ONTD Political

The GridTO: Dawn of a new gay

3:28 pm - 06/09/2011
As this "paper" is based in Toronto, the following is accordingly Toronto-centric

Why you won’t find the younger generation partying in the Village or plastering rainbows on their bumpers.

BY: Paul Aguirre-Livingston

When Carl Wittman, the American writer and activist, wrote A Gay Manifesto in 1970, it galvanized the gay liberation movement. The document was a ballsy critique of homophobia in North America, but also an unrepentant plea for courage and change within the community itself, proclaiming, “A large part of our oppression would end if we would stop putting ourselves and our pride down.”

Forty years after the Manifesto and the infamous Stonewall Riots in New York City, a new generation of twentysomething urban gays—my generation—has the freedom to live exactly the way we want. We have our university degrees, homes and careers. In Toronto, we’ve abandoned the Church Wellesley Village. We’re tattooed and pierced and at the helm of billion-dollar industries like fashion and television. We vacation with our boyfriends in fabulously rustic country homes that belong to our parents, who don’t mind us coming to stay as a couple. Hell, we even marry our boyfriends, if we choose to, on rooftops overlooking Queen West. Our sexual orientation is merely secondary to our place in society. We don’t need to categorize or define ourselves as gay, and who we sleep with—mostly men and, hey, sometimes women—isn’t even much of a topic of conversation anymore. The efforts of Wittman and his peers produced a whole new type of gay. Say hello to the post-modern homo. The post-mo, if you will.

Ryan, 24, Little Portugal
“A few years ago, I was on a date that ended within five minutes when I was told that my skinny jeans were ‘too tight.’ This guy was still in the closet and I think his search for masculinity in prospective partners was symptomatic of an inner struggle to accept himself. I take the pressure to be masculine lightly. But, as it turns out, I am a minority within a minority.”

Post-mos don’t hang rainbow flags in their windows or plaster them on their bumpers. We don’t march in Pride and we probably never will. (After-parties only, please.) We don’t torture ourselves to fit in with other gays. In fact, most of us have come to resent the stereotypes and the ideals associated with preceding gay generations. It’s not that we hate gay culture; we just don’t have that much in common with it anymore. To be a twentysomething gay man in Toronto in 2011 is to be free from persecution and social pressures to conform. It’s also, in most ways, not about being gay at all.

And herein lies the central question for the post-mo: Is there even a gay struggle to be had anymore? On the one hand, over the past decade, the process of assimilation has accelerated faster than anyone probably believed it could. In urban Canada, and in other lucky parts of the world, we embrace gay politicians, TV personalities and performers. When we find out a public figure is gay—Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris—it’s now a cause for celebration, like, “Hey, you did it!”

So no, the struggle is clearly not what it was. It’s something different. Of course, the fight for equality will never fully be over. But for my generation, the big question has shifted from the right to be gay to the struggle over the right way to be gay. Within the community, we battle each other over questions like, How gay is too gay? How masculine is masculine enough? Are we really expected to get married just because we can?

Some think the post-mo generation is ungrateful for guys like Wittman and insensitive to the struggles that allowed us the freedoms we enjoy today. Not so. The goal is to live with those freedoms as they were intended, not to live plagued with the pressures to be here and be queer. The fact is, we have everything our predecessors always wanted, so why has the community never seemed more at odds with itself?

David, 21, High Park
“My buddies and I joke that we’re not gay, we just fuck dudes. I always enjoy people’s accusation that ‘You can’t be gay’ because of my appearance, my tastes (in music, wardrobe, etc.) and my personality. [There’s this] idea that all gay guys like pop music and bad denim from Guess, and talk like a lame, effeminate caricature of homosexuality.”

When I was growing up and still figuring things out, I remember watching Madonna’s Truth or Dare documentary and being obsessed with the way gays worshipped her because she did whatever the hell she wanted. I remember one scene where they followed a group of her male dancers to an AIDS rally in New York City. Guys who, at the time, were about the age I am now, lined the streets to spread the message and rally for support for a cure. This was when being gay meant being part of a cause, not unlike the feminists or civil rights activists who fought for equality before them. It meant offering your presence and support because that was the true mark of living as a gay man—to show that you weren’t afraid.

