The historically unparalleled explosion of self and social affirmation that was suddenly bestowed on all of society’s homosexuals in the post-Stonewall Era meant that we faced absolutely uncharted waters.
Never before in the recorded history of mankind were homosexuals, en masse, confronted with such freedom to be open, to be their true selves publicly. The problem, however, was that there was no one to tell us, no historical precedents, no guidelines, for defining who we are and what our purpose on this planet is.
That in part explains why, coming out of gate rudderless, the movement fell so readily under the influence of the radical hedonists, post-modernist “push pleasure beyond the limit” monsters like Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Michel Foucault. There were, and to this day, are no real guideposts, no founding fathers in the manner of the U.S.’s establishment who’ve stood for anything but “pride” and equal rights. That is fine and good, but does nothing for defining who we are, really, in the wider context of our culture.
Prior to the Stonewall era, the realities of the closet compelled homosexuals to focus their lives and energies on their creative potentials, and we provided a vital and intrinsic component to society, overall. But once the need for privacy and secrecy about matters of sexual orientation were stripped away, homosexuals found we could focus their lives differently, namely on being homosexual, in and of itself, and the practice of it openly and publicly.
So, in this modern era, compelled by a relentless drum beat of the radical hedonists and entrepreneurs in the business of profiting from the businesses of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll (morphing into disco and club music), countless homosexuals abandoned their creative pursuits in favor of the practice of homosexuality, per se. “Pride” was rapidly wed with promiscuity on a level unimaginable before. There were no potent voices offering an alternative definition, of if there were, they were trampled under foot.
The case of Ken Horne, who became the first official victim of death from AIDS in 1981, illustrates this. He came to the big city as a young gay man seeking two things that are classically intrinsic to the gay sensibility: to pursue and creative artistic career (in his case, ballet) and to find true romance.
He found neither. But he did find that there was a lot of impersonal sex and drugs in the institutions that became synonymous with so-called “gay culture,” such that he abandoned the idealistic dreams that brought him to San Francisco in the first place.
That “culture” fed into a rampant spread of STDs and an environment for the emergence of the HIV virus. With the first reported cases of AIDS in the summer of 1981, and the average incubation period of the HIV virus 5.5 years, journalist Randy Shilts concluded in “And the Band Played On” that HIV infections began occurring around the time of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976.
But for that to happen, what journalist Gabriel Rotello described from a public health perspective in his book, “Sexual Ecology, ” as “active core groups” in New York and San Francisco, in particular, had formed. There, sexual contact by thousands with multiple partners daily in the baths, sex clubs, peep shows, movie theatres, bars with dark back rooms, parks and the West Villages’ notorious trucks were key for their “eco-significance” in the “synergy of plagues.”
This had become “gay culture.” When the AIDS epidemic was in its full fury in the 1980s, gay activists launched pitched battles against any self-imposed or government public health constraints on such behavior in the name of defending “the essence of our liberation.”
Shilts documents how grotesque this became in the height of the epidemic, leading to the massive spread of the virus when it could have been curtailed. It was symptomatic of the problem that the business owners of many of sex establishments held positions on the boards of the powerful pro-gay lobby organizations, who followed in lock step their insistence that to provide any modest restraint in the accessibility to limitless impersonal sex was “counter-revolutionary.”
“Gay culture,” then, had become synonymous with the stubborn right to ensure the spread of the AIDS virus to tens of thousands of unsuspecting other homosexuals.
Fast forward to this day, no one has seriously called the issue of this notion of “gay culture” into question from the standpoint of a positive alternative.
There remains no defining notion of what it means to be gay. The next stage of our freedom requires it. We have to step up and figure out who we are, really, freeing ourselves from internal constraints (our own psyches and profit motive-based institutions from bars to marketers to political parties who gain from a lowest-common-denominator definition of our so-called “community.”).
Homosexuals, in our many varied ways, are a vital part of the natural order. We’re here on behalf of all humanity for a reason. While our new found freedom the last 40 years has unleashed an incredible potential, it has ironically also endangered us and our role as never before. (To be continued).