By Philip J. Hoskins
A VIEW FROM THE SIXTIES
The views expressed here are personal and biased. No attempt is made to be correct, popular or agreeable. If anything, the opposite is closer to the truth. I am so appalled by the "correctness" of our day that my natural tendency is to overstate, to upset the apple cart, so to speak. There is a flaw in this approach, but it is also much needed today.
Those of us who played a role is shaping the political, sexual and cultural revolt of the 1960's are responsible for much of what went wrong with that noble experiment. We boldly proclaimed the launch of a new era, a generation freed from the constraints of "correct thinking", of a morality which we found to be without ethics, of the oppression of differentness. During this period I was among the many who were allowing themselves to venture into the world of being gay.
What went wrong by the mid '70's is quite simple; those of us who were involved in the revolution became self-absorbed. We thought we were the revolution, losing sight of the more fundamental truth that we were instruments of a larger and more important shift in culture.
Being self-absorbed, we indulged our selves, we committed our lives to excess without a true sense of responsibility. We took advantage of middle-class America's penchant for introspection and self blame and started believing that they were the problem. No, they were not and are not the problem. We must look deeper into our natures to find the problem, if there is, indeed, a problem at all.
There was, at the beginning of the movement in the sixties, a few bold, pioneering individuals who dared to think beyond the approved boundaries. More importantly, there were those who exposed themselves by daring to explore the act of being beautiful and of loving in ways that the larger culture had yet to experience. A reflection on history suggests that it is in this act of heroism that our culture has moved forward -in the actions of those who explore being beautiful, of finding new ways to share their love, not so much in the musings of those who explore thought and debate theories.
It is exactly in this realm that being gay has relevance. It is we who are the high priests of the art of beauty and love. We are the holders of the faith of the ideals that the rest of society often lays waste to in its haste to survive and procreate. It is here that we make our contribution to our culture. It is here that being gay exists apart from other ways of being.
It is in the realm of what is beauty and love that the original departure from tradition occurred in the "love generation" of the sixties. Some of us would no longer tolerate being told that to be beautiful you had to be blond, white and ignorant of the consequences of our actions. We insisted that beauty was more resplendent than that, more diverse and more personal. In fact, the heresy of the sixties was that we insisted on the right to define beauty for ourselves.
Likewise, we found the terrain largely barren with regard to the expression of love in our society. The word had been co-opted by the Donna Reed set and had lost any connection with the timeless ideals for the capacity of one person to love another. In all of history, we have held a unique relationship to these ideals, we have personified the love of man by the gods. We have held on to the flickering light of pure love without purpose, without meaning, without restrictions.
Odd, isn't it, that this movement has turned on itself only to end up being that which we originally opposed. How odd it is to find that being gay has become a formula in which one must look, act and speak and even love in a certain way to be acceptable! It is to this issue that I speak. If you are game enough to read further, hopefully you will be stirred to think for yourself on some issues that are important to you. If I am successful, I will have offended or challenged you at least once in the process.
THE FLY IN THE OINTMENT
One of the constants of human nature is that we tend to think that security and satisfaction will come about by emulating those whom we view as secure and/or successful. This is what happened with the revolution of the sixties, which actually lasted a few short months from late 1963 to early 1967. All that followed was the offspring of those original moments of inspiration. As the process evolved, the media picked up on the changes being wrought by the few, passed it on as a formula to the many, and the revolution was lost.
One of the problems with the current view of the sixties is that it is often incorrectly seen as a single movement. In fact, there were two parallel movements occurring in time. One was a politically based revolution against a perceived power structure that had its roots in Marxism, feminism and Protestantism. This movement had surfaced late in the 1 950's and was borne along by the antiwar and pro racial integration forces. To a large extent these were the products of Jewish intellectuals of the left who were able to translate the impulse for fairness and freedom that lies at the heart of Western tradition into a political dialogue that found its place in the American idiom.
Many of these intellectuals had their own orthodoxy. To them, one was either a friend or an enemy; shades of gray tended to be derided and one was expected to take sides in the struggle. Especially the Marxists and feminists insisted upon "correct" views of history and culture. These were some of the most politicizing influences that overwhelmed the "love generation" which had been predominantly anarchistic at its roots
Another movement was surfacing about this time as well. In large part it was being led by a few pioneering freethinkers who abhorred political restrictions, definitions and movements of any kind. Many of these pioneers were gay.
