What accounts for the existence of gay people? (Part One)

I love ideas. I love them. I love abstracted, philosophical, complex ways of looking at things. There is something alluring about them to me, something that is so grand, and so large. They make me feel like anything is possible; free, endless. Ideas also create sense and order. They can be like a warm blanket—something that reassures and comforts. They sharpen a blurry image. For me, I suppose, ideas are inextricably linked to meaning.

I have to be real with myself: I’m not an atheist or a nihilist. At the end of the day, I cannot bring myself to believe in any philosophical construct that rejects meaning. To me, philosophy’s goal is to make sense, figure stuff out. If something can’t be figured out, then what’s the point? It’s all a wild goose chase? I can’t believe that. If everything is meaningless, then I’d rather make myself think that it was, otherwise I’d just slowly seep away into a black hole and I would contribute nothing to this life. Perhaps it’s how I was raised, and I can’t bring myself to reject everything that I’ve ever known. Who knows?

So, taking for granted that meaning exists, that patterns can be drawn between events, and that natural processes and identities can have a purpose, I raise and examine the question: What accounts for the existence of gay people?

If I was a nihilist, the answer would be simple: nothing. In the traditional view of the Christian church, the answer would be: sin, temptation. I reject both.

I will address the former later on, but in regards to the latter—in my experience, having feelings and impulses towards members of my sex came naturally. They may not have always felt natural, but I explain that by the environment in which I lived: I did not know any openly gay people in my early close circles, and I did not hear or know of any gay-affirming ideologies. Once I had, the truth of my feelings became clear, strengthened by the fact that they did not disappear and grew over time. Reconciling my identification with being gay, and allowing those feelings to be expressed, helped me become a more actualized and authentic version of myself. I cannot, by any stretch of my imagination, think of gay identity as a result of sin/temptation by an evil force. Aside from struggles of acceptance, expressing my genuine gay self has brought nothing but joy in my life (Another rebuke of the “sin” viewpoint is the well-documented failure of ex-gay ministries).

So, if being gay is not an aberration, but something natural, and if we focus on the philosophy that nature’s processes have meaning, what is the meaning of gay existence? Perhaps first, it is worth asking what is gay existence? Or: what is the gay identity? Inextricably linked with the question of our existence (the why?), is the question of gay identity itself (the what?).

Is it even possible—the idea that all gays share a common denominator, that all gays have similar traits? I mean, obviously every person is an individual and it’s impossible to speak for everyone. But, the truth that our personal erotic desires lie outside of the dominant culture of man-woman/procreative love has to account for something. This status as an outsider places gay people in a position that is unlike that of our straight counterparts. Everybody makes their own choices and has their own backgrounds and experiences, but perhaps being gay is best described as a non-dominant social-sexual position.

I have just finished reading Extraordinary Hearts: Reclaiming Gay Sensibility’s Central Role in the Progress of Civilization by journalist and theologian Nicholas F. Benton (I’ve been reading it all summer for god’s sake), that is a compilation of one hundred columns published under the title, “Nick Benton’s Gay Science” on consecutive weeks from October 2010 through September 2012 on the web site of the Falls Church News-Press and in print in the Metro Weekly (a prominent LGBT newspaper for the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area). Benton’s over-arching purpose for the column is to find purpose in the existence of gay people. As a result of his experiences, from his part in the early gay liberation movement post-Stonewall, to his abrupt exit from the same movement in the mid-1970s, along with his personal and theological beliefs (he lived through the AIDS crisis; he obtained a masters of divinity degree in 1969), Benton identifies core values that he believes link gay individuals throughout human history, and should be the rallying cry behind which the LGBT community moves forward.

Benton’s beliefs rest on his core definitions of gay identity: (1) “preponderant qualities of heightened empathy and compassion for the underdog,” (2) “an alternate sensual perspective applied to all aspects of life,” and (3) “a constructive non-conformity that account for the amazing contributions our ‘tribe’ has brought to the benefit of all humanity for thousands of years” (Benton 340).

So—wait, what? Let’s break this down. Benton talks at length about each of these traits, and recapitulates his central themes over and over, bringing new evidence to support his statements with each sequential entry. His writing is a manifesto on identity, which expresses strongly-held beliefs and views.

First, he describes the “heightened empathy” of gays as our tendency to oppose tyranny (AKA patriarchy) and its domination over women, children, and subjugated peoples. He sees gay people as pacifists, generally, as those who see the folly in derived territorial and resource-perceived requirements that cause wars. In the grand scheme of things, gay people help “stand in the way of male dominion’s total lust for conquest and control” (188). We liberate the oppressed, as Walt Whitman says: “great poets” (gays) “cheer up slaves and horrify despots” (Leaves of Grass).