That was the early ’90s. If I had to, I would trace the beginning of the post-mo, and our true introduction as functional members of society, to the premiere of the NBC sitcom Will & Grace in 1998. When it debuted, it was the first prime-time television show in history to feature a homosexual male character in a lead role. It was so risqué that promos over the summer leading up to its premiere tried to downplay the gay factor, misleadingly portraying Will and Grace as a couple instead of roommates. I finally caught on to the show in its second season, when I was 13, and I ate it up. It showed me what gay life would be like for me as an adult: I’d meet cute guys who would ask me out at my neighbourhood coffee shop, have a boozy best friend and a thriving career, wear perfectly tailored suits and separates, obsess over my skin and my body, and maybe even consider Botox. At least part of my life (fine, an episode or two) would be devoted to fighting for real political causes like electing a gay MPP or the right to kiss another man on The Today Show. It seemed like a pretty great life. “Normal,” even.

I grew up knowing I was gay, but I didn’t harbour the dream that I could—or even would—marry a man. I had this idea that being gay was just, well, fine. I was happy to float through my early teens in sexual ambiguity. High school, on the outskirts of North York, was a testament to this. I didn’t dress strategically in cargo shorts or baseball caps to fit in. I had copper highlights in my hair (a sign of the times, indeed). I hung out with the student-council crowd, competed on the school’s dance team and worked in the library for extra cash. I was voted valedictorian by my graduating class. I wasn’t the token anything. Whether or not I “liked” boys (we were still too shy to think in terms of having actual sex) was never called into question, and rumors or inquiring minds were met with my “If you want to know so badly, ask me to my face” stance. I left high school, like most Toronto-born gays I know, unscathed. There was no hiding, no big reveal, no dating girls for shelter. It was just there.

Post-mos like me were breastfed on self-empowerment models like The Spice Girls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and their mutant strain of feminism. We were all about Girl Power, and I designed a shirt in computer class to prove it. We learned important life lessons about how to be confident in our sexuality from Britney Spears. During this time, the late ’90s and well into the 2000s, as we became teenagers and started feeling out a homosexual lifestyle, the word “gay,” and what it meant in the Western world, evolved—very suddenly, in retrospect—as individuality was increasingly seen as a virtue. Once-disenfranchised groups were thrust to the forefront of cool, and gays were along for the ride. Willow went lesbian on Buffy. People started studying the “power gays” and marketing stuff to them, assessing how much disposable income they had. We straight up created the metrosexual.

By the time we hit adulthood, it was clear that our journey as gay men would be different and far less driven by the scene. Will & Grace, in retrospect, had been speaking very much to another generation’s hopes and realities—the generation that watched their friends die during the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s, and walked alongside Madonna’s dancers in those bouts of political consciousness. Those gays, at one point in their lives, had longed for the right to hold hands in public and ask each other out in coffee shops. But by the time we were ready to take the reins, the post-mo had a different agenda: no agenda at all. We simply arrived at the end of the fight to reap the fruits of another generation’s labour.

Phil, 23, Waterfront
“I lived in the Church Wellesley Village during my first year at Ryerson, but never went out socially in the neighbourhood. I do have friends that actively go out on Church Street—they enjoy the clubs and bars. I prefer to explore other parts of the city. I don’t need to be in a gay-specific area to have fun and dance.”

A defining feature of the post-mo is that we are digital natives, raised in the internet era. While gay men were once relegated to sexual encounters in dark parks or in the hidden comforts of a bathhouse, we came of age on our computers, from the safety of our bedrooms. I met my first guy online when I was 13 years old. I’m almost 25 now, and a man has never asked me out without a screen between us, let alone in a cute little café. It’s not that I’m unattractive, or socially dysfunctional. It’s because right when W&G was defining the way life could be for us post-mos, the internet came along and messed everything up. Instead of celebrating and commanding the new freedom we found in the 2000s, in marriage and in popular culture, we were online, carrying cellphones and being granted more teenage freedom than any generation before us.

While I was making Girl Power t-shirts in computer class, I was also learning how to navigate websites to see my first penis, set up a Hotmail account and get an ICQ number. I supplemented my time socializing “on the steps” (as we called it) at Second Cup on Church Street (old-timers, I know you know what I’m talking about) with online jaunts. My young and spongy mind soaked up all the knowledge it could about the internet, and I developed a shocking cunning that allowed me to sneak out of the house at 14 and meet up with 17-year-olds from Mississauga who drove souped-up Honda Civics.