Notice I did not say happened to be gay. They did not happen to be anything. They chose being gay. Not in the sense of selecting off a platter at a buffet, but in the true sense of going for it wholeheartedly. For these men ( and it was almost exclusively a male movement) the question was what is being gay?. They were not willing to let the larger culture define this important question for them and they set off to find the answer in the spiritual roots of same-sex love.
What this way of being (out of deference to the essence of this heritage, I will try not to use the word movement in connection with it, since most who generated it would abhor that word as applying to themselves. Instead, I have opted for way of being which reflects my own biases, but may more aptly describe this heritage) sought to express was a rather simple truth -- that each person has the opportunity, responsibility and right to express themselves as they choose, that each is a manifestation of a higher power that no human has the right to criticize; and that the highest expression of ethics is that expressed in the word love.
Of course, the high priests of this way of being were queens (drag and otherwise), fags and fops (is that word ever used anymore? Do we still retain the admiration for the beauty of limp wrists and exaggerated fashion?). It is not only that they were politically incorrect despite outside pressures; more to the point, being politically incorrect was the point of their being. What good is an ethic that espouses individuality and mutual respect and appreciation if you don't live that ethic yourself? If you are dealt the hand in life of being a queen, then it is immoral not to act it out for all to appreciate or not.
This heritage has its roots in antiquity and was the inspiration for much of the world's great art, music and dance. It is the source of fashion, of our notions of beauty, love and romance and has usually been on the cutting edge of cultural and therefore political freedom. At its heart is a heretical approach whose closest political expression is anarchy. Woven inseparably within this way of being is sex. And it is herein that trouble has always lain.
So long as queens, fags and fops are marginalized and invisible, or at least "stay in their place", they are tolerated and allowed to practice their arts. The problem of the sixties was that a newly liberated middle class America became attracted to this way of being. White bread Americans who had seldom dared to express a sexual thought of any kind suddenly embraced what they perceived to be the nihilism of the gay/queen/fag culture and went wild with it. This embrace was the undoing of the gay/queen/fag (hereafter "GQF") culture.
THE CO-OPTION OF THE GQF CULTURE
It is no accident that Stonewall was led by drag queens. Who else had so little at stake in the conventional culture that they would be willing to stand for something? Why is it that the outrage did not spill over from the Mineshaft or the baths? Stonewall was not political; it was an issue of love, beauty and freedom of being.
There was no ad hoc committee formed to lead the charge, no manifesto that inspired the demonstration. No, what has been at the heart of the GQF culture has always been a simpler manifesto -- "get the fuck outta my life! How dare you pretend to know what is best for me? Watch me and learn something about the beauty of life! If you pretend to seek love, allow yourself to be inspired by the love I share with my companions."
As the newly freed slaves from suburbia joined the "free love"/anti-war "movement", they did not bother to wonder at how it had come into being, they did not bother to "pay their dues", learn from their leaders nor acquire a sense of responsibility for their actions. Like a band of teenagers run amok, these "wannabe's" let loose their libidos, adopted the fashions of the fringe and rebelled against anything and everything.
We fucked anything that moved, explained everything with clichés barely heard through a drugged existence and misapplied some important new truths being tried out by the pioneers of the day. Unfortunately, many of these pioneers burned their brains out with drugs and became useless and unable to refocus us as we indulged in our excesses. The GQF culture became lost under the weight of this flood of formerly repressed excesses. It has begun to reemerge as a flicker in such groups as Queer Nation, Radical Fairies and others.
As the numbers of visible gays increased, alliances were formed with other minorities and most importantly with the ever more powerful feminist movement. It became necessary to favor the particular correctness of the day being espoused by women whose central agenda seemed to be getting back at men. Since queers were not "men", we were assumed to be women and we were natural targets for their alliances. Since we sought political power, our leaders jumped into bed (figuratively, I trust) with a movement that made increasing demands on us for adherence to its own agenda.
Somehow we got involved with abortion rights as though they were related to the gay culture. Interestingly, the issue that most divides us from feminists has to do with sex: the anti-pornography wing of the feminist brigade has had few converts among the gay community. In part that is because we took upon ourselves a major falsehood -- that we are like heterosexuals except what we do in bed. Once we took on that reality, we were hooked on the right to have sex how, when and where we wanted as a focal point of our agenda.
