I don’t know whether to call it a rash or not, but the recent reporting of the suicides of young gay men should certainly raise alarm bells. I would be interested to know if this was a cluster or just an average that is finding the light of day because of the higher profile of some of these tragedies. In any case, it stands in stark contrast to the popular version that official Hollywood, the mainstream Gay movement and the present administration currently pedal where gays are widely accepted and on their way (if not in this election cycle, the next) to full equality.
It was only a few years ago where films like Boys Don’t Cry, a surprising breakthrough at the time, were out there setting some of the tone. The years of demonization combined with the heroic and radical movement of the 80s and early nineties (ACT-UP and many others) forced the issues. The issues (well, some of them), surprise surprise, have been appropriated, including, hesitatingly to be sure, by leading elements of the Democratic Party. DADT? Don’t ask.
But it is in Hollywood that has become the epicenter of the zeitgeist of a (catered) coming out party this last decade. The gay and lesbian market is now a normal consideration for advertisers; capitalism is loathe to turn down a new market. And with the market comes all things base, venal and superfluous. Now the gay experience has, not in all cases for sure, been reduced to slightly sassy banter and an obsession with what people are wearing à la Sex In The City or a hyper-sexuality (though mostly devoid of actual sex) designed to make straight men squirm (for ‘comedic’ effect) à la Brüno. The latter likes to see itself as “challenging” when it only reinforces, while the former sees itself as promoting and “humanizing” when it really neuters (or spays as the case may be) gay experience(s). We remain, with a few salutary exceptions, in the realm of caricature (and crude caricature at that) in the public mind melded by the mass media.
It should also forcefully point out to those of us who are activists the seriousness with which we should take such attitudes that still pervade too much of our culture when they apparent themselves in our movement and organizations (especially in our own revolutionary outfits), in workplaces, our unions, neighborhoods, etc. Any environment which makes life deemed too difficult for LGBT folks to speak, work, study, date, fuck, love, to live for Christ’s sake, is an environment not worthy of any members of our species; it’s not a society for human beings as we really are. If we can’t find ourselves standing forthrightly with LGBT brothers and sisters against intimidations and prejudice then what right do we have to claim to speak for any of the oppressed, the oppressed class entirely included (which, incidentally and of course, includes many millions of gay brothers and sisters)?
I think back to the gay jokes and ribbing and sometimes worse that were everywhere in my junior high and high school in those years when ACT-UP was first challenging the country. To my great regret and shame; sometimes engaged in by a young and ignorant me as well. What kind of damage was done? I don’t know, but I am sure it was done. My god; I’m a straight guy, and white at that, and I know how derision and general teenage evilness directed my way left me in a torrent of pubescent doubt and self-hate; not entirely recovered from, I might add. For gay and lesbians of my generation and before, and so painfully obvious, the latest one as well, such things carry enormous weight and consequences; socially, economically, psychologically, with their family and friends. It can and does kill. It may kill suddenly; suicide or murder, or it may kill slowly; the accumulated daily violence and humiliations afforded to the oppressed in too great a measure.
One of my responses to the posting of the video that led to the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi was just how normal we think such an egregious invasion of privacy has become; even our private lives are to be publicly consumed, along with the increasingly widespread commodification of sex and sexuality in all of its form (along with every decent thing we humans might get up to). A maelström of false-consciousness and exchange values where ‘all that is sacred is profaned’. A multiplicitously sick, alienated and enslaved society. Oh that we could say, with confidence and in chorus, never again. But it will happen; again and again. Rights may be won, they have been won, and with enough struggle more can be won (a reminder- rights can also be taken away); but liberation requires something more and something quite different.
The roots of this cancer run deep. Back before capitalism surely, but as it lives now, this bigotry is a thoroughly modern problem. One based in the family, gender roles and labor divisions developed and developing under capitalism. This is not to reduce LGBT oppression to some sort of political economy of the family, the web of our enslavement is so much more complexly weaved than that. However, as with all things, roots matter. Weeds can be trimmed, but to kill them they must be rendered from the earth; root, stem and branch.