Through one of these early adventures, I learned about a gay youth group at the Village’s 519 Community Centre for under-18 guys and gals who wanted to meet like-minded folk. I remember going for no particular reason other than to meet some cool, young queers to hang out with, and to preemptively control my online habits before it became the only way I knew how to meet guys. There, I heard stories of online pursuits similar to mine. Like me, these kids weren’t afraid of public scrutiny—or they were oblivious to it—and they had a lack of interest in anything else gay. It was here that I began to see a real difference between how I thought my life would turn out and the way it would actually go. We hated Toronto Pride for its negative stereotypes and its promotion of marginalization and hyper-sexed fools on floats. I didn’t own anything rainbow-coloured nor did I want to, and I stopped going to those youth meetings because, hey, I’m just a boy who likes other boys, and what else is there to say, okay? Soon, everyone else stopped going too.

Nick, 25, High Park
“I think that there is a divide in our generation. One half is pressuring us to be more “straight-acting” and the other half is pressuring us to be ourselves (perhaps it’s the Gaga movement). My school of thought is that I’ll get further by being myself than by pretending.”

In Wittman’s Manifesto, he opens by describing San Francisco as a refugee camp for homosexuals—a place to which men and women migrated from all over for the chance to live free and escape places “where to be ourselves would endanger our jobs and any hope of a decent life.” From San Fran’s Castro District, gay heavyweights like Harvey Milk emerged to fight for our rights. Others went forth and started villages of their own, for their own. But we’re done with that. The Church Wellesley Village has all but lost its rainbow colours and is now a shell of its former self. The steps at Second Cup don’t exist for me anymore, and finding a queer dance party—like, with real dancing—is a headache at best. Rather than spending brunch discussing the dude we were checking out at the grocery store, we discuss the guy we’re trying to hook up with on Grindr. I mean, cruising parks and bathhouses? So passé. And so not what we’re about.

Things have moved outwards, and we have moved on. West Queen West, where I live and love and play, has been unofficially dubbed Queer West for some time now, with grimy party nights at The Beaver and Wrongbar and blackout parties at the Drake or on Ossington along with the new set of cool straight kids who are also flocking to be part of the action. Monthly parties have also begun to pop up east of Trinity Bellwoods, like dance-till-you’re-wet HER at La Perla, a Mexican restaurant by day on Queen near Bathurst. We’ve even got an east rising happening: Wayla Bar on Queen East is attracting mad business and giving us west-enders a new reason to venture past Yonge. The Village has all but become a dirty word in circles of the nouveau gay. We just let it die. And when the gays do converge at Church and Wells now for Pride, it’s only to show how hard they worked on their bodies at the gym, not about any sort of political statement. How many “Lose 10 pounds by Pride” features do we need to read?

Martin, 24, High Park
“I feel that marriage should be a choice for everyone. Personally, it is not something I have aspired to. I don’t feel the need to have a ring on my finger to show my commitment, but who knows what the future will hold.”

The post-mo generation isn’t without its internal conflicts. Today, in the same way that a lot of young women refuse to call themselves feminists, there’s a noticeable obsession with being, as the online profiles would say, “not into the scene.” It’s not enough to not care about that sort of thing—we actively don’t want it in our faces. The aspiration is: Act and look less Perez Hilton or Jack McFarland and more Anderson Cooper, Nate Berkus or the rugged straight dude you had a crush on in first year. The idea is littered throughout gay iconography: Guys with beards and tattoos are the new hot commodities. Hairless twinks, move along. Online, more and more, the words “straight acting and looking” or “masculine” have popped up in “Looking for” boxes.

In real life, too. Recently, I ran into a fellow twentysomething gay who was on his way to a rare new party in the Village being spearheaded by some hairy-chested youngun’ like me who, unlike me, wants masculine men only. The “allure” of this party was broken down to me like this: “It’s where all the masculine guys and shit go now to avoid the fags. Hairy chests, facial hair—you can’t even get in without stubble. I mean it, real men.” This, via some guy who I wouldn’t consider particularly masculine.

