|I'm sure they're very nice people.|
Today I read this interview with Sarah Schulman (thanks, Raquel, for posting). Executive summary: AIDS killed radical urban queers and left literal vacancies to be occupied by gentrifiers, namely the children of the middle-class whites who hightailed it to the suburbs in the 1950s. She argues that we’re now living in a “Gay 1950s,” wherein gays—no longer forced into radicalization by oppression—just want to get married, own a home and raise 2.5 children, despite the visible failure of capitalism and the family as institutions.
Got all that?
I love me some Sarah Schulman. I have ever since I discovered her book about how Jonathan Larson stole her ideas and made them into Rent. (For the record, I don’t think he did. They were both writing about the East Village in the ‘80s, and there was going to be some overlap, you know? However, I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that a literary novel by an activist lesbian never found the same commercial success as a musical by a straight white man.) She’s a brilliant, ballsy, sometimes bitter lady who says what other people are too dumb or too scared to say.
Now time for a little self-reflection (because what are cultural critiques for, if not to solipsistically examine my own life choices?). So, um, I want two out of three of those things that are allegedly making queers not so much queer as just really gay. And I don’t not want a house. I’m grateful for the conditions that made them possible. I do think that capitalism, in its current incarnation, is largely a failure. I don’t think that family is, though I think we have to move beyond the recent-yet-highly-hegemonic definition of family as a mom, dad and 2.5 children. But small, multi-generational groups of people who care for each other living under the same roof? I’m cool with that.
2. the personal is political
The crazy revelation here is probably not that I’m a non-radical—it’s that I ever thought I was. At best, I dressed the part. I’ve been a pragmatic progressive since college (before that I was a Manhattan Beach moderate conservative, mostly because my favorite history teacher was).
But still, what Sarah Schulman says about the Gay 1950s—it’s a good wake-up call. I spent an unfortunate chunk of the last two years feeling sad. Much of that chunk was about loss and hormones and a genuine desire to love a child, but a not-small chunk of that chunk was about trying to conform to what I thought was expected of me as an over-achieving, privileged, not-so-queer queer. I was trying to fit my gay ass in a straight chair, because I bought into the myth that I needed to. That childbearing would somehow make me real in the eyes of a society that doesn’t particularly value infertile female artists who don’t make a lot of money and publish in venues with names like “GuerrillaReads.”
And because I am white and middle-class and well educated and eager to please, I felt like I was so close to mainstream acceptance that I could taste it. If I’d been a poor black immigrant with AIDS, maybe I wouldn’t have bothered, and maybe I would have been fiercer for it.
I like to think that there’s a middle ground, which is a very un-radical thing to seek out, but it’s who I am. I want my spouse and my baby, but in pursuing open adoption—in welcoming our future baby’s babymama into our lives as well—I like to think we’re saying a big fuck-you to people who find anything beyond the sperm bank option “confusing.” So far the process has been emotional and, on bad days, downright terrifying, and that’s just the part in my head—we haven’t even matched with an expectant mom yet, and it might take a long time. But I hope all these challenges aren’t just indicators that I am neurotic. I hope it might be because we’re doing something kind of new and different and…radical-adjacent?