But this alliance was based upon a very critical falsehood -- we are not women. We are not men either; we are other than that to our very roots and this is the real threat to the larger culture. We do not fit into their agenda and are not subject to their control. Our hearts soar with the gods, our eyes behold the beauty of life and we cannot be tamed to fit into the neat categories like men, women, heterosexual or even homosexual.
What happened is that we confused the sexual liberation with the GQF culture. The freedom to screw thy neighbor was so engaging that we lost sight of what might happen when we actually did screw her/him. It is at this point that we imploded on ourselves. The new direction had no rudder, no moral compass and was left to eat its children.
The political movement had overtaken the GQF culture. Liberty had overshadowed beauty. Devotion to fad had replaced art. Political correctness began to replace the irreverence of the drag queen. The intense elation of the erection (yes, this is a male point of view, for which I neither apologize nor rationalize. I am a man and cannot fathom what it is to be a woman, so will not insult you by pretending I can) suddenly became burdened with an explanation of why it was O.K..
Excuse me, but there is absolutely nothing about fucking your brains out that needs an explanation. There is no politics to it, it is not anything more nor less than itself. There is nothing quite like an excellent blow job which is an art form.
Anyone who does not understand that has either never experienced one or is hopelessly suppressed.
We of the GQF strain of being got usurped in the seventies and eighties by a bunch of middle-class cuties who mesmerized us into thinking a certain way of looking was the right way to look. To be gay became a definition, a slot in the American game board, a restriction rather than a way to enjoy life. The sexual heat generated by tight fitting 501's that showed dick got too scary for these marginal freedom fighters and became politically incorrect.
It all started out as a joke and somehow we lost our sense of humor. Those who can remember when it was fun to get off in the alley, not because it was a way of offending legal barriers, but because it was a ballet in life, an art form, an expression of the joy of being a man will hopefully wake up to that memory.
Those who have never experienced this will hopefully be offended enough to think. Yes the baths are good, not because they are the officially, politically correct, "outlet for safer sex" but because they are the stages for some of the most innovative dance work on the planet.
THE IMPACT OF AIDS
It is at about this point (be assured, I have only just begun) that many will object to what I am saying. Good. We need more objectionable writing these days, not less. I know it is correct today to "be responsible" and object to sexual promiscuity and the stages on which it is played out because "it contributes to AIDS". Bullshit! Exactly the opposite is true
Somewhere along the path from the sixties to the present we confused the freedom to screw in the parks with the right to do what we want without cost.
There is no such right. Everything we do has consequences. One of the consequences appears to be AIDS. I say "appears to be" because it is still entirely possible that AIDS is an experiment run amok or an evil plot by right wing fanatics. If so, I will be at the head of the line with the lynch mob. But it is more likely that simple biology leads to mutant viruses such as HIV and our own excesses exposed us to this risk.
The stupidity of current "gay politics" is that we jump to the conclusion that if AIDS results from sexual promiscuity, we must stop the promiscuity and all connected with it. That is bad enough, but in the process we have bought into the false notion that there is something wrong with the GQF culture itself.
Nonsense! What is wrong is that we have refused to take responsibility for our actions. To shift the issue to being a moral imperative, a political cause or a law is not the same as taking responsibility. That is shifting responsibility to something outside ourselves. If fucking without a rubber leads to disease the cure is not mandating rubbers and making fucking wrong. The responsible thing to do is to put the rubber on your dick and that of your lover and stop worrying about everyone else. And for heavens sake, stop telling everyone where and when they should express their maleness.
The other side of this coin is the whining complaint that the government isn't doing enough about AIDS. I know that if I were HIV positive I would probably say something else. But it is simply not true that government is failing us. The fact is AIDS receives the highest per capita funding of diseases today. The government is simply not addressing health in any serious fashion at all. Maybe the government is the wrong place to look. Where we might point the finger is at those people and institutions that have made a fat living off our promiscuity -- the bars, baths, discos, lube companies, record companies, Levi-Strauss, Rodeo drive, beer and liquor companies and everyone else who has directly and indirectly benefited by the GQF culture.
If there is a lack of responsibility for response to the AIDS crisis it is with ourselves and these faggot-maggots who exploit us, use us and then not only ignore our suffering but preach a hypocritical morality at us from behind their sequined red ribbons. Where is the outrage at these blood sucking idiots? If the government has failed us it is in refusing to accept reality and deal with it.