It’s even become quite popular, so I’ve been told, to offer yourself up to these large-and-in-charge, self-appointed masculine dudes as “a little faggot.” These über-masculine gays love to have sex with these pretty boys—but only if no one else finds out. But of course! This makes perfect sense when you consider what being gay has come to mean: Blending in means acting straight. As Wittman put it 40 years ago, and which sadly still holds true today: “Much of our sexuality has been perverted through mimicry of straights, and warped from self-hatred.” No, we have no problem with the fact that we want to be with dudes, we just want to be with dudes. For some, it may just be residual, internalized homophobia. Or perhaps that explanation is too easy. Maybe it’s just the only subversive thing left to do.

Elie, 24, The Annex
I think Pride has become one massive, glitter-encrusted booty call. As fun as it is to have a big celebration, prancing around in our underwear while LGBT individuals all over the world are being murdered for their sexual orientation is a slap in the face to the progress that remains to be done.

I don’t think kids born in the mid-’90s will come out of the other end of gay quite the same way my generation did. Sexual orientation will continue to be secondary, maybe tertiary, even more so than it is for us. Will they be able to self-actualize in a way we never could? The fresh-faced definitely won’t cluster together at the 519, and they’ll find support groups in their own schools. Recent news stories about gay-straight alliances, a cause du jour this second wave of post-mos has taken on, are a sign that gay activism never went away at all. They’ll probably fall in love with other kids before I did, because it’s even easier now to talk and text and connect. They’ll grow up idolizing Glee’s Kurt Hummel. More importantly, they’ll be encouraged to define who they are—and who they like—at an earlier age by parents and communities that are more informed and accepting. Yes, at 13 I was gay, but I was also just 13. Now, the mission is to enlighten kids with the thought that if you’re gay, it gets better, so it’s okay to decide. Like, right now.

In Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, which is, in part, a satire about feminism and the American woman (acolytes are called Liz Lemonists), there’s an episode where the show’s assistant questions Fey’s character about whether or not, as a feminist who has everything she ever wanted, she’s actually deeply unhappy? I wonder if the post-mo will suffer a similar fate. Some say all the gays ever wanted were two things: freedom and choice. I have freedom, and I have choices. I’ve never known a life without them. I don’t want to get married, I never have. I don’t want to raise children, I never have. I suffer from online dating fatigue already and haven’t held a guy’s hand in almost three years. I have all the sex I want, in my own apartment or his, but none of it means anything. I have regular HIV tests, because I’m aware of the importance of sexual health, but I’ve still managed to forget the condom once or twice without freaking out. My parents have never actually heard me say the words “I am gay” because I don’t need to and it really doesn’t matter because they love me all the same. I am a writer who happens to be gay, not the other way around. I’m not fighting the good fight. It was never mine to fight. So what about us? Call us what you want—post-mos, faux gays, straight-acting, bitter queens—we’re the lucky ones.


Crikey. Comment section's good, though.
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tourdefierce 9th-Jun-2011 10:19 pm (UTC)
Your privilege is showing and it makes me fucking sick.
sarken 9th-Jun-2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
Word. I tried so hard to read the whole thing, but I got too nauseous by the time I hit To be a twentysomething gay man in Toronto in 2011 is to be free from persecution and social pressures to conform.

Well, la-dee-fucking-dah for you.
(no subject) - Anonymous
creativepseudo 9th-Jun-2011 10:30 pm (UTC)
This so much. MAKE IT STOP
iolarah 10th-Jun-2011 02:01 pm (UTC)
The Torontoist usually nails it. These quotes in particular had me nodding like a bobblehead:
His description of post-mos who fetishize heteronormative definitions of gender, however, certainly raises eyebrows.
It’s telling that there are no women interviewed in the piece, nor are there any transgendered men or women. In addition, the ethnic make-up of those surveyed is fairly homogeneous , rendering people of colour invisible.
what will these post-mos do when the going gets tough?
porcelain72 9th-Jun-2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
thenylonkid 9th-Jun-2011 10:36 pm (UTC)
we’re the lucky ones
salienne 9th-Jun-2011 10:38 pm (UTC)
I... I mean, there's the shadow of a point in regards to stereotypes of homosexuality and pressures to conform or not to conform depending on if we're talking about the gay community or society at large, but it's hidden in heapfolds of lookatmelookatme I'm a wealthy white man! privilege, femmiphobia, and, bizarrely, homophobia, and a really irritating overconfident writing style.
sparkindarkness 9th-Jun-2011 10:38 pm (UTC)
Seriously? So you've managed to be lucky enough to dodge homophobia? Lucky you! Doesn't mean it isn't a huge and vast problem for us. But nice to declare how OVER it all is and we have a "dawn of a new gay"

