Over the Rainbow

Are we really ready to declare ourselves post gay?

I've been waiting for the next big gay trend ever since I missed out on lesbian chic. Maybe that short flurry of hype over the coolness of being a dyke was a New York City phenomenon, but though I lived in Manhattan during heyday of lesbian chic (in case you blinked, it hit in the early '90s), I never felt caught up in the zeitgeist. I was once accused of having a role in a lesbian cabal that attempted to take over a women's group, but such notoriety didn't have quite the same cachet.

Lesbian chic passed me by when I moved to the land of Minnesota Nice and settled down. One Midwestern winter spent in five layers of thermals and flannel--not to mention the permanent hat hair--will knock the style sense out of anyone. And it's hard to feel chic in the summer when the accessory I'm most frequently seen carrying is a plastic bag filled with puppy poop.

Then I heard about the concept of post gay. Having missed out on one gay pop-culture bandwagon, I'm all set to jump on this one.

The New School, a Manhattan fixture in progressive education, and Out magazine sponsored a symposium in June in New York City to discuss the notion of a post-gay world. According to Out Publishing president Henry E. Scott, post gay is a movement into the mainstream, but not assimilation. "It's very much a rejection of the whole separatist notion," Scott says.

Post gay is also characterized by a willingness to be self-critical, Scott explains. Out, for example, has evolved from the time when any gay-themed movie, book, or TV show was automatically recommended. Not anymore, he says.

This sounds a little like justification for putting straight people on the cover of a gay magazine, but the concept of being critical of gay culture intrigues me. The Indigo Girls set my partner's teeth on edge, and comic Lea Delaria makes me cringe. If I'm post gay, I can come out and admit those things with pride.

But a closer look at post gay leaves me skeptical. Author David Groff, a panelist at the June symposium, says post-gay life is about refusing to define ourselves solely in terms of struggle. Post gay is about making a place for ourselves in the world after we come out.

Not everyone is eager to endorse this concept. On one side, Scott says, are critics who believe that the battle for gay rights is far from over and we must continue to fight. On the other side are people who acknowledge that yes, gays and lesbians are still hated, but we have more freedom than ever before and we should enjoy it. It's the classic queer battle between activism and hedonism.

And if post gay is, as Scott claims, about creating a life outside the gay ghetto, you have to first live in one. While many big cities have insular gay neighborhoods, queer folk living in smaller cities and rural areas don't have the luxury of letting down their guard. If you're the only gay person living in a small town, a homosexual ghetto might seem like heaven.

A somewhat different situation exists in the Twin Cities. Beth Zemsky, director of the GLBT Programs office at the University of Minnesota, is puzzled by the hype. She sees what New Yorkers call post gay already happening here. One thing that's unique about the Twin Cities is that we don't have a gay ghetto even though we have enough queers to create one. A study by a University of Minnesota geography researcher shows that self-identified lesbians and gay men are scattered from the urban core to the outermost suburbs. "Every neighborhood's a gay neighborhood," Zemsky says.

Zemsky compares the post-gay phenomenon to psychological research on gay identity conducted by Vivienne Cass in the 1970s, which found that identity formation happens in stages. One of the stages, identity pride, can be marked by activism or even anger. This stage is followed by identity synthesis, where a person accepts her gay identity and integrates it into the rest of her life. Zemsky sees the discussion of post gay as a sign the community has reached that stage.

That sounds healthy.

An important aspect of post gay for Groff is getting over the need for straight people's approval. But for many of us, the notion of obtaining approval pales next to the desire for a life without fear of being physically harmed, having our property vandalized, or our children taken away. A lot of people would like to be post gay, if only straight people could get over themselves.

I'm waiting to see how this trend develops. I'll become post gay when Trent Lott and Pat Robertson become post straight. For now I'll just say I have identity synthesis.

 
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