Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Never Knows When the Homosexual Is About; He May Appear Normal.

[Cross-posted on The Gay Place, Austin Chronicle's LGBT blog.]

It's kinda funny, except for the fact that it's not.

What's unsettling to me is how much this video gets right, if I can extrapolate from my experiences as a teenager in small-town Indiana in the 70s. (This video was made in the 50s, but small-town Indiana in the 70s is roughly equivalent to the 50s.) There actually were homosexuals driving around looking for action. But they weren't looking for unsuspecting straight boys, they were looking for others like themselves. I would have been ecstatic if one of them had pulled up and offered me a ride, listened to me, touched my shoulder, showed me porn. Ecstatic. As a teenager, I used to spend hours walking around town, hoping. I never did get picked up by the man in a car -- but I did, at 16, have my first sexual experience with a man much like the one in the video.

My puberty -- this fundamental human experience of becoming a sexual person -- was saturated, marinated, stewed in ideas of crime, pathology, risk, and shame. I don't say this in an effort to get sympathy. (Yes, I'm a victim of a horrendous injustice. Don't try to tell me I'm not. But, at the same time, there's no need to dwell on it.) I go back to this story because I want to bring some kind of understanding or perspective to this conversation we're having about whether or not homosexuals are just like heterosexuals except for their erotic orientation. Does my status as a survivor of trauma set me apart in a meaningful way?

And, here's the big question: even though the culture, at least in the West, is obviously much much better for queer kids growing up now, they are still, and I imagine always will be, disproportionately raised by heterosexuals. Is this experience of being aliens in their own families built into human biology? Is it just a failure of my imagination, the fact that I think we will always be different?

(This post was inspired by a wonderful essay by Dave White on and the accompanying CBS News video from 1967.)


ep said...

"queer kids growing up now, they are still, and I imagine always will be, disproportionately raised by heterosexuals. Is this experience of being aliens in their own families built into human biology?"

Well, if they are born biologically, yes, duh.

But it is a different world now. Obviously your sexual experiences, awakening, are very different from mine. But sexuality is not all we are. And the sexuality of a child to their parent, no matter what their orientation, may be alien to that parent, just as they concept of your parents' sex lives are alien to you, the child. I was able to talk to my mom about the fact that I lost my virginity, but I never would have told my dad in a million years and he never would have wanted to know. Certainly not details. I look at my beautiful little almost-six-year-old girl and know that she will one day be grown up and sexual and hope that she enjoys herself, but I doubt I would want to know the details.

I think I keep getting hung up on your argument because you seem (I may be misinterpreting) to resent straight people for being straight. That's probably not the case, but there is a lot of "us vs. them" in your posts.

I don't feel that way. I guess I have the luxury of not feeling that way. But as a single mom and a woman, I also daily have to put up with other types of crap. I don't feel like "us vs. them", with the "us" being non-traditional family set-ups like my own, vs. "them", the mom & dad traditional set-up. It would be crazy for me to feel that way, as that was where I came from. But that set-up just wasn't my lot. Or my daughter's. But she seems pretty happy about us. Some day someone will give her crap about it. Some of her friends have tried to hassle her already, even at this young age. But she just tells them that every family's different, and our family has a mommy and a daughter.

Anyway, I think your writing is strongest when you keep it personal. I would love to hear even more about what it must have been like, trying to find your true self, by walking around your town. I think those sorts of essays, like your vestibule-kiss story, are really fantastic.

Steven said...

I'm not really making any specific argument here, just throwing around ideas to try to gain some understanding.

No, most kids don't talk to their parents about their sex lives. But even though your father did not know you had lost your virginity, he had a whole raft of assumptions about who you were. That's the difference. Queer kids are always pushing against those assumptions, among their families, schools, friends. It's not a matter of what they are doing sexually, but what they ARE.

I know most or all kids struggle against their parents and community's assumptions about who they are, so maybe being queer isn't any different. It feels as though it's different, but maybe it's not.

The "us vs. them" is a given in our culture. I don't have to construct that opposition, it's in my face every day. I am "other."

But that's my question, whether or not that separation is immutable because of our biology or if it's a line that might dissolve in a more evolved civilization. I'm not a scholar of sexuality, but I think there are lots of examples of pre-Christian societies that had smarter ways of dealing with the sexual variety that seems to be inherent in our species.

Steven said...

But, as an addendum to that last paragraph: if the line of separation is to dissolve, it will dissolve because society as a whole becomes more queer, not because sexual differences get obscured by shoving them into a heteronormative model. (Sorry for the academese, but it's the best word.)

Nick and said...

Great post Steven. Reminds me of this
Have you seen it? Also this
I have such a comfortable sphere now that I have forgotten much of the daily otherness I felt for so many years.

I think most kids feel an existential alienation as they grow up. In my family of 12 kids, all of us were significantly different from our parents in some way. Being gay feels like it was most significant of all (to me), but I'm sure my siblings all have their own feelings of "specialness".
BTW, I know a few men who came out as gay later in life, after marriage and kids. None of their kid are gay, that I know of, but I sure there are some stories of gay kids with gay parents out there.

I think it's the basic mind-fuck of being a "marked other" in a culture. One is seldom sure when ones experiences, perceptions and relationships are specific to one as an individual in a unique moment or if the only thing that is mattering is "the mark".

Thanks again for writing, Steven.

Steven said...

You're welcome, Nick and! Thanks for turning me on to William E. Jones. I can't believe I didn't know about his work, it's SO up my alley. I hope I can find the actual films to watch.

Yeah, I have a pretty comfortable sphere, too. I enjoy my otherness.