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28 July 2009, 12:30 pm 8 Comments

Zack's Ramblings: The Beginning of Gay Culture

This post was submitted by Zack Rosen

Gay Culture Dead

It’s a familiar story. And not even in the “personal narrative sense,” but in the “over-covered trend piece” journalistic sense. Pretty much every gay publication (including this one)  has spilled some ink over the scattering of the gay people from one all-encompassing gay mecca (think Queer as Folk’s Babylon) to a more diverse array of smaller bars, mixed sexuality clubs and specialty nights.

Gawker recently published an article, in response to a not-yet-online piece in Out Magazine, expressing that the scattering of gay social spaces is a bad thing. (And I should mention that the author of this piece is Brian Moylan, a former DC resident and all-around good guy who I owe my entire professional career to. So Brian, no offense at the following.) Moylan writes this:

In the article (not yet online), Gawker alum Joshua David Stein writes that instead of taking up residence for the entire weekend in gigantic clubs like Twilo or the Roxy like gays did in the ’90s, they’re now going to smaller lounges and parties that are catered more towards specific gentlemen’s tastes. Yes, my friends, it is officially the end of the monolithic gay culture…

Sure, the endless Lady Gaga tracks at your typical gay bar in Chelsea or Hell’s Kitchen are as annoying as a bad case of the crabs, but there was something to be said for the old days, when, at least once a week, everyone had to hang out under the same roof, listen to the same lousy house music, get harassed by the same drag queens, and generally tolerate one another. Now the only shared experiences we will have are taking it up the ass and Madonna concerts.

This won’t come as much surprise to anyone who has read TNG regularly, but I think this development could be one of the best things to happen to gay people since Jerry Falwell died. The key to this is in Moylan’s own words. He doesn’t say that these clubs forced us to love and respect each other, or to mix or interact, or even to open our minds to superficial things like what drinks others order, or how we do our hair. Instead, he says, we would “generally tolerate” each other.

Gay culture can be like one big family reunion. There’s a given number of people who have nothing in common except a couple casualties of their genetics. But once in a while, say every Saturday, they’re forced to get together and revert to behavior they don’t show in any other arena of their lives. At a family reunion, it might be that the emotional space you occupy suddenly forces you to start screaming the F word at your sister over dinner, or complaining that no one understands you and stomping around the house in a huff. Even if you’re 38.

So the gay bar has the same effect. Some people may like everything about a gay mega club. But many others find themselves tolerating the people around them (who they may have nothing in common with) the atmosphere (which is often superficial, or even glitzy to the point of blinding) or the implications the space holds (my entire identity at this moment is defined by a need to guzzle booze and get my dick wet.)

Moylan cites some NYC parties that have sprung up in replacement of these spaces. Parties like Manthrax, a gay heavy metal party, or Tall Gay Agenda, for men who are 6 feet and over. And though it might seem like a digression, this is a good time to ask exactly what a culture is. Lets say for our immediate purposes that its a group of people so united by a common cause or interest that they have banded together and found some peace or comfort in their unity.

If that is the case, then this diffusion can only be positive. A culture based on sex, on “taking it up the ass,” is not a culture. It is a shared need, perhaps, or a hive-minded itch, but it cannot sustain a people any more than an orgasm can listen to your problems or encourage you to follow your dreams.

It is important to note that these social offshoots are still gay ones. These men have not abandoned the mother ship for a general interest heavy metal party where they will once again be forced to lurk in the corners and wait for enough positive signals to be assured that the object of affection won’t punch them in the face. Instead, they have done what gay men have done since the beginning of time: gauged the greater world as it is and create a smaller corner of it that is theirs and theirs alone. All gay bars, and neighborhoods and coffee shops and television networks are based on this principle.

I think that this is not the end of “gay culture,” but rather a renaissance of an actual culture, no quotes needed, made up of gay people who are allowed to follow their own diverse interests and aesthetics without having to sacrifice their sexuality or safety. It’s a good thing.

(This is the first of several pieces this week that will be dedicated to our staff’s opinions of contemporary queer culture. This includes the role of lesbians in the trend stated by this article.)

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  • chrisafer said:

    Thanks for pointing out that culture is something shared by a group of people like being over 6 feet tall or liking heavy metal music, not taking it up the ass.

  • Levi Rimbaud said:

    Manthrax? That sounds totally AWESOME.

  • Robert said:

    The name Manthrax is GENIUS. I am mad I didn’t think of that first.

  • Fred V said:

    Specialization isn’t ALWAYS evil (i.e. my search for a cocksucker-friendly sports bar in NYC where this Brooklyn refugee back home for a long weekend can watch some late-night West Coast games, since my Mets WON’T be in town when I am. :( BTW, New Yorkers, this is a SERIOUS request.)…

  • Steve said:

    You’re a hell of a writer, Zack! Reading “The Beginning of Gay Culture”, I was inspired, entertained, amused and envious. I wish you’d email me!

    Oh – On Topic. Gay culture is immortal, as in deathless.

  • J. Clarence said:

    The old gay clubs served their purpose as meeting places when it was still unsafe for gay people to gather and publicly display their sexuality like their straight counterparts, and then later during the AIDS crisis; however, since they have like you said become seemingly obsolete and unsatisfying to a new generation of gay and lesbian men who do not feel as if they need to settle for the staple cookie-cutter gay club.

    The “culture” is changing not beginning. Like the Renaissance wasn’t the beginning of something but rather a re-awakening, this change in gay culture is a re-awakening to what “gay culture” really means, after it has been sexualized, commercialized, de-emphasized for a long time.

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