January 2006

 

ASSIMILATION

In high school two friends of mine, I'll call them Ed and Sandra, were the classic star-crossed lovers, their romance the stuff of feverish interest to the rest of us. We all knew they were perfect for one another. We knew that their love was fated to be. Everyone knew it. Everyone but Sandra's parents, who railed against it, erected roadblocks in its path, and eventually forbade it, which made it all the more attractive to the two participants—as well as to all of us adolescent voyeurs and cheerleaders.

Why such passionate disapproval? Was Ed a good-for-nothing, a tough, a dummy? Not at all. He was every bit as smart, talented and attractive (I sure thought so!) as Sandra. His fatal flaw was something he had no control over: he was not a Jew. Is assimilation equally repellent in some circles today? I don't know. I do know that while still in college Sandra married a Nice Jewish Boy, gave birth to two sons, promptly divorced said Nice Jewish Boy and never remarried. For years afterward I wanted to confront the evil parents (in truth, I liked them) with, "So, you see, being a Jew does not guarantee happiness. What's so awful about assimilating?"

That question came to mind as I paged through the latest issue of "The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide." "Gee," I thought, "do we really need one more review of one more collection of Ned Rorem's confessions? One more heated exchange about what point in our cultural history the term 'homosexual' can be applied legitimately to a long dead luminary? I think I'm bored with being gay."

Well, not precisely. I'm not here to tell you that I'm bored with being a cocksucker. No, I guess what I mean is that I'm bored with reading about a gay slant on everything from cooking to politics, bored with analyzing, dissecting and agonizing over the implications of belonging to a constantly newsworthy minority, tired of entertaining so much half-baked, trivial, and inconsequential commentary on what my man-loving-man experience is supposed to mean with respect to the world at large.

Ironically, I think my exhaustion results from the fact that we queers are no longer a despised subculture but a trendy one. Yes, I know that official Christendom will still sieze every opportunity to beat us to death, figuratively or literally, but as some wag observed sometime in the last century, "The love that dares not speak its name is now the love that won't shut up." From worries about passing, we have instead passed on to a queer eye for the straight guy. We are fashionable, chic, a recognizable and immensely profitable market share. In other words, like it or not, we have become—assimilated.

No longer rejected, no longer despised, we have become absorbed into the culture and mores of the dominant population. Where once our minority status mandated the kind of creativity and dissent that brought us together to make art and question the ruling class, we now address issues no weightier than whether to ape our straight peers by choosing adoption or the sperm-donor-surrogate-mother option.

For the first time I think I understand Sandra's parents. Queers, like Jews, held on to their identity by sticking together through centuries of endlessly imaginative persecution. Now the threat of being emulated (the metrosexual syndrome) instead of being burned at the stake means that we have drifted away from queer culture to find ourselves, instead, floating in the shallows of cultural commodification.

But what about those of us who are queer crips, holders of dual citizenship? We do not enjoy the luxury of fretting over whether the crip half of our minority identity is growing diffuse, for being disabled in America runs far behind the visibility or even (dare I say it?) the advantage of being gay. Crips are not trendy. No one wants to emulate us. Instead of being off the charts, our per capita incomes can barely be measured on the charts.

Most of us are born knowing how to be gay. We can learn later on how to fit into a world that accommodates queers with increasing ease. But to be disabled still means being ignored, marginalized or openly persecuted when it comes to economic priorities and the delivery of health care and social services, and even basic rights. Thus the two halves of our queer-crip identity passports remain separate and unequal. As gay identity dissolves, is there a way for crip gay identity to evolve?

If you are a queer crip you participate in your own mixed marriage, a shotgun wedding of queer self married to crip self without benefit of state or clergy. The result is internalized strife with the potential to be every bit as pernicious as the conflict between gay and straight used to be, as the conflict between disabled and non-disabled remains.

If you are a queer crip, shared self-interest between the two parts of your minority self once promised a common joint identity, one that held out the hope of reconciliation between the crip-gay partners who inhabitat your single body. But if a common identity was the expectation, was it a hope grounded in something that ever really existed? Maybe I've been guilty all along of romanticizing the disappearance of something that never was, or that vanished in one brief historical moment almost as quickly as it coalesced.

There was something worth reading in that issue of "The Gay & Lesbian Review" after all. Commenting on how the Internet has worked against the continued development of gay politics and homosociability, Andrew Holleran wrote, " the only thing we have in common is a desire to get laid; there is no gay community."

And if there is no gay community, how can there be crip gay community?

© 2006 BENT
Photo by Mark McBeth, IDEA | MONGER

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Bob Guter has been a bilateral amputee since the age of six as the result of congenital anomalies. With John R. Killacky he edited Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and their Stories (Harrington Park Press), winner of a 2004 Lambda Literary Award. His writing has appeared in the James White Review, Fresh Men: New Voices in Gay Fiction, and other publications. He lives in San Francisco, where he publishes and edits BENT.