Yeah, I wish but not all of us live in such a fairy tale, not even close
sparkindarkness 9th-Jun-2011 10:44 pm (UTC)
Just looking through the news of hate crimes in Toronto makes me question the idea that it's a magical gay paradise

And I know from bitter experience that being a 20-something white gay man isn't going to protect you from repeated violence, discrimination and general shitness

These people have a wonderful fantasy land, but they need to open their eyes and prick their bubbles because there's a hell of a lot of shit out there they've been exceedingly lucky to avoid. They should be giving praise to their luck, not dismissing the ongoing battle
ladypolitik 9th-Jun-2011 10:47 pm (UTC)
Today, in the same way that a lot of young women refuse to call themselves feminists, there’s a noticeable obsession with being, as the online profiles would say, “not into the scene.”

That's......quite the analogy.

And pretty much the only mention of women throughout this thing, I just noticed, which is just as well, since gay women dont exist in Toronto, apparently.

Edited at 2011-06-09 10:50 pm (UTC)
poetic_pixie_13 10th-Jun-2011 03:13 am (UTC)
gay women dont exist in Toronto, apparently

Gurl. This is partly true. The only real place most women go to in the Village is Slack's (ugh) and while there are more places for queer women in Queen West it's mostly for monthly events like Cherry Bomb. You go somewhere else without looking suitably butch and you're mistaken for another hag. /bitter
sephystabbity 9th-Jun-2011 10:50 pm (UTC)
"the lucky ones."

Well congrats, stupid entitled fuckers.
bnmc2005 9th-Jun-2011 10:51 pm (UTC)
Look at all those white boys, aren't they cute.

This article makes me wanna...

paulnolan 9th-Jun-2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
spidergwen 9th-Jun-2011 10:55 pm (UTC)
WTF did I just read?
captain_emily 9th-Jun-2011 10:59 pm (UTC)
"I think Pride has become one massive, glitter-encrusted booty call."

“It’s where all the masculine guys and shit go now to avoid the fags. Hairy chests, facial hair—you can’t even get in without stubble. I mean it, real men.”

"Blending in means acting straight."

To me, it's like this article is screaming "Look at us! We're the GOOD gays. The NORMAL gays. We're just like you! Not like those icky flaming ones with their glitter and their feathers and their hot pants. ACCEPT AND LOVE US!"

Pretending to be straight is not fun. I'd actually feel sorry for them and how they feel that it's so very necessary to fit in and pass as "straight" if they weren't shitting all over the other LGBTQ people in the process.
astridmyrna 9th-Jun-2011 11:36 pm (UTC)
To me, it's like this article is screaming "Look at us! We're the GOOD gays. The NORMAL gays. We're just like you! Not like those icky flaming ones with their glitter and their feathers and their hot pants. ACCEPT AND LOVE US!"

I think you hit the nail on the head with this article.
spiderfromvenus 9th-Jun-2011 11:01 pm (UTC)
As a queer WOC who lives in the Village 4 months a year, I have to say that although it's not always perfect and there are certain pressures and expectations placed upon those who frequent the area, the spirit surrounding it has monumentally affected my life as well as the lives of friends and people I love. The author here reeks of so much privilege that I could barely get through this article...

Jaime Woo's response in the Torontoist (posted above) was pretty damn good.

"But, which demographic does Aguirre-Livingston’s piece speak to? It’s telling that there are no women interviewed in the piece, nor are there any transgendered men or women. In addition, the ethnic make-up of those surveyed is fairly homogeneous , rendering people of colour invisible. Maybe having grown up on fare like Will & Grace—a show that rarely had lesbians or people of colour, and, without a doubt, had few transgendered people—what looks like progress, what looks like post-dom, is really an illusion. It’s not that the queer community has launched ahead so much as the marginalized within the minority have fallen behind. It’s a shame, because the diversity of the community can and should be its greatest strength."
romp 10th-Jun-2011 04:27 am (UTC)
thanks for the quote

I liked his description of the article as a "description of post-mos who fetishize heteronormative definitions of gender."
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