This month our issue is dedicated to ‘Community’. I must admit that I don’t really like the word ‘community”. It conjures up lacklustre municipal buildings on rough estates where they engage youngsters in crafts (I hate that word too). So what about the gays: are we a community or just a disparate bunch of people with our own agendas and needs?
When people refer to the gay community they often mean the gay scene and the peripheral stuff surrounding the scene. For me, the gay scene is a bit of a no go area nowadays. I’m past forty (aka dead in gay years), like to be tucked up in bed by eleven with a novel and don’t drink alcohol anymore. The gay scene revolves around drinking and to be honest, I couldn’t really face most of the gay bars in the area where I live without at least the comforting detachment from reality (posturing, sticky floors and bad drag) provided by at least a couple of cocktails. I’m sure were I to live in a bigger city then there might be a gay bar where I felt comfortable and relaxed but I’ve not found it yet.
Is the definition of LGBT enough to enable us to be a community? Do we have enough in common in our needs, desires and likes to have any theme that makes us a group? Historically we always had lots of things in common: oppression, homophobia and illegality. Now we’re in the 21st Century some of those issues have been resolved but there’s a lot of room for progress still with homophobia still endemic, rates of poor mental health, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviour and suicide higher in gay men than the general population. Just look back on some of the comments made on the gay marriage debate by politicians and religious leaders and you’ll see that we’re still a society where being LGBT is still far from accepted or seen as tolerable by all.
Growing up gay in the 1980s in a provincial town, I relied on the experiences of other gays to help me find my identity. They weren’t people who I knew. Instead I relied on covert readings of books borrowed from the local library and sneaky listening to records by the emerging gay pop stars of the time. Fictional and factual accounts of gay life helped provide me with role models showing me that my small town Roman Catholic upbringing wasn’t the only way to view being gay. Authors and celebrities provided me with my own global gay community albeit a one-way street with no right to reply or question from me.
In my school there were a few gay kids who were gradually opening up about their sexuality as the temperature of feeling in society was beginning to change for the better. We were friendly with each other to an extent but this was tempered by rivalry and insecurity. We were all having a pretty shitty time but we didn’t talk about that or share our woes. None of us confided how hard it was to walk down the corridors of the local comprehensive with a volley of abuse being hurled. Instead, we discussed how hot the model looked in the new Levi Jeans adverts or how amazing Madonna was in the ‘Like a Virgin’ video. Maybe we were products of our experience, a band playing on as the ship around us was besieged with peril: entertaining ourselves with wry amusements to ward off the badness.
In these times when gay rights are once again forefront and homophobia still lingers both insidiously and blatantly, maybe we should form a community to harness our considerable power. I’m sad to say that I’m enough of a realist to know this won’t happen. Apathy, differing views and experiences and the multitude of reasons people choose not to adopt a definition related to their sexuality is always going to be the make up of LGBT people. We can’t demand any other, either, as we ourselves should also be advocates of diversity simply due to our historical position in the pecking order.
Maybe the terms should be gay communities. There are hundreds of different communities, from gay outdoors clubs, sex clubs, reading groups, religious groups and political groups. Much like all people, we’re all of us different and cover the whole spectrum and we all belong to a huge amount of communities.
As for me: I’m just as happy now to know that it isn’t just me and that kindred spirits do exist as I was when I discovered this fact when I was 13. That’s enough for me for now.
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.
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