LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ONE'S GAY TWENTIES

“His friends decided that Ken had fallen into the trap that had snared so many beautiful gay men. In his twenties, he had searched for a husband instead of a career. When he did not find a husband, he took the next best thing – sex – and sex became something of a career. It wasn't love but at least it felt good; for all his time at the Cinderella ball, the prince had never arrived.” – Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On

I've heard about (and read about) that adolescence for males especially extends until one's late twenties these days. Now, these days is kind of vague, so maybe I am thinking more about millenials, but the reasons for this extended adolescence aren't just psychological stereotypes (guys take longer to grow up than girls, and some never do), but also economic. The rising cost of living and increased compeition for jobs that can launch one into a secure middle-class income are factors that often keep the guys living in their parents' basement playing video games.

The game many guys played in their twenties in the 1970s was the sex game (not that guys haven't done it since time immemorial). Guys had been playing it more brazenly in the 1960s, and many women played along, and as they did so, started to make their own rules, and the win did not always have to occur before an altar.

Gays and lesbians, who for so long had to play in the closet, emerged militantly in the heady days of the seventies, especially in urban meccas. Some lesbians found a home (spiritually and physically) in various waves of feminism, but many gay men fled their tastefully decorated homes and entered palaces – sex palaces, bathhouses, movie theaters, back rooms of bars. I am not saying that no one was looking for love, but the love that used to dare not speak its name was more often than not during that time more like a moan in an orgy room. It was as if men became fertile, and multiplied (not in the procreative sense).
 

Gay men in the 1970s dancing

Steamworks, Chicago bathhouse poster

In the quote above, men like Ken (one of the first victims of AIDS), certainly grew from strength to strength, but for many men at that time, coming out still mean choosing between one's sexuality and a career. Thus the gay life became for many guys a sex life in specific, segregated milieu. Their Land of Goshen was ironically a release from bondage. Until the plague …

When AIDS started smiting these men down like that last plague of Egypt, gay men rallied together, but there was no singular Moses like Harvey Milk to guide them. They survived united, and survived divided. For a while the sex palaces remained open, despite an uncaring Pharaoh like Reagan and his Moral Majority priests with their rhetoric of sin and punishment. Yet that plague, with its relentless physical linkage of sex and death, changed everything.
 

AIDS activists hodling banner that says Fighting for Our Lives

Ken's generation saw death daily; the succeeding generation (in their twenties during the height of the plague) saw death, but many of them survived to explore and enjoy if not a cure, then a way to live, not die. The life was not just medical, but eventually legal, climaxing when Love Won in 2015. 2015 brought out the monogamous couples who had found their princes even before the days of liberation and the plague.
 

Person holding gay pride flag at protest in D.C.

Did the plague in some way make many gay men grow up? Not that gay sex, or any sex for that matter, is in itself an immature, irresponsible act? By its very nature it breaks boundaries, liberates, and orgasm is “the little death.” Growing up is experiencing sex, but maturing is understanding sex and the wisdom to know when sex and love intersect, and when they don't.

For gay men, this process was always more fraught because it did not conform to the social norms that heterosexual men and women usually conform to: in one's twenties, one finds a mate and a career, not always in that order, and it's no longer an either/or proposition. One produces children. One's career climaxes as one's children grow up. The cycle continues. Within that norm, one can usually choose.

Yet gay men who lived in the 1970s, who had lacked so many choices, plunged into a world with a bewildering variety of choices. Now with other freedoms (and in this day and age, still endangered) available beyond sexual choice, are gay men in their twenties at another crossroads?

I just hope many of them realize their prince is not an image on Grindr, and that even the image of a prince doesn't last. But if you are lucky, your prince may grow up to be a king.
 

Grindr profile image
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Honoring Edie Windsor Is Honoring Every Person

 
Edie Windsor

I was saddened to learn of the death of Edie Windsor, an LGBTQ senior who made a difference in the world in her golden years through what seems like on the surface a lawsuit based a financial issue: she did not want to pay the onerous tax on the estate of her late life-partner (later wife; they married in Canada), Thea Spyer, because, according to the laws of our nation, Edie and Thea were not “of kin,” that is, legally married at the federal level. Edie sued and won, and her action paved the way for the Obergefell decision which claimed that not allowing same-sex couples to get married was at one level unconstitutional, depriving them of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and, and on a deeper level, as Justice Kennedy aptly and profoundly put, deprived them of “human dignity.” 

Text from Justice Kennedy's ruling
I am going to throw in another word, “honor,” to Justice Kennedy’s words, which gets tossed around quite often, usually in the context of customs like honor killings, and often becomes a byword for the worst excesses of patriarchal oppression (such as throwing out a LGBTQ person out of the home because her orientation somehow dishonors the family unit). We tend to use the word more as a verb, usually in the context of showing respect for the dead, or honoring one’s elders, one of the Ten Commandments. But as a noun, we don’t use it that much in a positive way in many social contexts, and we don’t get terribly specific. 

There’s much more to the word, so much more. Orlando Patterson in his book Slavery and Social Death makes the claim that the masters as a means of social control will take away the honor of their slaves; in fact, one could even claim that they only way they can maintain their honor as masters is by taking away the honor of others. 