Government is at its best when it inspires citizens to take action on their own. Government is at its worst when it doles out money and passes laws.
Now, what if the price of fully enjoying being a man, and by that I mean screwing who, when and where you want to is disease? What if that is the reality? Are we brave enough to face that without flinching behind some political mumbojumbo like that which is bandied about today? Can we just accept the fact that there are consequences in life and that it is not because we are oppressed? Can we dare to make a choice and then live (and die) with it?
THE GAY "STRAIGHT JACKET"
Few alive today can remember, but there was a time when one did not need to declare allegiance to a sexual orientation. None are alive today when there was no such thing as homosexuality. Not until 1869 was there the concept of sexual identity. Before then, there was simply sexual behavior. People were not put into categories based upon how they got off until the psychologists gave us these new identities. The entire structure of being homosexual and what we call "gay" today was imposed upon us by a male dominated heterosexual elite. I propose we throw it back at them and tell them to shut up.
In a way, the military rule adopted by the Clinton administration has a virtue to it. We are obsessed today with whether someone is gay or straight. People are "outted" and labeled with one or the other as a sobriquet. That is nonsense and must be abolished. By this I do not mean that if a public figure is privately screwing boys and publicly prosecuting the rest of us who do he should not be exposed as a fraud. I just mean I am opposed to adding to our own oppression by doing so in the form of labeling him as a sexual identity. It is his actions that need to be exposed, the fraud he is that needs to be brought to light.
Anyone who has studied human nature even casually knows that to be human involves a complex, ever changing mixture of sexual personae. Few, if any, are "purely" any single sexual orientation. Everyone is from time to time somewhere along a continuum of sexuality. This fascination with labels is a throwback to the Puritanism of the '50's, not a step toward freedom. What the hell business is it of yours what someone feels sexually at the moment unless you want to engage in sex with them? Isn't that what the "gay movement" is all about anyhow?
We require people to disclose their sexual orientation on the false assumptions that (1 ) sexual orientation is a matter that is fixed and inflexible and (2) that there is some form of safety or security for ourselves in having others so declare. Neither assumption is objectively supportable and both are dangerous to the development of a healthy personhood.
This obsession with labels exposes the distance between the essential nature of the GQF culture and present-day "gay" culture. There are many who are queer who are not "gay". Pornography, sexual acting out, promiscuity, posing, cross-dressing, one-night stands and other forms of expression that are frequently disdained nowadays are right not because they are "good", not because they are a political right, and certainly not because they are or are not acceptable to current fashion. They are right because they contain within them an essential beauty; they are art forms that are essential to shaping the human experience into something worthy of existence.
We do not need to demand to know whether this movie star or that athlete is gay, straight or any combination thereof in order to enjoy our own individual mixture. To obsess on this issue is to invade the domain of individuality that the GQF culture exists to protect and nourish. Why not encourage each person to decide, for the moment, who and what they wish to be? We are terrified of this kind of freedom precisely because we have not bothered to create along with it a responsibility for our actions. Instead we create structures, forms and constraints thinking that they will provide a substitute for individuality. They won't. Responsibility cannot be imposed. It must be self generated or else it is a violation of the spirit.
THE ABSENCE OF THE SPIRIT
One of the signal characteristics of the GQF culture is its roots in spirituality. Throughout history we have traced our heritage to the realm of the spirit. We have known the ecstasy of dancing with the muses and have dared to tell the world about it through the arts. Now that we are all "free" to be gay, we have lost this taproot.
Those who are in the arts are fortunate to have ready access to this world of the spirit. It is what drives and enables any artist of any art form to excel. We who are queer in business and the professions need to find the beauty in our work. We must find the route to our spiritual selves if we truly seek to be gay.
Without this element we are simply sexual adventurers, provocateurs and users of a noble culture. To find this source in the spirit will require that we quit emulating our straight peers in everything from the cars we choose to the clothes we wear, the tactics we employ in our dealings and the way we speak.
We must find ways to vitalize the flamboyant, the bizarre, the humorous and the sexual in our business activities. Without it we are simply business and professional people who have sex with people of the same sex. We don't need more variety in the sexual orientation of those in business and the professions.
We need to infuse these institutions with the GQF culture. We need to bring the surprise found in the drag ball to the courtroom and the boardroom. We need to bring the joy of camp to brain surgery. Then we will know we have made a difference in being alive. Short of that the so-called gay culture is a self-indulgence that will invite the larger population's judgment and rejection.
