Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gay and Cool

'Needing to clear his head, Shears fled to Berlin and surrendered to the city.  "I had an adventure," he says. "It had been eight years since I had gone anywhere by myself and didn't have to answer to anybody."  He bought a bicycle and explored the city a little bit, but the man who sang "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" also spent a good deal of time clubbing.  "I heard great DJs and went dancing and took drugs.  I saw crazy shit. It was exactly what I needed to do," he says.  Shears also attended extreme sex parties--as a spectator.  "All those things kept me going and gave me fuel.  They made me happy to be alive."'

(From the August 2010 online edition of The Advocate, p. 42)

Okay.  In case you haven't figured it out, the above quote refers to Jake Shears, member of the singing group Scissor Sisters, talking about the period after the band had written and recorded a follow-up CD to 2006's "Ta-Dah," deciding the music wasn't what they wanted to put out there, and telling The Advocate what he ended up doing instead.

Recently, I came up with the idea to write a post about being gay and being cool.  Of course, anyone who knows me knows I'm not the one to write such an article (I hear you laughing all the way over here).  In fact, I've always been so uncool, I probably define the term.  So it's ironic that I, one of the most uncool gay people ever, would want to juxtapose the two subjects in a blog post.  But why should that stop me?

After reading the article about Jake Shears, called "Nocturnal Admissions," written by Jeremy Kinser, I thought the content helped to identify what I wanted to say, and I couldn't put off writing the post any longer.  After all, what's not cool about Shears, as a symbolic gay man--he's young, he's buff, he's pretty, he fronts a successful singing group, he's into sex, and he takes drugs.  For many, it's easy to look at him and think what many people do, especially gay people:  It's cool to be gay, and gay people are cool.

I suppose what disturbed me most about the article on Shears was the unabashed way his perhaps stereotypical gay life was represented.  I say stereotypical because, back in Kelowna, when I was coming of age as a young, gay man, I saw my share of behavior that often made me wonder how I could be gay yet conservative in so many areas of my life. For example, I didn't smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs.  Still don't.  I had and have no interest in them.

And, as for sex, well, I was as sexually inhibited as you could be and still call yourself gay. I'm sure there are at least one or two men out there who wondered why they wasted their time coming on to me, taking me home (or going to the trouble of coming over to my apartment), and getting naked when I was unprepared to do any of the things they wanted.

Instead, what I sought most was physical closeness with, and validation from, another human being--with none of the risk involved in performing oral or anal sex (which, need I remind you, are the basis of gay sex).  Oh, and I had this ludicrous idea I should be in love with someone before I gave freely of myself physically.  Chalk that up to my Catholic upbringing, but it didn't score me any points with potential partners, believe me.

So, do I define the term uncool?  Oh, yeah.  Am I in a position to write on the topic with some expertise?  You bet.

For many years, I kicked myself for not giving in to the gay lifestyle, so to speak.  While I saw numerous young, gay men around me, living the way I thought others expected me to--smoking, drinking, drugging, and engaging in promiscuous sex--I remained firm, and, in a sense, redefined, for myself anyway, what it meant to be gay.  I didn't buy into the stereotype.  I believed if that's what it meant to be gay, then I was having none of it. Everyone else might think I was square (that's uncool in 60s parlance), but at least I was true to myself--which was far more important than following the herd.

What annoys me most about the article on Jake Shears is not that he comes across as living the stereotypical gay lifestyle--which he, and every other gay man or woman, is entitled to do, if they so wish--but that it was written about so matter-of-factly and, I believe, irresponsibly in an influential gay publication like The Advocate.

If today, I were the same young, gay man I was twenty-five or thirty years ago, and I read the article on Shears, someone I might potentially look up to or who sets an example for me, I would be reminded once again of just how much I don't fit into the gay lifestyle, and how much I need to fit in somewhere.  As a result, would I end up feeling worse about myself at best, or, at worst, decide to turn my back on my upbringing and engage in activities I know aren't good for me, physically, emotionally, and morally, in order to go along with the crowd, to fit in, to belong?

Whether you're straight or gay, it takes a bloody strong person to set boundaries in terms of what you are or are not prepared to do, particularly when belonging is so important to all of us.  And all of us seek role models to validate our choices are the right ones and will pay off at some point.  As far as I'm concerned, Jake Shears can take all the drugs he wants. Doesn't matter to me.  I, and many impressionable young, gay people, just don't need to read about it in the pages of The Advocate, as though glorifying activities we know are not only harmful but illegal as well.  

Not cool, not cool.

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