Gay male culture
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Historically, and specifically in the last century, American culture as a whole (but also Europe and Latin America) has focused much more heavily on gay men than on other members of the LGBT community. This may be due to larger numbers of men than women or transgender people coming out, it may be due to gay men typically being more brash in their coming out (and having more resources available to them to justify, explore and perform their sexuality), or it may be due to Western culture as a whole still seeing men and male experience as the central experience in culture, even if the men in question are transgressing established gender norms. Research into lesbian histories and cultures is fledgling by comparison. Indeed it may be argued that gay men have, in certain circles, enjoyed a peculiarly privileged relationship to cultural production, by comparison with lesbians, trans people and some might argue women in general. The subject is open to debate, but gay male culture is often better known to lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people than those groups' particular cultures may be known to gay men.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, gay culture was highly covert and relied upon secret symbols and codes woven into an overall straight context. Gay influence in early America was mostly limited to high culture. The association of gay men with opera, ballet, professional sports, couture, fine cuisine, musical theater, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and interior design began with wealthy homosexual men using the straight themes of these media to send their own signals. In the very heterocentric Marilyn Monroe film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a musical number features Jane Russell singing "Anyone Here for Love" in a gym while muscled men dance around her. The men's costumes were designed by a man, the dance was choreographed by a man, and the dancers seem more interested in each other than in Russell, but her reassuring presence gets the sequence past the censors and fits it into an overall heterocentric theme.
- "I am a harsh critic of the gay community because I feel that when I first came out I thought I would be entering a world of nonconformity and individuality and, au contraire, it turned out to be a world of clones in a certain way. You are expected to be a certain type of gay to move the community forward, whereas it has always been the fringe-y, crazy people who move it forward. We're the ones driving the bus, but we are the ones who are usually told to get in the back of the bus by the gay community. I also hated the whole body fascism thing that took over the gays for a long time" --Michael Musto, an interview with gossip columnist Michael Musto on the art of celebrity journalism|Interview with Michael Musto]], David Shankbone, Wikinews, October 7, 2007
After the Stonewall riots in the United States in 1969, gay male culture began to be publicly acknowledged for the first time. Some gay men formed the Violet Quill society, which focused on writing about gay experience as something central and normal in a story for the first time, rather than as a "naughty" sideline to a mostly straight story. A good example is the short story A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White. In this first volume of a trilogy, White writes as a young homophilic narrator growing up under the shadow of a corrupt and remote father. The young man learns bad habits from his straight father and applies them to a gay existence.
Throughout the 1970s, gay male culture was a growing influence on American pop culture as a whole. Celebrities such as Liza Minnelli, Jane Fonda, and Bette Midler spent a significant amount of their social time with urban gay men, who were now popularly viewed as sophisticated and stylish by the jet set. And more celebrities themselves, such as Andy Warhol, were open about their relationships. Such openness was still limited to the largest urban areas such as New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, and Miami, however, until AIDS forced several popular celebrities out of the closet due to their contraction of what was known at first as a "gay cancer".
Some elements that may be identified more closely with gay men than with other groups include:
- pop-culture gay icons who have had a traditionally gay male following (for example, disco, Madonna, Judy Garland, Cher, and so forth);
- familiarity with certain aspects of romantic, sexual, and social life that have been common among gay men (for example, Polari, poppers, camp, and the fag hag; in Indian gay culture, evening people).
There are a number of subcultures within gay male culture, such as the bears and chubbies. There are also subcultures that have historically had a large gay male population, such as the leather and SM subcultures.
There are also many gay men who do not follow any of these subcultures or so-called gay fashions, and who do not worship gay icons. Gay men are individuals, and cannot be identified by appearance or personal taste. There are gay men in every field imaginable, and enjoy many types of fashions and music. The trendy gays who frequent certain gay clubs/discos and Gay Pride festivals are not necessarily typical of the average gay man, many of whom are to some extent still in the closet. The Queercore movement as well as the group Gay shame critiques the commercialization of gay society.
Groups critical of the sex-orientated part of contemporary gay male culture also exists, most recently in gay activist Larry Kramer's 2005 book The Tragedy of Today's Gays.
- Gay music
- Gay cinema
- Gay icon
- Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures