Bring It On!

Can You Know Where You’re Going, If You Forget Where You’ve Been?

June 13th, 2007 | by Daniel DiRito |

I was gay when being a homo was a mental illness…when queer sex was illegal…when you didn’t discuss being a faggot with your doctor…when sodomites were chased down and thrown out of the military…when AIDS was god’s punishment for being a fairy. I was gay before being gay was remotely fashionable. Nonetheless, I was always just me.

Perhaps the most shocking part…I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to returning to those days if given the opportunity. Not because I enjoyed being a mentally ill criminal who was likely to die well before my time…not because it was easy to hide my identity and live in secret…not because I might find myself the victim of hatred and violence.

No, I would return to those days to remind me why I must still fight today…why it isn’t enough to no longer be a mentally ill criminal destined to die young…why it isn’t enough to be allowed to serve in the military if I just keep quiet and conceal my lifestyle…why it isn’t enough to be an acquaintance that hip heterosexuals get to namedrop at a dinner party like a new pair of Pravda shoes…why I don’t want to abandon my gay culture in order to have a place at the insiders table…why I don’t want to replicate the marriage model that is held over my head as if it were the Holy Grail.

I don’t accept that my destiny is to assimilate myself into heterosexual culture such that I no longer create discomfort for those who demand homogeneity over homosexuality. I don’t want the music I hear in gay clubs to be the same music I hear everywhere else…I don’t want my sense of fashion to be identical to that of my straight counterparts…I don’t want heterosexuals to understand everything I say…I want gay slang to remain gay slang. I don’t want to have a party that is so nondescript that the neighbors can’t tell that a gay man lives on the same block.

Let me be clear. I don’t say this to reject heterosexual culture or to assert the superiority of gay culture…I appreciate and honor the validity of all cultures. I say it to remind myself and my gay brethren that acceptance need not come with capitulation…the world is large enough for every cultures to exist…and the world ought to be educated and enlightened such that acceptance equates with the ability…no, the desire and the demand to embrace and celebrate them all.

If society is akin to the palette of an artist, then it is essential that all the colors remain…lest we become a canvas absent contrast…imbued with the blandness born of banality. America may be the proverbial melting pot but our greatness results from the soup we serve from that pot…a complex soup that maintains an array of distinct flavors…all perfectly blended such that each maintains its identity and each is enhanced by the presence of the others…not overwhelmed or masked such that the independent flavors are indistinguishable.

The need for acceptance is no stranger to trepidation. How one responds to that anxiety may define the degree to which the achieved acceptance is authentic or, conversely, it may define the distance one has traveled from one’s authenticity in order to obtain enough acceptance to mitigate the trepidation. The distance between the former and the latter may well describe a journey of betrayal that is predicated upon the need to extinguish discomfort at the expense of preserving identity.

That which is authentic need never become inauthentic to achieve acceptance. Any society that expects as much becomes a faceless, colorless canvas which consumes itself while feeding upon its fears. The same is true of any subset of that society which would accede to those expectations.

The issue of gay marriage is an excellent case in point. Marriage has become the gauntlet upon which the war for acceptance of homosexuality and the associated authenticity of our existence and our relationships is being waged. I reject that premise. So long as we allow marriage to define the legitimacy of our relationships, we enable the opposition to defile us.

Are we entitled to the rights afforded by marriage? Absolutely. Should we wage the battle for gay acceptance on that platform? I don’t think so. Let me explain. At the core of a large share of the opposition to gay marriage is an inherent bias and prejudice against homosexuality. The message sent by those opposed to gay marriage is that we refuse to give your lifestyle the legitimacy afforded by such state sponsored recognition…your relationships are lesser than ours and we intend to maintain the institutional constructs to demonstrate as much.

Simultaneously, the dialogue that opposes gay marriage is couched in the argument that it would represent an affront to family and longstanding societal and religious traditions. By design, this is intended to steer voter debate around and beyond the realm of civil rights and the basic notion of equality. It also leaves gays on the outside asking to be let in…and nothing communicates the perception that I’m not as good as you as demanding another admit, acknowledge, and accept that I am.

An example is warranted. If you’ve ever watched a group of children playing, you’ve seen the situation where a couple children form an alliance that excludes another child or group of children…and they often flaunt a possession or a privilege…telling the outsiders they have the newest Game Boy or their parents take them to the country club on the weekends. The goal is to establish a distinction of inequity whereby those on the outside long to be included.

Fortunately, circumstances can change and the excluded can become a sought after commodity…maybe it results from a discussion about animals in a science class whereby it is exposed that one of the outsiders lives on a farm with horses…and the teacher elects to take the class on a field trip to the farm. That can lead to realignments such that some children choose to befriend the child with horses in the hopes of being invited to go riding after school. You get the picture.

Coming back to gay culture and the issue of gay marriage…beginning in the early nineties, society became fascinated with all things gay…gay music, gay fashion, gay theater, gay television characters, and many of those elements were mainstreamed…or If I may gently suggest…they were co-opted by society at large.

Conventional thought argues that familiarity breeds contempt…but on the contrary, with regards to being gay, I would contend that familiarity brought a degree of tacit acceptance on the part of society which was followed by complacency on the part of the gay community. In the wake of our perceived assimilation, we ran for the cover of conventionality…embracing many of the means and measures of conformity…which included the traditional model of marriage.

Sometimes, in order to understand one’s own progression (the place at which one has arrived)…whether that be individually or collectively as a group…one must consult the perceptions of those with whom we now consort. During the most recent airing of This Week with George Stephanopoulos, I was struck by a comment made by George Will as the panel was discussing the issue of gays in the military. Mr. Will remarked, “The culture is moving anyway…I have a daughter…26…in her cohort…being gay is just like being left handed…it’s just boring”.

In terms of acceptance, perhaps that is a good thing which will ultimately, by default, manifest itself in the full granting of recognitions…including gay marriage. Call me a skeptic, but while many heterosexuals worry that including gays will diminish the integrity of marriage, I worry that our acceptance of marriage as the means and the measure by which we define our relationships may in fact diminish the fundamental premise of those relationships.

Perhaps loving someone in spite of society’s validation of that love is an added demonstration of love…a love that must be found and fostered absent the endorsements and benefits that society grants when recognizing an announcement of marriage. Frankly, I’m not convinced that marriage, in its current iteration, requires much more consideration than we bring to bear on the purchase of a new automobile. It seems to me that marriage has become another commodity in this zero-sum equation that typifies our consumption crazed society.

As such, when gays bestow idyllic attributes upon the acquisition of marriage rights, do we not endorse a failing system and in the process begin to minimize the relationships we chose to form in spite of their rejection by society? I, for one, reject the notion that society, in its current form, represents the best we can do and I believe that the state of marriage no doubt supports my premise. Gays should not accept the role of villain with regard to the state of marriage and they should not seek its sanction if it simply becomes a vehicle for their ongoing victimization.

If acceptance and the affording of full participation in society were to require we give up portions of our cultural identity…or if we were to succumb to the premise that it does in order to best achieve our objectives…then I would opt to remain detached but whole. Unfortunately, I’m worried our history and our heritage may be slipping into the abyss…exacerbated by the loss of a generation to HIV….a generation that facilitated so much of the progress we’ve made by standing strong and living large.

At the same time, I’m inclined to reject the current state of America’s morality…a morality that is worn as an external badge upon hollow human holograms of holiness. Our proximity to hallowed temples on Sunday is not a measure of our piety any more than another’s absence is a measure of their dedication to the devil. Morality cannot and should not be reduced to a sexual preference scorecard, a campaign slogan, or policies that deny or impose.

The state of grace must be our goal. It holds the power to promote change and to heal hearts. Graciousness is a conscious choice that is elected when innocence has been lost…an innocence that has long since evaporated but remains forever valued and painstakingly imitated. It is not an emblem we acquire…it does not flow to the winner of an election…it is an endeavor of example whereby words are not sufficient…it must be lived.

