I first noticed it when I moved to San Francisco's Haight District in my early 20's... the occasional baked good or keefy nug passed discreetly in a handshake; a charming knickknack gifted to me by a Burlesque queen turned Suicide Girl; warm smiles from Mad Max-looking street punks... the counterculture had officially embraced me.
Sure I'd dabbled in it as a teen - worn successive pairs of Birkenstocks down to their soles; rocked hemp jewelry until it fell off; even saw a Phish show or two - but no matter how often I'd get stoned in some bud's basement and imagine myself to be this unfettered, devil-may-care non-conformist, the image just never seemed to fit me.
Perhaps that had something to do with the fact that my friends and I were what was known in the late 90's as Dave Matthews hippies: privileged, mostly white Northeasterners whose interpretation of the flower child movement consisted of little more than rocking wool socks with our sandals and trying to get our hands on any sort of psychotropic drug that we could find.
While we outwardly embraced the spirit of our classic rock heroes, romanticizing the idea of trading in our sheltered, Catholic School lives for the freedom of the open road, we had no problem labeling those who actually did this as dirty hippies or burnt out losers (after they shared their smoke and or veggie burritos with us at concerts of course). And forget about any other 'fringe group' -- skaters, punks, Marilyn Manson kids (God, I'm old)... they were all generally met with absolute disinterest or occasionally, even open disdain. Yeah, we were those kids.
Accordingly, despite a few genuinely real connections made over shot-gunned Budweisers and Grav-bong hits in tailgate parking lots, we were never exactly embraced by this crowd either (I know, it's shocking). In fact, like the majority of teens who are desperately searching for an identity, trying on images like clothes out of their parents' closet, most of us eventually moved on.
For me, a college student, first in Washington DC, and then in New York City, the style and interests of the urban sophisticate eventually became much more appealing. I traded Abercrombie & Fitch in for Polo and Kenneth Cole, Guster for Talib Kweli and Black Eyed Peas (pre-Fergie). Even Dave Matthews Band -- a group that I had genuinely enjoyed -- became merely a remnant of my preppy, suburban past. Yet -- and perhaps not surprisingly -- this new image felt slightly off-size as well.
Now, the fact that I was so desperate to define myself by external trappings -- music taste, labels worn -- rather than by my personality is not lost on me. A lot of teens -- hell, half the grown men I've dated -- do the exact same thing, But as my grandma would say, that doesn't make it right now. Does it?
No Grandma, it doesn't.
Not surprisingly, it took the process of coming out to help me finally embrace my own interests. After all, once you've flouted two Millennia of genuinely accepted social behavior -- not to mention the entire Catholic doctrine, it's not so difficult to admit that you love Britney and Christina. Or to quit dreaming about it and to actually set out on the open road.
Yes, we gays lead lives that have way more in common with Bob Seger songs than you might imagine. We simply don't give ourselves enough credit for it. Case in point: I had moved 3,000 miles away from home at the age of 22, with nothing but a duffle bag, yet since I wasn't pierced or tatted up, and most of my wardrobe was bought at the mall, I fully expected SF's own arts/fringe/whatever-you-want-to-call-it community to scoff at me like the hippies had in high school. They did not.
I've struggled at times with the idea that because I'm gay, I am somehow counterculture. After all, I much prefer my men clean-shaven, piercing and tattoo free, with a wardrobe that consists of tee-shirts and jeans. I avoid scary movies and loud music like the plague, generally don't listen to anything that doesn't have a slick, top 40 sound and oh yeah, punk makes me nervous.
In fact, I haven't ruled out moving back to Jersey when I start a family (yup doing that too), and shocker, I have nothing but great memories of growing up Catholic (sure I've got some residual shame, but that just makes for hotter sex). But now I truly understand, I am 'counterculture' simply because I live my life on my own terms. I am punk rock because I don't let the opinions of others police my interests.
And the icing on the cake: my prolonged search for identity has left me with quite a sick -- and varied -- music collection. Well, you might not appreciate it, but I do.