So What Is Gay Culture, Anyway?

When I was in eighth grade, still a sexuality-questioning thirteen year old, our high school Spectrum club came to visit the middle school and talk about sexual orientation. I asked, in a do-de-do I’m totally straight why would you ask that kind of way, two questions: What’s the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality? And how many high school kids are out? I don’t remember #1 but the answer to #2 was essentially, “just a handful of high schoolers are out”, which didn’t ease any concerns. In the middle school, there was only one other “out” girl, and I didn’t know her as well as I wanted to. 

In the third week of school, we were sitting in an identity seminar and our teacher asked us to play a game wherein were to move around the room depending on whether we agreed or disagreed with a statement. The first statement was “should gays be allowed to marry?” (Comically, it was phrased as gays.) Every single person in the room said they agreed, which was so nice, but I realized their theoretical opinions didn’t really matter. At camp over that summer, I met a girl who kept talking about her “gay friend”, but wouldn’t go within a foot of my roommate, just because she was lesbian. Half the people in that room would probably be like that, I thought. I thought I knew. 

A week after that, our school’s Spectrum club had its first meeting. It felt so freeing to be there as others talked about lgbtq issues without being judged (I mean, not me, but I was there having opinions, I guess). I came out to my first person a few days after that first meeting. 

Or, let’s start another way. The first week of high school came and I fell in love. She was my height, one of the nicest people ever, and just as much of a Harry Potter fan as me. Criteria for crush: fulfilled! What did I do about my first real, identified-as-such girl crush? I spent weeks listing, in my head, every sign that she might like girls too. (Actual Inner Dialogue By Me: She’s read all the queer lit I’ve read? Cool! Oh, has she heard of Fun Home?) And then, five weeks into the school year, she flat out, out of the blue, told me about her (requited, naturally) crush on a girl from another school. 

This is not a love story but she was the first high school friend I came out to, because she was the first person who had ever made me feel seen. But she was not the first thing that made me feel seen

My mother is a San Francisco opera singer. So when I was around six, I got the talk from my mom: sometimes men like men, and women like women. I think I also got a talk about the AIDS crisis and the blood on Ronald Reagan’s hands, which, like, go off, mom. But that was… about it. We did not talk about sexuality questioning. I got the impression that this was other, not a possibility for me. My mom’s gay friends were still the most safety in queerness I would ever freely receive, from anywhere except books.

I also read almost entirely queer books for most of 2014, which probably should have told me something at that point.

Before I started reading queer books, I’m not sure I fully understood that girls could like other girls. And maybe more importantly, I had always been taught that you found out you were gay as a tiny kid and felt alienated in a very specific way and had this one specific experience. When that turned out not to be true for me, it didn’t make sense. How could I have grown up, I wondered, missing this about myself? How could I have walked through the world unaware that I didn’t like boys

The answer is of course I could, because I thought of queerness as something fundamentally other. I didn’t want to be other and I didn’t particularly consider the possibility that I could be other.

Because here’s the thing: queerness is an experience in being other, and a shared experience in being other

It’s just that I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what movies and television we consider to be gay, or to be gay culture (I submit these tweets for your consideration). We (well, I) joke a lot about stories being honorarily gay, and certain things belonging to the gays, but I genuinely think there’s something very beautiful about how we read ourselves and our identities into narratives that aren’t our own. Because here’s the thing: we have to search for ourselves in little pockets of identity, and where we see ourselves is in the other. 

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like, it’s this.

When I get invested in any character I almost always read them as queer and I don’t think that’s me reading too far; I think it’s that I get invested in characters specifically who share aspects of their identity with me. We identify with the other. It is through the other that we see ourselves.  

And it is that, precisely, that makes both the platonic and romantic love between queer people is so powerful and important. That’s why mlm/wlw solidarity is so powerful and important. That’s why meeting a Fellow Gay feels like recognition, like coming home. That’s also why romantic love between people who are both queer no matter the gender is powerful (romance between bi men and bi women in media is deeply romantic).

We have to find ourselves or risking losing ourselves entirely in a society that considers us the wrong sort of person, something to be accepted conditionally at all. In society as a whole, we are not people but gay people. Amongst each other, we are human again

So gay culture, in its most general terms, is a rebellion against ostracization. 

