the price of assimilation (and giving the olive trees a haircut)

in gardening news: the olive trees have had their yearly pruning.

in gay news: if you haven’t read alex ross’s recent history of the gay-rights movement, “love on the march” you should. (because, as your parent, i said so.) what has struck me the most about what he had to say (sort of like the proverbial 2 x 4 to the head–my new way of using a trite metaphor is by adding “like the proverbial…”) is the loss of gay cultural identity as a result of the sudden, quick assimilation of gays into the mainstream. “we’re just like you!” (only not.)

ross is quick to point out that gay men who came of age in the 1950s-1970s are probably the ones who notice the cultural shift the most. “what happened to our lives?” “i don’t remember wanting to be married or having anything remotely like the life of my heterosexual friends,” as they shake their heads at this sudden (equal rights movements are traditionally a slow-moving train) and unlikely turn-of-events.

over the years i have lamented the passing of so much knowledge, passing as in death, how AIDS decimated an entire culture. you don’t come across a 20 year-old opera queen that often anymore, now do you? (well, i’m sure there’s still one out there, in some remote corner of montana or kansas.) today’s young gay man doesn’t know who or what a ‘gypsy’ is any longer (a chorus boy or girl) let alone who gypsy rose lee is. they’ve grown up in the digital age, playing video games without the same cultural leaders i had as a young gay man, and even then my peers were moving away from the pansies and the nancys and the limp-wristed (light in one’s loafers comes to mind) stereotype that gay men of the fifties were depicted as and used as a defense mechanism (effectively or not.)

in the 1970s we weren’t being pigeon-holed by traditional ‘gay’ jobs any longer: waiter, florist, decorator, hair-burner; our lives were taking on new meaning with that battle won at stonewall, even the drag queens were more butch and ready to do battle at a moment’s notice. there was power in speaking out and not being afraid of retribution if you said, “i’m gay, queer, a faggot.” what do they say it now? oh yes, “i owned it.”

but we sneered at the conventions of the heterosexuals: marriage, children, and yes there were subsets of misogynists; the balls and chains of straight life seemed unnecessary and were certainly ill-fitting. it was nirvana and it was ours. now though, it seems we’ve lost that battle to be like ourselves in order that we may have the same rights our straight brothers and sisters enjoy. like i said, “look! i’m just like you,” only not. it seems to me that losing your cultural identity may be too steep a price to pay for assimilation. and yet, i demand that i have the same freedom to live as i please as you enjoy in this land. i would like it on my own terms though. is that too much to ask?


2 Responses to “the price of assimilation (and giving the olive trees a haircut)”

  1. November 14, 2012 at 7:58 am

    I have been waiting, because I think it likely and inevitable, for gay couples/families to be featured in mainstream broadcast advertising: a gay couple using Whisk detergent to eliminate ring-around-the-collar, or in a Subaru ad, or in one of those sentimental ads for Folgers coffee at holiday time, ads for every-day domestic products. It will be like the subtle inclusion of African Americans in advertising in the early ’70s. Where before they were entirely absent (except for stereotypes like Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben), there was a shift, as though advertisers suddenly realized that targeting black consumers didn’t diminish their products’ appeal to white shoppers – as though there was a sudden revelation: “People of color buy laundry soap too! Let’s use black actors in our ads!”

    There is a tension between desire for assimilation and acceptance, and desire to preserve cultural boundaries and identity. Advertisers hate those boundaries, and the only identity they want people or groups to have is the identity reinforced by their brand. “I’m a Mac. I’m a Pepper. I’m lovin’ it.” When gay and lesbian consumers are regularly portrayed in ads (as apposed to sitcoms) the cultural assimilation will be nearly complete.

    I think anyone who wants to have an identity apart from what they buy or own should start by blowing up their TV.

    (I know I drifted wide of the original ideas in your post. I’ll try to stay more on topic in future.)

    • November 14, 2012 at 8:10 am

      Well, if the Whisk commercial showed a gay leather couple trying to get the stains out of their {deleted for inappropriate content] that would be assimilation I could support, but unfortunately you’re right and, deep sigh, I’m afraid it leaves me hopeless and hopeful. Conflicted to say the least.

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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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