Is “Gay” Over?

The most recent edition of The Advocate features an interesting article by Adam B. Vary entitled, “Is gay over?” The thesis of the article is that, “gay in all its meanings — personal, communal, cultural, political — seems to be going through its own identity crisis.” In the piece, one commentator suggests that “gay as an identity . . . may be pretty much at an end,” and that “people are thinking of their sexuality in a much more diffuse way.” The article notes that this is particularly true with respect to young people. Vary observes that, “along with feeling more free to come out in high school or sooner, many people in their teens and early 20’s are also free to reject gay as an identity. Instead, they’re defining their sexuality as queer or open or opting for no label at all.”

One response to the article might be to argue that it could only have been written by someone living on one of the two coasts — the magazine identifies Vary as a “Los Angeles-based writer” — where life as a gay person is often quite different than in many other areas of the United States. Thus, one argument is that the article reflects more than a little bit of geographic elitism. But my response to the piece is somewhat different.

In the article, Vary pinpoints April 1997 as the moment when gay as an identity started to evolve and become more fluid. It was during that month that Ellen DeGeneres came out on the cover of Time Magazine and famously proclaimed “Yep, I’m Gay.” According to Vary, that moment was a “major cultural touchstone,” ushering in an era of unprecedented LGBT visibility. But from my perspective, there is another more recent moment that was perhaps even more significant in forming a post-gay identity: the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas. Simply put, it is really only possible to question the nature and basis of one’s sexuality once the most basic expression of the sexuality has been de-criminalized.

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2 Responses

  1. GBQ3oftheJC says:

    Very interesting post. Are you suggesting that legal change is more fundamental than cultural change?

    I think the relation between the two is very complex. One might argue that, say, after Ellen’s coming out, and the non-horrified reception of the vast majority of Americans, there was a lot less pressure on the court to be sure backward states like TX could stigmatize gays.

    On the other hand, I’ve been reading a lot of EK Sedgwick and Michael Bronski lately, and they imply what I take to be your message: that very early cases involving gay rights (such as the one involving a Montgomery Cty schoolteacher in the late 1970s) were the foundation on which cultural change could occur. Because those cases did not censure or treat with disgust the gay person (even when ruling against him or her); rather, they accepted the fact that people could be gay as a given.

    PErhaps that is why the current “sedimentation of anti-gay discourse” (to follow bill eskridge’s language) is focusing so much on propagandizing the mutability of gay identity. To call it a sin, you’ve got to call it a choice.

  2. Anthony Byrd says:

    Thank you, Michelle, for your post. I’m longing for the day when gays and lesbians (and Yep, I’m gay) cease to look for our identity in gay (or even gay-for-pay) celebrities and begin to dig deeper when choosing to delve into our history.