Second, our “alternate sensual perspective.” This relates to what I mentioned above concerning our “non-dominant social-sexual position”—because of that, we are not procreative and focused on species reproduction, but rather on “beauty and forms that elevate and humanize the spirit” (Benton 188). This can be seen in gay people’s sense of style, design, and creative spirit. While not all gay people identify as artists, there is certainly a larger percentage of gay people that are artists than straight people (walk into any theater and you can see it with your own eyes). And even if a gay person isn’t an artist, Benton would contend that they would bring a creative essence to whatever they’re involved in (if they were being their authentic selves).

The third identifier, “constructive non-conformity” is defined by Benton as our recognition that we will “never, nor should, fit in to male-dominated society” and that “it is in our very core to counter its influence in a myriad of ways” (188), whether it be our sass and camp, our public service, or the ways in which we service our individual specialties/subject. Benton sees this as a “natural impulse” of gay people.

I’m sure some of this sounds high-falutin’ and pretentious, but I think Benton is really getting at something here. His ideas really excite me. I want to go into all of this further, but I feel that this post is already getting on the lengthy side. So, we will continue on in the next post! Coming up: more thoughts on Benton’s core gay identifiers and why this relates to my original question (What accounts for the existence of gay people?), as well as how these views sit in the context of the post-Stonewall gay movement and postmodernist philosophies of the past century.

Ciao y’all!

[Benton, Nicholas F. Extraordinary Hearts: Reclaiming Gay Sensibility’s Central Role in the Progress of Civilization. Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe, 2013. Print.]

Subway haikus

An (attempted) haiku:

Eight in the morning,
Body against body, ugh.
Subway-sardine-can.

I’m not sure where to look in a subway car. When it’s crowded, I feel that the only safe place to stare is at the corner of the sliding doors or the corner of the window. Sometimes when staring into the window, you’re actually locking eyes with somebody’s reflection, and that can be awkward. Usually that’s the best way to check somebody out furtively, but not when the person you’re checking out also knows it’s the best way to check someone out, and they’re checking YOU out. It’s complicated.

So, the past week or so I’ve had a temp job as a mailroom worker at a cosmetics company in East Midtown. Tall skyscrapers, lots of men in suits (with tennis shoes?), women in smart skirts and fancy blouses. I step out of the Lexington/53rd station on the E line to a gorgeous waterfall, plenty of tables with (available!?) chairs, and a mall–utterly unlike most other subway stops I’ve encountered so far. I feel out of place with my H&M blue pants (chinos, maybe? I don’t know; they’re not jeans), and my un-tucked button down (what does “business casual” mean, anyways?).

It’s a 9-5 job and commuting to it has been my first experience with rush hour traffic in the NYC subways. Before, the subway was definitely “busy,” and populated with people, and sure, I’ve had to stand when there were no available seats, but nothing compares to when you have to pass up on boarding two trains because you actually cannot fathom how you could fit in the car without your face pushed up against the window. To a Midwestern boy born-and-raised, this is something veryyyy different than what I am used to. Plus if I have to wait for the train in the (hot) station for too long, I’m also a sweaty mess by the time I enter the subway car (x2 if I had to run to catch it). A sweaty mess in a contained sea of other sweaty messes. Sweaty messes that cannot help but bump elbows, knock bags, and come crotch-to-face with a sitting rider.

Haiku #2:

I have a backpack.
Oh, you have a backpack, too.
Take it off, bitch. Sigh.

When it is busy and packed body-to-body, I fully expect those people with backpacks to take them off and put them at their feet. Or at least move the backpack to one shoulder and kind of cradle it in their arms. I do it; basically whenever I enter a subway train I have my bag on one shoulder, ready to cradle it if need be to make room for another passenger. Maybe I’m just too polite. More often than not, people will do no such courtesy and keep their backpacks on, both shoulders. This is especially infuriating when these backpacks ARE JAM-PACKED FULL AND LITERALLY TAKE UP THE WIDTH OF A FULL HUMAN. Yesterday I was smooshed between two fellas with full, hard-on backpacks. And then the one guy looked at ME when my inevitable subway-caused movements and shifts would push him. Dude, take off your backpack. Everybody, this is a PSA—take off your backpacks.

A third haiku:

Subway is silent.
Then, “THIS IS FIFTY-THIRD STREET
TRANSFER TO THE B.”

