Recently, I was invited to put a few lines together about a kneejerk reaction from a veteran activist on the scene in reaction to a horribly sanitised video by a drinks company regarding pride. I put together a short piece, but though about it after watching the white, eurocentric, middle class video over and over. However I realised how much this debate is bringing to a head a curtural gash in the LGBT movement, between traditional "sexual outlaws" of the past, and the new conservative movement which I've christened "vanilla monogamists" for want of a better word. From my original few words, from my general patterns of writing, and from what I am about to say, I'll admit to being largely biased in favour of the outlaws, for reasons that will become clear.
So what exactly is going on?
As you'll notice from looking at the Absolut video (you can find it on YouTube or gcn.ie), we've all been airbrushed to become 20-35, white, urban, Irish (or at least western), affluent and neatly dressed. No transsexuals, older people, people with extreme visual styles or disabilities. No blacks, no unemployed, and no nasty northside accents or foreign accents. I made the point that if the video was dubbed you wouldn't actually know it was Dublin at all. It was visually so inane and urban it could be any provincial European city. If there was to be a LGBT community of the so-called idealised "one per cent", this would be it.
In reality, like the mythical 1 per cent/99 per cent split, we know the reality isn't that simple. You have affluent foreigners, deprived people with good educations, successful people with mental health problems, disabled people from wealthy backgrounds. Intersectionality (or more correctly, to give its older title, transversal politics) developed to cater for just that: real life doesn't fall into the convenient categories. At the same time we shouldn't over simply differences, especially those of values and culture. However, the real problem with the video is that it imposes a worldview on LGBT life that assumes that the struggles of the past are, well, past. It does not recognise the scars that being LGBT can put on your life. It is the LGBT world of the pampered elite: those who haven't had to live with lack of family or environmental support, those who've fallen foul of unjust laws, those who've experienced real discrimination or violence. For that reason, it makes very uncomfortable viewing for everyone for whom being LGB or T has meant making trade-offs, entering battles, making sacrifices.
For some people that sacrifice was life. So it was for Declan Flynn, brutally murdered by thugs in Fairview Park in 1983. But lets not talk about what he was doing there. Flynn, an RTE worker, was cottaging. For the new puritans, that means like many gay men, and not just of his time, he was out looking to meet somebody for sex in a public place. But that will of course be airbrushed out by the vanilla monogamists. They'll say, he was killed for being gay, and thanks to us, that doesn't happen anymore, because WE don't need it. WE have our cool hipster jobs, understanding families, delighted friends and adoring publics. WE are young enough, hip enough, wealthy enough to sip cocktails in the latest cool hipster gathering with other gorgeous people who adore us. WE are not too ugly, fat, disabled, unemployed, marginalised or just lonely enough to spend Friday and Saturday night at home alone. So WE feel free to sneer alongside hetero conservatives at saunas, bathhouses, sex parties, bear bars, burlesque nights, porn of any kind, cottaging and prostitution, because WE don't need it. Pardon us while we design our cool hipster homes and ideal designer weddings. Nobody thinks for 10 seconds at the fact that some people don't have all of these things and might, might just, hand onto seedier practices of the past in order to get through life, however distasteful this might be to the pampered gay elite.
I can see why this incenses activists. The old outlaws fought repressive laws not because they were nice people who lived nice hetero-esque lives "just like you" with mortgages, babies and tupperware parties, but on the grounds that we were not like you, that you had no right to persecute us for not being you. And so an entire generation of activism has been redrawn to pretend that, as Bret Easton-Ellis wrote a while ago, we are "magical gay fairies" who represent no harm, no threat whatsoever to a (sometimes oppressive) hetero-monogamy with its vanilla bedroom antics and squeaky-clean lifestyle.
The reason that lifestyle exists is because of 1950s and 1960s marketing. The "American dream" was sold as a marketing slogan, not a life choice. It based itself on the most conservative and oppressive of lifestyle modelling - the nuclear family. And its adoption as a societal ideal by an LGBT community terrified by its animal desires and steamy backroom past is cringeworthy. There was a price to be paid for such clean-living perfection in the past and it still haunts us: judgement, blackmail, fear of exposure, shame. And the old outlaws fought the shaming of sexual difference with REAL pride, not sham pride because we're now just like you, but real pride based on being yourself despite all of the odds.
Its high time somebody turned the mirror on the gay community and let it see itself in ALL of its colourful diversity and not just the sanitised, clean-living segments that we never had anything to be ashamed about. Its time we recognised that while its fine and good to want to settle down with your husband or wife in quiet suburban bliss, it does NOT make you superior to the paunchy guy next door who likes a night in a sauna because he doesn't attract the quiet steady type of boyfriend he'd love to have. You have no right to criticise or censor his porn habits, nor have you any right to criticise his or her choice of casual sexual partner, as long as they consent and are of legal age. You do NOT have a right to believe or act as if you are superior to anybody else, because the fundamental raison-de-etre of pride, stonewall etc, was to enable difference to be respected rather than simply elevating one lifestyle as the ONLY way to live.
So next time you choose to turn up your nose at somebody who isn't part of your pampered elite, think twice. Because its because of the fights of the outlaws that people have nice corporate jobs, good public sector roles including roles that involve working with children, who in many cases have legal protections and proper treatment most of the time under the law. And don't you dare try to suppress or silence us because we will fight you just as bitterly as we fought the hetero establishment you now choose to model yourself on.
PS: On a happier note, it does seem that the Dragon, at least, recognises that some folk enjoy a little raunch with their pride. So on the Sunday after the parade, French porn star Jordan Fox appears in a show in the same bar. If you like it, do go and tell your friends, and if you don't, well shut the fuck up and go to whatever it is that floats you boat, and let the guys who enjoy this sort of thing enjoy themselves for one night. Kudos to GCN for once for publishing this article about Jordan. I'd love to see the "straight" film he made about an opera fan who travels the world looking for the perfect Don Giovanni, but unfortunately it hasn't made it outside Luxembourg.