We are in the midst of Gay Pride Week here in the capital city of the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, with a full roster of activities and events planned across the greater Boston area, culminating in the annual Pride Parade on Saturday.
Your humble servant will not be out marching this weekend. Nor do I plan to participate in “Queeraoke” in Jamaica Plain or attend “Pride Night” at the Red Sox-Rangers game at Fenway.
None of these goings-on particularly piques my interest, and engaging in any of them would be an empty gesture on my part.
I am not proud to be gay.
Now, I understand that striking such an attitude in today’s particular political and cultural environment can come off as an act of heresy, since gay people in 2013 are not allowed to carry any ambivalence whatever about their gayness.
What is more, this Thursday holds enormous significance for me on this front, being the anniversary of the day I announced my orientation on Facebook. While the positioning of this moment in the middle of Pride Week was coincidental at the time, I can accept the overlap today, as my series of comings-out are, in fact, among the proudest acts of my life.
But simply being gay? What’s so special about that?
This, in so many words, is the distinction we ought more precisely to draw: Acts vs. facts.
I am proud to have publicly acknowledged my homosexuality because I could have chosen not to. Because it required subjecting myself to the possibility of certain social hardships that could have been completely avoided by my simply shutting up. (I hasten to add that, to date, no such unpleasantness has ever occurred.)
By contrast, the gayness itself is just one of those freak accidents over which I have no control. Like the color of my eyes or the geographic origins of my kin, my sexuality is a simple fact of life, completely uninteresting in and of itself.
To be sure, there are many people who define themselves entirely on the basis of their sexuality. (Most of these people are straight, but never mind.) Historically, the gay rights movement has been nothing so much as an expression of identity politics, its leaders regarding themselves as homosexuals first and Americans second.
In earlier, more repressive days, such an approach made some sense: Building a strong movement required unquestioned solidarity amongst its members, which in turn required a strident emphasis on the one characteristic that bound them all together.
The trauma that is coming out can operate under a similar dynamic. As a means of alleviating the inherent loneliness that living in the closet engenders, one tends to hew to every gay stereotype one can get one’s hands on. To announce one’s homosexuality is to officially join the gay community; on such an occasion, it is only polite to defer to the community’s values and traditions, no matter how ridiculous and antiquated they might seem.
However, in the years since that big bang of my existence as a publicly gay person, I have parted ways with certain gay orthodoxies, realizing that, in many cases, I never truly believed them in the first place. They did not represent the “real” me. Like a kid who takes up smoking in the hope that it will make the cool kids accept him, I was merely going through the motions.
As time has marched onward, the fact of my homosexuality has diminished in importance in my daily life, and would rank fairly low on a list of ways in which I might define myself—an exercise I generally resist in any case.
More important still, I have come to terms with the twin facts of, first, knowing that I do not easily mesh with whatever it is the “gay community” today represents, and second, that I do not particularly care.
For all that I hoped coming out would provide me with a “crowd” with whom I could find comfort, inclusion and common cause, the experience of being openly gay has shown to be one more illustration of my true self as a perennial outsider—even within groups that are, themselves, a collection of cultural misfits.
Perhaps this all sounds a bit dreary, but it is something which I have long come to accept and would have no other way.
Of this, I suppose I can also be proud, although I do not need to march in a parade to express it.