It's 2015 and gays like myself are still here, still queer and people seem to be getting used to us. Sort of.
Do my husband and I walk down the street holding hands in public? No, we don't. Not even in our home city of Los Angeles, which is a forward-thinking community even by Southern California standards. But why should we hide our affection while straight couples sit at the beachside cafes and blatantly make out? Maybe it's because we're a little old for PDA, but more likely it's because we're both intelligent men who know what homophobia looks and feels like, and that it still exists, even in liberal enclaves.
In short, we are men who've experienced firsthand cultural, interpersonal and legal discrimination based on nothing more than our sexual orientation. We have lived our lives in a culture that has not only allowed and accepted, but at times outright encouraged, our oppression. We've been marginalized, vilified, rejected, repressed, ridiculed and denied our rights. And we've been relatively lucky. Other gay men have been pathologized, institutionalized, violated, bashed and left to die. And sadly, the situation is even worse for gays who are "double minorities" or who live in countries other than the United States, Canada and certain European nations.
Regardless of where we're from, gay men are often forsaken. Worldwide, we remain openly and acceptably pushed out of:
• Our families of origin
• Our places of worship
• Our militaries and other careers
• Our legal rights
• Our self-worth, self-respect and self-identity
We've been called every name in the book, too -- be it faggot, queer, homo, fudge-packer, queen, butt pirate, sissy or fairy. Sometimes, as an attempt at empowerment -- or maybe as a manifestation of self-loathing -- we've adopted these labels as our own. ("Queer" is generally the most empowering of these terms, while "faggot" and "fairy" are the most demeaning.)
Over the years, gay men have adapted to subjugation and traumas as best we could, although not always in healthy ways. In fact, until the mid-1960s we mostly hid -- living double lives in repressive shadows, fearing discovery, arrest and being pathologized. Then we got militant and open about things, with Stonewall and a decade or so of serious sexual hedonism. In the process, we devalued the larger culture and its institutions, such as marriage, church and government. We said, "We don't want to get married. Why would we want that? It's a repressive heterosexual model of living, and we're better than that."
Basically, we decided that if the world wouldn't let us play by the same rules as everyone else, we were taking our ball and going home -- usually to a gay ghetto where we could play by our own rules (of which there were none). There, lacking clear models for relationships, spirituality, community, intimacy and love, we defined ourselves by "living out loud," often by parading the most vilified parts of ourselves in the faces of our oppressors. Then AIDS hit, and that was the end of that.
Since that time the gay community has, in fits and starts, won grudging cultural and legal acceptance, particularly in the last few years. For instance, my husband and I are now legally married, because in California we can do this (and also because we love each other). No, we couldn't pull off this feat in every state, but in 37 states plus the District of Columbia we could, and that's a huge step in the right direction.
So gays have come a long way since the decriminalization of homosexual activity (mostly in the 1960s and early 70s) and the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 decision to acknowledge homosexuality as a "normal and natural variant of sexual expression" rather than a diagnosable mental illness. But there's still a long way to go.
Yes, in today's world gay men are portrayed positively in movies and on popular television shows, and even in commercials. Gay and lesbian athletes, entertainers, soldiers, teachers and politicians are "coming out" without major repercussions to their lives or careers. Even better, gays can now legally marry, parent (via adoption or surrogacy) and live their lives openly and honestly in most states. In fact, in some major metropolitan areas being an attractive, intelligent, urbanized gay male actually provides a bit of social clout. Nevertheless, in much of our nation it's business as usual, and being gay is still misunderstood, feared, judged, dismissed and frowned upon.
And even as we slowly gain cultural and legal equality, questions remain. For starters, what comes next? Who will we become when we're not living with a constant and consistent fear of devaluation and vilification? Will we continue to congregate in gay ghettos, or when our need for "safe zones" is gone will we disperse to the suburbs, a la Modern Family? And what will we do with all of the energy formerly spent on sheer survival and fighting for our rights? In truth, only time will tell.
For now, perhaps the best place to start is by going through our own houses and cleaning up our act. This means we must identify our vulnerabilities -- as individuals and collectively -- and reinforce our strengths by creating healthy communities and bonding with our peers instead of partying, sexting and chasing or spending the almighty dollar.
As such, we need to actively address gay cultural problems related to substance abuse, sexual addiction and domestic violence while simultaneously developing our ability to find and develop intimacy and lasting connection. This is important not only for the gay men of today, but for generations to come. Gay men currently don't have role models and mentors, but maybe the next generation will.