I recently heard about a New Yorker cartoon that, though it pains me to admit it, perfectly encapsulated my post-Gay Pride state of mind. Two men recline reading the paper, one petting a dog. The other, on the telephone, says, "We're not doing anything for Gay Pride this year. We're here, we're queer, we're used to it."
You see, unlike many previous years, I had a very hard time getting psyched up for the annual Gay Pride events. Here in New York, as in many cities across the country, we had the rally, the gay and lesbian chorus concerts, circuit parties, the outdoor festival and, of course, the parade. And despite my best efforts to get out of it, my partner, who sings with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, convinced me to fulfill my ongoing role as "chorus widow" by marching with him and the chorus in the parade.
Now you're probably asking yourself how hard can it be to get excited about Gay Pride when you're marching down Fifth Avenue in New York City with a crowd several hundred thousand strong cheering you all the way? And I have to say that, unless I'd been through it myself just a few weeks ago, I would be asking the same question.
But perhaps the answers lie, at least in part, in the false sense of security our community might be assuming in this the start of a new millennium that was recently hailed as the "post-liberation" era.
In a profile of the young, openly gay musician Rufus Wainright for The New York Times, Ann Powers writes, "The struggle continues, but liberation, at least as a concept, is now part of gay history."
In the opening paragraphs of her profile, Powers discusses the contrasts between the fantasy world of cartoons, sitcoms and concert halls where gays and lesbians are being nonchalantly accepted and the reality of the ongoing war against AIDS, increases in anti-gay hate crimes and even continued homophobic references in pop culture such as Eminem's violent rhymes.
In that construct, Powers places Wainright as "perhaps the post-liberation era's first pop star. This 27-year-old singer-songwriter ... represents a generation that felt comfortable coming out in its teens, for whom sexual orientation demands neither isolation nor intense tribal loyalty."
Am I thrilled to learn about yet another performer who lives his life truthfully from the very beginning and doesn't see coming out as a major decision to be pondered? You bet. And I definitely identify with Wainright's yearning for "a time when gay men were better known for their artistic insight than their sexual prowess and purchasing power." But what scares me is the trend that Powers and the New Yorker cartoon might have been picking up.
Have we, the gay and lesbian community, allowed our glossy, integrated media persona to blind us to the reality of our position in society? And haven't we heard this we're-better-off-than-we-think-we-are claim before in the "post-gay" platform of former Out magazine editor James Collard?
After a controversial firing of Out's long-time Editor-in-Chief Sarah Petit, Collard took the magazine's reigns in the late 1990s to shape its new "post-gay" editorial direction, which he claimed was "simply a critique of gay politics and gay culture — by gay people, for gay people."
But judging from the widespread criticism of the "post-gay" movement as being beyond basic struggles as well as Collard's short-lived tenure at the magazine, the gay and lesbian community was far from ready to be "post-gay" — we were very obviously stilling living in our gay moment.
Sitting in a bar nursing our tired feet after the recent Pride Parade, a friend asked, "Do you think we will ever see a time when we won't need to have a Gay Pride parade?"
"I sure hope not," I replied.
Even though that would be the ultimate post-liberation/"post-gay" moment, I hope we never stop celebrating Gay Pride. Even long after the fight for equality is won, we will still have reason to celebrate the diversity and accomplishments of our community.
And who can't use at least one day a year that helps us cut through the hype, that reminds us of the struggles of the generations before us and that keeps us focused on our future?