I mean, who the hell cares if we can serve in the military if we cannot bring a little dance, a little beauty to it? What is the point of being straight-gay? I for one don't want that world -- it is that kind of being "straight" that I left back in 1965, not necessarily being heterosexually straight. The issue is not where we put our genitals, it is whether we can aspire to a higher ethic, a devotion to the art of living, the commitment to being beautiful that makes us different.
SEPARATING FROM POLITICAL SOLUTIONS
The merging of the spiritually based GQF and the antiwar, Marxist based political movements of the sixties and seventies has led to a dead end. We are left with arguments over political correctness, suppression in the name of rights and equality and other, equally inane issues. We are forced into a conformity of thought that leaves little room for honest differences of viewpoint that could lead us to substantial advances in our culture.
We do not need laws to punish people who call us names we do not like. We do not need "fair" representation in television programming. We do not need equal treatment anywhere. What cures all those issues is very simple and is entirely within our own hands -- self respect. What we need is the kind of admiration for ourselves that comes not by conforming our behavior to the standards of someone else, no matter how well meaning, but the respect of self that comes from knowing that we have sought the guidance of our spirit, have heeded it and have been of service the future of our community.
Make no mistake about it, those who assault queers and abuse us must be firmly punished. But we must stop our obscene search for acceptance by the larger public. They probably never will and frankly, I could care less. I refuse to gauge my self worth based on popularity polls and election results. Sure, it is hard to deal with a world that objectifies me and treats me unfairly. That is the way it is until it changes, and I would rather devote my time and energy to expanding what God gives me than whining about what he has not given me.
There is a place for political action relative to the GQF culture, but it is not one that our so-called leaders are likely to stand in line for: political action is needed to keep the wolves away long enough for our real leaders, the outrageous, the daring, the queer among us to express whatever their hearts desire. It is the suppression of the creative spirit that is the danger today, not the issues that get thousands to march in the streets.
To be gay is to be daring, bold and unconcerned for the conventional. We have too often forgotten this core truth of our being. We have been seduced by the political sirens who would have us be "good boys" with the lure that if we are, some great Valhalla will descend upon us out of the righteous kindness of some mythical political system. Why would that happen for us when it has never happened for anyone else? It is time we grew up and recognized that we are the high priests and shamans of the American culture, not its handmaidens and supplicants. It is time we ignored the masses and got on with the business of exploring the fringes.
THE CHOICES OF TODAY
I applaud those few who dare to be radical today. Not necessarily those who rant and rave against the so-called political structure, but those who dare to be different. Those who have a sense of humor about themselves and their situations. Those who consider a romp in the bushes to be an art form as valid as the ballet. To do so carries no guilt, no shame and needs no explanation. If you don't like something, don't go to the show. If you find fulfillment in a particular form of expression, do it with all the grace, humility and beauty you can muster. Apologize to no one. Relish the dance for the moment, not for the reaction of the audience.
We are moving into a new moment of time. It is time to dip backwards to our rich history for the raw materials we need to mold ourselves today. Do not look to anyone else for the shape of who you are. Fill yourself with the spirit that yearns to express itself through you, not with the endless blight of the mass culture and current fashion. Find time to be quiet within yourself and wait for that which calls you forth. Live from within to without, reject that which is outside as a source of your inspiration. Yes, we must bend with the winds and deal with the reality of the world around us, but we need never deny who we are because of them.
The way I understand the world we live in, nothing happens without a purpose. Possibly the purpose of AIDS is to give those of us lucky enough to survive it an incentive to develop the spiritual essence of our being. While science searches for remedies to this madness, maybe we should be searching our souls for our own answer to the question "What is it to be gay?"
We have become mesmerized by arguments over rights and have forgotten that our contribution to society lies not in being like them but in the exploration of the fringe, the fulfillment of being queer. If this is not the time to expand the quantity sex, maybe it is time to explore the quality of having sex. If the world around us cannot learn to accept us, maybe it is time to find a bigger world for them to live in.
And for god's sake, quit blaming everything you don't like on someone or something else. You are the one who did what you did. There are consequences in life. Grin and get on with it. If you hurt, give someone the love they need at the moment. If government isn't doing what you think it should do, ignore them. They don't matter. We have always provided our own culture, our own "government", our own solutions.
This is your heritage. Let your spirit guide you.