The congealing of gay radicalism

Although I know it’s Salon, I’ve seen bravado this phony published several times in this post-Obergefell world, and every time I finish these pieces I think of Wile E. Coyote hovering in mid-air before plummeting to his doom. Responding to a dismissal of Caitlin Jenner’s embrace of Aerosmith’s 1987 hit “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” Cynthia Belmont launches a series of rhetorical questions behind which she obscures talking points that Jonathan Chait and NRO, looking for clicks after betting on Donald Trump’s defeat last November, might have made. All this, and she doesn’t mention that “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” is crap because it’s insistent, hysterically mixed, indifferently sung, and slovenly written.

Despite AIDS and widespread odium, queer culture when Belmont was young had “a frisky, sensuous era of Pride symbols, drag balls, Dykes on Bikes, public sex.” It was “a time for queens of all sorts in their outrageous, edge-pushing fabulousness.” And now? “Marriage wars. Custody wars. Bathroom wars. Assimilation. Rights. Sigh.” Goodness! Gays and lesbians have grown up! And gays and lesbians acknowledge the existence of — the travails of — trans men and women. A travesty, according to Belmont. That phenomena called the internet and social media have aided in the normalizing of queer culture is an obvious point unmentioned by Belmont; when straights see gay friends post dumb shit about this celebrity crush or that same-sex scene in Game of Thrones, they’re more apt to treat these friends with respect, perhaps even double date. Besides the repeal of sodomy laws and workplace protections, this is one of the things for which Belmont’s generation of libertines fought — and we’re still waiting for workplace protections, by the way.

Last week, The Atlantic published a story purporting to show how smart phones have permanently altered a generation’s social skills (how youth in other countries besides the United States fared is a point undeveloped by its author). One part of the article seems true in my experience: this generation is less obsessed with Friday and Saturday nights as social rituals; until fairly recently, even I struggled with the high school and college ethos that demanded I Do Something on weekend nights. Couple this assumption with a decade of reduced economic independence. The Kids are still doing drugs and having sex, by the way — they’re more likely to stay home doing them and less likely to expend the effort and spend money getting them. It’s possible the collapse of the gay bar has diluted the idea of these places as sanctuaries, but this is a development I’m neutral about, like the disappearance of phone booths. I want a kiss a boy walking down the street, in open defiance of the crude but essentially benevolent watchmaker I visited yesterday afternoon who said he didn’t mind homosexual relationships so long as they weren’t “kissing each other in front of my kids” at the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair or Disney World.

But then we can offer all kinds of anecdotal evidence to support any point of view. My eighteen- to twenty-six-year-old students have anxieties different from ours. AIDS isn’t a death sentence, but being a trans kid in a small town might be. Geography matters: Miami and Wilton Manors aren’t Labelle or Estero, and Miami is no oasis either. A young gay Hispanic adult in Kendall or Shenandoah probably lives at home because our economy sucks for renters, and likely as not lives with people who detest his or her sexuality. It’s not as simple as “kick these assholes in the nuts.”

These gays are indifferent to the atrophying of the brain when they get to thirty: the way memories, sometimes phantoms, of radicalism past congeal into scorn. As many things do, the glibbest of ironies escaped Belmont: by sighing over trigger culture like a Trump-voting uncle, Belmont reveals the degree to which straight and queer culture have met in the middle. Comparing notes on misery, like halitosis and dandruff, is common to all cultures.

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