Our gay authenticity is no different and it mustn’t be wagered or mortgaged for any imagined or perceived prize. We must never accept that homosexuality and morality are mutually exclusive. Morality is an internal state; not a litany of state installed mandates. Morality maligned by the majority is nothing more than the manifestation of institutionalized immorality.

One’s love for humanity requires no higher being, no promise of salvation, no threat of damnation…it should be unconditional and absolute. It need not elevate nor annihilate those who are similar or dissimilar. It honors humanity simply because it is humanity. It seeks no special treatment nor does it require one to adopt any specious identity in order to find acceptance. We humans share the same origin but we also possess different identity’s…which is as it were intended. We mustn’t forget.

I love beauty queens and drag queens…I love girls who are cowboys and boys who are cowgirls…I love tin soldiers, toy soldiers, and our soldiers…I love rednecks and red lipstick…I love drama whether it’s on the big screen or just plain old big drama…I love cry babies and babies crying…I love hetero sexy and homo sexual…I love girls with big boobs and boobs that are big girls. They give us our texture, our color, and our depth.

I’m reminded of an old song that has always spoken succinctly and eloquently to these issues that I hold near and dear, “Don’t make me over, now that I’d do anything for you…Don’t make me over, now that you know how I adore you…accept me for what I am…accept me for the things that I do”. May I suggest that there is no finer song to honor the sanctity of our shared humanity?

No individual…no sexual orientation…no skin color…no party…no religion…no nation…has a monopoly on goodness. We’re all at our best when we embrace the best our identity has to offer. I am not an opinion poll…I am not a debate question…I am not a threat to marriage…I am not that queer homo fairy faggot sodomite gay guy who blogs. I have always been first, foremost, and forever human. I should not need to tell you and you should not need to ask me…I have always been me. I will always be me. Wouldn’t it be grand if we Americans could find a way to embrace and celebrate the simplicity of that which connects us…our humanity?

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  1. 10 Responses to “Can You Know Where You’re Going, If You Forget Where You’ve Been?”

  2. By Jet Netwal on Jun 13, 2007 | Reply

    Wow. This is, in my opinion, the best post put up on BIO this year.

    I think that wanting to preserve your culture is a normal reaction. In this country, I’m not sure it’s possible. We are an amalgamated America, freely incorporating constantly. Our pop culture is a vulture, picking over the banquet. While I think that groups who strive to protect and celebrate their cultures do a better job of saving the core, they are affected by America, and she by them. That osmosis is the harbinger of acceptence. Sway enough of the senses and the beast moves.

  3. By manapp99 on Jun 13, 2007 | Reply

    Daniel says:

    “I was gay when being a homo was a mental illness…when queer sex was illegal…when you didn’t discuss being a faggot with your doctor…when sodomites were chased down and thrown out of the military…when AIDS was god’s punishment for being a fairy. I was gay before being gay was remotely fashionable. Nonetheless, I was always just me.”

    Sounds like your an O.G. You know, original gayster. :)
    I am in agreement that a persons morality has nothing to do with who they enjoy having sex with. You have moral and immoral gays the same as you have straight. I find it interesting that you almost seem to pine for the times when gays were less accepted. It seems to me that in terms of “live and let live” we should be striving to break down the barriers that divide such as race, creed, sex etc and paying closer attention to our similarities such as common residents of a particular situation. If you move in next door to me I should care less if you are gay the same as I should care less if you are another color than I. This is not assimilating you into the “hetro” world. This is me as your next door neighbor saying I am busy enough dealing with my own world and my own life style choices to worry about what you are doing in yours. You be what your are and I’ll be what I am but don’t try to tell me what music I can listen to when I cut my grass, even if it is gay.

  4. By Tom Baker on Jun 13, 2007 | Reply

    Daniel, you have a true gift for words.