Quote from Slavery and Social Death
A person’s honor, I would claim, is the respect of the entire person, not just as an individual, but as a social being with a right not only to basic necessities like food, health care, and shelter, but a right to share equally in what makes the society not just stable on a political and economic level, but worthy of respect on a psychosocial and spiritual level. The person possesses access to all levels of Maslow’s triangle of self-actualization, but the self ultimately thrives in interaction with others. 

Justice Kennedy implicitly acknowledged that marriage (and it doesn’t have to be an overtly religious institution) is an honorable institution; to partake of it is to enjoy honor, not just of the person one loves and commits to (as traditional vows say, “love, honor;” the verbs are tightly connected) but of all aspects of the couple’s social being. In the American South, slaves had to ask permission from their masters to be married, and in many cases slave marriages were not recognized legally. A couple and their children could be sold apart. The masters essentially killed the slaves on a social level, not only because of the breaking apart of families, but even taking away their original names. 

To take away or forcibly change someone’s name is to take away the person’s honor at the deepest level. It reduces someone to the level of an “other,” and “object,” a “function.” When I worked at a law firm, one lawyer referred to paying the support staff as like paying for “lights and desks.” The current administration has made dishonoring persons (and the environment) its mission, for example, by deleting the category of LGBTQ persons from various government surveys and documents. Our society in general dishonors its elders by essentially storing them away in nursing homes, separating them from the family unit, potentially exposing them to dishonor and shame by violating their basic privacy (which I take to mean one’s autonomy) and depriving them of social honor. 

Let’s honor Edie Windsor, an LGBTQ elder who refused to be dishonored, and in doing so, gave honor to many citizens of her country. Let’s also remember that a threat to one’s own honor is a threat to everyone’s honor as a whole, and that upholding one’s honor (I think of the holy haters who seem to think that honoring their religion means dishonoring LGBTQ people in the public square) does not necessarily mean dishonoring others. The Nazis murdered the Jews not only physically, but subjected them to an ongoing social death in the concentration camps. Our nation seems poised to do the same to immigrants, LGBTQ persons, Muslims, persons who are not white. I hope and pray Edie’s legacy of honor and love will live on. 

Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer
Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer
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The Real Benefit of Same-Sex Marriage: Human Dignity

The Real Benefit of Same-Sex Marriage: Human Dignity

 

This scenario is unfortunately all-too familiar: a gay man dies, and his partner ends up having to fight the “blood family” for property, a dwelling place, even a burial space. Unless a gay couple takes extraordinary, expensive legal measures, which in some cases means even adopting each other (see this link for a famous case), they are not legally protected, which protections and benefits would happen automatically if they were a heterosexual couple.
 

I know one person the above scenario happened to. He had to leave his dwelling of twenty-five years. His partner's homophobic family banned him from the funeral, and stole the burial plot. Why? He was not legally protected.

 

In another case, another friend of mine was much more fortunate. They lived in Florida, a state notorious for its homophobia (hello, Anita Bryant). Luckily, the partner's sister and brotherin-law were on good terms with him and followed his instructions about the sale of the house and other matters of the estate. Regardless of the financial situation, they respected the relationship. Their respect showed they saw my friend as a person, not an enemy “other” or an impersonal commodity.

The Edie Windsor case publicized and created much-needed discourse at the highest level the fundamental injustice of our defining only by gender civil marriage (yes, civil, not religious/sacramental). Edie would have had to pay an astronomical amount of inheritance tax on her wife's estate (yes, wife) because, as above, they were not a heterosexual couple. In response to this case, the Supreme Court struck down DOMA.

In other words, the civil society essentially treats those who do not fit heteronormative social structures as second-class citizens in a country which purports (and has failed and still fails to do) to operate under a claim that all people are created equal.

What I've said so far is not new, but I think it is really about not just the issue of same-sex couples being able to enjoy the economic, social, and psychological benefits of civil marriage, but about human dignity.

Human dignity transcends the physical ties of blood and the laws people make to be able to live together (which often results in people using each other as commodities, rather than persons). We experience human dignity by showing empathy and compassion for a person outside yourself, which means being able to find a piece, however difficult that may be, of that person in you, a process of growing, really becoming. To use the language of the famous Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, we need to enter into an I-Thou relationship, rather than an I-It one.
 

It's unfortunate that many of the benefits that those who enter into marriage are commodities (and in the past, remember, the wife [and the children] were essentially property of the husband), but I am hoping that we will get to the point that marriage equality is not just about a legal transaction. It's the recognition of the dignity of each human person as a complex, imperfect, non-binary becoming.
 

 
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Banks, Churches, and Marriage Equality: Thoughts on Chicago's 44th Annual Gay Pride Parade

Banks, Churches, and Marriage Equality:  Thoughts on Chicago's 44th Annual Gay Pride Parade

I attended Chicago's forty-fourth annual Gay Pride Parade, mostly to wait for the Leather Pride float sponsored by Touché (it was practically at the end of the line-up; I wonder why?) Standing with a friend in an area away from the crowds at the barricades where we could both smoke, I noticed less gay bar floats (the older, at this point, community fixtures like Baton and Sidetracks showed up; more welcoming religious organizations (they pretty much marched together en masse, a stunning effect which should silence the holy haters like the Westboro Baptist Church); more schools including Nettlehorst, a local primary school; less politicians (though the really key figures like the Governor and the Mayor showed up, pretty much a given these days); but, overall, many groups, even nonpolitical ones, emphasized marriage equality given the recent decision on DOMA by the Supreme Court. 

 

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