So… what is gay culture, anyway? (Actually tell me what you consider to be part of the gay culture of alienation.) Talk to me in the comments!watercolor-2087454_960_720Blog | Goodreads | Twitter | Youtube

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17 thoughts on “So What Is Gay Culture, Anyway?

  1. This post was amazing and brilliantly written! My journey in my sexuality was very different. I only came out as gay this year but I knew I was gay for maybe four years. The hardest part for me is that I was raised in a Christian home. When I got the Talk, my parents never explained homosexuality vs. heterosexuality. Only once it came up in TV did they have to explain. I got the usuals Christian stuff about how it wrong wrong, blah blah. And that made things worse because deep down, I was a smol little gay that didn’t know what to do with his feelings. Anyways, I am doing a lot better and my coming out it slowly encouraging my brother to come out as well. Sorry for rambling lmoa

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Tucker I’m so so happy you got the chance to figure that out and I’m so so proud of you for coming out. Shit like that is really really hard and that’s just. yeah. iconic. I’m glad this post resonated 🏳️‍🌈💗

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  2. I saw the title of this post and took a deep breath before immediately clicking on it. That may seem overdramatic, but I am glad I did. This post was beautifully written and so so so relatable. I realized I was gay sometime during December but only really admitted it to myself and a few close friends in February. I never really had a chance to realize I was gay or connect with any gay content when I was younger because I live in a very Christian household in an even more Christian area and no one talked about anything LGBT+ related, or if they did it was just about how sinful and wrong it was. As for the whole relating to queer books, that really hit me hard because The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth was really what made me actually realize and admit to myself that I am gay. I read the whole book in a day and kept thinking about how much I connected to Cameron. Later, I would have a crisis over the fact that I connected so deeply to a story about a gay girl being repressed by her Christian family and community, but at the time I read it I was just completely enthralled and in love with the book. Anyways, this comment is super long and I am sorry about that, but thank you so much for writing this and all of your other discussion posts like this, they mean a lot to me though I have never had the courage to comment on one before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Arin, this was such a wonderful comment; thank you so so much for reading this post and I’m so glad it resonated. Growing up in that kind of environment comes with so much shame and pain and it’s so amazing that you’ve been able to figure that out.

      I feel like another big Gay Culture thing is like, looking back on things you deeply related to when you thought you were straight and being like “oh wow. that makes more sense now.” like, explains why i always cared so much about gay marriage!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful post. I love that you brought up the idea of gay kids not knowing kids can be gay – I grew up in an incredibly supportive household/area but I still had this idea that gay people are adults due to all my role models being adults. It was when I really started exploring LGBT media at around age 12 or 13 that I realized that could be me, too.

    Also, I get the idea of not “always knowing” – I’m having some gender issues atm (v run-of-the mill basic nb stuff, nothing to write home about) and I feel like I definitely didn’t always have these feelings. Like, my gender is evolving as I grow up and mature in my understanding of myself/the world if that makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oh my god, Andromeda, I felt that.

      also as to your second point… I totally understand that. I think many of us DIDN’T know at a young age, we sort of figured it out more and more over time. And I can identify moments in my past that were less than heterosexual, but I can’t say I knew because I didn’t.

      (and good luck with the gender crisis, sending you so much love <3)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This might be weird but this whole post (which is fantastic and a work of art, by the way) reminds me of the instagram artist mattxiv’s account and some of the stuff he’s said, especially “Queer kids deal with far too much far too young”- as much as (especially online) we have a (mostly) supportive community in which our identities are at the very least *normal*, we so often do not discuss the alienation aspect of growing up queer and knowing that we are different and that we are not understood.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know that account, but this is so true, Evi! The thing is our community online as a whole is (though flawed) so much more accepting than real life. I’m very confident in my identity now, but I did not get that via my real life. At all.

      I got subtweeted a little bit for a thread I did after this — it’s fine, the person cleared it up — and I get it, because I think it’s a really uncomfortable reality that life for queer kids… is fundamentally alienating. You’re different and don’t know why from a really young age. There’s no getting around that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, exactly that. It’s such an aspect of life that I think sometimes we forget about it because it’s Constant but it’s such a hard thing to have.

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