Sometimes that one guy plays his music too loudly, or that girl is p i s s e d off and cussing at her boyfriend on the phone. Usually it is quiet, though. As far as the quality of the MTA employees on the intercom, a chasm divides the workers who barely mumble the stop info into the speaker, and those that are essentially screaming into the microphone. And then there’s those who seem to be talking for a full minute at each subway stop. In rare, wonderful cases, the MTA intercom speaker-person tells you the stop and the transfers in a direct, pleasant voice, and then they stop talking. It’s a beautiful moment, but I emphasize the “rare.”

I guess that all doesn’t matter too much when you have your headphones in. (Observation—everybody in New York uses Apple earbuds. Every. Single. Person. The one with the microphone. Everyone.) But, actually, even headphones can’t block out mariachi bands or incessant banjo-ing. Ah well.

On that note:

Subway. Subway. Then,
Bass, hip-hop music, back-flips,
WHAT IS GOING ON?

Performers are an inevitable aspect of subway life. As a tourist, it’s the most fascinating thing in the world. As a New York commuter, it can get fucking annoying. I mean, I just wanna sit/stand and listen to my music in peace so I can forget the fact that I’m on a shitty subway, man.

But on the flip-not-so-negative side, subway performers ARE one of the more interesting, different events of urban life in NY. It’s something that suburban/Midwestern people never experience in their daily lives, since subways aren’t really practical anywhere except for very large cities. And when I’m being less pissy and annoyed, some of these performers are actually pretty incredible.

For example, the other day I was coming back from volunteering at a theatre festival in Brooklyn, and these two guys were chilling in the open area by the doors, with a friend and a boombox. One pushed the other playfully, a bit of fake-punching, plenty of laughing. Then, they turn their boom box on, and while the train is in motion, they are doing these crazy moves. The first guy spends most of his time in the air, touching the ground and then whipping his lower body up against gravity as well as the kinetic forces of a moving train. The second guy jumps in and literally does a back-flip off of the subway door. The second guy comes back and effortlessly performs three somersaults, without even touching any of the other passengers. It’s incredible, and they did it with such joy and goodwill. Constantly laughing, playing off each other. They were performers in the best way, performers who enjoyed what they did and did it well. I only wish I had the cash to tip them.

One more:

Sitting. Earbuds in.
Left: a book, right: a small smile.
New York in one car.

Outside of my apartment, the subway is where I have spent most of my time in New York so far. It’s very strange to think that I’ve spent most of my time going somewhere than I actually have being somewhere (besides the apartment). It’s interesting, and I’m sure there’s some sort of philosophical statement in there. In one line of thinking, I can look at commuting time as wasted time—time spent in traffic, time spent unproductively. As a new New Yorker (I’ve been here a month, eek), I could think: wow, the most I’ve seen of my new home so far is the fucking subway, *large UGH*.

However, in another way of viewing it, the subway may be one of the more essential, and dare I say innately New York things I could experience. It’s how New Yorkers travel. It’s how they get to work, it’s how they get home. It’s where they spend a lot of their time. You see tourists, sure, but mostly you are seeing people tired after work, smiling as they text someone special, laughing with their friend. On the weekends you see some fly gentlemen and high heel’d ladies ready to get their party on. You see a cute guy with shorts and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Some people are frustrated and angry. Some are spaced the fuck out, living in their own world. And some strike up conversations with the stranger sitting next to them.

Some subways go above ground, too. One of my favorite trips so far has been going to Brooklyn (the Q and B trains, I think) where we cross the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn and you can see downtown Manhattan sparkle in the sunlight. Or, at night, you see the city light up and reflecting off the water. It’s truly a sight to see.

Sure, being in the subway can often feel like I’m a little sardine in a can, and sometimes I’m just not feeling it. But there are other times when I become aware that I’m surrounded by people that are so different than me; people of diverse races, religions, and backgrounds. It’s so apart from where I was raised and where I lived most of my life. These people are different, but the same. They’re people, they’re New Yorkers. I’m beginning to understand them a little more each day.

“Prioritize,” says the drag queen in the lesbian bar

New York, New York. I’m here bitches. It’s been almost three weeks and I feel like I’m starting to get my shit together. Well, just starting—on the path towards gathering some semblance of a facade of a shit.

Week One: moving in, IKEA trip (x2 because the first day they didn’t have the mattress we wanted), and trying to figure out how to share space with another person. Delegating what’s mine, what’s his, what we’re sharing… and not only for my boyfriend and I, but for my two other roommates as well. It’s a process that does not go without some arguing, some sass, and some passive-aggressive texts. BUT, I’m starting to finally feel settled and excited about my living space, so: check. On the horizon: ramping up my communication skills/articulating my feelings better to my cohabitants. There’s always room to improve on that hot mess (my emotions are a deep lake with rocks at the bottom).

