In college, the cool thing to be doing was to vehemently declare yourself over whatever scene you were once in. Over the sorority scene. Over the theatre scene. Or in my case, over the how-many-times-can-I-skip-class-and-still-get-a-passing-grade scene. It was as if all our adolescent efforts to fit it had transformed almost overnight into an adult-like notion that we had to shake ourselves from retaining a permanent label, out of fear it would end up ingrained on our tombstones.
This summer, while talking to the New York Times about contemporary gay pride, I had two seemingly opposing labels tacked on me: "professional gay" and "post-gay." Neither of which I wore proudly.
Yes, having worked at A Different Light and GayCities and Queerty, writing a gay column and leading a gay book club, "professional gay" sounds like the right thing to put on my LinkedIn profile, but it still feels inadequate. At least the professional part; I don't even have a LinkedIn profile! And if I'm considered a professional gay then how come I don't have better shoes?
"Professional gay" is in some ways just as restricting as the overarching "gay." Gay writer, gay friend, token gay, too gay, not gay enough. Personally, I've never cared much for rainbows. I find their color pattern insulting to my aesthetic preference of cool blues and greys. During Pride the only thing I celebrated was the fact that my phone did not get snatched out of my pocket at Badlands on Pink Saturday (oh, wait...)
And when it comes to activism, let's just say I'd rather trust a drag queen when she tells me her pool party is an AIDS fundraiser than feel bad about not raising the money the Gay, Inc. executive needs to get a new deck patio paint job. It's not that my generation has grown complacent; it's that we have a reason to be mistrustful. Even in non-profits, money talks. And the drag queen is just being that much louder.
Still, I'm not stupid enough to refer to myself as "post-gay." The label comes off ungrateful, at best, and plain ignorant, at worst. A term for hipsters with internalized homophobia.
During Frameline while at a private screening with Brent Corrigan, Kevin Killian, and Violet Blue (maybe I am a professional gay!), I bonded with Shannon O'Malley, author of Apocalypse Cakes, over the nostalgia we shared towards the bygone days of queer subversion. Shannon mentioned how her cousin had posted a photo of her and her girlfriend on Facebook and how the photo had been overwhelmingly "liked." Is this it? We wondered. How can we fight back if there is nothing pushing us down? "It'd be, like, what? Running around school knocking over garbage cans for the fuck of it," I said. "You're just angry that there's nothing to be angry about."
Like Shannon's cousin and many other gays my age, I have never felt first-hand the oppression that used to be a big part of being queer. In fact, I've felt more discrimination for being Mexican. But just because in our families, and all throughout college, and now in San Francisco, we've lived in a bubble of acceptance does not mean we can be flippant about the ongoing fight. A part of the struggle may be over, but there will always be a fight.
I was born in 1986, but sometimes I wish I'd come of age in 1986. Before the Internet, writing a weekly column was like being on The Hills and you didn't need an iPhone app to find the horny guy with only a towel wrapped around his waist.
Then again, if I had come of age in 1986, chances are I'd be dead.
It's perfectly fine to stay away from the Castro (especially on Saturdays), to think the gay rights movement is misguided (especially the HRC), and to never feel ostracized for being white, privileged, and normal. But we need to be different. We need to live with an understanding that the freedoms that we now share were entitled to us by generations of queers who lived and died so that we could graduate from UPenn, get hired at Google, and post a picture of our boyfriends on Facebook. All that without being subject to a lobotomy.
The "post" never works without an appreciation for the "pre." I told the New York Times that, nowadays, gay is what you make it. The scenesters, the activists, the radicals, the conservatives, and the complacent, we need the dynamic to push each other forward. But we can't do that without a nod back to the past. It is our history. So next time you meet a 50-year-old gay man (trust me, there aren't that many of them), pay your respects, bitch. You were never too good for gay school in college; and you're not too good for gay school now.