At my Frameline volunteer shift the other day, I was doing will call with an older gay guy, John, and since it was the middle of the afternoon and thus a fairly quiet shift, we got to chatting. And by “we got to chatting,” I mean mostly that I asked him questions about his life, which he warmly and enthusiastically answered. He’s lived in San Francisco for over 35 years, in the Castro for 35 years. He was 22, he said, when he came out here, realizing he was gay. He moved here because of the Cockettes, whom he met when they were on tour in Milwaukee. He hung out with them after their show and just decided to go with them on the rest of their tour and then back to San Francisco.
He lived in San Francisco during the Harvey Milk days. He teared up when talking about the sadness and anger and overwhelming solidarity when Milk was assassinated. He lived in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, and had to stop talking for a few minutes, he was too overcome with emotion to speak.
He told me that he sees the splintering in the gay community as tragic. “What splintering?” I asked, curious about what he was referring to.
“Everyone’s concerned with their own issues,” he said. “People come together to fight for marriage equality, sure, but at the end of the day marriage equality is about personal relationships. It’s about us as individuals. It’s not about all of us, together. And it allows us to think we’re fighting for ourselves rather than for each other.”
“During the AIDS crisis,” he said, “there was a real sense of camaraderie. I have such close, intense relationships with many lesbians from that generation. They really came out of the woodwork in support of us during that time. There hasn’t been anything like it since. Everyone does their own thing now.”
I said I thought so too, that I’d noticed something similar. I thought of the post I wrote last week.
He said, “it’s sad. What we’ve been fighting for all along is happening, equality, justice, acceptance, visibility. All of that. It’s happening, at least it’s happening in San Francisco. But it means that there isn’t as much of a need for us to watch out for each other anymore. Straight people don’t all watch out for each other. Being straight is hardly something to think of as having in common with each other. The more we get what we’ve been fighting for, the more we become normalized here, the less ‘being gay’ is something that brings us together. We’re becoming complacent.”
Is this true? I hadn’t thought of it this way. Does getting to a place where we’re no longer oppressed, where our society is no longer heteronormative, where we are fairly represented in government and where we’re systemically, institutionally, and socially equal to straight folks mean that we won’t have solidarity with each other anymore on the grounds of being queer? And if that’s the case, is it worth it? To me, that seems like such an unbearable loss. And John, tears in his eyes, seems to be suffering that loss. Or are his thoughts just tainted by nostalgia? After all, he knew three quarters of the people who came up to will call while we were sitting there together, men and women alike, and they all seemed to have so much love and support for each other.
I don’t know. What do YOU think?