Sunday, March 22, 2015

Opting For A Gay Lifestyle-- Pick One


Recently, Ben Carson apologized for his comments-- widely attacked in the media and by politicians from Barney Frank to Joe Biden-- that homosexuality is a choice. It's a debate that's been raging between conservatives and non-conservatives for a long time. Gay equality activist Dan Savage suggested Carson show how that choice can be made:
"If being gay is a choice, prove it. Choose it. Choose to be gay yourself. Show America how that’s done, Ben; show us how a man can choose to be gay. Suck my dick."
Is that what gay is?

I think for many people there does come a time when a choice is made. Sometimes that process is stretched over years and sometimes it goes back and forth and never really becomes clear. I don't mean the desire for same-sex sex; I mean the choice of lifestyle. And that, according to many conservatives, is all they're complaining about anyway. There are millions of gay people who don't live a gay lifestyle and conservatives claim to have no-- or little-- problem with that. They just hate the ones who decide to come out. Aaron Schock in the closet is more or less OK and tolerable. Republicans who come out of the closet... anathema. How many married men-- men married, even happily, to women-- do you know who have worked out one kind of accommodation or another that allows for a little gay sexuality on the side from time to time? I know plenty.

Thank God, I started coming of age at a time when there were more choices becoming apparent, and one of those choices was self-acceptance, open self-acceptance. Personally, I found the iconic American rebel/outlaw image to help me cope with the choice. I felt nothing but disdain for the deadening conformity of the '50s, and choosing an "alternative" lifestyle seemed heroic... as well as personally convenient. I was very attracted to revolutionary movements, politically and culturally. I gravitated to left-wing politics and the counterculture. Like many gays until that time, I came from a mindset that included the premise that if you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose. I was always sure there were disproportionate numbers of gays in the French and Russian Revolutions, just as there always had been in musical and artistic movements away from the acceptable, ossified establishment.

I was lucky to pick my own role models. As chairman of the Student Activities Board at my school, I got to invite speakers and musicians to address topics I thought were important for students to explore. And I had a hand in bringing films to the campus that students might otherwise not see, films by artists like Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol and John Waters (see above). Waters made a point recently that rankles gay people who are not looking for a rebel/outlaw lifestyle but who want to fit in and be just like everyone else. "When I was young," he said, "the privilege of being gay was that you didn't have to go in the Army or get married." Seems almost ironic today.

Even before adopting the filmmakers, I found the authors, especially Jean Genet. Thief's Journal changed my life and helped me not accept but revel in my own homosexuality. Querelle of Brest reinforced the thoughts. And then I discovered John Rechy's City of Night and Numbers and I was certain that I was never going to live my life in the closet, not for one ugly second. William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, incongruously, I found at my grandparents' home and loved going over there and reading it. Later I discovered Junkie and Queer, though not in my grandparents' library. Still later, I was proud to green-light a Ministry video, Just One Fix, starring Burroughs himself. (See below.)

These are just the kinds of choices conservatives hate. I don't think they have to worry about most gays these days, though-- certainly not the married couples with children, the ones joining the military, buying homes in the suburbs, even voting for Republican candidates. Rebels and outlaws, though... that's who conservatives have always and will always have to worry about, gay, straight or undecided.

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