  5. By Tom Baker on Jun 13, 2007 | Reply

    I would agree with Jet except I’m not sure it’s a vulture thing as much as it is the inevitable outcome of acceptance. I can understand to a degree where Daniel is coming from, but the co-opting of “gay culture” isn’t any different than what happened to black culture, what is happening to latino culture etc. If you want to be part of the public at large and a group in the overall community, then you are tacitly permitting people to look at your culture and seize upon interesting and cool facets of it. Sure it’s a pain to see “your” things taken over by Madison Ave, or hip hetero’s, but there is no way to stop it. As we become more comfortable with the idea of a vibrant and open gay community being a normal and enriching part of the American fabric, the gay community needs to understand that being a thread in a fabric means you will no longer have exclusive claim to your “music, slang, fashion” etc. That does not make us homogeneous or bland - it makes America a colorful and vibrant mix of cultures that make a national identity. You lose something, you gain something. Not sure if thats a fair trade, but thats the trade.

  6. By Daniel DiRito on Jun 13, 2007 | Reply

    Jet, manapp99, & Tom,

    Thanks for your kind words…it makes sharing one’s words meaningful.

    My thoughts in this posting serve two purposes…and I want to be sure that isn’t misunderstood. First, I would suggest that it’s an admonition to my “gay brethren”…one that asks us to remember who we are and to preserve it within our own individual identities…we needn’t abandon our identity to win our rights.

    I realize that assimilation will always tend to dilute or water down…I had four Italian immigrant grandparents and I miss many elements of that culture as well. I don’t regret or resent the process…I regret that the process can devour the person. Nothing can remove the color and contrast I absorbed from my Italian heritage…even though it becomes less vivid in society over time…it remains vividly alive in who I am.

    The same is true of my gay heritage. In neither case do I object to society “co-opting” elements of these cultures…I do regret when those who are the keepers of the culture mask it in order to fit in…which ultimately means one’s culture, over time, has less to offer because it begins to evaporate.

    Secondly, struggle and adversity tend to bring clarity and character. There’s a point in the movie “Moonstruck” where the Olivia Dukakis character is being courted by a man she has seen eating in her favorite restaurant numerous times…always with different women…always ending badly. He invites her to dine with him after his date storms out…they dine…then they begin to walk home.

    He lets it be known that he has an amorous interest…and she quickly shut’s it down by basically saying, “You can walk me home and you can kiss me on the cheek…but I know who I am”. In that exchange is the essence of my message…remember who you are…you can participate with all kinds of people in all kinds of activities without forgetting who you are…and when you let others see who you are, they see character and strength…and that is what makes a nation strong.

    We need people with different perspectives…different views…or we run the risk of losing our depth and our dignity. I want to hear your music and I want you to hear my music…I just don’t want it to all end up being the same. Everyone on my block is welcome to attend my party…but I don’t want every party on my block to be the same…otherwise they’re no longer parties…they become measurements of who makes the best steak or who spent the most on the caterer.

    I have no problem with transparency…I see you as you are and you see me as I am…I just don’t want to become a transparent person in some “Stepford Wives” robotic existence where we all live in ticky-tacky houses on ticky-tacky blocks where we’re all made the same. We need Edward Scissorhands…and he needs us. It’s that simple.

    Anyway, I could wax on but I’m hopeful this will provide a little more clarity. I love words and I am always amazed at how difficult it is to speak one’s feelings in the way one wants them to be understood…and that amazement is never a disappointment…it is an incentive to try again and to find more words to share more feelings…it simply reminds me of the beauty that exists in the whole of our vast and vibrant human condition.

    Thanks again to all for sharing your thoughts!

    Regards,

    Daniel

  7. By Jersey McJones on Jun 13, 2007 | Reply

    This is a fascinating glimpse into gay culture. I can’t recall where I read it, but I remember reading something simliar to this, lightly lamenting the integration of gay culture into the mainstream. I guess it’s sort of how I felt when Ozzy Osbourne became a pop culture icon. How dare the popular culture steal the metalhead identity of my youth! ;)
    JMJ

  8. By windspike on Jun 13, 2007 | Reply

    Excellent post Daniel….to steal a bit of gay culture….

    “God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes.”

  9. By Tom Baker on Jun 13, 2007 | Reply

    Daniel question on the Gay marriage issue. I see where you come from, but what about the millions who honestly thing that it is there right and they are not bowing down to society, but fighting for equality. They don’t feel they are betraying their identity or begging to be accepted - they are demanding, in their mind, to be treated equally. Sure its a polorizing issue that tends to boil down a much more complex issue in this CNN\Gallop poll society, but does that make their desire any less real? Is their desire to be treated equal selling out?

  10. By Daniel DiRito on Jun 13, 2007 | Reply

    Hi Tom,

    I agree completely that it is their right and nothing I’ve said means we shouldn’t work towards that goal…but as with all politics, strategy is relevant.

    The reality has been that since the push to achieve gay marriage, more states have enacted laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Hence, while we’re pushing for marriage rights, the opposite is being written into numerous constitutions…raising the bar we will have to overcome.

    I’ve felt that civil unions…with all the bells and whistles would have been a better strategy…it defuses much of the religious symbolism contained in the argument against gay marriage…it refocuses voters on the issue of equality…and it would likely result in a future court ruling declaring it unconstitutional…similar to what happened with the concept of separate but equal.

    The issue is complex and I don’t think one can expect the issue to follow the same course as prior civil rights struggles. I say that because of the religious undertones. No doubt there were people who opposed rights for African Americans…but they had little room to stand in opposition based upon religious beliefs…at least in terms of any widely held beliefs.

    Gay rights are viewed much differently. While proponents of discrimination against Blacks existed, they were virtually shamed into silence…gay rights opponents have actually been able to gain additional traction because their arguments have a broader, more righteous appeal. Legitimate? Of course not. Reality at the moment? Unfortunately yes.

    I’ll pose my own question…do you think that if we ask really nice, our detractors will say, ok, no problem…you can have marriage? The answer to the question is instructive…it suggests that we’re losing the battle for moral authority…a battle better fought on the basis of more rights rather than the emotionally charged back and forth of “I want to marry…Oh no you’re not”.

    I don’t begrudge the passion of other gays with regard to marriage…I simply think we have to fight a different battle. I think there’s a perception attached to civil rights struggles that may give too much attribution to traditional activism…and not enough credit to the efforts of those who lead by example and win hearts and minds one at a time…right in their own sphere of influence. That’s not to diminish one approach or the other…it’s simply to suggest that its an avenue worthy of further thought and exploration.

    I think politics and activism need to recommit to the notion of “thinking outside the box”…which leads me back to authenticity. Politics has become an insider’s game and one’s indoctrination is a process akin to cloning…it’s more like groupthink…everyone in the group begins to think alike…everyone in the group feels affirmed because everyone does think alike. A neat and tidy formula I would equate with a visit to the anesthesiologist…put me to sleep because I don’t want to feel any pain…I want to wake up when all the bad stuff is over.

    I could go on but it’s difficult to have the kind of conversation a topic of this nature demands. Perhaps that is just my own frustration shining through…since I can’t say as much with my fingers as could be exchanged in a face to face conversation. I love writing and blogging but there are times when I miss the face to face exchange…probably just my ADD tendencies at play.

    Anyway, thanks for the dialogue and I hope we can continue to explore this and other issues.

    Regards,

    Daniel

  11. By Rainbow Demon on Jun 14, 2007 | Reply

    Daniel,

    The answer to the question you have posed in this post’s title is a definitive NO. Where will you end up if you don’t know where you’ve been?

    Fighting for Civil Rights, which are supposedly just that, has been an interesting and much worthy cause throughout the years; and in my quest for Equality, that rare beast with the golden fleece - I’ve come upon the invariant conclusion that one cannot change another’s will to hate with logic.

    …and so I go on just being myself which goes hand in hand with remembering where it was that I came from, respecting others who have come from a different place, and accepting them for who they may be. By the same token, I will never change to suit another’s perception of who they think I should be.

    Too many people think they have the dibs on morality and righteousness, which they think gives them the right to hate others who don’t feel the same way. I’ve seen it from both sides of the discussion. It all boils down to fear. If one can’t control something, it becomes a fear. Fear destroys.

    Changing Hatred is a difficult one way road we must go down in the opposite direction with Love…

    Your fabulous aritcle has inspired this tired old Hippy. I’ll be linking to you…

    Peace,
    =RD=

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