Week Two: lots and lots of free time, but most of it is spent hunched over my computer job-searching, with plenty of emailing. And resume-editing. And cover letter-writing. Switching around this experience, shortening that phrase, editing that vague special skill. I went from one web site to the next, Playbill to Indeed.com, searching for “editing assistant” or “library jobs.” One internship and then the next. A shade of existential dread. I took some personality quizzes to help determine what the hell kind of jobs I should be applying for. Tell me, Google. Help me. Tell me what to do.

Hallllllp.

Back to that whole “transition phase” thing I talked about in my last post? It hasn’t necessarily worn off yet (probably won’t, for a while). I don’t feel like I’m “floating” anymore, but I feel kind of lost among the many different directions I could go. What do I focus on? Easy: writing and acting, stupid, that’s what you’ve been doing thus far. But do I get a part time job or a full time job? How many part time jobs? Any I can find or should I be picky? One vaguely in my field or one completely different? And then there’s that whole thing called “money” and how I guess I “need it” to “survive.”And now we’re back to this duality I create in my brain: art or money. Le sigh.

Week Three/ A small rant on the complexity of job-searching after college: figuring out what exactly you want to do aside, most of the jobs that pop up in searches require “2-3 years of experience in [so-and-so field].” And if it’s an entry-level job… Where the hell am I supposed to be getting this experience? Hmmm? Ah, yes. An “internship.” An internship that’s full-time, 40 hours a week, with a payment of “experience.” Ahhhh yes. It’s all illuminated to me now. And also, I should put all of my energy into this internship… Because the more I put into it, the more rewarding it is… Mmmm. Sounds great. And at the end, I will be handed a gold ticket. Pure gold. And in silver letters on this gold ticket (0h, it’s so heavy!) will read the words “Experience.” The office will stand up, cheer around me because they have just received 500+ hours of free labor. And the crowd goes wild (except for me, because I’ll be sprinting to my third-shift job in order to afford bills and you know, food). Man, it all just sounds so great.

Disclaimer: definitely not shitting on all internship opportunities, I get it, nobody makes money in non-profits (if you’re for-profit YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY PAY YOUR INTERNS), yada yada, but still, the whole situation is just kind of iffy. However, the rant is done.

AnYwAyS, despite my deep well of emotions, I have managed to go out and have fun. I saw a couple shows, including Fun Home and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time before they closed, as well as The Humans. All amazing, and I highly recommend (the first two are totally going on tour). And among all this talk of not finding a job, I (surprise) did find a small part-time job at the cutest independent book store ever in Greenwich Village (check it out it’s so cuuuute). Also, I am loving spending more time with my boo thang, Nicholas. He’s cute (and listens to all my emotional whining and then points out when I’m being silly). So good things are happening.

Last Tuesday, in a rare moment of extroversion, I went out for drinks with Nick and my roommate Kathryn after my shift at Bookbook. We checked out this lesbian bar in the Village called “Cubbyhole,” because they were selling $2 margaritas (compare this to the usual price of drinks in NYC and you’ll subsequently explode), and it was cute, small, and yes, plenty gay. The three of us took turns sitting at a small two-person table by the bar. We each bought a round and chatted/shouted to each other.

One amazing little moment of the night was when this Fabulous™ drag queen graced us with her presence and was going around reading everybody’s palms. She came to our table with a little flashlight and showed us our life line, our heart line, and our money lines and basically told us everything that was going on in our lives in bordering-on-scary detail.

For me, she saw that I was going through a recent and large change (moving to NYC and that pesky postgrad transition), that I was a creative and passionate person, and that I was in a strong relationship (with maybe a ring-ring in the future, wink-wink). But then she broke it down for me, and hard. She looked me in the eye and said “Girl, you need to PRIORITIZE your life.” She was, of course, referring to this mess of a job search, self doubt, and generalized emotional aimlessness that has been my life for the past two/three weeks. And that kind of struck/is continuing to strike a chord with me.

Priorities.

Ultimately, what is most important to me? Looking at the rest of my life, what do I want to accomplish? Who do I want by my side? And what, if any, footprint do I want to leave behind?

It’s never too early to really look at those questions. Life can end any day (something I realize now more than ever). And no matter what the (unknown) length, it’s all happening right now. The rest of your life is… now! And more than likely… I/you/we probably already, truly, know what we want, deep down.

So: looking at myself in the mirror: what do you want to do?

Hm, I—*the drag queen’s finger stops my mouth*

Do it.

But—I—*finger*

No excuses, bitch! (she didn’t actually say this, but at this point she’s now my resident Fairie Godmother-illusion)

Oh—okay—okay—yeah. But what about—

*finger snap*

Yes—

Do.

Do—yes. Do.

It’s all really about what we do.