When I wrote my recent anti-gay marriage piece, one of the primary criticisms I received was that the right to marry didn’t equal a mandate to do so. While I accepted that premise (and still do, theoretically) I suggested that many were underestimating the normative impact of the institution, or how the increase in heteronormative-modeled behavior in the queer community would create certain expectations of all its members.
The ubiquity of blogging and content aggregation has generated a lot of different writing styles over the years, some quite intriguing, some aight, and some too surface-level for their own good. Perhaps the most insufferable is what I term the false question article, where an author asks a question, throws out a few hastily-assembled, unexplored theories, and then summarily closes with his or her own superficial answers, all under the guise of careful examination. In an era where Google exists, this half-assed approach is not only inexcusably lazy (if you truly wanted the answer to your “questions,” robust research is likely just a few clicks away) but disingenuous, the whole exercise nothing more than an opportunity to sneakily serve half-baked theories of the author’s own. I suppose everyone is free to offer facile conjecture as reality, but at least have the courage to do so transparently rather than in a way that pretends to carefully unpack the subject of your scrutiny.
The referenced article falls into this latter category, framing itself as a series of questions re: why gay men appear stuck in perpetual early adulthood, yet ultimately drawing its own judgment-filled, sweepingly superficial conclusion: grow up, settle down, and have some damned kids already.
To the author’s credit, some of his questions [barely] scrape the surface of truth behind his larger premise that we’re all overgrown man-children.
Is it because so many gay men were robbed of a gay adolescence that they seem to never leave it
Maybe. Most gay men don’t begin to experience traditional adolescent activities (courtship, dating, sexual experimentation, etc.) until well-after their straight counterparts, owing to a combination of intolerant parents, lack of influences to model the behavior after, and lack of potential mates. Additionally, many gay men have pretty poor childhood experiences, the results of which are well-documented. Provided they survive into adulthood, the cumulative effects of delayed adolescence and abuse can be long-lasting and frequently far more insidious than arrested development.
…do the majority of us just have no role model to push us in the right direction?
Let’s set aside for a moment the problematic assumption that there’s a singular “right direction” to be pushed in and answer the question directly: this has certainly been an issue in the past, but times are changing. Historically, the media has had a field day portraying gay men as superficial (often troubled, if not predatory) hedonistic party boys, but as mainstream depictions have evolved, it’s now gay men themselves who seem to be most invested in perpetuating that myth – the author’s own article proves as much. If my Facebook news feed is to be trusted, there is no shortage of gay men marrying and adopting pets, both human and otherwise. This is, however, an opportune time to mention that so many articles like this fail to account for generational differences in the gay male experience. As queer liberation has progressed, a mere ten year age gap inevitably means two subjects have had significantly disparate experiences growing up queer. Thus a twenty-five year old gay man criticizing the “lifestyle” of a counterpart in his late forties is rather ludicrous on its face. Without having lived – or at least having done the research on – the environment and events that shaped the life of someone who experienced the worst of the AIDS crisis, a far more homophobic general environment, sodomy laws, bar raids, etc., well … frankly, you come off as an ignorant ass.
Correspondingly, pieces like this also fail to account for the varied experiences of queer people depending on their degree of gender nonconformity. Swishy gay men, butch lesbians, and certainly many trans* people, remain very much alienated from a society that seems increasingly willing to accept homosexuality as long as it does its best to mimic heterosexuality, especially in terms of gender presentation. Even more troubling, the gender outlaws are now being pushed to the borders of their own communities as the heteronormative narrative begins to exert a stranglehold on the broader queer movement.
But back to the point, there are a number of other reasons gay men may not “grow up” in line with the author’s expectations: escapism from ongoing challenges of living authentically queer, because the scene they keep frequenting is the only semi-welcoming, safe space for the less gender conforming among us, and yes, perhaps because of gay culture itself. For all the questions the author asks, there are numerous answers readily available – one only needs a desire to learn rather than judge to understand.
