Thursday, March 8, 2012

What Every Young Gay Should Know or Gay Culture Transfer

Usually after swim practice with Miami' s premier swim team(, several members go out to lunch or dinner. The other night I was joined by a young man who was 22. Usually dinner after practice is a group thing, but it turned out to be just him and me.  He's very sweet and has just returned home after graduating college.  He smart and ambitious and is proudly on the first few rungs of the corporate ladder for a very large company. He exudes the bravado and naivete of a 22 year old. Fun, smart and cute, he'll make someone very happy one day.

Initially I was feeling a bit uncomfortable dining with someone so young. I was thinking what could I possibly have to say to him. Besides swimming I didn't see much we had in common. Yet I have known him since he joined the team two months ago and he has made a good addition to the team. I don't know why I worried, turns out he just wanted some relationship advice.  Then he asked the question "how have things changed for gays in you lifetime?" Things have changed so much in my short gay lifetime that I didn't even know where to begin. So I had to go back before my time.

7 things about Gay Culture that every young gay man should know:

1. Why Judy Garland is our first "diva":  To start Judy was an amazingly talented individual. Her voice was strong and powerful yet at the same time innocent. She was charming, funny and a good actress. She could dance too. She was also a hot mess. Addictions and men swirled through her life, yet each time she pulled herself back up and went on singing....Judy at Carnegie Hall is one of the great performances of the 20th Century. Most importantly, she was the first superstar to acknowledge her gay fans. Nobody of her stature, except maybe Madonna 20 years after her death even cared about a gay audience.

2. San Francisco:  San Francisco is the original "gay mecca".  In this laid back city of incredible vistas and beautiful Victorian buildings a small working class neighborhood named The Castro transformed itself into the first gay neighborhood. It is important because it was the first place in the world where gays created a safe zone, where they could live as gay men out in the open. This neighborhood elected Harvey Milk, the world's first openly gay elected official. Supervisor Milk was murdered along side Mayor Moscone, his murderer received  just 5 years in prison.

3. Stonewall Riots: Gays fought the police for 3 days in front of the Stonewall Inn in the Village neighborhood of Manhattan. It was an extremely violent event, several police cars were burned and at one point the NYPD was surrounded by angry rioters who ran out of their apartments to participate. Gays were tired of being bullied rounded up and sent to jail just for associating together. The New York Times suppressed the story.

4. Anita Bryant: There must be some irony in the fact that a beauty queen was one of the gay community's first and most destructive enemy.  Her "Children First" campaign but laws on the books that banned gays from adoptions, equal protection under the law and set back work towards equality for 20 years. 

5. AIDS Epidemic: 50,000 gay men died in 60 months before the government decided to do something about the disease.  The gay community was forced to unite and fight this existential threat.  United, the community harnessed tremendous influence in fighting this disease. by 1992 years 500,000 gay men were assumed to have died. Most of the deaths were men between the ages of 25 -38. An entire generation gone.

6. Calvin Klein Underwear: Calvin Klein redefined the self image of American men, and gay men in particular. Prior to the Calvin ads, most guys were just happy to to have a penis. Calvin made American men,  especially gay ones, become extremely self-conscious about our bodies. It was no longer good enough to just have a nice face, but ripped abs and big pecs too.  American men were held up to the same beauty standards as women. 

7. Ellen DeGeneres: Her brave move to come out on television, the subsequent destruction of her career, and her reemergence and success changed the dialogue about being "out" in public.

So there is a lot more of course.....but this primer on pivotal individuals, places, and things is a good place to start.  I invite you all to join and add your suggestions: