EMAIL     |    MY CV     |    HOME

Who wants to be Normal?
If pride in difference is our rallying cry, why are gays trying so hard to assimilate?

By Brooke Shelby Biggs
Salon, June 1997

David Horowitz and I rarely agree. After all, he's an arch-conservative straight man, and I'm a neo-socialist lesbian. But when he wrote last week that same-sex marriage was doomed to failure because gays are not "normal" by popular standards, I found myself cheering. I just wish more gays would heed his call and abandon the blind stampede for assimilation.

I've spent 20 years trying to adjust to and accept being a person who didn't fit in to the social order. I finally made it. Not long ago I realized that for the first time in my life, I could honestly tell you who I was and like the sound of it. I was a big ol' lesbian, and I didn't need society's blessing.

But now, being gay is trendy and I'm totally confused. If homosexuality is so hip and mainstream, why am I not feeling all warm and fuzzy? Does that mean -- gulp -- that I'm mainstream after all, even though I spent my youth unlearning that very instinct?

OK, so I was never exactly a militant bulldagger who scared puppies for fun. I pretty much do all the same stuff other people do: I go to work, do my laundry, read books, go grocery shopping, see bad movies, go on vacation, listen to the radio. Without well-honed gaydar, you can't necessarily sense that I'm different. But I know, and that's what matters. I'm a stealth outsider; I know I'm different, and I like that.

Don't get me wrong: I was as exhilarated as the next dyke by the media ruckus around Ellen DeGeneres' coming out, just as I had been about Hawaii's landmark same-sex marriage court decision (I disagree with Horowitz there). Homosexuality is gaining wider currency as a standard deviation rather than an abomination against God, an affront to nature or a moral outrage.

Still, I just don't think this normalcy theme is going to catch on with gays. What culture we have (the rainbow flag, drag queen theater, the gay olympics, homo rodeos, lavish AIDS fund-raisers and our intentionally outrageous parade rituals) is built on the idea of pride in our differences and unity against a common enemy -- oppression by the larger society.

We fear the moment when that enemy becomes our friend, because that's the moment we lose our identity. We are defined by our otherness. If gays and lesbians become just another subgroup of the dominant culture instead of the last segment of humanity that it's still OK to persecute, we won't be special anymore. We need to be reviled.

That's why we revel in shocking Middle America with bare-chested Dykes on Bikes and mostly nekid leather boys groping each other in front of God and television cameras. You think we don't know that Jerry Fallwell is going to leave the footage of the mother carrying her hand-lettered "I Love My Gay Son" sign on the cutting room floor while showing his impressionable flock clips from the most outlandish sexual antics in a gay pride parade instead? We count on it.

Civil rights are one thing; social acceptance quite another. In principle, most Americans believe that civil rights should protect gays and lesbians the same way they do straight people. But venture outside the unequivocal and it's less clear: Should gays be portrayed on TV in romantic or sexual situations? Should openly gay people be allowed to become pastors in community churches? Society is deeply divided on these subjects, and so is the gay community.

Many gays wish Ellen DeGeneres would just get back into the closet and shut up about it. She's too normal and quirky and all-American. In other words, she's non-threatening. The only lesbian they'd be happy to see on TV is Hothead Paisan, the comic underground's "homicidal lesbian terrorist" -- Xena without the subtlety. Gays without alienation are like Xena without her sword or Hothead without her labrys: powerless.

I say bring on the civil rights -- especially that equal protection clause. But I'm glad the constitution does not say society must approve and sanction the personal lives of its members, or that you can't live the public-law-abiding life of your own making without a majority vote of your peers.

The general population is doing gay people a favor by marginalizing us; they constantly reinforce our unity and foster the growth and strength of our subculture and our pride.