That said, the most disturbing part of the entire piece is the absolute, unquestioning acceptance of the heteronormative narrative as, well, normal – and the sole right life choice.
Why is it a social norm of ours to be in our late forties and going clubbing and bar hopping…
We all need to realize how to act our age...
… why as a culture, are the majority of us not having children ...
I.e., you can shove that Leave It to Beaver bullshit right up your ass.
Repeat after me: Not everyone wants marriage and kids. And yet, this is the normative power of the institution of marriage – it sets a gold standard society expects its inhabitants to embrace, aspire toward, and ultimately fulfill. You may be familiar with this path: Education —> job —> partner —> marriage (some restrictions may apply, ask your legislators if marriage is right for you) —> “settling down” —> house —> kid(s). People for whom marriage and kids are an option have always been regarded with suspicion should they choose not to partake; as the queer community continues to gain access, we can expect more articles like this, more proselytizing, and more expectation to conform. The only thing surprising about this to me is that more queer people didn’t see it coming. As a people discriminated against precisely for their deviance from the normative path, I’m shocked not more of us realized that once that path was opened up to us, those of us who opted not to travel it would be getting some serious side eye.
What’s also interesting is that a community that frequently talks about ageism apparently fails to see how policing behavior based on age reinforces the problem, in much the same way that, for example, policing behavior along gender lines reinforces sexism. Biological realities aside, once you reach adulthood, no specific [legal] recreational behaviors are inherently age appropriate. Certainly some may have consequences: if you continue to binge drink like an undergrad well into middle age, your liver may want a word with you, but ultimately, it’s still your choice.
Some of us will not choose the path the author reveres for any number of reasons. For some, it’s simply not what they want. For others, we choose against it as an act of political resistance contra the very expectation that we should. For queer people, that also means resistance against rules we didn’t make (and frankly weren’t made for us.) These are the rules that tell us pair off then wed, at what age it’s appropriate to do so, and also whom we should marry (class, age, appearance, race, etc.) These are the rules that dictate monogamy, say we must have children, that we must stop being sexual after a certain age, that we must never be provocative or edgy past our 20’s, and that ultimately we must conform to the many expectations of how one should age “appropriately.” Unlike the article’s author, however, not all of us are reflexively accepting these edicts now that we’ve been partially brought into the fold. Some of us continue to question, and openly defy, what it means to be above age 30 in a system where so many of our life choices, from the clothes we wear to our sexual habits and other nighttime activities, are – if not entirely dictated – at least very strongly suggested via a system that rewards conformance through advancement in employment, cultural acceptance, and a series of other tangible rewards.
All that said, even for those that do choose to marry and have children, the article is dangerous in that it sets up a false dichotomy of pleasures, essentially stating that having a certain kind of fun and settling down (in the familial sense) are somehow mutually exclusive. They are not, but it’s a great disservice we do to all people to espouse that they are. It’s a disservice that creates marital dissatisfaction, midlife crises, and, well, boring suburbanites. Sure, you may have to slow down your pace as you take on additional responsibilities, but this idea that marriage and children spells the end of nights out (specifically, nights out where the highlight is a bit more exciting than a game of bridge at the neighbor’s house) is ridiculous. For fuck’s sake, if we as queer people are going to embrace marriage and traditional family life, can we at least give it a slight shot in the ass? Do we have to precisely model our behavior on some outdated notion of God and Country that even cishet people don’t abide by in 2014?
Cheesy production aside, one of the reasons I love the video for Cyndi Lauper’s Into the Nightlife is because it shows a gay club scene where age is immaterial – it displays a congress of bodies young and old reveling in the very joy of living. Whatever that joy may be for you – nightlife, the arts, S/M, or three kids and a minivan – let’s all stop judging each other and embrace a diversity in lifestyles that provides people with life options rather than a single acceptable model of living.