brother does.

The fact of the matter is, we CAN party like the grasshopper in Aesop's fable of the grasshopper and the ant. It should come as no surprise that some of us do.

One could ask what we're trying to drown in all that liquor, what we're trying to numb with all those drugs, what we're steadfastly ignoring in all those dance clubs, but we know the answer. Don't we? It's Denneny's Seventh Proposition. The separation between the str8 and gay existences is created as much by the str8s as it is by us. We may be able to toy with "us", but we just have no power over the str8s and never will have. If we did, we would have ended homophobia long ago.

Assimilation is futile.

Like Silver, I also will not settle for metaphorical crumbs. I too want the whole cookie, and because we deserve it. Not the str8 people's cookie -- they have a nasty cookie and they are welcome to it. I want a more fabulous cookie; my own gay cookie.

We certainly should look straight into the depths of the "ghost wounds" we have as a people, and see to dressing them. Being more like THEM and less like US is not an avenue worth pursuing.

Of course, I am also a Revanchiste. There is the little matter of justice to attend to. The str8s need to both accept responsibility for their collective crimes against the gay people and atone for them. But that has little to do with Mr Silver's little book.
vanrozenheim - Oct 13, 2006 - 11:55 AM
Post subject: Re: Metaphorical Cookie Crumbs
The problem with books "on the current state of gay affairs" is the range of issues they deal with. While I certainly agree with Mr. Silvers analysis on self-destructive effects of drug abuse and risky behaviour, I can't get friendly with his views on assimilation.

It is, however, quite rare that an assimilationist explicitely uses the word "assimilation" -- mostly they talk of "integration" instead. It would be interesting to know WHAT EXACTLY he has in mind while suggesting we need to be assimilated, and whether he does not actually confuse assimilation with integration.

Assimilation means one gives up one's differences and becomes "like everybody else" in an extent which makes for any independent obeserver to discover differences to the mainstream. Whereas assimilation functions with ethnicities by mixed marriages, adopting language, social behaviour and all other societal practices, I can not imagine how this should function with gays unless we cease to be gays and re-assume marrying opposite sex, produce children and be "decent" on our desires. This final, perfect "assimilation" is our well-known CLOSET and it is exactly the place where our assimilating "well-wishers" want us to be in.

Because no gay philosopher is as bold as to suggest that gays should return to the life in closet, we are confronted with various suggestions on how we could approach the ideal state of assimilation, being less colorfull, less loud, less life-enyoying -- in short, less gay. I do not think being less gay is a desireable goal for a gay person, therefore I would insist on combatting every effort of cultural "assimilation".

Feral wrote:
The str8 people occasionally suggest that they might be able to tolerate us better if we were only a little more like them.

When straights say they would accept us when we were "a little bit more like them", they actually mean that they can not accept us as we actually ARE.

It is not like we were assaulting straights on streets or were taking away their property, so there were some kind of necessity for them to ask us change our behaviour. No, it is simply our mere existence which disturbs them. It can't be said often enough: being gay and acting gay is perfectly ALL RIGHT and THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH IT.

Equal rights do not have as a pre-condition being equal, on contrary: any just legislation insists on treating human beings equally INDEPENDENTLY from their differences.

There is no reason for us to change our behaviour in order to please our heterosexual co-citizens. Quite another thing is, of course, if we OURSELVES regard certain behaviors as destructive and dangerous - and recommend to act responsibly. If Mr. Silver wouldn't argue his cause in context of the expectations of the straight society, his pledge would have far more justification.
Feral - Oct 13, 2006 - 07:07 PM
Post subject:
The problem with books "on the current state of gay affairs" is the range of issues they deal with.

This, I think, is exactly the key to the puzzle...the range of issues involved. Whether we are talking about Denneny's Propositions, isolation, and internalized homophobia ... or whether we are talking about "ghost wounds" from an entirely fresh perspective, we are talking about something that spreads and infiltrates just about every aspect of life. There is a peculiar error current among the assimilationists -- they are of the view that their sexuality is just one rather trivial aspect of a much larger whole. They think that who they wish to have sex with is irrelevant to the remainder of their existences. While I am not near clever enough to point to their exact mistake, they are nonetheless still grievously in error.

The problem with every book on the state of gay affairs is that they all get around to re-phrasing Denneny's Propositions 6 and 7. Stated as succinctly as possible: we are born into a straight world and raised to be straight; we are not straight, and among the first lessons we learn is how different we are. Taken together, those two phenomena eventually touch upon everything. Certainly I would be open to the suggestion that these two propositions are the roots of every substantial difference between gay and straight culture. I would even be willing say that it is why all faces will turn to recognize me the instant I cross the threshold of a gay bar, no matter where in the world I might travel to patronize such a bar. I do not see Propositions 6 and 7 as simple matters of opinion -- they are facts. Naturally if a person wishes to assimilate more or less fully into straight culture he is going to have to hunt down and deal with every single "ghost wound" he has received as a consequence of Proposition 7. He needs to make no other special efforts at all to assimilate -- after all, he has already been raised by straight people to be straight. He has had all the lessons anyone ever gets. His only efforts are to be directed at himself, at his own identity. He must stop being "different" and abandon every consequence of that difference.

