Tuesday, April 24, 2012

i survived the gay levittown

I'm sure they're very nice people.
1. the gay 1950s

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?


Cheryl said...

Dear all my friends with spouses and kids and houses: You know I'm not hating on you, right? Some of you are far more radical than I will ever be. I'm just talking about expectations, which I do hate. Plenty.

BluebirdBlvd said...

Hey C!

I can't speak for your friends, but this house and spouse no-child friend of yours believes that you are allowed to seek happiness in any way your adult heart sees fit to do so.

I hope this isn't too bossy-sounding, but I think your most radical act is being you. That, in and of itself, takes a lot of doing. And a lot of grace. And you've got both on your side.

Cheryl said...

In general, I think I'm good on the doing front, marginal on the grace front. But thank you. You are radical, as in rad.

Raardvarks said...

Hear hear! Especially being so close to the mainstream you can taste it.

I don't have anything insightful to add, just "liking" the post...

Claire said...

At the very least you have radical-adjacent locked up. I have 2 adopted cousins who have never met or searched for their birth parents. I'm not sure if that's because they really don't want to or that they know it would crush my aunt (their mom). That seems weird to me.

I agree with BBB though. Being yourself in spite of expectations is the radical act.

I like "pragmatic progressive." That could be me, certainly sounds better than "unenrolled" which sounds too much like you're not registered to vote even though you are.

Cheryl said...

R: Thanks for liking! My blog is so retro with its lack of a like button.

C: I would definitely take it personally if my kid decided to search out his or her birthmom (even if I knew better). That's part of the reason we want him/her to know right from the start. It eliminates some of those "Who am I?" questions and, hopefully, the creating of a perfect mythical birthmom. Our kid's birthmom will be a real, flawed human, just like us. Ha!