Of course, Denneny has also written a Proposition 11:

Our political enemies are
of two kinds:
those who want us not to exist
and those who want us not to appear.

It is, however, quite rare that an assimilationist explicitely uses the word "assimilation" -- mostly they talk of "integration" instead. It would be interesting to know WHAT EXACTLY he has in mind while suggesting we need to be assimilated, and whether he does not actually confuse assimilation with integration.

Assimilation means one gives up one's differences and becomes "like everybody else" in an extent which makes for any independent obeserver to discover differences to the mainstream.

The distinction is, of course, quite important. There are also shades of completion involved in both processes. The perfect assimilation is, of course, the mythical 'cure' for what they now like to call "same-sex-attraction." I cannot speak with certainty for what Mr. Silver wants -- I haven't read his book. Of course, it is a simple matter to e-mail him. I understand he welcomes civil dialog on this issue. Were I to guess, however, I would have to say that he views the interplay of Proposition 6 and Proposition 7 as resulting in mental illness (or, if that is too strong a term, then "dysfunction"). Raised by straight people in a straight culture, he wants to live in it, to participate in the culture of his fathers. He wants his orientation to be irrelevant. I think you would term him an "assimilationist" rather than an "integrationist." Of course, it is impossible to assimilate fully without completely destroying yourself, but you can dance along the edge of a precipice without throwing yourself into the abyss -- it just requires constant care.

I cannot much blame him for this view. After all, he was raised to have it. He was raised to want all the things that he wants and to value all the things that he values. Back in the 70s Harvey Milk proposed that we must all come out of the closet. "Come out, come out, wherever you are" was the slogan. Some did; most chose to remain visible. Through the 80s and 90s the process accelerated and more and more people came out, though many still chose quiet lives in the closet. Today I am told that the majority of gay people are out. Indeed, I am told that on average they are coming out at 13 these days -- avoiding nearly every month of the years spent in hiding by their predecessors. While in the 70s gay activism was hampered by the number of people living in the closet, today gay activism is hampered by the number of out gays who are assimilationists. They have abandoned only their secretive habits and otherwise wish for nothing more than to have ordinary lives in the manner in which they were raised. Gay activism survived the closet cases of the 70s and it will survive the assimilationists of today.

One could, I suppose, spend endless hours in debate with varying shades of assimilationists in an attempt to correct their errors. I am not at all sure if what would be gained by the attempt is worth the effort. I am more interested in the problem posed by all these out teens. However shall straight families manage to raise out teenagers? The news would have me believe that 1 in 5 straight families don't even try. How well shall we presume the remaining 80% are doing? Gay politics, gay culture, and gay individuals need to act positively in this matter. We have a culture, a society. It partly arose spontaneously from our natures and our environment, and partly was a deliberate creation to serve our wants and needs.

In the 70s and 80s a number of gay authors advised us to look to our social interactions, our "families." It seems to some extent we have done so ... after all, our "social networks" are about the only aspect of gay culture that some of us are willing to admit exists.

Well then.

We have our trademarked Pride Parades, our night clubs and gay bars, the Gay Games and Outgames and the occasional gay sporting club, some really very nice erotic paintings, and a blizzard of excellent fiction.

Let us see how well gay culture manages to raise a generation of teenagers.

We have said for decades "come out, come out, wherever you are" and they have done so. What they've come out into is partly of our making and our responsibility. Now and in the future it is no longer enough to squabble over what the word 'gay' means or to point various fingers at who is working against us. In all seriousness, we know exactly what the word 'gay' means -- we breathe it. The word describes our existence and we create it's definition by being. Who is working against us? Better to ask "who is working for us?" and the answer had better be "WE ARE."

I am not at all used to the idea of gay teenagers. I'm certainly not used to the idea of gay 13-year olds. I am used to them suffering in silence and dying by the dozen before they eventually arrive in the gay world as adults. It seems the kids no longer intend to do so. It will not do to demand (as we so often do) that the straight people do something about this problem. Whatever could they possibly know about gay teens? For that matter, what have they ever known about gay adults? The only people with the power to create a social institution within gay culture is the gay people. They will not necessarily do so through organizations with cute acronyms for names. Gay culture springs from the real-life actions of a thousand ten-thousands of gay individuals, out of who we are.
Vizier - Mar 17, 2007 - 05:18 PM
Post subject:
Wishing the link still worked...
Feral - Mar 17, 2007 - 05:47 PM
Post subject:
It was to a brief local newspaper interview of Aaron Silver regarding his book, "Why Gay Men Do What They Do": An Inside Look at Gay Culture. Unfortunately, the article appears to have not been archived.
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